Thomas Watson and God’s Infinity

As part of my college course this year, I’m studying the Doctrine of God. It’s been great so far, I’ve really enjoyed it. I was doing some reading for the assessment today – Thomas Watson’s “Body of Divinity” was on the list. This is a collection of sermons he preached on the Westminster Assembly’s Catechism, and it is available for free online. I found it very helpful for me personally – it made me realise once again how much Christians lose if they ignore the rich history of Christian literature there is out there.

Given most of what I’ve written about here hasn’t been that cheerful recently, I think it’s high time for me to take a back seat and put something encouraging up, so I will hand over to Watson. This is him talking about what it means for God to be infinite (I’ve highlighted a few bits to hopefully make it a bit easier to read, as it is a bit wordy. He was a puritan, after all):

If God be infinite by his omnipresence, then see the greatness and immenseness of the divine majesty! What a great God do we serve! 1 Chron 29:91. ‘Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the glory, and the majesty, and thou art exalted as head above all.’ Well may the Scripture display the greatness of his glory, who is infinite in all places. He transcends our weak conceptions; how can our finite understanding comprehend him who is infinite? He is infinitely above all our praises. Neh 9:9. ‘Blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.’ Oh what a poor nothing is man, when we think of God’s infiniteness! As the stars disappear at the rising of the sun, oh, how does a man shrink into nothing when infinite majesty shines forth in its glory! Isa 40:15. ‘The nations are as a drop of the bucket, or the small dust of the balance!’ On what a little of that drop are we! The heathens thought they had sufficiently praised Jupiter when they called him great Jupiter. Of what immense majesty is God, who fills all places at once! Psa 150:0.

If God be infinite, filling heaven and earth, see what a full portion the saints have; they have him for their portion who is infinite. His fulness is an infinite fulness; and he is infinitely sweet, as well as infinitely full. If a conduit be filled with wine, there is a sweet fulness, but still it is finite; but God is a sweet fulness, and it is infinite. He is infinitely full of beauty and of love. His riches are called unsearchable, because they are infinite. Eph 3:3. Stretch your thoughts as much as you can, there is that in God which exceeds; it is an infinite fulness. He is said to do abundantly for us, above all that we can ask. Eph 3:30. What can an ambitious spirit ask? He can ask crowns and kingdoms, millions of worlds; but God can give more than we can ask, nay, or think, because he is infinite. We can think, what if all the dust were turned to silver, if every flower were a ruby, every sand in the sea a diamond; yet God can give more than we can think, because he is infinite. Oh how rich are they who have the infinite God for their portion! Well might David say, ‘The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, and I have a goodly heritage.’ Psa 16:6, 6. We may go with the bee from flower to flower, but we shall never have full satisfaction till we come to the infinite God. Jacob said: ‘I have enough;’ in the Hebrew, ‘I have all,’ because he had the infinite God for his portion. Gen 33:31. God being an infinite fulness, there is no fear of want for any of the heirs of heaven; though there be millions of saints and angels, which have a share in God’s riches, yet he has enough for them all, because he is infinite. Though a thousand men behold the sun, there is light enough for them all: put never so many buckets into the sea, there is water enough to fill them. Though an innumerable company of saints and angels are to be filled out of God’s fulness, yet God, being infinite, has enough to satisfy them. God has land enough to give to all his heirs. There can be no want in that which is infinite.

Doesn’t that warm your heart as you read it? It does mine. God is infinite – he is infinitely above our praise, and in him there can be no lack.

I do encourage you to read the rest of the book – I am planning to when I’ve finished my current reading. He seems to be a wonderful theologian with a real pastoral heart – a rare gift.

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The Woman at the Well

Photo by moregoodfoundation on  Flickr.
Picture by moregoodfoundation on Flickr.

And by ‘the woman at the well’ I mean the ‘woman of Samaria’ of John 4. You know, the fattest woman in the Bible (the “woman of some area”… geddit? GEDDIT? HAHAHAHA! Sorry.)

Anyway, we were studying John 4 in our class a couple of weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. In our class on John, each of us has been assigned a commentary to look at and every week we look at it and write a couple of sheets summary on what it says, any exegetical issues and questions we have etc. I’ve really benefited from it – I’ve been using Andrew Lincoln’s commentary, which I’ve found to be excellent. Although I don’t agree with everything – he probably takes a more ‘open’ evangelical line on certain issues, and if you don’t know what that means don’t worry – but in general his exegetical insight and theological grasp of the text have been very helpful to me.

This chapter is a case in point. As with virtually every chapter in John, it is theologically rich and there is much you could say about it.  I’m going to restrict myself to one topic though, something which I don’t think the ‘blessed Don’ (as our tutor describes Don Carson) picks up in his commentary: the idea of this passage being a betrothal scene. When I say ‘betrothal scene’, I mean an Old Testament betrothal scene like that described in Genesis 24.

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Inerrancy, Augustine and UCCF

One of the problems with blogging is that of history. What do you do if you blog about something, then a while later change your mind on that subject? I’m contemplating such a problem right now. You see, in the past I’ve blogged about the UCCF Doctrinal Basis. Specifically, I didn’t like one of the points relating to Biblical infallibility. Well, I think the majority of the problems I had at the time have been resolved, and I’d like to share why I now think differently. [The original blog post has been deleted; apologies, but it was getting too many hits from Google without this post being read!]

So, first of all, a couple of terms: Inerrancy – this is the belief that something is functionally without error. So, for example, I could say the statement “2 + 2 = 4” is inerrant. Infallibility, however, is different. It means that something is without the possibility of error. So it’s actually stronger than saying something is inerrant. The ‘infallible’ claim is one which UCCF applied to the Bible in their Doctrinal Basis.

Before going any further, just a quick point on the ‘as originally given’ clause: obviously we don’t have the original copy of the Bible. That said, what with the number of manuscripts and so on we can be pretty sure what we’re reading is close to the original. This is in line with The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, an interdenominational evangelical document produced in the 70s.

So, that said, there was something I found particularly helpful in my understanding of inerrancy. I think the main problem I’d had before was that I didn’t understand the concept properly: I thought of inerrancy in a pretty wooden kind of way, e.g. if you believed in inerrancy you had to believe that every single word of the gospels was literally true, and verbatim. In other words, if Jesus is reported to have said two different things in two different gospels, this would mean one gospel was in error – and thus inerrancy fails.

Now what I’ve found particularly helpful on this is studying Augustine. In our church history module at college we’ve been looking at a variety of early church writings, and last week we were looking at some of their writings on Scripture (i.e. what their view of Scripture was). I found Augustine very helpful when thinking about this topic of inerrancy. Here’s a quote from Augustine, Harmony of the Gospels, II. xii. 29 (he’s talking about the difference between what John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:11 and John 1:27)

But further, if, when he spoke of the shoes of the Lord, John meant nothing more than to convey the idea of His supremacy and his own lowliness, then, whichever of the two sayings may have actually been uttered by him, whether that regarding the unloosing of the latchet of the shoes, or that respecting the bearing of the shoes, the self-same sense is still correctly preserved by any writer who, while making mention of the shoes in words of his own, has expressed at the same time the same idea of lowliness, and thus has not made any departure from the real mind [of the person of whom he writes]. It is therefore a useful principle, and one particularly worthy of being borne in mind, when we are speaking of the concord of the evangelists, that there is no divergence [to be supposed] from truth, even when they introduce some saying different from what was actually uttered by the person concerning whom the narrative is given, provided that, notwithstanding this, they set forth as his mind precisely what is also so conveyed by that one among them who reproduces the words as they were literally spoken. For thus we learn the salutary lesson, that our aim should be nothing else than to ascertain what is the mind and intention of the person who speaks.

I’m sorry if that’s a bit hard to digest! – basically Augustine is saying what is important is the last bit – the mind and intention of the person who speaks. Essentially this is the way we are to understand inerrancy: not in the sense of ‘every word ascribed to Jesus must have been verbatim spoken by him’ but we can affirm what is said is nonetheless truth.

Our lecturer made the point that human communication doesn’t work in that over-literal way, and that inerrancy works within that framework of human communication.

I found this a very helpful way of looking at inerrancy, particularly when it comes to the gospels. I admit that the real issue here was what I was understanding inerrancy to be, so perhaps this will help someone else!