“And God Was the Logos”

Holy Trinity fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta 1738–9, St Gaudenzio Church at Ivrea

Holy Trinity fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta 1738–9, Public Domain

An Excerpt

The following is a preview excerpted from Chapter 2, entitled, “. . . Was the Logos,” of the upcoming book, The Fullness That Fills:  The Unifying Principle of Biblical Revelation by Paul A. Hughes, M.Div.

Introduction

In his Gospel, John uses the common Greek concept of the Logos (λόγος), “Word,” to introduce aspects of the Messiah concept to Hellenistic readers.

It is no coincidence that John’s Gospel begins with the same words that initiate Genesis, “In the beginning.”  The God who spoke forth the creative Word by which the worlds were made expresses himself not only in Creation but also in his eternal Plan.  At the center of this Plan God placed a self-generating and self-determining (“free-will”) creature, i.e., Man, who represents the height of God’s Creation.  Man, as the height of God’s self-expressive acts of creation flowing out of his very nature, further presupposes redemption of such a creature who seems predisposed to fall.  Connecting the dots, the instrument of redemption from this fall, from the beginning, is a Savior not only commissioned for the task but possessing the divine potency and status to redeem God’s creation.  Who would possess status on the level of God’s stature except a participant in, indeed an associate member of the Godhead?  John is saying to the Greeks and Hellenistic Jews that this Logos for whom they have been looking, and to whom in their philosophy they have perhaps already related the Messiah, is none other than the one immediately preceded by John the Baptist, preached by him, and by whom was baptized—and who now has become Savior of the world.

Here, this preview omits the following headings:

  • “The Personification of Wisdom”
  • “‘Son of Man” and ‘Son of God'”
  • “‘Firstborn’ and ‘Only-Begotten'”
  • “Hellenistic and Rabbinic Speculations”
  • “The Logos and the Prologue of John”

Logos in Greek

“And God Was the Logos

Therefore, approaching the Prologue of John without a “doubtful mind” toward its origins, let us examine its content in regard to its overall contribution and application to the present study, meanwhile attempting to dispel any misapprehensions or myths.

The Prologue begins as a transparently intentional reflection of Genesis 1.  Its first words, en archē, are identical with the Septuagint rendering, along with other verbal correspondences, including its simple modes of verbal expression.  The correspondence to the Hebrew original, b’reshith, “in the beginning,” is no less striking.  Robinson further notes in detail the verbal correspondences between John 1:1 and 1 John 1:1 f.1  The latter begins with ho ēn ap’ archēs, “that which was from the beginning,” referring not directly to “the Word of Life” (seemingly a personification of Eternal Life in the form of Christ, its giver), but indirectly, by way of that which had been observed of him by the Apostles during his Incarnation.  That the Word was (existed) in the beginning obviously signifies preexistence, but by itself neither justifies nor denies the Arian view that Christ was created along with the rest of Creation, or was created, chronologically, first.  The Imperfect Tense of the verb “was” does not simply express past action but carries about as much of a continuous sense as is typical of the Present Tense, or at least expresses duration.  It is not punctiliar (the opposite of durative), as is the Aorist Tense, expressing action that occurred then ceased at a point in time; nor does it, as in the Perfect Tense, emphasize the action as completed.  B. F. Westcott writes, “The ‘being’ of the Word is thus necessarily carried beyond the limits of time, though the pre-existence of the Word is not definitely stated”; hence “was” describes “a continuous state.  The imperfect tense suggests in this relation, as far as human language can do so, the notion of absolute, supra-temporal, existence.”2  According to Johnston, “In the beginning the Logos already was, and then at a point of time all things came into being through Him. Thus eternal existence seems to be implied, though not directly asserted.”3  “The former is a ‘being,’ the latter a ‘becoming.'”4  Stevens agrees,

The Word was at the beginning; he existed before the world came into being. It is true that John does not employ the words eternal or eternity in the connection, but we hold that this idea is involved in the logical relation between the terms was and in the beginning. When John speaks of that which comes into existence he uses both a different word and a different tense [panta di’ auton egeneto, etc., 1:8]. All things came into being, but at the beginning of all things, he was.5

More provocative, if only by way of implication, is Christ’s statement of John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  Oepke purports that in John, “ideas of pre-existence develop almost imperceptibly from the underlying general conception.”6  Let it suffice for now to presume that if Christ is, in his person, the self-expression of God, there was no conceivable time in the past, ad infinitum, that God did not in some way express himself.  John Calvin objects to those who “reduce Christ to the common order of the world,” by accounting him to be a created being, giving “insult not only to the Son of God, but to his eternal Father, whom they deprive of his wisdom,” and follows Augustine of Hippo in deprecating “those who conceive of any point of time when he went before his Wisdom,” who thus “deprive him of his glory.”7

John 1:1-2

Both verses 1 and 2 state that the Logos was pros ton theon, most often translated “with God.”  However, pros in this construction overwhelmingly means “toward.”8  T. K. Abbott prefers “with a view to,” perhaps “looking to,” either of which carries much the same thought as “toward.”9  Coupled with the example of pros ton patera (“toward the Father”) in 1 John 1:2, and in contrast to meta tou patros . . . (“with/after the Father,” etc.) in the following verse, Meyer is on solid ground to infer from our passage “the existence of the Logos in God in respect of intercourse.”10  A. T. Robertson states that “The idea seems to be ‘facing,'” comparing pros to German gegen, and suggesting the meaning in John 1:1, “face to face with God.”11  The fact that it is Logos who is the subject and God the object of the preposition seems significant: one conceives the Logos being disposed toward, attentive to, even beholden toward God, whereas God is the focus of that concern.  Stevens explains that the choice of the preposition pros over para “emphasizes a direction or tendency of life.  The moral movement of his life is centred in God, and ever goes out toward God.”  John’s purpose was “to show how the Son is fitted to reveal God to mankind, and it is his essential and eternal relation to the Father which would constitute the ground of that fitness.”12

The phrase commonly translated, “the Word was God,” represents perhaps the stickiest exegetical problem of all, bearing as it does on the fundamental nature of the Godhead in regard to the Trinity.  Its meaning hinges upon a deceptively simple but rigid syntactic and semantic construction, including the internal order of its words, such that the depth of its meaning lies beyond the competence of “armchair” interpreters.  (Indeed, it has suffered at the hands of many purported “scholars.”)  The phrase does not read, “the Word was the God” (ho logos ēn ho theos), which would seem to particularize and equate both God and the Word, but “God was the Word” (theos ēn ho logos). To equate the person of God with the person of the Logos, Meyer notes, is contradicted by pros ton theon in verses 1 and 2, which already distinguishes two persons.  Theos “can only be the predicate, not the subject,” so that “The predicate is placed before the subject emphatically (comp. iv. 24 [pneuma ho theos), so that] the progress of the thought [is], ‘He was with God, and (not at all a Person of an inferior nature, but) possessed of a divine nature . . . .'”  Thus “John neither desires to indicate, on the one hand, identity of Person with the Father; nor yet, on the other, any lower nature than that which God Himself possesses,” even though the subordination of the Son to the Father is maintained.13  Calvin concurs:

We have already said that the Son of God is thus placed above the world and above all the creatures, and is declared to have existed before all ages.  But at the same time this mode of expression attributes to him a distinct personality from the Father; for it would have been absurd in the Evangelist to say that the Speech was always with God, if he had not some kind of subsistence peculiar to himself in God.14

Johnston moreover notes that John uses theos and not ho theos, such that “the thought is rather of the nature of the Logos than of His personality.”15  By virtue of this very strict grammatical construction, John maintains the distinction between God and the Logos and, at the same time, “an identity of essence.”16

From his exalted position beside God, the Logos participated in the creation of all things.  As the Word, by which God spoke forth, “Let there be light,” etc., the Logos was not just the personification of a divine faculty, as was Wisdom, but the instrument by which God’s purpose was accomplished.  “God is the Creator in the absolute sense, but the Logos is the co-efficient agent of God in creating, sustaining, and governing the world,” wrote Stevens; “All things were created by (dia) him, and for (eis) him,” (Col. 1:16, see also Heb. 1:2).17  (Literally, John 1:3 begins, “All things through (dia) him became,” etc.)  That there was nothing done without the presence or instrumentality of the Logos speaks not only of his presence throughout, but his own exclusive status as firstborn and only-begotten.  It must also be suggested that this statement further supports his preexistence to Creation since, were he part of “all things,” he could hardly be said to have created himself.

Moreover, John writes panta and not ta panta, the latter suggesting “in a mass” or in “totality”; rather, “each separate thing is the handiwork of the Divine Logos.”18  As shall become clear during the course of this study, original Creation was just the precursor, foundation, or firstfruit of the fullness which is ever bestowed by God on his created beings, and ultimately through Christ on his Church.  “And of his fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16).19

“In Him Life Was”

john1-1-5“In him life was,” en autō zōē ēn, “and the life was the light of men,” kai hē zōē ēn to phōs tōn anthropōn.  John uses the same Imperfect Tense verb, “was,” used in verses 1 and 2, to express not only a durative state of being full of life, but also in terms of Christ constantly bestowing, through his life, light upon Mankind (and through his light, in turn, life upon Mankind).  Robertson describes the sense of the Imperfect as “a sort of moving panorama, a ‘moving-picture show.'”20  Add to this the Present (and durative) sense of “shines” in the following verse, and one may presume that to John, the past endowment of life invested in the Logos endured and was still shining in his own time and beyond.21  Bernard exclaims, “Jn. does not say ‘the Light SHONE,’ but ‘the Light SHINES.'”22

The equation Life = the Light of Men in verse 4 may be explained in terms of John 8:12:  Christ as Light of the World conveys the light of the truth of the Gospel, able to bring life to those who follow him (see also 9:5).  In 3:14 ff., Christ has provided for Eternal Life, but those who choose evil hate and reject the light.  Those who fail to walk in the light stumble (11:9 f.), hence should do their walking while they have the light (12:35 f.).  Since Christ lights the world, Men need not walk in darkness (12:46).  Eternal Life stems from knowing God and Christ (17:3, et al.).  “Life was that which existed in Him, of which He was full,” writes Meyer.23

Men should walk in the light because God is light (1 Jn. 1:5 ff.).  Not only does Life = the Light of Men, but John maintains a strict dichotomy (or dualism) between darkness = sin, versus light = goodness and truth.  “Light and darkness in the prologue, and in the Gospel elsewhere, are not abstract metaphysical conceptions, but ethical conceptions,” concludes Stevens.  “Darkness is sin, and light is goodness.”24

In verses 7 and 8, Light is personified, obviously as a metaphor for the One who gives light, in terms of spiritual, arguably even intellectual enlightenment (“If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” Jn. 8:31 f.).  John the Baptist had only represented God’s light in a metaphorical sense (Jn. 5:35) as one who conveyed the “light” of Gospel truth consciously and intellectually (i.e., the message); but in doing so, he refers to the One and Only who is himself the personification of that truth (Jn. 1:6 ff., see also 1:15, 26 ff.), as well as of the Eternal Life which that truth conveys.  Just as “In the beginning,” echoes Genesis 1:1, references to Jesus as “that Light” in John 1:4 ff. echo the creation of light in Genesis 1:3.25

The next few verses proceed in logical, not chronological order. (Some interpreters delay consideration of the Incarnation until verse 14, whereas verses 10 and 11, “He was in the world,” etc., obviously refer to Christ’s Incarnation, as well.)  John’s point is the acceptance or rejection by “his own” versus “as many as”—those believing and accepting him—being granted the gift of “power” (exousia, “authority,” “right,” “ability,” not dunamis, “power,” “might,” “ability”)26 to acquire sonship through believing.

Both the concepts light and sonship through new birth (“born of God,” Jn. 1:13) are paralleled by Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John chapter 3 as he marvels that a “teacher of Israel” could remain ignorant of spiritual rebirth.  Christ speaks of the things “which we know” and “which we have seen,” amounting to the light of the Gospel which has been received, and equivalent to those “heavenly things” which cannot be understood except by way of faith in the Son of Man, who “came down from heaven” (3:10, 12 f.).27  Yet the choice is Man’s, to “hate the light” and avoid it in an attempt to evade conviction, or to “do truth” and “come to the light” to display works of God wrought through faith (3:20 f.).  The “light” has nevertheless been provided if Man will accept it.  Johnston considers that “every man” refers to “Not all men in the mass, but every individual receives his own share of the Logos-light.”28  “But the Light, while it is the prerogative of men, is the possession of all men. If it is limited to men, it is not limited to any one section of humanity.  The Light is diffused everywhere.  It shineth in the darkness.”29  Johnston concludes,

The separation of the world from God is not the result of any inherent law of the universe, but the result of sin, the moral choice of human free will.  The divine order of the universe is that in which the Logos-life and the Logos-light should everywhere be present and potent.  But it is in the power of man’s free will, as we shall see in vv. 10, ii, to violate and oppose this divine order.  The activity of the Logos is thwarted, though it is not defeated, by the sinfulness and selfishness of man.  Sin is a deliberate shutting out of the Logos-light, and a remaining in the darkness and isolation of self.30

The above thoughts perhaps help interpret “the light of men” (Jn. 1:4) and “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (1:9).  Everyone has been provided with a measure of light, but not all receive it, and not all light is “true light.”  As Jesus said,

The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.  Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.  If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light (Lk. 11:34–36).

And similarly,

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.  And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?  Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth (Jn. 9:39–41).

“And the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us” (Jn. 1:13).

“Tabernacle” (skēnē or skēnōma) literally means “tent” or similar structure, the implication being that of a temporary, short-term, or perhaps unsubstantial dwelling.  The word is used in the Septuagint to describe the original “tent of witness/testimony” (as Ex. 38:21) or “tent of the congregation” (as Ex. 39:32), but was sometimes applied later to the temples that replaced it, even a future heavenly one.  Still “tabernacle” is differentiated from a temple referred to as a “house” (as 1 Chr. 6:32), and God declared his intention, up till the establishment of David’s kingdom under Solomon, to have no permanent dwelling place (1 Chr. 17:3 ff.), further implying the transitory nature of tabernacles.  At the Transfiguration, Peter suggested that they erect tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, respectively (Mt. 17:4 and parallels), probably thinking more in terms of temporary resting places, by way of hospitality, than shrines (for which substantiality would seem more appropriate, but which would also be problematic in terms of Jewish religious prohibitions against idolatry and competition with the Jerusalem Temple).  The idea of a tabernacle became a metaphor for the mortal body, with emphasis on the transient nature of human existence and a preference for future immortality (2 Cor. 5:1 ff., 2 Peter 1:13 f.).  Meyer notes that the tabernacle was the place where God’s shekinah was revealed, which in his mind is reflected in John’s statement, “we beheld his glory” (Jn. 1:14).31

After another use of the Imperfect Tense (“He was in the world,” 1:10), the last segment of the Prologue now presents us with a spate of Aorist Tense verbs.  Zerwick and Grosvenor account “tabernacled” in verse 14 to be either an inceptive (also called ingressive) use of the aorist, i.e., he “took up his abode (incarnation)”; or a constative (global) use, i.e., he “dwelt among us (earthly life).”32  Robertson classes the same verb a constative aorist, which carries the basic connotation of the Aorist Tense, that of expressing action simply taking place at a point in time (hence, “punctiliar”).  “The ‘constative’ aorist,” he explains, “just treats the act as a single whole entirely irrespective of the parts or time involved.”  He assigns diverse usages to the other verbs in the passage.  “Know” in verse 10, “received” in verse 12, and “became” in verse 14, are ingressive aorist, emphasizing the beginning of the action.  Robertson describes “beheld” in verse 14 and “received” in verse 16 as examples of the effective (or resultative) use of the Aorist, in which the conclusion of the action is emphasized.33

Regardless, John’s choice of tense in this passage makes it clear that in his mind, all the action that he describes is accomplished—”done, and done”:  hence, by the Word the world became (accomplished).  The world did not know him (accomplished).  He came unto his own (accomplished), but his own did not receive him (accomplished).  But all who received him (accomplished), he gave power (accomplished) to become sons of God (accomplished).  From God, those who believe in him were born (accomplished).  The Word became flesh (accomplished) and dwelt among us (accomplished).  We beheld his glory (accomplished).  From his fullness we have all received (accomplished).  The Law, Moses gave (accomplished), but grace and truth through Jesus Christ became (accomplished).  No one has seen God, but the only-begotten Son declared him (accomplished).  Thus John sees Christ’s work, in terms of a new Creation through his Incarnation, to be finished.  In Christ’s own words,

My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work (Jn 4:34). But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape (Jn. 5:36 f.). I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do (Jn. 17:4). It is finished (Jn. 19:30).

With the words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2 and parallels), the Baptist had launched the New Testament Gospel; and by baptizing Jesus, inaugurated the Church Age, the Age of the Indwelling Spirit.  “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 4:17, see also Mk. 1:14 f.).  In Christ’s revelation of himself as the Logos, moreover, he has revealed God’s unfathomable grace toward Man.  The age is to be that of “grace and truth,” drawing upon the fullness of the risen Christ, and the worship to be “in Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23 f.), according to his example and his commandments.  For these purposes, God through Christ provided the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, as the resource for spiritual enablement and the continuing bestowal of grace.  Hence Paul applies the term charismata (“graces,” “grace things”) to miraculous, spiritual manifestations of grace.

“We became sharers, in the plenitude of divine blessing which came to the world in Christ, and, in consequence, one gift of grace has succeeded another,” Stevens summarizes, with reference to “grace upon grace” (charis anti charitos) in Jn 1:16.34  Contrary to popular conception, the preposition anti does not usually mean “against.”  Often it carries the connotation of substitution or exchange, perhaps “equivalence.”35  Compare “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth” (Mt. 5:38), and “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17).  According to Robertson, its “etymological picture” is “face to face,” suggesting the image of two men carrying a log while facing each other.36  In regard to its use in John 1:16, Zerwick and Grosvenor suggest the “idea of succession rather than substitution, one grace after another, grace upon grace.”37  Robertson does not disagree:  “As the days come and go a new supply takes the place of the grace already bestowed as wave follows wave upon the shore.  Grace answers (α̉ντὶ) to grace.”38

Notes

1 John A. T. Robinson, “The Relation of the Prologue to the Gospel of St John,” New Testament Studies 9 (January 1963):123 f.

2 Brooke Foss Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, vol. I (London: John Murray, 1908), p. 5.

3 J. S. Johnston, The Philosophy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study of the Logos-Doctrine: Its Sources and Its Significance (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1909), p. 21.

4 Johnston, p. 27.

5 George B. Stevens, The Johannine Theology: A Study of the Doctrinal Contents of the Gospel and Epistles of the Apostle John (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894), p. 89.

6 Oepke, “Eis,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 423.  See further on preexistence, F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 60 ff.

7 John Calvin, Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John, vol. I, trans. William Pringle, The Calvin New Translations, Instituted A. D. 1843 for the Publication of the Works of John Calvin in English (Edinburgh: Printed for the Calvin Translation Society, 1847), pp. 27 f.

8 A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1934), pp. 622 ff.

9 T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1916) p. 276 f.

10 Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John, Vol. I, 2d ed., trans. William Urwick, trans. rev. and ed. Frederick Crombie, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Part II, ed. William P. Dickson and Frederick Crombie (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1883), p. 67; see also Johnston, p. 23.

11 Robertson, p. 623.  The Centenary Translation of the New Testament, trans. Helen Barrett Montgomery (The American Baptist Publication Society, 1924), concurs with “face to face with God.”

12 Stevens, p. 90.

13 Meyer, pp. 67 f.

14 Calvin, p. 28.

15 Johnston, p. 25.

16 Stevens, p. 91.

17 Stevens, p. 93.  Dia, “by” or “through,” instead of the locative en, “in,” or the instrumental en, “by.”  Eis, normatively translated “into” or “unto,” often conveys purpose or result, e.g., “for the purpose of.”

18 Johnston, p. 28.

19 See Stevens, p. 96.

20 Robertson, p. 883.  He notes, pp. 882 f., that the aorist form for “was” (ēn) is identical, but a punctiliar sense hardly fits the passage at hand.

21 Aorist “comprehended” is, in relation to present-tense “shines,” perhaps an example of a “timeless Aorist.”  This accords well with Westcott’s earlier description of a “supra-temporal” sense; nevertheless, its normative action would be punctiliar, though sometimes translatable as Present Indicative, see Robertson, pp. 842 f.

22 J. H. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, The International Critical Commentary, ed. A. H. McNeile, vol. I (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), p. 5.

23 Meyer, p. 71.

24 Stevens, p. 100.

25 See Peder Borgen, “Logos Was the True Light:  Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (April 1972):124.

26 See Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, rev. and aug. by F. Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1979), under exousia and dunamis, respectively.

27 Verses 11–13 probably refer to Dt. 30:11-14, in which Moses declared that the Hebrews need not wonder about God’s will, and imagine that they need to send a prophet to fetch and inquire into it, since it has already been delivered to them in the Law, if only they believe and obey.  To this text Paul refers, Rom. 10:6 ff., specifically in reference to acquiring the righteousness which is by faith—which lately had been declared in the Gospel, but ought to have been understood already from the examples of Abraham and the intent of Moses’ Law.  Christ, after this reference, proceeds immediately to cite the example of the brazen serpent of Numbers 21, which demonstrated salvation by faith in response to obedience to God’s command.

28 Johnston, p. 35.

29 Johnston, p. 29.

30 Johnston, p. 32.

31 Meyer, John, p. 89.

32 Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, rev. (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), commentary to the verse cited.  On ingressive aorist, see Robertson, p. 829.

33 Robertson, pp. 829, 832, 834.

34 Stevens, p. 96.

35 Robertson, pp. 573 f.

36 Robertson, p. 573.

37 Zerwick and Grosvenor, commentary to the verse cited.

38 Robertson, p. 574.

Copyright ©2015 by Paul A. Hughes


Carnal Christians Hate the Thorn in the Flesh

The lessons of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” are lost on many Christians.  The Divine Health (as opposed to Divine Healing) crowd hates the idea that there might be a disease that God chooses NOT to heal.  The Deliverance crowd hates the thought that there might be demonic oppression from which God chooses NOT to deliver.  The Word-of-Faith, Hyper-Faith crowd hates the notion that there might be a prayer that God might choose NOT to answer in the affirmative, or a presumed legal claim to a promise to which God might refuse to comply.

The blanket lesson of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is that “Christ’s grace is sufficient.”  Christ asserts this claim to Paul in spite of contrary outward appearances.  The main contrary circumstance was continued mortality manifested by continued need, continued pain, continued oppression, as Paul experienced in his flesh.  The fact that Christ’s grace remained “sufficient” in spite of mortality demonstrates many subordinate lessons.  One is that Christ’s priorities are not our own.  Human suffering in itself is not outside the will of the Lord.  The Spirit said of Paul, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).  Peter described those “that suffer according to the will of God” (1 Peter 4:19).  Epaphroditus was “sick nigh unto death,” but was praised by Paul for his dedicated service (Php. 2:27).

Yet another lesson is that while we have received “the earnest of the Spirit,” and in the eschatological sense Eternal Life, believers have not yet received the fullness of that “inheritance” (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5; Eph. 1:13 ff.; 1 Peter 1:3 ff.).  Not until the Parousia (“appearing in person”) of Christ will we be “changed” to “see him as he is” and “be like him” (1 Cor. 13:12, 15:51 f.; Col. 3:4; Php. 3:21; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 2:13; 1 Jn. 3:2).  Immortality remains a future promise and a “purchased possession” yet to be redeemed (Gal. 3:14 ff., Eph. 1:14, 1 Tim. 4:8, 2 Tim. 1:1, Heb. 10:36 f., 1 Jn. 2:25).  Therefore, the Church can at times expect to experience a “foretaste” of immortality, but never its fullness, as the Spirit “divides severally as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11).

In particular, Paul was taught a lesson pertinent to “the abundance of the revelations” that he had received.  Christ’s purpose was “lest I should be exalted above measure.”  Paul needed “self” to be deflated enough to keep his feet firmly planted on solid ground — or rather, enough to realize that the power working in and through him was that of Christ and not a product of his own human strength, intelligence, holiness, or pedigree.  No, the Lord declared, “my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Only in the failure of “self” does humanity turn to God, and only in his utter inability would Paul learn and be reminded to rely solely on the Lord.

Thus we come round to the sticking point wherein self-reliant and self-actualizing people dismiss the lessons of the thorn in the flesh.  People hate not getting what they want.  Even more, people hate suffering.  The flesh bridles at being denied.  We see everywhere people going to great lengths, trodding over laws and over other people, insensitive to principles and the rights and welfare of others, in a never-ending quest to get what they want at all costs.  Christians are hardly immune to this propensity.  In arguing with the lessons of the thorn, those who hate it actually demonstrate the need for it by their own carnality and lack of consecration to the Lord.  They will not put up with any such burden!  They sacrifice New Testament principles while stubbornly misappropriating others, in self-seeking and spiritual pride.  In so doing, they risk a mighty downfall when brought to the end of their own devices by their own thorn, which is sure to come in time.

Paul came to his thorn in all earnestness.  The thought of the thorns facing the carnal and rebellious is too horrible to contemplate.

© 2014 Paul A. Hughes


John Wesley, Reluctant Mystic

John Wesley Preaching in Ireland, 1789, attributed to Maria Spilsbury

John Wesley Preaching in Ireland, 1789, attributed to Maria Spilsbury

The following is to be added to the original Part 7—Epilogue of my blog series, “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism,” hence included in Chapter 7 of the resulting print version, Neoplatonist Stew: Or, How  Sacramentalism, Mysticism, and Theurgy Corrupted Christian Theology. The paperback print version, with other additions, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.

Advocates and defenders of John Wesley (1703–1791) are quick to assert that any elements of Neoplatonism and Mysticism within the order of the An­glican Church were well-known and acknowledged, suitably dealt-with, and adequately mitigated.  It is moreover suggested that Wesley, if accused of harboring any such influences, hardly introduced them himself.  John Cassian, as mentioned in Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew, had introduced Evagrius to the Western Church, and “had physically brought back with him Basil’s Institutes, a work which would serve as a model for western monastic rules, including Benedict’s.”  These ideas signifi­cantly influenced Thomas á Kempis and later mystics, including the Jansenists and Port-Royalists, “their Augustinian orientation notwith­standing.”1

By the Seventeenth Century, English intellectuals and divines had rediscovered many works of the Eastern Mystics, and began to publish new editions.  The “Cambridge Platonists,” in particular, turned away from Aristotle and Scholasticism and renewed interest in Plato.2  An­glicanism, seeking a “middle way” (via media) of compromise be­tween salvation by faith alone and salvation by works, found especially in the works of John Chrysostom a “forgotten strand of theosis,” as Steve McCormick describes it, in the guise of “divine-human participation.”3  But then, Thomas Cranmer, in the time of Henry VIII, had already incorporated Neoplatonic “participation” into the Book of Common Prayer, namely, his homilies “Of Salvation,” “Of the True, Lively and Christian Faith,” and “Of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith.”  Together, these comprise the formal expression of Angli­can soteriology.4  In 1738, John Wesley abridged Cranmer’s three homilies into “his first doctrinal manifesto.”5

The son of an Anglican rector (local priest), Wesley was steeped in Anglicanism, which he never abandoned.  His father, Samuel, parti­cularly enamored of Chrysostom, urged his son to obtain a copy of Chrysostom’s work, On the Priesthood (De sacerdotia), with the words, “Master it: digest it”; and later, “Master St. Chrysostom, our Articles and the form of Ordination.”  “If I were to preach in Greek,” Samuel wrote, “St. Chrysostom should be my master.”6 John was fur­ther encouraged to study the Church Fathers, especially those of the first three centuries of the Christian era, by John Clayton, an accom­plished Patristics scholar.7

Wesley learned from his father to appreciate the ancient pastoral theologians:  Chrysostom, Basil, Athanasius and Cyprian (Advice to a Young Clergyman).8

Wesley later recommended the Eastern Fathers, and borrowed heavily from Chrysostom in his own Address to Clergy (1756).9 He wrote, for instance,

Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused, if they do not add to that of the languages and sciences, the knowledge of the Fathers?  The most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, and eminently endued with that Spirit by whom “all Scripture was given?”  It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the Council of Nice[a].  But who would not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them?  With St. Chry­sostom, Basil, Jerome, [Augustine]; and above all, that man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus?10

In his writings and preaching, Wesley “Frequently cited … Basil, Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Clement of Rome, Ephraem Syrus, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Origen, Polycarp and (Pseudo-)Macarius.”  The latter, Pseudo-Macarius, was to become a significant influence on Wesley’s doctrines:  in particular, those of “Prevenient Grace” and “Christian Perfection.”  While Wesley at times differs with Macarius in details, clearly “the similarities are much stronger than the differences ….”11

Wesley himself described several of the other early influences on his devotional life as well as his theology:

In the year 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor’s Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying.  In reading several parts of this book, I was exceedingly affected with that part in particular which relates to purity of intention….

In the year 1726, I met with Kempis’s ‘Christian Pattern.’  The nature and extent of inward religion, the religion of the heart, now appeared to me in a stronger light than ever it had done before.  I saw, that giving even all my life to God, (supposing it possible to do this and go no farther,) would profit me nothing, unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart, to him.  I saw that ‘simplicity of in­tention and purity of affection,’ one design in all we speak or do, and one desire, ruling all our tempers, are indeed ‘the wings of the soul,’ without which she can never ascend to the mount of God.

A year or two after, Mr. Law’s ‘Christian Perfection,’ and ‘Serious Call,’ were put into my hands.  These convinced me, more than ever, of the absolute impossibility of being half a Christian.12

Over the course of his life, Wesley utilized a great many recent secondary works that applied Eastern principles, and (as we shall see) created others of his own.  Kempis he found too pessimistic:  “I cannot think, that when God sent us into the world, he had irreversibly de­creed, that we should be perpetually miserable in it,”13 yet Wesley largely embraced his concepts of self-abnegation and ascent.  William Law had been a mentor to John and his brother Charles.14  Law and Jeremy Taylor were both attempting to construct “patristic primitivist syntheses of the virtuous Christian life, viewing it developmentally.”15  Law had visited the Wesley home on many occasions and had a profound effect on the siblings, such that Charles Wesley suggested much later, “Mr. Law was our John the Baptist.”16  Law was one of the select individuals that John Wesley consulted before committing to his Georgia mission.17

Wesley’s enthusiasm for William Beveridge further exposed him to Chrysostom, the two combining to serve as the apparent origin of his conception of restoring the image of God (ultimately Platonic) by virtue of the “energy of love.”

Wesley found this notion, which is, again, the eastern idea of theosis, of divine-human participation, a characteristic note in the homilies of Chrysostom, and in the liturgy, the homilies, and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England.  Wesley was to take that motif of divine-human participation in the via salutis and weave it throughout his ordo salutis [i.e., integrate a Neoplatonic “way of salvation” into his conception of the “order of salvation”].18

Sailing for Georgia aboard the Simmonds, 1735, Wesley busied him­self studying the German language, along with devotional reading and his accustomed Christian disciplines.  He had managed to procure a library of over sixty volumes, many of them of recent Anglican authorship, but also including Beveridge’s Pandectae, William Cave’s Primitive Christianity, and a large assortment of Eastern liturgical works.19  It was probably Cave’s book that introduced him to Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria. Thus Wesley absorbed Neoplatonic ideas “about the stages of divine ascent, holiness of heart, progressive perfection, and the affective manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.”20

During a particularly severe storm at sea, he was highly impressed by the calmness displayed by the Moravians on board.  He had already studied the mystic work, Theologica Germanica.21  Arriving in Geor­gia, he was similarly impressed by Rev. Spangenberg, of Savannah, but hedged when the Moravian asked him, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” to which Wesley weakly replied, “I know He is the Saviour of the world,” and “I hope He has died to save me.”22  In spite of his Christian disciplines, Wesley had been all full of doubts all through the voyage.  Later still, he wrote in his journal,

It is now two years and almost four months since I left my native country in order to teach the Georgian Indians the nature of Chris­tianity.  But what have I learned myself in the meantime?  Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.23

During the subsequent debacle in Georgia, Wesley obtained a Mora­vian hymnal, and spent three to five hours a day translating and adapt­ing, in all, thirty-three German hymns, according to his own purposes and inclinations.  Among these was the Gerhard Tersteegen hymn, ren­dered in English, “Thou Hidden Love of God, Whose Height,” one of four by Tersteegen that he translated, and the one most often published thereafter in English hymnals.24  One commentator suggests that “this hymn might be seen as one of the clearest reflections of Wesley’s own spiritual yearning….”25  (Yearning appears to be a common indicator of mystic propensities and appeal.)  Meanwhile, Wesley also took the opportunity to experiment with new forms of liturgy, which confused and offended his congregation.  A local magistrate scolded, “The peo­ple … say they are Protestants.  But as for you, they cannot tell what religion you are of.”26

The Methodist mission to Georgia was a fiasco.  Charles proved a maladroit secretary to General Oglethorpe; John, a tactless pastor, Ingham and Delamotte, ineffectual assistants.27

In 1738, abandoning Georgia under a cloud, Wesley returned to England, where he and Charles almost immediately became involved with the Fetter Lane Moravian group.  That May, he had an emotional experience that he counted as his belated conversion, and by Septem­ber, he was off to visit the German Pietists at Herrnhut.

The representatives of this tradition who influenced Wesley began with the Dominican mysticism of Johann Tauler (1300-1361), and proceeded to the distinctive Reformed spirituality of Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769).”28

Always seeking his own “assurance of faith,” Wesley asked one Arvid Gradin to provide, in writing, his definition of the concept.  Gra­din’s reply concluded with, “a deliverance from every fleshly desire, and a cessation of all, even inward sins”—it would seem, as it did to Wesley, a confirmation of his own developing view of Perfection.29  “Spiritually bankrupt, without peace and joy or the assurance of salva­tion, he embraced the Moravian approach to ‘faith alone’ and ‘full salvation.'”30  On the negative side, Wesley found Herrnhut to be in the midst of controversy with the brethren at Halle.  The Hallensians re­garded the necessity of an extended “penitential struggle” (Bußkampf) leading eventually to a “breakthrough” (Durchbruch) to gain assurance of saving faith, whereas the Herrnhuters had gravitated toward a quick and easy, “affective” acceptance.31  Wesley soon became disenchanted with their polemics and with Count von Zinzendorf, thereafter dis­tancing himself from the Moravians.32  “The English writers,” he wrote, “such as Bishop Beveridge, Bishop Taylor, and Mr. Nelson, a little relieved me from these well-meaning, wrong-headed Germans.”33  Yet he continued to value many of the German Pietist hymns, especially those of Tersteegen.34

Through Wesley, it has been said, Tersteegen’s spirituality has reached millions of English-speaking people.  John Nuelson, a German Methodist, granted that Wesley’s dissemination of German hymns had strongly influenced the Methodists’ doctrine of Perfection.  With Ter­steegen’s ideas came the influence of French Quietists, English Phila­delphians, and Berleburg Bible Pietists, along with all the Patristic, mystical, and ascetic works that Tersteegen had translated and edited.  He spoke in terms of a Seelengrund (a term garnered from Eckhart and Tauler), an “inward soul” capable of longing for God.  This inward soul may possess an “inward inclination” (Grundneigung) able to respond to the “wooing” of Christ’s Prevenient Grace (as Wesley would perceive it), such that it “makes room” (Raum gebe) for God’s pres­ence.  From that Seelengrund, Christ purposes “to expand His gracious influence to encompass the cognitive, volitional, affective, and rela­tional aspects of one’s existence,”35 in other words, spiritual formation.  Yet Tersteegen, in spite of other Plotinian affinities, discouraged seekers from introspection, that being idolatry; rather to “turn your inward eye from yourself,” fixing one’s gaze on Christ.36  He con­sidered the imputation of righteousness to be instantaneous, but the transformation to Christ-likeness to be progressive (contra Wesley), the goal being to renew in believers the image of Christ (so also Wesley).37

Besides Tersteegen, Pseudo-Macarius and Ephraim of Syria were particular favorites of Wesley, from whom he sought devotional mate­rial and theological fodder, mining for ideas and modes of expression.  Besides his aforementioned contribution to Prevenient Grace, Macar­ius further contributed to Wesley’s soteriology (as had Tersteegen)—one point of difference being “that Wesley understood perfection primarily as an identifiable, instantaneously-achieved state, while Ma­carius emphasized the tenacious entrenchment of sin in even the most mature Christian and the constant need to seek God through prayer.”38  “This great gift of God,” Wesley wrote, “the salvation of our souls, is no other than the image of God fresh stamped on our hearts.  It is a ‘renewal of believers in the spirit of their minds, after the likeness of Him that created them.'”39  Certainly Wesley’s views on grace appear to be more closely derived from Macarius and Eastern theology in gen­eral than from, as one might expect, Arminius.40  Wesley, one will note, believed that the Fifty Spiritual Homilies were the work of “Macarius of Egypt,” a fourth-century Desert Father, rather than a pseudonymous writer now widely purported to have been a fifth-century Syrian monk, strongly influenced by Gregory of Nyssa.41

Wesley’s exposure to Ephraim of Syria, whom he called “the man of the broken heart,” goes back to his Holy Club days at Oxford.  Ephra­im taught self-abnegation, contemplation, theosis, and an ante-Nicene view of man yearning to return to an “angelic” original state.  Michael Christensen and Randy Maddox suggest that Ephraim’s “luminous eye” figure “is similar to if not the source of Wesley’s doctrine of ‘spir­itual senses'” (a concept to which Tersteegen probably also contri­buted, see above).  “Spiritual senses,” to Wesley, include the faculty of perceiving assurance, both of salvation and Perfection.42

Wesley, it is noted, mitigated the theosis of Macarius and Ephraim, emphasizing a divine work of grace through love that he posited in the negation of the power of sin and perfection of human intent.  When Wesley edited the Homilies of Macarius for his Christian Library se­ries, he excised references to theosis as well as asceticism.43

In regard to Perfection, Wesley expressed concern to his brother Charles that the latter, by aiming at theosis, was setting the bar of holi­ness too high to be realistically attainable.44  Wesley, says McCormick, had gradually come to understand soteriology in the anthropological terms of a “Biblical eudaemonism,” by which man seeks holiness because in holiness man is most happy.45  Albert Outler suggests that Wesley repositioned the “ladder” of Perfection, after his own scheme, toward becoming “like” God, but short of becoming a god.46  This ef­fectively “domesticated” or even “democratized” the (Plotinian) ascent that Eastern Mystics had taught, making “perfection” an “attainable goal.”47  In Wesley’s defense, David Bundy insists that he “took much of the [Anglican] synthesis [of Eastern theology] out of the academy, church and cloister and brought it to the people” and “adapted that synthesis in structures of discipline and accountability for laity; and who modeled what he preached.”48  It was “Methodists in America,” Outler asserts, who “contributed to a very considerable confusion by interpreting ‘perfection’ in terms of ‘the second blessing’ or ‘entire sanctification as a state of grace distinct from justification, attainable instantaneously by faith.'”49

Wesley’s writings reflect many more Eastern Mystic influences be­sides these three.  It is widely recognized (not without considerable dispute, in regard to extent as well as provenance), that Wesley based his tract, The Character of a Methodist, and also a published poem, “On Clemens Alexandrinus’s Description of a Perfect Christian” on Clement’s picture of the “Perfect Gnostic” (from Stromateis, Book 7, see also Chapter 6 of Neoplatonist Stew).  Bundy suggests that Wesley might have been exposed to Clement’s ideas secondarily through publishing a certain book by Anthony Horneck, and that the poem might rather be attributable to John Gambold.50  But in a letter to Lloyd’s Evening Post, Wesley himself stated, “Five or six and thirty years ago, I much admired the character of a perfect Christian drawn up by Clemens Alexandrinus.  Five or six and twenty years ago, a thought came to my mind, of drawing such a character myself, only in a more scriptural manner, and mostly in the very words of Scripture ….”51  Similarly, Wesley “plagiarized” (Bundy’s word) John Williams’ book, A Cate­chism Truly Representing the Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, with an Answer Thereto, in his work of similar title; and Bever­idge’s Sunodikon, sive Pandectae Canonum 55.  Apostolorum et Con­ciliorum Ecclesia Graeca Receptorum “provided grist” for Wesley’s “mill.”52  In fact, the extent of Wesley’s interest in affective Eastern spirituality is demonstrable from many of the books he chose to “ex­tract and abridge” in his fifty-volume A Christian Library collection, first published in 1750.53

Disenchanted with the German Mystics, wary of asceticism and apa­thy, doubtful of the possibility of theosis, he nevertheless mined them for useful ideas yet shied away from unqualified endorsement.  In time, Wesley even broke with his past mentor William Law.54  Around 1734, Law had become an admirer of self-taught Theosophist and Mystic Jakob Böhme, who laid claim to a series of visions.  In his evolving circumspection, Wesley seems to follow once again the example of Tersteegen, who turned away, even within his own circles, from potential antinomianism and the “excessive ecstasy that he per­ceived could degenerate into idolatrous self-edification or even demonic torment.”55  Wesley, however, “nonetheless remained in dia­logue with these early mentors, edited and ‘corrected’ them, and recommended them throughout his life.”56

The results of this “programmatic”57 selectivity appears to reveal a considered determination not to publish, for the most part, primary works by Eastern Mystics.  Primary works are largely absent within the corpus, for which were substituted secondary works of modern provenance.  “Wesley preferred to edit and present the works of the [Anglican] and continental interpreters of the ancient texts rather than to edit and present the ancient texts themselves!” admits Bundy.58  Further, Wesley “reconstructed” mystical works, says Christensen, by replacing implications of theosis in Eastern theology with his own formulation and conception of Perfection, or effectively hiding it.59  For example, when he published twenty-two of Macarius’ Spiritual Homi­lies in A Christian Library, “Wesley consistently omitted references to ascetic life and to the notion of theosis….”60  As Frank Baker describes his modus operandi, Wesley’s editing “mainly involved choice, strik­ing his pen through passages in printed works, changing the words and phrases, and supplying written links from time to time.”

After considerable hesitation he resolved to leave his human sources uncited, ‘that nothing might divert the mind of the reader’ from the brief notes themselves.  He omitted without comment statements with which he did not agree.  All his quotations and allusions, however, rephrased as they were in simpler language, honestly sought to represent the essence of his sources.61

The extent of Wesley’s editing and revisionism of such works (for less it cannot justly be called) is clearly demonstrated in the following passage from Macarius that diametrically contradicts Wesley’s doc­trine of attainable Perfection:

So this man confesses that he is not perfect or altogether free from sin.  He says that the middle wall of partition has been broken through and shattered, and yet, at some point not wholly broken, nor at all times.  There are moments when grace kindles up and comforts and refreshes more fully; there are moments when it retreats and clouds over, according as grace itself manages for the man’s advantage.  But who is there that has come to the perfect measure at particular seasons, and has tasted and had direct ex­perience of that world?  A perfect Christian man, one completely free, I have not yet seen.  Although one and another is at rest in grace, and enters into mysteries and revelations and into much sweetness of grace, still sin is yet present within.  By reason of the exceeding grace and of the light that is in them, men consider themselves free and perfect; but inexperience deceives them.  They are under the influence of grace, but I have never yet seen a man that is free.  I myself at times have in part come to that measure, and I have learned to know that it does not constitute a perfect man.62

The “extracted” version of this homily, published by Wesley in A Christian Library, bears little resemblance to the independent trans­lation above, and does not contain this particular passage at all, as such.63  “Wesley, in appropriating the idea of theosis and constructing his doctrine of Christian perfection, found that the Church Fathers required editing.”64

The logical conclusion of these factors is that Wesley effectively obscured, perhaps to himself as well, elements of Neoplatonic Mys­ticism that contributed to his doctrines of Prevenient Grace and Per­fection, in some cases by failing to recognize them for what they were, and in other cases by carefully editing out overt references to the most objectionable concepts.  This consequence has unfortunately served, due to Wesley’s abiding popularity and influence, to introduce and establish erroneous views of Sanctification and related issues within a large segment of Christianity, including, via the Holiness Movement, some Perfectionist and Legalistic strains of Pentecostalism.

Even beyond this conclusion, problems associated with Wesley’s exegesis must still be addressed, for which purpose three brief exam­ples will suffice.  Wesley uses the term, “the energy of love,” to des­cribe the “divine initiative” of God’s Prevenient Grace, the “divine-human participation” by which man may attain Perfection.65  Wesley engages Galatians 5:6, in particular, as a prooftext for this “energy” terminology.  However, any first-year Greek student knows that while energein is indeed the etymological source for the English word, “energy,” the Greek word literally means “work.”  Therefore, Theo­dore Runyon is mistaken in supposing Wesley’s rendition to be “a literal translation” of the text,66 which actually reads, “faith working through love.”  Contextually, righteousness rather comes by the instru­mentality of faith (Gal 2:16, 3:6, 5:5, et al.), because of love; hence it is faith, not love, that does the work (and arguably faith is cognitive and volitional; not affective, as in the case of many definitions of love).  Wesley’s appropriation of the phrase, “energy of love,” as well as the concept, can be traced back, again, to Chrysostom.67

Second, being challenged regarding the statement by James (3:2) that “we all stumble in many things,” Wesley claims that “we” is just a “figure of speech,” that James “could not possibly include himself,” but rather refers “Not [to] apostles, nor true believers,” but to others who will “receive the greater condemnation.”68  These claims are de­void of textual justification; rather, are obvious rationalizations and impositions on the text due to preconceptions (“analogy of faith,” doctrinal construct) that are clearly contradicted by the passage.

Third, in prooftexting from John’s first epistle, by which he argues that a person who has achieved Perfection cannot sin (or does not sin),69 Wesley falls prey to errors common to “armchair” interpreters of that book, in particular:  failing to account for the idiosyncrasies and alleged Hebraisms (too complex to detail here) inherent to it, but certainly including John’s propensity for black-and-white dualisms and pointed use of the perfect participle.  Most interpreters agree that John is des­cribing those who make a regular practice of sin, or whose activities are by virtue of their unregenerated nature always characterized by sin, in contrast to the Regenerated.  Worse, Wesley makes in this same context a claim upon Kingdom promises (Zech 12:8), saying, “The kingdom of heaven is now set up on earth.”  Thus he reveals a fun­damental lack of understanding of eschatology, since the “fullness of the Kingdom” (including not only future glory but Perfection) will not come about till the Eschaton, the End.  Elsewhere, among other exam­ples, Wesley likewise fails to interpret Psalm 103:8, on the ultimate redemption of Israel, and 1 John 3:8, regarding Christ’s complete work in overcoming sin and death, eschatologically.70

In fact, a studied perusal of Wesley’s signature work, A Plain Ac­count on Christian Perfection, on the whole reveals its proofs to amount to an exercise in unenlightened prooftexting—all done, one hopes, in ingenuous simplicity, by reason of the inadequate herme­neutical theory and tools of the day.  Nevertheless, one cannot escape the inevitable conclusion that as a result of his long-term quest for personal, affective assurance, Wesley produced a compromise, “de­signer” religion that, however it might have shaded his exegesis, served his purposes more than it offended his strict British sensibil­ities.

Notes

1 David Bundy, “Christian Virtue: John Wesley and the Alexandrian Tradition,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):142.

2 Mark Goldie, ‘Cambridge Platonists (act. 1630s–1680s),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2013 (http://www.oxforddnb.­com/view/­theme/94274, accessed March 27, 2014).  The Cambridge Platonists might have had fairly direct influence on John Wesley through his father, whose friend was John Norris, see Bundy, p. 142.

3 K. Steve McCormick, “Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):49-50.

4 Ibid., p. 66, see also 67.

5 Ibid., p. 67.

6 Ibid., p. 50.

7 Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (NY: Oxford University Press, 1964; paperback, 1980), p. 9, and Michael J. Christensen, “Theosis and Sanctification: John Wesley’s Reformulation of a Patristic Doctrine,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):75.

8 Christensen, p. 75.

9 McCormick, p. 50, Christensen, p. 74.

10 John Wesley, The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley (NY: J. & J. Harper, 1828), p. 70, also quoted from another source in McCormick, pp. 50-51.

11 Randy L. Maddox, “John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergen­ces, and Differences,” Asbury Theological Journal 45/2 (1990):30, 31, 35; see also Outler, pp. 9-10, and Christensen, p. 74.

12 Henry Moore, The Life of the Rev. John Wesley, A. M., vol. I (London: Printed for John Kershaw, 1824), p. 161.  Regarding “purity of intention,” Runyon writes, “If the intention is right, this is what really counts [to Wesley].  ‘Intention’ was a theme important to him from his 1725 self-dedication onward,” Theodore Runyon, “The New Creation: A Wesleyan Distinctive,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):12.

13 Moore., p. 124.

14 Christensen, p. 75.

15 Bundy, p. 141.

16 Moore, p. 107.

17 Ibid., p. 234, see also 190.

18 Ibid., p. 54.

19 Outler, p. 12, Christensen, p. 75.

20 Christensen, pp. 76, 85.

21 Moore, p. 190, Bundy, p. 142.

22 From Chapter 6 of John Telford, The Life of John Wesley (http://Wesley.nnu-edu/?id=88, accessed April 2, 2014).  This passage is apparently taken from a printing other than that of 1900, in which this and some other passages do not appear.

23 Ibid., see also McCormick, p. 48.

24 J. Steven O’Malley, “Pietistic Influence on John Wesley: Wesley and Gerhard Tersteegen” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996):49, 65, 66.

25 O’Malley, p. 57 f.

26 Outler, pp. 12-13, see also Bundy, p. 141.

27 Ibid., p. 11.

28 O’Malley, p. 49.

29 John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in Wesley and Fletcher, Entire Sanctification Attainable in This Life (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1898), p. 11.

30 Christensen, p. 76.

31 O’Malley, p. 51.

32 Tersteegen had previously questioned von Zinzendorf’s self-interest and possible antinomianism, O’Malley, p. 57.

33 Moore, p. 343.

34 O’Malley, p. 53, see also 57.

35 Ibid., pp. 49, 57-61.

36 Ibid., p. 69, incl. note 77, referring to L. G. Harvey, ed., Tersteegen, Recluse in Demand: Life and Letters, vol. I (Hampton, TN: Harvey & Tait, n.d.), pp. 125, 129.

37 Ibid., p. 65; see also Bundy, p. 153, and Christensen, p. 71, note 1.

38 Maddox, p. 31; on Tersteegen, see also O’Malley, p. 65.

39 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 25.

40 So Maddox, pp. 31, 35.

41 See Christensen, p. 85; Outler, p. 9, note 26; and a somewhat contrary view in Bundy, p. 139.

42 Christensen, pp. 81, 85, incl. note 19.

43 See Christensen, pp. 76; 85, note 22; and p. 87.  For more on the awakening of spiritual senses, in the views of both Macarius and Wesley, see Runyon, p. 14.

44 Letter from John to Charles Wesley, June 27, 1766, cited in Christensen, p. 90.

45 McCormick, p. 53. “God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul, which is continually crying, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee’?  He is therefore happy in God; yea, always happy…,” Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 13, see also p. 8.

46 Outler, p. 31.

47 Christensen, p. 88, see also p. 80.

48 Bundy, p. 155.

49 Outler, p. 30.

50 Maddox, p. 30; Christensen, pp. 76, 78; Bundy, pp. 139 ff., 149.

51 Bundy, pp.139, 143, 151.

52 Bundy, p. 141.

53 “A Christian Library by John Wesley,” Wesley Center Online (http://wesley.nnu.­edu/john-wesley/a-christian-library/, accessed April 3, 2014).

54 Christensen, p. 75, Runyon, p. 13, Moore, p. 518.

55 O’Malley, p. 56 f.

56 Christensen, p. 76.

57 Christensen’s term, pp. 74, 80.

58 Bundy, p. 143, see also 142.

59 Christensen, p. 80.

60 Ted Campbell in Christensen, p. 81, note 22.

61 Frank Baker, “John Wesley, Biblical Commentator,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 71 (1989):111 f.

62 Pseudo-Macarius Homily 8:5, in A. J. Mason, Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St. Macarius the Egyptian, Translations of Christian Literature, Series I, gen. ed. W. J. Sparrow-Simpson and W. K. Lowther Clarke (London: SPCK, 1921), pp. 67 f.

64 Christensen, p. 88.

65 McCormick, p. 54.

66 Runyon, p. 15.

67 McCormick, p. 102, note 153; McCormick, quoted in Troy W. Martin, “John Wesley’s Exegetical Orientation: East Or West?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):136, note 114; see also Runyon, p. 15, note 30.

68 Wesley, A Plain Account, p. 21.

69 See Ibid., p. 19 f.

70 Ibid., p. 41.

© 2014 Paul A. Hughes


It Might Be Greek to You

ZWH AIWNIOS Banner

ZWH AIWNIOS Banner

“It might be Greek to you, but it is LIFE to me!”


A Fish Or a Camel?

A Fish or a Camel

A Fish or a Camel

Sure, we would all like to feel like a Christian fish, always enveloped in God’s love and immersed in his constant, total provision.

But the Lord wants us to grow up to be a Christian camel, able to “stoke up” with His Spirit so that we can walk many miles in dry places without fainting.

© 2014 Paul A. Hughes


Review: Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth

Reading this work by Karl Barth has been in many ways enlightening.  One hears so much about him, both good and bad (depending upon the source), but it is hardly fair to form an opinion only on the basis of secondary evaluations.  One must read Barth to give a fair estimation of Barth.

Barth first shows himself to be a true dogmatist.  Using the points of the Apostles Creed as its outline, he presents to the reader an overview of Christianity as he understands it.  His theology is pre-critical:  he is not concerned with historico-critical data or exegesis.  Rather, he begins with the Creed as it stands.  It is a “given.”  As far as he is concerned, it is the orthodox Church’s interpretation of Christianity which stands — it must only be rejuvenated.  To Barth, it is not only unnecessary but impossible to “prove” that the Gospel is true.  It is to be accepted by faith alone.

In fact, the paradox of Christianity is a recurring theme in the book.  Barth is quick to allay the doubts of those who remained puzzled by what seems impossible, unnatural, or contradictory.  That is to be expected, and nothing to worry about, he says.  He does not attempt to explain away such things, or make them acceptable to reason, as would the typical apologist.  Jesus Christ — wholly God, yet wholly man?  The crucifixion — humiliating, yet exalting?  The Holy Spirit — divine and yet indwelling imperfect humanity?  Barth is right in this:  such things defy reasonable explanation.  Such things are, to the intellect, “a stumbling block, and the rock of offense.”  But to the one who, like Barth, accepts by faith the paradox of Christianity, such things are “the power of God unto salvation.”

What Barth does is to begin with the Creed, the foundational truths of orthodox Christianity, and go on from there.  It is his intention not to reinforce them, but to revitalize them and, perhaps, to set them as a reminder to those who have been slack.  Vitality is, of course, a necessary part of true Christianity.  It is the action involved in moving from a head-knowledge of the Scripture and of Christian doctrine toward the fulfillment of the Christian life.  It is the visible sign of true Christianity (although mere activity must not be confused with real vitality).

But Barth only begins with the points of the Creed.  From that simple and acceptable basis he expands, often tangentially, to what many would see as unbiblical philosophies.  A case in point:  orthodox Christianity accepts the idea of a real Hell, a real Judgment, and the necessity of rebirth (baptism to some) in order to attain eternal life.  Barth accepts their terminology, but does not adhere to orthodox interpretation.  Although not explicitly stated, Barth exhibits leanings toward Universalism.  To fit the pattern, he redefines such terms as Hell, Eternity, and Judgment:  Hell is an existing state of separation from God due to an individual’s rebellion, not a place of internal punishment.  Eternity is used figuratively (?) by the Bible, representing a state of timelessness which exists until the Second Coming.  And although Barth does have some conception of judgment (“By this we shall be judged, about this the Judge shall one day put the question, Did you live by grace …?  Have you been a faithful servant …?” p. 152), yet in this book one cannot find a definition of “judgment” other than Christ revealing himself, and proving that he is, indeed, Lord of all.  There is no punishment aspect mentioned.  Furthermore, Barth makes no mention of a continued separation between believers and non-believers after Christ returns.  As far as can be seen, Barth expects all men to be united at that time.

So how does Barth deal with the “eternal fire” passages in the Bible?  According to him, they are metaphorical — the biblical writers were expressing the horror and discomfiture of the unbeliever’s separation from Christ (in the present world) in metaphorical terms.  The literal view of Hell and a divine wrath are, to him, a product of a faulty hermeneutic.  The picture of the Wrath of God, Barth claims, is a construct of artists, such as Michelangelo, who sought sensational themes for their paintings.

Barth is not without his merits.  He demonstrates a high view of God.  He prefers the designation of God as “the Father” to more generic term such as “the Almighty.”  In fact, he reacted strongly against that term, and noted that Hitler referred to God in that fashion.  Barth considers God as more, much more, than some obscure power.  Father better describes God in terms of his character and his relationship to man — power is merely one of his attributes, as is Creator, and should not be separated out as a general designation.  The fatherhood aspect of God is demonstrated by his grace — and to Barth, all God does is a product of his grace.

Along with Father, another favorite designation of God is “God in the Highest”  Barth emphasizes that God is far above man, farther than man’s imagination extends.  He is not a product of man’s need to worship an ideal “higher self.”  God is GOD, and is only known by man because he has revealed himself.  God is “a timeless Being, surpassing the world, alien and supreme … the living, acting, working Subject who makes himself known” (p. 38).

Likewise, Barth demonstrates a high Christology.  However, he makes an unwarranted connection between Christ and Israel.  Barth believes, in a nutshell, that Israel as a nation was called out, not just to be a holy nation, but to evangelize the world.  Since Israel failed, Jesus Christ was sent to “fulfill” Israel.  It is true that Israel was separated out from the world in order that God might reveal himself to man, and might be glorified.  But was evangelization of the world God’s immediate motive?  Certainly, the ordinances handed down by Moses served to set them at odds with the rest of the world.  In fact, they were ordered to have no fellowship with non-believers.  This speaks against the theory of an evangelical mission.

Actually, there is a great non-parallel between the missions of Israel and of Christ:  Jesus Christ was sent in order to die for man’s sin, that whoever would believe in his vicarious sacrifice could attain eternal life.  Israel never suffered for any sins other than its own, and God never said, “Believe in Israel.”  Israel was not the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

Barth’s otherwise high Christology suffers from lack of emphasis on Christ’s redeeming work.  His emphasis is upon Christ’s revelation at his Second Coming.  The Christian’s fate is to be that Christ truly exists and that He will, indeed, appear one day.  Then their faith shall be proven valid.

A secondary emphasis is upon Christ’s suffering — suffering as a man on the earth, and suffering at the end on the cross.  But this suffering, in Barth’s eyes, is not so much to pay the debt for man’s sins, as to put man in touch with his sins, to make him realize the suffering he deserves.  Man must conceptualize, mentally, his guilt.  In his realization of his guilt man is saved.

Barth never commits himself to a clear statement of Universalism, but a strong implication runs throughout this book.  He notes that Christ died for all men, and that is true.  He goes so far as to acknowledge that some men will reject Christ — but he never implies that they will be lost.  Evidently, he expects all men to be restored when Christ returns.

All in all, Barth reads like any evangelical writer.  He displays a love for God and for Christ that should warm the heart of any true Christian.  Certainly there are problems:  he leans too heavily on his own speculation and does not use Scripture often or carefully.  For instance, his misuse of Philippians 2:6, “God thinks it not robbery to be divine, that is, He does not hold on to the booty like a robber, but God parts with Himself” (p. 116).  While the thought may be perfectly good and correct, the usage is faulty.

Yet the Christian reader can feel a certain kinship with Barth, as one should feel a certain kinship with a Christian of another denomination, or even a Jew who truly loves God.  Certain of Barth’s ideas are, perhaps, erroneous — but Barth is not a heretic.  There is no reason the Christian should not read his works, if one is a mature and discerning believer, and maybe even quote Barth in a sermon.

At the very least, Barth is food for thought — and there are plenty of people whose minds could use a little nourishment.

Originally a book report presented to Dr. Gary McGee, The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, for THE/HIS 636 Contemporary Theology, August 31, 1985.  Dr. McGee deemed the report “Excellent,” and assigned the grade “A.”

© 2014 Paul A. Hughes


Make Way for the Spirit!

How to Have More Spiritual Church Worship

As described in 1 Corinthians 14, there are few worship activities that are as edifying and energizing as the verbal gifts of the Spirit.  However, in circulating amongst various full-gospel churches in recent years, I have noticed an absence of verbal manifestations (messages in tongues, interpretation, prophecy) in most services.  Some churches apparently go for weeks or months without hearing a fresh “word” from the Lord.

While prophecy in particular might be abused or over-emphasized in some circles, a church is ill-advised to react by trying to limit or control manifestations.

Sometimes pastors ask me what they can do to make their services more spiritual.  I offer the following suggestions:

1. Pray Up

In order to be sensitive to the moving of the Spirit, the pastor or worship leader must be spiritually sensitive. Moves of God do not always come through the leader–make sure you are on the cutting edge, not the tail! Fast and pray before each service, and engage prayer warriors to bolster that intercession.  Be sure you are cleaned up, prayed up, and “fessed up.”  Set aside all unnecessary activities and distractions, and go into the service with your mind centered on the Lord.

2. Let Go

No one can quench the Spirit like the “man in charge.”  Do not let yourself be preoccupied with the order of the service.  Never change the order when the Spirit is trying to move.  Wait!  Be secure in your spiritual authority, unafraid that you might lose control of the service.  (If you do not have spiritual authority, GET SOME!)  Do not give in to the conceit that the move of the Spirit always comes through the leader.  Avoid trying to manipulate the people, dictating their actions, or trying to stir up the Spirit by human means.

IMPORTANT:  Do not limit the opportunity to speak to a few chosen leaders.  The moving of the Spirit in Acts and Corinthians is corporate and “upon all flesh,” not limited.  (As Paul wrote, “you may all prophesy one by one,” and “let one speak, and let the others judge.”)

3. Pipe Down

The Spirit does not always move in an atmosphere of noise and frenetic activity (which is prevalent these days).  Moves are more likely genuine when they are spontaneous.  Often, the Spirit settles on the congregation with a warm, sweet heaviness.  Do not be afraid of “quiet times” or “dead air”–avoid the temptation to fill every moment with words or activity.  Do not keep the music volume so loud that someone speaking in the Spirit in the congregation cannot be heard!  (In a large church, place microphones in strategic areas, and instruct the congregation on their proper use.)

4. Slow Down

I have often felt moved by the Spirit to speak, but had no opportunity that would not interrupt the order of service.  Since I do not seem to receive an entire message until I have begun to speak, the moment was quickly past.  Again, do not let yourself be preoccupied with advancing the order of service.  Do not hurry through the worship time–if it or any other activity were a mere “preliminary,” it could be eliminated!  Do not treat the Spirit as such. A true word from the Lord is probably more important than your sermon!

5. Teach and Preach the Gifts

Give proper emphasis to the spiritual gifts in the church, teach their appropriate use, and encourage members to seek them.  (Even the best teaching will be voided if you do not then give the people adequate opportunity to exercise the gifts.)  Allow people to make honest mistakes.  Correct mistakes gently and respectfully from the pulpit when necessary, in private when possible–keeping in mind the potential for public embarrassment.  Realize that the gifts are for lay people, too!

If the above suggestions are followed, I cannot guarantee that a move of the Spirit will take place, but hopefully a lot of human barriers will have been removed, in order to encourage and make room for the gifts in the service.  Is that not what is truly important?

©1999 Paul A. Hughes


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers