Why Churches Can’t Agree on Civil Disobedience

The current conflict between Christians over responses to government during the pandemic does not really come down to whether we believe in civil disobedience. Likely, we all do. The conflict is about the application of the doctrine of civil disobedience to two other matters: the future of religious liberties, and how the church is treated relative to other public bodies or societies.

1) The first matter has to do with how governments will treat churches and religious liberties in the future. There have been two opposite beliefs about the future of religious liberties. Those who have tended towards complete submission to government emergency regulations believe that this whole situation is an anomaly, and is in no way a harbinger of things to come. If these regulations are simply emergency management rules, then we cannot judge a government’s long-term plans or intentions by its laws during a crisis. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there is nothing sinister afoot. Once infections levels subside, once the vaccine covers more than 70% of the population, life as we used to know it will return.

Those who have tended towards partial or total civil disobedience believe that this situation is the beginning of a new normal. Powers that governments receive during emergencies are not easily surrendered; they are usually channeled into benign-looking regulations and rules after the emergency is over. The pandemic has provided opportunities for centralisation and greater regulation, all in the name of protecting life. Those on this side of the argument do not believe these restrictions will disappear any time soon. Even if the immediate threat of the pandemic lessens, there will always be the threat of another pandemic breaking out, and therefore preventative measures could become semi-permanent. Prevention of a future pandemic can create a world as restrictive as the one we are in now.

Both of these positions are trying to anticipate the future. On the one hand, those who believe the situation is an anomaly believe that civil disobedience is unwarranted. “Why risk fines and jail-time if this will all pass in a year or so?” On the other hand, those who believe this is the new normal believe that civil disobedience is necessary. “Why accept unfair restrictions in the hopes of restored liberties that may never materialise?” Of course, neither position knows the future. Both are doing their best to anticipate based on knowledge, history, and experience. But both must admit that they lack knowledge of the future, and are acting in light of what they believe to be the most likely outcome. That should chasten the certainty with which we act and speak.

2) The second matter has to do with the relative treatment of the church. The issue is not whether the church is restricted, but how restricted it is relative to other similar public organisations. Theatres, casinos, restaurants, shops, conferences have been allowed to operate, while churches have been told to close. Airplanes, taxis and buses can be filled to capacity with no social distancing, but churches must be restricted to 50 or less with social distancing. Churches have been told that they are super-spreader events, but large gatherings eat and drink without masks, sit closer on aeroplanes, and squeeze more people into their shops, conferences and venues.

Once again, there are two opposite responses to this treatment. The first is to feel no particular burden about this lopsided treatment of the church. Some might smart a bit and perhaps sense the injustice and unreasonableness, but accept it as part of the pain of the moment. Some even agree with the government’s assessment that church gatherings are highly dangerous, due to the tendency to hug, shake hands, sing and so forth. But overall, the discomfort does not rise to the level of conviction in the conscience that one is participating in evil.

The second response is to be convicted in conscience that to participate in the government’s treatment of the church is to disobey the Lord. Whether or not unbelieving governments regard the church as essential or treat it fairly is not the issue. Whether Christians are willing to personally believe and support that assessment becomes a matter of personal submission to Christ. For example, the fact that the government is happy to have unmasked patrons of restaurants eat and drink any day of the week but crack down on worshippers on Sunday is a matter between government and God – they must answer to God for that. But if a Christian goes to restaurants during the week, and yet avoids church on Sundays or believes the government’s assessment of church gathering, this has become a matter between the Christian and God. He is no longer merely submitting to government’s regulations; he is submitting to government’s assessment of worship. His conscience must agree with government in order to act that way. He must believe that going to restaurants is worth the risk, and going to church is not; or he must believe that assembled worship is some of the most dangerous activity in the world during a pandemic. Either way, he must come to several judgements in himself on the importance of worship, the kind of risks worth taking, the comparative value of various social activities. For those on this side of the debate, to submit to the world’s estimate is to be disloyal to God, to demote His importance, to participate in the denigration and marginalisation of God.

Unlike the first matter, this matter has nothing to do with the future, and everything to do with what is right in front of us. Frankly, from my perspective, the only way a Christian cannot be smitten in conscience about this comparative marginalisation of God is if he believes that livestreaming, webcasts and Zoom are allowing true worship to continue.

Therefore, it is not surprising to see the following combinations of beliefs:
1) Those who believe the restrictions are temporary, that the Christian conscience need not be injured by the restrictions, and that livestreaming, Zoom and “virtual” church are valid forms of gathering.
2) Those who believe some of the restrictions will become permanent, that the Christian conscience is necessarily offended by the restrictions, and that gathering means gathering, with actual people in each other’s actual presence.

It is not hard to understand why those who hold the first matrix of beliefs have no problem with submitting to (most) everything the government has ordered during the pandemic, and those who hold the second matrix see no possible way to submit to all government says and remain faithful to God.

Since none of us knows the future, discussing government’s intentions is not likely to bring any agreement. We should focus our discussions on two things: are web technologies valid substitutes for embodied worship, and should the individual Christian conscience tolerate the public marginalisation of Christian worship?

31. The Position of Correspondent Love for God

One’s nature determines much of one’s desire for God. What is inherited from Adam and from biological ancestors, partly determines what one desires. Unless the human’s sin nature is miraculously transformed, he or she is without power to love God ultimately, and without the position or tools to pursue God (Jer. 13:23; Rom 3:10–12; Eph. 2:1–3). Fallen and deformed human nature does not love God’s beauty until it is radically corrected. The effect of regeneration upon one’s relationship with God and one’s consequent potential to abide in him, is foundational to loving God (1 John 4:7–8; 5:1). Being goes before doing, though doing influences being. God’s change made to a believer’s being is fundamental, for it transforms the Christian’s state and position before God. C. S. Lewis perceived that a change in the sinner’s nature was actually the secret to loving God:

“Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now the two great commandments have to be translated “Behave as if you loved God and man.” For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, “Ye must be born again.” Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law.”

Scripture’s answer to the question, “How does one love God?” is, “by means of God graciously disclosing himself to a new heart” (Exod. 33:13–18; Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 11:19– 20; 36:26–27; Matt. 11:25–27; 1 John 4:19). This divine disclosure is often called the “presence of God” (Exod. 33:13–14). For the Old Testament people of God, the presence of God was particularly manifest at the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and the Temple (Exod. 25:22; Ezek. 10:18). Moreover, with the coming of the Incarnate Son, God’s presence was especially manifest on earth (John 1:1–18).

The Upper Room Discourse (John 14–17) is partly given to explain how the disciples are to know the presence of God after Christ’s departure. After the ascension of Christ, the revealed presence of God would be known through union with Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit (John 6:56; 14:16–23; 17:23, 26; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 1:3; 3:16–19; Col. 1:27). The Spirit of God illuminates believers to know spiritual realities and to love them (Eph. 1:15–19). In other words, the basis of experiential communion is positional union with Christ.

Union with Christ is the foundation of the Christian life, from which all spiritual blessings flow (Eph. 1:3). In the Pauline epistles, virtually every element of Christ’s work is connected in some way to union with Christ. Henry Scougal writes,

“True religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the Divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, ‘it is Christ formed within us’. Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed, than by calling it a Divine life”

Lewis writes of beauty words that could also be said of love for God: “We do not want merely to see beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses, and nymphs and elves”

Similarly, Edwards states: “That which men love, they desire to have and to be united to and possessed of. The beauty which men delight in, they desire to be adorned with. Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do”

Achieving this union involves a work of all three persons of the Godhead. The Father lovingly chooses believers in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2), and so will never condemn them (Rom. 8:34) or forsake them (Heb. 13:5; John 10:27–29), but rather adopts them into his family (Eph. 1:5) and reserves their inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4). His work prompts believers to worship in his presence.

Through union with Christ (Rom. 6:4–10), the Son’s perfect life, death, resurrection, ascension, and high priestly work have propitiated God’s wrath at believers’ sin (1 John 2:2), forgiven their sins (Col. 2:13–14; Eph. 1:7), justified them (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21), reconciled them with to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:18), regenerated them, given them eternal life (Col. 2:13; John 1:12), sanctified them (1 Cor. 6:11), and seated them with Christ in the heavenlies (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:6), making them accepted (Eph. 1:6) and completed (Col. 2:9–10). The Son’s work gives believers every permission to worship in his presence (Heb. 10:19–22).

The Spirit draws, sanctifies (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thes. 2:13), regenerates (Titus 3:5; John 3:3–9), and then indwells believers (1 Cor. 6:19; Ro. 8:9–10) thereby uniting them with Christ and imparting the very life of Christ and divine nature (though not the divine essence) to them (Gal. 2:20; 1 John 3:24), being the seal and down-payment of their future glorification (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30). Since he is God’s Spirit, when he indwells their spirits, he reveals the things of God (1 Cor. 2:10–13) using the Word of God, and illuminates Christ’s beauty to the seeking heart (John 15:26; 16:14), giving believers both desires and enablement to love God (Phil. 2:13). The Spirit’s work gives believers power to worship in his presence. This prompting, permission, and power speaks of internal inclination, not of external constraint.

Scougal again: “The love which a pious man bears to God and goodness, is not so much by virtue
of a command enjoining him so to do, as by a new nature instructing and prompting him to do it; nor doth he pay his devotions as an unavoidable tribute, only to appease the Divine justice; but those religious exercises are the proper emanations of the Divine life, the natural employments of the new-born soul.”

The work of the Father, Son, and Spirit creates a permanent, ontological union with God in Christ. Through this union, a new nature with new inclinations is imparted. The union is the means of perceiving the revelation of God, of loving the perceived revelation, and of returning love to God.

No love for God is possible without true conversion and regeneration. Love for God requires a new heart, with new relish, new perception. A regenerate believer, through his or her union with Christ, is in the presence of God through the indwelling Spirit, and can now perceive and love the glory of God as revealed in Christ. For this reason, Evangelical spirituality first requires conversion through repentance and belief in the Gospel (Rom. 10:9-10). It then insists on true regeneration, and on believers examining themselves to know if such a union is theirs (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 John 5:10-12). It further disciples believers in the knowledge of their union, explaining their position in Christ, before proclaiming the walk that should emerge from it (Eph. 1:3; 4:1).

In short, correspondent love for God is cultivated through the presence of a true ontological union with God. This position supplies a potential. The new nature must “become what it is”. It must actually move towards experiential union with God, which is the process of correspondent love.

30. Loving God’s Beauty

At this point, it will be helpful to summarise our argument in five steps.

Step one: God’s beauty is his love for his own being.
Step two: God’s beauty is perceived and apprehended by love for God.
Step three: This love must be a correspondent love: one which corresponds with God’s love in degree and nature.
Step four: Love is a desire and cannot be willed directly. Correspondent love must be cultivated.
Step five: There are four ways that correspondent love can be cultivated: imagination (the pattern), nature (the position), exposure (the process), and nurture (the practices).

a) The pattern for correspondent love: the dominant but background Christian imagination of ultimate reality, the telos towards which holy desire moves for union.

b) The position for correspondent love: ontological union with Christ through the triune work of God in salvation, which reveals God and his presence and gives the answering holy desires.

c) The process of correspondent love: the cycle of experiential union, seeking to love God ordinately, and to confess and forsake failures to do so. A disposition of consent or humility-faith-love, must be present, where through which experiential union with God is sought.

d) The practices for correspondent love: deliberate habits that illustrate and cultivate these three. Holy desire is taught, shaped, and expressed through these practices. The order of these four is not strictly hierarchical. One could argue that positional union comes first, making the other three possible. One could likewise begin with the practices, since they shape and affirm the other three. The process could also be foregrounded, as nearest to the actual performance of the three forms of ordinate love. The point is that they are more cyclical and interdependent than sequential and distinct.

The Pattern for Correspondent Love
The pattern for correspondent love refers to what Richard Weaver termed one’s “metaphysical dream”. The word dream reminds one that it is not always a conscious vision, as much as a vision that stands as the background of all conscious choice. The word metaphysical suggests that it deals with reality: the understanding of things as they truly are. This is the synoptic vision of the whole of life, that which gives meaning to the parts. This is the great interpretive index, giving moral significance through meaning to all that is encountered. This is the imagination, that aspect of mankind perhaps best described as being “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27). Tozer, in The Knowledge of the Holy, insists that “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most
important thing about us”.

What then should inform the Christian imagination that inclines the heart towards union with God and ordinate love? If God’s beauty is the ultimate motivator of love, then the Christian life should have the idea of God’s beauty at its very core. We’ve defined beauty as “the Most Lovely loving the Most Lovely”. This came from Edwards’ definition of beauty: “being’s cordial consent to being in general” . Unpacking Edwards’ definition of beauty leads to at least three observations about a Christian imagination based upon God’s beauty.

1) The Christian imagination should be trinitarian. God’s beauty as God’s love is impossible if God is a solitary being. Love within God is only possible if there is a plurality of persons within the one being of God. Edwards wrote, “Again, we have shown that one alone cannot be excellent, inasmuch as, in such case, there can be no consent. Therefore, if God is excellent, there must be a plurality in God; otherwise, there can be no consent in him”

2) The Christian imagination should be personal. “Being’s consent to being” implies that personal relationship is at the heart of existence. Here the term personal refers to viewing reality as fundamentally composed of volitional persons. Reality is not primarily material, composed of the inert thing called “matter” by moderns. Reality is firstly will, intention, meaning, morality. All things exist by the word of a Person who made them and sustains them with His will.

3) The Christian imagination should be doxological. “Being’s cordial consent to being in general”  also suggests that at the heart of this relational universe is the idea of gift. Trinitarian reality necessarily implies personal and relational perichoretic reality. But when three infinite persons relate, the relationship must be one of gratuitous love. Reality is a place of gift and grace: three Persons overflowing in joyful giving. Evil is only the temporary interruption and distortion of the happy reality of the Trinity’s eternal glad giving.

29. The Dilemma of Commanded Love

If God’s beauty is perceived through correspondent, or ordinate love, we face a dilemma. Love is not merely a mental choice between options. One cannot simply choose to love as a naked act of the will. As Tozer said, “[E]very man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be. He may not be as full as he wishes he were, but he is most certainly as full as he wants to be”. That is, Christians may wish that they loved God more than they do, but they currently love him with as much inclination as they do. Such a statement is not meant to be deliberately tautologous. It merely affirms what Edwards writes in The Freedom of the Will: the strongest inclination is the choice one makes, and that choice is the same as the will.

As we’ve seen, some of the problem began when the Enlightenment introduced a three-faculty view of human psychology. It also began viewing the will as a neutral faculty. In Edwards’ view, the human will is not the faculty that decides, it is the decision itself. Edwards’ two-faculty view of human psychology suggests that the mind knows the objects of desire, and the heart chooses, or loves, what it sees as the greatest good. The greatest motive always prevails as the thing chosen. In other words, what the will chooses is precisely what it loves. This is why it is not strictly correct to speak of “choosing to love”, for one is really thereby saying “choosing to choose” or “loving so as to love”. Logically, one would be forced to ask, what inclination is leading one to desire such an inclination? The same thing would need to be asked of that inclination, till one has an absurd infinite regress of choices to choose, with apparently no starting point.

The will does not choose to love; the will chooses what it loves. One’s chosen desires reflect what one thinks it best to choose. Loves can be formed and shaped, but they cannot simply be willed into being. In a real sense, as has been shown, love is the will in the direction of what it sees as good. One may speak of choosing the good or loving what is most beautiful, but not of choosing to love.

Here then is the problem: if correspondent love is fundamental to apprehending God’s beauty, how can his love be experienced, if love cannot simply be willed into being? In other words, how is this love to be obtained? Love cannot be willed. Desires can, however, be cultivated. Four ways of cultivating this love will be our focus, going forward.

1) Correspondent love is cultivated through a vision of what is beautiful. Humans are always inclined towards a vision of something they believe is good.  This picture is not a set of abstract ideas, as much as it is an aesthetic idea, an affective, sensible picture of what reality is really like or should be like. This corresponds to what we call imagination. This is not speculative fancy; it is the non-cognitive picture of the deep structure of Reality.

A Christian imagination is absolutely fundamental to cognition, perception, and interpretation. If correspondent love is the key to perceiving God’s beauty, and imagination is fundamental to perception, it follows that a Christian imagination is fundamental to correspondent love. This is the telos to which the human heart is inclined; it is its treasure, to which one will always find the heart inclined (Matt. 6:21).

2) Correspondent love is cultivated through a change in spiritual nature. In his Treatise on Grace, Edwards writes that “the first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration, is to give the heart a divine taste or sense, to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature”
Indeed, it may be a form of Pelagianism to assert that the affections can simply be commanded by an act of human thought or willpower. That is, an implantation of the divine nature has to be given for the human soul to find relish and inclination toward God.

The spiritual beauty of the saints is their consent to God’s being, but this consent comes only because something of God’s being has been created in the human being. Holy love for God cannot come without a new nature. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Ontological union with Christ provides the new nature, the new position from which ordinate love for God can grow. The second area of cultivating correspondent love will be through the presence of a new nature, or position of the Christian life. This new position must be present and remembered.

3) Correspondent love is cultivated though exposure. The new nature or position is meant to be fleshed out and experienced. The New Testament’s call to Christians is to become what they are, to practice their position, to cause their nature to affect their posture (Rom. 6:10–12; Eph. 4:1). Through this actual exposure to God’s love, love is cultivated through the experience of it. Edwards reminds one that beauty is not known in the abstract, but through exposure: “It is evident therefore by this, that the way we come by the idea or sensation of beauty, is by immediate sensation of the gratefulness of the idea called “beautiful”; and not by finding out by argumentation any consequences, or other things that it stands connected with; any more than tasting the sweetness of honey, or perceiving the harmony of a tune, is by argumentation on connections and consequences” The third area of cultivating correspondent love will be through exposure to the beauty of God through experiential communion with God, which one might term the process of the Christian life.

4) Correspondent love for God is cultivated through repeated practice or nurture. Habit is what shapes the heart. Liturgical practices, habitually repeated in acts of private and public worship, give physical form and memorable expression to an idea of ultimate reality. The human heart needs regular nurture in those spiritual practices that give form and expression to correspondent love. The fourth area of cultivating correspondent love will be through regular spiritual disciplines, which one might term the practices of the Christian life.

28. More Voices From the Past on Loving God

Brother Lawrence’s (1614–1691) collected letters, known as The Practice of the Presence of God, describe his attempt to love all things for God’s sake. He remarks that he was pleased “when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts” (The Practice of the Presence of God, 2nd Conv., VI).

Jonathan Edwards also differentiates between loving God as a means or as an end.

For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all that is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all. (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, 3:144).

References to inordinate affection, or non-corresponding love abound in Christian thought. Early church fathers such as Clement, Nemesius of Emesa, and Gregory of Nyssa all differentiate between evil passions and good. Puritans such as William Ames, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes wrote much on right affections as opposed to inordinate affections.

In his greatest work against positivism and subjectivism, The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes:

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others.

Roger Scruton, in Beauty, agrees:

for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their leisure and their taste: but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.

The so-called “worship wars”, whether ancient or modern, largely are debates over what is appropriate love for God, and what is not. Whether it be the matter of images, the order of the Mass, the use of an organ, singing in the vernacular, the presence of an altar, the presence of statues, crucifixes or candles and incense in worship, or priestly vestments, these all reflect a centuries-old debate regarding appropriate worship, and therefore ordinate or correspondent love.

The idea of correspondent or ordinate love for God has been present in historical Christian thought. Christians have written on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of love. The writers surveyed believed that for love to correspond to God’s love, it must be accorded to the right objects according to their value and nature, and thereby be of the right degree and kind.

27. Voices From the Past on Loving God Rightly

It would be an insurmountable task to gather the collective thought of Christians on the topic of love for God. Suffice it to say, that many Christians have spoken frequently on the degree and nature of rightly ordered love. They have spoken not only on the required order of Christian loves, but on their kind. Correspondent love is not a novel concept.

Augustine is best known for speaking of the ordo amoris.

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which someone has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: ‘These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.’ But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me” (City of God, XV, xxii).

Similarly, Augustine writes of how love itself is worthy of love.

Because in men who are justly loved, it is rather love itself that is loved; for he is not justly called a good man who knows what is good, but who loves it. Is it not then obvious that we love in ourselves the very love wherewith we love whatever good we love? For there is also a love wherewith we love that which we ought not to love; and this love is hated by him who loves that wherewith he loves what ought to be loved (City of God, XII, xviii).

Augustine refers to loving what God loves, to the degree that God does, in On Christian Doctrine:

Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake (On Christian Doctrine, I, xxvii).

Perhaps best known among his quotes on love is Augustine’s saying: “He loves thee too little, who loves anything with thee which he loves not for thy sake” (Confessions, IX, xxix).

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) wrote On Loving God. He likewise speaks of loving God for himself: “We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable” (On Loving God, I).

Similarly, he writes, “You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love” (Ibid.).

The anonymous author of Theologia Germanica, most likely writing in the late fourteenth century writes,

And where a creature loveth other creatures for the sake of something that they have, or loveth God, for the sake of something of her own, it is all false Love; and this Love belongeth properly to nature, for nature as nature can feel and know no other love than this; for if ye look narrowly into it, nature as nature loveth nothing beside herself. But true Love is taught and guided by the true Light and Reason, and this true, eternal and divine Light teacheth Love to love nothing but the One true and Perfect Good, and that simply for its own sake, and not for the sake of a reward, or in the hope of obtaining anything, but simply for the Love of Goodness, because it is good and hath a right to be loved (Theologia Germanica, XLII).

Thomas Traherne (1636–1674) expresses the idea of ordinate love being the same as Christlikeness.

Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. The end for which you were created, is that by prizing all that God hath done, you may enjoy yourself and Him in Blessedness…For then we please God when we are most like Him. We are like Him when our minds are in frame. Our minds are in frame when our thoughts are like His. And our thoughts are then like His when we have such conceptions of all objects as God hath, and prize all things according to their value. For God doth prize all things rightly, which is a Key that opens into the very thoughts of His bosom (Centuries of Meditations, First Century, XII).

26. A Biblical Theology of Loving God

Is the idea of correspondent, or ordinate, love present in Scripture? Does Scripture describe what love for God should be? It does indeed. In terms of degree, Scripture makes a hierarchy of loves very clear. The first of the Ten Commandments is “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). Deuteronomy 6:4–5 was the positive wording of the same commandment. In conversation with a scribe, Jesus explained that the command of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 was the ultimate obligation, followed by a second: Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:29–31).

It appears that Christ was interpreting the Shema to mean that the uniqueness of God demanded an answering form of ultimate love. This statement by Christ can be stated as the first of three biblical definitions of correspondent love.

1) Correspondent love for God loves God ultimately, and all else for his sake. Only God is to be loved wholeheartedly, which is to say, loved ultimately, as the only God. A god is one in whom a person places ultimate trust and looks to it for ultimate delight. Gods are found at the end of one’s chains of value and are not loved as a means to another love (that is, instrumentally), but are loved for themselves (that is, ultimately). God alone is to be loved as an end, and not as a means, for no one else is the true God. God alone deserves to be loved for himself; all other loves should be instrumental to that end (Ps. 73:25–26). Jesus made this clear, when calling for this ultimate love to be given to him, as the Son of God:

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37).

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs’ (John 21:15–17).

Similar Scriptures link the command to love or fear God ultimately to man’s ultimate obligation: Eccl. 12:13; Deut. 10:12; Prov. 9:10; 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17. Love is repeatedly placed at the head of Christian character (1 Cor. 13:13; 16:14; Col. 3:14;1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 4:8; 2 Pet. 1:5–7). Loving one’s neighbour is also granted a kind of summary status as fulfilment of one’s moral obligations in Romans 13:9–10, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8.

If God demands ultimate love, what of other loves? The love of neighbour can further be divided into love for Christian brethren (John 13:34), love for family (Eph. 5:22–6:4), love for non-Christian neighbour (Rom. 13:9–10; Gal. 6:10) and love for enemy (Rom. 12:18–20; Matt. 5:4). The fact that love of neighbour is bundled together with love for God implies that the Second Commandment is an application of the First. That is, neighbours are to be loved for God’s sake.

How so? Here are three possible ways. First, when loving one’s neighbour, one is loving God by obeying his command to love neighbour, and Jesus said that obedience is a form of love for him (John 14:15). Second, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving the image of God still resident in that neighbour (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9; 1 John 4:12). Third, in loving one’s neighbour, one is loving what God himself loves, for God loves all, including his enemies (John 3:16; Matt. 5:44–45). Love for those God loves is counted, in some sense, as love for him (Matt. 25:34–40).

Loving for God’s sake may be extended from neighbour to all of creation. All good gifts are to be received thankfully (1 Tim. 4:4; Jas. 1:17). Creation must be contemplated for the way it reveals God and loved accordingly (Ps. 19:1–6; 1 Thes. 5:21; Phil. 4:8). In this way, correspondent love is loving God alone for himself, and loving all else for his sake.

This love is a complete “consent” of will to God, making him the chief end and desire of all. This love finds complete union in God as the chief end of life, heartily making him its desire and delight, reflecting the spirit of Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever”.

25. Knowing God’s Beauty Through Correspondent Love

What can we conclude about God’s beauty and how to perceive it?

1) God’s beauty is his own consent, love, or affection for his holy being.
2) Loving this beauty, and necessarily, its object-God’s being simply considered-is the means of perceiving this beauty. Loving God is the analogue of God’s beauty in the creature: a creature participates and shares (and thereby perceives) God’s beauty, when loving it and God as God does.
3) The kind of love that perceives this beauty is of a particular kind: containing humility, faith, discernment, benevolence, submission, and union.

Here then, is my simple proposal: a certain kind of love for God will enable, and is identical to, the apprehension of God’s beauty. Loving God and his cosmos as God does, is both beholding beauty, and becoming beautiful. The perception of God’s beauty is an experience known through participative love.

This love must be carefully defined and qualified. This love must be humbly receptive and teachable. It must rightly imagine God as revealed in Scripture. It must guard against self-love, narcissism, and sentimentalism. It must possess sound judgement and exhibit maturity, having been shaped by the best in Christian culture. It must exist within an ontological and dispositional union with God. In other words, not merely any love for God will result in perceiving God’s beauty.

A term for distinguishing this love from counterfeit forms is the term correspondent love. Here, the word correspondent is used adjectivally, to describe and modify the noun love. Correspondent love refers to love for God that corresponds in degree and kind to God’s own love.

How can we discover what kind of love God has for Himself? Some theologians have cautioned that intra-trinitarian love is not a perfect analogue for the believer’s love for God. The perfect love of God for God is unique and infinite – and probably unknowable, in the truest sense, to a creature.

Though the creature cannot love infinitely as God does, creaturely love may still be rightly ordered, in terms of its hierarchy of loves and in terms of the nature of the love, to be conformed to the kind of love that perceives God’s beauty through submissive participation. When it is rightly ordered (or ordinate, to use the archaic term), it will correspond to God’s own love, in creaturely fashion. The degree or quantity, and the kind or quality of the love must be rooted in the nature of things: in this case, the being of God and his own love for himself.

What is love? In contrast to the modern idea of love as “emotion”, premodern Christianity understood love as a voluntary, rational inclination of the soul towards what it sees as beautiful. On this definition, love may include feelings, but it is not itself an involuntary feeling. Love is rational desire that moves towards union. Love is moved by beauty. When the soul is pure, it loves what is beautiful; when otherwise, it loves what is base. The love corresponds to the object.

Henry Scougal (1650–1678) put it this way: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love” (The Life of God, 70). Lewis, in Surprised By Joy, similarly writes, “The form of the desired is in the desire. It is the object which makes the desire harsh or sweet, coarse or choice, ‘high’ or ‘low.’ It is the object that makes the desire itself desirable or hateful”. In other words, love is appropriate and correspondent to the degree that its object is truly God, and his beauty is properly seen and understood.

Love is rational desire towards what a person sees as good and beautiful. What does love desire in the perceived beauty? As creatures, humans may go toward the object of their love either in the form of need or in the form of gift. Lewis classifies these as Need-loves and Gift-loves. Need-love looks to the good or beautiful in the Beloved to meet a need in oneself; gift-love seeks to enjoy the good or beautiful in the Beloved for itself, or to beautify it further. In the case of perfection, beautify does not mean improve; it means simply display, magnify, communicate that perfection so that it is more widely shown.

In his essay “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis objects to the idea that love is primarily the negative ideal of unselfishness. For Lewis, love is positive desire. When accused by Kantians of mercenary motives in such love, Lewis answers that when the reward that a desire seeks is foreign to the activity, the mercenary accusation may be valid. But when the reward is the activity itself in consummation, such as marriage being the sought reward of love, such love cannot be accused of selfishness, except if one is beholden to Stoic or Kantian ideas.

Correspondent love pursues the good of all that God is; it pursues the pleasure of God himself. Christians love God because of what God is for them, and because of what God is. They love his need-meeting ability, and they love his excellence.

Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) helps one find balance: “You object that the truly regenerate should love God for himself: and you fear that you love him more for his benefits, as incitements and motives to love him, than for himself. I answer: to love God himself as the last end, and also for his benefits, as incitements and motives to love him, may stand well together; as a son loveth his mother, because she is his mother, howbeit she is poor; and he loveth her for anapple also. I hope that you will not say that benefits are the only reason and bottom of your love; it seemeth there is a better foundation for it” (Letters, 49/To James Bautie).

Correspondent love is then the inclination of the will (or desire) towards God for all that he is, both in himself and for one’s good. When God is rightly known and desired, the desire will be correspondingly holy.

2020 Reading

 

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot
Kirk, Russell
5/5. Encyclopaedic history of conservative thought.

 

Commonwealth Theology
Commonwealth Theology
Krieger, Douglas W.
3/5. Interesting alternative to Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Sowell, Thomas
5/5. Masterful telling of history of slavery and racial conflict.

 

Demons: What the Bible Really Says about the Powers of Darkness
Demons: What the Bible Really Says about the Powers of Darkness
Heiser, Michael S.
3/5. Fairly well-argued case for demons being disembodied spirits of Nephilim.
Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty
Middle Knowledge: Human Freedom in Divine Sovereignty
Laing, John D
4/5. Careful study of the Molinist view of foreknowledge, election and free-will.

 

The Infinite Variety of Music
The Infinite Variety of Music
Bernstein, Leonard
4/5. Great, but difficult to follow if the printed music is not played for you.

 

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1)
The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1)
Jordan, Robert
4/5. Surprisingly rich world with clear allusions to a biblical cosmology.
My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (Sacred Order/Social Order, #1)
My Life among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority (Sacred Order/Social Order, #1)
Rieff, Philip
3/5. Poetic philosophy but impenetrable to a dunderhead like me.

 

What to Listen for in Music
What to Listen for in Music
Copland, Aaron
4/5. Excellent introduction.

 

The Body: A Guide for Occupants
The Body: A Guide for Occupants
Bryson, Bill
4/5. A page-turner, and always delightful to see a Darwinist express wonder, gratitude and awe, and have no one to thank.

 

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
Peterson, Eugene H.
3/5. Worthy, but not outstanding, comments on the Songs of Ascent.
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great
Merkle, Benjamin R.
5/5. Warm, gripping and interesting telling of perhaps England’s greatest king.
J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life
J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life
Miller, Paul E.

5/5. Excellent, excellent telling of one of the great themes of Scripture and central themes of Philippians.

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga #4)
The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga #4)
Peterson, Andrew
The final book of a wonderful series read to my children.
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth
Tolkien, J.R.R.
5/5/. Some gems and jewels for lovers of Middle-Earth.
Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Guinness, Os
4/5. Unorthodox but wise retelling of apologetic methodology.
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God
Crabtree, Sam
3/5. Simple reminder to affirm and praise those in our lives we lead and serve.

 

Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
Barr, Stephen M.
4/5. Heavily scientific explanations of God’s glory in cosmology and physics.
Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution: A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First
McGrath, Alister
4/5. Self-attesting Scripture leads to the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, which led to the Reformation and modern Protestantism

 

Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith
Narrative Apologetics: Sharing the Relevance, Joy, and Wonder of the Christian Faith
McGrath, Alister
3/5. Good introduction to the importance of story and mythos for overall worldview and perspective.

 

Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World
Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World
Gould, Paul M.
5/5. Tremendous understanding of cultural perspectives that shape the reception of the Christian message.

 

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Living Faith Series)
Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith
Ordway, Holly *
3/5. A good start spoiled by an overbearing and proselytising Romanism.

 

Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing
Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing
Sire, James W.
3/5. A retired apologist reflects on the many methods beyond evidentialism
Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
Gibson, Jonathan
5/5. Superb collection of all the Reformation liturgies from Luther through Westminster.

 

Theology of the Reformers
Theology of the Reformers
George, Timothy
5/5. Readable, wise, thorough historical theology.
Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians
Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy: Engaging with Early and Medieval Theologians
Green, Bradley G.
3/5. Several essays, of varying quality, on early ante-Nicene fathers.
The Stripping of the Altars
The Stripping of the Altars
Duffy, Eamon
3/5. Voluminous, but overwhelming study of pre-Reformation England.

 

The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does
The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does
Gilder, George
4/5. Illuminating. Money is supposed to be a measure of value, not a thing of value itself, an item to trade with, not to trade in.

 

Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry
Budgeting for a Healthy Church: Aligning Finances with Biblical Priorities for Ministry
Dunlop, Jamie
4/5. Helpful, but should be titled “Budgeting for a Healthy American Church”.

 

Lectures on Calvinism
Lectures on Calvinism
Kuyper, Abraham
4/5. Rich, but somewhat dated, lectures on why orthodox Protestantism has produced the best culture history has seen.

The Doctrine of Impeccability: A Test Case for the Hypostatic Union

During this time of Christmas, the church rightly turns its attention to the mystery of the Incarnation. That God became man, while remaining fully God, is one of the deepest biblical doctrines to plumb. Whenever there is some intersection of the human and the divine, there is a fathomless mystery at work: divine election and human freedom, divine and human authorship of Scripture, divine agency and human action. So it is with the Incarnation: the mystery of how one Person could come to have two natures, without dividing the Person or mixing the natures. Orthodoxy always seems balanced on a knife-edge: the fall into heresy is swift if one attempts to explain away the biblical data while leaning too heavily to one side or the other.

One way to illustrate the peril and the precision which is required when handling this doctrine is to consider the doctrine of impeccability. Simply put, impeccability states that Christ was not able to sin. When it is put as prosaically as that, the usual pushback is that the doctrine of impeccability makes a farce of Satan’s temptation of Jesus. Why tempt One who is immune to temptation, and unable to fall? One may as well seek to lure herbivores with red meat, or entice the deaf with a beautiful melody.

Those comparisons are flawed, as we’ll see. Before we answer the question of temptation, we should begin with the two natures of Christ, and how they affect impeccability.

Christ is fully God. God cannot sin, for sin is a violation of God’s will and nature. God cannot be other than himself. For this reason, sin is not tempting to God at all (Jas 1:13).

Christ is fully man. Born of a virgin, and through the miracle of divine conception, Jesus was born without a sin nature. Adam before the fall was able not to sin. Adam after the fall, with a sin nature, was not able not to sin. Christ’s human nature was as Adam’s pre-fall: able not to sin.

Whatever is true of the nature propagates to the Person, according to that nature.  According to His divine nature, Christ was not able to sin. According to His human nature, Christ was able not to sin.

Whatever belongs to natures, Christ has two of, and whatever belongs to Persons, Christ has one of. Christ has a divine will (identical to the will of the Triune Godhead), and a human will (“not My will but Thine be done”, Jesus said in the Garden). It is impossible for the divine will to sin. It is possible for the unfallen human will not to sin. These two unite in the hypostatic union, where the Formula of Chalcedon describes the union as, “two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ”.

Here we see the nearly unbearable weight of this doctrine upon human understanding. If we were to say that the divine nature cancelled out any ability to sin, that would be the heresy of Eutychianism, mixing the natures. If we said that he never did possess any real human inclinations but only a human body, we’d be guilty of Apollinarianism. If we claimed that “His human side” could sin, we would be guilty of Nestorianism – dividing the person into two. If we claimed that Jesus the Man could sin and only avoid sin because of God’s presence, we’d be close to Ebionism, denying the divinity of Christ.

Instead, we are left with the same kind of conundrums we have in other areas. According to His divine nature, Jesus is omnipresent; according to His human nature, Jesus is localised in a glorified body. According to His divine nature, Jesus was immortal; according to His human nature, Jesus could die. These are both true in the Person, without cancelling the other out.

In the case of impeccability, most theologians have landed on impeccability. There have been exceptions, Charles Hodge and A. W. Tozer being two notable ones. But most have decided that a nature that cannot sin, when united with a nature that is able not to sin, leads to a Person who is not able to sin. Impossibility united with mere potential seems to still result in impossibility. Natures don’t sin, persons do, and it is simply impossible that the Person who is God could sin.

This returns us to the Temptation of Christ. What was the point of tempting an impeccable Person? First, we are not sure of what Satan knew of the incarnate Christ’s peccability. If it is a mystery to us, it could certainly have been a mystery to spiritual forces of darkness. Second, the fact that Jesus could not sin is not the reason He did not sin. It is true that Jesus could not sin. But the writer of Hebrews never posits Christ’s divine nature as the reason for His perfection. Instead, we read that “He learned obedience by the things He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). In other words, Jesus did not sin because of His faith and obedience – the same tools available to us.

Bruce Ware illustrates this with a long distance open-water swimmer. Such swimmers have support boats trailing them. These make it impossible for them to drown. The support boats, however, are not the reason they do not drown. The reason they do not drown is because they keep swimming with endurance, and finish the race. Yes, Jesus had the “support boat” of His divine nature: He could not sin. But the reason He did not sink into sin was that He kept obeying, kept trusting, kept resisting Satan to the end.

Behold, the wondrous mystery: God and Man, the Word made flesh, the born child who is the Mighty God. Come, let us adore Him.