The Book of Titus: A Theology of Good Works

The theme of good works is a dominant theme in the book of Titus (Titus 1:16; 2:7, 14; 3:1, 8, 14). “The fundamental teaching of the epistle is that the redemptive work of God in Christ must lead to changed lives,” William Mounce argues, “that Christ sacrificed himself to ‘redeem us from all lawlessness and cleanse for himself a special people, zealots for good works.’” And in this blog, I want to examine what Paul says about good works so we can develop a proper theology of good works.

Before I get started, though, let me give you a brief definition of a good work: a good work is any action or speech that honors our Lord and helps our neighbor. With good works defined, we are ready to look at a couple foundation stones for our theology of good works.

Foundation Stone #1: We Are Not Saved because of our Good Works

To properly understand good works, we must start here: God did not save us because of our good works. Before God saved us, we were dead in sin. We were not spiritually unconscious and waiting for a spiritual awakening. No! We were spiritually dead and buried in the muck and mire of sin. We were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We were spiritually lifeless, and we needed God to resurrect us.

Thankfully, at God’s appointed time and in accordance with God’s immeasurable grace in Christ, He gave us life. God illuminated our minds, replaced our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and drew us to Christ. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,” Paul says, “He saved us” (Titus 3:3-5). While we were spiritually dead and buried in the muck and mire of sin, God graciously breathed new life into us and resurrected us from our spiritual graves.

This had nothing to do with our works, our futile and defective religious deeds. Paul makes this clear: God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” (Titus 3:5; emphasis added). In other words, our salvation in Christ is not because of our works, it is because of God’s work. God is the giver of our salvation, and we are the recipients. God is the subject of our salvation, and we are the objects. A proper theology of good works must start here.

Foundation Stone #2: We Are Saved for Good Works

How would you answer this question: “Why did Jesus die as a substitute for sinners?” You could answer this in various ways: 1) to save us, 2) to deliver us from the penalty of sin, 3) to give us eternal life, or 4) to reconcile us to God. These are great answers. But how many of you would also say, “One reason Jesus died was to save a people for Himself who are zealous for good works”? Based on my conversations with Christians, not many.

Here is the problem, though, this theme—divine deliverance for the sake of God-honoring service—is a major theme in the Bible. “Go into Pharaoh and say to him, ‘thus says the Lord, ‘Let my people go that they may serve me’” (Exodus 8:1; emphasis added). And this theme is found in the book of Titus. Paul says that Jesus gave himself for us “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13-14; emphasis added). Paul is clear, Jesus died to create a people who are zealous and enthusiastic for good works. So, Jesus did not hang on a Roman cross because of our good works, but He did hang on a Roman cross to create a people for Himself who have an unquenchable zeal for good works. Our theology of good works must include this.

The Role of Good Works: They Help Our Neighbors

We are not saved for good works because God needs our good works. God does not need anything, especially our good works. He does not sleep or slumber, eat or drink, or wear out or rust out. He does not need clothing, nor does He need advancements in modern medicine. This is the “God who made the world and everything in it.” He is Lord of heaven and earth. He “does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands” (Acts 17:24-26).

Well, why are we saved for good works? It is because our neighbors need our good works. We live in a fallen world wrecked with the inevitable consequences of sin. Death leaves people childless and spouseless. Disease leaves people hurt and in despair. Disasters leave communities ravaged and desolate. Involuntary unemployment leaves families anxious and in need. Divorce leaves families fractured and splintered. Sexual sin leaves people worn out and ruined. Rebellious children leave parents discouraged and in anguish. We can go on and on. This fallen world leaves people with a variety of urgent needs. 

And God saved us for good works so we could demonstrate our love for Him by aiding our neighbors: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14; emphasis added). We are commanded to spend ourselves doing good to meet our neighbor’s urgent needs.

The Role of Good Works: They Increase Our Fruitfulness

Good works increase our fruitfulness. You probably noticed this in the verse I previously referenced: “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14; emphasis added). God is glorified in us when we bear much fruit. One way we become increasingly fruitful in the Christian life is by selflessly devoting ourselves to good works for Christ’s namesake. 

Paul prayed for this type of increased fruitfulness for other Christians: And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will. . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10; emphasis added). Paul’s prayer teaches us two things: 1) spiritual fruit springs from good works, and 2) God is the one who ultimately enables us to bear fruit in every good work. So, let us selflessly devote ourselves to good works, and let us eagerly petition God to bless our labors and enable us to bear more and more fruit.

The Role of Good Works: They Adorn the Gospel

Above all, good works adorn the gospel. Just think about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is a message about how God has acted in the person of Jesus Christ to save sinners. When we proclaim the gospel, we proclaim words, sentences, and paragraphs about what Jesus Christ has done. And the clear proclamation of the gospel is the most beautiful proclamation of all.

The message of the gospel, though, can be adorned with our good works. Paul makes this clear when he says, “Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:9-10; emphasis added). When we adorn something, we make it attractive. The Jewish temple was “adorned with noble stones” (Luke 21:5). Women should “adorn themselves in respectable apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9). It is what a bride does on her wedding day. She is already gorgeous, but she becomes even more eye-popping when she adorns herself in a radiant wedding dress.

So, when slaves submit to their masters instead of arguing with and stealing from their masters, they adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ, they make it attractive to their masters. And when we, as blood-bought Christians, devote ourselves to good works, we adorn the gospel to the outside world, we make it eye-popping to unbelievers.

We proclaim the good news of the gospel with words, but we adorn the good news of the gospel with good works.

Application: Be Ready for Good Works

Paul tells us to be ready for every good work: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. . .” (Titus 3:1; emphasis added). To “be ready” means we need to be prepared. This is why Jesus tells us to be ready for His Second coming: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44; emphasis added). Because Jesus will return at an unexpected hour, He wants us to live in a constant state of readiness. He wants us to be prepared.

And Paul wants us to have this same mindset when it comes to every good work. Since God has prepared good works for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10), Paul commands us to be ready, to live in a constant state of preparedness to walk in these good works.

Application: Be Carefully Devoted to Good Works

Paul also tells us to be carefully devoted to good works: “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8; emphasis added). The phrase “be careful” means to pay close attention to something. Just think about a teacher who instructs her students to carefully read the instructions before answering the questions on their exams. She wants them to pay close attention to the instructions. 

And the term “devote” means to seriously apply yourself to something. I constantly tell the youth in our church to devote themselves to the study of God’s word. I want them to seriously apply themselves, to employ their time and energy, to the study God’s word.

Let us put these together. When the Bible tells us to carefully devote ourselves to good works, God is telling us to have a thoughtful approach to the continuation of good works, and to seriously apply ourselves to the completion of good works.

Warning: Good Works Display the Authenticity of our Faith

The Bible clearly teaches these two truths: 1) a living faith in Christ is evidenced by good works, and 2) a false faith is evidenced by ungodly works. Jesus teaches this. “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21). He goes on to say, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24). Our love for Christ evidences itself by our obedience to His commands. Our lack of love for Christ evidences itself by our disobedience to His commands.

The book of Titus teaches this as well. If Christ’s death secured His people’s zeal for good works, then our zeal for good works will show that we are truly among His people. On the other hand, if Christ’s death secured His people’s zeal for good works, then the absence of good works will evidence that we are not among his people. 

Paul even alludes to this after he commands Titus to rebuke false teachers. He says the false teachers “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16; emphasis added). The false teachers are phonies—their works make this evident. And since they are phonies who remain dead in sin, they are unfit for any good work. As you can see, good works display the authenticity, or inauthenticity, of our faith.

Applying God’s Word

First, and perhaps most importantly, we must remember this, God’s love for us does not wax and wane based on the amount of good works we do. Because we are in Christ, God has loved us with an everlasting love. He loved us while we were dead in sin, and He most certainly loves us now that we are alive in Christ. This means He loves us when we fumble in bumble throughout the Christian life, even when we neglect to carefully devote ourselves to good works. 

Second, we must strive to eliminate time-consuming activities that hinder us from a life of good works. God has generously given us many good gifts such as T.V., movies, social media, sports, and certain hobbies. We are supposed to master these good gifts and use them to maximize our joy in Christ. Sadly, though, these good gifts often end up mastering us. These things begin to consume too much of our time, energy, and money. And when these good gifts take up too much of our precious resources, we end up with fewer resources that we can utilize to carry out good works—works that honor our Lord, aid our neighbor, and increase our fruitfulness.

Third, make a list of good works you want to fulfil throughout a day, week, or month. Sure, many of the good works God has prepared for us appear out of nowhere and require our spur-of-the-moment obedience. Some good works, though, can be planned out. Because of this, try to plan out some good works: 1) list out a few people you desire to encourage when you gather with your church on a Sunday morning, 2) write down a couple widows or widowers you desire to visit, or 3) plan a discipleship date with one of your children. I believe this discipline, planning out good works, will enable us to live a purposeful and fruitful Christian life.

Fourth, we need to understand that most of our good works will take place at home, church, and work. The average Christian spends most of their time in these places. So, to be maximally fruitful, we need to strategically devote ourselves to good works in these places. This means the people who will benefit most from our good works are our families, fellow church members, and co-workers.

And lastly, we need to have a war-time mentality. A little over two years ago, the region I live in was dismantled by a category four hurricane. The destruction was catastrophic. It looked like a massive shrapnel grenade blew up and damaged everything in sight. This whole area looked like a region ravaged by war. At this point, amid the destruction, our beaten and bruised church became a base of operations for disaster relief efforts. 

We immediately began to process and fulfill hundreds of work orders. We had a chainsaw crew devoted to clearing roads, driveways, and yards. We had a tarp crew dedicated to tarping damaged roofs. We set up a supply and distribution center to distribute goods to those with urgent needs. And, as we did all this, we sought to encourage and pray for those we served. In other words, we were devoted to good works. And I think we were so careful to devote ourselves to good works—to the continuation and completion of good works—because we, as a church, had a war-time mentality.

Well, how can we develop a war-time mentality when it does not feel like a time of war? We need to understand the spiritual war we are currently in. Satan and his demons wreak more havoc on a day-to-day basis than any category four hurricane could inflict in a lifetime. We are definitely in a time of war, an unseen and spiritual war, but a real war! And since we are in a time of war, we, as followers of Christ, should urgently and strategically do good works, works that honor the Lord Jesus Christ and aid our neighbors.

Embryo Adoption: An Interview with Philip & Kahlie

On Sanctity of Life Sundays, or near Sanctity of Life Sundays, our church occasionally interviews couples in our church family that have fought for life in various ways (foster care, foster to adopt, domestic adoption, etc.). And this year, our church interviewed Kahlie and me on the topic of embryo adoption, particularly our experience with embryo adoption. We initially planned to record and share the interview. A thunderstorm and power outage prevented this—it completely erased the entire audio and video recording! Shortly afterwards, Kahlie wanted me to turn the interview into a blog. I thought this was a good idea, and this is my attempt to bring a good idea to completion.

The written word is different than the spoken word, so this is not exactly what we told our church family during the interview. I have freely added Scripture references, article links, and footnotes that will serve certain people who desire to know more. With all that said, here’s our interview on the topic of embryo adoption.

When did you first start thinking about adoption?

The first time we talked about adoption with one another was while we were engaged to be married. Shortly after we were engaged in December 2012, we began to work through John Piper’s Questions to Ask When Preparing for Marriage. As we worked our way through Piper’s questions, we came to the one about adoption: “Would we consider adoption?” In response to this question, we both, at twenty-one years of age, expressed our desire to adopt. We knew that, through faith in Christ, God had adopted us into His family (Gal 4:4-6; Eph 1:5), and we were eager to imitate our heavenly Father by adopting children into our family.

What role did infertility play in y’all pursuing adoption a few years ago?

For some reason, we assumed we would adopt a child after we had some biological children of our own. Easy enough, right? Wrong! The Lord is the one who opens and closes the womb (Gen 30:2; 1 Sam 1:5). And throughout nine years of our marriage, the Lord has chosen to close Kahlie’s womb. We’re not sure why this is—the fertility doctors call it unexplained infertility. Anyhow, from 2017 to 2019, Kahlie went through some minor fertility treatments. We hoped and prayed the Lord would use these treatments to grant us a biological child. In His wisdom, though, He never did.

In the latter part of 2019, the fertility doctors began to recommend In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).[1] To them, if we wanted to grow our biological family, then this was the next step. We understood what they were saying, but we had no desire to do IVF. This led us to pursue adoption in the early part of 2020.

Why didn’t you go down the path of In vitro fertilization (IVF) to grow your family?

We are not medical professionals, and we do not know all the ins and outs of In Vitro Fertilization. But we refused to go through the IVF process because of certain moral and ethical reasons. Let me briefly give you the three thoughts that led us away from IVF.

First, as Christians, we believe human life begins at the moment of conception. Whenever a man’s seed fertilizes a woman’s egg, you have human life. In the natural, biological process, fertilization happens in the woman’s body. In the IVF process, fertilization happens outside the woman’s body. Either way, whenever and wherever fertilization has occurred, human life has begun. At this stage of human development, the precious baby is referred to as an embryo. But do not let the term embryo mislead you. Human embryos are human beings.

Second, in the IVF process, couples typically aim for the largest number of viable embryos. They want their doctors to attempt to fertilize as many eggs as possible so they can have a greater opportunity at growing their families. Sometimes couples going through IVF end up with five, ten, or twenty viable embryos. Every one of these viable embryos are precious human beings made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). And these human embryos deserve the same basic respect we accord to human beings at later developmental stages (newborn, infant, toddler, etc.).

Third, it is not abnormal for couples going through the IVF process to have extra embryos. This is one of the main moral and ethical dilemmas of IVF (read about other moral and ethical problems here). What do you do with extra human embryos, extra children? At this point, there are four choices a couple can make: (1) continue to pay storage fees on the frozen embryos (this does not solve the problem of extra embryos), (2) have the embryos thawed and destroyed (abortion), (3) donate the embryos to scientific research (abortion), or (4) place the extra embryos up for adoption. 

As we mentioned, the first option does not solve the problem of extra embryos. The second and third options are not even options for Bible-believing Christians. The last option—although admirable and praiseworthy at this point in the IVF process (we would not have Eliza Jane if were not for a couple admirably donating their extra embryos)—is still not God’s design. I think we can all agree that God does not intend for us to have extra biological children that we will willfully place up for adoption because we have already achieved the desired number of children in our family unit.

As we thought through this, we decided to avoid the moral and ethical dilemmas of IVF all together. This meant it was time for us to pursue adoption.

Of all forms of adoption, you guys did embryo adoption. Can you explain, in a little more detail, what embryo adoption is?

As we mentioned earlier, many couples that go through the IVF process end up with extra embryos. They can choose to donate these embryos to fertility clinics so that other couples may adopt them. This is why they call it embryo adoption, you adopt other people’s embryos. (They also call it snowflake adoption since you are adopting frozen embryos.) Then, and we think this is amazing, you give birth to your adopted child(ren).

And we will just add this, just like foster to adopt, domestic adoption, and international adoption are some of God’s ordained means to look after orphans, so embryo adoption is God’s ordained means to look after these precious orphans frozen in embryonic form.

Is this ACTUALLY considered adoption?

In the eyes of God, Christians, and The National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) this is certainly considered adoption. The only difference between embryo adoption and other forms of adoption is the fact that you are adopting a human being at an earlier developmental stage, an embryo as opposed to a newborn or infant.

Sadly, though, this is not considered adoption in the eyes of the world, especially governmental agencies. They view the human embryo as personal property. They basically see the whole process of embryo adoption as a transfer of personal property.[2]

Okay, that’s what embryo adoption is. Walk us through the process of how you adopted Eliza?

We went through an organization called the National Embryo Donation Center located in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is a Christian organization with a high view of Scripture and human life, especially human embryos. Because of this, they make the embryo adoption process like other adoption processes. Below is the process we went through when we adopted Eliza from NEDC.

First, we applied to adopt through NEDC. Then we had a licensed social worker conduct a home study. Once our social worker approved us, we had to travel to the NEDC in Knoxville, Tennessee, to get medically cleared—to make sure Kahlie’s body was suitable for pregnancy. After Kahlie was medically cleared, we looked at donor profiles and prayerfully selected the embryos we desired to have transferred. After we selected the embryos, we determined a transfer date, the date we would have the embryos transferred to Kahlie’s womb. When we were about a month out from our transfer date, Kahlie began her medication (lots and lots of shots in the buttocks)! Then we traveled all the way back to Knoxville, Tennessee, for our transfer day. This is when sweet Eliza Jane McDuffie was thawed out and transferred.

What’s some of the information that’s given on the donor profiles?

The amount of information on the donor profiles varies, especially when it comes to open or closed (anonymous) adoption. Because we chose anonymous adoption, we had the basic characteristics of the donor couples: ethnicity, eye and hair color, height, education, favorite band, favorite movie, etc. And we had the basic medical history of the donor couples: family history of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, etc.

When you select embryos, are you able to select embryos based on their gender?

For those of you who are unaware, in the IVF process a couple may pay a hefty price for preimplantation genetic testing (like PGT or PGD testing). “PGD tests for chromosomal disorders, like Down Syndrome, and single-gene disorders like sickle cell disorder, Tay-Sachs, and cystic fibrosis. It is also used to test for nonmedical traits like the sex of the embryo, skin color, or eye color. 92% of ART clinics offer PGT; 73% of them offer it explicitly for sex-selection.”[3] So yes, couples in the IVF process can pay lots of money to have their embryos tested to see the sex of each embryo. Then couples can choose to transfer the specific sex they prefer.

At the NEDC, however, they will not do preimplantation genetic testing on an embryo. Further, even if this testing has been done beforehand—on embryos that were donated to their clinic—they will not disclose the gender of the human embryos to couples pursuing embryo adoption. This means we did not select embryos based on their gender. We did not desire to, and NEDC would not have permitted us to even if we did desire to.[4] For NEDC, and we agree with them, it is unethical to pick and choose whether our family will consist of a certain number of girls and/or boys. We will leave this to the sovereign Lord.

Sometimes, in other forms of adoption, things go wrong and heartbreak follows. Was there any heartbreak with embryo adoption?

Yes. Here’s an eye opening and shocking statistic: only 53% of defrosted embryos result in a live birth.[5] About half the viable embryos frozen will not result in a live birth. As you can see, the whole process of IVF or embryo adoption is pretty hostile to the human embryos.

The embryo must survive the thaw, transfer, and implantation. After implantation, the embryo must develop in the womb just like a naturally conceived baby. And sadly, about half these precious embryos will not make it. (For some Christian ethicists, this statistical fact leads them to conclude that IVF is morally wrong and is to be rejected in toto.)[6]

To give you a personal account, we have attempted to transfer multiple embryos two separate times. On our first attempt, in December 2020, we adopted and transferred two embryos. Neither one of these embryos survived implantation. On our second attempt, in February 2021, our first two embryos did not survive the thaw. They thawed out three more embryos and then transferred all three into Kahlie’s womb. Only two of these survived the transfer. One of these embryos miscarried a couple weeks later. The other embryo, our Eliza Jane, survived the whole process. 

Kahlie eventually gave birth to Eliza in November 2021. All in all, we adopted seven human embryos and only one of them resulted in a live birth. If embryos are personal property, this is not heartbreaking at all. But if embryos are precious babies at an earlier developmental stage, this is certainly heartbreaking. It was for us.

But even with the heartbreak, you have a beautiful baby girl now, Eliza Jane! Just out of curiosity, how will you guys handle some of her questions when she grows up?

Just like we are aware of how God gloriously adopted us into His royal family, we want Eliza to be aware of how we lovingly adopted her into our family. “Adoption,” J.I. Packer argues, “is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. . . To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.” So, we do not want there to be a time in Eliza’s life where she is unaware of the fact that she is adopted. We plan, however, to explain this to her in a manner that is suitable to her maturity (embryo adoption is pretty hard to explain to a fifteen-month-old).

And we know this type of openness will lead to other questions. She will probably want to know more about biological siblings and parents. We plan on telling her what we know, the basic details in the donor profiles. But since her biological parents chose to remain anonymous, there are some things she will not be able to know until she is old enough to search these things out for herself, if she chooses to do so. And if she wants the information badly enough, she will likely be able to get it. It is difficult for closed adoptions to remain closed when you can purchase a DNA test on the internet.

And what are people’s responses when you talk about embryo adoption?

People respond in various ways. Some people are shocked because they have never heard of embryo adoption. To put this in perspective, our social worker, Kahlie’s OBGYN, and many people in our church family had never heard about embryo adoption. To be honest, we did not know about embryo adoption until a couple we knew pursued it back in 2020.

Other people are confused. They do not understand this truth: Kahlie gave birth to our adopted daughter. For some reason, people think Eliza has some of our genetics. They think we used my seed or Kahlie’s egg. They simply do not understand that Eliza is someone else’s biological child—the result of another man’s seed fertilizing another woman’s egg. We just adopted her when she was an embryo.

Some people are hesitant. They think embryo adoption is unethical, so they think we have crossed ethical and moral boundaries. These people do not understand that embryo adoption is the only God honoring solution to the hundreds of thousands of frozen human embryos that have no prospect at being born. If embryo adoption is unethical, what is the ethical means of giving these embryos an opportunity at life?

And other people are amazed. Like us, they think it is amazing that Kahlie gave birth to our adopted daughter. And in their amazement, they begin to tell others about embryo adoption.

The Bible states clearly that we are to care for widows AND orphans. How do you connect embryo adoption with a way to bring glory to God?

A major theme in the book of James is the theme of consistency—our Christian lives should be consistent with our Christian beliefs. For example, since God looks after and cares for the widows and orphans, those who believe in God should look after and care for widows and orphans. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). And when our lives are consistent with our beliefs, when we faithfully look after and care for the vulnerable, it glorifies the Lord. No duh, right! But just think about how this pertains to human embryos.

Human embryos are human beings at an earlier stage of development than other human beings. If we are consistent, this means we, as Christians, should care about these frozen human embryos just like we care about other vulnerable people. Or let me put it another way. These precious human embryos are frozen. If people do not adopt them, they will remain frozen. And I think one could argue that a frozen human embryo is one of the most defenseless and vulnerable human beings on the planet. 

Therefore, when couples pursue embryo adoption in hopes to give these precious human embryos the opportunity to exit the freezer and to enter into their adopted mother’s womb, it brings glory to God. It shows that we, as Christians, are consistent. It shows that we care about human life, even human life at the earliest stage of human development.

What would you say to couples that are considering In vitro fertilization (IVF)?

We genuinely understand why so many couples consider IVF. People want to have children. This is a good desire. And if they cannot have children because of infertility, then they look for other avenues that will allow them to have children. Here is what I want to press home to couples considering IVF, though.

We must not limit the Lordship of Christ to Sunday mornings. No! Christ is Lord over the whole of our lives. Because of this, our Christian faith has something to say about every realm and department of our lives, even our attempts to grow our families. In other words, our Christian convictions must have a say in how we attempt to grow our families. And because Christ is Lord over our attempts to grow our families, we must be careful to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in our attempts to grow our families.

With all that said, you need to really think about the moral and ethical problems of IVF. If/when you do IVF, you must not aim for as many viable embryos as possible. Instead, fertilize one egg and implant it, regardless of the quality of the embryo.[7] Or fertilize several eggs and implant them all, regardless of the quality of each embryo. (John Frame[8]and Wayne Grudem[9] both argue that this is the only moral and ethical way to do IVF.)

What would you say to couples that have already gone through In vitro fertilization (IVF) and have leftover embryos?

Since Christ is Lord over the whole of life, those who have already gone through IVF and have leftover embryos need to treat their remaining embryos in a manner that honors the Lord Jesus Christ—in a manner that clearly displays the preciousness and value of the human embryos. This may look a couple different ways.

If you are healthy and able, strive to transfer as many of your remaining embryos as you are medically able. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you should transfer five to six embryos at a time. I am simply arguing that you should strive to give your embryos, your biological children, an opportunity at life in, and eventually outside, their biological mother’s womb. This may take a period of years, but it still seems like the ethical thing to do.

If your health and age does not permit this, then you should donate your human embryos to a fertility clinic that will treat them with the utmost dignity and respect, like the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC).[10] Fertility clinics like NEDC will treat your donated embryos in a manner that honors the Lord. And one day, Lord willing, your extra embryos will be adopted and born into a family that raises them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

What would you say to our brothers and sisters here who care about protecting the unborn and those that ARE born, but don’t necessarily feel called to adopt or foster?

If it were not for brothers and sisters like you, then we would have had a hard time adopting. There were countless Christians that prayed for us and the precious embryos we were adopting. A multitude of Christians generously gave us money to alleviate the financial burden of embryo adoption.[11] And once Kahlie was pregnant, fellow Christians continued to kindly give us diapers, clothes, and other products that prepared us for Eliza’s entrance into the world.

And for those of you who may not know, we are in the process of adopting embryos once again. And many couples who do not necessarily feel called to adopt or foster are graciously helping us in our pursuit to adopt again. So, here is what I would say to my brothers and sisters here who care about protecting the unborn and those that are born, but don’t necessarily feel called to adopt or foster: pray for, give to, and actively serve others who are adopting or fostering.

[1] In vitro fertilization is the process of joining a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a lab rather than inside a woman’s body. (The Latin phrase in vitro means “in glass.”) This is why babies born through IVF are periodically called test tube babies.

[2] On their website, NEDC says, “Embryo adoption is neither legally nor technically an adoption. It is governed by contract (ownership) law and not adoption law. Adoption is defined as the placement of a live child after birth, but it is a term that most people can relate to when discussing receiving donated embryos for reproduction. When you give birth to your donor embryo-conceived child, your names will be on the birth certificate as the parents of this child. Many parents describe it as “giving birth to your adopted child.”

[3] Emma Waters, Babies aren’t disposable, at any stage, WORLD Opinions, February 15, 2023, accessed February 15, 2023,

[4] On their website, NEDC says, “At the current time, only a small percentage of available NEDC embryos have undergone preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), which can reveal the sex of a particular embryo. But even in those cases the NEDC has chosen, for practical as well as ethical reasons, not to share this information with recipients.”

[5] Pan, Y., Hao, G., Wang, Q., Liu, H., Wang, Z., Jiang, Q., Shi, Y., & Chen, Z. J. (2020). Major Factors Affecting the Live Birth Rate After Frozen Embryo Transfer Among Young Women. Frontiers in medicine7, 94.

[6] John Feinberg and Paul Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 2nd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 424-425. John Feinberg and Paul Feinberg say, “We believe the embryo is human and a person from conception onward. . . . Our views on the embryo’s status lead to our greatest moral objection to IVF, namely, its waste and loss of embryonic life. . . . If the success rate of IVF had risen to 95 percent or even 80 to 85 percent, we would be more sympathetic to it, but . . . IVF technology is currently nowhere near such success rates. We find the loss of so much human life morally unacceptable. . . .Too many human lives are lost to think this is morally acceptable.”

[7] Poor quality embryos are embryos that have a low potential for implantation. Good quality embryos are embryos that have a high potential for implantation. Sadly, poor quality embryos are typically considered “unfit” and destroyed. Christians must regard this as unethical. If they do IVF, they must implant poor quality embryos.

[8] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, A Theology of Lordship: A Series by John Frame (Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2008), 788. John Frame says, “IVF is good in itself, as a method of conception when others will not work. There is no scriptural reason why a human egg should not be fertilized outside the mother’s body and later implanted in her womb . . . However, in the usual practice, several eggs are fertilized, and after some observation one is chosen for implantation. The others are destroyed. On a biblical view of the personhood of the unborn child from conception, this procedure is the destruction of human life. Christian women should tell their physicians either to fertilize only one egg and implant, or to fertilize several and implant them all.”

[9] Wayne Grudem, “How IVF Can Be Morally Right,” The Gospel Coalition, April 25, 2019, accessed February, 18, 2023, Wayne Grudem says, “My response is that fertilizing only one egg or two at a time, and implanting these with the hope that they will survive, is far different from the common practice of IVF, where several eggs are fertilized and then most are intentionally destroyed. In that case, there is a willful, intentional destruction of human lives. But with the fertilization of only one or two eggs at a time, the intent of the doctor and the husband and wife is that all the fertilized eggs will live and come to normal birth. Therefore, I still think IVF without the destruction of embryos is morally acceptable.”

[10] A good quality embryo that is frozen may very well end up being a poor quality embryo after it is thawed. As I mentioned earlier, some fertility clinics will deem these embryos “unfit” and destroy them. So, you do not want to donate your embryos to a fertility clinic that evidences its low regard for human life by destroying poor quality embryos. This is why you should donate your extra embryos to a place like NEDC. They will not destroy poor quality embryos. If the embryo is viable, the embryo will be transferred and given the opportunity to implant in the uterus.

[11] In most cases, the total expenses for a frozen embryo transfer (FET) should come to roughly $10,500 to $12,000. This is very affordable in comparison to domestic and international adoption.

My Favorite Reads of 2022

I love when well-known Christian pastors, theologians, and websites begin posting their favorite reads of the year. Many of these books eventually end up on my shelf or in my hands.

In this blog, I’ll post my ten favorite reads of 2022 (in no particular order), and then I’ll post a link to other people’s favorite reads. My list will include books published in various years (the book descriptions are from Amazon). Other people’s lists will usually pertain to books published in 2022.

Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

“Have we become so focused on ‘major’ sins that we’ve grown apathetic about our subtle sins? Renowned author Jerry Bridges takes you into a deep look at the corrosive patterns of behavior that we often accept as normal, in this established and impactful book. Practical, thought-provoking, and relevant at any stage of life, Respectable Sins addresses a dozen clusters of specific ‘acceptable’ sins that we tend to tolerate in ourselves, such as: jealousy, anger, judgementalism, selfishness, pride.

Writing from the trenches of his own battles with sin, Bridges offers a message of hope in the transforming grace of God to overcome our ‘respectable sins.’ Now with an added study guide for personal use or group discussion so you can dive deeper into this staple of Jerry Bridges’s classic collection.”

“Read this book―we need to―and be ready for a gentle surgeon’s sharp knife.” ―J. I. Packer, author and speaker

Providence by John Piper

“From Genesis to Revelation, the providence of God directs the entire course of redemptive history. Providence is ‘God’s purposeful sovereignty.’ Its extent reaches down to the flight of electrons, up to the movements of galaxies, and into the heart of man. Its nature is wise and just and good. And its goal is the Christ-exalting glorification of God through the gladness of a redeemed people in a new world.

Drawing on a lifetime of theological reflection, biblical study, and practical ministry, pastor and author John Piper leads us on a stunning tour of the sightings of God’s providence―from Genesis to Revelation―to discover the all-encompassing reality of God’s purposeful sovereignty over all of creation and all of history. Piper invites us to experience the profound effects of knowing the God of all-pervasive providence: the intensifying of true worship, the solidifying of wavering conviction, the strengthening of embattled faith, the toughening of joyful courage, and the advance of God’s mission in this world.”

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

“‘Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots’ is perhaps J. C. Ryle’s best-known and, arguably, best-loved book. Although many things have changed since 1877, when this book was first published, one thing remains the same: ‘real practical holiness does not receive the attention it deserves.’

It was to remedy this attention deficit, and to counter false teaching on this most important subject, that Ryle took up his pen. The twenty-one chapters in this enlarged edition highlight: -The real nature of holiness -The temptations and difficulties which all must expect who pursue it -The life-transforming truth that union with Christ is the root of holiness -The immense encouragement Jesus Christ holds out to all who strive to be holy. Holiness, as with all of Ryle’s works, is clear and concise, penetrating and practical.”

Spurgeon the Pastor: Rediscovering a Biblical and Theological Vision for Ministry by Geoffrey Chang

“How would you get more than 5,000 people to show up at your church? Almost every pastor feels the pressure to get people in the doors. More people means more success, more stability, and more godly influence, right? Often, in their zeal for fruit and growth, pastors and church leaders adopt worldly mechanisms for church growth that end up undermining the very call God has given them.
Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was a pastor to well over 5,000 people in a day long before ‘mega-churches’ were the norm. But you might be surprised to know that Spurgeon’s vision for ministry was not pragmatic. He did not borrow ‘best practices’ from the business leaders of his day. Rather, his ministry vision was decidedly, staunchly biblical and theological in nature—and it was a ministry vision we ought to adopt more than a century later.
In Spurgeon the Pastor, Geoff Chang, director of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary, shows how Spurgeon models a theological vision of ministry in preaching, baptism and the Lord’s supper, meaningful church membership, biblical church leadership, leadership development, and more. Don’t get caught up in worldly methods to pursue ministry growth. Follow the example of the Prince of Preachers, and entrust your ministry to the sovereignty of the Prince of Peace.”

Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel by Kate Bowler

“How have millions of American Christians come to measure spiritual progress in terms of their financial status and physical well-being? How has the movement variously called Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, or simply prosperity gospel come to dominate much of our contemporary religious landscape?

Kate Bowler’s Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today’s hugely successful prosperity preachers.

Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta’s 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as ‘the smiling preacher,’ with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine one of America’s most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women’s empowerment guru; and many others.

At almost any moment, day or night, the American public can tune in to these preachers-on TV, radio, podcasts, and in their megachurches-to hear the message that God desires to bless them with wealth and health. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.”

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas Kidd

Winner of Christianity Today’s 2016 Book Award for History/Biography: an engaging, balanced, and penetrating narrative biography of the charismatic eighteenth-century American evangelist George Whitefield

“The most authoritative yet readable book on the eighteenth century’s greatest preacher.”—Marvin Olasky, World Magazine

“Kidd’s theologically sympathetic approach gives the book a depth that a more detached treatment might not: He misses none of the biblical allusions that peppered Whitefield’s utterances, and he is an excellent guide through the tangled doctrinal controversies that dogged Whitefield’s career.”—Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

“In the years prior to the American Revolution, George Whitefield was the most famous man in the colonies. Thomas Kidd’s fascinating biography explores the extraordinary career of the most influential figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity, examining his sometimes troubling stands on the pressing issues of the day, both secular and spiritual, and his relationships with such famous contemporaries as Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley.
Based on the author’s comprehensive studies of Whitefield’s original sermons, journals, and letters, this excellent history chronicles the phenomenal rise of the trailblazer of the Great Awakening. Whitefield’s leadership role among the new evangelicals of the eighteenth century and his many religious disputes are meticulously covered, as are his major legacies and the permanent marks he left on evangelical Christian faith. It is arguably the most balanced biography to date of a controversial religious leader who, though relatively unknown three hundred years after his birth, was a true giant in his day and remains an important figure in America’s history.”

Called to Preach: Fulfilling the High Calling of Expository Preaching by Steven Lawson

“In every generation, the church stands in dire need of God-called people to preach the Word with precision and power. Preachers who will not replace sound theology with culturally palatable soundbites. Preachers who will clearly and faithfully share the gospel and inspire those in their churches to live godly lives.

Through in-depth biblical analysis and inspiring examples from church history, Steven J. Lawson paints a picture of God’s glory magnified through faithful preaching, reclaiming the high ground of biblical preaching for the next generation.

With helpful advice and practical guidance gleaned from 50 years in ministry, Lawson helps aspiring preachers know if they are called to preach; understand the qualifications for ministry; and develop, improve, and deliver strong expository sermons that illuminate the Word of God in a dark world.”

No Shortcut to Success: A Manifesto for Modern Missions by Matt Rhodes

“Trendy new missions strategies are a dime a dozen, promising missionaries monumental results in record time. These strategies report explosive movements of people turning to Christ, but their claims are often dubious and they do little to ensure the health of believers or churches that remain. How can churches and missionaries address the urgent need to reach unreached people without falling for quick fixes?

In No Shortcut to Success, author and missionary Matt Rhodes implores Christians to stop chasing silver-bullet strategies and short-term missions, and instead embrace theologically robust and historically demonstrated methods of evangelism and discipleship―the same ones used by historic figures such as William Carey and Adoniram Judson. These great missionaries didn’t rush evangelism; they spent time studying Scripture, mastering foreign languages, and building long-term relationships. Rhodes explains that modern missionaries’ emphasis on minimal training and quick conversions can result in slipshod evangelism that harms the communities they intend to help. He also warns against underestimating the value of individual skill and effort―under the guise of ‘getting out of the Lord’s way’―and empowers Christians with practical, biblical steps to proactively engage unreached groups.”

The Path to Being a Pastor: A Guide to the Aspiring by Bobby Jamieson

“A man who’s been transformed by Christ and desires to preach the gospel might say he feels called to be a pastor.

This personal conviction, while heartfelt, doesn’t acknowledge important, challenging steps necessary to be a qualified leader. So where should full-time ministry begin?

In The Path to Being a Pastor, Bobby Jamieson explains why it’s better to emphasize “aspiration” over “calling” as men pursue the office of elder and encourages readers to make sure they are pastorally gifted before considering the role. He shares from his own eleven-year experience preparing to be a pastor by walking potential leaders through different stages of ministry training, from practical steps―such as cultivating godly ambition and leadership, observing healthy churches, and mastering Scripture―to personal advice on building a strong family and succeeding in seminary. Emphasizing the importance of prayer, godly counsel, and immersion in the local church, Jamieson encourages men to ask Am I qualified? instead of Am I called? when considering a life in ministry.”

Baptist in America: A History by Thomas Kidd

“The Puritans called Baptists ‘the troublers of churches in all places’ and hounded them out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Four hundred years later, Baptists are the second-largest religious group in America, and their influence matches their numbers. They have built strong institutions, from megachurches to publishing houses to charities to mission organizations, and have firmly established themselves in the mainstream of American culture. Yet the historical legacy of outsider status lingers, and the inherently fractured nature of their faith makes Baptists ever wary of threats from within as well as without.

In Baptists in America, Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins explore the long-running tensions between church, state, and culture that Baptists have shaped and navigated. Despite the moment of unity that their early persecution provided, their history has been marked by internal battles and schisms that were microcosms of national events, from the conflict over slavery that divided North from South to the conservative revolution of the 1970s and 80s. Baptists have made an indelible impact on American religious and cultural history, from their early insistence that America should have no established church to their place in the modern-day culture wars, where they frequently advocate greater religious involvement in politics. Yet the more mainstream they have become, the more they have been pressured to conform to the mainstream, a paradox that defines–and is essential to understanding–the Baptist experience in America.

Kidd and Hankins, both practicing Baptists, weave the threads of Baptist history alongside those of American history. Baptists in America is a remarkable story of how one religious denomination was transformed from persecuted minority into a leading actor on the national stage, with profound implications for American society and culture.”

Other Lists

Trevin Wax’s Favorite Reads

The Gospel Coalition 2022 Book Awards

2022 For the Church Book Awards

The 22 Top Biblical Counseling Books of 2022

I’ll update this blog as more pastors, theologians, and websites publish their favorite reads of 2022. Come back later in December if you’d like to discover more books.

Let’s Read!

Let me leave you with a quote from Charles Spurgeon:

“The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read.”

Spurgeon’s Angelology: A Speculative Thought

Christians should have a healthy fascination with angels. These disembodied, spiritual beings are remarkable. They have extraordinary power and amazing intelligence. They are so radiant with the glory of God that godly men foolishly feel the need to bow down and worship them (Rev. 22:8-9). They appear all throughout the Bible, especially at major redemptive events. You will find them in the Garden of Eden, with the Patriarchs, with Moses, Joshua, and David, at Mount Sinai, all throughout the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Acts of the Apostles, and at the consummation of all things.

Spurgeon Speculated

However, within the Bible, we are not told all that we would like to know about angels. This has caused many people, even faithful students of the Bible, to speculate. And as I have read through some of Spurgeon’s sermons, it has become clear that Spurgeon was not immune to such speculation. My aim in this blog is to inform you of a particular speculative belief Spurgeon held regarding the ministry of angels. By the end of this blog, I think you will find Spurgeon’s thought fascinating and speculative, but not absurd and preposterous.

Angels Guard God’s Elect

In agreement with the Bible, Spurgeon believes that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). Angels rejoice over sinners that repent (Luke 15:7, 10). They “love us and bear us up in their hands lest we dash our feet against the stones.”[1] Spurgeon teaches that every Christian has a guardian angel “who flies about him, and holds the shield of God over his brow, keeps his foot lest he should dash it against a stone, guards him, controls him, manages him, injects thoughts into his mind, restrains his evil desires, and is the minister and servant of the Holy Ghost to keep him from sin, and lead him to righteousness.”[2] (Yes, there is some speculation in this quote as well, but our purpose is to talk about something else.)

Believers do not merely have a guardian angel, though. Spurgeon maintains that Christians have a company of angels always at their side. Indeed, if the Lord enabled us to peer into the invisible, spiritual realm where angels exist, we would see glorious cherubim walking before us.[3] From the time of our birth to the time of our death, God commissions his angels to serve and protect us.

This, however, leaves us with a question: How do angels serve us after we die? What do angels do when our spirits depart from our bodies? Sure, angels play an instrumental role at the second coming when they will separate the righteous from the unrighteous (Mt. 13:49). But what do angels do while we are absent from our bodies and spiritually present with the Lord? Do angels cease serving us until the resurrection of the just? Though most of us have not considered these questions, Spurgeon certainly did. And because Spurgeon gave thought to these questions, it led him to speculate.

Spurgeon’s Speculation: Angels Guard the Bones of the Saints

There is an ambiguous verse in the book of Jude that says, “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Spurgeon is not sure what this verse ultimately means. He does, however, notice the obvious; that the archangel Michael contended with the devil over the dead body of Moses. From this, he speculates that angels watch over the dead bodies of all the saints:

Now, this refers to the great doctrine of angels watching over the bones of the saints. Certainly, it tells us that the body of Moses was watched over by a great archangel; the devil thought to disturb that body, but Michael contended with him about it. . . From this we learn that an angel watches over every tomb.[4]

 . . . if believers die as poor as Lazarus, and as sick and as despised as he, angels shall convey their souls into the bosom of their Lord, and their bodies, too, shall be watched by guardian spirits, as surely as Michael kept the body of Moses and contended for it with the foe. Angels are both the servitors of living saints and the custodians of their dust.[5]

God has set his angels to watch over them, as he set Michael to watch over the body of Moses. . .[6]

Why Did Spurgeon Believe This?

I do not know all that went through Spurgeon’s mind as he thought through this, but from what I do know, it seems like the importance of the physical body inclined him to embrace the idea that angels guard the bones of God’s elect:

Now would there be a contention about that body if it had been of no value? Would Michael contend for that which was only to be the food of worms? Would he wrestle with the enemy for that which was to be scattered to the four winds of heaven, never to be united again into a new and goodlier fabric? No; assuredly not.[7]

There are cherubs with outstretched wings over the head of the grave-stones of all the righteous. . . in some nook o’ergrown by nettles, there an angel standeth night and day to watch each bone and guard each atom, that at the resurrection those bodies, with more glory than they had on earth, may start up to dwell for ever with the Lord.[8]

God has set his angels to watch over them, as he set Michael to watch over the body of Moses. . .Remember, then, and doubt not that the very body in which you sinned shall be the very body in which you shall suffer in hell; and the body in which you believe in Christ, and in which you yield yourselves to God, shall be the very body in which you shall walk the golden streets, and in which you shall praise the name of God for ever and ever.[9]

Unlike many Christians today, Spurgeon has a healthy view of the human body. He is fully aware that, even after death, God is not done with our bodies. When Christians are spiritually present with the Lord, God is not done redeeming them. “When our Lord Jesus died he did not redeem one half of man,” Spurgeon says, “but the whole man, and he means not to leave any part of the purchased possession in the enemy’s hands.”[10] In other words, Christ did not merely purchase the redemption of our spirits, he purchased the redemption of both our spirits and our bodies. Christ did not rise out of the grave so that our physical bodies would remain in their graves. No. He rose out the grave to guarantee that our physical bodies will one day rise as well. God fully intends to finish our salvation process by reuniting our spirits with glorious resurrection bodies. It seems like these—the value of human body, God’s intention to raise it from the dead, and the full redemption of man—are the impetus behind Spurgeon’s belief that angels are guardians and protectors of our bones.

Speculative but Not Preposterous

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that you would find Spurgeon’s thought fascinating and speculative, but not absurd and preposterous. As for what has been said so far, you probably only think Spurgeon’s thought—angels watching over the bones of the saints—is fascinating and speculative. So let me try to convince you that this is not as absurd as it seems.

First, if the consummation of our redemption is the resurrection of our bodies, then even after we die, we are still not done being saved. Even though we will be spiritually present with the Lord of glory, we will still be waiting for the culmination of our salvation—the moment where our spirits are reunited with imperishable resurrection bodies that are raised up in glory, honor, and power. Therefore, even after we die, we are waiting for another phase of our redemption, a phase of redemption that is very much tied to a physical body on this earth were Satan and his demons continue to prowl around.

Second, until Satan and his demons are finally “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” they remain actively opposed to all that God is doing (Rev. 20:10). This is especially true when it comes to all that God is doing in the lives of His people. So, if God the Father has ordained that the consummation of our redemption is the resurrection of our bodies rather than our physical deaths, what leads us to believe that Satan and his minions will cease actively opposing us after we die? The devil, our accuser, may still believe that he can make accusations against us. He may argue that our physical bodies are his rightful possession because we’ve sinned in a myriad of ways. In other words, since God is not done saving us until the day He resurrects our physical bodies from the dead, Satan and his subordinates may see each day as a legitimate opportunity to try and thwart God’s ultimate plan and purpose for our physical bodies.

Third, it is evident from the Bible that angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). As I have already mentioned, we ultimately come into full possession of our salvation inheritance on the day the Lord Jesus Christ resurrects our physical bodies from the grave. Why should it be considered implausible that God would assign angelic beings to guard our dead, physical bodies until Christ returns to give us our full inheritance?

And finally, you have the account from Jude: “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). This verse is difficult to understand, but Spurgeon’s observation is legitimate; the devil certainly takes an interest in the dead body of Moses and disputes with the archangel Michael about it. This is either a one-off event where an angelic being guards the dead body of one of God’s servants, or it is an event in redemptive history that gives us an idea of angelic activity at all our graves.

I do not think any of these reasons provide an airtight argument for angels watching over the bones of the saints. I just think these reasons make Spurgeon’s speculation a little more reasonable and plausible. To put it another way, I do not think Spurgeon is completely bonkers.

What Do I Think?

I have no idea. I love Spurgeon’s emphasis on the ministry of angels, the importance of our physical bodies, and Christ’s intent to redeem the whole man. Nevertheless, I need Spurgeon to give me more Bible verses. As a rule of thumb, I think it is wise to memorize two of the best Bible verses that substantiate each biblical doctrine you affirm. When it comes to angels watching over the bones of the saints, it seems like Spurgeon only had one ambiguous verse. It will take more than that to convince me. Let me reiterate, though, I do not think Spurgeon’s speculative thought is preposterous. He may be right.

[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “Another and a Nobler Exhibition,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 8 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 263.

[2] C.H. Spurgeon, “God’s Providence,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908), 495-496.

[3] C.H. Spurgeon, “The Kingly Priesthood of the Saints,” in The New Park Street Sermons, vol. 1 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855), 72-73.

[4] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Resurrection of the Dead,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Albaster, 1856), 100.

[5] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Lord is Risen Indeed,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 ((London: Passmore & Albaster, 1873), 207.

[6] C. H. Spurgeon, “Resurgam,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 6 (London: Passmore & Albaster, 1860), 159-160.

[7] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Resurrection of the Dead,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 2 (London: Passmore & Albaster, 1856), 100.

[8] Ibid.

[9] C. H. Spurgeon, “Resurgam,” in The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, vol. 6 (London: Passmore & Albaster, 1860), 159-160.

[10] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Believer in the Body and out of the Body,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 22 (London, Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 392.

An Untimely Use of a Spurgeon Story

If you know me, then you know that I can weave C.H. Spurgeon quotes or stories into just about any conversation I’m in—yes, this may be why it’s hard for me to make friends! And my goal in this blog is to amuse you with a story of how I used an account from Spurgeon’s life at the end of an interview I had at First Baptist Church Durham in Durham, North Carolina. So, this is basically a biographical blurb I wanted to put into a brief blog for the entertainment of those bored enough to read it.

A Phone Call from Andy Davis

On Monday, July 18, 2016, I received a phone call from Andy Davis, the Senior Pastor of FBC Durham. I had been attending FBC Durham for about eighteen months, and even though I had been sitting under Andy Davis’ preaching and teaching during this time, I was not accustomed to receiving phone calls from him. At this point in my life, I viewed Andy as an incredibly gifted preacher, a great author, a church historian, a seminary professor, and one of the last Puritans,[1] not someone that typically showed up in my recent calls list.

A Ministry Opportunity

As I talked to Andy on the phone, he began to inform me of a ministry opportunity. The former College Director of FBC Durham left to plant a church in Winston Salem, North Carolina. For months, the elders of FBC Durham sought to replace this guy—you can’t replace this guy; he was, and still is, an incredibly gifted servant of the Lord. The elders interviewed numerous candidates that had turned in their resumes. For various reasons, none of these candidates worked out.

Me? You’re Kidding, Right?

Before long, some of the lay-elders and staff members at FBC Durham began to mention my name as a potential candidate for the position.[2] And let me just make this clear; this was not because I put a resume in. I wrote in my journal: “I would never have put my resume in for this position because I know how unqualified I am for such a service.” At this point in my life, I was twenty-four years old, I hadn’t finished my Master of Divinity degree, and I had no college ministry experience. I practically had no ministry experience outside of teaching Sunday School classes and occasionally preaching for small, rural Southern Baptist churches. 

Seriously, from the time I was eighteen to the time I was twenty-four, I spent way more time operating a weed-eater than doing ministry. I even mentioned this in my journal: “I know that I am terribly insufficient for a role such as this. It is hard for me to see myself doing anything other than weed-eating and preaching a few times a year.”[3] In other words, I was completely unprepared for Andy’s phone call. This ministry position wasn’t even on my radar.

Apparently, though, my lack of knowledge and experience didn’t mean much to Andy and the staff. They saw certain aspects of my life that gave them sufficient reasons to interview me for the College Director position. And even though I was slightly baffled by the phone call, I agreed to come in for the interview.

An Interview with an Awkward Ending

Later that night, I found myself in Andy’s study being interviewed by a few of the staff elders.[4] A few of the elders asked me numerous questions related to doctrine, personal holiness, and college ministry. I was intimidated and nervous, but the Lord graciously allowed me to answer the questions honestly and adequately. Then Andy Davis asked me, “Well, what do you think about all this? What’s going on in your mind?” To which I responded, “I feel like a young Charles Spurgeon.”

Everyone, especially Andy Davis, looked puzzled. You see, what Babe Ruth is to the history of baseball, Charles Spurgeon is to Baptist history. Babe Ruth is the “Sultan of Swat” and C.H. Spurgeon is the “Prince of Preachers.” Babe Ruth is the “Behemoth of Bust” and C.H. Spurgeon is the Baptist Behemoth. Spurgeon is regarded as one of the most gifted preachers in all of church history. Even the greatest preachers of our day regard Spurgeon as a preaching prodigy. If there was a Mount Rushmore for preachers, Spurgeon would, by overwhelming agreement, be found on it. 

So, why in the world was I, at twenty-four years old with practically no ministry experience or extraordinary gifting, feeling like a young Charles Spurgeon? The fact that I put my name alongside Spurgeon’s name seemed like the height of arrogance. If there was such a thing as Baptist blasphemy, I had committed it. Everybody that heard it grimaced.

Well, what happened? Andy Davis did what he always does, he asked a question to give me the opportunity to clarify myself. He asked, “What do you mean?”

An Account of the Young Charles Spurgeon

As a young Spurgeon enthusiast, I knew this was my chance to salvage my job opportunity, so I quickly began to explain myself. You see, Charles Spurgeon came to faith in Christ on January 6, 1850. He was only fifteen years old when the Lord saved him. A little over a year later, Spurgeon was called to fill the pulpit of a small Baptist Church in Waterbeach. Though Spurgeon was only sixteen years old, he was already a preaching prodigy. When the good Christian folks of Waterbeach recognized this, they quickly called him to be their pastor–the Church had forty members when Spurgeon became their minister at the age of seventeen.

Spurgeon was such a phenomenon that the church at Waterbeach began to grow exponentially. And because of his consistent emphasis on the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God brought about a miraculous change to the entire village. By 1852, the Baptist Church “at Waterbeach was not only full, but crowded with outside listeners at the open windows.” Due to Spurgeon’s giftedness and the Baptist Church’s quick growth, the people of Waterbeach began to fear the very thing that most small Baptist Church’s fear; they feared a larger church was going to take away their beloved pastor.[5]

Sadly, for the faithful sheep of Waterbeach, this fear became a reality. “On the last Sabbath morning in November, 1853, I walked,” Spurgeon said, “according to my wont, from Cambridge to the village of Waterbeach, in order to occupy the pulpit of the little Baptist Chapel.” He was overwhelmed and excited about his “pulpit exercises.” In other words, he was extremely excited to herald the gospel all Sabbath Day long.

Just as he sat down, though, “a letter bearing the postmark of London” was passed to him. “It contained an invitation to preach at New Park Street Chapel, Southward, the pulpit of which had formerly been occupied by Dr. Rippon.” With that, one of the most prominent and reputable Baptist Churches in one of the most well-known cities in all of England asked him to come fill their pulpit—Spurgeon was nineteen when he received this invitation. So, what was Spurgeon’s response? What went through his mind when he read this letter?

Well, Spurgeon recounts: “I quietly passed the letter across the table to the deacon. . . , observing that there was some mistake, and that the letter must have been intended for a Mr. Spurgeon who preached somewhere down in Norfolk.”[6] To put it another way, Spurgeon responded saying, “You have the wrong Spurgeon!” He was in disbelief that the New Park Street Chapel would extend an invitation for him to fill the pulpit. He thought they sent this invitation to the wrong guy.

Back to My Interview

So, when I told Andy and the rest of the staff that I felt like a young Charles Spurgeon, I wasn’t implying that I was extraordinarily gifted. Nor was I saying that, like the young Charles Spurgeon, my ministerial future was incredibly bright, that future fame awaited me.

Rather, I was trying to tell FBC Durham: “I think you guys have made a mistake. You have the wrong guy! You have the wrong Philip McDuffie.” I wanted them to know that, just as the young Spurgeon was in disbelief that the New Park Street Chapel would reach out to him to fill their pulpit, I was in disbelief that FBC Durham would interview me for the College Director position—a full-time ministry position alongside an incredibly gifted staff in a very healthy church.[7]

At this, they no longer grimaced uncomfortably in my presence. Sure, they probably thought it was an odd time to weave a Spurgeon story into the conversation. It was perhaps the strangest way someone has ever ended an interview. But I can tell you this, shortly after the interview, they graciously offered me the position. Perhaps the unexpected Spurgeon story got me the position. Probably not. . . but maybe!

[1] I’m joking about Andy Davis being “one of the last Puritans.” But I did, and still do, have a ton of respect for Andy Davis. If you’re unfamiliar with who Andy Davis is, then you should check out His teaching and preaching ministry will bless you tremendously.

[2] This is a shout out to Kevin Schaub. Unbeknownst to me, Kevin was recommending me to the other elders.

[3] This comment sounds kind of sad now that I’m thinking about it. I guess you could have regarded me as a young man with relatively modest ambitions!

[4] Yes, they made me interview the same day I received the phone call. 

[5] C.H. Spurgeon, The Early Years (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 245-246.

[6] C.H. Spurgeon, The Early Years, 246.

[7] I know a College Director position doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it was a big deal to me at this point in my life. This was my first-time interviewing for a ministerial position within a local church. I was nervous, felt woefully inadequate, and lost sleep thinking about this position.

Spurgeon On Church Membership

Have you ever met a fellow Christian that showed an indefatigable zeal in their pursuit of church membership? I didn’t think so. However, if you had lived near a teenage boy named C.H. Spurgeon in the 19th century, you may have answered that question differently. Because, if you had run across this young boy named Spurgeon, you would have witnessed a freshly converted Christian that was tireless in his pursuit of membership within a local church.

After Spurgeon was born again, he desired to become a member of a local church. When he reached out to the minister, though, he never received a reply. Spurgeon sought to contact the lackadaisical minister three to four more times, still to no avail. So, Spurgeon reached out again. This time he informed the minister that, as a follower of Christ, he had done his Christian duty. If the minister continued to ignore him, Spurgeon vouched to call a church meeting himself where he would notify the church that he had believed in Christ and then ask if they would receive him as a member. As you can see, Spurgeon, even at a young age, saw it as his Christian duty and privilege to be a healthy member of a local church.[1]

In the same sermon that Spurgeon recounted this somewhat humorous story—I don’t know if Spurgeon intended for it to be humorous, but I couldn’t help but laugh as I read the account—he addressed certain excuses that kept many Christians from pursuing membership within a local church. And though this sermon was preached in the 1800s, we hear the same excuses today. With that said, in the remainder of this blog, you’ll discover how Spurgeon addressed these apparently timeless excuses with wisdom and boldness.

Excuse #1: I do not need to join a church “because I can be a Christian without it.”

Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient? Well, suppose everybody else did the same, suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church, there would be no ordinances. That would be a very bad thing, and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, sir! nor do you either. You have not any such a belief; it is only a trumpery excuse for something else. There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick; until it is built into the wall, it is no good. So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose; you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.

Excuse #2: “If I were to join the Church, I should feel it such a bond [i.e., heavy commitment] upon me.”

Just what you ought to feel. Ought you not to feel that you are bound to holiness now, and bound to Christ now? Oh! those blessed bonds! If there is anything that could make me feel more bound to holiness than I am, I should like to feel that fetter, for it is only liberty to feel bound to godliness, and uprightness, and carefulness of living.

Excuse #3: “If I were to join the Church, I am afraid that I should not be able to hold on.” 

You expect to hold on, I suppose, out of the Church—that is to say, you feel safer in disobeying Christ than in obeying him! Strange feeling that! Oh! you had better come and say, “My Master, I know thy saints ought to be united together in church-fellowship, for churches were instituted by thine apostles: and I trust I have grace to carry out the obligation: I have no strength of my own, my Master, but my strength lies in resting upon thee: I will follow where thou leadest, and leave the rest to thee.”

Excuse #4: “I cannot join the Church; it is so imperfect.” 

You, then, are perfect, of course! If so, I advise you to go to heaven, and join the Church there, for certainly you are not fit to join it on earth, and would be quite out of place.

Excuse #5: I do not want to join the Church because “I see so much that is wrong about Christians.”

There is nothing wrong in yourself, I suppose! I can only say, my brethren, that if the Church of God is not better than I am, I am sorry for it. I felt, when I joined the Church, that I should be getting a deal more good than I should be likely to bring into it, and with all the faults I have seen in living these twenty years or more in the Christian Church, I can say, as an honest man, that the members of the Church are the excellent of the earth, in whom is all my delight, though they are not perfect, but a long way from it. If, out of heaven, there are to be found any who really live near to God, it is the members of the Church of Christ.

Excuse #6: I do not want to join the Church because “there are a rare lot of hypocrites.” 

You are very sound and sincere yourself, I suppose? I trust you are so, but then you ought to come and join the Church, to add to its soundness by your own. I am sure, my dear friends, none of you will shut up your shops to-morrow morning, or refuse to take a sovereign when a customer comes in, because there happen to be some smashers about who are dealing with bad’ coins. No, not you, and you do not believe the theory of some, that because some professing Christians are hypocrites, therefore all are, for that would be as though you should say that, because some sovereigns are bad, therefore all are bad, which would be clearly wrong, for if all sovereigns were counterfeits, it would never pay for the counterfeiter to try to pass his counterfeits; it is just the quantity of good metal that passes off the bad. There is a fine good quantity of respectable golden Christians still in the world and still in the Church, rest assured of that.

Excuse #7: I do not want to join the Church because “it is so looked down upon.”

Oh! what a blessed look-down that is! I do think, brethren, there is no honour in the world equal to that of being looked down upon by that which is called “Society” in this country. The most of people are slaves to what they call “respectability.” Respectability! When a man puts on a coat on Sunday that he has paid for, when he worships God by night or by day, whether men see him or not: when he is an honest, straightforward man—I do not care how small his earnings are, he is a respectable man, and he need never bend his neck to the idea of Society or its artificial respectability.[2]


As you can see, from the time Spurgeon tirelessly pursued membership within that local church to the time he preached this sermon, he regarded church membership as both the duty and privilege of every Christian. Since the visible church, the church on earth, is not optional, church membership is not optional. Until the return of Christ, church membership makes the distinction—a legitimate but imperfect distinction—between the church and the world visible.[3] Therefore, every Christian should visibly make themselves distinct from the world by becoming a healthy member of a healthy local church.

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Joining the Church,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 60 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1914), 294-295.

[2] Ibid., 296-297.

[3] Geoffery Chang, Spurgeon the Pastor: Recovering a Biblical & Theological Vision for Ministry (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2022), 110.

Refraining Wisdom

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, 

but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”

Proverbs 10:19

If you are anything like me, and I am confident that I am not the exception here, then you love to hear yourself talk. According to the Bible though, this is not a good thing. Lately, this particular sin pattern of mine has been at the forefront of my thinking—it has caused me to examine myself. And I figured one of the best ways to examine myself was to ponder and meditate on Proverbs 10:19. In this blog, I’ll just mention a few of my thoughts on this popular but poorly applied, at least in my case, verse.

The Untamed Tongue

It should not surprise us, biblically or experientially, that our hearts are evil (Gen. 6:5). And when we consider that our words flow from our evil and wicked hearts (Matt. 12:34), “we cannot conceive of words, much less a multitude of words, without sin.”[1] It is as though our tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:8). Sure, the tongue is a small member of our body, but it is a small member that has catastrophic affects—much like a small spark that causes a devastating wildfire (Jas. 3:5). Even though the tongue is a slender portion of flesh, it contains a whole world of iniquity[2], defiles and stains the whole body, sets our lives on fire, and is fueled by the very flames of hell (Jas. 3:6). 

Therefore, proverbial wisdom concludes that the increase of words inevitably leads to the increase of transgressions. In other words, the more we talk the more we sin! And I am sure that by now, if we are honest, we have come to realize that no other “member” of our body wreaks more havoc to our Christian lives as our tongues do.[3]

Godly Restraint

Thankfully, this verse does not just teach us that the increase of words leads to an increase of transgressions. The Spirit of God goes on to tell us that “whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). To restrain means to keep back, withhold, or hold off. Prudence is simply the God given wisdom that enables us to live a life that magnifies the Lord. And it is the one who has enough self-control to restrain his lips that is prudent. So godly wisdom reveals that it is far better to largely keep our mouths shut than it is to incessantly open our mouths and multiply transgressions against our good and gracious God.

But how come so many Christians, including myself, do not restrain their lips? Well, I believe it is because we are not nearly as spiritually mature as we think we are. We think that if we put away sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, drunkenness, murder, and things like these, then we are spiritually mature—and to an extent this may be true. We forget, though, that few things clearly reveal the credibility and maturity of our Christian faith like how we manage our tongues (Mt. 12:33-37; Jas. 1:26; 3:1-4). 

So do some self-examination. Evaluate your spiritual maturity based on how you govern your tongue. How are you doing with these sins: grumbling, complaining, lying, crude joking, quarreling, degrading humor, gossip, slander, flattery, destructive sarcasm, and irritable responses? And do not just evaluate your spiritual maturity based on how you speak to co-workers and strangers; evaluate it based on how you speak to those closest to you, i.e., your friends, family, and spouse.

Gospel Comfort

This type of self-examination is helpful. Regarding sins of speech, self-examination enables us to see that these sins are not trivialities—they are treasonous acts against our Sovereign Lord that deserve a sentence of condemnation. Self-examination alone, though, is never good. It must also be paralleled with an examination of the grace of God in Christ.

If the Lord counted these sins of speech against us, who could stand on the day when we must give an account of every careless word we have ever spoken (Ps. 130:3; Mt 12:36)? None of us. Thankfully, in Christ, the Lord does not count these sins against us. Christ, with His single and efficacious sacrifice for sins, has made complete atonement for our sins, even our sins of speech (Heb. 10:11-13). Now we can exclaim with the Psalmist, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Praise the Lord!

Gospel Obedience

Gospel obedience is an obedience that is rooted in God’s love for us in Christ. Well, what does gospel obedience look like regarding Proverbs 10:19? Let me mention four ways this may look in the lives of Christians.

First, we need to have a biblical view of the seriousness of speech sins. We must never think of these sins “as anything less than the nails that pierced” Christ’s hands and feet. This will lead us to pray for an increase of “refraining wisdom.” [4] Second, we should be prudent and restrain our lips, “not indeed in silence, but in caution; to weigh our words before uttering them; never speaking, except when we have something to say; speaking only just enough; considering the time, circumstances, and person; what is solid, suitable, and profitable.”[5] Third, we must exercise the same level of refraining wisdom on social media, email, text, and any other medium we use to communicate these days. And fourth, when we hastily open our lips and use our tongues in destructive ways, we need to repent and cry out with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24).

[1] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, Geneva Series of Commentaries (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2008), 102.

[2] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 320.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 159.

[4] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 103.

[5] Ibid.

Calvin’s Angelology: Christ is the Chief Angel

Calvin considers the angel of the Lord that frequently appears in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Christ. Calvin knows this is not an original thought because he mentions in his Institutes that “the orthodox doctors of the church have rightly and prudently interpreted that chief angel to be God’s Word, who already at that time, as a sort of foretaste, began to fulfill the office of Mediator.”[1] Even though Calvin’s view on the angel of the Lord is not original, it is still important to consider in regards to Calvin’s angelology. Thus, the following blog will give an overview of Calvin’s view of the angel of the Lord.

The Pre-Incarnate Christ is the Angel of the Lord

Calvin repeats that the pre-incarnate Christ is the angel of the Lord throughout his writings. Regarding Exodus 23:20, Calvin says that “what we have already said should be remembered, that no common angel is designated, but the chief of all angels, who has always been also the head of the Church.”[2] In his comments on Daniel 8:13-14, Calvin says, “Then, who does not see that Christ is denoted, who is the chief of angels and far superior to them all?”[3] In his Institutes, Calvin dedicates an entire paragraph to “The Angel of the Eternal God” in his section that deals with the doctrine of the Trinity.[4] Here, also, Calvin teaches that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ.

The Pre-Incarnate Christ Didn’t Have the Nature of Angels

In Calvin’s commentary on Hosea 12:3-5, he argues lengthily that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. In this section, though, Calvin clearly emphasizes that this does not mean that the pre-incarnate Christ had the nature of angels:

But it must be noticed, that God and angel are here mentioned in the same sense; we may, indeed, render it angel in both places; for אלהים, Aleim, as well as מלאך, melac, signifies an angel. But, however, every doubt is removed by the Prophet, when he at last adds, Jehovah, God of hosts, Jehovah is his name, for here the Prophet expressly mentions the essential name of God, by which he testifies, that the same was the eternal and the only true God, who yet was at the same time an angel. But it may be asked, How was he the eternal God, and at the same time an angel? It occurs, indeed, so frequently in Scripture, that it must be well known to us, that when the Lord appeared by his angels, the name of Jehovah was given to them, not indeed to all the angels indiscriminately, but to the chief angel, by whom God manifested himself. This, as I have said, must be well known to us. It then follows, that this angel was truly and essentially God. But this would not strictly apply to God, except there be some distinction of persons. There must then be some person in the Deity, to which this name and title of an angel can apply; for if we take the name, God, without difference or distinction, and regard it as denoting his essence, it would certainly be inconsistent to say, that he is God and an angel too; but when we distinguish persons in the Deity, there is no inconsistency. How so? Because Christ, the eternal Wisdom of God, did put on the character of a Mediator, before he put on our flesh. He was therefore then a Mediator, and in that capacity he was also an angel. He was at the same time Jehovah, who is now God manifested in the flesh.[5]

The Pre-Incarnate Christ is an Angel in His Ministerial Function

For Calvin, the pre-incarnate Christ can be regarded as an angel because of his pre-incarnate ministry. So, the pre-incarnate Christ is not an angel in his essence; he is an angel in his ministerial function. This becomes even clearer when Calvin rebukes Servetus. Servetus “imagined that Christ was from the beginning an angel, as if he was a phantom, and a distinct person, having an essence apart from the Father.” “This diabolical conceit ought to be wholly discarded by us,” Calvin argues. He then emphasizes, “But Christ, though he was God, was also a Mediator; and as a Mediator, he is rightly and fitly called the angel or the messenger of God, for he has of his own accord placed himself between the Father and men.”[6] So Christ has voluntarily placed himself as a mediator between God the Father and men. Because of his mediatorial work in the Old Testament, the pre-incarnate Christ is rightly called the angel of the Lord and the messenger of God.

What were the pre-incarnate Christ’s ministerial duties? Angels are to guide, protect, and look after the safety of the Church. For Calvin, the pre-incarnate Christ “was the angel of highest rank, by whose guidance, safeguard, and protection, the church has been preserved and upheld.”[7] Though Calvin strongly opposes the idea of angels as mediators, he consistently, and perhaps confusedly, argues that this was one of the main reasons the pre-incarnate Christ was called the angel of the Lord. Earlier, this was evident when Calvin rebukes Servetus. It is also evident in Calvin’s comments on Zechariah 1:18-21:

But we must remember what I have already said, that this chief angel was the Mediator and the Head of the Church; and the same is Jehovah, for Christ, as we know, is God manifested in the flesh. There is then no wonder that the Prophet should indiscriminately call him angel and Jehovah, he being the Mediator of the Church, and also God. He is God, being of the same essence with the Father; and Mediator, having already undertaken his Mediatorial office, though not then clothed in our flesh, so as to become our brother; for the Church could not exist, nor be united to her God without a head. We hence see that Christ, as to his eternal essence, is said to be God, and that he is called an angel on account of his office, that is, of a Mediator.[8]

Thus, the pre-incarnate Christ’s primary ministerial duty was as a mediator for God’s people. Calvin says that even “though the time of humbling had not yet arrived, that eternal Word nevertheless set forth a figure of the office to which he had been destined.”[9] In other words, as the angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ ministered in specific ways that pre-figured how he was ultimately going to minister in the Incarnation. And since Christ is ranked above all angels, is superior to angels, and carries out the ministerial duties of an angel, Calvin consistently emphasizes that Christ is the chief of all the angels.

[1] Calvin, Institutes, I.8.10.

[2] Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony, 1:403.

[3] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:105-106.

[4] Calvin, Institutes, I.8.10.

[5] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 1:420-421.

[6] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 1:421.

[7] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 4:348.

[8] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5:57.

[9] Calvin, Institutes, I.8.10.

Calvin’s Angelology: Angels Appearing as Men in Scripture

The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). Calvin’s argues that the author of Hebrews commands his recipients to practice hospitality and then motivates them to obey by adding “that angels had sometimes been entertained by those who thought that they received only men.”[1] Calvin is referring to the time that angels appeared as men to Abraham. Disappointedly, Calvin’s comments on Hebrews 13:2 are rather brief regarding this particular topic—angels appearing as men. Nevertheless, Calvin’s comments in some of his other commentaries are much more extensive. This section will cover how Calvin understands angels occasionally appearing as men in Scripture.

God Clothed Angels with Human Bodies

Calvin elaborates on this topic in his comments on seven sections of Scripture (Gen 18:1-21; Dan 10:5-6; 12:5-7; Zech 2:1-4; Lk 24:43; Acts 10:30; Heb 13:2). In Calvin’s explanations of these passages, he repetitively emphasizes two truths: (1) the angels are clothed with human bodies, and (2) the angels do not actually become men. Moses “calls the angels men,” Calvin writes, “because, being clothed with human bodies they appeared to be nothing else than men.”[2] God, the creator of all things, gives the angels “bodies, for a time, in which they might fulfill the office enjoined them.”[3] While the angels are clothed in these bodies “they truly walked, spoke, and discharged other functions,”[4] but he also writes that angels “suffer no human thing” so long as they are in the shape of men.[5] In Genesis 18:1-21, the angels even ate, though Calvin does not believe “that the meat and drink yielded them that refreshment which the weakness of the flesh demands.”[6] After the angel was done with his ministerial task, “God speedily annihilated those bodies, which had been created for temporary use”[7] and restored angels to their own nature.[8]

Angels Never Actually Became Men

Nevertheless, even though angels were occasionally clothed with human bodies, Calvin continually mentions that angels did not actually become men. “If it be asked, whether angels did really put on human nature?” Calvin states, “the obvious answer is, that they never, strictly speaking, became really men.”[9] He says in another place, “We ought not to believe them to be really men, because they appeared under a human form.”[10] Calvin’s belief, that angels do not actually put on human nature, is also apparent when he emphasizes that the angels’ food and drink did not yield them any nourishment, and that the angels were unable to suffer when they were clothed with human bodies. Calvin wants his readers to understand that God occasionally clothed an angel with a body, but that God in no way truly added a human nature to the angel’s celestial nature. Why did Calvin care to highlight this so much?

The Incarnation is Unique

Calvin does this because he wants to preserve the uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Son of God. “Christ, indeed, was really man, in consequence of his springing from the seed of Abraham, David, and Adam,” Calvin says. He then argues, “But as regards to angels, God clothed them for a single day or short periods in bodies, for a distinct purpose and a special use.”[11] In his comments on Daniel 12:5-7, Calvin makes a similar argument: “For Christ took upon Him our flesh and was truly man, while he was God manifest in flesh. (1 Tim. 3:16) But this is not true of angels, who received only a temporary body while performing the duties of their office.”[12] In Calvin’s desire to maintain the mystery, wonder, and glory of the Incarnation of the Son of God, he insists that angels were occasionally clothed with human bodies, but that they in no way became fully and truly human.

Does this Still Happen Today?

Does Calvin think that this still happens today? Disappointedly, he does not even address this question in his comments on Hebrews 13:2. Instead, he thinks the author of Hebrews wants his readers to understand that God honors those who practice hospitality. However, based on his belief that angels no longer appear to individuals as emissaries, it is probably correct to assume that Calvin does not believe that angels still appear to men clothed in human bodies.

In Sum!

The previous section discussed how Calvin understands angels appearing as men throughout Scripture. God occasionally clothed an angel with a human body for a specific ministerial duty, but God never added a truly and fully human nature to an angel’s celestial nature. As he addresses this topic, Calvin remains fixed to the Scripture, but he occasionally goes beyond Scripture for the purpose of emphasizing the uniqueness of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, ed. and trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software), 340.

[2] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:468-470.

[3] Ibid., 1:471-472.

[4] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:471-472.

[5] Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 1:434-435.

[6] Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 2:373-382.

[7] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1:471-472.

[8] Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, 1:434-435.

[9] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5:59.

[10] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:240-241.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 2:381.

Calvin’s Angelology: The Function of Angels

Calvin has a high view of the function and work of angels. Warfield, as he writes on how extensive the function of angels is in Calvin’s angelology, says, “There is at least a prima-facie appearance that Calvin thought of them as the instruments through which the entirety of God’s providential work is administered.”[1] Calvin says this much himself when he argues that by means of angels “God exercises his power, and might, and dominion,”[2] and that “God works through the angels to direct human affairs.”[3] Calvin goes further when he states “that angels are celestial spirits whose ministry and service God uses to carry out all things he has decreed,”[4] and that even “the very violence of the winds is governed by angels as God has ordained.”[5] In short, Warfield is right. For Calvin, all of God’s providential work is dispensed through the ministry of angels. The following section will consider four functions that angels have in Calvin’s writings: angels function as emissaries of God, as ministers of God’s wrath, as servants and guardians of God’s elect, and as admirers of God’s gospel.

Angels are Emissaries

First, Calvin believes that angels are emissaries of God the King. Angels appear to men and speak on behalf of God “in order that, as we have before said, the embassy of those who bear his name, may have the greater authority, by their being clothed with his majesty.”[6] Throughout the Bible “angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him.”[7] In other words, Calvin believes God commissions the angels, clothes them in glory, gives them a message, and enables them to be his representatives before men. Thus, when God employs angels as agents to speak on his behalf, “God himself is said to speak.”[8] Nevertheless, though angels do this throughout the Bible, Calvin does not believe that angels still function in this capacity. In his comments on Daniel 7:15-16, Calvin says that “angels do not appear to us, and do not openly and conspicuously descend from heaven,” and that believers must “not seek the understanding of God’s word from angels, who do not appear to us.” God now chooses to teach and instruct his elect “by means of pastors and ministers of the gospel.”[9]

Angels are Ministers of God’s Wrath

Second, Calvin regards angels as ministers of God’s wrath. Calvin understands this in two distinct ways. On the one hand, as Calvin studies Scripture, he is aware that “God executes his judgments by reprobate angels”[10] and “executes his wrath by the agency of reprobate angels, as if they were his executioners.”[11] Then, to emphasize the ultimate role of the elect angels as minister of God’s wrath, Calvin goes on to say that “God causes his elect angels to preside over those judgments which he executes by means of the reprobate,”[12] and that God “gives the elect angels the pre-eminence over” the reprobate angels as they carry out God’s wrath.[13] In sum, Calvin believes that the elect angels preside over the reprobate angels as God sovereignly uses the reprobate angels as executioners of his vengeance.

On the other hand, as Calvin considers all of Scripture, he realizes this distinction—elect angels presiding over reprobate angels as reprobate angels carry out God’s wrath—is not always observed. At times, elect angels execute God’s vengeance and wrath themselves. It was an elect angel that killed all the first born in Egypt, and it was an elect angel that slayed 185,000 Assyrians. Because of this, Calvin emphasizes to his readers “that it is not foreign to the office of elect angels, to descend armed for the purpose of executing Divine vengeance, and of inflicting punishment.”[14] To people that may object to this, elect angels inflicting punishment, Calvin argues that elect angels “cannot watch for the preservation of the godly without being prepared for fighting—that they cannot succour them by their aid without also opposing their enemies.”[15] Ultimately, in order to protect and preserve the Church, Calvin believes elect angels must oppose the Church’s enemies.

Angels are Servants and Guardians of God’s Elect

Third, Calvin believes angels are servants and guardians of God’s elect. Calvin is convinced that the world, the flesh, and the Devil constantly assault God’s children. The impious “pour forth their threats against us” and “desire to destroy us, and are ever plotting for our complete ruin.”[16] The god of this world utterly detests the elect, rages against them, opposes their prayers, and lays snares for their destruction. The flesh is soft and frail, gives way to exhaustion, and is incapable of making it through a life filled with so many “thorns and briers, steep roads, intricate windings, and rough places.”[17] The way of God’s elect is filled with unnumerable dangers, toils, and snares. Consequently, Calvin often mentions the importance of angels as servants and guardians of God’s people.

Calvin maintains that the Lord makes “use of the ministration of angels to promote the safety of believers.”[18]Because of the elect’s feebleness, Scripture teaches that angels “keep vigil for our safety, take upon themselves our defense, direct our ways, and take care that some harm may not befall us.”[19] Even though God’s people have countless enemies, “the angels of God, armed with invisible power, constantly watch over us, and array themselves on every side to aid and deliver us from all evil.”[20] God sends his angels “against all the endeavors of Satan, and all the fury of the impious who desire to destroy us.”[21] If angels did not carry out this ministry, God’s children “would easily fall or give way through exhaustion, and would hardly ever make way amidst so many thorns and briers, steep roads, intricate windings, and rough places.”[22] For Calvin, God’s providential use of angels is essential for the preservation of the saints.

Calvin’s teaching, that angels are servants and guardians of the elect, is meant to comfort Christians; not to lead Christians to an undue reverence for angels. “Therefore we must beware of falling into the superstition of the Papists,” Calvin stresses, “who, by their absurd worship of angels, ascribe to them that power which belongs to God.”[23] Instead of revering angels, Calvin desires for Christians to see “the singular love of God towards us; for he employs his angels especially for this purpose, that he might show that our salvation is greatly valued by him.”[24] After he emphasizes the ministry of angels, Calvin writes, “The Lord alone. . . preserves us; for the angels may be regarded as his hand,” and that “all praise is due to God alone, of whom the angels are only instruments.” For Calvin, the fact that God commissions the angels to comfort the elect in their weakness, to console them in their distress, and to strengthen them in their faith, is one of the remarkable displays of God’s unwavering love for them.

What about Guardian Angels?

What does Calvin say about individual guardian angels? Calvin denies the popular belief that each believer has a personal guardian angel. He is aware of the verses that are commonly used to defend this doctrine (Dan 10:13, 20; 12:1; Matt 18:10; Acts 12:15). Joseph A Pipa Jr. helpfully breaks down Calvin’s arguments, specifically within the Institutes, against people who defend personal guardian angels from these verses:

He answers three arguments for individual guardian angels. First, that particular angels have been assigned to serve as guardians over kingdoms (Dan. 10:13, 20; 12:1) does not imply that each individual has a specific guardian angel. Second, the reference to children’s angels beholding the face of the Father (Matt. 18:10) does hint that certain angels have been assigned to look after the safety of children, but this is not sufficient ground to assert a guardian angel. Third, with respect to Peter’s angel (Acts 12:15), it is possible the servant girl believed that Peter had a particular guardian angel, but nothing prevents the interpretation that an angel was appointed care of him in prison.[25]

Pipa’s summation is helpful. Ultimately, Calvin is not convinced that these passages supply a solid foundation to believe that each Christian has a personal guardian angel. 

Instead, Calvin argues that Scripture “declares that the angels encamp around (Ps. 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.”[26] So, instead of defending personal guardian angels from these passages, it is more faithful to Scripture to argue that “the whole host of heaven doth watch for the safety of the Church; and that as necessity of time requireth sometimes one angel, sometimes more do defend us with their aid.”[27] In other words, God commissions all the angels to watch over the Church, and at times commissions an angel to serve one of his children in a specific way. Calvin deals with this extensively in his Institutes and commentaries because he thinks God’s honor is at stake. “Therefore they who think that each of us is defended by one angel only,” Calvin writes, “wickedly depreciate the kindness of God.”[28] Why make the people of God settle for one angel when Scripture clearly indicates that we have the host of heaven watching over us?[29]

Angels are Admirers of God’s Gospel

Fourth, Calvin believes angels are admirers of God’s gospel. The apostle Peter writes that angels long to look into the Old Testament prophesies concerning the sufferings and subsequent glories of the Messiah (1 Pet 1:10-12). For Calvin, the glory of the salvation that is promised in Christ is exceedingly wonderful “because even angels, though they enjoy God’s presence in heaven, yet burn with a desire of seeing it.”[30] Paul mentions that the church, consisting of reconciled Jews and Gentiles, displays the wisdom of God “to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). “Paul’s meaning is this,” Calvin writes, “The church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, is a mirror, in which angels behold the astonishing wisdom of God displayed in a manner unknown to them before.”[31] Calvin also asserts that the substitutionary death of Christ is not only the foolishness of the cross, it is also the admiration of the angels.[32] From this, Calvin concludes that angels admire the wonderful works of God in the government of his Church day after day.[33] Now that angels have witnessed the glories of the gospel unfold in the death and resurrection of Christ, they desire to see “the last display of divine justice, when the kingdom of Christ shall be completed.”[34] Thus, Calvin thinks that angels, in all their celestial glory, are now eagerly awaiting the consummation of the Church’s redemption—the return of Christ.

In Sum!

In sum, this section covered Calvin’s understanding of the function and work of angels. Calvin regards angels as emissaries of God the King, ministers of God’s wrath, servants and guardians of God’s elect, and admirers of God’s gospel. Because Calvin believes God uses angels to carry out all that God decrees, more could be said about Calvin’s understanding of the ministration of angels. Nevertheless, throughout Calvin’s Institutes, sermons, and commentaries, he consistently teaches God’s people that angels work and serve in these particular ways.

[1] Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Calvin and Calvinism, 319.

[2] John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 216.

[3] Calvin, Sermons on Job: Chapters 1-14, chapter 4, Kindle.

[4] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.5.

[5] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:271.

[6] John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, ed. and trans. John King, vols. 1-2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 571.

[7] Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of Harmony, 1:61.

[8] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, ed. and trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 5:116.

[9] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:47-48.

[10] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 504-505.

[11] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 3:261-263.

[12] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 504-505.

[13] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:578-579.

[14] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 504-505.

[15] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:578-579.

[16] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:253.

[17] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, ed. and trans. William Pringle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2:217.

[18] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 3:145-146.

[19] Calvin, Institutes, I.14.6.

[20] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, 1:563.

[21] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 2:253.

[22] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 2:217.

[23] Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 2:217.

[24] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5:38.

[25] Joseph A. Pipa Jr., “Creation and Providence: Institutes 1.14, 16-18,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis, ed. David W. Hall and Peter A Lillback (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2008), 132.

[26] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, ed. and trans. William Pringle, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 338-339.

[27] John Calvin, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, ed. and trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 487.

[28] Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 2:186.

[29] Pipa, “Creation and Providence: Institutes 1.14, 16-18,” 133.

[30] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, ed. and trans. John Owen (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 38.

[31] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 256.

[32] Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, 92.

[33] Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 42-43.

[34] Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, 42-43.