“God’s Fatherly Pity”: C.H. Spurgeon vs the Schoolmen on Divine Impassibility

C. H. Spurgeon, “God’s Fatherly Pity,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 28 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1882), 157–158. Headings in the post below are mine.

Like as a father pitieth his children,
so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

In the former part of this psalm the Psalmist sang of God’s deeds of love, his gifts, his benefits, and his acts of kindness; but here he goes deeper into the divine motive, and hence he finds sweeter incentives to devout gratitude. There is a fulness of consolation in the fact that the heart of God is towards his people. He not only dispenses blessings—so does the sun, so do the clouds, so do the fruitful fields—but he takes a warm interest in our welfare, and has a feeling towards us of kindly, gentle affection, and that of such intensity that one of the highest forms of earthly love is here used as a figure to set forth the tender mercy of our God towards us.

“Without Passions”?

I have always been taught as an axiom in theology that God has no griefs,—that he is “without parts or passions” I think was the definition; but I have often inwardly demurred to such statements; they seemed to me so inconsistent with the tone and tenor of Scripture; for he appears to take pleasure in his people, and to be “grieved” with their ill-manners. Surely, metaphors that are inspired must have a meaning that is instructive. If the Father’s “bowels yearn,” if our Lord and Saviour is “moved with compassion,” and if the Holy Spirit is “vexed,” there must be something analogous to what we call emotion among ourselves in the acknowledged attributes of the Most High. At least he appears to sympathize with us, so that “in all our afflictions he is afflicted,” and he pities us “as a father pitieth his children.”

“After the Manner of Men”?

“That is speaking after the manner of men,” says somebody. True; and it is exactly the way I do speak. In no other way do I know how to speak, and until I learn to speak after the manner of angels you must pardon me, and accept an apology, not only for my own ignorance of any other tongue than that in which I was born, but also for the incapacity of my hearers to understand any other than human language. Neither do I know anything, so limited is my intelligence, except after the manner of men. It seems to me that if there be any other manner or means of communicating thoughts and emotions, it must belong to some other being than man; and if it be correct to speak after the manner of men, then be it understood I do speak after that manner, and I am perfectly satisfied that I am able so to speak the truth as shall give a faithful and adequate impression to your minds.

The Schoolmen Dismissed

There is a feeling which has a measure of pain in it, familiarly known to us as “pity;” it is a love which so sympathizes with its objects that in a manner it makes itself one with them, and if it should involve suffering, pity shares the pang. If there be any kind of grief in the one that is pitied, he that pities becomes a partaker of that grief. I believe in a God who can feel. As to Baal, and the gods of the heathen, they may be passionless and without emotion, or without anything that is akin to feeling. Not so do I find Jehovah to be described. How did his anger kindle when he gave his people over to the sword, and was wroth with his inheritance! And how transporting is his love to the daughter of Zion when he rejoices over her with joy! He has a pity, ay, and a sorrow too, according to this Book. I dismiss therefore the theology of the schoolmen; I am quite satisfied with the divinity that I find in these Scriptures.

Bob Gonzales bio


Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewThe Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

I appreciate Spurgeon choosing the obvious meaning of Scripture.  Although God's emotions are not the exact equivalent to ours, they are emotions.

Well said.

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