That Which We Cannot Comprehend

The Plain Man's  Pathway To Heaven (Paperback) ~ Arthur Dent Cover Art Arthur Dent (d. 1607) wrote one of the most popular Puritan devotional works in the 17th century: The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven.   This book was reprinted over 50 times in the 17th century, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was greatly influenced by it.  In The Plain Man’s Pathway, Dent records a fictional but instructive dialogue between four people: a Christian theologian/pastor, an honest man, an ignorant man, and a wicked man.  The dialogue covers the basics of the faith: sin, depravity, regeneration, the gospel, obedience, etc.

The following is a helpful section where the Christian pastor-theologian explains to the ignorant man that we cannot know all the secrets of God’s will in predestination, reprobation, and election:

“…Certain it is, that God, for just causes, albeit unknown and hid to us, hath rejected a great part of men.  The causes, I say, of reprobation are [ultimately] hid in the eternal counsel of God, and known to his godly wisdom only.  They are secret and hid from us; reserved in his eternal wisdom to be revealed at the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus.  His judgments, saith the Scriptures, are as a great deep, and his ways past finding out.  It is as possible for us to comprehend the ocean sea in a little dish, as to comprehend the reason of God’s counsel in this behalf [matter].”

“…[Though] we can never comprehend the reason of God’s proceeding in this behalf [matter], yet we must know that his will is the rule of righteousness, and must be unto us instead of a thousand reasons; for whatsoever God willeth, inasmuch as he willeth it, is to be holden [considered] just.  WE cannot conceive the reason of many natural things, and things subject to sense, [such] as the motion of the celestial bodies, their inconceivable swiftness, their matter and substance, their magnitude, altitude, and latitude.  We cannot thoroughly find out the cause of thunder, lightning, winds, earthquakes, ebbing and flowing of the sea, and many other things under the sun.”

“How then can we possibly ascend up to the privy [private] chamber and council-house of God, to sift and search out the bottom of God’s secrets, which no wit or reach of man can any way attain unto?  Let us therefore learn in God’s fear to reverence that which we cannot in this life comprehend” (p. 225-226).

This book is available on Kindle or paperback for a decent price (FYI, I quoted from the paperback).  It does use some archaic language, which is why I added a few words above for clarification.  However, though it is somewhat lengthy (c. 300 pages), it’s not too tough to read if you’re somewhat familiar with older English.   I’m sure I’ll quote more later from this excellent and edifying book, The Plain Man’s Pathway.

shane lems

2 Replies to “That Which We Cannot Comprehend”

  1. I do agree that the doctrine of reprobation is biblical, and a high mystery. However, I don’t think “rejection” is the right word for describing it.
    It may be that I am nitpicking, but it may mean the difference between biblical terms (the form of sound words) and the error of hyper-Calvinists who make reprobation a positive action on God’s part, rather than a consequence of men’s rejection (decreed, but theirs nonetheless).


    1. Ron – thanks for the comment. Hope you’re well.

      I do know what you’re saying, and like you, I want to stay away from hyper-Calvinism for sure! In the context of Dent’s comments, he is very clear that the reprobate are to blame for their condemnation. I could be wrong, but I think Dent is saying that God has accepted some, and rejected others, and much beyond that we cannot go.

      Some verses to think about as well: Prov. 16:4, Rom. 9:22, and Jude 4.

      Hope this helps!


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