Archive for March 2011

Calvin as Gadfly: a wide berth

31 March 2011 by Frank Turk

Some who are trying to be clever would say that God doesn't only foreknow, but he also governs with his every wish whatever it is that is done in this world. However, they imagine that government as confused, as if God gives liberty to his creatures to do anything but what he requires. They say that the sun is ruled by the will of God, because, in giving light to us, it does what it must, which he set in motion but doesn't continually keep up with. They think that man has free-will in the same way, because his nature is disposed or inclined to the free choice of good or evil. But by doing this they think God is just sitting around in Heaven like an idle man. The Scripture teaches us something else, which marks out that God has a special government over all things, and also in man’s actions.

Just so, it is our duty to ponder and consider to what end it teaches this; for we must beware of dreaming up new things which are not actually in the Scripture. The Scripture will make our faith fit, so that we may know that we are defended by the hand of God, or else we'll be subject to the attacks of Satan and the wicked.

It's good for us to embrace this one thing, namely exactly what Peter meant in this verse of Acts. We have an example set before us in Christ, from which we may learn to be wise and even-tempered. For it is out of question, that his flesh was subject to corruption, according to nature. But the providence of God actually set his flesh free. If any man asks whether the bones of Christ could be broken or no? it is not to be denied, that they were subject to breaking naturally, yet could there no bone be broken, because God had so appointed and determined, (John 19:36.) By this example (I say) we are taught so to give a wide berth to God’s providence, that we keep ourselves within our boundaries, and that we thrust not ourselves rashly and indiscreetly into the secrets of God, where our eyesight does not have a chance to look.

--Calvin, Commentary on Acts Vol. 1, verse 2:23

Catechism Buzz: Irony Intended

30 March 2011 by Daniel

Q. 13. What has God especially decreed concerning angels and men?

A. God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, has elected some angels to glory; and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extends or withholds favor as he pleases,) has passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.

I want you to think about the moment that Pontius Pilate offered to release from custody either Barabbas or Jesus. Both of these men were already condemned to die, so when the crowd chose to have Pilate release Barabbas, it wasn't their choice that condemned Christ (since Christ was already condemned by Pilate), rather their choice simply set Barabbas free.

The crowd elected to show mercy to Barabbas (by releasing him), and in doing so they necessarily passed over our Lord (ironic pun intended). If Barabbas had not been condemned, he could not have been a recipient of mercy. In the same way in order for God to ordain that a person will be saved, it is necessary for God to regard that person as needing salvation (ie. the person must be condemned in the eyes of God) Thus when we speak of predestination to salvation, we must presume that God is regarding men as guilty and deserving of hell in the moment He elects to save them.

If all were condemned already when God made His choice, it stands to reason that it was not the choice itself that condemned mankind. Mankind was already condemned. Election doesn't save some, and damn others - it just saves some of the damned from damnation, and leaves the rest in the same state of damnation that they were already in.

In other words God predestined certain condemned sinners to be saved from His wrath and the rest remained as condemned as they were prior to election. It isn't that God, "mockests with a fruitless call whom he has doomed to die" as Charles Wesley sarcastically put to music so long ago, rather it is that God earnestly calls all men everywhere to repent and believe, but no one ever will because man is fallen, and cannot seek God apart from God's grace. Such is the nature of the fall of mankind, and such is the reason that each one of us needs a Savior.

God's decrees are not horrible. They do not declare the death of innocent folks, but instead declare the promise of life for every guilty person that turns to Christ in faith. Thus we can declare with confidence to every sinner that if they repent and believe, they will be saved - even though we personally have no idea which sinners will receive the grace to repent and believe - a grace that was predestined to them before the world began.

Catechism Buzz: Ordered the Whole Universe

28 March 2011 by Matt Gumm

Q. 13. What has God especially decreed concerning angels and men?

A. God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, has elected some angels to glory; and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extends or withholds favor as he pleases,) has passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.

I've heard variations on the "God uses means" answer for a variety of theological questions and objections, and it has always left me unsatisfied. To me, "God uses means" as an answer was on par with the answer of "42" for the question "what is the meaning of life?" It is an answer, but it doesn't really tell me anything.

The Westminster Confession says this:
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

To keep this brief, God is sovereign over all aspects of salvation, and in this, He chooses not only who to save but how they will be saved.

He has not left anything to chance. His plan to save the elect—to save them (among whom I hope you are and I trust in Christ that I am)—is so specific, that He ordered the entire universe to accomplish it. Events unfold so that all those He chose from the beginning will actually come to faith.

There are two great things about this plan. First, that God can do all this for us, and not make it about us. It is still about Him bringing Himself glory.

Second, God's use of means lets us have a part in this plan. We have seen the means, and we are them. He could have chosen any number of ways to spread His kingdom. He chose to use you and me as His means to do it. It makes what I intended to do today look a little soft around the middle.

Weekend Upload: Humble Beast

26 March 2011 by Frank Turk

G.O.S.P.E.L. from Humble Beast Records on Vimeo.

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Catechism Buzz: One Page at a Time

25 March 2011 by Daniel

Q. 12. What are the decrees of God?

A. God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

Let's pretend I am reading a book that I have never read before. As I read it I am only aware of what I have already read, or what I am presently reading. I don't know how the story is going to end, I am only aware of what has gone on since I began to read it. From the perspective of the author everything that I have yet to read is already set in stone, the story is over (as it were), but from my perspective as the reader, the story is ongoing until I have finished reading it. Hold this thought as you read through the next few paragraphs.


As the name implies, the book of Genesis describes the origin of man, so we shouldn't be offended or surprised when, rather than describe the creation of such things as Angels, or time itself, such things are instead implied.

If God created time (and He did) it follows that [1] God exists apart from time, and that [2] God is not held to any of the rules that govern time. Consider that God has already created every moment of time that will ever pass, and that He did so in a single cosmic act. God is thrice holy, not a creature. He perceives time in a way that is radically different than anything we can model or imagine. However He perceives time (and thus history), He sees it all, beginning to end, in the same glance - it a finished work from His perspective. Not unlike the author of a book knows his finished work. That isn't how we perceive time. We see ourselves moving through time. We remember moments that have passed, but are only aware of the moment we find ourselves in. The future, from our perspective, has yet to happen, and so it is as yet "unwritten".

Is it any wonder that we imagine the ability to foreknow something as merely being able to see something happen before it happens? How many of us imagine that when God "sees the end from the beginning", it only means that at the beginning God looked through all of time and saw how it would all turn out? The truth is that from God's perspective, all of history was written in the same moment that He created time. That offends those people who are unable or unwilling to accept the notion that it is God's perception of reality that is definitive, and not our own. We perceive the moment only as it happens, but God has created that moment, along with every other one already.

You may have to read that a few times to get it because (frankly) it can be confusing and heady stuff. Once you get it however, you should have no problem understanding what it means to say that God decrees (foreordains) everything that has happened or will happen. It isn't that the present is cementing the past in place, or that the future is all open. Rather God created only one story and we, like readers, are experiencing the reality of that story that God has authored one page at a time.

Calvin as Gadfly: Greater than we are

24 March 2011 by Frank Turk

The right thing to do here is to look to the end which Scripture has in view the teaching that all things are divinely ordained. So, first: the Foresight and Care of God is for all things past, and all thing present, and all things future.

Secondly: in ruling over all things, it works at one time with the real things involved, at another without the real things involved (that is: above them, as a cause which they do not manage), and at another against the things involved.

Last: the design of God is to show that He takes care of the whole human race, but is especially vigilant in governing the Church, for which he has a special purpose as his special possession.

It’s important to realize that, although God’s fatherly care and fatherly discipline is often blatantly obvious as his providences are played out, sometimes the causes of events are concealed. We’re tempted to think at those times that we’re just the victims of chance, or to think that God amuses himself by tossing men up and down like balls.

But the counsel of God is the highest of reasoning, if we think about it soberly and seriously, knowing that he is so much greater than we are; his purposes are either to train his people to patience, correct their faulty urges and inclinations, housebreak their baser desires, teach them it is better to give than to receive, and wake them up from lazy dozing; or, on the other hand, to knock the proud down as they should be knocked down, defeat the craftiness of those who have other gods, and frustrate all their schemes.

-- Calvin, Institutes, Book I, 17.1

Catechism Buzz: the Remedy before the Malady

23 March 2011 by Matt Gumm

Q. 12. What are the decrees of God?

A. God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

God's control of the universe is so precise and so complete that He has, from the beginning of time, ordered and arranged everything that ever happens in such a way as to bring Himself glory.

This should not surprise us; God would not be God if this wasn't true. But it is still staggering, both in its overall scope and in its implications to finite creatures.

For instance, when we look at marriage, we see something not only designed for man's good, but also something that God instituted from the beginning as an institutional picture of our relationship with Him. The Mosaic Law has many functions—as an indication of God's character; as a set of rules for the good of God's people; as ordinances to mark them out from the surrounding nations; as a tutor to show people their own sinfulness; and as a foreshadowing of the fulfillment and salvation in Jesus Christ. No doubt I've even left something important out of this list. But all of this is intentional on the the part of God.

This idea also transforms statements like "God has a (master) plan" from empty platitudes trotted out when we are at a loss for what to say to genuine statement of faith and trust in an infinite God who is worthy of belief even when we can't see and understand the ends He has ordained.

It is in this God, and Him only, that we find hope for a remedy of all of the injustice we see around us: crime, poverty, and every form of social injustice. In Him, and Him only, can we entrust the disposition of the those who die in the womb, and those who, because they lack proper congnitive abilities, will never be able to express repentance and faith in a traditional way. This is a God of whom we can say "though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

Catechism Buzz: Two Streets Over

22 March 2011 by David Regier

Q. 12. What are the decrees of God?

A. God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

There's an author, and he's written this novel. “Epic” doesn't even begin to describe it. It's more like [(Karamazov + Les Mis) x War & Peace/Iliad]. Cubed. But longer, with more detail. It’s a redemption story, with a cataclysmic central act involving the author himself. The author's tragic, then triumphant, appearance reverberates both ways through the whole tale, touching every detail and every character.

Somewhere, later in the book (I can’t seem to find the page right now), the author introduces a minor character. This man, having reflected on the fact that there is indeed an author to this book (nothing new, many of the characters had done so), realizes that this means the author is writing every character’s part. Again, nothing new here.

But armed with this bit of knowledge, this fellow begins looking at the roles that the other people in the novel are playing. And instead of enjoying the beauty and intricacy of the little bit of the plot that he’s able to see first-hand, he begins to harangue the other characters. Because he, of all people, understands that they’re merely characters in a novel. That puts him in a position to understand them better than they do themselves.

So this character goes about berating everyone who will listen for a minute about how they have no choice about their knowledge of the author, because it’s the author who decides. He shouts it from the blogtops. He classifies people based on their agreement with him, and separates himself from anyone who doesn’t line up to the letter. Because they don’t realize that it’s all about the author, you see. Years later, he dies alone, bloated, in his mom’s basement, lips coated in Cheetos® dust, caps lock on.

Meanwhile, two streets over, in a Free Methodist church, a sad pervert, a mean drunk, and an overwhelmed soccer mom hear a sermon on Matthew 11:28, and they ask God to forgive them.

But the author, you see, wrote the whole thing.

Catechism Buzz: Gasp

18 March 2011 by Brad Williams

Q. 11. How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?

A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

We Reformed, confessional types get that Jesus, God's Son, is fully God. The Church is absolutely dogmatic, staunch, and unyielding on this glorious truth. We see clearly what is at stake in this truth. If the Son of God is not God, then we cannot worship him lest we become idolaters. This would eviscerate our identity; it would destroy our worship; it would shipwreck the faith. We know that there is no salvation outside of God, for God alone can save. Therefore, Jesus can be no mere man; he must also be God. He is adored eternally by the Father, has the worship of the angels, and is the everlasting Hero of the church. We easily rejoice in the deity of the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

But the Holy Spirit? We confess that he is also equal with God, but we are a bit uneasy with Him. Just look at the affirmation of the Nicene Council regarding the Holy Spirit in comparison with what it says about Jesus as the Son of God! I understand that this happens because we see the revelation of God most clearly in Jesus Christ, and I know that we have to spend so much time cleaning up after brethren who claim every impulse and behavior is of the Holy Spirit that we rarely reflect on what the Holy Spirit actually is doing. This post is written to encourage you to be unashamedly thankful for God the Holy Spirit, so that you might dare to worship him.

I wonder if you realize that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is as important to you as the cross of Jesus Christ? Does that cause you to gasp? Do you fear that I blaspheme? Think about this: without the Holy Spirit, there is no man named Jesus. However God was joined in the womb with man in Jesus, that was the work of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). There is no planet earth. There is no Bible. There is no Israel, and there is no Church. The fact that you and I read about Jesus at all is because the Holy Spirit wrote of Him. But let me back up a bit, I'm going to need a little more space to get at the glory that belongs to the Spirit.

No one loves Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit does, save the Father alone. From the time that the Holy Spirit hovered over the dark waters of a freshly created world, he was hovering there in anticipation of the revelation of the Son of God. The Holy Spirit is co-creator of all worlds. He inspired the creation account, and every other book of the Bible, in order to point us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How is it that we have a Bible? It is because God the Holy Spirit has preserved for us a witness by preserving his witnesses. He preserved the Bible, Israel, and now the Church, and if you are in Christ, he is preserving you as well. In his wisdom, he has loosed the mouths of donkeys and of men to accomplish his purposes. All this hardly even begins to speak of his glory and goodness toward us, and yet it should already be enough to move us to worship him.

Have you ever known the sting of sin and the terror of the judgment to come? Have you ever seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit gave you those revelations (John 16:13-14). He applied the atonement to your wicked heart. He flew, more gracefully than a seraph, from the bosom of God with the gospel of Jesus. He cried to your dead soul, "Arise! And see the glory of the Son of God!" And you awoke and saw Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6). Even now, he guards you from sin, despair, and death. Even now, he whispers to you that you have God for a Father and Christ for a Savior (Gal. 4:6). If he were to abandon us, even for a moment, we would fail for despair, we would return to the mire from which we were washed, we would fall from grace. We absolutely need him every moment, and he knows this. He is so gracious that he has sealed us, not with a magical stamp or some holy wax, but with his own person (Eph. 1:13).

How much we owe to God the Holy Spirit! Ought we not pause to thank him for the salvation he has shown us in Christ? Ought we not praise him for his manifold ministries of grace toward us? Yes, we ought and we must. Thank you, God the Holy Spirit, for making our world, for giving us life, and most of all for revealing to us your glory, the glory of God that you share in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Catechism Buzz: Beyond Mere Orthodoxy

14 March 2011 by Matt Gumm

Q. 11. How does it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?

A. The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

That Jesus is God is not merely doctrine—a belief that serves as a test of orthodoxy; it gives us encouragement to know that it is no mere human being who intercedes on our behalf with God. We have no need of a human priest, because we have the great high priest, who is God Himself (Thx, Hebrews).

In the same way, we understand that God lives in tents not made with hands, but He tabernacles with us by living in us. The Holy Spirit is able to dwell inside of all believers because, as God, He is omnipresent. It is for this same reason that David can testify that there is nowhere he can go to escape God's Spirit—not because the Spirit is like a bloodhound, able to sniff out a man wherever he might go—but because wherever he might go, God the Holy Spirit is already there (Psalm 139).

So it is that the teaching about the three persons of the Trinity being co-equal is not dry orthodoxy, but rather practical and encouraging to believers, as God in three persons works out His plan of salvation in the lives and hearts of His people.

Tech Specs: Knows like Vos

10 March 2011 by Matt Gumm

Q9: How many persons are there in the Godhead?

Answer: There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.

Q10: What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?

Answer: It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.

In order to know God as He is, we must know and accept Him as He presents Himself in His self-revelation to us. The Catechism leads us gently but firmly down the path to this point, by first telling us that we need to know about God--that is our purpose (Q.1), and how God is revealed to us--through His Spirit and His Word--(Q.2). It then proceeds to tell us about God's Word: what it is (Q.3), how we can know the Scriptures are God's Word (Q.4), and the summary statement about what the Scriptures teach (Q.5). And so it is that we are brought to the section where what God is and who He is explained.

God makes a big deal about presenting Himself as one. Dueteronomy 6:4, for example, tells us directly that God is one. But other passages, such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14, present to us three separate, distinct persons all identified as "God." And so it is that we begin to see a the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This lays the foundation for later discussion of the differing roles in the various stages of salvation, identified as justification, sanctification, and glorification.

The importance of this doctrine of the Trinity cannot be overstated. In his commentary on the Larger Catechism, Johannes Geerhardus Vos puts it this way.

What is the practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity?

This is far from being mere technical theory or abstract doctrine. Christianity stands or falls with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible represents the plan of salvation as a compact or covenant among the persons of the Trinity. Where the doctrine of the Trinity is abandoned, the whole Bible teaching about the plan of salvation must go with it.

The relationship within the Godhead also enables us to understand concepts like equality of persons but distinction of roles; it allows us to submit to one another, as we see that even amongst equal persons there is the submission of the Son to the Father. It helps us understand our need for relationships, and reinforces the priority of those relationships, with God and with each other. It even helps us to know that God geniunely desires relationship with us, but doesn't need it, since God alone would not be lonely. Seeing the Godhead operate in relationship enables us to put a premium on our relationship with God and with His church.

So that we can properly glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Tech Specs: Lost in Translation

06 March 2011 by Matt Gumm

WHAT MAN OUGHT TO BELIEVE CONCERNING GOD

Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Now, it is at about this point that some astute Gadfly reader following along at home is going to wonder if there may be a problem here. The older versions of the Catechism have 1 John 5:7 as the Scripture proof for the statement about the persons of the Godhead in Q.6. However, based on manuscript evidence, most modern Bible translations have omitted this statement about the Trinity because it doesn't appear to be part of the original text. So what happens when a prooftext goes missing?

The short answer is, the Assembly was preparing teaching tools, not an exhaustive systematic theology text. The Larger Catechism, like the other documents produced at Westminster, is a summary of Bible doctrine, and as such, the number of Scripture proofs referenced is necessarily limited.

In fact, when originally written, the Confession of Faith contained no proof texts at all. It was intended to be an exposition of what Scripture taught. It was only after the British Parliament returned the Confession and requested them that the prooftexts were added. The Catechisms were written after that and so the Assembly presumably would have included proofs in those as well.

At that time, the passage in 1 John would have been the clearest evidence of the statement they were making. In our day, with the questions surrounding that passage, those gathered at Westminster might have referenced the verses their modern counterparts point to, including Matt 3:16-17; Deut 6:4-6; 1 Cor 8:4,6; Matt 28:19-20; and 2 Cor 13:14.

The controversy around 1 John 5:7 does not require us to choose a certain translation of Scripture in order to subscribe to the Westminster Standards or uphold the truth expressed in them, nor is the truth of the statement itself weakened by our choice of the same.

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Hive History: Proper Properties

04 March 2011 by Daniel

WHAT MAN OUGHT TO BELIEVE CONCERNING GOD

Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

It wasn't until 1704 that the word "proper" began to take on the meaning of something that was socially appropriate. Prior to that, the word described something that was one's own - an attribute entirely particular to the thing itself. When the authors of the Westminster Catechism say "it is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity", they weren't making an argument for the Trinity based on how socially appropriate that relationship seemed to them. They were describing the inner-Trinitarian relationship as a property of the Godhead.

The fullness of what is being expressed in the Catechism (concerning this relationship) cannot be imparted until or unless we understand the language the authors were using. I am speaking in particular about such peculiar terms as "begotten" and the phrase "proceeding from". In order to comprehend what these authors believed the scriptures teach about the personal properties of the three Persons in the Godhead we must first understand what these terms meant to those who used them at the time they were using them.

In 325, at the Council of Nicea, Arius was condemned as an heretic for teaching that God -created- Jesus. The council, in correcting Arius, clarified what the scriptures taught concerning the Sonship of Christ: that this Sonship was eternal and singularly so (ie. there were no other eternal Sons - Jesus was the only "begotten" of the Father, a coeternal Person, of the same substance as the Father, and explicitly affirmed as divinity). Thus they affirmed a creed, called the Nicene Creed, which was to be regarded by all of Christendom to be an accurate explanation of what the scriptures taught, and as pertains to this post at least, concerning the eternal Sonship of Christ. The Westminster Catechism affirms this same Sonship as a property of the Trinity.

In 381, at the First Council of Constantinople, the Nicene Creed was amended to include the teaching that the Holy Spirit preceded from the Father, meaning that the Holy Spirit was of the same being (ousia) as God the Father. In 589, at the Third Council of Toledo, this amendment was revised to say that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son (and not without a whole lot of controversy(!) that we won't get into at this time). Again, this relationship is affirmed in the Westminster Catechism as a property of the Trinity.

The scriptures lead us to the conclusion that God is the eternal, uncreated, infinite reality who exists in three Persons related to one another as the Father, His only Son, and the Holy Spirit who together are of the same substance/essence. The reason we labor to articulate this understanding, is not because we want to impress ourselves or others with the scope and depth of our own biblical navel gazing, rather we strive to articulate what is true and revealed of God in order that we may ourselves be on guard against those innovations and corruptions that would eventually lead us astray in our faith, and again, in order that we might warn others away from such innovation and corruption.

Catechism Buzz: What God Is

03 March 2011 by Brad Williams

WHAT MAN OUGHT TO BELIEVE CONCERNING GOD

Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

I love that the Catechism asks, "What is God?" It seems that the more natural question is "Who is God?" It is a different question altogether to ask "what" something is rather than "who" someone is. Why, do you suppose, that the theologians who drafted the Larger Catechism would ask "what" instead of "who"? And how does that help us think about God?

This sets us up for a series of questions that help us think about both the "what" and the "who" of God. Zero in here on the first part of the answer to question six; it states that the Scriptures make known what God is and the persons in the Godhead. That's rich if you meditate on that truth. We serve a God, an almighty God, who is both a what and a who.

He is a "what" because we can't get our minds and hearts around all that He is. He is, as the catechism says, "incomprehensible." He is infinite in being. Do you know what an infinity is? He is perfect. Do we fancy that we know what perfect really means? He is One God, and yet He is three persons. He is neither divided in His essence, nor is He confounded in His persons. He is God, and there is nothing like Him. You have never seen anything like Him. There is nothing on earth that we may compare to Him that will do. He is infinitely glorious and blessed and perfect and all-sufficient and eternal and unchangeable and incomprehensible and everywhere present and wise, just to name a few. We may heap up the superlatives to describe Him, but really, does that ever get at "what" He is? By way of analogy, because I can help myself and you through no other means, it is as if I took a blind man and granted him sight for the first time in order to view a magnificent sunset, and as he stared in awe I said, "Friend, what is that?" How might he answer? Our struggle is worse than his to approximate what we see of God in Scripture. Our language is most pitiful when our hearts are most full.

This thought brings me finally to the "who" question of God. God is one being, yet in three persons. The Scriptures teach us this. Specifically, let us think for a moment on the Second Person, the eternal Son of God. God is more awesome than the sunset or a majestic waterfall. In Jesus, the God Incarnate, the being of God comes close in the person of Jesus Christ. Can you see what God is in Jesus?

See if you can see God revealed in this: A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Matt. 8:2-3). Jesus touched the leper and made him clean. He taught us to pray to God as "our Father." He said that He would send to us the Holy Spirit, and He called him our "Comforter." Jesus taught us that God is our Father, that he is our Savior, and that the Holy Spirit is our Comfort. The Father has compassion for His children and sends us the Son; the Son dies to makes us fit for our Father; the Holy Spirit convicts us through this love out poured and embraces us as sons and daughters of God. We learn who God is through Jesus.

So, having seen this one God in three persons, I ask you: What is God? Tell us what He is, not just to educate us, but so that we may worship and adore Him with you.

01 March 2011 by Frank Turk

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Catechism Buzz: Your Safe Passage

WHAT MAN OUGHT TO BELIEVE CONCERNING GOD

Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.

Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

You’ve been given an ancient map, on yellowed parchment with rough edges. It’s a map of all the waterways and the seas of the whole world. The map has lines and arrows that show you all the ways of safe passage to guide your ship in its travels. It has warnings: “Here there be dragons” and the like. And there’s a legend on the map that gives keys to understanding all the symbols and markings on it.

As you undertake to study the map for all its worth, you discover that it’s made of some kind of iParchment, so that when you brush your fingers against it, it zooms in to intense detail of the passage you’re attempting to sail. And it turns out that even in the safe channels there are great dangers that require the utmost care to navigate their passing.

You come to a narrow canal where the map shows that there are razor sharp, craggy rocks both to your left and to your right, hidden under the water. If you were to steer your ship anywhere but straight ahead, you could easily get wrecked on either side. You wonder why the map maker would consider this to be a safe passage at all. But a note from the legend pops up on the iParchment, explaining that the map maker cut this channel himself, and put in the sharp underwater rocks to keep your ship from sea serpents on one side and dragons on the other. Why? Because he’s interested in your safe passage.

The Larger Catechism’s sixth question asks us what the Scriptures make known of God. The first phrase of the answer says the Scriptures make known what God is. The proof text is Hebrews 11:6, which tells us that God is a rewarder of persons who diligently seek Him by faith. As we Reformed types navigate through these waters, we often tend to hang close to the side of the channel that speaks of our depravity and our utter inability, our worminess and wretchedness. And it’s easy to get shipwrecked clinging to our knowledge of our own depravity.

But what is God? God is a rewarder. The map says so, and the One who made the map, made the world.