Archive for March 2011
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.
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.
Question 13 definitely takes us into the deep end of the theological pool, and if we get too caught up in those things that pertain to “the unsearchable counsel of his own will,” we will only tread water until we become fatigued and drown. Am I one of those “chosen … to eternal life”? Are you? Never mind that. That you are even thinking about it is God’s call to you to.
- Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. — Isaiah 55:6–7
Have you sought the Lord? Have you found him? Then now is the time to consider his eternal decree for you:
- For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. —Romans 8:29–30
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. —Ephesians 1:3–6
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. —1 John 3:2
Before the creation of the world, we were predestined to ultimate glory. Our entire salvation was worked out, from our election in Christ to our final glorification with Christ. In the in-between time, we are day-by-day being conformed to his image. One day, in our glorified state, we will be like him. We will be like him because we will see him, not “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but just as he is in the full glory of his perfection. We will see Christ as he is, holy and blameless, and we will finally be perfectly holy and blameless, conformed to his image. What a glorious day that will be!
What, then, are we to be doing now? If seeing Christ as he is will be the final cause of our future glorification, does it not stand to reason that looking to Christ now will be the means of our present sanctification? The writer to the Hebrews tells us it is so:
- Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. — Hebrews 12:1–3
Q. What has God especially decreed concerning you?
A. Look to Jesus!
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.
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  God exists apart from time, and that  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.
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.
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."
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.
“The thoughts of his heart to all generations.”
Men come and go, sons follow their sires to the grave, but the undisturbed mind of God moves on in unbroken serenity, producing ordained results with unerring certainty. No man can expect his will or plan to be carried out from age to age; the wisdom of one period is the folly of another, but the Lord’s wisdom is always wise, and his designs diminished by the lapse of years. He who was absolute over Pharaoh in Egypt is not one whit the less to-day the King of kings and Lord of lords; still do his chariot wheels roll onward in imperial grandeur, none being for a moment able to resist his eternal will.
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying,
Sit at My right hand,
Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet’?
Almost universally, the name of Jesus is treated with respect. In polls, he always ranks high among most admired characters. At the same time, most of those who claim to admire him also deny his divinity. And, paradoxically, many of those who deny his divinity also call themselves Christian. Which brings us to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious elite of their day. Today, they would be the mainline denominational bishops and seminary professors. They were the most Jewish of Jews, and should have been the first to recognize and welcome their Messiah, but they did not. So Jesus asked them a question about the Messiah: “whose son is he?”
Now, if the Pharisees had been American teenagers, they would have replied with a roll of the eyes and a sarcastic “Duh!” Every Jew knew the Messiah was the son of David. The trouble was that that’s all they believed he was. The Messiah would be a king in the line of David, whose dynasty would never be overthrown. At last, Israel would forever be free from foreign oppression.
The Pharisees surely knew what Jesus was after with that question. He was frequently hailed as the “the son of David,” — synonymous with “Messiah,” — and willingly accepted the acclaim. This infuriated them to no end, so to answer, as they must, “the son of David,” must have left a sour taste in their mouths.
To this correct, if reluctant, answer, Jesus replied in “Gotcha!” fashion: If the Messiah is David’s son, why does David call him “Lord”? He quotes Psalm 110, which the Jews, especially the Pharisees, knew was messianic: Why does David say, “the Lord (Yahweh) says to my Lord (the Messiah), sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for Your feet”? The implication was obvious: the Messiah is no mere man; he is divine, equal with Yahweh. Furthermore, “son of David” is an inadequate title: “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his son?” The Messiah is not merely the son of David; he is the Son of God.
And in conclusion …
Jesus left the conclusion hanging in the air, unspoken. He didn’t need to say it. He had demonstrated divine power through his miracles. He had accepted the title of Messiah. Now he had demonstrated, from their own Scriptures, that the Messiah — whose title he accepted — was God. And their mouths were shut.
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.
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.
Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? … You have not lied to men but to God.” —Acts 5:3–4
The question I want to answer is this: Why is the Holy Spirit singled out as the person on whom the fraud was perpetrated? Were not the Father and Son lied to, as well? My answer, I admit, might appear to be a bit of speculation; that is, I can’t pull out a text that says explicitly what I’m going to say. I do believe, however, that it can reasonably be deduced from the general teaching of the New Testament.
Jesus went to heaven. Yes, we believe he is with us (Matthew 18:20; 28:20), but this is a spiritual presence.* He went away so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is actually here, “in the flesh,” we might say, if he had flesh. God is immanently present in the person of the Holy Spirit.
It was the Holy Spirit to whom Jesus left orders for the Apostles before his ascension (Acts 1:2). It was the Holy Spirit who gave us the Word (2 Peter 1:21). It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates sinners (Titus 3:5), seals us in Christ (Ephesians 1:13), and sanctifies (Romans 15:16). It is the Holy Spirit who indwells believers (Acts 2:4, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 2 Timothy 1:14), teaches us (John 14:26), guides us (John 16:13), and empowers us for service (Acts 1:8). It is the Holy Spirit who will give us the words to say in times of persecution (Mark 13:11, cf Luke 12:11–12). It is the Holy Spirit whom we grieve with our sin (Ephesians 4:30).
The Holy Spirit is near to us, and indwells us. He translates our stammering, stumbling prayers into words suitable for the ear of the Father (Romans 8:27). And, as Ananias and Sapphira learned too late, he hears us when we lie — because he is here.
* A can of worms not to be opened today.
A most exceeding rare treasure is a daypass into heaven. Only a handful have ever been verified, and strong rumour holds that there are none now issued. But back in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah the son of Amoz went and snagged one. We read in Isaiah 6:1-7 that with his mouth most certainly agape, Isaiah gazed and blinked in the very throne room of the great and high God.
Isaiah was ruined. In his own words, he was lost, he had come apart. He had no hope. Why? Because he was point-blank facing the absolute Holiness and infinite Glory of God. Contested by the utter righteousness and unapproachable light, Isaiah saw his own filth, heard his own folly, bore the corporate failure of his race, and realized the casual idolatry and blasphemy that he'd been passing off as reverence and worship. Standing before his King, he capitulated and surrendered to damnation and doom. But as we know, the King had ordered different steps for Isaiah.
Time flash forward many hundred years to John 12:36-43, where the apostle recounts some of the things that Isaiah said and saw. But John isn't talking about Isaiah... he's talking about Jesus. John is using Isaiah's words to convey why many of Jesus' contemporaries simply did not believe in him. And then in verse 41, John refers to Isaiah's crisis in the Holy throne room and he tells us that the Glory that Isaiah saw belonged to none other than the Second Person of the Trinity, the pre-incarnate Christ. The Glory and Holiness and terror that broke Isaiah into self-aware sinful pieces emanated from... Jesus!
But then, in versus 42 and 43, John cuts me. He tells us about the secret believers in Jesus, the ones who didn't want to lose the approval of their peers and fellows, because they craved the fleeting pseudo-glory of men much more than they desired the real Holy Glory of the Most High God, Jesus Christ.
John, I hate you. You couldn't have aimed the knife with more precision. Why would I ignore the commands of the Son for the feeble backslapping of fellow ruined men? Yet I do. Why would I treat the worship of one so worthy with such callousness? Yet in large sweeping ways and in small everyday ways, I do. Over and over. As do so many.
Returning to John's account... a day or two later, on the cross, one ember of Jesus' Glory touched my lips and took away my guilt. My sins are atoned for. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
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.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. … Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image …” —Genesis 1:1–2, 26
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. —John 1:1–3
But don’t mistake what happened in either case. No new ideas were conceived in the mind of God. Nothing new was created. The incarnation of Christ is the exception to the rule that life begins at conception. Pentecost was not the introduction of the new guy. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had existed together from eternity. God’s entire redemptive plan , Trinitarian to the core, existed before the foundation of the world (John 17:24; Ephesians 1:4).
That means we have a Savior who did not just come along after the fact to pick us up. He was there in Eden when we fell. He was there when the Father promised him as a sacrifice to crush the serpent’s head. It means that the Spirit was there as well, prepared to come alongside and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Everything that had to be done for our redemption was accomplished in Trinitarian harmony in the beginning.
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.
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me —John 15:26
This passage unceremoniously chews up the modalist heresy and spits it out.
See the interaction between the persons of the Trinity. The Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is with the Father, will be sent, by the Son, from the Father, to the church. He will testify about the Son.
There is no way to explain this passage as a description of a god in one person who simply does different jobs at different times and wears a different nametag for each. All three persons are present simultaneously, coming, going, sending, testifying.
How many persons are there in the Godhead? Count ’em: three.
I'll take Catechismal Conundrums for $1,000, Alex.
“All about love, many sorts of things are reminiscent of this sparkly, lucky, and admirable breed of fellow, kind of a bigger sort of me, always ready to dig me out of bogs and pull my chestnuts from the fire, but even more appealingly: adapts (or at least politely looks away) in order to oblige my situation, because sometimes you know, my shoes aren't your shoes; this sort is always ready to listen to reason, very nearly perfect (I really get this guy!), happy to come when it is most convenient, departs when dismissed, and that famous inclusive and unconditional love wins virtually all the time, even extending grace and mercy to the intolerant (on further thought, probably a little too merciful... those insufferables should be outlawed), however I have somewhat against --- a little too judgy and capricious sometimes (tsunami, anyone? And why cancer? Why?), but this once-creaky anachronism has a proven ability to absorb and evolve as he makes new truths that harmonize to my personal zeitgeist; not to mention that those writings can be a great source of solid advice and I give some of them prominent places in my flash memory.”
beep beep beep. “What is My Best god Now!”
Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. —1 Corinthians 8:4–6
But I want to hang my hat on the nail that holds this, and all other texts, together (and answers Question 8): “there is no God but one.” Those six words are why we believe and live as we do. Why do we believe and obey Scripture? Why do we care what it says about meat sacrificed to idols, charity, etc? Because it comes from a single, authoritative source, who shares his authority with no one. God isn’t one member of a supreme court. There are no dissenting opinions to consider. “There is no God but one.”
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.
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.
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.
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. —1 Timothy 6:15–16
Question 7 asks, “What is God?” The doxology of 1 Timothy 6 gives us a considerable start on answering that question. I want to focus on the first attribute listed in this text: “blessed.”
It will be helpful to start with a definition. I used to think it odd to describe God as blessed. I thought of blessings as good things that happened to me — a raise at work, the love of a wife, healthy children, enjoyable experiences — things that came from God to me. When I encountered passages in the Psalms exhorting me to “bless the Lord,” I didn’t really know what to do with that. Isn’t God the source of all blessings? It never occurred to me that God would bless himself, and that he might use me to bless him. I believed he would use me to bless others, but not himself. I believed that because my definition of “bless” was anchored in the material, the giving and getting of good things.
The definition of “blessed” is really quite simple. It means happy. To be happy is to be content, satisfied, fulfilled. God is happy. Have you ever thought of him that way? He is content; he is satisfied. He has everything he needs and wants; he is content with his circumstances. He is not worried, frustrated or afraid. God does not experience anxiety.
That is not to say that he is unconcerned. But in his sovereignty, he has no worry that his concerns will remain unmet, because he meets them himself, infallibly. Whatever God wants, God gets. Whatever he plans comes to pass. I, on the other hand, worry. I know that my will determines nothing. My plans fail. I get hurt, people I love get hurt, and I can’t prevent it. Will my bills be paid? Will my teenagers with driver’s licenses make it home alive? So I worry.
But God doesn’t worry, because it’s all in his hands. I worry because it’s out of mine — which makes no sense at all. The God who is unworried because he is sovereign over his every concern is sovereign over mine (Matthew 10:28–31, cf. Luke 12:4–7). To know that God — who knows all things because he created and controls them — has no worries, is happy, blessed, ought to make me happy. I ought to be intirely free from fear, content, satisfied, resting in the knowledge that I, and all my concerns, are covered. I ought to be happy.
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.
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