Category Archives: Larger Catechism

Joseph Caryl on God Answering Prayer

Isaiah 65:24, “And it shall come to pass that before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

In the very act of praying, the answer came forth; yea, the answer sometimes antedates our asking, and the grant comes before the petition. The giving out of the answer may be deferred, but the answer is not deferred. We may be heard, and heard graciously, and yet, not presently receive the thing we ask; but every prayer is heard and laid up as soon as put up; he hangs it upon the file, he has it safe by him. Prayer receives an answer in heaven, as soon as spoken upon earth, though the answer be not returned to us on earth. God sleeps not at the prayer of those who are awake in prayer.[1]

[1] Joseph Caryl, Bible Thoughts (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 110. This wonderful book was originally published in the Nineteenth Century and republished by Don Kistler. The book presents selections from Caryl’s twelve volume expositions on Job, his magnum opus. Joseph Caryl was one of the Westminster Assembly divines. Each selection expounds a passage of Scripture which the editor arranged in its canonical order. Unfortunately, the original work never cited the volume from which these selections came.

Thoughts from Westminster Divines

I intend to upload small and large quotes and passages from some of the Westminster Divines I have been reading of late. I have been reading them to write a commentary on the Larger Catechism so many of the selections might cover similar themes and theological topics taught in the Larger Catechism.

I will also cite the references from which the quotes are taken and at times make comments upon their thoughts. Their profound insights into various theological and practical issues unrelated to the Larger Catechism need to communicated. It should not surprise us to learn that their writings always edify and stir the souls of the readers. For that reason, I endeavor to make them available.

I personally own some of their works but the vast majority of them come from online resources. Readers can easily find them online. Where possible, I will try to cite the original sources than reprints.

The Larger Catechism #172

The Larger Catechism

Question 172

172.     Q. May one who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s supper?    

A. One who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof;[1102] and in God’s account hath it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it,[1103] and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ,[1104] and to depart from iniquity:[1105] in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians[1106]) he is to bewail his unbelief,[1107] and labor to have his doubts resolved;[1108] and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.[1109]

Scriptural Support and Exposition

[1102] Isaiah 50:10. Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. 1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. Psalm 88. O LORD God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee: Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah. Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth. Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee. Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee. LORD, why castest thou off my soul? why hidest thou thy face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness. Psalm 77:1-4, 7-10. I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak…. Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah. And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. Jonah 2:4. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. [1103] Isaiah 54:7-10. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee. Matthew 5:3-4. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Psalm 31:22. For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. Psalm 73:13, 22-23. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency…. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. [1104] Philippians 3:8-9. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Psalm 10:17. LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear. Psalm 42:1-2, 5, 11. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?…. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance…. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. [1105] 2 Timothy 2:19. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. Isaiah 50:10. Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God. Psalm 66:18-20. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me. [1106] Isaiah 40:11, 29, 31. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young…. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength…. But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Matthew 11:28. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 12:20. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. Matthew 26:28. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. [1107] Mark 9:24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. [1108] Acts 2:37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Acts 16:30. And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? [1109] Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also. 1 Corinthians 11:28. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.


This question ranks as one of the best in the whole Larger Catechism because of its great tenderness and deep spiritual concern. I am not saying that the other questions lack such characteristics but this one stands out for its pastoral insight. All of us have struggled with our doubts before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Doubting believers can and should partake of the Lord’s Supper. The answer offers helpful guidelines and most doubting believers will be able to see themselves described in the answer.

Before looking at the LC answer point by point, we need to dispense with an idea found among some Presbyterians in our generation. Some have argued that we should not ask ourselves the preparatory inquiries set forth in the previous LC question. They believe examining oneself as described in the previous question only fosters the concerns raised in this LC question that is before us. In short, they argue that LC 170 breeds unhealthy introspection and that creates the scenario envisioned in LC 171 (doubting believers). To obviate this supposed problem, they teach that as long as you are a communicant member in good standing, you need not concern yourself with any preparatory inquiries. Since you have been admitted by the church, you should partake of the Lord’s Supper each week without any serious scruples. Rather than querying about your spiritual state, take comfort in the objective reality that you are a member of the church of Jesus Christ. That is what some have proposed.

Differing nuanced positions have been advanced by these proponents but in general terms, I believe the above paragraph fairly summarized their viewpoint. In answer to this, let me offer four responses. One, their view diminishes the gravity of the Lord’s Supper. As we have shown, believers fellowship with their Lord through the Lord’s Supper. Since we participate in the body and blood of our Lord, we cannot haphazardly approach the Lord’s Supper. Those preparatory questions help the believer to seriously consider what comes before him. To assume all is well because one is a church member fails to consider what the human heart can do. These preparatory questions challenge the heart. Remember, the Corinthians were members of the visible church and look happened to some of them (1 Cor. 11).

Two, their view jeopardizes the souls of those partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Since we do commune with our Lord through this appointed means of grace and since the fullest recorded account of the Lord’s Supper after its institution highlighted the devastating abuse of the Corinthians and the subsequent judgment from the Lord, we should not hazard the souls of those partaking of the Supper by presuming all is well because of some formal profession of faith. Too much remains at stake; the souls of the partakers may fall under God’s judgment.

Three, their position fosters a misplaced sense of security. To assure the anxious inquirers by notifying them that they are members of the local church would lead them to place their trust in their membership in a visible church rather than helping them to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than encouraging them to place their faith in Jesus Christ, the focus shifts toward an external marker, namely, their membership in a local church. This can only breed formalism and will not foster earnest piety or deep godliness.

Lastly, their teaching kills the soul. Because the person ends up relying on his membership and focusing on his formal connection to the visible body of Christ, there is little to stir him to maturity. Man’s wicked heart always tends toward formalism and this view engenders it in spades. Their view can only have a deleterious impact on the soul and the longer the person remains in that situation, the greater his spiritual decay. Paul never wrote to the churches encouraging them to remain content because they were part of the visible church. Exhortations, challenges, encouragements, rebukes, etc. abound in his writings. Our souls grow from such teachings.

The Westminster divines believed that a godly man could receive the Lord’s Supper unworthily. Just like those circumcised Jews who found themselves “unclean” and unable to participate the Passover (though they may be have been godly), so the Corinthians “contracted epidemical judgments” because of “their undue and unfit coming to the Lord’s Table…” wrote Richard Vines † (1599/1600-1656).[1] The divines would have found the above position an affront on the sacrament itself.

For those who lack assurance and remain hesitant about participating in the Lord’s Supper, the LC encourages them to participate but not without some specific provisions. Again, this answer reveals their true pastoral insight which encourages the weak and does not encourage the hypocrite.

Lack Assurance

The answer first addresses those who lack assurance. “One who doubteth of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof… may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.” Some believers struggle with their assurance and wonder if they are truly in Christ and others believe they have not properly and sufficiently prepared for the Lord’s Supper. They conclude that perhaps they should not partake of the Lord’s Supper.

The LC answer intimates that the person in question may have erred in assessing his true estate. He “may have true interest in Christ, though he be not yet assured thereof.” Assurance is not of the essence of faith, that is, a sense of assurance need not be present in order for a person to truly have faith.[2]

Numerous examples in Scripture reveal that true saints have doubted their relationship with God. They felt deserted, bereft of God’s comfort and care. We find the best example of this in Psalm 88 (the divines cite the entire Psalm as one of the proof texts for this LC question). The Psalmist cries out, “O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (v. 14) He lists his plight before the Lord, “I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” (vv. 15-18) He prays to God complaining that God was destroying him and had cast him off. The last three verses just cited end the Psalm. Of this Psalm, Derek Kidner says, “There is no sadder prayer in the Psalter.”[3] Spurgeon said, “Assuredly, if ever there was a song of sorrow and a Psalm of sadness, this is one.” In the Psalmist’s bleak position, he still cries out to God, the very God from whom he feels estranged and the very God who seems to be destroying him. William Nicholson † (1591-1672) said of Ps. 88:14, “Even the best of God’s servants, have been brought to that strait, that they have not had a sense of God’s favor: But conceived themselves neglected, deserted by him, and discountenanced.”[4] The Psalmist did not believe God favored him but believed God opposed him and hid his face from him. He was in doubt as to his own standing before God and yet still he pled with God (cf. Jonah 2:4). The only place where he implies some relationship with God is the beginning of the Psalm, “O LORD, God of my salvation…” (v. 1). He never says, “My God” or “My LORD”. One finds a similar lament and feelings of destitution in Ps. 77:1-4, 7-10.

A person can feel deserted by God and yet still be united to Christ: “So in the derelictions that a believer is subject unto, there may be a separation in regard of the comfortable manifestation, and shining forth of the beams of God’s love, but no interruption in regard of his union with Christ.”[5] A believer may sense the separation “in regard of the comfortable manifestation” and yet his union with Christ will not be affected. Isaiah 50:10 serves as the general guide to those who remain doubtful: “Who among you fears the LORD and obeysthe voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” That is, even though you lack light and seem to be walking in darkness and doubt, nonetheless trust in the Lord, rely upon Him. Scripture gives examples of those who lack assurance and yet sought the Lord and called upon Him. So, lacking assurance does not automatically disqualify the person from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, Vines added that the “worthiest communicants are to their own eye the worst” and that “a proud confidence… [is] a greater cause and sign of unworthy receiving, than humble fear and sense of imperfection…”[6] In a sense, one should not be surprised if most believers feel most unworthy to partake of the Supper.

May Have True Interest in Christ if…

Not all doubters should be lumped together. Some doubters remain indolent and use their doubt to justify neglect. They wait for something to happen to them (suggesting that God must do something to them before they will take any steps towards Him). This passive approach denies their responsibility to use the appointed means of grace with all diligence and in turn implicitly fault God for their condition.  Other doubters occasionally get serious about their condition and tend to the means of grace but with very little diligence and earnestness. The divines did not have them in mind. The doubters the divines had in mind are those dear tender Christians who doubt but nonetheless continue to do what God calls them to do. They list three indicators that point to the reality of their genuine faith: “and in God’s account hath it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity…” The phrase “in God’s account hath it” means that these doubters do “have true interest in Christ” because of the following three indicators. If they exhibit these three characteristics, then “in God’s account” they have a true interest in Christ. They put those signs or indicators of being a true believer in conditional terms, “if he be…

One, if the person is “duly affected.” The phrase “if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it” means that the doubting individual really desires to be assured. It truly disturbs him because he lacks assurance. He prizes assurance and earnestly desires it. He genuinely wants to know that he truly is in Christ. Many doubters simply do not care and remain content with their ambivalence. Our Lord did say, “Blessed arethe poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt. 5:3-4) The doubter’s mourning fits what the beatitude teaches. The doubting person mourns over his lack of assurance. Jeremiah Burroughs † (1601-1646)[7] encourages such people to look to the promises of the Gospel offered to them so they could gain some comfort. In fact, he states that the Gospel “has a power to draw the heart” and that there “is a quickening in the grace of the Gospel when it is beheld.”[8] That is, as the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, it also has the grace to quicken the souls of those who believe and look to the Lord in faith. God uses the truth and the power of His Word to quicken their souls. That concern, that distress over not being fully assured or not knowing his true interest in Christ points to a work of God’s grace in the soul. It indicates that he has a true interest in Christ.

Two, if the poor individual “unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ.” This second indicator should be obvious to all readers. The doubting individual really wants to be united to Christ. Such a person is like Paul who wanted know Christ and to “be found in Him” (Phil. 3:8, 9) or the Psalmist who panted after God (Ps. 42:1-2). This desire does not come from nature but from God’s grace. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (Jn. 6:44) The person’s desire to be united to Christ can only happen by the work of God in his or her soul.

Three, if he “unfeignedly desires… to depart from iniquity.” The phrase “unfeignedly desires” should go with the second infinitive (“to depart”). Many things could be said about this third point. Let me just make only a few points. The divines recognized that our love for sin changes once we are united to Christ. As Obadiah Sedgwick †(1599/1600-1658) said, those who have truly embraced Christ “will let all your sins go, and yourselves go so that you may have Christ.”[9] That effect can only happen from being drawn to Christ. Though numerous motives may compel an individual to want to leave sin (fear of judgment, consequences, fatigue and weariness, shame, etc.), one who has been truly affected by God’s grace desires to leave sin ultimately for Christ’s sake. Paul said to Timothy, “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” (2Tim. 2:19) Departing from iniquity means the person has truly embraced Christ. The doubting person knows God will not hear those who regard iniquity (Ps. 66:18-20).  Though the doubting believer cannot perfectly desire to depart from iniquity, he earnestly desires it — it remains uppermost in his affections.

The very influential Westminster Divine Richard Vines said that “grace is more apt to see sin than itself”,[10] that is, true humble believers tend to be more aware of their failures and sins than the true work of grace in their lives. They do earnestly wish to depart from their iniquities and grieve deeply over the fact that they have progressed so little. Vines believed such a person should partake of the Lord’s Supper.

For the Relief Even of Weak and Doubting Christians

The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been instituted to grant relief to all kinds of believers. The answer shifts from the condition of the doubting believer to what they must do in their condition. Before detailing that, it makes a positive statement about one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper: “in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians)…” That is, the Lord’s Supper has been instituted to help weak and doubting Christians. This point is deduced from the kind and tender nature of our Lord Jesus Christ who feeds His flock and would renew the strength those who wait for Him (Is. 40:11, 29, 31). He beckons those who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him (Mt. 11:28). As the meek and tender Lord, he will not break those who are as a bruised reed nor will he quench the smoking flax (Mt. 12:20). The blood that was shed was for the forgiveness of sins to which the Lord’s Supper points (Mt. 26:28). If our Lord is so tender and meek, then surely He will have regard for those weak and doubting believers. Surely He instituted the Supper while being perfectly mindful of the weak and doubting! Our Lord’s tenderness did not abate at the institution of this sacrament. As Richard Vines said, a “sick people may be nourished and strengthened with that meat which they cannot taste or relish in their mouth”[11] so weak and doubting believers can be nourished and strengthened as they partake by faith.  

Obadiah Sedgwick †, in another treatise, encourages the doubting person to “be in the ways of strength.” That is, use the means that strengthens their faith. He says, the way God strengthens us “is revealed in his ordinances; for God does not call us, nor change us, nor strengthen us, nor save us without means.” Of course, one of the means of strengthening believers are the sacraments. Sedgwick illustrates the importance of strengthening those who doubt with the example of a baby. “A child which cannot stand when it is born, may yet go by the use of the breasts; but that person who is weak, and wants [lacks] strength, if he feeds not, will abate more, and before long will want life itself.”[12] That is, a weak baby can get strength by feeding on his mother’s breasts and those who do not feed will get weaker and could actually die. So a doubting believer should partake of the Lord’s Supper to feed his soul. To neglect it can only weaken him. Remember, the answer spells out the purpose of the Supper: “that he may be further strengthened.

Bewail and Labor

So if the above three characteristics can be found in the doubting believer, he should do two things before he comes to the Lord’s Supper: “he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.” The doubting believer must “bewail his unbelief” like the father who cried out to Christ in behalf of his son, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mk. 9:24) Unbelief is not good and it should never be tolerated, excused, or nursed. We should decry it and beg the Lord to help us to believe. Vos says, “Lack of assurance is not to be complacently tolerated; we are always to strive to attain and retain the full conscious assurance of our personal salvation. Doubts may be unavoidable, for the time being, but we are never to regard them as legitimate tenants of our mind.”[13]

The answer also says the person should “labor to have his doubts resolved.” Some effort should be made to resolve the doubts. Those convicted under Peter’s sermon asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) and the Philippian jailer cried, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) So the doubting individual should ask and make effort to resolve his struggles. Read a good Christian book that deals with the issue, like Obadiah Sedgwick, who offers fourteen “cures” to resolve doubt.[14] The true believer who doubts will not rest content but will avail himself of all the God appointed means to overcome this. To despair and give up will only deepen the dejection. Once again, Johannes Vos’s comments help us here:

Spiritual doubts are very real to the person who has them. They cannot be disposed of by a wave of the hand and a pat on the back. Such a person should face his own troubles frankly and seek relief Study of God’s Word, prayer, and conference with godly, experienced Christians will help. And as the catechism rightly affirms, the Lord’s Supper itself is intended for the spiritual help of weak and doubting Christians.[15]

The divines assumed that these doubting people were quite earnest though fearful. This exhortation to resolve their doubts did not apply to everyone. Thomas Ridgley adamantly argued that these exhortations must not be applied to those who are indifferent and uncaring.

This advice is not given to stupid sinners, or such as are unconcerned about their state, or never had the least ground to conclude that they have had communion with God in any ordinance,—especially if their distress of conscience arises rather from a slavish fear of the wrath of God, than from a filial fear of him, or if they are more concerned about the dreadful consequences of sin, than about the intrinsic evil of it; I say, this advice is not given to such. But it is given to those, who, as formerly described, lament after the Lord; earnestly seek him, though they cannot, at present, find him; and have fervent desires for his presence, though no sensible enjoyment of it; and appear to have some small degrees of grace, though it be very weak.[16]

After bewailing and laboring, the answer says, “and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.” He may come to the Lord’s Supper because he finds those biblical requirements in him and has subsequently bewailed his unbelief and labored much to overcome it. He also ought to come because if he is so qualified, why would he avoid it? To partake would only strengthen him: “that he may be further strengthened.” The Word of God said, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28) He has examined himself and so he should eat and drink!

[1] Richard Vines, A Treatise of the Right Institution, Administration, and Receiving of the Sacrament of the Lords-Supper (London, 1657), 285-286.

[2] See William Spurstowe † (d. 1666), The Wels of Salvation Opened: Or, a Treatise Discovering the Nature, Preciousnesse, Usefulness of Gospel-Promises, and Rules for the Right Application of Them (London, 1655), 170ff. Spurstowe develops the point that assurance is not the essence of faith.

[3] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 348.

[4] William Nicholson † (1591-1672), David’s Harp Strung and Tuned (London, 1662), 254

[5] William Spurstowe, The Wels of Salvation Opened, 173-174.

[6] Vines, A Treatise of the Right Institution, 287-288.

[7] Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn dates Burrough’s birth to be 1601 (when baptized) but remains uncertain. Other references have his birthdate to be 1599.

[8] Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints Happinesse (London, 1660), 137-138. Burroughs says that even though the person feels unsure, he should by faith cling to the promises: “though thou hast it not in sense, thou mayest have it in faith, and therefore exercise faith, and fetch it in that way, set faith on work in the promise” (111).

[9]Obadiah Sedgwick, The Fountain Opened (London, 1657), 425.

[10] Vines, A Treatise of the Right Institution, 288. Cf. Vines contributed a lot to the Assembly, see Chad Van Dixhoorn, ed. The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652, 5 Vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 1:141-142.

[11] Vines, A Treatise of the Right Institution, 288.

[12] Obadiah Sedgwick, The doubting beleever (London, 1641), 131-133. Sedgwick deals with doubting believers in this treatise. The section cited does not directly deal with the Lord’s Supper but the point he is making applies to what the LC teaches.

[13] Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 498.

[14] The doubting beleever, 110ff.

[15] Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism, 498.

[16] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 537.

Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 2

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

1.   Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God[1], and fully to enjoy him for ever[2].

Enjoying God

Not only are we called to glorify Him but we must also enjoy Him: “and fully to enjoy him for ever.”  We find that the saints of God desire the Lord above all things (Ps. 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”) and they experience (“taste”) Him to be good (1Pet. 2:3; Ps. 34:8).  We are cursed if we do not love Him (1Cor. 16:22).  We are called to love our Lord “with love incorruptible” (Eph. 6:24).  Believers love Him even though they have not seen Him (1Pet. 1:8). We enjoy the objects we love; one cannot love Him and not enjoy Him.  The whole point of our union with God is to underscore the fellowship and enjoyment we have with Him (Jn. 17:21).

Saints really enjoy God.  Only those who know their God and have tasted of His goodness know anything of this—the call to enjoy Him cannot be meaningfully understood until the person is converted.  Men who have never seen snow can only imagine what its like. Blind people who have never seen the world cannot fathom the differences between colors. Those who have been the subjects of Sovereign mercy know very well what it means to enjoy God.  “[E]very holy soul that has ever lived, has known, that in communion with God, in a consciousness of his love and favour, and in the expectation of enjoying his blissful presence forever, there is a present enjoyment, unspeakably greater than the delights of sense, or than all that the pleasures of mere intellect can ever afford.”[1]

It does us no good to presume to glorify Him and yet not enjoy doing so. In the ordinances He gave us, we should enjoy Him. Formal worship is a charade. To not relish whom we worship is as meaningful and acceptable as a young man going through the motions of pretending to enjoy the company of someone. His boredom, inattentiveness, yawns, looks, gestures, nervous laughs, indifference, etc. all betray him. If we can pick this out among each other, then how much more will God take notice?

Every one that hangs about the court does not speak with the king. We may approach God in ordinances, and hang about the court of heaven, yet not enjoy communion with God.…It is the enjoyment of God in a duty that we should chiefly look at. Psa xlii 2. ‘My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.’ Alas! what are all our worldly enjoyments without the enjoyment of God!… This should be our great design, not only to have the ordinances of God, but the God of the ordinances… He that enjoys much of God in this life, carries heaven about him.[2]

Enjoying God enables believers to carry “heaven about him.” Watson was correct. Orthodox seventeenth-century divines recognized and taught that we were created to find our satisfaction and enjoyment only in God. To truly enjoy God in Christ was the height of our blessedness. This teaching can be found in John Arrowsmith’s † (1602-1659) treatise Armilla Catechetica. He begins his book by arguing this main point: “Mans blessedness consists not in a confluence of worldly accommodations, which are all vanity of vanities; but in the fruition of God in Christ, who only is the strength of our hearts & our portion for ever.”[3] That is, man’s highest blessed state consists in “fruition of God in Christ.” The word “fruition” means enjoyment of God in Christ (from the Latin frui, to enjoy). That is, our true happiness and blessedness comes from enjoying God in Christ. Another Westminster divine, Daniel Featley † (1582-1645), said that “indeed in enjoying God, we enjoy all happiness, and soul-satisfying Contentation… and without God there can be no solid joy, or quietness of Soul…”[4]

Arrowsmith stated that “none can make our souls happy but God who made them, nor give satisfaction to them but Christ who gave satisfaction for them.”[5] He and all Christians recognize that no person could truly be happy until he knows and enjoys God: “Man cannot rest from his longing desires of indigence till God be enjoyed.” But that enjoyment remains elusive without the Lord Jesus, our Mediator: “Now since the fall God is not to be enjoyed but in and through a Mediator…[6] Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can indeed enjoy God. Through Christ we can enter into that blessed state of enjoying God.

Nothing in the created world can furnish this happiness or blessedness for which each man was created. Everything in the world will disappoint and frustrate. “The creatures do not, cannot perform whatsoever they promise, but are like deceitful brooks, frustrating the thirsty traveler’s expectation… With God it is otherwise… In him believers findenot less, but more than ever they looked for; and when they come to enjoy him completely are enforced to cry out, as the Queen of Sheba did, The half was not told me.[7]

The Westminster’s emphasis on enjoying and loving God follows the Augustinian tradition of enjoying God alone (as in his De Doctrina Christiana).[8] Ultimately, only God is to be enjoyed for Himself or for its own sake. Daniel Featley said we should “enjoy God, in the things we enjoy, and possess God in all things we possess…”[9] That is, even in the things we enjoy, we should enjoy God in them (that is, God’s goodness in giving us such things, His blessing us, His provisions, etc.). We cannot enjoy them for their own sake (echoing Augustine) but for our Lord’s sake. Our main purpose in life is to glorify and fully to enjoy God. To glorify or enjoy anything (or anyone) else as our chief end destroys us because we were not created for that. Redemption restores that original purpose in the souls of redeemed.

The World’s Chief End

Fallen man pursues something different. In rejecting his Creator, he seeks to find his ultimate satisfaction and purpose in something or someone less than his own Maker. Warfield has said that the Bible’s answer to this question is not “un-human” but it certainly is “unmistakably superhuman.”[10] It is so divine and so different that fallen humanity has never been able to make it their ethical norm.

Modern answers to this question have varied. For some, there exists no overarching reason or meaning to life. We simply exist and struggle through life. Life remains fundamentally meaningless, though we may keep ourselves preoccupied.  Existentialists concur that there is no meaning; we define and make meaning for ourselves. Existentialism can only lead to nihilism.  For others, the great end has been reduced to pleasure (e.g. Epicureans).

Is human happiness our chief end? Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) believed that man’s happiness was the great purpose of creation (Discourse on Metaphysics, XXXVI-XXXVII).[11] When conflict arises, who determines whose happiness must rule?  Some have said that the greatest good is the one that makes most people happy.  This is too nebulous because one must determine what really does make the most people happy.  Is it economic wealth and security? Is it health? Is it entertainment? Is it love? Is it a feeling of consensus? What if the majority of the people enjoy watching the cruel death of a few people?  It certainly follows that if the cruel death of ten men dying before the world makes everyone (except the ten men of course) happy, then those ten ought to die to entertain the world. If your death and pain makes the rest of the world happy, then you must die. Such a principle establishes selfishness and does not in principle promote the general welfare of any.  Human happiness remains too vague and elusive. There is no overarching way of determining what happiness is or how to produce it.  We believe Warfield’s general assessment rings true.

However they may differ in other particulars, all human systems of ethics are at one in this: they all find the highest good in something human.  They differ vastly as to what human thing it shall be—whether the pleasure of the individual, of the race, his or its conformity to nature, or even his or its virtue. And as they differ in their idea of the thing, what constitutes it, so too in what is fitted to gain it, even when they call it by the same name. But they agree in this: they rise no higher than man, than some human quality or possession, in the assignment of their chief good. Thus by them, one and all, the attention is centered on what is human; man is bidden look no higher than himself for his ideal…[12]

Practically speaking, most men and women live like beasts.  The material or physical things of life serve as the true ends for many. Most cannot rise above the material world and those that do cannot rise too far above man himself. 

One of the most perceptive observations from Warfield on this topic is that man’s highest end is not scientifically or philosophically argued in Scripture but rather, it is practically spelled out in 1Cor. 10:31 (“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”).[13] Our chief end is encased in the mundane and routine issues of life.  Our eating or drinking do not escape the great chief end—we are to glorify God in all those “mundane” activities. This biblical answer alone can lift a man beyond himself, beyond his self-absorption, beyond his selfish petty pursuits. God’s immense glory can fully engage man forever because everything else has a limit. We can grow bored with the pursuit of ephemeral things; we can grow dissatisfied with other things; we can lose interest because of its shallowness—God’s glory alone merits our entire pursuit and passion.

An Objection

Some may wonder if this is not supreme egotism. Isn’t God calling us to glorify Him a selfish command? Is this the ultimate selfish act? Not at all! Herman Bavinck offers a wonderful answer to this question. He says that God

…has no alternative but to seek his own honor. Just as a father in his family and ruler in his kingdom must seek and demand the honor due to him in that capacity, so it is with the Lord our God. Now a human being can only ask for the honor that is due to him in the name of God and for the sake of the office to which God has called him, but God asks for and seeks that honor in his own name and for his own being. Inasmuch as he is the supreme and only good, perfection itself, it is the highest kind of justice that in all creatures he seek his own honor. And so little does this pursuit of his own honor have anything in common with human egotistical self-interest that, where it is wrongfully withheld from him, God will, in the way of law and justice, even more urgently claim that honor. Voluntarily or involuntarily, every creature will someday bow his knee before him. Obedience in love or subjection by force is the final destiny of all creatures.[14]

We must remember that God needs nothing. He does not need the creation to find satisfaction. In his goodness and bounty, He created. Once again, Bavinck helps us here:

An artist creates his work of art not out of need or coercion but impelled by the free impulses of his genius…. A devout person serves God, not out of coercion or in hope of reward, but out of free flowing love. So there is also a delight in God which is infinitely superior to need or force, to poverty or riches, which embodies his artistic ideas in creation and finds intense pleasure in it.[15] 

God does not need us; neither boredom nor loneliness compelled Him to create. He created us to glorify Him. He, from the plenitude of His goodness, created everything to demonstrate His own beauty—”out of free flowing love.”

God cannot help but be His own chief end and Himself to be the chief end of all things. God created man to embrace this because He alone is infinitely good — that is, man must make the best, the superlative-good to be his chief end. Loving ourselves often involves sinful selfishness and inappropriate self pre-occupation. But the same does not hold true for God because of who He is. Stephen Charnock explains this point very well in his masterful work (The Existence and Attributes of God).

His own infinite excellency and goodness of his nature renders him lovely and delightful to himself; without this, he could not love himself in a commendable and worthy way, and becoming the purity of a deity. And he cannot but love himself for this: for as creatures, by not loving him as the supreme good, deny him to be the chiefest good, so God would deny himself and his own goodness, if he did not love himself, and that for his goodness; but the apostle tells us, 2 Tim. 2:13, that God ‘cannot deny himself.’ Self-love upon this account is the only prerogative of God, because there is not anything better than himself, that can lay any just claim to his affections. He only ought to love himself, and it would be an injustice in him to himself if he did not. He only can love himself for this: an infinite goodness ought to be infinitely loved, but he only being infinite, can only love himself according to the due merit of his own goodness.[16]

God, as “the chiefest good,” must be both God’s and our chief end. Nothing in all of creation can be greater or better. It is most fitting that God be His own chief end as well as man’s. Everything revolves around Him; we exist for Him because He created us for Him. Any “good” in creation comes from Him as the source of all good.

He receives nothing, but only gives. All things need him; he needs nothing or nobody. He always aims at himself because he cannot rest in anything other than himself. Inasmuch as he himself is the absolutely good and perfect one, he may not love anything else except with a view to himself. He may not and cannot be content with less than absolute perfection. When he loves others, he loves himself in them: his own virtues, works, and gifts.[17] For the same reason he is also blessed in himself as the sum of all goodness, of all perfection.[18]

In short, we should love the best, pursue the highest, make the chief good our chief end. God is man’s chief end and our highest delight. Nothing can be enjoyed that is greater than He.


Our lives, choices, thoughts, activities all reveal what our chief end is.  Warfield has astutely observed: “It is impossible to give maxims to guide the life without implying in them a system of truth on which the practical teaching is based. According to the system of faith that lies in the depths of our hearts will be, therefore, the maxims by which we practically live; and out of the maxims of any man we can readily extract his faith.”[19]

We should not be divided in our pursuits. We must not to love the world or anything in the world (1Jn. 2:15). Our Lord calls us to forsake everything in order to follow Him (Mt. 10:37-39; Lk. 9:23; 18:22) and has taught us that we cannot serve God and mammon (Mt. 6:24). A divided loyalty is a divided purpose and a divided purpose does not make the glory of God one’s chief end. This means we cannot have separate compartments in our lives where “religion” is merely one of the many things in our lives. All other pursuits, passions, goals, etc. must be subservient to the biblical chief end. For some, their career is the non-negotiable, their chief end. For others, their relationships or other people’s approval and opinions determine their lives. For many, the almighty dollar remains their summum bonum. But for most, everything centers around themselves, self remains inflexibly the chief end. The following questions and statements should help us to search ourselves before God.

1. What about when my glory crosses God’s glory? Am I willing to seek His glory over mine? Would you agree with Anthony Burgess † (d. 1664) who said, “Better we all perish than that God should lose His glory.”?[20]

2. Why do I believe that seeking God’s glory will end up depriving me of joy? Can God’s glory ever be truly and ultimately unpleasant and not enjoyable?

3. Remember, heaven will manifest His glory and that we will behold it forever. If it is not a concern and interest now, then it certainly will not be then. Do you in anyway delight in His glory?

4. Have you ever considered the promised joy in heaven? Watson reminds us of this future promised joy

Let this comfort the godly in all the present miseries they feel. You complain, Christian, you do not enjoy yourself, fears disquiet you, wants perplex you; in the day you can not enjoy ease, in the night you cannot enjoy sleep; you do not enjoy the comforts of your life. Let this revive you, that shortly you shall enjoy God, and then shall you have more than you can ask or think; you shall have angels’ joy, glory without intermission or expiration. We shall never enjoy ourselves fully till we enjoy God eternally.[21]

5. Lastly, we see unbelievers labor with great pain to gain glory in this world and it will not serve them, help them, satisfy them, or comfort them in the end. Should men and women who are deceived by vain religions be more zealous for their gods’ glories than we for our true and living God?


Piper and Dabney

John Piper developed and popularized what he calls “Christian Hedonism.” He transmutes the answer of the SC to say, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” To exchange the conjunction [“and”] to a preposition [“by”] affects the whole meaning of the answer. He says “and” is a very ambiguous word and that the “old theologians didn’t think they were talking about two things” because they didn’t say “chief ends.” “Glorifying God and enjoying him were one end in their minds, not two.”[22] From this, he concludes that we glorify God by enjoying Him.

Piper further believes that our happiness is inevitable and it therefore ought to be the determining factor in our pursuit. Desiring our own good, he argues, is not a bad thing. We would not disagree. We should all desire our own good. “In fact the great problem of human beings is that they are far too easily pleased. They don’t seek pleasure with nearly the resolve and passion that they should. And so they settle for mud pies of appetite instead of infinite delight.”[23]  Yet, it cannot be THE determining motive because whenever “self” is involved, it will attempt to compete with God.

His reasoning is subtle.  A universal desire for happiness should be considered a good thing. The impulse itself should not be deemed to be evil and therefore we should do “whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.”[24]  He rightly argues that this can only be found in God.[25]

However, it is one thing to recognize the proclivity and quite another to condone it and establish it as a principle.  Piper has turned an ingrained natural propensity into a spiritual principle.  Self and self-satisfaction can neither be the starting point nor the goal. God’s glory must be the beginning and end of all things. Because we remain sinful and selfish, we must consider something outside of ourselves.

First of all, it does not appear that the Bible ever uses our happiness as the determining motive for duty.  That is not to suggest that one of the fruits of obedience cannot be happiness but our happiness and satisfaction do not always immediately follow our obedience.  Second, it is true that we are called to enjoy God and in so doing we do glorify God; but this enjoyment is never the overarching goal. Glorifying God is indispensable whereas we may have to walk over our enjoyments precisely because we are sinful. We may not like to glorify God but God requires us to walk over the bellies of our lusts. In fact, we glorify God because, in spite of our perceived lack of happiness or joy in obeying, we do what God requires. We must override our sinful disinclination and this act itself honors God. Because we glorify God, we may end up happy in this world (and will most certainly be happy in the next).  Piper places an auxiliary motive or a reflexive response before the true objective. Our subjective response cannot be the ruling motive or passion for our actions; glorifying God is objective while enjoying Him is subjective. To collapse them with the preposition destroys the clear and simple Biblical teaching.

We believe Dabney’s marvelous little essay (“A Phase of Religious Selfishness”) strikes the right balance on this thorny issue.[26]  Dabney argues that many act out of self-interest in order to be saved—they are aware of the dangers and flee to save their skin.  “There is, then, nothing characteristic of the new and holy nature in it. Men dead in trespasses and sins often feel a degree of it.”[27] Yet, “there is no real coming to Christ until the soul is so enlightened and renewed as truly to view not only its danger, but its ignorance and pollution, as intolerable evils. The true believer goes to Christ in faith, for personal impunity indeed, but far more for sanctification.”[28] “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”  In other words, we do it because it is right, it is good—there is an appeal to the conscience that Dabney rightly called the “mistress of the human heart.”[29]

Dabney has addressed this issue more philosophically, and his answer gets at the heart of Piper’s problem.[30]  Many (like Thomas Hobbes and Ayn Rand) have argued that since we act selfishly, selfishness ought to be the norm. “The system has always this characteristic: it resolves the moral good into mere natural good, and virtue into enlightened selfishness.”[31]  Piper has concluded similarly; what we normally pursue (pursuit of our enjoyment, ultimate satisfaction, etc.) has turned into a transcendent principle, a norm. The natural good (our satisfaction) has been turned into a moral or spiritual good (our satisfaction is how God is glorified).  Also (a bit more philosophical), it assumes the effect to be the cause;[32] in other words, we cannot know we will enjoy God until we glorify Him—our enjoyment is the result of glorifying Him and not the goal.

J. Vos’s statement also helps us here. He asks, “Why does the catechism place glorifying God before enjoying God?” To which, he says,

Because the most important element in the purpose of human life is glorifying God, while enjoying God is strictly subordinate to glorifying God. In our religious life, we should always place the chief emphasis on glorifying God. The person who does this will truly enjoy God, both here and hereafter. But the person who thinks of enjoying God apart from glorifying God is in danger of supposing that God exists for man instead of man for God. To stress enjoying God more than glorifying God will result in a falsely mystical or emotional type of religion.[33]

Our enjoyment must remain subordinate to God’s own glory. Vos rightly asserts that placing enjoyment before glorifying God can lead to “a falsely mystical or emotional type of religion.” Whenever a man’s desire for enjoyment remains forefront of his heart, it can easily become idolatrous so to hold it in check and to prioritize all things in biblical terms, God’s glory must remain primary.

We have a God who enables us to so glorify Him; we do not glorify Him in order to become a Christian. We have the written revelation of God and He did not leave us to “figure it out” on our own. We have this one chief end and it is extensive enough to engage all our affections, desires, efforts, etc. Everything else will run cold; we can sound their depths. In seeking His glory, we are called to also enjoy Him. Though not mutually exclusive of each other, there remains a proper order and priority.

The Confusion in Modern Philosophy[34]

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy is interesting in comparison to the LC #1 and SC #1. He believed that God was the precondition to our morality or to put it more simply, he believed that we cannot make sense of our morality without God (cf. Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone).[35] William Hamilton has argued similarly.[36]  This single argument is for many the only persuasive argument for the existence of God. For them, we could not make sense of duty or our sense of “oughtness” without the existence of God.

Such an argument could be deemed helpful at one level. If man cannot live morally without God, then how can he live with a purpose without God? If the lesser demands the existence of God, then the higher must certainly necessitate the existence of God. In that sense, they are helpful. But there is a flaw in their argument.

For all their sophistication, it boils down to this:  God exists to make sure we live decent moral lives. If man could act immorally and get away with it, then God is no longer necessary. God exists as an umpire or a policeman, an auxiliary. In the end, God is not the chief end.

Augustine apparently knew of 288 different opinions among philosophers about what happiness meant but none of them got it right.[37] The Christian truth alone is the answer. Our chief end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.

[1]A. Green, Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath School Work, 1841), 1:44-45.

[2]Watson, Body of Divinity, 22.

[3] John Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica (Cambridge, 1659), 1.

[4] Daniel Featley, Thrēnoikos: The House of Mourning Furnished (London, 1660), 606.

[5] Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 21-22.

[6] Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 24.

[7] Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 27-28.

[8] See Raymond Canning, “Uti/frui,” ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 859.

[9] Featley, Thrēnoikos, 126.

[10]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:131.

[11]M. C. Beardsley, ed., The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, The Modern Library (New York: Random House, 1960), 286: “…the primary purpose in the moral world… ought to be to extend the greatest possible happiness possible.”

[12]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:132.

[13]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:135.

[14]Herman Bavinck, In The Beginning: Foundations of Creation Theology, translated by John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 54-55; Reformed Dogmatics, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 2:434.

[15]Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:435.

[16] Stephen Charnock, The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 5 Vols. (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson; G. Herbert, 1864–1866), 2:379. Cf. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), 71.

[17] On the goodness of God in the sense of perfection: Augustine, Concerning the Nature of the Good, against the Manichaeans, 1; idem, The Trinity, VIII, 3; Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, ch. 13; T. Aquinas, Summa theol., I, qu. 4–6; idem, Summa contra gentiles, I, 28; D. Petavius, “De Deo,” in Theol. dogm., VI, chs. 1ff.; J. Gerhard, Loci theol., II, c. 8, sects. 10, 17; J. Zanchi(us), Op. theol., II, 138ff.; 326ff.; A. Polanus, Syn. theol., II, ch. 9.

[18] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 2:211.

[19]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” 1:131.

[20] Burgess, CXLV Expository Sermons.

[21]Watson, Body of Divinity, 25-26.

[22]J. Piper, Desiring God (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986), 13. Herbert Palmer’s (see the first part of exposition) second part differed from the divines which suggests that both the divines and Palmer did not have in mind “one end.”

[23] J. Piper, Desiring God, 16.

[24] J. Piper, Desiring God, 19.

[25] In another book, he says, “He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” See his Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 36.

[26]R. L. Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, ed. C. R. Vaughan (1897; repr., Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1979), 694-698.

[27] Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 694.

[28] Dabney, Discussions: Evangelical and Theological, 695.

[29] Likewise, parents who appeal only to the child’s fear of punishment will eventually get a child who will only act in self-interest. If the conscience is not appealed to, then the dormant conscience will produce a callous cruel adult.

[30]R. L. Dabney, The Sensualistic Philosophy of the Nineteenth Century (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Co., 1887), 305ff.

[31]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 305.

[32]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 308.

[33]J. G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 4.

[34] In the subsequent questions, I will not be interacting often with philosophical issues. As interesting as they might be (at least to myself), they will unnecessarily lengthen the study and might lead us into too many unprofitable reflections.

[35] Cf. P. Helm, “A Taproot of Radicalism,” in Solid Ground: 25 Years of Evangelical Theology, ed. C. Trueman, T. J. Gray and C. L. Blomberg (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 216-220.

[36]William Hamilton, Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic, 2 vols. (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1859), 1:556: “The only valid arguments for the existence of a God, and for the immortality of the soul, rest on the ground of man’s moral nature…” Again, he says, “…for God is only God inasmuch as he is the Moral Governor of a Moral World” (1:23).

[37] Cf. Watson, Body of Divinity, 24.

Creeds and Christianity

Creeds and Christianity[1]

An important question needs to be entertained here. Why bother with man made confessions and creeds? Are not the words of Scripture sufficient? Shouldn’t we simply keep with the very words of Scripture to be safe?[2] Isn’t the making of Creeds an arrogant expression of dissatisfaction with God’s revelation?

At first blush, this sort of reasoning seems altogether pious and reverent, if not convincing. But were we to follow this line of thinking, will we be safer and will all controversies disappear? Will this make everything simpler? I do not think so.

First of all, the NT church had to contend against the Galatian heresy (see Galatians). Jude speaks about those who “crept in unnoticed…who pervert the grace of God into sensuality” (v.4). John tells us of those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh (2Jn. 7) or deny that Jesus is the Messiah (1 Jn. 2:22, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?). We could list more. Error existed in the first century so Paul anathematizes those who preach a gospel that is different to the one he preaches (Gal. 1:6-9). Jude contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This faith that was once for all delivered to the saints is the same as the “good deposit” entrusted to Timothy (2Tim. 1:14).[3] Paul exhorted Timothy to “guard” it. What exactly was he to guard? Is it the truths that Jehovah Witnesses teach? Roman Catholics? Oneness Pentecostals? Mormons?

Each person must clarify what the Bible teaches because many pervert the true sense of the Bible by using the words of Scripture. One writer correctly stated that the “Bible is not its own interpretation.”[4] As Shedd has noted, “An Arian could assent to the Scripture phraseology of the Apostolic Symbol [Creed] as he understood it, but not as it was interpreted by the Nicene Council, as teaching that the Son is ‘very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.'”[5]  For example, a JW member could affirm that Jesus is the Son of God as well as a Mormon. Even some non-Christian religions could affirm the same thing, like the Hindus. Yet, each one imports a different meaning to the phrase. By this one phrase of Scripture wrongly interpreted, the heretic supplants the overall sense of Scripture, its full systematic teaching. To believe that we only need to state scripture is naive biblicism. Not too long after the Reformation, Socinians rose up to argue for a “biblical” theology. They ended up denying the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, Incarnation, etc. on the basis of their literalist hermeneutic.[6]

Warfield has gone so far as to say (he who believed in plenary verbal inspiration) that “[t]he sense of Scripture, not its words, is Scripture.” Meaning, what the Bible teaches is more important than the mere words of Scripture; in other words, the words of Scripture, without the true sense of its meaning can be used deceptively. “It is not simply what the Bible says that is crucial but also what it means, and the only effective way to give public expression to that meaning is by the use of extra-biblical vocabulary and concepts.”[7]  We must not assume a biblical phrase or statement has been rightly understood because it has been affirmed.  Scripture could easily be used to advance heresy. “No ambiguous meanings should be permitted to hide behind a mere repetition of the simple word of Scripture, but all that the Scripture teaches shall be clearly and without equivocation brought out and given expression in the least indeterminate language.”[8]  Naive superficial biblicism seems orthodox and humble. But a call to use only Scripture words has been the cry of the heretics for centuries.[9]

We can offer another example. Everyone would confess that the Bible teaches that we must have faith in order to be saved. But faith in what? Does this faith itself justify?   What is the object of this faith? Does it include Christ? What about Jesus’ work and person? We could go on asking these questions. Some have actually believed that the power of faith itself is saving. Liberal theologians like Paul Tillich defined faith as being ultimately concerned.[10] Is that good enough? Bultmann would strongly argue that we are justified by faith. Yet his understanding of this matter radically differed from historic Protestantism and even from Catholicism, and more importantly, from the true teaching of the Bible.

J. G. Machen’s assessment of Creeds is relevant here.  In his generation, he fought against anti-doctrinalism and fervent experientialism.  His concerns and battles mirror our own struggles. He observed that we are not a creed making generation because of our intellectual and moral indolence.[11] What he said some 70-80 years ago applies even more to our generation. We might not be a creed making generation but we should be a confessional generation.

So, what actually is the purpose of a creed, a confession? Why do we need them? Let me list ten points to answer these questions. These points will also offer some of the positive benefits of having them.

1. They are summary statements of the Bible

They are not expressions of Christian experience. Once again, Machen’s timeless statement helps us here:

The creeds of Christendom are not expressions of Christian experience. They are summary statements of what God has told us in His Word. Far from the subject-matter of the creeds being derived from Christian experience, it is Christian experience which is based upon the truth contained in the creeds; and the truth contained in the creeds is derived from the Bible, which is the Word of God.[12]

Most of us think that the creeds are mere thoughts of men bereft of Biblical support. They view them as mere opinions of dead white men (and I happen to be an American who is half Asian).  It is true they are the convictions of men but are they also biblical? Because they said Jesus was fully God and fully man — do I reject it because they said it or do I accept it because it is biblical? Unfortunately, creedal statements are suspect simply because they are creedal.  Creedal statements, if they are worth anything, are summary statements of the Bible on various theological topics. We accept creedal and confessional statements only because they faithfully summarize the Bible’s teaching. We voluntarily adopt them because we believe they accurately represent what the Bible teaches.

2. They are intended to affirm biblical truths in a precise and discriminating way

The Confessions state precisely what the church believes the Bible says about certain doctrines (teachings). A confessional church voluntarily enters into an association stating that they all believe that the Bible teaches certain truths regarding various theological matters.

Each generation must, by its own study of Scripture, embrace the contents of the Confession. We do not slavishly receive them without reflection, deep study, or prayer. Many times we are forced to say, “I haven’t thought about that issue.” Or, “I thought it was such and such!” only to find out that our opinion was not as thoroughly worked out as the Confession’s.  Just studying the Confession (WCF) and its catechisms (LC and SC) forces us to articulate our own convictions more precisely (whether we accept the Confessional teaching or not).

Let’s use the doctrine of predestination as an example. Many decry this doctrine saying that we cannot know these deep things or they scream, “What about free will?” But, we assert that we are only stating what the Bible has revealed on this matter.  The Bible does teach this doctrine; it is in fact a biblical word. If the person denies predestination while at the same time professing that he only accepts the Bible, then what are we to make of his affirmation of the Bible?  Is he denying what the Bible teaches about the doctrine? Everyone has to believe in the doctrine of predestination (however conceived) because the Bible teaches something about that doctrine. Are we at fault for holding to a view we believe is biblical? Is the other person’s ignorance and lack of reflection on this doctrine more credible simply because he hasn’t given it much attention? One must have a belief in the doctrine because the Bible teaches it. All confessions state something about this doctrine because they sought to affirm the Bible’s truths in a precise way. We should not be denounced for thinking clearly about a doctrine by adopting our Confessional view (after prayer, study, and meditation coram deo).

3. They are purposefully stated to refute and combat errors

In having a Confession, we arm the church and protect her from errors and destructive heresies. Are JWs wrong? What about Mormons? Yes, the Confession clearly sets forth a biblical doctrine of Christology and salvation. We can quickly state the Bible’s teaching on Christ: “who, being the eternal son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, for ever.” (SC, 21)  Modern thinkers make non-committal theological statements (e.g., “As long as we love and believe in Jesus…”). They compose positions that are inclusive and not exclusive.[13]  A Roman Catholic can affirm that we are saved by grace through faith and a JW and a Mormon can affirm that Jesus is the Son of God. However, the moment we demand that the theological statements be more focused and precise (“by faith alone” or “fully God and fully man”) is the moment we expose the heretic.[14] 

The Confessional statement takes the entire teaching of Scripture to heart (e.g., fully God and fully man) and not merely an isolated phrase from Scripture (“Son of Man”). Heretics have hidden under the cover of a biblical phrase (wrongly interpreted) but exposed and routed through the clear and precise biblical teaching of the Confession, Creed, or Catechism.

4. A Christian cannot be a Christian without making some creedal statement (credo [I believe…])

A Christian must always give a summary statement of what the Bible teaches on various subjects whenever he conveys his thoughts while witnessing, while instructing, while praying, etc.  It is impossible to not have a doctrinal position. A Confession firmly states what he [more precisely the church] believes. A Christian must believe something. Did you know a JW could confess clearly that he believes everything the Bible teaches? He just interprets the Bible incorrectly (heretically)! So, making a creedal statement will help a believer to distinguish himself from a Jehovah’s Witness!

On the other hand, the one who denies creeds simply has not fleshed out his thoughts on various topics or simply has not thought through any thing.  What does the Bible teach about the natures of Christ? What does the Bible teach about creation, sex, the State, Lord’s Supper, atonement, the Trinity, etc.? He or she may not have a written creed but he or she still embraces a subjective/ internal/ unspecified creed of his/ her own making.  This becomes apparent when they say, “I don’t think those who never heard the gospel will go to hell.” In stating such a position, they have unwittingly conveyed their thoughts on General Revelation, Atonement, Providence, Original Sin, etc. They deny the Scriptural (and Confessional) teaching but also end up affirming the ancient old error of Pelagianism. Everyone has a creed; some understand their creed clearly while the rest remain confused and ambiguous.

5.Those who deny creeds and confessions are often lazy Christians

Those who decry Confessions and affirm the Bible many times hide their laziness. They have not worked through what the Bible has taught on various issues. How do the testaments relate? What role do works play in the OT and the NT in our justification? How does Abraham’s covenant impact the new covenant? Is there an overarching principle pertaining to both covenants? All these are hard questions and most of them have been answered in our Confession. However, most people in our generation have not even considered them. I believe Trueman’s poignant words cannot be refuted.

Some evangelical church members, and even some ministers, decry ‘systematic theology’ as if it were some alien construct imposed on the text only to distort the Bible’s own teaching; but such talk is arrant [downright errant] nonsense.

The Reformers were biblical exegetes par excellence, and yet they constantly brought 1500 years of doctrinal formulation to bear upon their exegesis. If systematic theology has been abused to produce exegetical distortion, that is the fault of the practitioners not the discipline. What I suspect the pulpit critics of systematic theology more often mean is that the theological problem they face in the text is beyond their mental powers, and they are hoping to excuse their lack of hard-headed theological thinking in a manner which makes them appear more, not less, biblical. Better, apparently, to offer the congregation incoherence and confusion than draw upon the theological heritage of the church. Such superficiality has no place in an evangelical pulpit. [15]

I have known very few anti-confessional people who have pondered the numerous and weighty doctrines in the light of Scripture. They decry “systematic theology” and creeds but how have they answered some of the important theological questions of Christ’s two natures? How have they explained the Trinity? Once they convey their thoughts on these questions, they are stating a position either for or against a creed’s teaching. In studying the catechisms, confessions, creeds, etc. we are forced to ponder them, search the Scriptures, ask questions, read, think, pray, meditate, etc. It demands study! It is not for fainthearted or lazy professing Christians. It requires mental energy, constant study, prayerfulness, careful attention to the entire Bible, and a great depth of reflection. Some of us have lost sleep over these issues!

I assume that the person who adopts or embraces a Confessional view has given it serious study and prayer. Lazy is the man or woman who only adopts it because it is convenient. The person may not understand everything thoroughly but he has faithfully given conscientious attention to everything in the Confession or Creed before he adopted it.

6. Aren’t confessional people often spiritually dead (dead orthodoxy)?

Technically, this is a misnomer. A truly orthodox person cannot be spiritually dead (part of being truly orthodox is to be regenerate). However, we recognize that there is an intellectual show of orthodoxy without its power in the person. Nonetheless, we must also notice that we cannot progress unless we have a firm doctrinal position. Our spiritual life depends on faithful adherence to what the Bible teaches. Machen shows a true believer stands on true doctrine. Orthodoxy doesn’t kill; it is the sine qua non of spiritual life.

The subject matter of Christian doctrine, it must be remembered, is fixed. It is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to which nothing can be added.

Let no one say that the recognition of that fact brings with it a static condition of the human mind or is inimical to progress. On the contrary, it removes the shackles from the human mind and opens up untold avenues of progress.

The truth is, there can be no real progress unless there is something that is fixed. Archimedes said, ‘Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.’ Well, Christian doctrine provides that place to stand. Unless there be such a place to stand, all progress is an illusion. The very idea of progress implies something fixed. There is no progress in a kaleidoscope.[16]

Remember, confessional and non-confessional people can both be “dead” or lifeless. That doesn’t mean confessing certain things makes you dead. In fact, a careful study of these doctrines most often challenges, encourages, nourishes, and enlivens believers. However, there is always the danger of assuming that our experience is the same as our confession. One’s expressed love for his spouse may be far from how he actually treats and loves her. Mark Johnston says the following:

Perhaps the greatest threat of all to the church and the teachings on which she stands in every generation is that of sliding into nominalism. Paul warns Timothy that the Last Days will be characterised by those (in the church) who have a ‘form of godliness’ but who deny its power (2Ti 3.5). He warns against them in the strongest possible terms.

It’s a danger that lurks most subtly in the Reformed community where we are inclined to lay great store on scholarship and precision. It can be paradise for the kind of people who Paul is warning about – especially those who delight in controversy.  The essence of Christianity that is authentically Reformed is its concern for authentic experience. The experiential Calvinism of the Reformation and Puritan eras was driven by the conviction that all truth leads to godliness. The study of theology can never be merely academic.[17]

The fault is not the confession but our sinful souls. The confession does not lead us to death; it is our unbelieving hearts that lead us astray. We must always examine our hearts as we study and confess.

7. Our fallible Confession can be revised

We affirm that the Confession is not infallible and that it can be revised.  The Confession must always be subject to the authority and teaching of Scripture.  We can only receive and adopt the Confession if we believe it is a faithful teaching of Bible. In principle, changes could be made to the Confession (as the American Presbyterian church has done already in the areas of church/state relationship, Pope as being the Antichrist, and its teaching regarding marrying sisters of one’s deceased wife). However, we wonder if our generation is really in a position to offer wise changes. It humbles us when we compare our generation to the piety and theological understanding of the past. 

We think our situation is like a medical student who became a doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Smith).  He finds that six of his peers from his medical school are offering a new method of surgery to the medical community.  These six peers were considered the worst students in his class.  Yet they offer their novel approach right after graduation.  Would we not say that Dr. Smith’s hesitation and reservation are warranted? That does not make the new procedure wrong per se but it does make it suspect because of these doctors’ own ineptitude. We think our church is in a similar situation—all of us are too weak.  Most of our pastors have stopped reading theology and most of them have forgotten to use their biblical original languages. Yes, technically speaking, we could offer corrections. Realistically, we remain ill equipped.

So, when we embrace a Confessional viewpoint it does not mean we have jettisoned the Bible as our sole authority. Embracing a creed or confession means we have concluded that the confession or creed faithfully teaches what the Bible teaches. If everyone in the denomination or a particular church believes the confession is wrong, then they should seek to have it changed.

8. There is a body of doctrine to be believed

Paul speaks of the “good deposit entrusted to you” and the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13-14); he writes about how the Roman Christians were thrust on to a body of doctrine — “the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). Jude writes about “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).  Paul did not shrink from declaring “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27. In these passages, we are taught that a body of teaching has been received by the church and deviation from it meant a departure from the Gospel. So there is nothing wrong with making that body of doctrine in the Scriptures explicit! Our confessions and creeds do just that! They make the “body of doctrine” explicit and clear!

9. Our generation desperately needs creeds and confessions

Most true evangelicals believe that modern Christians lack theological depth. With all the confusion surrounding our culture (gender issues, theological confusion, weird and odd and heretical perspectives on every doctrine (atonement, Trinity, God’s attributes, Christology, the Holy Spirit, demonology, angels, doctrine of man, etc.)), we need clearer biblical and theological statements and not less.

Pluralism has forced Christians to minimize their convictions but we need to affirm bold biblical theological statements, not to be contrarian but to affirm God’s unique revelation! The world wants to squeeze us into her mold but we need to be transformed by God’s truth. One of the best ways to counter that influence is to clearly know and affirm our theological convictions by way of creeds and confessions.

What modern Christians believe differ from our earlier Protestant forefathers. J. I. Packer once wrote in his introduction to Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, “Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned or even recognized by the pioneer Reformers.”[18] Packer could not have been more correct. We verge on confessing a form of Christianity that has no connection with the historic church because of our therapeutic view of theology. Contemporary Christianity needs to be different from the world and our creeds and confessions will anchor us in the Bible’s teaching far better than what now passes as Christianity.

10. Creeds and Confessions connect us to the Faith confessed by true believers in the past!

Many non-confessional evangelicals now embrace ressourcement theology (a theology of retrieval).[19] They seek to better understand theology by mining the riches of the early church, Medieval divines, and perhaps the Reformers.[20] This movement is refreshing (though not without dangers) because it compels our generation to interact with deep and godly thinkers from the past. The same effect could be gleaned from studying and working through the confessions of the church as well as the older creeds. Surely we can learn from the past!

When we embrace and confess the same doctrines of the early church and the Reformation, we end up standing with the saints of old. We don’t confess in solitary isolation from our brothers and sisters of the past but actually stand with them in the present by our common confession and creed.[21]

[1] The first version of this study was presented in April of 2008. I have reworked the original study and added to it for today’s study (2020).

[2]Anglicans like William Chillingworth argued for this. See B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 217. Even Philip Doddridge did the same; see D. Macleod, Jesus is Lord: Christology Yesterday and Today  (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 100.  “The biblical terms, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, were freely used by the Sabellian and Arian of early times, because they put a Monarchian or Arian construction upon them” (Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:436). “After all, there is not a heretic in the history of the church who has not claimed to be simply believing what the Bible says, or who has not quoted biblical texts by the score to justify his position. When meaning is at stake, it is not enough simply to quote Bible verses; the overall theological context of those verses is also necessary, as is the deployment of extra-biblical vocabulary” (C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism [Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004], 76-77).

[3] This is “the pattern of sound words that he heard” from Paul (1:13; cf. 2:2).

[4] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[5]Shedd, A History of Christian Doctrine, 2:437.

[6] See C. R. Trueman, The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus Pub., 2004), 24-25. Trueman equates our modern creed “No creed but the Bible” with “neo-Socinianism.” He is spot on. Socinians were sophisticated liberals holding to some presuppositions held by our modern Evangelicals.

[7] Trueman, The Wages of Spin, 76.

[8]B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931; reprinted, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981), 218.

[9]R. Letham, “Review of A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, by Robert Reymond,”WTJ 62:2 (2000): “This has been the cry of heretics down the centuries. In the fourth century, the Arians and Eunomians appealed to Scripture, against the Homoousion party’s use of extra-biblical terminology. See the rebuttals of Gregory Nazianzen Fifth Theological Oration, 3, 3; Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, 25; Athanasius, De Decretis, 21. Calvin faced the same problem himself, Institutes 1:13:3. It was because of heresy that the church had to think in this way to defend the faith” (315).

[10]See P. Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957).

[11]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent and Other Selected Sermons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 152.

[12]J. G. Machen, God Transcendent, 145.

[13]Machen, God Transcendent, 147.

[14]Cf. Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards, 36.

[15]C. R. Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow  (Wales: Bryntirion Press, 2000), 72-73.

[16]Machen, God Transcendent, 152.


[18] Packer and Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 59.

[19] Cf. I offer two examples, some twenty years apart, to show how long this trend has been gaining steam, see Gavin Ortlund, Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019) and Daniel H. Williams, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999). Numerous other books and essays have been published in the last few decades on this topic.

[20] Many of them criticize Evangelicals for not going beyond the Reformers. I think their criticism lacks weight but that will have to wait for a different time.

[21] Sadly, many evangelicals lack this and in reflecting on these doctrines, they have capitulated to Papism.

Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

1.   Q. What is the chief and highest end of man?

A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God[1], and fully to enjoy him for ever[2].

Scriptural Proofs and Commentary

[1] Romans 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. 1 Corinthians 10:31. Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  [2] Psalm 73:24-28. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works. John 17:21-23. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.


The Shorter Catechism’s first question and answer have been cited by many, even by non-Presbyterians. Its brevity and simplicity make it profound. The Larger Catechism’s (LC) first question and answer differ very little from the Shorter Catechism (SC). Its additional adjective and adverb offer insignificant benefits to the brilliance of the SC’s first question. Nonetheless, both focus on the same question and both give the same answer and their singular theme of God’s glory distinguishes these catechisms from the rest.[1] Not unexpectedly, the question looks somewhat similar to James Ussher’s (1581-1656) A Body of Divinitie (1645).[2] Though Ussher’s two questions might have some differences, they focus on the same matter as the Assembly’s first question:  “tell mee wherein doth the happinesse of man consist?… How may wee come to enjoy God?”[3] Ussher’s question possessed all the salient features of the Westminster catechisms (man’s ultimate aim and enjoying God). Some say he greatly influenced the Assembly though he was never a sitting member.[4] Nonetheless, one can see clear parallels between the divines and Ussher.

Herbert Palmer † (1601-1647) also had asked a very similar question before the Assembly met: “What is mans greatest businesse in this world?” His answer differed slightly from the later Westminster SC and LC. “A mans greatest businesse in this world is to glorifie God, & save his own soule, 1 Cor. 6.20. 1 Cor. 10.31. Mat. 16.26.”[5] Both Palmer and the divines made God’s glory first and foremost. Whereas the Assembly added enjoying God as the second part of the great business of man, Palmer listed the salvation of one’s own soul as the addition. We will not argue how significant this difference might be but one cannot deny the great similarity. Furthermore, both Ussher’s and Palmer’s questions and answers point to what would become the Westminster divines’ first catechism question. In the end, only the Assembly’s question would be remembered.

God’s Glory

Surely this first question continues to be one of the most important questions a man could ask: “What is the chief and highest end of man?” In answering it, he determines his great purpose, his chief end, his sole business, or the true meaning of his life. It guides his entire life and this goal pulsates through in his whole being. William Strong† (d. 1654) stated that a “mans treasure and chief good is that which is first in his eye and aime in the whole bent and course of his life, that which hath the priority in all his intentions, that is his chief good.”[6] The LC answer calls us to make God “first” in our eyes.

Warfield put it like this:

This is simply to say that the ideal a man has will determine the whole life of the man; of course, it must determine his notion of virtue, of duty, of motive—it determines also his whole character, motives, modes of life. The man for instance who, practically, considers wealth the highest good in human attainment, will necessarily think it virtuous to turn the world over in the effort to get money, and it may soon not matter much to him how he gets it so only he get it; he will hold it his duty to acquire and save it even unto cheater and miserliness; he will act on money-making motive; he will sink finally into a mere minting machine.[7]

So surely money, pleasure, man’s praise, etc. cannot be man’s highest good. What then is man’s summum bonum (his highest good)? The Bible makes it clear that the great end, the single purpose of creation and our existence, is to glorify God: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God…

Scripture is replete with the theme of God’s glory. God acts in behalf of His glory. In Prov. 16:4, it says, “The Lord hath made all things for himself.”[8] God made all things for Himself (Heb. 2:10, “for whom are all things, and through whom are all things”). The creation exists for Him (Rom. 11:36, “through him and to him are all things”; Col. 1:16, “all things… created by him, and for him”).  Saying that all things were created for and to Him means that God’s own chief end is His glory.

God created and redeemed a people for Himself that they may declare His praise (Is. 43:20-21, “The beasts of the field will glorify Me; the jackals and the ostriches; because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise.”). God will re-establish His people that He might be glorified (Is. 60:21, “that I might be glorified”).  Jeremiah declares that God’s people were to serve His glory, “that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory” (Jer. 13:11).  Salvation is wrought and the redeemed purchased “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12).  For this reason, the redeemed of the Lord declares: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).  Believers labor in this world and use all their gifts “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet. 4:11, 16). Paul gives this unqualified rule: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31).

God’s Chief End

God Himself aims at His glory and created us to do the same. Theologians have rightly distinguished between God’s essential glory and His declarative glory. God’s essential glory is the glory He possesses in Himself (His essence).[9] God is already glorious; we cannot make Him more glorious than He is. His essential immutable glory cannot be diminished or increased —His excellencies or perfections remain full, perpetual, infinite and eternal.

What then does it mean to glorify God? This is where God’s declarative glory comes in.  We cannot add to Him; God cannot be more glorious than He already is. He cannot be improved upon or grow into something better.  “He glorifies himself, when he demonstrates or shows forth his glory; we glorify God him by ascribing to him the glory that is his due, —even as the sun discovers its brightness by its rays, and the eye beholds it.  God glorifies himself by furnishing us with matter for praise; we glorify him when we offer praise, or give unto him the glory due to his name.”[10] Simply put, it is the recognition of who He is and the acknowledgment of what He has done (to give the credit where credit is due).  To glorify God, therefore, does not add to Him but it acknowledges Him as He is. ““The glory of God,” says Calvin, “is when we know what He is.” Bengel says “Glory is the divinity manifest.””[11]

The Bible uses various verbs to describe our responses to God’s glory.  1) Habu (Wbh): “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name” (1 Chron. 16:29) or “Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name” (Ps. 96:8; cf. Is. 42:12). 2) Sim (~yf): It also says, give God glory: “give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him” (Josh. 7:19). 3) Natan (!tn): “you shall give glory to the God of Israel” (1Sam. 6:5); “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory” (Ps. 115:1; cf. Is. 42:8; 48:11; Jer. 32:16). Various OT verses call us to glorify our Lord.

We also list various NT verses that teach the same.  “Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Lk. 17:18);  “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23); “And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever,” (Rev. 4:9); “‘Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.'” (Rev. 14:7); “And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory.” (Rev. 16:9);  “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7)

From these verses, one might get the distinct impression that man materially gives something to God and that God receives something from us He didn’t have before. It almost looks like man was adding to God when he gives Him glory.  The various verbs the Bible uses (like the verb give) seem to imply this. But all these and related verses clearly show that we are acknowledging who God is (in particular, a certain attribute of God).  For example, in the Joshua passage (7:19), Achan was to acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s statement regarding his own sins: “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” Achan glorified the truth of God by confessing his sins. In Rev. 16:9, the wicked were judged because they did not acknowledge the truthfulness of God’s judgment against them by repenting and so they did not glorify Him.

Illustrations will help us here. To say that a rose smells lovely, or that a picture is beautiful, or that the meal was delicious glorifies the object in question. The praise, acknowledgment, recognition, etc. merely attribute to the object something that is appropriate and meet. My acknowledgment of the beauty of the picture does not change the inherent quality of the picture nor does it add to it. In a similar way, we do the same with God when we glorify Him, we acknowledge what remains inherently already true of God.

We must glorify God because God has displayed or manifested His glory in everything He has done. Robert Shaw put it like this:

‘The Lord hath made all things for himself,’ for the manifestation of his infinite perfections; and all his works proclaim his almighty power, his unbounded goodness, and his unsearchable wisdom. His glory shines in every part of the material universe; but it would have shined in vain, if there had been no creature to contemplate it with an eye of intelligence, and celebrate the praises of the omnipotent Creator. Man, therefore, was introduced into the habitation which had been prepared for him…[12]

In the end, when we glorify God, our value or estimation of His excellencies increases (valuation).  The change occurs in our eyes and we begin to see God for who He really is.  In a sense, we finally recognize the truth and reality of God because we value, see, estimate, desire, etc. God as He has revealed Himself.  It is meet, fitting and most appropriate.  It is like a trained musician appreciating one of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas.  A rough unskilled listener may find the piece boring and unaffecting, but the trained musician perceives the brilliance of the masterpiece and is greatly moved by the music.  His appreciation does not add to the musical piece; he only recognizes the musical piece for what it is. Watson says we glorify God by appreciating Him (in having high thoughts of Him); by adoring Him (or worship); by our affections, namely, that we love Him; and by submitting to Him: “This is when we dedicate ourselves to God, and stand ready dressed for his service.”[13] Furthermore, the same author said in another place, “Though nothing can add the least mite to God’s essential glory, yet praise exalts him in the eyes of others.”[14]

The wicked will also glorify God.  They will not enjoy doing it but they will be compelled to glorify Him. Pharaoh was raised up “so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9:16).  God endures the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” because one day, they will “make known his power” when God shows His wrath (Rom. 9:22). All of creation declares His glory (Ps. 19) and even the wicked will be induced to declare His glory on judgment day.

[1] The Prologue to the Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses on God creating man to share in His blessedness. This remains somewhat close to the WLC but differs in its overall emphasis. The Luther’s Small Catechism begins with the Ten Commandments.

[2] James Ussher was invited to be a member of the Assembly (twice) but he refused to participate being loyal King Charles I. See Crawford Gribben, The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 86.

[3] James Ussher, A Body of Divinitie, or the Summe and Substance of Christian Religion, Catechistically Propounded, and Explained, By Way of Question and Answer: Methodically and Familiarly Handled (London, 1645), 4.

[4] See Gribben, The Irish Puritans, 86-87. Gribben cites A. A. Hodge of the nineteenth century and Mitchel and Struthers.

[5] Herbert Palmer, An Endeavour of Making Principles of Christian Religion, Namely the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lords Prayer, and the Sacraments, Plaine and Easie (London, 1644), 1. The † symbol indicates that the author being cited was a Westminster Divine.

[6] William Strong, The Certainty of Heavenly, and the Uncertainty of Earthly Treasures (London, 1654), 24-25.

[7]B. B. Warfield, “The Bible’s ‘Summum Bonum’,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, 2 vols. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1970), 1:131-132.

[8]The KJV translation has been debated; it could be for itself or for His purpose. Cf. R. E. Murphy, Proverbs, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 22 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 118, 120. Murphy believes that the practical effects are the same.

[9]“Glory is the sparkling of the Deity; it is co-natural to the Godhead, that God cannot be God without it. The creature’s honour is not essential to his being. A king is a man without his regal ornaments, when his crown and royal robes are taken away; but God’s glory is such an essential part of his being, that he cannot be God without it. God’s very life lies in his glory” (T. Watson, A Body of Divinity  [Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974], 6).

[10] Thomas Ridgeley, A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion Are Explained and Defended, Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly’s Larger Catechism, 2 Vols. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 1:4.

[11]Cited in A. Whyte, The Shorter Catechism, ed. M. Dods & A. Whyte, Handbooks for Bible Classes and Private Students (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, nd), 2.

[12]R. Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith (1845; repr., Lochcarron, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1980), 62.

[13] Watson, Body of Divinity, 8.

[14] T. Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (1666; Carlisle, PA: BOT, 1992), 129.

Christ’s Exaltation and His Resurrection

I will be removing all my Larger Catechism posts eventually because I am updating all of them. The updated versions will directly interact with many of the Westminster divines. If the author quoted has a † symbol, then it denotes that he was one of Westminster divines. I am close to finishing my first draft of my study on the Larger Catechism but I did not incorporate the divines own writings. This post on LC 51 & 52 will serve as an example of my first attempt at interacting with the divines for this study. If the Lord wills and grants me the grace and strength necessary, I hope to re-write my entire study of the LC. I am finding it to be stimulating, arduous, and at times tedious. I consider it a great privilege to read through the enormous corpus of published works by our divines. If the Lord does not permit me to finish this study, the time spent in pouring over these godly divines will have benefited my soul nonetheless. For that, I am grateful to my heavenly Father. Soli deo gloria.

The Larger Catechism

Questions 51-52

51.       Q. What was the estate of Christ’s exaltation?

A. The estate of Christ’s exaltation comprehendeth his resurrection,[202] ascension,[203] sitting at the right hand of the Father,[204] and his coming again to judge the world.[205]

52.       Q. How was Christ exalted in his resurrection?

A. Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, (of which it was not possible for him to be held,)[206] and having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof,[207] (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life,) really united to his soul,[208] he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power;[209] whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God,[210] to have satisfied divine justice,[211] to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it,[212] and to be Lord of quick and dead:[213] all which he did as a public person,[214] the head of his church,[215] for their justification,[216] quickening in grace,[217] support against enemies,[218] and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.[219]

Scriptural Proofs and Commentary

[202] 1 Corinthians 15:4. And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. [203] Mark 16:19. So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. [204] Ephesians 1:20. Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places. [205] Acts 1:11. Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. Acts 17:31. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. [206] Acts 2:24, 27. Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it…. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. [207] Luke 24:39. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. [208] Romans 6:9. Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. Revelation 1:18. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. [209] John 10:18. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. [210] Romans 1:4. And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. [211] Romans 8:34. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. [212] Hebrews 2:14. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. [213] Romans 14:9. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. [214] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. [215] Ephesians 1:20-23. Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Colossians 1:18. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. [216] Romans 4:25. Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. [217] Ephesians 2:1, 5-6. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…. Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Colossians 2:12. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. [218] 1 Corinthians 15:25-27. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. [219] 1 Corinthians 15:20. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

The Estate of Christ’s Exaltation

Without the estate of exaltation, Christ would have labored in vain. The two phases, humiliation and exaltation, conveniently summarize Christ’s full work.  Quite often, many forget or do not consider these facets. The four facets[1] of His exaltation consist in His resurrection, ascension, session, and return and judgment. Judgment can only come about with His return.

Vos has noted that His resurrection and ascension are past events (for us) and his Session is in the present and His return and judgment are in the future. Each one of these will be addressed separately. The ascended Lord’s present ministry is quite often overlooked because we readily speak about what He did for us in the past (His death on the cross) and about what He will do in the future (His return). His removal and departure cannot overshadow His present effectual ministry. Each phase of His exaltation must be carefully delineated.

The Importance of the Resurrection: Christ’s Exaltation

The resurrection was not a natural event but a supernatural one. It was more than a miracle; it was a supreme theological event, in that, it represents something of an epochal shift in history. It signified the transition from Christ’s state of humiliation to His exaltation. The Greek Orthodox, Lutherans, as well as the Papists believe that Christ’s exaltation began with His descent to Hell.[2]

Resurrection “is referred to explicitly in seventeen books of the NT and is implicit in most of the remaining ten. Nearly all of the letters within the Pauline corpus refer to it (the exceptions are 2 Thess, Tit, Philem). Indeed, Romans 10:9 makes confession of the resurrection the equivalent of acceptance of the lordship of Jesus Christ and a necessary condition of salvation…”[3] Romans 10:9 says, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That verse underscores the significance of the resurrection of Christ in the Christian faith. We take it to be one of the essential elements of orthodox Christianity. Most of us believe that the doctrine of the resurrection simply means that we will live again and receive a glorified body. Though those things must be maintained, much more must be understood and believed. 

For, example, how many of us would be able to say with Paul (Phil 3:10-11), “…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” We can clearly confess our yearning to know Christ but what does knowing the power of his resurrection mean? Those words sound foreign if not unintelligible. Yet, Paul’s wraps his passion and piety in the truth and reality of the resurrection. I suspect very few of us have ever truly confessed and owned those words to be their very own.

What do those verses mean? Richard Vines† (1599/1600-1656) explained those verses to mean that the “power of Christ’s Resurrection…taketh place in a sinner that is sanctified and regenerated.” In fact, “Christ’s Resurrection” would be “copied out in every Christian that knoweth Christ” and that “the Resurrection of Christ is not onely an Article of your Creed, but is a mould into which every believer in Christ must be cast.” So the power of Christ’s resurrection would be “copied out” in each believer and that each believer would cast into the same mould of Christ’s resurrection. That is, what happened to Christ would happen in the believer spiritually: “The Resurrection of Christ hath a place in the spirituall quickning or the raising up a sinner from spirituall death.” [4]

Modern commentators have said something similar. They teach that Paul wishes “to know Christ by experiencing the power which he wields in virtue of his resurrection, to know him, that is, as the redeeming, saving Lord he now has become.”[5] Hawthorne adds, “He wishes to know him alive and creatively at work to save him from himself, to transform him from “bad” to “good,” to propel him forward toward a life of service to others, to inaugurate “newness of life,” life in the Spirit, in a word, to resurrect him from death in sin to life in God, to quicken and stimulate his whole moral and spiritual being…”[6]

In Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians he prays that believers might comprehend “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…” (Eph. 1:19, 20). Paul wants believers to know of this resurrection power working in them and in the Philippian verse, he himself wants to experience that power.

The other important part of the Philippian verse is “and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…” The triumph of Christ’s resurrection power goes together hand-in-glove with suffering with Him.[7] It is often through suffering in Christ a believer begins to feel the power of the resurrection at work in Him. He wants to be fully identified with Christ, his suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification — that is the essence of Paul’s yearning. Again, Richard Vines explains, “It is not meant a share and a part in the Merit of his suffering; but ‘tis nothing else, but that I may know to suffer with him, to bear his cross, to indure his shame, to undergo, yea, to take up the cross, or any suffering, in the cause, and for the sake, of Christ.”[8]

Christ being raised is the firstfruits of those who belong to Christ (1Cor. 15:20, 23) – if we are united to Him by faith, we will be raised with him because “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2Cor. 4:14).  Resurrection means the new age has come; the old age and its ways have been dispensed. Mortality will give way to immortality; the perishable will put on the imperishable (1Cor. 15:53, 54). To be resurrected at Christ’s return means all is done, the end has come and we are glorified in Him. For that reason, experiencing the powers of the resurrection now means the intrusion of the end in the present (the already-not-yet tension). All this avail only for those who united to Christ by faith — “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom. 6:8; cf. 2Tim. 2:11).

The Nature of the Resurrection

The first thing the LC addresses is the nature of Christ’s body. The body that died did not see corruption: “Christ was exalted in his resurrection, in that, not having seen corruption in death, (of which it was not possible for him to be held,)…”. The phrase “not having seen corruption in death” —  is taken from Ps. 16:10, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.” This verse is used by Peter in Acts 2:27, 31 to prove the resurrection. Since David died and his body decayed (“he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” v. 29), it follows David was speaking about Jesus: “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (v. 31). Peter’s interpretation may seem odd since “my soul” and “the Holy One” seem to be referring to David but as it is, Peter’s Christological interpretation (an apostolic interpretation) is inspired and entirely appropriate. Though the Psalm may not read like it was speaking about the resurrection (at first glance) yet that remains the ultimate divine intention and meaning of the verse as interpreted to us by the Apostle Peter — it was about the Messiah.

The ravaging effects of death cannot take hold of Christ because He was raised from the dead. The phrase “not having seen corruption in death” means Acts 2 serves as the Scriptural proof for the resurrection in the OT. The phrase also has been interpreted to mean that God’s “peculiar hand of providence” prevented the body from being corrupted.[9] In addition, Ridgeley believes it might have been a further demonstration of Christ’s holiness since his body would not permit the filth of sin (i.e., corruption) to cling to Him. Daniel Featley† (1582-1645) argued something similar: “Christ by the divine unction was preserved from corrupting in the grave: because there was no corruption in his soule, his body could not corrupt, or at least God would not suffer it…”[10]

The other phrase “(of which it was not possible for him to be held,)” is taken from Acts 2:24, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Johannes Vos takes the phrase to mean the following two things. “(a) Because of his deity; being the Son of God, he could not remain under the power of death. (b) Because the penalty for sin had been completely paid and canceled; therefore death had lost its claim on him.”

The context of the verse adds another (if not a more) important element. It seems to be Peter’s way of saying that what was foretold had to be fulfilled; the prophecy demanded that the Messiah be raised. “If we ask why death could not hold back Jesus, Peter’s reply would be that Jesus was the Messiah (see the evidence in verse 22), and that the Messiah could not be held by death.”[11] The prophecies about the death as well as the resurrection had been foretold — He died and now the other part of the prophecy, His resurrection, had to come to pass. Because of God’s Word, promise, and prophecy, death no longer could hold Jesus.

Thomas Case† (1598-1682) offered another important element about the resurrection. He argues that God’s works of creation and providence provides another proof for the resurrection. Most modern theologians have never argued this peculiar, if not insightful, point. He observes that as the day dies in the evening so it rises again in the morning and as the corn dies in the sowing and burial so it rises again in the blade. Creation testifies to truth of the resurrection. The book of nature serves as a “Schoolmistress” to teach us about the resurrection. Thomas Case develops this argument from 1 Corinthians 15. Here is Case in his own words:

For, as Tertullian sayes, God printed resurrection in the Book of Works, before he writ it in the Book of the Word; He preach’d by his power, before he preach’d it by his promise: He set Nature to be our Schoolmistress, before he gave us Scripture to teach us; that being first trained up in the School of Philosophy, we might be the better Proficients in the School of Divinity.…The denial of a Resurrection is founded in a foolish neglect of God in his works of providence, especially in the quickening and raising of our seed, when it hath lien dead and rotting the ground: Thou fool, shall God give thy seed a body, and not his own seed?…The constant revolution of the Creature, is an infallible evidence of a Resurrection.[12]

That is not to say that one could guarantee that the resurrection was going to happen from the light of nature. Thomas Case simply argued that nature’s light remains consistent with God’s special revelation. John Wallis† (1616-1703), a non-voting scribe of the Assembly, argued the same point clearly: “the Doctrine of the Trinity; of Salvation by Faith in Christ; and the Resurrection of the Body; Are purely matters of Faith; and their Certainty depends onely on Divine Testimony. That God is Able to raise the Dead, and that there is no Inconsistence in the thing; may be discoursed from Natural Light.”[13] Edmund Calamy† (1600-1666) set forth pretty much the same argument Thomas Case and John Wallis did. The doctrine of the resurrection is “above reason, but not against reason: For there are many resemblances of this even in nature; which though they be not sufficient proofs, yet they are great inducements to cause us to believe this truth.”[14] Calamy even referenced the corn illustration from 1 Corinthians 15 like Thomas Case. Of course both writers were following Paul the apostle.

One of the reasons for insisting that the doctrine of resurrection was both above reason and yet not against it had to do with Socinians who insisted that articles of faith should not be received until it can be seen or proved by the light of reason alone (like the doctrine of resurrection). Francis Cheynell† (d. 1665) exposes and refutes the Socinian appeal to the sufficiency of reason.[15] Of the several articles of faith which reason on its own could not discover as true is “that there shall be a Resurrection of these selfe same bodies…”[16]

The Resurrection Body

The resurrection body was the same body that died. That is the meaning of the phrase “having the very same body in which he suffered, with the essential properties thereof”; the peculiar phrase “the essential properties thereof” simply means “the properties or characteristics which identified it as Christ’s true human body” (J. Vos).

Lutheran divines maintain that that the same body was raised which Christ had “assumed from the Virgin Mary.”[17] But the phrase “the essential properties thereof” quickly disposes of the Lutheran notion of the ubiquity of Christ’s body. Christ’s glorified body did not participate in the properties of divinity; it retained its “essential properties.”[18]

Though God raised Jesus with the same body, that resurrected body had been glorified as well. The LC adds the following parenthetical note: (but without mortality, and other common infirmities belonging to this life,). The divines did not list all the common infirmities except one (death). Jesus was exempt from death on account of the resurrection. Jesus was raised “without mortality.” Romans 6:9 says, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (cf. Heb. 7:16) God glorified His Son (cf. Acts 3:13). 1Cor. 15:42-42 says this of the resurrection body, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” No more fleshly infirmities can be found in Jesus since He has been “raised in power.”

A question is often asked about how much change did Jesus’ resurrection body undergo? Ridgeley says, “But how far his human nature was changed, as to all its properties, it is not for us to pretend to determine; nor ought we to be too inquisitive about it. Yet we may conclude that, though it was raised incorruptible and immortal, and exempted from the common infirmities of this life, it was not, while on earth, clothed with that luster and glory which was put upon it when he ascended into heaven.”[19]

This next phrase is rarely pondered because we do not sufficiently reflect on these truths. When our Lord died, what happened to His soul? The Catechism says that at the resurrection he was “really united to his soul.” What does that mean and how do we know that? First of all, we learn that when Christ died, his soul went immediately into paradise (Luke 23:43).[20] Edmund Calamy stated, “When Christ was crucified, his soul was not crucified; for while he was crucifying, he said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’”[21] In order for Christ to be fully human when he was resurrected, His raised body had to be united to his soul. Rev. 1:18 states “I am… the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The same “I” who died is the same “I” who lives — when on earth, He had a human soul and when He rose from the dead, He was reunited to it. Perhaps more accurately, his soul was united to his resurrected and glorified body.

The Time of the Resurrection

Lastly, in describing the nature of the resurrection, they stated that “he rose again from the dead the third day by his own power.” This is simple enough but some matters should be explained. First of all, Scripture makes it clear that the Triune God is the author of the resurrection for a mere man cannot resurrect himself. Yet, we are told that the Father raised our Lord Jesus up (Rom. 6:4, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”; Gal. 1:1, “God the Father, who raised him from the dead”; 1Pet. 1:3, etc.). It also teaches that the Son raised Himself up (John 10:18, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”; also see Jn. 2:19).[22] We are also taught in Rom. 8:11 that the Spirit Himself raised Jesus from the dead:  “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” However, the predominant emphasis in Paul’s writings is that the Father raised up the Son.[23]

Nonetheless, the divines greatly emphasized the Son’s role (to refute the Socinians).[24] He rose from the dead “by his own power.” One of the Westminster divines, Edward Reynolds† (1599-1676), said that Christ’s “exaltation was voluntarie …and from his own Power, for he was not to have any assistant in the worke of our redemption, but to doe all alone…”[25] He does not deny the Father’s role but emphasized Christ’s own power and the need for Christ to work out our redemption without assistance. The well-known divine, Thomas Goodwin† (1600-1680), explained why Christ had to raise Himself:

And the truth is, (my Brethren) it was necessary that he that was your Mediatour should be able to raise up himself. Why? Because in the works of Mediation, whereof this was one, he was to borrow nothing, it must all be his own. If he had borrowed any thing (mark what I say) it had not been a Mediator’s work, for he had been beholding to God. If there had not been some sense wherein what he did, and what he was, had been his own so as not his Father’s, all his works had not been works of Mediation…[26]

Jesus makes it clear that He would raise Himself from the dead when He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19). Jesus’ own veracity was on the line. He will raise Himself up to show that He has the power and by implication proving His divinity since only God can raise the dead. Socinians denied this because they believed this was obscure and metaphorical.[27] Christ, the Socinians said, spoke of the power to raise His own body is an “obscure” passage.[28] They affirmed that He was raised from the dead by the Father but denied that He had power to raise Himself because they also rejected Jesus’ divinity. It is probably for that reason the divines emphasized the Son’s role in the resurrection. If we highlighted only the Father’s role, then it could make Christ look like any other man whom God raised. The Socinians could have easily denied Jesus’ divinity had He not been able to raise Himself up from the dead.

The Implications of the Resurrection

If Christ has been raised from the dead, then what are the implications? The LC answers this question by listing four important things. As Christ was raised by His own power, he was declared to be the Son of God — “whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God.” The text used to support this is Rom. 1:4, “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,…” This verse does not mean that Jesus was not the Son of God before the resurrection but rather, the resurrection is the new phase of His sonship, from humiliation to exaltation. “By his resurrection and ascension the Son of God incarnate entered upon a new phase of sovereignty and was endowed with new power correspondent with and unto the exercise of the mediatorial lordship which he executes as head over all things to his body, the church.”[29] This verse does not teach that it was at this point Jesus became the Son of God. The divines seem to be concerned to show that Jesus’ divine Sonship since He raised Himself up. That is true but that is not particularly the burden of this verse. Again we cite John Murray:

What is contrasted is not a phase in which Jesus is not the Son of God and another in which he is. He is the incarnate Son of God in both states, humiliation and exaltation, and to regard him as the Son of God in both states belongs to the essence of Paul’s gospel as the gospel of God. But the pre-resurrection and post resurrection states are compared and contrasted, and the contrast hinges on the investiture with power by which the latter is characterized.[30]

The resurrection also means that Jesus must have satisfied God’s justice — “to have satisfied divine justice.”[31] If God raised Him from the dead, then God has been appeased; His righteous demands have been satisfied. The divines use this verse: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. 8:34) The verse teaches that God no longer condemns us because Christ Jesus satisfied divine justice. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. In addition, Christ’s intercession also means that Jesus had satisfied divine justice.

In Hebrews 2:14, we read: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The resurrection means that the devil has been defeated since he had the power of death — “to have vanquished death, and him that had the power of it.” In what sense did the devil have power of death? He has power secondarily and not primarily. William Gouge† (1575-1653) said that the devil has the power of death in this sense: “he is the executioner of God’s just judgment.”[32] He further adds that though the devil has “great power” yet has no more than what was given him.

Death entered on account of our sin and from that moment on, death has been passed upon all (Rom. 5:12). He has the power in the sense we continually remain in league with him through our disobedience to God (who is life). As long as we remain under sin’s dominion, the Devil is our father who “the prince of the power of the air.” In following him, death envelops us and his accusations against us ring true — we deserve death because we sin. The wicked one has power over us in the realm of sin and in that realm nothing but death reigns. Being in league with him plunges us into death.[33]

It is like a drug addict who comes under the power of the drug pusher. Because the addict is in bondage, as long as he remains under the bondage of drugs, he remains under the power of the pusher who can pretty much demand whatever he desires from the addict. The drug pusher has power over him. In a similar way, Satan has the power of death in our lives because we are sin addicts, under the bondage of sin. As long as we remain under the power of sin, the wages of sin (which is death) hang over us. Satan is instrumental in maintaining sin in our lives both by temptation and accusation so as to wield power over us.

So the resurrection means he vanquished death: “O death, where is your victory?” (1Cor. 15:55) It also means He destroyed the devil who had the power of death as Heb. 2:14 states. Because of this victory over death (as it was visibly demonstrated by His resurrection), He is now the Lord over all — “and to be Lord of quick and dead.” Romans 14:9 says, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”  F. F. Bruce says, “By virtue of his death he is Lord of the dead; by virtue of his resurrection he is Lord of the living. Therefore in life and death alike his people are his; he is Lord of all (Phil. 2:11).”[34] As we are united to him, Jesus’ lordship holds sway over our entire existence. In our life and death, Christ exerts His lordship. He has authority and power in both the realm of the living and the dead.

Sadly, many believe death is a means of escape from the miseries of this world or a means of just pushing everything out of our minds. Christ is Lord over all realms and as Lord, He will render to each man accordingly. We cannot escape Him.

The Benefits of the Resurrection

Believers benefit from Jesus’ resurrection. But in order for an individual to derive any benefit, Jesus’ resurrection must be for them. The Bible teaches that Christ’s resurrection affects His people: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Cor. 15:21-22). Paul says that “by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” We must remember that all that Jesus did, he did as a public person (“all which he did as a public person”). That is, He represented His people and His fortunes would benefit them. In particular, He would become the head of the church (“the head of his church”). We are told that the resurrection includes His headship. As the exalted and resurrected Lord, God gave Him as head over all to the church (Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18).

Paul clearly taught that Christ was “raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25). For that reason, the catechism includes the important phrase “for their justification.” Thomas Schreiner says, “To say that Jesus was raised because of our justification is to say that his resurrection authenticates and confirms that our justification has been secured…”[35] Christ’s death enabled us to be justified.

The phrase “quickening in grace” denotes all those “graces” or benefits that emerge in the life of a believer. We were “made …alive together with Christ” and raised up with Him (Eph. 2:5, 6; Col. 2:12). Consequently, being made alive, we exhibit the holy traits and graces of our new life in Christ. All believers have been made alive and therefore they must and are enabled to make alive those “graces,” those good characteristics, etc. that accompany their salvation. Paul draws out some of the implications of being “raised with Christ” in Col. 3:1ff. — that is, we must “seek the thing that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

We understand the phrase “support against enemies” to mean that Christ has been raised to protect us and sustain us against our enemies, especially the devil. He is putting all His enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25-27) since He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). God has made Him Lord and Christ (Acts 2) with His resurrection and therefore He is able to support us against all His and our enemies.

Lastly, the catechism states something that most of us tend to put first in the list of benefits: “and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.” Reynolds† similarly said, Christ’s resurrection “assures us of our resurrection; for as the head must rise before the members, so the members are sure follow the Head. The wicked shall rise by his judiciary power, but not by the vertue and fellowship of his Resurrection; as the faithfull, who are therefore called Children of the Resurrection, Luke 20.36. 1 Cor. 15.20.23.”[36] Though the LC does not mention the resurrection of the wicked on account of Christ’s resurrection, Reynolds connects Christ’s resurrection as the basis for Christ’s judiciary power to raise the wicked. Christ is the firstfruits of those who will rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). In our union with Christ, we have been raised up with him and have been seated with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). If we are Christ’s, then His resurrection guarantees ours. He acted as a “public” person. What befell him and what he achieved became ours through faith in Him.

[1] I chose the words “facets” and “phases.” James Fisher used the word “steps” in his exposition, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained (Totton: Berith Publications, 1998), 149ff. I suppose the differences between these words cannot be all that significant. James Ussher utilized the word “degree” in his A Body of Divinitie, or the Summe and Substance of Christian Religion, Catechistically Propounded, and Explained, By Way of Question and Answer: Methodically and Familiarly Handled (London, 1645), 183: “What is the first degree of this estate? His glorious Resurrection; for after he has in his manhood suffered for us, he did in the third day rise again by his own power from the dead, Eph. 1.19. Luc. 24.7. 1 Cor. 15.4.”

[2] Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2005), 224; John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1934), 295-298; Joseph Pohle, Soteriology: A Dogmatic Treatise on the Redemption, 3rd ed., ed. Arthur Preuss (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 91ff.

[3] “Resurrection,” in Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, ed., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993).

[4] Richard Vines, Christ a Christians Onely Gain (London, 1660), 226-228.

[5] J. Hugh Michael, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, ed. James Moffatt, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary (New York; London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1927), 151.

[6] G. F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), 197. G. Walter Hansen says, “The power of God is demonstrated in the life of the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 2:4-5). Paul knows by experience that the power of God that was demonstrated in the resurrection is now demonstrated by the power of the Spirit in his life and ministry. In contrast to all his attempts to experience the power of God through strict observance of the law, Paul now knows the power of God by knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection” (The Letters to the Philippians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009], 244).

[7] Cf. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 331.

[8] Richard Vines, Christ a Christians Onely Gain, 229.

[9] Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 2 vols. (1855; reprint, Edmonton, AB Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1993), 1:607.

[10] Daniel Featley, “The Tree of Life Springing Out of the Grave: or Primitiae Sepulchri,” in Clavis Mystica: A Key Opening Divers Difficult and Mysterious Texts of Holy Scripture (London, 1636), 172.

[11] I. Howard Marshall, Acts, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 1980), 81.

[12] Thomas Case, Sensuality Dissected; Or, the Epicure’s Motto Opened, Censured, Improved (London, 1657), 13-15.

[13] John Wallis, The Resurrection Asserted (Oxford, 1679), 24

[14] Edmund Calamy, “Of the Resurrection,” in The Morning Exercise Methodized (London, 1659), 583-584.

[15] Francis Cheynell, The Rise, Growth, and Danger of Socinianisme (London, 1643), 40-42.

[16] Cheynell, The Rise, Growth, and Danger of Socinianisme, 41.

[17] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 4 vols. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 2:322. Cf. Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1905), 153-154.

[18] Admittedly, Lutherans do not argue for the communicatio idiomatum in the locus dealing with Christ’s two states but in locus dealing with Christ’s person. However, Geerhardus Vos also addresses the Lutherans when dealing with the nature of Christ’s exaltation and resurrection: “Yes; it must be material if it will truly remain a body. And as material it must also be subject to the limitations of matter, circumscribed in space. The conditions for its movement through space will differ considerably from those that apply to us, but in principle the relationship is the same. We do not believe with Lutherans in a ubiquity of the human nature, neither of the soul nor of the body.” See Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., trans. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 229.

[19] Thomas Ridgeley, Commentary on the Larger Catechism, 1:612.

[20] Paradise is heaven as show in 2Cor. 12:3 (And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—) and Rev. 2:7 (He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’). Lutherans and Papists believe Christ’s soul went into hell, see Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:356-358 (13.15.1-6).

[21] Edmund Calamy, “Of the Resurrection,” 579-580; cf. the same in Puritan Sermons, 1659-1689: Being the Morning Exercises at Cripplegate, ed. James Nichols (Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 5:440.

[22] An interesting point is made by W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2 vols. 3rd ed. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), 2:278: “As God the Father raised Christ from the dead, and Christ also raised himself from the dead, so also God the Father deserted the human nature, and God the Logos also deserted it.”

[23] See Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1987), 62ff.

[24] Turretin explicitly pits the Reformed position against the Socinians on this question, see Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 2:364ff. (13.17.1ff.).

[25] Edward Reynolds, An explication of the hundreth and tenth psalme (London, 1642), 523. He adds another important point related to Christ raising Himself: “it comforteth us in all other calamities of life which may befall us; hee that raised up himself from the dead, hath compassion and power to deliver us from all evill, and to keepe us from falling” (p. 525).

[26] Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, D.D., Vol. 1 (London, 1681), 401. Goodwin offers several other reasons as well as the role the Father played. He also cites the classic Trinitarian rule, Opera Trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa (pp. 401-402).

[27] See Ridgeley, 1:614; Turretin, Institutes, 2:364.

[28] Thomas Rees, The Racovian Catechism (London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, et al., 1818), 362: “…first, that testimonies so few in number, and so obscure, expressed in figurative language, cannot be opposed to so many plain testimonies of Scripture,…”

[29] John Murray, Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959-1965), 1:11.

[30] John Murray, Epistle to the Romans, 1:112

[31] See LC #38 for a full exposition of this phrase. Thomas Goodwin states the same, “for it is a sign that he hath satisfied God, for otherwise death would have held him…” (Works, 1:403).

[32] William Gouge, A Learned and very Useful Commentary on the Whole Epistle to the Hebrewes (London, 1655), 222.

[33] “As the one who through his seduction of Eve first brought death into the world, and as the one who loves to destroy, the devil stands for death as God stands for life. But his ‘power of death’ (like his designation as ‘ruler of this world’ in Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 NASB) is only temporary, until Christ’s victory over him (Mk 3:27; Lk 11:21-22). Now Christ’s own death has ‘broken his power’…” R. T. France, “Hebrews,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, rev. ed., vol. 13 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 55-56.

[34] F. F. Bruce, Romans, ed. Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove: IVP, 1985), 246.

[35] Thomas Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 244.

[36] Edward Reynolds, An explication of the hundreth and tenth psalme (London, 1642), 524-525.

Larger Catechism, #102-104, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Questions 102-104

102. Q. What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?

A. The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.[444]

103. Q. Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, Thou shall have no other gods before me.[445]

104. Q. What are the duties required in the first commandment?

A. The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God;[446] and to worship and glorify him accordingly,[447] by thinking,[448] meditating,[449] remembering,[450] highly esteeming,[451] honouring,[452] adoring,[453] choosing,[454] loving,[455] desiring,[456] fearing of him;[457] believing him;[458] trusting[459] hoping,[460] delighting,[461] rejoicing in him;[462] being zealous for him;[463] calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks,[464] and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man;[465] being careful in all things to please him,[466] and sorrowful when in any thing he is offended;[467] and walking humbly with him.[468]

[444] Luke 10:27. And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. [445] Exodus 20:3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. [446] 1 Chronicles 28:9. And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever. Deuteronomy 26:7. And when we cried unto the LORD God of our fathers, the LORD heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labour, and our oppression. Isaiah 43:10. Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. Jeremiah 14:22. Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O LORD our God? therefore we will wait upon thee: for thou hast made all these things. [447] Psalm 95:6-7. O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice. Matthew 4:10. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Psalm 29:2. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. [448] Malachi 3:16. Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. [449] Psalm 63:6. When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. [450] Ecclesiastes 12:1. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. [451] Psalm 71:19. Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee! [452] Malachi 1:6. A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? [453] Isaiah 45:23. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. [454] Joshua 24:15, 22. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD…. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. [455] Deuteronomy 6:5. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. [456] Psalm 73:25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. [457] Isaiah 8:13. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. [458] Exodus 14:31. And Israel saw that great work which the LORD did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses. [459] Isaiah 26:4. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength. [460] Psalm 130:7. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. [461] Psalm 37:4. Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. [462] Psalm 32:11. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. [463] Romans 12:11. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord. Numbers 25:11. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. [464] Philippians 4:6. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. [465] Jeremiah 7:23. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. James 4:7. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [466] 1 John 3:22. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. [467] Jeremiah 31:18. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the LORD my God. Psalm 119:136. Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law. [468] Micah 6:8. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?


The Sum of the Four Commandments

LC # 98 stated that the first four commandments contained our duty to God and that the last six pertained to our duty to man. The LC #102 answer copies the lawyer’s response to Jesus’ question of what is written in the law. In terse fashion, the answer summarizes the first four commandments or our duty to God (Lk. 10:27): “The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.” Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:40)[1]

First of all, let us observe how our duty to God is defined in terms of loving Him. This command comes from Deut. 6:5 and it perfectly summarizes our duty to God. Watson defined this love: “It is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good.”[2] This “holy fire” goes out “strongly after God.” Watson faithfully captures the essential teaching of Scripture. Loving God never meant just an emotional attachment or deference. It required our whole being. Vos explained it like this:

This means not merely an emotional attitude toward God, but an all-inclusive practical devotion to God that leads us to honor and obey him in every element, sphere, and relationship of our life. Everything in our life must be determined by our love to God. Thus there can be nothing in our life separate from our religion. We may not draw a boundary line and mark off any sphere or area of life and say that in that area our relation to God does not count. Whatsoever we do, we must do all to the glory of God.[3]

This makes perfect sense once we consider how love often affects us. If we truly love something, it consumes our attention, affections, goals, mind, strength, imagination, etc. We use the word loosely when we say the following things: “I love snow.” “I love it when he smiles.” “I love eating pizza.” But we understand God calls us to love Him much more differently than that. What we love most drives and captivates us. No one else can call us to love Him as He does because no one else is worthy of it.

Secondly, we should also observe the quality (and quantity) of love God requires of us. We must love God “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.” Our whole being must be involved. All our heart, soul, strength, and mind mean our total allegiance and devotion. The full bent of the individual’s personality (and/or personhood) is towards God. Some take the heart to be the emotions, the soul to be one’s consciousness, the strength to be the person’s drive, and the mind to be the individual’s intelligence or cognitive abilities.[4] However we label the differing faculties of a human soul, all of them must be engaged in loving God. In practical terms, this means (as Vos noted above), we cannot just love God with our emotions and yet despise him with our mind. Furthermore, if we neglect spending any energy and strength in loving and serving him, then our professed “love” to God fails. To love Him with all our strength means that some energy must be expended towards God. Here we meet with a challenge — have we expended any energy on Him? Some church-goers seek the minimalist approach — neither “all our strength” nor “any of our strength” is expended. Easy religion with no demands typifies their love. Life demands so much energy from them that they could hardly spare any for God! May our Lord preserve us from such foolishness. The same could be said for loving God with all our mind (more on this in LC #104). Some pew sitters believe nothing should be required of their minds — they want entertainment and not thought!

Loving God with all our mind demands that we submit our reason to His revelation. Just like submitting our wills to His commands, so we must submit our reason to His Word. If our minds reject His revelation as foolishness or as nonsense then what are we saying? What is it that we love? We can only know God through His Word and to discount it means we reject God. Too many people say they love God but look down on the “petty” and “narrow” demands of the Bible. Surely, God wouldn’t want me to be a fundamentalist? To love God with all our mind embraces all that He teaches and our reason submit, believes, and accepts His revelation — we believe in order to understand and we believe all that He teaches because we love Him with all our mind.

Thirdly, if we love God wholeheartedly, then surely it will manifest itself concretely. A man’s love for his wife rings hollow if he never manifests it in any discernable and concrete manner. He could profess to love her but his actions say something else. Though this logically follows, yet the Bible also expressly teaches this point: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1Jn. 5:3) That is, our love to God must concretely show itself by our obedience. One’s seemingly cheerful demeanor, exuberant emotions, jubilant happiness, etc. as a professing Christian without obedience to God’s Word express nothing less than ungodly hypocrisy. Wholehearted love to God of course involves emotions and this love also becomes evident in the believer’s personality (cheerfulness, etc.) but it must first emerge in one’s obedience to God’s commandments.


The First Commandment

The first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3) We do not believe it was by accident that this is the first commandment. In fact, the first four commandments focus on our duty to God because that is the most important. Vos explains why this is the very first commandment: “Because this commandment is the foundation upon which the others depend. Our obligation to God is the source and basis of all to other obligations. It is the primary and fundamental obligation of our life.”[5] Without this commandment, the other three commandments make little sense. As God possesses our exclusive allegiance, it paves the way for the other duties. If God is our God exclusively, then it makes perfect sense why we ought not to take His name in vain.

Given our sinful idolatrous nature, we must first be prohibited from pursuing other deities.[6] In marriage, the man must first be devoted exclusively to his wife. If that is not in place, then all his kind acts and gestures would be meaningless. Similarly, the first commandment is indeed “the foundation upon which the others depend.”


Duties Required in the First Commandment

One of the rules we must remember in order to rightly understand this commandment is, “where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded…” (LC #99). Of course the prohibition from having other gods entails the command to have God as our God. If not, the first commandment implicitly could call for either atheism or indecision. Someone could have “no other gods” and yet not have the true God as his God and this would be atheism. It could also be argued that the person is not supposed to have any other god as their god and yet remain undecided about the true God. This is not merely a logical possibility but actually a constant problem in the church. Many profess to not believe in other gods (Allah, Hindu gods, etc.) and yet remain aloof, “respectfully” distant from, or indifferent to the true God. They acknowledge that God is their creator and that He exists but it goes no further than that.

This is why we must understand the commandment to be more than a prohibition. Using the marriage analogy again, a married man may not pursue other women and yet be utterly indifferent to the woman he married. She is merely a woman to him, not his wife (not withstanding the vows, etc.). This sad state of affairs happens enough in marriages. In this commandment, God does not only push away other suitors but commands the exclusive allegiance of His people because He redeemed them and made them His. The LC therefore offers a very full account of those positive duties to God in the first commandment.


1. Know and acknowledge God

The duties required in the first commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God…” In order to acknowledge God, we must first know Him. Solomon was instructed to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind…” (1Chron. 28:9). As we know Him, we acknowledge Him, that is, we acknowledge God to be who He is. Notice how the catechism phrases it. We are called to acknowledge God “to be the only true God, and our God…

Looking at this from the opposite perspective will help us to understand its importance. If we acknowledge God to be one of the gods, then we have not truly acknowledged Him. Many in Israel were willing to do this but that is insufficient. Furthermore, our subtle modern method also supplants the teaching of this commandment. Could we not acknowledge God to the true God for me? Making no absolute truth claims, the post-modern novice claims God to his God and is the true God for himself — he never ventures away from his personal claim. “You may claim another to be the true God for yourself and I claim this God for myself. Neither one of us is right or wrong; we are both happy and religious.” There is yet a third way of evading the point (a version similar to the post-modern position). As long as we acknowledge a god to be our god then we are safe! This third option stays clear of atheism but opens itself to polytheism, pantheism, generic theism, etc. Many modern pundits believe we just need to be religious (since all religions are about the same, they claim). The first view is polytheism, the second is subjectivism, and the third is modern (false) spirituality.

To acknowledge or recognize God “to be the only true God, and our God” means that we truly call upon Him as the true God that He has revealed Himself to be. When Israel was mistreated harshly by the Egyptians, the Israelites “cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers…” (Deut. 26:7). To acknowledge Him entails calling upon Him. We dishonor God if we profess to know Him and to not call upon Him. It does not differ from not acknowledging Him. God tells Israel that He had chosen them “that you may know and believe and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there by any after me.” (Is. 43:10) God wanted Israel to know that He is God and that there never was and never will be any other god. All the other “gods” are “false gods” (Jer. 14:22).

The phrase also means that God is also our God! Not only is He alone the true God but He is also our God — by faith, we place our trust and dependence upon God through Jesus Christ. To say God is our God means He is ours through the covenant. A “relationship” exists between God and the individual through the terms God determined. Using the preface of the Ten Commandments, He is our God because He saved us! So the first commandment can only begin to make sense to those who have been saved by God’s grace. With the Psalmist we declare, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Ps. 73:25)


2. Worship and Glorify Him

The catechism states that we are “to worship and glorify him accordingly.” It is a duty to worship and glorify God: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Ps. 95, 6, 7); “Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 29:2) Jesus refuted Satan by saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (Mt. 4:10)

To have God as our God and not worship Him would deny the essential thrust of the first commandment. God is the Creator and our God and by virtue of being an Infinite glorious being, He must be worshipped. God is not an equal to be merely acknowledged or noticed — to truly know Him and acknowledge Him necessitates worship. We are to glorify and enjoy Him forever. That would be the natural response had we not fallen into sin. In Isaiah 6, we see the seraphim worshipping God and the sight of God in Rev. 4 evoked worship (Rev. 4:8-11). A truly refined musician acknowledges and adores wonderful music while an untrained individual hearing the same music might be bored by the musical piece. In a similar way (albeit a very weak analogy), sinners do not naturally worship and glorify God — they cannot recognize God as worthy of worship and honor.

For that reason, God commands and summons His people to worship Him. When in the Spirit, believers yearn for all of creation to praise Him (cf. Pss. 113 & especially 148). To truly acknowledge God means we worship and glorify Him. Again, “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Ps. 95:6, 7) This is what believers want to do!

[1] The second part is of course our duty to man, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39)

[2] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), 6.

[3] Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 260.

[4] Cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke, The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 880.

[5] Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism, 260.

[6] Cf. James Fisher, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, By Way of Question and Answer. In Two Parts. (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, nd), 224.

Larger Catechism, #100-101, pt. 2

The Larger Catechism

101 Q. What is the preface to the ten commandments?

A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.[436] Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God;[437] having his being in and of himself,[438] and giving being to all his words[439] and works:[440] and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people;[441] who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom;[442] and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.[443]

Sovereign God

In this preface, we learn three basic truths about God. First of all, it reveals something of God’s sovereign nature. “Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works:…” The phrase “I am the LORD your God…” reveals the name of God as YHWH, his covenant name (Ex. 6:3). God makes Himself known to His people. The names of God always revealed something of His character and YHWH means He is who He is: “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Ex. 3:14) YHWH is later (in Is. 44:6) revealed as “the King of Israel” (“Thus saith the LORD [YHWH] the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD [YHWH] of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”). As His name reveals, He is sufficient, needing nothing and depending on no one: “having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works” (cf. Acts 17:24, 28).

His name reveals His unique nature and manifests His character. We serve, worship, and obey a God whom we know. This God who revealed Himself as YHWH is by virtue of His name sovereign. Vos put it this way:

No creature may question the righteousness of any act of God: to do so is the height of impiety and irreverence. The sovereignty of God also implies that God is ultimate: there is no principle or law above or beyond God to which God himself is responsible. God is responsible only to himself; his own nature is his only law. There is nothing above or beyond him. God’s sovereignty is manifested in a special way in his work of redemption. Redemption from sin is wholly God’s work, and its benefits are bestowed wholly according to God’s sovereign good pleasure. He saves exactly whom he purposes to save, and does so by his absolute, almighty power.

We can only know and understand God because of His revelation. In giving us the commandments, He first reveals Himself to us. By saying “I am YHWH…” much is implied in the name (as enumerated in the catechism). Surely we should remember this as we study the Ten Commandments. They are God’s commandments and God has revealed Himself to us — we must know and understand whom we obey; we obey His commandments and not just abstract moral principles or laws.


Covenant God

The second thing we learn is that God is our covenant God: “I am the LORD your God…” The LC says, “that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people…” A believer serves his God. A husband loves his wife and not just any wife. The essence of the covenant is that God is our God and that we are His people. We find this in all the expressions of the covenant. It is found in the Abrahamic (Gen. 17:7), the Mosaic (Ex. 6:6, 7; 19:4, 5; Lev. 11:45; Deut. 4:20; 29:13), the Davidic (2K. 11:17; 2Chron. 23:16), and the New Covenant (Jer. 24:7; 31:33; 32:37f.). The God who revealed Himself as the great “I AM” is also our God.

Is this God (as expressed in Exodus 20) our God? Can we say that the God who revealed Himself to Israel and gave the Ten Commandments is the Christian’s God as well? Has He entered into a covenant with us? If He is our God, then His Word ought to binds us. To say this God is our God but these commandments do not pertain to us would demand some sort of an explanation.[1] At least for now, we need to affirm that this same God is in a covenant with us, His New Covenant people. The phrase “and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people” means that as God related to Israel through the covenant so He is “a God in covenant” with us as well.

The phrase therefore teaches two things. One is that God enters into a relationship with His people by means of the covenant.[2] As He did so with Israel, so He did so with us. Secondly, as already implied, we, as New Covenant people, are in a covenant relationship with the same God. The God who gave the Ten Commandments is also our covenant God. Romans 3:29 says, “Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.” It is the same God in both the Old and New Testaments.

God is not polygamous. His covenant is with His people, one people in Christ; we are all one (Jews and Gentiles) in Christ. It is the one people who through history included both Jews and Gentiles; God does not have a separate covenant with the Jews and a different covenant with Gentiles — He only has one wife prepared for Himself (cf. Rev. 21-22).


Redeeming God

The preface reveals a wonderful third truth about God. God is a redeeming God. His grace precedes our obedience: “who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom…” As the God in covenant delivered Israel from their bondage in Egypt so He delivered us from our spiritual bondage to sin and under the devil’s power.

The divines used a very powerful and pregnant passage to support this theological statement. They cite Luke 1:74-75: “that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” Using OT language and imagery, Zechariah prophesied that God had “redeemed his people” (v. 68). This redemption is the salvation envisioned and promised in the OT: “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies…” (vv. 70-71). This is OT language used to explain the role of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord. The Messiah’s coming brings about deliverance from our enemies: “to show mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” That deliverance was in keeping with his “holy covenant” he made with Abraham.

The statement clearly teaches that the coming of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and that His coming is also described in terms of deliverance. That deliverance, we learn in the NT, is ultimately more powerful than any deliverance from foreign political powers. That deliverance is “from our spiritual thralldom/bondage.” That is how the NT explains Zechariah’s prophecy in Colossians 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Zechariah foresaw their/our deliverance and we clearly understand that deliverance in terms of deliverance from spiritual bondage (and the full redemption of all things to follow).

We have been delivered from a greater bondage and therefore our obligations are greater and not lesser. Vos put it like this:

Every child of God has been redeemed from a “house of bondage” vastly more powerful, cruel, and tyrannical than the physical bondage of ancient Egypt. This statement in the preface to the Ten Commandments causes us to realizes (a) that as Christians, we have been delivered from bitter slavery; and (b) that this deliverance was not our own achievement, but was accomplished by the sovereign, almighty power of God. (Vos)

As Israel received the Ten Commandments with their redemption behind them so we stand before His law with our redemption accomplished. We are in a parallel position. We are the redeemed people before a gracious God who calls us to obey His commandments. As the NIV translated it, “Therefore… in view of God’s mercy…” (Rom. 12:1). We obey in view of His mercies! “For the grace of God has appeared, bring salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness…” (Titus 2:11-12).

  1. Always remember that redemption precedes obedience.

It is because we are redeemed by Christ, we seek to obey His Word. We do not obey to save ourselves but obey in view of His mercies. We believe and are justified and therefore we are saved; in that estate of salvation, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

  1. If we forget this order, we fall into legalism.

Once we confuse this order (redemption precedes obedience), we will fall into “legalism.” That is, we will tend to believe that our obedience somehow merits God’s favor, pardon, acceptance, etc. We may never explicitly state that our works saves us but our slavish spirit will act as if that were the case.

  1. This preface must always accompany our study of the Ten Commandments.

Without it, a Muslim could practically agree with everything. Without it, the “Law” stands on its own with a God commanding obedience. There are no grace and mercy in view and we will stand condemned each time. We must look at the Ten Commandments through the lens of redemptive grace or we will fall prey to works righteousness.


Our God and His Commandments

The preface to the Ten Commandments leads us to this point: “and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.” As Israel had God as their God, that He was their God by means of the covenant, and that He redeemed them, so we are in the same position or condition. We stand as a covenant people redeemed by grace called upon to obey all his commandments.

To put it more plainly, can we truly accept this God as our covenant God and refuse to accept his commandments? What about all the Ten Commandments? Do we get to pick and choose which of the Ten Commandments should bind us? Has God’s moral law for Israel changed?

Hebrews 1:1ff. teach that God continually revealed Himself to his people. But in the final stage of redemptive history, “he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” If Israel had to obey in terms of the Old Covenant (OC) revelation, then how much for us in terms of the New Covenant: “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:2-3) In the OC, Israel was to obey because God was their God: “Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 18:30) “Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:37) If that holds true in terms of what they received, how much more for us?

The “lesser to the greater argument” applies here (or an a fortiori argument, an argument from yet a stronger reason). We have a greater and stronger reason to obey His commandments. Somehow we have drawn the opposite conclusion. We reason that since we are in the NC, we are less bound. But God has not become less holy and what He has done for us is far greater than what He did for Israel (in redemptive historical terms). As Peter said (1Pet. 1:15, 16), “But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” The verse he cited comes from Lev. 19:2. The same rule and principle used in the OT applies to us, and even more so. Peter goes on to add this inducement (1Pet. 1:17-19):

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Because he cited Leviticus 19:2 to challenge NC believers, we learn something important here. In fact, the casual way with which Peter appeals to the Old Testament should challenge us all. Since he mentioned how the prophets were serving us (1 Pet. 1:12) in the beginning of the chapter, therefore he cites Lev. 19:2 because God’s Word pertains to all of His people.

Peter assumes that the OT writings are authoritative and normative for his Christian readers, regardless of their previous ethnic origin. He makes no distinction between the Jewish and the Gentile Christian in his application, nor does the span of time between Leviticus and his letter mitigate the relevance of God’s ancient revelation of himself. By quoting from Leviticus, Peter establishes the principle that the holiness to which the Christian is called in Christ is consistent with God’s character as revealed in the ancient covenant with Israel. However, Peter does not enjoin on his Christian readers the specifics of the Levitical religion of ancient Israel. In terms of moral transformation, the goal of both the old and the new covenants is the same—to create a people who morally conform to God’s character.[3]

God’s moral character is spelled out in His law. Those laws in the OC and especially the Ten Commandments were not “incidental.” They revealed something of His holy character. For example, the “speed limit” is arbitrary. Its only moral force comes from the Bible’s teaching concerning obedience to civil magistrates. However, there is nothing intrinsically binding in the speed limit since it is arbitrary. God’s law, on the other hand, reveals His character and we are called to be conformed to His character. So the preface reveals “a declaration of God’s authority to enforce, and of his mercy to oblige us to the obedience of, those laws, which he delivers.”[4]

[1] I well understand the dispensational arguments regarding this but we cannot enter into that debate at this time.

[2] An interesting debate within the Reformed camp has recently garnered some attention. Did Adam ever exist outside of the covenant and was the covenant an extra layer placed (graciously) on Adam? See Jeffrey C. Waddington, “Sic et Non. Views in Review: Westminster Seminary California Distinctives? Part III. II. The Reformed Two Kingdoms Doctrine,” The Confessional Presbyterian 10, (2014): 189-204 (esp. 193-194).

[3] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 17 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 113.

[4] Ezekiel Hopkins, The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins, 3 vols. (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 1:271.


Larger Catechism, #100-101, pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Questions 100-101

100 Q. What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?

A. We are to consider in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.

Question 100[1]

This question serves as a brief introduction to what is to come. First, it tells us what is the biggest “division”[2] in the Ten Commandments, namely, the preface and the “substance of the commandments.” How we understand the two parts and how they relate serve as important keys to rightly understanding the purpose of God’s law. The second point reminds us that some of the commandments offer “reasons” for the commandment (e.g., second and fifth commandments). These reasons compel us to obey them that much more. For example, a mother can declare she is your mother and that should be reason enough to obey her. She could also add more details of her relationship to you (I sacrificed for you, gave up many opportunities to be with you, prayed for you, live as an example before you, etc.). This would make the son’s obedience that much more compelling.


101 Q. What is the preface to the ten commandments?

A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.[436] Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God;[437] having his being in and of himself,[438] and giving being to all his words[439] and works:[440] and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people;[441] who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom;[442] and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.[443]

[436] Exodus 20:2. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. [437] Isaiah 44:6. Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. [438] Exodus 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. [439] Exodus 6:3. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. [440] Acts 17:24, 28. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands…. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. [441] Genesis 17:7. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Romans 3:29. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also. [442] Luke 1:74-75. That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. [443] 1 Peter 1:15, 17-18. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation…. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers. Leviticus 18:30. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:37. Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.



The important role of the preface to the ten commandments must be carefully understood. If we do not take it seriously or we relativize it, then the ten commandments will merely stand out as external laws from God having no real and personal relationship to us. The preface helps us to see that we obey a redemptive God and not some sovereign arbitrary deity who wields absolute authority as our creator (cf. like Allah). The preface sets the right context for the commandments.

Furthermore, people debate over the binding nature of this or that commandment (especially the fourth). That may be all well and good (though it is not) but those concerns cannot be rightly answered if the believer does not accurately grasp the role of the preface. In fact, unless one can affirm the preface for himself, the ten commandments will elude him. It is in the preface we learn of our specific relationship to the Law maker.

Unfortunately, some have used the preface to disregard the ten commandments. They argue that the preface automatically limits itself to the Israelites: “This law was given to Israel exclusively, which is seen in the opening word.”[3] The law should have been rejected, they argue.

It was a fatal thing, which all the people did when they answered together, “all that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” It was a presumptuous declaration, which sprung from self-confidence and showed clearly that they had no appreciation for that Grace, which had visited them in Egypt and brought them hitherto. They had received grace, they needed grace. With the vow they had made, they had put themselves under the law. The legal covenant had its beginning with the rejection of the Covenant of Grace, and the legal covenant ends with the acceptance of Grace.[4]

This sort of argument borders on being ridiculous because God’s redeemed people were not allowed to “choose” or reject God’s covenant of grace with them. God’s redemption bound them to Himself.[5] They did not stand before God at Mt. Sinai to “negotiate” the terms of their relationship with their Redeemer (who brought them out of Egypt). The sovereign God did not bring through the Red Sea and the desert to solicit their feedback and then broker a covenant relationship. Furthermore, this implies that God had less than perfect intentions. Did God give the law to “trap” them, to make it worse for Israel after He redeemed them? Gaebelein’s reasoning makes God look like a diabolical jinni who offered Israel something that would ultimately harm them.

We cannot see how this truncated view of biblical history does justice to the Bible’s overall redemptive teaching. It assumes what God commanded was only for the Jews. Rather, we should look at it in a way similar to Michael Horton. “The Old Testament is not merely the part of our Bibles that predicted a coming Messiah and was rendered irrelevant when that Messiah arrived; it is part of one full, complete, running drama of redemption, and beginning with Matthew’s Gospel is like walking into a movie halfway into the story. It is like thinking you are telling a good joke when all you can remember is the punch line.”[6]

Israel’s redemption from Egypt was not just for them but a “down payment on the great redemption to be accomplished” by Christ.[7] That is, it is just one act of redemption in the history of redemption signifying the ultimate redemption to come. Their “exodus” was our exodus and in their experience of God’s deliverance from Egypt, they began to experience the ultimate deliverance to come in Christ. The OT pointed to Christ and to what He would do (Lk. 24:25ff.) and the exodus pointed to Christ’s redemption.

The OT moved beyond the great deliverance from Egypt. Jeremiah announced that another deliverance would come: “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.” (Jer. 16:14, 15) But that deliverance gave way to the ultimate deliverance, namely, their deliverance from their sin. Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, blessed the Lord because “he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…” (Lk. 1:68ff.) Each deliverance gave way to this final deliverance in Christ.

But the great deliverance accomplished through Jesus Christ would surpass every other deliverance. The old Passover is replaced by the new one, for which Christ Himself has become the sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The deliverance from Egypt became our deliverance from the power of darkness, from the slavery of sin, so that we might receive a place in the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9).[8]

The interpretation we offered works on the fundamental assumption of God’s overall redemptive purpose in Scripture — the same God working out His covenant of grace in history in the OT culminates it in Christ. It is the same covenant of grace administered differently in the various covenants but the substance is the same in all. To discount the preface and the Decalogue chops off the redemptive flow of biblical history. We should be able to personally embrace Ex. 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

If this preface was sufficient to compel the Israelites to obey God then the reasons for our obedience are that much stronger. That is, if political and national liberation sufficed to bind Israel to God (though the liberation was much more than political and national), then our liberation from sin and our eternal redemption should bind us to Him that much more. The least we could do, as it were, is to obey the Ten Commandments. Greater redemption should not bind us to something less (which seems to be the general thrust of many who reject the Ten Commandments).

[1] Both Vos and Ridgley chose not to comment on this question. They listed the question and answer but neither one gave any explanation. This is not the most helpful question and the LC would have remained intact without it. Also, this question needs no “proof text” since it merely observes what is already plain in the ten commandments. It could say, “We find the ten commandments in these commandments of God.” This statement merely notes what appears to be evident.

[2] Division is not the best word because the ten commandments work as a whole.

[3] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Exodus: A Complete Analysis of Exodus with Annotations (New York: “Our Hope” Publication Office, 1912), 49.

[4] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Exodus, 48.

[5] Sadly, even a Reformed NT scholar said something similar in his essay. See T. David Gordon, “Abraham and Sinai Contrasted in Galatians 3:6-14,” in The Law is not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, ed. Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David Van Drunen (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009), 251.

[6] Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1993), 28.

[7] Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom, 28.

[8] Jochem Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996), 6.