Category Archives: Loci Communes

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.

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.

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.

Will we eat in heaven?

Today in our Christian Classics Club, we discussed the last chapter of Wilhemus a Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Vol. 1). We vigorously talked about a short statement made by a Brakel on p. 630 (see below). He explained in what way Christ could have eaten after the resurrection. We considered his words and sought to square that with 1 Cor. 6:13: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” This verse has been used by Reformed thinkers to establish the truth that we will NOT be eating in our glorified state. I incorporated a Brakel’s statement into my notes on Eschatology and the following are my current reflections on this topic. I am very thankful for our wonderful group that meets twice a month to discuss both Gurnall and a Brakel! Today, we finished Volume One of a Brakel!!!! I have been greatly edified by our robust discussions throughout this year!

Food? Eating in Heaven?

Will we eat in our glorified state? Some (like Hoekema)[1] believe that 1Cor. 6:13 emphatically teaches that we will not eat in our glorified state.[2] Our glorified body no longer depends on the nourishment. Herman Bavinck also agrees with this. He says the resurrected body “is no longer composed of flesh and blood; it is above the sex life (Matt. 22:30) and the need for food and drink (1 Cor. 6:13).”[3] The older commentator, John Diodati, said that “by death, the passage to eternal life, all use of meats, and of those organs is annihilated.” (Annotations [1648], 190) John Gill concurs and stated that “there will be no appetite, no desire in the stomach after meats, no need of them to fill the belly, and so no use of these parts for such purposes as they now are; for the children of the resurrection will be like the angels, and stand in no need of eating and drinking.”[4] Even Charles Hodge drew the same conclusion from 1 Cor. 6:13, “The time shall come when men shall no more be sustained by food, but shall be as the angels of God.”[5] Geerhardus Vos espoused the traditional interpretation of 1 Cor. 6:13.[6] And lastly, the venerable and trustworthy Matthew Henry believed it was safe to state that we will not need food:

There is a time coming when the human body will need no further recruits of food.” Some of the ancients suppose that this is to be understood of abolishing the belly as well as the food; and that though the same body will be raised at the great day, yet not with all the same members, some being utterly unnecessary in a future state, as the belly for instance, when the man is never to hunger, nor thirst, nor eat, nor drink more. But, whether this be true or no, there is a time coming when the need and use of food shall be abolished.

However, various passages indicate that perhaps that may not be the case. One of the most common imageries used in the Bible is one of feasting. The OT refers to a “lavish banquet” which the Lord will prepare. Is. 25:6 reads, “And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.” In the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:29), Jesus says, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Rev. 19:9 speaks of the “marriage feast of the Lamb.” Perhaps these statements only symbolize the blessed estate of the righteous?

Oddly, we read of Christ eating after the resurrection (cf. Luke 24:43, Jn. 21:9-14). Does that mean we will eat with a glorified body? However, Bavinck noted, at that moment, Jesus existed in a transitional body before His ascension.[7] Wilhemus a Brakel goes further saying, “He may possibly have held back His full glory while interacting with His disciples. He ate with His disciples (Luke 24:43) to further assure them of His resurrection, not because He was in need of nourishment. His stomach also did not digest this nourishment, since this would be inconsistent with a glorified body. Rather, by His omnipotence He caused the food to disappear.”[8] Perhaps a Brakel said too much when he declared that Christ’s omnipotence “caused the food to disappear”?

Against this majority opinion, Venema adds, “Though some might be inclined to deny this outright, it might be that this denial is borne out of an over-spiritualized view of the final state.”[9] It may not be an over spiritualized interpretation because 1 Cor. 6:13 seems to support the “majority” opinion.  We conclude with Venema’s statement though it puts him at odds with Hoekema, Bavinck, a Brakel, Gill, Hodge, etc.

Just as our eating and drinking today is to be done to God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31), so it may well be in the new heavens and earth that the blessings of food and drink, sanctified through the Word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:5), will be the occasion for worshipping and serving the living God. It is wise not to be too dogmatic on this question one way or the other. Nevertheless, life in the new creation will undoubtedly be like a rich banquet at which the saints of God will sit down together and enjoy the richest of foods.[10]

[1]Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 252: “It would seem that, according to this passage, the digestive functions of the body will no longer be necessary in the life to come.”

[2] Lenski says, “In the Parousia no digesting and no organ for that purpose are needed to keep the body alive. Regarding the change of our bodily organs compare Matt. 22:30; 1 Cor. 15:44, 51.” Kistemaker does not wish to press this.

[3] Bavinck, The Last Things, 137. “After the resurrection both the stomach and food will be destroyed (1 Cor. 6:13), but both were realities to Adam. In heaven God’s children will no longer marry, but be like the angels (Matt. 22:30); Adam, however, needed the help of a wife.” (Reformed Dogmatics, 2:564)

[4] John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, vol. 2, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809), 638.

[5] Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1857), 103. A less theological exegete drew the same conclusion: “God, however, will (at the Parousia) cause such a change to take place in the bodily constitution of man and in the world of sense generally, that neither the organs of digestion as such, nor the meats as such, will then be existent.” [Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, ed. William P. Dickson, trans. D. Douglas Bannerman, vol. 1, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1879), 179.].

[6] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere et al., vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012–2016), 274.

[7] Bavinck, The Last Things, 137: “And Jesus arose with the same body in which he died and which had not even seen corruption, and remained moreover in a transitional state up until his ascension, so that he could still eat food as well.”

[8] The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:630.

[9]Venema, The Promise of the Future, 474.

[10]Venema, The Promise of the Future, 474.

Larger Catechism, #96

The Larger Catechism

Question 96

96. Q. What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?

A. The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come,[410] and to drive them to Christ;[411] or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable,[412] and under the curse thereof.[413]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[410] 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. [411] Galatians 3:24. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [412] Romans 1:20. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Romans 2:15. Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)



The moral law can expose the sinfulness of believers and unbelievers, the religious as well as the rebellious. Yet, when we approach the moral law superficially, we come away feeling quite righteous; when we see the law in its fuller light, then we feel exposed. For example, a lady believed she lived a very morally upright life since she didn’t murder, steal, commit adultery, etc. She even helped needy people as an attorney (something she did on the side). But struck with sickness, she started to read the Bible over and over again and confessed: “[A]lmost my entire life was based on a violation of the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your God… you shall have no other gods before me.” Obviously I was not worshipping statues of Baal and Molech in my living room, but I was idolizing money, power, prestige, my boss, my house, my car. Everything I idolized, God took from me. I was left with complete dependence on Him. And He turned me from a life of focusing on making lots of money as an attorney to saving lives in China.”[1]

Once we limit the first commandment to worshipping statues, then the law’s demand appear to be entirely easy. But how does one come to a deeper understanding of the law? Of course each person must exert some effort to study it and yet, it cannot and will not penetrate our hearts until the Spirit takes His Word and pierces our souls with it.


Unregenerate Men

The moral law can benefit unbelievers (that is, the unregenerate). They have not experienced new birth; they remain lost in their sins and therefore spiritual darkness pervades their hearts and minds — “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). They remain ignorant of spiritual matters and God’s demands “due to their hardness of heart.” For that reason, God’s revealed moral law must be pressed home to them. This moral law can come to them as an intrusive unwelcomed light into the dark crevices of their hearts.


1. Flee God’s Wrath

The answer focuses first on the need for an awakened conscience: “The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come…” Their pervasive ignorance needs the light of God’s law. They slumber in carnal contentment not understanding the grave danger awaiting them. The law exposes their sins by declaring clearly what God requires of man (see 1Tim. 1:8-11).[2] It pertains to all the offenders. Remember, Paul would not have known about coveting had the law not forbad it.

With the declaration of God’s moral law, the person must also be warned of the coming wrath for their disobedience. Their conscience must come to terms with their disobedience as well as God’s displeasure. Some may feel guilty about their personal failures and yet not fear God’s righteous wrath. A truly awakened conscience sees his offence as being against God.

In 2Chron. 34, we see how something like this works. Though this incident occurred in Israel, we can easily see how it correlates with unbelievers once the Spirit pierces His Word into their hearts. Under Josiah’s rule, they find the Law. After hearing the words of the Law, he tore his clothes and declared, “For great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out on us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according to all that is written in this book.” (2Chron. 34:31) God’s Law exposed and awakened their consciences; they feared God’s wrath.

The unbeliever needs God’s spiritual law so he can see his spiritual need.[3] His slumbering conscience needs to be disturbed because he labors under an harmful delusion. However, no mercy can come to him from the law because it can only declare God’s demands.


2. Drive them to Christ

The awakened conscience is “to drive them to Christ.” Vos rightly states, “Because the law itself provides no way of escape from God’s wrath, it serves to drive the sinner to Christ, who is the only way of escape.” They must look elsewhere; they must not look to the law for mercy or for comfort.

Gal. 3:24 says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The phrase “until Christ” (εἰς Χριστόν) has a temporal force (as opposed to the NIV rendering, “to lead us to Christ”).[4] The ESV conveys the point nicely. Unfortunately, we can see the point of the catechism better in the older translations.

The verse teaches that the law served a specific purpose in God’s redemptive history. The point can be seen in the following commentator’s explanation.

Paul is saying that the law both kept (or guarded) and disciplined the people of God until Christ, demonstrating both (1) the minority of the one under a pedagogue and (2) the temporary nature of such an arrangement. The law’s pedagogical function was to bring people to understand their sinfulness, their inability to do anything to rectify that condition, and to guide people to Christ, Abraham’s Seed and the personal fulfillment of God’s promise.[5]

James Boice followed a similar interpretation.[6] The theological point of the catechism may not seem apparent from the newer translation. However, as the law served in redemptive history to give way to Christ (“until Christ came”) by showing Israel’s sinfulness and inability, so the law serves the same purpose for all unbelievers. God’s moral law does not cease to expose one’s sins just because it played a redemptive historical purpose. It is still His Law and our sins continue to remain as sins against His law. Our introductory example serves to perfectly illustrate this point (see above). The law exposes and drives us to Christ. Yet, the Law itself does not per se drive us to Christ; without the Spirit, the Law only condemns and kills. The Spirit gives life and once He uses His sword (which is His Word), He can pierce into our dark souls to expose us of our sins through His Law.


3. Leave them Inexcusable

The catechism further adds that the moral law continues to be useful even if unbelievers refuse to listen to the law. It says, “upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable.” In Rom. 1:20 we learn that man will not be excused for his ignorance because God has made Himself known to him. His conscience (Rom. 2:15) always rings to remind him of what God demands.

In the event they heard God’s law and they continue on in their life of sin, then they will be without any excuse. Rather than heeding the warnings and threats, they have deliberately refused to hear its demand. On judgment day, they cannot plead ignorance, etc.

Is it not strange that many in the public square denounce Christians because of their moral teaching? The secularists reject what God’s law demands and proclaim their distaste and unbelief of it. They profess their unbelief and yet vigorously stifle any dissent. Rather than disagreeing with believers, they seek to silence what we believe. Why? They act this way because the biblical worldview is true. They are still created in the image of God and cannot escape God’s moral claim upon them. They exist in God’s world and cannot escape how He created them.


4. Under the Curse

As unbelievers reject God’s moral law, they remain under God’s curse for breaking His law (“and under the curse thereof”). Paul says in Gal. 3:10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”” The Jews remained under the curse as long as they relied on God’s law. Because they broke it, they remained under its curse.

Any supposed improvement in our moral behavior cannot and does not undo all the previous infractions. A young man who murdered someone when he was 20 years old does not blot out that offense simply because he has been magnanimous and sacrificial to everyone else for the rest of his life. The curse of that one infraction remains with him until he dies — unless he finds forgiveness in Christ. Christ bore that curse for all who look in faith to him. Sinners bear that curse until the curse bearing Redeemer steps into their place. That only happens to those who have placed their face in Christ.

Some may protest by saying that we are not under the Jewish structure. They argue that Gal. 3:10 pertains only to the Jews.[7] But the same principle applies to all of us. Unbelievers have the moral law against which they have sinned (Rom. 2:14). That is Paul’s argument in Rom. 2. Paul argues in Rom. 3 that both Jews and Greeks are under sin (3:9) and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (3:24). Since we are all under sin, we live under the curse of our disobedience. God’s curse against Jewish and Gentile sinners remain irrespective of the redemptive shift.

[1] Marvin Olasky, “Complete Dependence” World (July 12, 2014), 29.

[2] 1Tim. 1: 8-11   “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

[3] This does not mean that the unbeliever does not have any knowledge of God’s moral law. They suppressed it and in their hardness of heart, became culpably ignorant.

[4] See commentaries by Schreiner, Betz, Bruce, and Longenecker. The KJV has, “to bring us unto Christ”; NASB, “to lead us to Christ.”

[5] Robert K. Rapa, “Galatians,” in Romans–Galatians (vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 601.

[6] James Montgomery Boice, Galatians (EBC 10; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), n.p.: “‘To Christ’ is not to be taken in a geographic sense as though the pedagogue was conducting the child to a teacher, as some have implied. The reference, as in the preceding verse, is temporal; it means ‘until we come of age at the time of the revelation of our full sonship through Christ’s coming.’” Richard Longenecker argues more persuasively for the temporal force of εἰς Χριστόν. See his commentary in the WBC series.

[7] NT scholars have correctly highlighted the redemptive historical thinking in Paul. The traditional understanding of law, sin and salvation has been challenged. Yet, the redemptive historical structure does not undermine the traditional understanding and formulation. It adds another layer and nuance to our confessional Reformed theology.

Larger Catechism, #86

The Larger Catechism

Question 86

 86. Q. What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death?

A. The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness,[371] and received into the highest heavens,[372] where they behold the face of God in light and glory,[373] waiting for the full redemption of their bodies,[374] which even in death continue united to Christ,[375] and rest in their graves as in their beds,[376] till at the last day they be again united to their souls.[377] Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.[378]


Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[371] Hebrews 12:23. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. [372] 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6, 8. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord…. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Philippians 1:23. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. Acts 3:21. Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. Ephesians 4:10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) [373] 1 John 3:2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 Corinthians 13:12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. [374] Romans 8:23. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. Psalm 16:9. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. [375] 1 Thessalonians 4:14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. [376] Isaiah 57:2. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness. [377] Job 19:26-27. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. [378] Luke 16:23-24. And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. Acts 1:25. That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. Jude 6-7. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.


Communion in Glory

Death overtakes everyone (and this will continue until our Lord returns) and each individual will enter into another realm after death. Believers will enter into glory while God will cast unbelievers into hell. Therefore, only our believing loved ones will have been taken away into glory — unbelievers, no matter how much we love them, will have been cast into hell. This LC question explains the destiny of believers and unbelievers and what they will do during the interim period before Christ’s return.

Many envision heaven to be a bland and yet a benign place. Either indistinct conceptions of glory (cloudy surroundings, harmless naïve angels, ethereal existence, etc.) or carnal visions of the afterlife (meeting old friends, playing cards, sitting around and catching up, etc.) tend to fill the minds of uninformed religious people. Even some believers lack clear and distinct ideas of heaven. This LC question explains what happens to people right after death! When a person dies, they immediately enter into another state.

Vos says that the condition of believers “after their death is a condition of consciousness, memory, holiness, blessedness, and waiting for the completion of their redemption by the resurrection of their bodies…” Christians must not believe in the false doctrine of “soul sleep” held by some. We are conscious after death. Both believers and unbelievers remain conscious after their deaths but in different states or conditions.

Furthermore, we believe that each soul will continue on after death. Its immortality depends on God’s sustaining power and He will give it perpetual existence so as to bless or punish the soul forever. The unbiblical heresy of annihilationism denies this very simple truth.


1. With Christ

For believers, they are with Christ — “The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death…” We must highlight the phrase “with Christ.” Paul says that his “desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). When we leave this world, we leave in order to be with Christ.

Believers, after death, have “communion in glory with Christ.” We do not arrive in heaven safe and yet alone (like someone saved from a burning building only to be alone without their loved ones) — we depart so as to be with Christ. We will be with our Lord in glory; we will have fellowship (communion) in heaven (in glory) with our Lord (with Christ). Benefits come with that blessed fellowship with Him but we can experience those benefits only in our union and communion with Him. That glorious relationship known and experienced now continues and is perfected in glory.

Only one important application should consume us at this point. Do we enjoy Jesus Christ now? If so, then we will enjoy Him in glory. If we view heaven only as an escape (from something bad) or access to delights (irrespective of Christ), then we know nothing of genuine life in Christ. Paul desired to be with Christ at death. Can you say, “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord…” (2Cor. 5:8)? This hope pulsated in Paul’s heart — it motivated and dictated his actions. If we truly believed this, we too would yearn for the same.


2. Souls perfect in holiness

“The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness…” When believers die, their souls are made perfect in holiness. They will be part of the “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Only in heaven does God make our souls perfect in holiness. Death, as we have already mentioned, serves as the passageway into this state. Notice the verse in Hebrews. Our souls or spirits are made perfect — our bodies (more on this below) do not partake of this blessedness. This means believers will no longer have any motions toward, desires for, yearnings after sin. No believer will be molested by their wicked thoughts, ashamed of their abominable imaginations, dejected by their unruly passions, etc. In perfect holiness, they will desire holiness, will be focused and zealous, will possess an undivided heart, etc. Fatigue, wandering thoughts, cloudy judgments, distracted attention, etc. exist in our souls now but not after we die and commune in glory with our Lord. Vos noted this about our holiness: “Perfect holiness (a) in extent: (b) in degree; (c) in stability. Never again can they fall short of moral perfection, suffer temptation, or fall into any sin.” (Vos)

We noted in our previous study that God could have made our souls perfect in holiness immediately when He gave us new birth in Christ. In His own wisdom and purpose, He chose not to give it to us in this present state. He reserved that blessed privilege and benefit for us.

Let us remember that if He can make us “perfect in holiness” immediately after death then He can grant you and me some grace of sanctification in the present moment. If He is able to do all this after our death (and it seems almost inconceivable), then surely giving drops of sanctifying grace present no difficulty to our heavenly Father. Go to Him in prayer and look to Him for deliverance. Let us not be like Israel, “She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.” (Zeph. 3:2)

This blessed truth means that the doctrine of purgatory flatly contradicts the Bible. They believe that the souls are not immediately made perfect in holiness after death to be purified. They say,

Not all who depart this life in the state of grace are fit to enter at once into the beatific vision of God. Some are burdened with venial transgressions. Others have not yet fully expiated the temporal punishments due to their sins.… there must be a middle state in which they are cleansed of venial sins, or, if they have not yet fully paid the temporal punishments due to their forgiven sins, must expiate the remainder of them.[1]

For them, since holiness is predominantly our work, it therefore follows we must complete our work after death in order to enter into heaven. Purgatory remedies what we did not finish here on earth. This doctrine consistently fits into their meritorious scheme. But as we have seen, believers die and then they immediately go into Christ’s presence. If they had a worthy doctrine of glorification, they would see that both the beginning and the end of our salvation, sanctification, and glorification flow to us freely through Christ’s grace.


3. Received into the highest heavens

With the blessed perfect holiness, we are told that we will be “received into the highest heavens.” What does that mean? The language assumes the existence of various “heavens.” Perhaps the air and sky above is one heaven and the space above is the other? Jewish writings speak of three to seven heavens. The realm beyond this creation is the “third heaven” (2Cor. 12:2). It is the “paradise” he speaks of in v. 3. The highest heavens is the place “above all heavens” (Eph. 4:10).

The “highest heavens” (given the verses used to support this statement, 2Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23; Acts 3:21; Eph. 4:10) therefore is the realm in which God exists and the place from which our Lord reigns. We do not dwell here after death — we go to be with Christ in heaven. Though we cannot “locate” heaven, it nonetheless exists as a “place where God’s glory is specially manifested, and it is the place where our Savior Jesus Christ in his glorified human nature now lives.” It must be a “place” in which Christ’s glorified human nature and the souls of God’s children can dwell.

As an aside, let us be careful of entertaining vain and foolish (harmful and forbidden) ideas of our loved ones “visiting” us after they die. They dwell in a better place with our Lord. Such demonic notions turn us away from the simplicity of the gospel hope.


4. Behold the face of God

The “beatific vision” or the visio dei (visio beatifica)[2] means to “behold the face of God in light and glory.” Jesus said in Mt. 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The general promise to God’s people is that they would see God — “For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face” (Ps. 11:7; cf. Heb. 12:14; 1Jn. 3:1-3; Rev. 21:22-27).

God as ‘refuge’ may be sought from motives that are all too self-regarding; but to behold his face is a goal in which only love has any interest. The psalmists knew the experience of seeing God with the inward eye in worship (e.g. 27:4; 63:2); but there is little doubt that they were led to look beyond this to an unmediated vision when they would be ransomed and awakened from death ‘to behold (his) face in righteousness’ (cf. 16:8–11; 17:15; 23:6; 49:15; 73:23ff.; 139:18).[3]

1Cor . 13:12 hints at this promise as well. Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” One commentator put it like this:

“Our present ‘vision’ of God, as great as it is, is as nothing when compared to the real thing that is yet to be; it is like the difference between seeing a reflected image in a mirror and seeing a person face to face.” In our own culture the comparable metaphor would be the difference between seeing a photograph and seeing someone in person. As good as a picture is, it is simply not the real thing.[4]

In some way, we shall see God; we shall behold him to our soul’s satisfaction. Some commentators have noted that this idea in 1Cor. 13:12 is an expansion of Jewish reflection on Num. 12:8, “With him [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” That is, “in the age to come all God’s people would have an experience similar to that which distinguished Moses from the other prophets. We already see the Lord as through a mirror (imperfectly) and know him as well as that experience allows (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18), but the day is coming when we will see him as Moses did, face to face, an experience of knowing him fully as we are already fully known by him.”[5]


Our Bodies

Having learned what happens to our souls upon death, we still need to better understand what is going to happen to our bodies at our death. Vos said, “While the condition of the souls of believers after their death is a condition of perfect holiness, still it is not the highest and most blessed condition they are destined to enjoy. The enjoyment of the supreme blessedness must wait until the resurrection of the body at the Last Day.”


1. Redemption of the body

The Larger Catechism states that believers are “waiting for the full redemption of their bodies…” In fact, believers in glory wait for this redemption. But this expectation and waiting began while they lived on earth. In Romans 8:23, Paul says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Creation was already groaning (v. 22) as Paul said, “And not only the creation…” We believers who have the Spirit as the firstfruits (the initial installment of the glories to come) groan — that is, because we have the Spirit we groan.[6] “We are to understand that the gift of the Spirit to the believer at the inception of Christian life is God’s pledge of the completion of the process of salvation, which is here stated as “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Previously Paul described the finished product as “a spiritual body” (1Co 15:44). The future bodily resurrection of believers will be the full harvest of redemption. Our bodies will be like that of the glorified Lord (Php 3:21).”[7]

Believers groan inwardly, not by way of complaints, but by nonverbal sighs, yearnings, etc. “This attitude does not involve anxiety about whether we will finally experience the deliverance God has promised for Paul allows of no doubts on that score (cf. vv. 28–30) but frustration at the remaining moral and physical infirmities that are inevitably a part of this period between justification and glorification (see 2 Cor. 5:2, 4) and longing for the end of this state of “weakness.”[8]

What is surprising is the way the verse ends. We wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. How can that be? Paul already declared that we are adopted in vv. 14-17. How can we be said to wait for our adoption? It means that there is more to our adoption than what we now experience.[9]

As one commentator noted: “As the physical body is admirably suited to life in this world, the promised spiritual body will be seen to be wonderfully congruent with the coming world.”[10] That is, our “spiritual body” (1Cor. 15:44) will no longer serve sin — our bodies will be perfectly adapted to glorify our Savior. We must not look upon our bodies as unnecessary encasings — they have been redeemed for a purpose. Our glorification remains incomplete until our souls are united to our bodies.


2. United to Christ

While believers rest in heaven with their Lord, the LC states that their bodies remain united to Christ: “which even in death continue united to Christ…” How can that be? How is Christ united to someone’s rotting corpse?

No one verse explicitly states this point. Various passages imply this doctrine. The specific verse used by the divines to support the teaching is 1 Thess. 4:14: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The context indicates that Paul is explaining what will happen to those who have already died (v. 13, or fallen asleep).[11] Paul does not explicitly state what he infers: Since Jesus rose from the dead, so God will raise the saints in the same way.[12] God will gather together (bring with him) the dead (those who have fallen asleep). Mt. 24:31 indicates that the second coming involves the gathering of his people from the world: “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” 2Thess. 2:1 also mentions “gathered together to him” (ἐπισυναγωγῆς ἐπʼ αὐτόν).

Coming back to 1 Thess. 4:14, Paul writes two verses after v. 14 that “the dead in Christ will rise first.” Here he makes explicit what he did not in v. 14. Those who had fallen asleep will rise from the dead. How do these verses indicate that our bodies are united to Christ? If these bodies are raised from the dead, then it means that all that believers are (their bodies and soul) remain united to Christ. Even death cannot separate us. Jesus redeemed our entire person. Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) — and the Bible assures us that these same mortal bodies will live (Rom. 8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”). Various verses indicate that our bodies must be used for the Lord:

1Cor. 6:13, The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

1Cor. 6:15, Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?

1Cor. 6:19, 20, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1Th. 4:4, that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,

1 Cor. 6:13 adds another (surprising) truth, namely, that the Lord [is] for the body (ὁ κύριος τῷ σώματι). What does that mean? One commentator put it this way:

The Corinthians are saying that food is meant for the stomach and the stomach is meant for food, and God will destroy them both. No, replies Paul, the body is meant for the Lord and the Lord is meant for the body, and God will raise them both. So important is the human body to the Lord that he promises to give us a glorified human body on the day of the Lord (15:33–58). Thus what we do with our bodies now should reflect this value that God places on the human body.[13]

The older commentator Godet probably summarized Paul’s point better than anyone else: “The body is for Christ, to belong to Him and serve Him, and Christ is for the body, to inhabit and glorify it.”[14] Christ uses our body to glorify His name — the Lord for the body!

Once again, we return to 1 Thess. 4:14. We can say more explicitly from the verse that believers have fallen asleep “through Jesus” or “in Jesus” — “these believers died as Christians in union with him. In death, believers are not separated from Jesus. This phrase then becomes an implicit affirmation that those who die as Christians do not cease to exist between the time of their death and the resurrection.”[15] As we sleep in Jesus, so our bodies remain united to Him awaiting the resurrection.


3. To be reunited with their souls

At the end, our bodies will be reunited with our souls: “and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls.” Since our death is euphemistically called a sleep (not minimizing the finality of death), our bodies as it were “rest in their graves as in their beds…” (cf. Is. 57:2). Believers will eventually and ultimately see their Lord in their bodies, in their flesh (Job. 19:26-27, “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”). In order for us to see Jesus with our eyes, we must be re-united with our bodies.

We must not look to heaven as an escape from our bodies. We may wish to leave the effects of sin in our bodies but to be disembodied must not be our ultimate goal. Believers will be with their Lord and yet they await the final resurrection of their own bodies. The body serves as the vehicle through which we glorify God (cf. Rom. 6:13). After the resurrection, it will be a perfect glorified body that will be adapted and equipped by the Spirit to glorify our God forever and ever.


The Unbelievers

Unbelievers have a different destiny awaiting them. The LC says, “Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.” Unbelievers, like Judas, go to their own place (Acts 1:25, “That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”) Like the wealthy nameless individual in Lk. 16, they will immediately undergo torment (Lk. 16:23, 24, see below). Torment and darkness await them (cf. Jude 6-7, And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.).

After death, they remain in a disembodied state until their bodies are raised to judgment on that great day. The unbeliever sinned with his body — his whole person committed all his own sins (in body and soul). Therefore, each one shall receive his body to undergo the eternal judgment — full judgment on the whole person.



If unbelievers remain in a disembodied state, then how do we interpret Luke 16:19-31? It appears that that dives (Latin for rich, wealthy, etc.) was in torment and he requested to water to cool his tongue (16:24). How can the disembodied soul have a tongue and require water? Do unbelievers suffer immediately in their bodies or do they await the final judgment to come?

The following annotations on the passage give an interpretation of the whole passage. I will give a more thorough attention to vv. 23-24.

16:19-31 Rich man and Lazarus

This parable starts off with “There was a certain man…” This formula is usually found in parables. This parable is found only in Luke. Ryle says, “It is the only passage of Scripture which describes the feelings of the unconverted after death.”

16:19 — The purple and fine linen describes the luxuriant and extravagant lifestyle of this nameless rich man (πλούσιος). From the Latin, he has been called “dives” (see Vulgate; from the noun dives, divitis). With fine clothing, he satiated himself with fine foods. Not once, not occasionally but “every day.” “This man had all he asked in life and lived a life of enjoyable ease. He is not said to have committed any grave sin, but he lived only for himself. That was his condemnation.” (Morris) There is no mention of God in his life.

16:20-21 — Lazarus (a Greek form of Eleazer which means ‘God has helped’) stands in direct contrast to dives. “He is the only character given a name in Jesus’ parable.” (Morris) We find that Lazarus was placed at the gate; it suggests that he was put there out of necessity (cf. Green). Lazarus was at “his gate” (τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ/), that is, at the rich man’s gate. The word for gate presumably meant that it was quite a large one, one that could be found in great palaces or cities. In contrast to the rich man, he was covered with sores. The rich man was covered with purple and fine linen while Lazarus with sores.

We must remember the significance of the dog. “In Jewish eyes dogs were not romanticized as ‘man’s best friend’ but were seen as impure, disgusting scavengers. Even the dog tormented the poor man by licking his ulcerated sores.” (Stein) Lazarus longed for the crumbs from this rich man’s table. Nothing indicates that he ever received anything from the rich man.

16:22 — Morris notes, “Nothing has been said about the religious state of either.” But eternity reveals their religious condition. In one verse, the fate of all men befell the poor and the rich. They both died and they both departed from the pain and pleasure of this physical world. Curiously, we are not told that Lazarus was even buried while the rich man was. One “died and was carried” while the other “died and was buried.” “Even in death he was treated differently in this world from Lazarus. He was buried.” (Stein)

Lazarus is a faithful child of God and is received into “Abraham’s bosom.” Though the phrase “Abraham’s bosom” is used only here, this surely refers to nothing else than heaven. He is now with the great patriarch.

16:23 — Hades is used as a place for the dead but in the NT, it is never a place for believers. In this passage, it is equivalent to Gehenna. This rich man was in torment. “Their roles are not only reversed; their new conditions are intensified.”[16]

16:24 — He does show some deference to Abraham (“Father Abraham”) but it appears that some sort of unconscious arrogance still clouds his heart. Since he knew Lazarus by name, it suggests that he was well aware of who Lazarus was while he was on earth. Dives still treated Lazarus as a menial servant to be used for whatever purposes the he saw fit. This request did not seem inappropriate to him — why would it since he always had other people serve him? He who gave no mercy now pleads for mercy.

Regarding the phrase “cool my tongue” one commentator states: “Jewish discussions of the afterlife commonly included physical torment (16:23) and the ability of the dead to see and converse with others (2 Esdr. [= 4 Ezra] 7:79–85, 91–93; Eccles. Rab. 1.15.1 on 1:15; H¸ag. 77d [2.2] [= Neusner et al. 1982–93: 20.57–58]; Creed 1930: 213).”[17] This may be true but I think it misses the point of this passage.

First of all, since his brothers (v. 28) were still alive and he was in Hades, he could not have his own body (it was lying in the grave). Life continued on for those on earth while he (Dives) remained in torment in Hades. Secondly, this is a parable and we must not make too much of every detail (one to one correspondence to reality). The thrust of the parable is three-fold. Craig Blomberg classifies this as a “Three Simple-Point Parable.”[18] Blomberg says,

One may thus suggest that the main lessons of the parable follow these lines: (1) Like Lazarus, those whom God helps will be borne after their death into God’s presence. (2) Like the rich man, the unrepentant will experience irreversible punishment. (3) Through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, God reveals himself and his will so that none who neglect it can legitimately protest their subsequent fate.[19]

Furthermore, he adds, “If these are true aspects of the afterlife, they will be derived from other passages of Scripture, not from this one. Otherwise one might just as well conclude that it will be possible to talk to those “on the other side,” that Abraham will be God’s spokesman in meting out final judgment, and that some from “heaven” will apparently want to be able to travel to “hell” (“those who want to go from here to you”—v. 26)!”[20] He makes very important observations. We know torment is meted out on the wicked after death from other passages — this parable merely overplays the details to convey the points Jesus wanted us to learn. We also know that our fate after death remains irreversible. Several other points could be made (our present conduct impacts the eternal outcomes; we immediately enter into our eternal estates; etc.).

Lastly, we can take Calvin’s sober interpretation of the passage to be a good guide. Most Christians would accept Calvin’s interpretation (the general teaching found in this exposition).

Though Christ is relating a history, yet he describes spiritual things under figures, which he knew to be adapted to our senses. Souls have neither fingers nor eyes, and are not liable to thirst, nor do they hold such conversations among themselves as are here described to have taken place between Abraham and the rich man; but our Lord has here drawn a picture, which represents the condition of the life to come according to the measure of our capacity. The general truth conveyed is, that believing souls, when they have left their bodies, lead a joyful and blessed life out of this world, and that for the reprobate there are prepared dreadful torments, which can no more be conceived by our minds than the boundless glory of the heavens. As it is only in a small measure—only so far as we are enlightened by the Spirit of God—that we taste by hope the glory promised to us, which far exceeds all our senses, let it be reckoned enough that the inconceivable vengeance of God, which awaits the ungodly, is communicated to us in an obscure manner, so far as is necessary to strike terror into our minds.

On these subjects the words of Christ give us slender information, and in a manner which is fitted to restrain curiosity. The wicked are described as fearfully tormented by the misery which they feel; as desiring some relief, but cut off from hope, and thus experiencing a double torment; and as having their anguish increased by being compelled to remember their crimes, and to compare the present blessedness of believers with their own miserable and lost condition. In connection with this a conversation is related, as if persons who have no intercourse with each other were supposed to talk together. When the rich man says, Father Abraham, this expresses an additional torment, that he perceives, when it is too late, that he is cut off from the number of the children of Abraham.

16:25-26 — Our future cannot change. Justice will be meted out; everything will be rightly dispensed. Dives got what was coming to him and Lazarus received his. One is comforted (v. 25) while the other is in anguish (v. 24).

Once we arrive, there is no turning back. Eternal habitations are fixed forever. There are no U-turns and no second chances. Scrooge woke up from his vision or dream to mend his ways but men and women will not have the same chance after they die.

16:27-28 — Dives seems to suggest that his brother had not been sufficiently warned. If they are warned, then they will repent. It suggests that had he been warned, he too would have repented. Scripture was sufficient. Wisely did Ryle say, “There is no infidelity, or skepticism, or unbelief after death.” One divine said that “hell is nothing more than truth known too late.”

16:29 — Scripture was available to them as it was available to him. God made it clear and that should suffice. This certainly applies to us as well. We must not ask for more. If we reject God’s Word now, then our condemnation is just.

16:30 —Dives remains quite certain of this. His hard heart cannot imagine that a visitor from the grave cannot make a man repent. Things will not be different. Is he suggesting that if this had happened to him he would have repented?

16:31 — One writer put it this way (quoted in Morris), “If a man (says Jesus) cannot be human with the Old Testament in his hand and Lazarus on his doorstep, nothing – neither a visitant from the other world nor a revelation of the horrors of Hell — will teach him otherwise.” The people in Jesus’ time refused what the Scriptures taught, so they will end up not believing that Christ had risen from the dead. “The Scriptures contain all that we need to know in order to be saved, and a messenger from the world beyond the grace could add nothing to them.” (Ryle)


[1] Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, Eschatology, or The Catholic Doctrine of the Last Things: A Dogmatic Treatise, Dogmatic Theology (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder, 1920), 75–76.

[2] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms : Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1985), 327: “The scholastics note that the visio is not a visio oculi, a vision of the eye, except with reference to the perception of the glorified Christ. With reference to the saints’ new perception of God, the visio is cognitio Dei clara et intuitiva, a clear and intuitive knowledge of God, an inward actus intellectus et voluntatis, or act of intellect and will.”

[3] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC 15; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 91. Craigie’s comment in the WBC seems to deny the benefit of fuller meaning of the words of the verse.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 648.

[5] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 660.

[6] Cf. Moo perhaps is correct in saying that the meaning is causal, that is, it is because we have the Spirit we groan. J. Murray does not seem to take that sense. Moo says, “it is because we possess the Spirit as the first installment and pledge of our complete salvation that we groan, yearning for the fulfillment of that salvation to take place. The Spirit, then, functions to join inseparably together the two sides of the “already-not yet” eschatological tension in which we are caught. “Already,” through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit, we have been transferred into the new age of blessing and salvation; but the very fact that the Spirit is only the “first fruits” makes us sadly conscious that we have “not yet” severed all ties to the old age of sin and death” (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 520).

[7] Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner, “Romans,” in Romans–Galatians (vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 138.

[8] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 519.

[9] Cf. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 324.

[10] Everett F. Harrison and Donald A. Hagner, “Romans,” in Romans–Galatians (vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 138.

[11] Paul uses this specific euphemism “fallen asleep” because of the nature of Christ’s death. “Noticeably, Paul does not refer to Jesus’ death as “sleep.” The difference between Jesus’ experience and that of believers is that he endured actual separation from God for the world’s sins. The uniqueness of his death points to the uniqueness of his miraculous resurrection (cf. Bruce, 97). Because of his real death, Christians will not experience that separation; their death has taken on the characteristics of “sleep” (cf. Milligan, 57)” (Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” in Ephesians–Philemon [vol. 12 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006], 415). Thomas’s pronounced dispensationalism colors his interpretation of this verse. He takes the phrase “bring with him” to mean a reference to the rapture into heaven (though he carefully avoids the word ‘rapture’ in this section).

[12] Cf. Gary Shogren, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, ZECNT (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 182: “…this is an example of evidence – inference, where ‘the speaker infers something (the apodosis) from some evidence’.”

[13] Verlyn D. Verbrugge, “1 Corinthians,” in Romans–Galatians (vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 311.

[14] Frederic Louis Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, trans. A. Cusin, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1889), 307.

[15] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 221. The author came to this understanding through the genitive use of “through Jesus” (dia» touv ∆Ihsouv, Jesus being in the genitive case). The great John Eadie seems to have come to a similar conclusion, see John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians (London: MacMillan & Co., 1877; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1977), 152.

[16] Craig A. Evans, Luke (NIBC 3; Accordance electronic ed. 18 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 249.

[17] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51–24:53 (BECNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1.371.

[18] Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 206.

[19] Cf. Thorwald Lorenzen, “A Biblical Meditation on Luke 16:19–31,” ExpT 87 (1975):39–43. Contrast Jeremias’s bland, reductionistic one main point: “in the face of this challenge of the hour, evasion is impossible” (Parables, p. 182).

[20] Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 207. In his footnote, he adds: “At the opposite end of the spectrum, Donald Guthrie, New Testament Theology (Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1981), p. 820, remarks: “the only certain fact about the afterlife which emerges from the parable is the reality of its existence.” But surely one must add at least that there are both irreversibly good and unalterably evil possibilities for this life.”

Larger Catechism, #79

The Larger Catechism

Question 79

79.       Q. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?

A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God,[342] and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance,[343] their inseparable union with Christ,[344] his continual intercession for them,[345] and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them,[346] can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace,[347] but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.[348]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[342] Jeremiah 31:3. The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. [343] 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. Hebrews 13:20-21. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Samuel 23:5. Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow. [344] 1 Corinthians 1:8-9. Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. [345] Hebrews 7:25. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Luke 22:32. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. [346] 1 John 3:9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 John 2:27. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. [347] Jeremiah 32:40. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. John 10:28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. [348] 1 Peter 1:5. Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.



This instructive question ponders something we have all considered — “Will I make it to the end?” The question also assumes the sad failures all believers have experienced. Our imperfections, the numerous temptations that confront us, and the actual grievous sins into which we fall make us wonder if any one of us will make it unto the end. Given these experiences, the answer, if left to ourselves, would be an unequivocal NO! None of us will persevere.

The question addresses “true believers” and not gospel hypocrites. The Larger Catechism does not ask, “Will any of those who profess faith in Christ fall away from the state of grace?” If this were the question, then the answer would be an unequivocal YES. Some in the church will fall away from the state of grace. The question assumes the existence of true believers in the midst of many professors of faith (pretenders, self-deceived, ignorant, etc.).


Our Personal Observations?

For some, this question seems to contradict what appears to be patently obvious. Surely, we have all met with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and members of the church who fell away from the faith. No one can deny these observations. But our observations cannot determine the genuineness of someone’s faith. Were they “true believers”?

Many have argued as a theological axiom that the possibility of apostasy (falling) always remains in believers. Philip Limborch stated,

We maintain that, notwithstanding divine grace, by which a believer may persevere in faith, there remains in man a power of falling away, and, therefore, that a believer may totally lose his faith and regeneration, and may continue in apostasy to the end of his life, and so eternally perish.[1]

 Limborch does not emphatically state “true believers” (though he no doubt had them in mind).  Other Arminian statements more emphatically affirm the genuine possibility of apostasy among true believers.

True believers may apostatize from the true faith, and fall into such sins as are inconsistent with true and justifying faith; nay, it is not only possible for them to do so, but it frequently comes to pass. True believers may by their own fault become guilty of great and abominable crimes, and may continue and die in the same, and consequently may finally fall into perdition.[2]

 No consolations can be gleaned from such statements. These Arminians fear carnal security so the threat and reality of apostasy must be published to warn believers. For some, the nature of being human (created in God’s image) necessitates the possibility of falling away (freedom of the will).[3]


True Believers and God’s Love

The LC begins the answer with, “True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God…” Those who are God’s elect, the true believers, will not totally and finally fall away because of God’s unchangeable love. The answer does not focus on the special powers of the true believers but on God’s unchangeable love. The temptations and falls of believers are sufficient enough to undo us. We do not keep ourselves in God; He keeps us. Jeremiah 31:3 states, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” God’s covenant faithfulness (his dRs`Dj) continues in spite of their unfaithfulness. God’s everlasting love stands in stark contrast to the other “everlasting” references in the previous chapters: “eternal dishonor” (20:11) and “everlasting reproach” (23:40) — these God threatened against those who opposed Him. But God’s everlasting love serves as the basis and reason for His people’s continuance — on account of his unchangeable love, they will not fall away.


True Believers and God’s Decree and Covenant

In God’s great everlasting love, He decreed that genuine believers would persevere. This gift of perseverance comes to us as true partakers of the covenant of grace: “True believers, by reason of … his decree and covenant to give them perseverance…” In 2 Tim. 2:19, Paul declares something that can be easily downplayed or overlooked (because the context is neglected): “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.”” The false teachers were upsetting the faith of some (v. 18) but God’s foundation stands, namely, His church (cf. 1Tim. 3:15) or most likely His eternal decree (as our divines seems to have taken this verse to mean): “The apostle’s assertion is, that, notwithstanding the existence of such cases as he had just mentioned of defection from the truth and the consequent loss of salvation, there is a firm or strong foundation of God which remains steadfast.”[4]

That foundation bears God’s seal — “Seals were used commonly to identify legal ownership of property and, like signatures in modern practice, to guarantee authenticity, genuineness and integrity or to preserve the secrecy of the contents of a letter or of some product.”[5] In this context, God’s seal represents those who are His and those who are not. The phrase Paul uses echoes Numbers 16:5 (Korah’s rebellion) — in the midst of defections, God’s eternal foundation will stand bearing His seal which states that God knows who are who are not His people.

God’s known people are in an “everlasting covenant” through Christ’s shed blood (“Now  may the God of peace  who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,  the great shepherd of the sheep, by  the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will,  working in us  that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,  to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Heb. 13:20-21; cf. 2Sam. 23:5) and God will enable them to live holy lives well pleasing to Him. God has made them His through Christ who died and rose again for them in terms of the everlasting covenant — the fruit of which is that they would be sanctified (equipping them to do His will). Believers will not fall away from the state of grace because the eternal covenant will enable them to persevere by equipping us “with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight…


True Believers and the Union with Christ

“True believers, by reason of … their inseparable union with Christ” will not fall away. God has called them into fellowship with His Son and will them us to the end (1 Cor. 1:8, 9, “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”) Believers have fellowship or union with their Lord and on account of that, Paul taught that they will be sustained to the end and “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God will sustain them to the end because He is faithful — faithfully enabling them to have fellowship with Christ. This vital fellowship with Christ will keep believers — Ridgley states that in this union, Jesus is the believer’s “vital head, from whom they receive spiritual life and influence; so that as long as they abide in him, their spiritual life is maintained as derived from him.”[6]


True Believers and Christ’s Intercession

“True believers, by reason of … his continual intercession for them” will not totally and finally fall away. Our living Lord intercedes for us. [See our study of Christ’s intercession in previous studies on the LC.] Verses used to support this are Heb. 7:25 and Lk. 22:32: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Luke records these words of our Lord, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

We will not fall away since God will save us to the uttermost. We are told what means God uses: “because Christ intercedes for us.” “The direct result of his intercessory activity is the sustaining of the people and the securing of all that is necessary to the eschatological salvation mentioned in the previous clause.”[7] John MacArthur helpfully stated the following:

 The security of our salvation is Jesus’ perpetual intercession for us. We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. But just as Jesus has power to save us, He has power to keep us. Constantly, eternally, perpetually Jesus Christ intercedes for us before His Father. Whenever we sin He says to the Father, “Put that on My account. My sacrifice has already paid for it.” Through Jesus Christ, we are able to “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In His Son we are now blameless in the Father’s sight. When we are glorified we will be blameless in His presence.[8]


True Believers and the Holy Spirit and the Seed of God

“True believers, by reason of … the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them” cannot finally fall away. God’s seed remains in us (1Jn. 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”) as does His Spirit (1Jn. 2:27, the Holy Spirit is the “anointing”). The principle of life (“seed”) exists in us on account of the new birth (“he has been born of God”). We have all received the Spirit (1Jn. 2:27, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”).

The “seed” language suggests parentage and genealogy. A new life principle from God came into us and now operates within us. Boice says that “God’s seed” (spe÷rma aujtouv) refers to “the very nature of God abiding in the Christian.” MacArthur writes of “the principle of His divine life.” He says, “Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.” God would not give birth to children He will not keep; He neither has bastards nor rejects. If we are born of God, then we will endure unto the end.

The Spirit implanted the principle of life and also dwells in us. His presence means He is the “down payment” of the eternal inheritance to come. If we have Him in us, we will endure unto the end. Ridgley offers further reflections on what is implied from having the Spirit dwell in us.

We may add, that there are several fruits and effects of the Spirit’s dwelling in the soul, which afford an additional proof of this doctrine. Thus believers are said to have ‘the first-fruits of the Spirit;’ [Rom. 8:23] that is, they have those graces wrought in them which are the beginning of salvation; and as the first-fruits are a part of the harvest which will follow, these are the foretastes of the heavenly blessedness which God would never have bestowed upon them had he not designed to preserve them from apostasy. Moreover, believers are said to be ‘sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of their inheritance.’ [Eph. 1:13, 14] The earnest, as given by men, is generally deemed a part of payment; and upon any receiving it, they are satisfied that they shall, at last, receive the full reward. And shall believers miss of the heavenly blessedness, who have such a glorious pledge and earnest of it? Again, if we consider ‘the Spirit’ as ‘bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;’ and that ‘they shall be glorified together’ with him; [Rom. 8:16, 17] is this testimony invalid, or not to be depended on? Yet it could not be depended on were it possible for them to fall from a state of grace.[9]


Neither Totally nor Finally

The last part of the answer states, “can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” Why do the divines state “totally and finally”? Why not one or the other? Believers can fall partially but not totally. They can go away for a time (or temporarily) but they will not finally fall away. Johannes Geerhardus Vos said,  “These words imply that true believers may partially and temporarily fall away from the state of grace. As a matter of fact, this partial and temporary falling away is taught in the Bible as a possibility,
and it can be observed among Christian people in our own day.”

John Dick says that these two phrases counter the Arminian scheme: “but they are intended to oppose the doctrine of Arminians, who affirm, that although a saint may fall totally from grace, he may be restored by repentance; but that since this is uncertain, and does not always take place, he may also fall finally, and die in his sins.”[10] Whether the divines had this in mind or not, we cannot be certain but the two words are required to explain the final preservation of the saints.

God’s everlasting covenant ensures that we cannot totally and finally fall away — “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.  And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer. 32:40) The verse first teaches us not that we won’t turn away but rather, God will not turn away from us. And in turn, as God does us good, God Himself will enable us not to turn from Him. Jesus’ statement irrefutably teaches us that believers will never perish: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:28) We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1:5).

The LC answer emphasizes God’s role in preserving us. We should be comforted and encouraged by these truths. If this truth produces laziness and carnal ease and security, then we can be assured that we have not rightly understood this doctrine. We may be in danger of indicating that we are not true believers. “Let us endeavour not only to persevere, but to grow in grace. These two blessings are joined together; as it is said, ‘The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.’[Job 17:9]” (Ridgley, 2:193-4)

[1] Limborch, Theol. Lib. v. cap. lxxx, cited in Dick’s Lectures on Theology, 2:283.

[2] Confession of Remonstrants, as quoted in Brandt’s History of the Reformation in the Low Countries, vol. iii. p. 89, cited in Dick’s Lectures on Theology, 2:283.

[3] See F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 314ff.

[4] Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Translation With Introduction, Expository Notes, and Dissertations (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1874), 348.

[5] Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 531.

[6] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 172.

[7] William L. Lane, Hebrews 1–8 (WBC 47A; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 190.

[8] John MacArthur, Hebrews (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Accordance electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 201.

[9] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 174.

[10] John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 2:284.

Larger Catechism, #77

The Larger Catechism

Question 77

77.       Q. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification,[330] yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ;[331] in sanctification of his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof;[332] in the former, sin is pardoned;[333] in the other, it is subdued:[334] the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation[335] the other is neither equal in all,[336] nor in this life perfect in any,[337] but growing up to perfection.[338]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[330] 1 Corinthians 6:11. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 1:30. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. [331] Romans 4:6, 8. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works…. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. [332] Ezekiel 36:27. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. [333] Romans 3:24-25. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. [334] Romans 6:6, 14. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. [335] Romans 8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. 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. [336] 1 John 2:12-14. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. Hebrews 5:12-14. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. [337] 1 John 1:8, 10. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. [338] 2 Corinthians 7:1. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Philippians 3:12-14. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.



Confusing these two important doctrines leads not only to heresy but also consigns one to a miserable spiritual life. Observing careful distinctions between justification and sanctification enables the believer to understand his standing and calling. Murky thoughts on these matters affect us practically. Clarity is required. These are not trivial matters; they go at the heart of the gospel.

We are well aware of our “sanctification” or the lack thereof. This doctrine stares us in the face — we cannot avoid its reality. We know if we are growing in grace and if we are not. In a sense (though not completely), we can say that we recognize this doctrine by sight whereas the doctrine of justification is by faith. We are justified by faith alone and we also recognize our justification as an act of faith. Something of sanctification can be seen but justification is a declaration before God to be received by faith. For this reason, we tend to size up our justification in terms of our sanctification and this can only lead to misery.


Same and Different

There are several ways in which they are the same. Both of these benefits come to us by God’s grace. These benefits are found in all God’s children and therefore each child of God is justified and sanctified. They are inseparably joined in the elect of God, as the LC says, Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification… One cannot be justified and not sanctified; one cannot be declared righteous while at the same time not progressively made holy. The two verses used to prove this simple point are 1Cor. 6:11 and 1 Cor. 1:30. Paul says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The Corinthians were both sanctified and justified. Jesus “became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Cor. 1:30). The Savior who justified us is the same Lord who sanctifies us.

From the connection which there is between justification and sanctification, we infer that no one has ground to conclude that his sins are pardoned, and that he shall be saved, while he is in an unsanctified state. For as such a supposition tends to turn the grace of God into wantonness; so it separates what he has joined together, and, in those who entertain it, is a certain evidence that they are neither justified nor sanctified. Let us therefore give diligence to evince the truth of our justification, by our sanctification; or that we have a right and title to Christ’s righteousness, by the life of faith, and the exercise of all those other graces which accompany or flow from it.[1]

 Though “inseparably joined”, the two radically differ from each other. Justification and sanctification differ in the following ways[2]

Justification is:

1. An act of God’s free grace.

2. An act by which God imputes Christ’s righteousness.

3. An act in which God pardons sin.

4. Total and equal in all cases.

5. Complete and perfect in this life.

6. A judicial verdict which frees from condemnation and awards eternal life.

Sanctification is:

1. A work of God’s free grace.

2. A work by which God infuses grace and power.

3. A work in which God subdues sin.

4. Different in degree in different persons.

5. Incomplete and imperfect in this life.


Impute vs. Infuse

What stands out are the two different verbs, impute and infuse. The LC says, “yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification of his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof…” In justification, God “accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight” (LC #70).[3] God accounts Christ’s righteousness as our own. The word “impute” comes from the Latin imputare which means to ‘enter into an account.’ We are considered, accounted, legally viewed as righteous in God’s sight. Rom. 4:6, 8 states, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works…. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” In the ESV, “to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.”

In sanctification, the person is already accounted righteous (his justification) and enabled to walk in a holy manner like Ezek. 36:27 states, “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” The divines use the phrase “his Spirit infuseth grace” – that is, He puts into us grace and enables us to act upon that energy. Ridgley says, “the graces of the Spirit are wrought and excited in us.” John Dick helpfully develops this distinction:

In justification, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us; in sanctification, an inherent righteousness is communicated; and upon the whole it appears, that in justification we receive a title to heaven, and by sanctification we are prepared for it, or “made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”[4]

Justification imputes Christ’s righteousness and sanctification infuses the power to live a holy life. Justification is done for us and sanctification is done in us. Conversely, sanctification does not justify us; our justification is not based on our sanctification.[5]

So in sanctification, we really do become holy; in justification, we really are not made personally righteous in the truest sense. John Dick put it like this,

To be really righteous, and to be righteous by imputation, or, in the language of our church, to be accepted as righteous, are, I presume, two things exceedingly different. Jesus Christ himself is truly, and in the strictest sense, righteous; but those who believe in him are only accounted righteous.[6]

Pardoned and Subdued

These benefits that come to us in our union with Christ relate to sin. They relate to it differently: in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued…” In justification, our sins are forgiven or pardoned (in addition to imputing Christ’s righteousness to us; see Rom. 4:7, 8; cf. Ps. 32:1, 2 where justification and forgiveness are related). For Christ’s sake, God forgives our sins and does not count them against us but declares us righteous in His sight. The same person thus forgiven is not left unchanged. The other blessing that inseparably comes to believers has to do with his ability to overcome and subdue sin. As Romans 6:6, 14 says, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” The believer has pardoned sins and power over sin. Ridgley says, “The former takes away its guilt; the latter its reigning power. When sin is pardoned, it shall not be our ruin; yet it gives us daily disturbance and uneasiness, makes work for repentance, and is to be opposed by our dying to it, and living to righteousness.”[7]

As God forgives us of our sins, He also enables us to fight sin. Sin shall not have dominion over us. Believers no longer live in or for sin. He has died to sin; he has been pardoned of and rescued from his sin.


Equal and Unequal

Justification does not come to us in “degrees.” It is not a process but a completed action. The LC says, “the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.”

Each believer no longer lives under the judicial wrath of God. We are all equally free from the revenging wrath of God. We are perfectly or completely free from the wrath of God in this life and will never fall back into condemnation. No brother is less under God’s wrath than another; no believer is accounted more righteous than another. Justification admits of no degree; we are completely and perfectly forgiven, declared righteousness and no longer under the wrath of God. When it comes to justification, God has no favorites. Romans 8:33, 34 states, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” God views all His elect as a class. They are all justified; none are condemned. Dick’s words, once again, bring clarity, “The one, therefore, is called an act, to signify that it is perfected at once; the other is called a work, to signify that it is progressive. Justification being an act passed in a moment, is equal in all believers; sanctification exists in different degrees of advancement in different individuals.”[8] If not equal, then Christ is no longer the sole ground of our justification; the inequality can only be found in the individual. Ridgley explains why this is important,

Were it not so, a person might be said to be justified, and not have a right to eternal life, which implies a contradiction; for though he might be acquitted, as to the guilt charged upon him by one indictment, he would be condemned by that which is contained in another. We may hence infer, that all justified persons have an equal right to conclude themselves discharged from guilt, and the condemning sentence of the law of God; though all cannot see their right to claim this privilege by reason of the weakness of their faith.[9]

Once justified, always justified; once justified, completely justified; once justified, equally justified; once justified, never condemned. The practical point behind this must not be overlooked. Every believer has equally changed his status in relation to God. God does not half justify some believers and completely justify others. John Calvin is no more justified than you. Christ is our righteousness; none of us have more of it than another — His righteousness is credited to all of us. The “no condemnation” equally applies to all believers by faith alone in Christ alone.

Do we not sometimes imagine that the better saint somehow will be more justified before God — that his acceptance and acquittal will be more just, more sure, more majestic, etc.? Justification is not like getting on a plane with a ticket. One person gets on with an economy class ticket while the other with the first class ticket. We all receive first class tickets because it is Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.

Lastly, unlike justification, sanctification is progressive: “the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.” We have some who are mature and some who are babes in Christ (cf. 1Jn. 2:12-14; Heb. 5:12-14). Sanctification is not equal in all of us. But none of us will be perfectly sanctified in this life (1Jn. 1:8, 10) but we must all grow up into that perfection (Phil. 3:12-14; 2 Cor. 7:1).

The next two questions explain how this imperfection can exist in believers. Yet we can draw one simple lesson from this.  True believers truly justified will not say, “If I can’t be perfect and will never come close, then what is the use of trying?” True acknowledgement of God’s grace (once experienced) compels the child of God to fear offending God. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Cor. 7:1)



Vos well summarized why this distinction is so important for us. Our generation may charge us of being too precise (guilty of theological hair-splitting). This distinction rightly separates Protestants from Catholics and also helps true believers to place their faith in Christ alone for their justification. Without this distinction, we cannot have assurance and comfort.

This distinction is extremely important for the life, because there is always some tendency to confuse these two things. The person who thinks that justification includes all the sanctification he needs, so that he need not seek personal holiness of character and life, stands in peril because he is not truly justified. On the other hand, the person who thinks that sanctification includes all the justification he needs stands in peril because lie is trying to save himself by good works. Thus the distinction between justification and sanctification is extremely important in avoiding the two extremes of antinomianism and legalism. The true believer will avoid both of these extremes, and will realize that justification is the foundation of his salvation, while sanctification is the fruit of his salvation. We should hold and teach the whole Bible truth about both of these great doctrines, noting carefully their similarities and differences, and the relation between the two. (Vos, 177 emphasis added)

[1] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153.

[2] The following outline is taken from Johannes G. Vos, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002), 174-175.

[3] See our study on LC #70, “What is justification?”

[4] John Dick, vol. 2, Lectures on Theology (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1850), 235.

[5] Roman Catholics say the exact opposite — “justification is wholly and fully accomplished by the infusion of sanctifying grace.” See Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss, Grace, Actual and Habitual: A Dogmatic Treatise, Dogmatic Theology (Toronto: W. E. Blake & Son, 1919), 322.

[6] John Dick, vol. 2, Lectures on Theology (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1850), 203.

[7] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153.

[8] John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 2:235 (emphasis added).

[9] Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, 2:153-154.

Larger Catechism, #76

The Larger Catechism

Question 76

76.       Q. What is repentance unto life?

A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace,[320] wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit[321] and Word of God,[322] whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger,[323] but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins,[324] and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent,[325] he so grieves for[326] and hates his sins,[327] as that he turns from them all to God,[328] purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.[329]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[320] 2 Timothy 2:25. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. [321] Zechariah 12:10. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. [322] Acts 11:18, 20-21. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life…. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. [323] Ezekiel 18:28, 30, 32. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…. Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin…. For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. Luke 15:17-18. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. Hosea 2:6-7. Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. [324] Ezekiel 36:31. Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. Isaiah 30:22. Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornament of thy molten images of gold: thou shalt cast them away as a menstruous cloth; thou shalt say unto it, Get thee hence. [325] Joel 2:12-13. Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. [326] Jeremiah 31:18-19. 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. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth. [327] 2 Corinthians 7:11. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. [328] Acts 26:18. To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Ezekiel 14:6. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. 1 Kings 8:47-48. Yet if they shall bethink themselves in the land whither they were carried captives, and repent, and make supplication unto thee in the land of them that carried them captives, saying, We have sinned, and have done perversely, we have committed wickedness; And so return unto thee with all their heart, and with all their soul, in the land of their enemies, which led them away captive, and pray unto thee toward their land, which thou gavest unto their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name. [329] Psalm 119:6, 59, 128. Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments…. I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies…. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way. Luke 1:6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 2 Kings 23:25. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.



We tend to think of repentance unto life as the work of grace in the heart that emerges right at conversion. Faith and repentance go together. Quite often, we focus on those two in terms of one’s conversion, justification, etc.  Yet, the LC lists justification (#70), adoption (#74), and sanctification (#75) prior to “repentance unto life.” This question assumes that the person is justified, adopted and in Christ sanctified. Repentance unto life is an expression of sanctification, a development of “those graces…stirred up” (#75). After sanctification, the SC does not ask the question about repentance unto life until later on. The phrase is not used in the SC until #85 & 87. In those questions, the divines highlight its initial expression in conversion, “What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?” (#85) Repentance unto life is part of the answer and it is defined in #87.

It seems clear that repentance unto life is expressed at the beginning of our spiritual lives as well as subsequent to it. That is, repentance unto life permeates our entire existence because full sanctification (glorification) awaits us. Repentance exemplifies true believers. Zachary Crofton said that repentance “is a habit, power, principle, spring, root, and disposition; not a bare, single, and transient action, as the Papists and some ignorant souls do imagine…Repentance is not the work of an hour, or a day; but a constant frame, course, and bent of the soul, on all renewed guilt flowing afresh, and bringing forth renewed acts.”[1] This observation is important because repentance reveals the true bent of the soul. All can profess faith but genuine repentance cannot be mimicked because it springs from a renewed nature. It is not perfection but penitence that matters; it is not regret unto despair but repentance unto life that matters.


Repentance is a Saving Grace

Like all of these questions, repentance unto life is also a saving grace. Repentance unto life is not the work of man though it is his duty; he is required to do what he cannot perform. Because man is a sinner, he must repent. It is not something that can be side stepped or rushed through; it is at the heart of the sinner and saint coming to grips with who he really is. Repentance unto life implies that there exists a form of repentance that is not unto life. Vain regrets, despairing remorse, etc. abound in our lives. Not one person can look at his life and claim he has nothing to for which he must repent. Paul distinguishes between a “godly grief” and a “worldly grief” in 2Cor. 7:10, “For godly grief (ἡ γὰρ κατὰ θεὸν λύπη, literally, grief or sorrow according to God) produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief (ἡ δὲ τοῦ κόσμου λύπη) produces death.” The Corinthians “grieved into repenting” (2Cor. 7:9, ἐλυπήθητε εἰς μετάνοιαν) and verse 11 explains what that repentance looked like: “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” That is the kind of repentance we are to exhibit.

Repentance is not natural to us; we are naturally adverse to it. Therefore, God must grant this ability. In 2Tim. 2:25, 26 Paul says to young Timothy, “God may perhaps grant them repentance (μήποτε δώῃ αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς μετάνοιαν) leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” It is God who must give or grant repentance. Repentance is God’s gift and it is up to Him to bestow it if and when He pleases (“perhaps” μήποτε). Also, the phrase literally translated means “repentance unto the knowledge of the truth” (μετάνοιαν εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας). In this context, it is not enough to simply repent of error but also to affirm the truth. Both steps make up the one repentance. When God grants repentance, He enables a man to admit his error and to embrace the truth. That is what the LC underscores in its answer.


The Spirit and Word in Repentance

Since repentance unto life is a saving grace, it follows that God produces it: wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God. In the OT, The Holy Spirit will enable the sinner to cry out unto God for mercy and mourn (Zech. 12:10): “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced [cf. Jn. 19:37], they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”[2] We see this pouring out in Acts 2. The Spirit enables them to repent and He convicts them. The “Spirit of grace and pleas for mercy” (or, “of grace and supplication”), means that new believers will be enabled to ask for mercy — which is another way of expressing repentance.

This Spirit of God is one of “grace and supplication.” “Grace” (hen) is often used to denote the favor a person receives and enjoys with another person (e.g., Gen. 30:27), even someone in authority over them, such as the king (e.g., Est. 8:5) or God (e.g., Gen. 6:8). “Supplication” (tahanunim) is linked to the same root as the first term, but in this case denotes seeking favor from God (e.g., Ps. 28:2, 6), which in the later period of Israel’s history appears in texts guiding the penitential response of the people (2 Chron. 6:21; 31:9; Dan. 9:3, 17, 18, 23). These terms highlight two aspects of the ministry of God’s Spirit: granting his people favor with himself through renewed relationship and invigorating them to respond to him in penitence.[3]

As the Spirit convicts, He also uses His truth. The Spirit often brings about repentance unto life with His truth. Vos says, “Repentance unto life is not wrought by the Spirit alone without the Word, nor by the Word alone without the Spirit, but by the two together, the Holy Spirit using and applying the truth of the Word.” (171) The divines use Acts 11:18, 20-21 to prove this point. The setting is most instructive. The angel told Cornelius to go to Joppa, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 11:13, 14) When the Spirit fell on them, the judgment of the church was, “When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying,  “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”” Here is the exact phrase; the granting of the Spirit through the preaching of the message all meant (as they received it) that “God has granted repentance that leads to life” (ὁ θεὸς τὴν μετάνοιαν εἰς ζωὴν ἔδωκε). The Gospel was preached; the Spirit was poured out and this event is summarized as God granting repentance unto life.[4]

The Spirit uses the truth to grant repentance; it is not a work that happens in a void. Something has to impact the mind and heart of a person. Repentance is wrought in the heart by the Spirit as He takes the truth preached, read, brought to mind, etc. Every feeling of guilt does not indicate the granting of repentance. We are created in God’s image and our moral sense of right and wrong, feeling guilty and feeling righteous, etc. only reveal we are human beings created in God’s image.


Sight and Sense of Sin[5]

Repentance always has to do with sin. In fact, we come to terms to the true nature of sin: “whereby, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins…” Two elements included in this answer must always be present. The first is the sight and sense of the danger of sin. The person realizes his course of action is no longer safe. His happy-go-lucky life turns to a life of alarm bells and warning signs.  From the preaching of the Word, the sinner recognizes that death and ruin await him (cf. Ezek. 18:28, 30, 32, text above). This is not the only thing but it is part of it. Notice how the divines phrased it, “out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger…of his sins.” He sees his path of life differently; he has a clear sight of it; he senses dread and danger awaiting him.[6] The Ninevites saw and sensed what was threatened. They “believed God” (2:5) and repented and said, “God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (2:9) There was a sight of that danger! That is not enough but it is necessary. Many are afraid of the consequences of their actions because of the shame and dishonor it might bring them; they see some danger in their actions and turn from it only because of the consequences. That is good but not sufficient. As Ridgeley said,

Repentance, of what kind soever it be, includes a sense of sin. But if the sense of sin be such as an unregenerate person may have, it includes little more than a sense of the danger and misery which he has exposed himself to by sins committed. The principal motives leading to it are the threatenings which the law of God denounces against those who violate it. Destruction from God is a terror to him who has such a sense of sin; and if this were not the consequence of sin, he would be so far from repenting of it, that it would be the object of his chief delight.[7]

The second is the sight and sense of the sheer filthiness and odiousness of our sins (“out of the sight and sense…of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins”). The repenting sinner sees and senses sin’s danger and sin’s depravity. They not only fear sin’s consequences but also see sin for what it is, its wicked filthiness (its nature) and how obnoxious it is to God (odious to themselves as well as to God). Let us reflect on the verses used to support this definition. Ezek. 36:31 says, “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.” One commentator said that “the people will remember their former practices, immorality and idolatry, and will “loathe” themselves (v. 31). This terminology was used in 6:9 to describe Israel’s repentance in exile. Here and in 20:43 it describes their feeling of revulsion after the return when they would recall their former life-style.”[8] We don’t boast about our sins against God; we see them and a “feeling of revulsion” grips us. This breeds humility and praise. We see it and are humbled; we see its sheer wickedness and adore God for his matchless mercy. If we do not see its odiousness, then we be drawn back to it. We must labor to see its filthy and odious nature.

The other verse used to support the definition of repentance is Isaiah 30:22, “Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”” The repenting sinner defiles his darling wicked sins he once treasured and nursed. The beautiful idols (“with silver and gold-plated metal images”) will be treated with disdain. Repentance means the person sees his sins for what it is.


Legal and Evangelical Repentance

A vast difference exists between legal and evangelical repentance.[9] Though the LC does not utilize those terms yet the LC definitions faithfully render what has traditionally been called legal and evangelical repentance. Legal repentance takes into account only the threats and judgments (some speak of seeing the gospel as a “fire insurance”); out of fear and dread, the sinner repents. This legal repentance is always short lived. This also could be called “law work” (and may in fact be preparatory to evangelical repentance).  Edward Veal in his sermon “What is the Danger of Death-Bed Repentance?” speaks of evangelical repentance proceeding from “an apprehension and belief in the mercy of God in Christ Jesus to them that do repent.” Furthermore, he adds:

Though the terrors of the law may help to drive men from sin, yet there must be gospel-attractives to draw them to God, either in a way of faith or repentance. Who will dare to trust him from whom he expects no mercy, or care for serving him from whom he looks for no acceptance? Hence it is that God’s mercy is used as the grand motive to persuade men to repentance: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2.) And, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isai. 55:7.)[10]

This is how our LC defines evangelical repentance — and upon the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to such as are penitent…” This is indispensable. One may bewail his sins and yet never change. “They are full of conviction and seeming contrition; but never reach unto conversion. They lament sin; but lie in sin…”[11] The sinner must also apprehend God’s mercy in Christ or his efforts will be in vain. With a knowledge of our sins is the firm belief in and sight of God’s mercy in Christ. Notice how Joel 2:12-13 says it, ““Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” We return to Him who is gracious and merciful. We recognize that God will be merciful to us in Christ.

In Bunyan’s famous and moving autobiography “Grace Abounding,” one reads of this lengthy and heavy law work of humbling. His apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ did not come until later. Though conviction of sin often precedes repentance, it must also come with an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ to the penitent. The last three words are critical, it is to the penitent, to the one who repents and looks to God’s mercy in Christ. Why is this important? Too often, God is simply always forgiving, pardoning, etc. A person simply must accept the fact that God is love and accepting. People may condemn but God doesn’t, we are told. He is ready to forgive; you need to come to terms with this. Don’t condemn yourself; haven’t you heard that there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? All these statements have a thin sliver of truth to them. God is merciful to us in Christ far more than we dare imagine or can even fathom but it is to those who repent. A person defiant and presumptuous will not receive mercy.

Yet, we must restate the point. He is merciful to us in Christ. We must believe that and not despair. He is gracious to us not on the merit of our penitent but merciful to us on account of His mercy in Christ, that his, on the basis and merit of Christ’s finished work. That is the only basis for pardon and mercy.


Grieving and Hating

Of course, the repenting believer also grieves for and hates his sins: “he so grieves for and hates his sins…” That is, genuine repentance entails grief for sin and hatred of the sin. This is different from what we addressed above. The phrase “out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins” has more to do with our estimation of the sin before God. We judge it as God does. But grieving and hating it pertain to our personal reactions to sin. We grieve over it because we sinned against God (and not find satisfaction in having committed it). For example, an adulterer may recognize his sin was dangerous and odious and yet in his heart, he feels quite relieved and satisfied in the wickedness in which he indulged. A child may realize he offended his mom for eating the cookie he was told not to but secretly conclude that the offense was worth the pleasure of eating the chocolate chip cookies.

Of course we never grieve over them as much as we need to nor hate them as much as we should. There has to be personal grief over the sin as Jer. 31:18, 19 states, “I have heard Ephraim grieving, ‘You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God. For after I had turned away, I relented, and after I was instructed, I struck my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’” In these verses, God hears Ephraim grieving. In these verses, Ephraim combines grief with his recognition of God’s just dealings with him. Grief expressed itself in seeing his defection (“like an untrained calf”):

Ephraim expressed godly sorrow for his sins (vv. 18-19). He prayed for the Lord to help restore him. In grief over his own waywardness, he reviewed the Lord’s dealings with him. He admitted that he has been brought under control by the chastisement of the Lord. At last he recognized the need for repentance before restoration. He was formerly like an untrained calf, refractory and in need of training. Through the Lord’s judgments he learned discipline.[12]

With that grief is hatred towards one’s sin (we saw this in 2Cor. 7:11, see above). Here is where we can easily stumble. What if we love our sins? We grieve over it and we are appalled by the way our hearts lust after the wicked sin for which we are repenting. What do we do? Shall we not repent of that also? Yes! Bewail your dark heart. Bewail your shallow repentance and cast yourself upon Him by saying, “Lord, I pray to you to enable me to hate this sin — I protest against my heart and cry out to you for deliverance. This taint and infection of sin is so deep, I do not hate it as I ought. Will you not forgive? Will you not deliver me from my wicked self? I hate my lack of hatred. O Lord forgive! O Lord help!”


Turning to God

With the grieve and hatred, the Larger Catechism includes in its definition of repentance the following act: “as that he turns from them all to God,” In repentance, one does not simply go back to the way he was. He turns from the sins for which he repented and turns toward God. We read that Paul preached to turn sinners “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God…” (Acts 26:18). We are to turn away from those things that God hates (Ezek. 14:6) and must return unto the Lord (1Kings 8:47-48).[13] This is no small matter.

Both of these acts of the heart and will found in repentance. It is not enough to say, “I’m not going to do it again.” and then continue to entertain the same sin. We flee, we turn away from it so that the temptation is no longer there and with humility we also turn to God. For example, a drunkard might turn away from the bar and life of drunkenness and just try to “sweat” it out. A positive act must also emerge; he must also go to church (as it were) [of course, he in fact needs to turn to God]. We turn from sin and turn to God.


New Obedience

Lastly, the LC adds, “purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.” This is not a life of perfection but the heart’s purposing. Godly resolutions, effort, attempts, purposing, contriving, etc. fill the hearts of the repentant (see the verses cited). “This purpose to walk with God does not so much respect what a person will do hereafter; but it contains a resolution which is immediately put in execution; and so is opposed to the penitent’s former obstinacy, when determining to go on in the way of his own heart.”[14] A great example would be someone like Josiah (2K. 23:25), “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.”

[1] James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 373.

[2] “While it is possible to construe “spirit” in the sense of “disposition,” it seems preferable to follow the NIV margin (and Perowne above) and see here a reference to the Spirit of God. This would be more in keeping with what appear to be parallel passages (Isa 32:15; 44:3; 59:20-21; Jer 31:31, 33; Ezek 36:26-27; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). Because of the convicting work of God’s Spirit, Israel will turn to the Messiah with mourning” (Kenneth Barker, Zechariah (EBC 7; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), n.p.).

[3] Mark J. Boda, Haggai, Zechariah (NIVAC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 472.

[4] In 2Tim. 2:26, God grants repentance unto the knowledge of the truth (μετάνοιαν εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας) and in Acts 11:18, God granted repentance unto life (μετάνοιαν εἰς ζωὴν). In both, God grants repentance from something unto something else (unto the knowledge of the truth; unto life).

[5] The Shorter Catechism summarizes these points with “out of a true sense of his sin” (#87).

[6] Again, we dare not argue that a certain defined amount of seeing and sensing must accompany each person; that he sees and senses it is sufficient.

[7] Thomas Ridgeley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 149.

[8] Lamar Eugene Cooper Sr., Ezekiel (NAC 17; ed. E. Ray Clendenen; Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 317.

[9] For example, see John Owen, Works, 6:369.

[10] James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 4 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 348.

[11] James Nichols, Puritan Sermons, Volume 5 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1981), 396.

[12] Charles L. Feinberg, Jeremiah (EBC 6; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 570.

[13] “Notice the conditions of restoration: a change of heart, i.e., a repentant spirit that leads to confession of sin; a turning back to God with all her heart and soul; and a praying toward the land of her fathers and the temple (trusting in God’s promise; cf. Dan 6:10)” (Richard D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel, 1 and 2 Kings [EBC 4; ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988], 88).

[14] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 151.