Category Archives: Sunday School Lesson

Virtual Worship?

Virtual Worship?

Many articles talk about the benefits of having “virtual worship.” Some sites offer helpful and simple ways to do it.[1] All of them assume its need and its inevitability. One site allows you to download “worship”: “Download if you need some worship for your service!” — you can have this singer with his guitar do “worship” for your church or perhaps in your own home.[2] As often is the case in our modern setting, worship has been reduced to contemporary music. A few of them argue that virtual worship (VW) can actually help the church to reach out. The following example perfectly illustrates the point:

As the website ChurchLeaders explains, some churches fear that live streaming will decrease the in-person attendance of services. However, the opposite is actually true. Around 30 percent of people who watch a live stream event will attend in person the following year. That means that live streaming is one of the best ways to expand your audience. There are also cases wherein churchgoers who watch the services online end up returning to the church. They realized they want to be in the church and start attending again.[3]

All of us recognize that those who are sick, cut off for some reason, etc. can connect through their computers, phones, or tablets. Some in different countries could also connect with local churches in the US if they so desire (or vice versa). We do not deny some of the benefits of VW. But I want to answer some very specific questions in this paper. Can VW replace in-person worship? Are there no differences between the two? All things being equal, could I simply choose VW over physically gathering with the people of God on Sundays? If I do, is there anything wrong with that?

Just as an aside, we recognize that men and women worshiped God privately (on their own or by themselves). We have argued for its necessity and benefits over the years. This study, however, has in view public or corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. Can we replace corporate worship with VW?

The Biblical Pattern

Of course, nobody in the Bible participated in VW.  But if they could, would they have? I want to argue that in general they would not have. Let us look at some of the Biblical passages to get a clear understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this matter.

When God called Israel out of Egypt, He wanted them to come to Him, to physically assemble and worship Him. God told Pharaoh to let the people go out of the land (Ex. 6:11; 7:2), to serve or worship [עָבַד][4] Him in the wilderness (Ex. 7:16; 8:2, 20). Pharaoh permitted them to sacrifice within the land (Ex. 8:25) and then permitted them to sacrifice in the wilderness but only if they did not go far away (Ex. 8:28). However, he changed his mind and would not let them go. Pharoah relented once again but this time without their little ones (Ex. 10:7-11)! He of course changed his mind and said that he would let them go with their little ones but without their flocks and herds (10:24). After the last plague, he let them go, with their little ones, flocks, etc.

When Israel was preparing to leave Egypt, God told them that on the first day of the Passover they were to “hold a holy assembly” (Ex 12:16). When they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai they gathered together as a people and Moses “brought the people out of the camp to meet God” (Ex. 19:17.) As the covenant was inaugurated, the people gathered together at the foot of the mountain. This is how they served or worshipped God, in-person assembly! He redeemed them so they could worship Him in person as a gathered assembly. Later on, we see Moses instructing the people by gathering them together: “Moses assembled all the congregation of the people of Israel and said to them, “These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do.…” (Exodus 35:1). Moses told the priests to “Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law…” (Deuteronomy 31:12). They were to gather together during the Feast of Booths to “appear before the Lord” (31:11). They had to physically assemble before the Lord.

After being established as a nation, Israel assembled before the Lord and were required to routinely gather together before the Lord to sacrifice, worship, etc. The temple was not built by Solomon so the people could virtually connect with it but the temple was the appointed place to worship God in person. At the dedication of the temple, the people assembled and Solomon blessed them (1Kings 8:14). When Ezra rebuilt the temple, after they dedicated it, they worshiped God as a people (Ezra 6:21). Ezra called all the people together at Jerusalem to repent of their sins (intermarriage, 10:7) and they did all assemble (10:9). The point is, assembling together as a people to worship, to be instructed, to act as a covenanted people, etc. was the norm in the OT. That is the way Israel worshiped God, as a gathered people!

The New Covenant did not alter that pattern. Even Jesus met together with the Jews on the Sabbath (Lk. 4:16). Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer (Acts 3:1) and we learn that many people were there (vv. 9, 11, 12, etc.). In Corinth, we read that the Corinthians came together as a church. So we read in 1Cor. 11:18, 20, 34, “When you come together as a church…” The phrase is used three times in that chapter. Paul doesn’t say, “Corinthians, you can all pray and worship at home because God hears you and is omnipresent. You don’t have to come together.” The early church was a gathering church. Earlier before in the epistle, Paul writes to the Corinthians about assembling in the name of the Lord: “When you are assembled (συναχθέντων) in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (1Cor. 5:4).[5] Notice, this assembling together is assumed in the letter. As an apostle, he wanted to regulate what happened when they gathered together. But he assumed this was a regular and necessary occurrence. Assembling together is what the church does; as a body of believers, we assemble in the name of the Lord Jesus. God’s people have always come together AS A CHURCH! Paul rebuked them for what they did when they came together (misused the Lord’s Supper) but not for their coming together. The writer of Hebrews admonished the people for “not neglecting to meet together (τὴν ἐπισυναγωγὴν), as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25). Apparently, these people broke the biblical pattern of meeting together. They probably forsook the assembly because of their fear of persecution (though not justified) but I fear our generation forsakes it because of their indifference and laziness.

In Acts, we learn that Paul was brought to Antioch and he “met with the church” for a whole year (Acts 11:26) — the phrase literally means “to gather together in/as the church” (συναχθῆναι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ).[6] We read about Paul meeting with Christians on Sunday in Acts 20:7: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together (συνηγμένων from συνάγω) to break bread…” The early church gathered together regularly and near the end of the apostolic era, the writer of Hebrews admonished people to not forsake their meeting together.

The people of God were an assembling church, a gathering-together people — they were into in-person worship! That is the biblical pattern, from the OT to the NT. Jesus saved a people and they gather together to worship their Savior and Creator. In fact, during worship we come “to myriads of angels, to the general assembly (πανηγύρει) and church of the firstborn” (Heb. 12:22, 23). In some mysterious sense, we gather with those in heaven. So on Sundays, we continue that biblical pattern, to worship together, to gather together in the name of the Lord Jesus in person and not virtually.

John Murray accurately shows that the OT word for “assembly” (קָהָל) was translated as the “church” (ἐκκλησία) in the Greek OT (the Septuagint, LXX). He shows that the NT use of the church is steeped in and connected to the OT language of assembly. Murray states that the “assembly is the covenant people of God gathered before him (cf. Exod. 19:5-25; 1 Kings 8:14, 22, 55, 65; 1 Chron. 13:2, 4; 28:8; 29:1, 10, 20; 2 Chron. 6:3, 12, 13; 7:8).”[7] Therefore, it is entirely appropriate to see a connection between the OT assembly and the NT church. In short, God’s covenant people in both testatments gathered together to worship God. A consistent pattern existed between the two.

Furthermore, one of the elements in corporate worship is the Lord’s Supper and that cannot be done privately but it must always be practiced in the context of a corporate gathering of the church. We don’t eat the bread virtually or by ourselves by mimicking what is being done on a TV or cell phone screen but we partake by being physically together with the people of God. The 1 Corinthian verses cited above (ch. 11) focus particularly on gathering together for the Lord’s Supper. VW cuts the people away from one of the most valuable means of grace. We simply cannot participate in the body and blood of Christ virtually!

Therefore, to VW is not following the biblical pattern and God’s call. Perhaps at times it might be the only way (e.g., we are all snowed in!) but it is not the norm nor a viable option. VW is not truly worship but watching in-person worship (spectating other people worshipping). God wanted His people to come together into His presence and we should all do that if we are able.

If we choose VW and “neglect to meet together” (Heb. 10:25) when we can and are able, then we sin against what God has called us to do and what has been prescribed as a biblical pattern. VW therefore is not an option for believers but a convenience for those who cannot gather together to worship (sick, infirmed, can’t get there, providentially hindered, etc.). We understand if some cannot physically come to their church to worship and that this alternative is the only thing they have. But those saints have admitted this is not their preference; many of them yearn to be with God’s people but they can’t. They do not have a choice but you do!

Our Lazy Sinful Hearts

I understand the attraction and the preference one has for VW. It is less threatening. You don’t have to meet people, have personal interactions, deal with the foibles and plain oddness of people in church! Other people can easily exhaust us. Therefore, avoiding them on Sundays by virtually worshipping will enable us to maintain sanity and emotional stability! But our Lord calls us to love one another, care for one another, etc. We need each other and God has thrust us unto one another by redeeming us. Those one-anothering passages require that we mingle with them, talk with them, love them and to worship with them as the body of Christ. Gathering together with them to worship must not viewed as a tolerable inconvenience, something less than perfect, etc. but we must see it as the highest expression of God’s redeeming grace in our lives! We were redeemed to worship God together (like Israel was redeemed from Egypt).

You feel much more comfortable both physically and personally. The surroundings in your bedroom or living room with all the nice amenities (comfortable couch, cushy pillows, in socks without shoes, etc.) easily outstrip the supposed austere conditions in the church (those pews don’t even have back cushions!!!). You feel personally more comfortable because you remain in your element and you control the environment. But it does not matter since the Lord has called you to gather together as a people to worship Him! Those amenities can actually become obstacles to spiritual growth and godliness! It costs you nothing!

That takes us to the following point. VW is less demanding and fussy. I don’t have to shower, get in church clothes, get my car warmed up to brave the cold weather, survive the downpour, endure the scorching summer heat, dress my children and round them up, etc. I don’t “waste” valuable time on the road getting to church and I don’t have to pick a bowtie (or a dress, suite, etc.) for Sunday! Preparing for the Super Bowl, World Cup, or World Series requires more effort than relaxing on the porch to VW!!!! But brothers and sisters, surely you see the fallacy here? It costs you nothing to worship your glorious Lord who gave His life for you. You prepare for work five to six days a week much more than you prepare for VW!!!! Surely your God is worth more than that!!!!

Our sinful lazy hearts can easily rule the day in VW. Catering to the flesh is never safe and in this case, it is dangerous. In heaven, in-person worship will capture our hearts forever and we will be enabled to delight in it (as glorified saints). In-person worship therefore is the “ideal” and that should be our preference and practice in the present while we wait for our Lord’s return.

The Illusion of Safety and Health

We understand COVID-19 was unique and that the government required many churches to shut down (except in a few states, like Pennsylvania). For the sake of our health, many had argued that “charity” required that we not meet. Our health and safety are more important than gathering together before our gracious Lord.  We can VW, they say, and we should continue to do that until we can all be safe and healthy. How easily the churches folded like a house of cards under this logic.

How long can we do this? One year? Two? Five? What if COVID-19 can’t be contained? What if another plague is unleashed? Did we quit work? Did we give up our entertainment? Did we stop living our lives? Many gave up gathering together to worship and did so quickly with little resistance or angst. They didn’t give up other things but they did abandon gathering together to worship God way too easily.

We must remember, we will NEVER be perfectly safe and healthy in this world. It is an illusion with which we have all lived. When COVID is lifted, we can still contract all kinds of diseases, unbeknownst to us. In our drive to the church, we can get into a car crash and die. In walking down the stairs at home, trip and break our necks. In eating breakfast, we could easily choke to death. In shaking someone’s hand, we could instantaneously get infected with something which neither they nor we knew about. These examples can abound. Brothers and sisters, we are in the Lord’s hands and we gather together because He calls us to and we must entrust our souls to Him.

In the OT, Israelites (the men) had to leave their houses and land to gather in-person in the place appointed by God (about three times a year, Deut. 16:16-17). They had to trust God to protect their families and properties to do that. They did not have jets to fly to Jerusalem and return the same day. It was an arduous and demanding task but it was what God required of them. To gather with God’s people to worship Him requires faith! It is a privilege some nations do not have.

Questions and Statements to Discuss

•But my church isn’t safe. They aren’t as careful as I would like them to be. I want to play it safe and stay home.

•We must obey what the State tells us to do and they are better equipped to tell us when it would be safe for us to worship together.

•Out of charity for our brothers, we should play it safe and resort to VW until COVID disappears.

•The church requires a mask and I think that is wrong, so I’m staying home. The church doesn’t require a mask and I think that is foolish and dangerous, so I’m staying home. [I’ve heard both of these arguments!]

•I have benefitted from VW and it seems to work for me!

•I can watch and participate in the service on one screen and watch football on the other! Everyone wins!


•Technical glitches — all is not well and perfect in VW.

•Not all people are tech savvy!

•Even a phone call between friends is a better medium than VW (one is active and the other passive).

•To virtually love our spouses means no love at all. Can VW avoid that?

•Watching a livestream sermon is not sinful but it cannot replace in-person worship. There can be no replacement for in-person worship.

•I’m convinced that a person’s preference for VW over in-person worship means that some spiritual defection has already begun.

•In VW, the spectator controls the time, ambience/environment, the response (can talk over the preacher loudly), the volume (can turn down a portion that makes her uncomfortable), etc. His posture (though controlled in public) speaks volume (lying down with a blanket), etc. VW engenders too much informality and it can easily lead to irreverence.




[4] To “serve” God in the wilderness meant to worship Him there. The LXX translates it as that “so that he would serve/worship me” (ἵνα μοι λατρεύσῃ). The Greek word often means religious service or worship. Israel did in fact go into the wilderness to worship God!

[5] This was about church discipline! That is also the point of Mt. 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered (συνηγμένοι) in my name, there am I among them.” That verse concludes Jesus’ teaching on church discipline (Mt. 18:15-20). Both 1Cor. 5:4 and Mt. 18:20 use the same word συνάγω.

[6] Cf. Acts 13:44 in which the whole city “gathered together” to hear Paul in the synagogue.

[7] John Murray, “The Nature and Unity of the Church,” in Collected Writings of John Murray (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 2:321ff.

[8] Also see

The Larger Catechism #172

The Larger Catechism

Question 172

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

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

Scriptural Support and Exposition

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lack Assurance

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

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

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

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

May Have True Interest in Christ if…

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

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

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

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

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

For the Relief Even of Weak and Doubting Christians

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

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

Bewail and Labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] The doubting beleever, 110ff.

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

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

Practical Lessons from the Book of Job

The following extract comes from Joseph Caryl, a Westminster Assembly divine. I took the text from the 1959 reprint edition with very few minor changes. Our church read this out loud in our Sunday School class and discussed its content. You will find the reading very practical, insightful, and moving. Caryl lists all the major lessons the book of Job teaches us and I’ve not found anything as succinct and helpful as his. John Calvin’s sermons on Job come close but Caryl’s introductory essay to the book of Job remains unparalleled in my judgment.

Practical Lessons from the Book of Job

Joseph Caryl, An Exposition with Practical Observations upon the Book of Job[1]

Now, for the third thing which I proposed, which was the use, or scope, or intention of this book, it aims at our instruction in divers [various] things, first, (which much concerns every Christian to learn), it instructs us how to handle a cross; how to behave ourselves in a conflict, whether outward or inward; what the postures of the spiritual war are; and with what patience we ought to bear the hand of God and his dealings with us. This the apostle James speaks of, —you have heard of the patience of Job, as if he should say, “Do you know why the book of Job was written? Why God in his providence did bring such a thing to pass concerning Job?” It was that all men should take notice of his patience, and might learn the wisdom of suffering, that noble art of enduring.

Job was full of many other excellent graces, and, indeed, had all the graces of the Spirit of God in him; but patience was his principal grace. As it is with natural men, they have every sin in them; but there are some sins which are the master sins, or some one sin, it may be, does denominate a wicked man; sometimes he is a proud man, sometimes he is covetous, sometimes he is a deceiver, sometimes he is an oppressor, sometimes he is unclean, and sometimes he has a profane spirit. He has all sins in him, and they are all reigning in him, but one as it were reigns above the rest and sits uppermost in his heart. So it is with the saints of God, every saint and servant of God has all grace in him; every grace, in some degree or other, for all the limbs and lineaments of the new man are formed together in the soul of those that are in Christ.[2] But there is some special grace which gives the denomination to a servant of God as that which gave the denomination to Abraham was faith, to Moses meekness and to Job patience.

2nd, Another instruction which we are to take from the whole book is this God would have us learn, that afflictions come not by chance, that they are all ordered by providence in the matter, in the manner, and in the measure, both for the kinds and the degrees, they are all ordered, even the very least, by the wisdom, by the hand and the providence of God.

3rd, Another thing which we are to learn generally from this book, is this — the Sovereignty of God; that he has power over us, over our estates, and over our bodies, and over our families, and over our spirits; that he may use us as he pleases, and we must be quiet under his hand; when he comes and will take all from us, all our comforts, we must give all glory to him. This book is written for this especially, to teach us the Sovereignty of God, and the submission of the creature.

4th, It teaches us, that God sometimes afflicts his children out of prerogative; that though there be no sin in them which he makes the occasion of afflicting them — such was Job’s case — yet for exercise of his grace in them, for trial of their graces, or to set them up for patterns to the world, God may and does afflict them. Though no man be without sin, yet the afflictions of many are not for their sins.

5th, There is this general instruction which God would have us learn out of this book, namely, the best gotten and the best founded estate in outward things, is uncertain; that there is no trusting to any creature-comforts. God could unbottom us quite from the creature by holding forth this history of Job to us.

6th, God would also show forth this for our learning — the strength, the unmoveableness of faith, how unconquerable it is, what a kind of omnipotency there is in grace, — God would have all the world take notice of this in the Book of Job, that a godly man is in vain assaulted by friends or enemies, by men or devils, by wants or wounds, though he even be benighted[3] in his spirit, though God himself take away the light of his countenance from him, yet He would have us learn and know, that over all those, a true believer, is more, than a conqueror, for here is one of the greatest battles fought between man and man, between man and hell, yea, between man and God; yet Job went away with a victory; true grace is often assaulted; it never was or shall be overthrown.

7th, This also we may learn, that God never leaves or forsakes his people totally or finally.

Lastly, The book teaches this general lesson, — That the judgments of God are often times very secret, but they are never unjust. That though the creature be not able to give a reason for them, yet there is infinite reason for them.

Such are some of the general lessons which may be deduced from this book. But how unsearchable are God’s judgments, and who can find them out to perfection? This book serves also to confute the slander of worldly men, and Satan, who sometimes affirm that the people of God serve him for their own ends. God did, on purpose, cause these things to be acted, and the history to be written, to stop the mouth of Satan and all iniquity, and to show that his people follow him for love; for the excellency they find in him, and in his service. Though he strip them naked of all they have, yet they will cleave to him.

This history serves to reprove those who judge of men’s spiritual estate by their outward condition, or by some unbecoming and rash speeches uttered when under the hand of God in sore affliction, and refutes the opinion, that a man may fall totally and finally away from grace, and from the favor of God. God has shown by this history, that such an opinion is a lie. If ever any man were in danger of falling quite away from grace received, or might seem to have lost the favor of God formerly shown, surely it was Job; and if he were upheld in the grace of holiness, and continued in the grace of God’s love, notwithstanding all that came upon him; certainly God would have all the world know that free grace will uphold his people forever.

This book also reproves the pride and extreme presumption of those who think to find out the secrets of God’s counsel, the secrets of God’s eternal decrees, the secrets of all his works of providence; whereas, God shows them in this book, that they are not able to find out, or comprehend his ordinary works, those which we call the works of nature, the things of creation, the things that are before them, which they converse with every day, which they see and feel, and have in their ordinary use. They are not able to find out the secrets of the air, of the meteors, of the waters, of the earth, of beasts or birds, everyone of these puts the understanding of man to a stand. How are they able then to find out the counsels of God in his decrees, and purposes, and

judgments? and for that end it is, that God sets forth here so much of the works of nature, that all men may be stopped in that presumptuous way of searching too far into his counsels.

In conclusion, from this book may be deduced the two following exhortations. 1st, We are exhorted to the meditation and admiration of the power and wisdom of God manifested in the creatures. The invisible things of God, from the creation of the world, may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.

2nd, To glorify God in every condition, to have good thoughts of God, to speak good words for God in every condition. We are drawn to this, by considering how Job, though sometimes in the midst of his conflict he overshot himself, yet he recovers again, and breathes sweetly concerning God, showing that his spirit was full of sweetness towards God, even when God was writing bitter things against him; even when he says, though he slay me yet will I trust in him; than which, nothing could express a more holy and submissive frame of spirit, in reference to God’s dealings with him. Surely he thought God was very good, who had that thought of God, to trust him even while he slew him.

From the history of this afflicted saint we may also draw the two following consolations.

1st, That all things do work for the good of those that love God.

2nd, That no temptation shall take hold of us, but such as God will either make us able to bear, or make a way for us to escape out of it. We can be in no condition cast so low but the hand of God can reach us, send us deliverance, and raise us up again.

[1] Joseph Caryl, An Exposition With Practical Observations Upon the Three First Chapters of the Book of Job (London, 1651), 10-15; Joseph Caryl, An Exposition of Job (Evansville, IN: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1959), x-xii. The 1959 edition is a remarkable summary or a condensed rendition (367 pages) of the massive twelve volume work. It was originally published in 1836 by John Berrie and republished in 1959. It has not been republished since (though I believe one could probably get a “print on demand” copy). John Berrie wisely included the entire first lecture because that introduction by itself remains valuable on its own. This extract covers only the last several pages (pages which deal with the practical applications of the book of Job) of the introductory essay and I have slightly updated the format and modernized the sentences.

[2] He says the same on p. 100 (of the 1651 edition).

[3] Overtaken by darkness

Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 2

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

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

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

Enjoying God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World’s Chief End

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Objection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Piper and Dabney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Confusion in Modern Philosophy[34]

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

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

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

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

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

[2]Watson, Body of Divinity, 22.

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

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

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

[6] Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 24.

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

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

[9] Featley, Thrēnoikos, 126.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] Burgess, CXLV Expository Sermons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 305.

[32]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 308.

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

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

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

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

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

Creeds and Christianity

Creeds and Christianity[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. They are summary statements of the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. They are purposefully stated to refute and combat errors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Our fallible Confession can be revised

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

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

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

8. There is a body of doctrine to be believed

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

9. Our generation desperately needs creeds and confessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13]Machen, God Transcendent, 147.

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

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

[16]Machen, God Transcendent, 152.


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

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

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

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

Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 1

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

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

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

Scriptural Proofs and Commentary

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


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

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

God’s Glory

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

Warfield put it like this:

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

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

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

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

God’s Chief End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Watson, Body of Divinity, 8.

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

Christ’s Exaltation and His Resurrection

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

The Larger Catechism

Questions 51-52

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

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

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

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

Scriptural Proofs and Commentary

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

The Estate of Christ’s Exaltation

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

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

The Importance of the Resurrection: Christ’s Exaltation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nature of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Resurrection Body

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

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

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

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

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

The Time of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

The Implications of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of the Resurrection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Reformed Theology 7

Basic Reformed Theology 7

Reformed Theology (RT) must translate into real life! As those who have been humbly affected by what the Bible teaches, they seek to apply those wonderful truths to their lives. Too many seek to master the doctrines of grace and RT rather than to be mastered by them. Knowing these truths without being thoroughly changed and affected by them is a waste and places us in a guilty (culpable) state. These are some of the ways RT becomes concrete.

Means of Grace: Individual and Family Piety

People rightly taught and deeply influenced by RT give themselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word regularly since they cannot live without it (Mt. 4:4). We hear God through His Word (1Thess. 1:5). We do not seek to find God in our feelings, reason, culture, emotions, etc. Since RT is “word centered” (see BRT 1), each believer attempts to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). We believe God meets us as we prayerfully read and study His Word. Furthermore, since we are called to constantly pray (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2; 1Thess. 5:17, etc.), each believer gives himself to earnest prayer because he knows God hears him through Christ Jesus. If the believer has a family, then he seeks to instruct the members in the things of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) knowing God uses His Word to bring salvation to his children (2Tim. 3:15). To faithfully maintain this, he seeks to daily lead family worship.

Reading the Word of God privately, listening to sermons, praying regularly, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper during public worship are the primary “means of grace” – the channels through which God meets His people and conveys grace to them. He does not seek “extraordinary” means though he knows God often acts in extraordinary ways through the ordinary means. He believes God rewards “those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). He seeks God through God’s appointed means and attempts “to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1Tim. 2:2). He aims at personal godliness and not personal fame — all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

Reverent Public Worship

Since believers must not forsake assembling with God’s people (Heb. 10:25) and must worship God (Luke 4:8; Acts 13:2, etc.), we must worship Him according to His Word and not according to our desires. The Reformed believer takes worshipping God seriously and obediently; it is not an option. Knowing God to be infinitely Holy and majestic, humble believers do not approach Him in a cavalier manner as if He were a “buddy”. If fact, we are called to worship Him with reverence and awe: “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28, 29). The manner is with “reverence and awe”. This does not mean in a gloomy fashion but with gladness; not somberly but soberly; not haphazardly but humbly; etc. We read that the 24 elders “fell down and worshiped” (Rev. 5:14), worship sometimes included fasting (e.g. Acts 13:2), worship can lead to serious conviction of sin (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-25), etc. Worship in the NT is never glib, trite, comical, etc. but always serious and reverent.

The Word of God remains central to NT worship and prominent in RT. Therefore the public reading of Scripture (1Tim. 4:13; cf. Col. 4:16) and the preaching of God’s Word dominate Reformed churches. The believer listens to God from His Word. We must also recognize that OT worship does not regulate NT worship because we do not have the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, divinely ordained choirs, instruments, regulations, sacrifices, etc. The first four commandments always apply but worship robed in OT regulations fit the Old Testament (the old economy, the shadow of things to come). Because of the covenantal progression, we worship in accordance with the New Covenant requirements in Spirit and Truth (Jn. 4:24).

Submissive to God’s Providence

We see RT in its best practical form in the area of God’s providence. Since God is absolutely sovereign and is our good wise tender heavenly Father, the child of God recognizes that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” (Rom. 8:28 NASB). He knows that nothing happens to Him “apart the will of your Father” (Mt. 10:29, NIV). Nothing “accidentally” happens to him, whether good or bad. For that reason, he humbly submits to what God brings into his life: “It is the LORD. Let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3:18). At times, like David he will say, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you [God] who have done it” (Ps. 39:9). David took it as the Lord’s doing in allowing Shimei to curse him by saying, “the Lord has told him to” curse (2Sam. 16:11).

Being fully convinced of God’s absolute sovereignty, he does not murmur but knows that the difficulties are God’s loving ways of disciplining or sanctifying him (Heb. 12:4-11). Though some events and circumstances may defy simple explanations, the Reformed believer knows that God brought this upon him out of His goodness, love, and wisdom. God’s sovereignty does not threaten him but it sweetens the way he experiences the difficulties. When wonderful and good things befall his life, He knows it came from God and acknowledges it! He knows how he responds to circumstances reveal his deepest convictions about God, therefore he humbly submits to God in all conditions and glorifies Him by his responses. 

Confidence in Evangelism

Many of the most ardent and effective evangelists were Reformed (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennant, Asahel Nettleton, etc.). In obedience, he declares the good news being confident (not in himself or abilities) that God will sovereignly convert His people. God will not fail to bring His children into the fold and Reformed believers know God uses their feeble efforts and stammering lips to call the sheep into fellowship with His Son (1Cor. 1:9). RT encourages evangelism and emboldens the preacher because God and not the preacher converts sinners through the free offer of the gospel.

World and Lifeviews

Finally, RT teaches that the child of God must look at everything in biblical terms. He attempts to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2Cor. 10:5). God’s Word regulates his view of purpose, ambition, sexuality, identity, money, relationships, family, marriage, politics, arts, education, etc. That does not mean a “distinct Christian” view emerges over everything but his commitment to Christ influences everything he does and pursues. In all things, God’s glory and will constrain him and not his own personal peace, prosperity, comfort, glory, etc. So the world is “surprised when you do not join them” in their same passions and goals (1 Pet. 4:4). RT affects the person’s private and public life comprehensively; Christ’s lordship touches every inch of the individual’s life!

Basic Reformed Theology 6

Basic Reformed Theology 6

Non-Reformed believers embrace a doctrine called “once saved always saved.” Strangely, many Christians embrace this doctrine without having a firm biblical and theological foundation for it. Wesleyans and Nazarenes deny this doctrine because of their insistence on man’s sovereign free will. To their credit, they fear a doctrine that encourages disobedience and they believe a true believer can turn to a life of sin and disobedience and deny Christ. That disobedient person will perish in hell and lose his salvation. RT does not believe the person was a real born again child of God and his apostasy only revealed his true unregenerate state.


The “P” in TULIP is the “perseverance of the saints.” All true believers will persevere to the end. Jesus said, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt. 10:22; Mk. 13:13; Lk. 21:19) All professing believers are called upon to persevere through persecutions, afflictions, and difficulties. Paul encouraged the believers “to continue in the faith” saying to them “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said that tribulation or persecution will cause some to fall away (Mt. 13:21). The point is, the Bible calls believers to persevere but we know that not all who profess faith will. The parable of the sower (Mt. 13:1-23) teaches us what kind of circumstances will reveal the temporary faith of many. But we can be sure that the “elect” will persevere. Mt. 24:22 says that there will be a “great tribulation” (24:21) and had that time not been cut short “no human being would be saved.” Then Jesus adds, “But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (24:22) The elect will endure through the tribulation and God will ensure it.


Undergirding the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is God’s perseveration of His children. Jeremiah 32:40 (in reference to God’s new everlasting covenant) says this of God, “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) God will make sure His people will not turn from Him! Jesus said He will give eternal life to His sheep “and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (Jn. 10:28, 29) Jesus’ people will never perish or be snatched away by another power! Jesus and the Father would have failed if His sheep perish! Remember, nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).

If believers receive the “eternal life” promised to them (Jn. 3:16; 6:47; 10:27, etc.), then they could not lose it because it is “eternal life.” God did not promise them a temporary life, conditional life, etc. If a person truly believes, he has eternal life. He cannot have eternal life after he believes and then lose it. If he had it at the beginning then he’ll have it eternally. Not everyone who says they believe truly and savingly believed and therefore they did not receive eternal life. Since they believed temporarily, they never had eternal life to start off with.

Jesus prayed that believers would be kept in His name and that they would be kept from the evil one (Jn. 17:11, 12, 15). God the Father heard the Son’s high priestly prayer and therefore believers are kept so as to persevere. That is, “by God’s power “ we “are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). His power guards us, keeps us (Jn. 17), and ensures that we are not separated from Him (Rom. 8:39). God “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). The “stumbling” does not refer to occasional falling into sins but a stumbling away from the faith — He will keep us and we’ll be “kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1).

Believers really do persevere and God uses the warning passages from Scripture to preserve them (like the exhortations in Hebrews). God’s true children heed the warnings and persevere. John makes a startling claim about those who end up departing from the faith: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1Jn. 2:19) That is, their leaving and not continuing in the apostolic faith meant “they all are not of us”. Not persevering revealed that they were not truly God’s people. God requires perseverance in the faith, gospel holiness, remaining in Christ’s name, etc.  He preserves His people so that they can persevere unto the end!

God’s Children

The child of God is born again (Jn. 3:5), has God’s seed remaining in him (1Jn. 3:9), declared to be a new creation (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), has been adopted (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7) and “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). Can this doctrine of regeneration be reversed? Will God send His Spirit into our hearts (Rom 8:14, 15) and make us His children and then fail to bring us to Him? Will God disinherit us, orphan us again, and re-make us into children of Satan? Most good earthly father would not do that and yet some believe our heavenly Father is capable of doing that! Can the hearts that truly cried “Abba, Father” cease to be God’s children? The very nature of new birth prohibits such a conclusion. We are born again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3) and as God’s children, He will keep us unto the end: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35) The answer is NOTHING!

Implications and Questions

• “I’ve seen genuine believers fall away from the faith.” Actually, the person saw how deceptive man can be and how deluded some professing believers are — their departure revealed that they were not truly part of God’s people (1Jn. 2:19).

• “If this is true, then we can do whatever we want – once saved always saved!” No, God’s children will act like His children. The Holy Spirit leads them unto holiness and they dare not grieve the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30).

• “Doesn’t this encourage sloth, ungodliness, etc.?” True believers are humbled by this truth and feel compelled to live for Christ that much more (Gal. 2:20).

• Remember, there is difference between falling into sin, temporarily falling away, backsliding and apostatizing! All believers struggle with the first part but only those who are not true believers will fully fall away.

Basic Reformed Theology 5

Basic Reformed Theology 5

The Holy Spirit enables a sinner to believe. He is efficacious in His work and we call that “Irresistible Grace.” The Father elects, the Son redeems and the Spirit applies the work of Christ’s redemption. Each person of the Trinity effectually works in our salvation.

The External and Internal Call

Through the preaching of the gospel, all men are called to repent and believe (Mt. 28:18-20; cf. Mk. 16:15(?)). The external preaching reaches all who are within the earshot of the message. Yet we know not all who hear the preaching of the Word believe. When the gospel is faithfully preached, God uses the message to externally call all who hear to repent and believe. God commands repentance and faith through His preached Word; He calls them through the Word to believe. If they do not repent and believe then they will perish in their sins. The gospel imparts “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” but the unbeliever “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them” (1 Cor. 2:6, 14). The preaching reaches the ear but does not touch the heart; the sinner cannot or is not able understand it.

Some do believe. Why? We learn from the Bible that through the preaching, some are effectually called (the internal call). God who predestines calls them (Rom. 8:30). An efficacious call enables them to respond. The call is invested with the power to enable the person to enter into fellowship with Christ: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. Rom. 1:6, 7) He “called” us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Pet. 2:9). God does not call in vain: “who saved us and called us to a holy calling…” (2Tim. 1:9). These “call” passages all mean something like a summons. The call is more than a mere invitation (though it includes that) since it comes from God to those whom He predestined: “And those whom he predestined he also called…” (Rom. 8:30). An example of how that worked can be found in 1 Thess. 1:5, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” That internal call came through the external call of the gospel (not apart from it). God cannot fail to draw the sinner whom He predestined and called — the two (predestination and calling) remain inseparable. Paul says of himself and the Jews (as well as the Gentiles): “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:24)!

Regeneration and Faith

Spiritually dead men cannot heed the call unless the sovereign Holy Spirit enables them.  Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” (Jn. 6:63) The Spirit must give life and this “life” denotes new birth, rebirth or regeneration (1Pet. 1:3, 23). This new birth is by the Spirit and from above (Jn. 3:5, 6). The Spirit’s work of rebirth is mysterious like the coming and going of the wind: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn. 3:8) Just as we cannot control the wind so we cannot determine the work of the Sovereign Spirit. We cannot see or enter heaven without being born “of water and the Spirit” (Jn. 3:3-7). The “water” in Jn. 3 is another way of referring to the work of the Spirit as in Ezekiel 36:25-27 (not referring to baptism) — a cleansing or washing by the Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5).

Paul said that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3) but God made us alive (Eph. 2:5). That life is none other than the new birth Jesus spoke about. Jesus says we must be “born again” (Jn. 3:7) or “born of God” (1Jn. 3:9; 5:14; cf. Jn. 1:12, 13)! The Spirit changes us by making us alive and in turn we see and understand the things of God. The Spirit enables us to “understand the things freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Because we have been born again by the Spirit, we can see and enter the kingdom God (Jn. 3:3, 5)! For that reason we call all believers a “new creation” (2Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). This new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit and man does not cooperate in his new birth!

So faith and repentance must be viewed as divine gifts. God gives repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2Tim. 2:25, 26) and faith (Acts 13:48, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”; Eph. 2:8-10). Luke says Paul helped those “who through grace believed” (Acts 18:27). Paul says this of the Philippians, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” (1:29). It has been granted to them to believe!


Man will always resist the Gospel. The external call makes man more culpable. If he refuses the invitation and command to repent and believe, he only has himself to blame! The Spirit is not at fault for not converting the sinner — He has mercy on whom He has mercy.

Man is obstinate as well as dead in his sins. But man cannot be viewed as being omnipotent against God. That is, man’s utter rejection and refusal can be overturned. God can make a man alive in Christ Jesus. As God can change the king’s heart (Prov. 21:1), give sight to the blind and make the lame walk (Mt. 11:5), so the Lord opens the heart to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul”).

The Spirit will never fail to regenerate whom the Father calls into fellowship of His Son! If God is faithful by whom we were called into the fellowship of his Son (1 Cor. 1:9), then would He fail to affect His purpose? At His time, God will call specific sinners to enter into a living fellowship with His Son to be forgiven, cleansed, justified, sanctified and glorified. That is, no person will enter into Hell because the Spirit was not able to regenerate him.

We do not know how the sinner will respond. We only know that we must earnestly plead with the person to repent and believe. The Spirit can will convert when and where He pleases.

The Spirit’s work may go far and never truly convert (as in Heb. 6). They could have a taste of spiritual things and yet come short of new birth. Many have been convicted and affected by the preached word and in either short or long time, they grow cold and indifferent to the gospel they seemingly warmed up to.

No person is impossible for God to convert and save. Since the Spirit is sovereign, at the appointed time, the sinner whom the Father elected will be converted. Therefore, we can never say that the person’s opportunity has closed or that his obstinance is too great to overcome. There is not a sinner that cannot be powerfully converted when God wills it.