Category Archives: Theology

Thoughts from Westminster Divines

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

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

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

Larger Catechism #1, Pt. 2

The Larger Catechism

Question 1

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

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

Enjoying God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World’s Chief End

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Objection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Piper and Dabney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Confusion in Modern Philosophy[34]

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

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

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

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

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

[2]Watson, Body of Divinity, 22.

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

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

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

[6] Arrowsmith, Armilla Catechetica, 24.

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

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

[9] Featley, Thrēnoikos, 126.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[20] Burgess, CXLV Expository Sermons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 305.

[32]Dabney, Sensualistic Philosophy, 308.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Basic Reformed Theology 4

Basic Reformed Theology 4

No part of Reformed Theology (RT) is as much rejected as the doctrine of Limited Atonement in TULIP (sometimes called “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”). Yet this biblical doctrine coheres well with the rest of RT and to deny it would put disharmony into the Trinity. Limited Atonement means that Christ died only for those whom the Father gave to Him (Jn. 10:28, 29). Jesus paid the full penalty for the sins of those chosen by God the Father. Remember, His name is Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

The Nature of Atonement

In the OT, God provided animals to make atonement for the people’s sins. Since life is in the blood, they were forbidden to eat blood. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev. 17:10) The shedding of blood meant death and without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Yet the blood of “bulls and goats” could never “take away sins.” (Heb. 10:4) Those provisional sacrifices were always limited to God’s people and for specific offenses.  The priests never offered the atoning sacrifices for everyone without exception. For example, only God’s people benefited from the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32). If a specific individual did not comply with the requirements of the atonement, he would be “cut off from his people” (v. 29). That provisional and definite atoning sacrifice washed away the sins for whom it was offered.

Design and Accomplishment

Those chosen by God the Father had to be redeemed by God the Son. Particular election requires a definite atonement. God gave a people to His Son and He was to raise them up on the last day: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raiseit up on the last day.” (Jn. 6:39) God’s design was for the elect and Christ accomplished his redemption by dying for them.

If Christ died for everyone without exception then Christ labored in vain for those who would perish. The Son always pleases the Father (Jn. 8:29) and the Father is well pleased with Him (Mt. 3:17). Jesus said He accomplished the work given to Him (Jn. 17:4; cf. 5:36). If Jesus paid the penalty for everyone, then why doesn’t the Father forgive everyone? Isn’t the Father pleased with the Son’s work given to Him? The Father is pleased with the Son and will lose none for whom the Son gave eternal life (Jn. 10:28-30). No discord exists between the Father and the Son. For that reason, Jesus only prays for the ones the Father gave Him: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (Jn. 17:9)


All theories of atonement limit either their effectiveness or extent. Universal atonement limits its effectiveness because it secures no one’s redemption. It makes all men “salvable” and technically Christ’s death could have secured no one’s salvation (only made salvation “possible” for all upon the condition of faith). It is like a very wide bridge that never makes it across the river though everyone could go on it. Limited atonement limits the extent. Christ’s atoning sacrifice fully atoned the sins of God’s elect and it is effective for them alone. Using the same bridge analogy, this narrow bridge goes fully across to the other side but only for the numerous elect of God. The Son came to seek and save (Lk. 19:10; 1Tim. 1:15), to deliver us (Gal. 1:3, 4). Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us… to purify for himself a people” (Titus 2:14). He did not come to make sinners salvable, deliverable, redeemable, purifiable, etc. Jesus “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). He died to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18) and gave himself for the church (Eph. 5:25).

Christ’s death secured everything for the specified sinners (full atonement, full forgiveness, full work of the Spirit as a gift, full acceptance with the Father, etc.). The sinner does not “add” his faith to secure the benefits of Christ’s death but his own faith is the gift because Christ removed all the righteous legal barriers (his guilt, sin, judgment, etc.). He has secured all the spiritual blessings for the elect (Eph. 1:3, 4).


We don’t know for whom Christ has died so we can’t say Christ died for you. It doesn’t matter. We can unreservedly declare that Christ died for sinners and that He will save all who believe in Him. God will draw the elect and enable them to believe.

All and World? What about Jn. 3:16 and the other passages that refer to “all” (Rom. 5:18; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9) and “world” (Jn. 1:9, 29; 4:42; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Jn. 2:1, 2; 4:14)? The word “world” in Jn. 3:16 refers to the wicked world of sinners — he loves them and whoever would believe will be saved. God’s general love for all does not mean He loves everyone the same way. We are all required to love everyone but we do not love them all the way we love our family, close friends, parents, etc. Usually the word “all” denotes all men without distinction but not all men without exception. God does desire the salvation of all people (1 Tim. 2:4) but it does not mean He will surely save all. Jesus’ ransom for all (“who gave himself as a ransom for all” 1 Tim. 2:6) perfectly illustrates all without distinction. If it was “all without exception”, that means all have been ransomed (not all have been “ransom-able”). If it was for everyone without exception then everyone has been truly ransomed, bought or purchased — that cannot be correct since not everyone is saved.

Efficacious or efficient for the elect but sufficient for all! Some have carefully noted that Christ’s death was sufficient (of such worth and value) that it could have technically saved everyone without exception. Limited atonement no way diminishes the value of Christ’s work on the cross. The design or intent behind Christ’s death was only for His people. The benefits of His death would be applied only to God’s chosen people; it is efficacious to them alone.

How do I know if he died for me? Remember, that is not the question you should be concerned about. He died for sinners and if you would repent and believe you will be forgiven, justified, and sanctified. Then you’ll be able to say that Jesus “loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Basic Reformed Theology 3

Basic Reformed Theology 3

Most people recognize this part of Reformed Theology (RT). In TULIP, the “U” (for ‘Unconditional Election’) stands out to many as the distinctive feature of RT. The Bible’s teaching on election should not be overlooked, understated, or denied. We would not say this doctrine is the “heart” of RT but it remains a very important part of it.

From Eternity

Paul says that God “chose (elected) us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God’s people’s names were written in the Book of Life “before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2Tim. 1:9). God’s elect are “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:23). We know that God works all things “according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11) and we can conclude from the context that part of His eternal counsel included the election of His people (v. 4). That means God chose certain individuals before He created the world and before individuals came into being. Though a mystery surrounds this mind blowing doctrine (which means we cannot understand everything about this doctrine) we can nonetheless conclude from Scripture God certainly elected some to eternal life before creation.


Most people assume God only elected those who would choose Christ. He saw from eternity if an individual chose Christ. On that basis or condition, God chose the individual. That means God reacted in response to our choice. He had to choose because we chose! This would make God’s choice dependent and conditional and therefore secondary and not primary. The word “unconditional” in unconditional election means that man’s actions and behavior did not condition or influence God’s choice. God did not choose His people because they chose Christ first or because they deserved it, were wiser, smarter, prettier, more promising, influential, powerful, etc. (1 Cor. 1:26-31).  He chose to love us because He loved us (Deut. 7:8). Jesus’ statement to his disciples applies to the Bible’s teaching on election, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (Jn. 15:16).

Regarding Jacob and Esau, the Bible says “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls…” (Rom. 9:11), that is, God’s electing purpose and not Jacob’s choice (before either of them did anything) determined the final destiny of the two individuals. God’s choice denotes God’s mercy: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). Man’s will does not determine God’s election: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Rom. 9:16) “Human will or exertion” simply means “man’s desire or effort” (NIV). Man’s desire or effort does not influence or control God’s mercy/election. We choose Christ because God chose us: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

Some Implications and Objections

That means that God’s children were chosen before the foundation of the world and that each person converted has been elected from eternity. We don’t know who or how many have been elected (a fixed number, cf. WCF 3.4) but God does. The doctrine is a source of consolation for God’s people; it should not be the concern of the unconverted because his duty is to repent and believe in Christ.

Why evangelize? Because Christ commanded us to preach the gospel. Through the free offer of the gospel God gathers His sheep (cf. Jn. 10:16, 27). We preach to everyone without exception and those appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).

It’s not fair! If we want absolute fairness, then we would all receive what we all deserve, namely, eternal damnation. We rightly merited damnation. Eternal life is God’s gift of mercy and He can give it to whomever He wishes (Rom. 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy…”). He could give it to all; to none; or to some. God chose to give it to many.

What about foreknowledge? Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speak of God’s foreknowledge. Doesn’t that mean God elected those whom He foreknew would choose him? Romans 8:29 says “whom he foreknew” — not “what he foreknew” (a masculine and not neuter relative pronoun) — a foreknowledge of persons. God knew them beforehand and predestined them — it does not say he knew what they would choose and then he chose them! 1 Peter 1:1, 2 speaks of the same personal foreknowledge, they are “those who are elect… according to God’s foreknowledge”. As the person Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20) to redeem or ransom (vv. 18-19) so the elect were foreknown by God the Father whom the Son would redeem. It simply means God chose whom He loved beforehand (cf. Amos 3:2) because God foreknew everyone and everything. In these passages, God’s fore-knowledge connotes an intimate knowledge (like “fore-loved”).

It doesn’t matter what I do! Paul takes on that exact question in Romans 9. After teaching that God can show mercy to anyone He wills, Paul answers the question that often arises from such a teaching: “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (Rom. 9:19) That is, “How can I be held guilty? I can’t resist or control whatever God does!” In short, Paul says God can do what He wishes with fallen man. Some will become vessels of mercy (v. 23) and other will receive what we all deserve, become “vessels of wrath” (v. 22). Man is still responsible for his actions and will be condemned because of their sin and for refusing to repent and believe!

Why? So no one can boast! “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26-31) God gets all the glory!!

Basic Reformed Theology 2

Basic Reformed Theology 2

The Bible teaches that man is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) and therefore man is spiritually dead and resistant to the things of God. RT calls this “total depravity.” The origin of many theological errors can be found in one’s understanding of man’s fallen condition.  

Original Sin

Adam, who served as the representative (by God’s appointment our “federal head”) for all of humanity, sinned (Rom. 5:12-21).  Adam’s sin (the Fall) led to what we call “original sin” (the effects of the Fall in our nature). All of us have been affected by the Fall and we all inherited “original sin.” This sin brought death (Rom. 5:12) and pervaded our nature. 

None of us come into the world with a clean untainted nature; we are born in sin, “estranged from the womb” and we “go astray from birth” (Ps. 58:3). David says he was “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5). That means babies are not born innocent but tainted with sin.  Everybody sins because everyone was born in sin: “for there is no man who does not sin” (2 Chron. 6:36) because “no man living is righteous before” God (Ps. 143:2). 

Pervasive Sinfulness

Man is not simply morally crippled but pervasively sinful. All his faculties have been affected by sin. Rom. 3:9-18 poignantly proves this. The passage simply states that we are “all under sin” (v. 9). Sin dominates man. Verse 10 teaches forthrightly that “none is righteous, no, not one.” Verse 11 states that “no one” really understands God. In fact, he does not seek Him (v. 11b). Man does not know God rightly and therefore does not understand Him (cf. 1:21, 22). Man has turned aside and refused to do good before God (v. 12; cf. 1:23, 25). 

Verses 13-18 depict man’s pervasive evil. It is a poetic way of saying that from head to toe, he is full of sin. Man uses his throat, tongue, lips, mouth, feet, and eyes against God’s way: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Paul did not go and show how every inch is covered with sin but has demonstrated by the language of the text that man is pervasively and resolutely “under sin.”

Ecc. 9:3 states that “the hearts of men are full of evil” while Jeremiah declares that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt” (Jer. 17:9). Early in man’s history, God saw “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). 

We tend towards evil and not the good. There is a futility or vanity in our minds (Eph. 4:17) since we have a “darkened” understanding and a “hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:18). Man is “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Col. 1:21). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In fact, we are slaves to sin: “every one who commits sin is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34). 

Opposed to God and the Gospel

Man suppresses the truth about God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff.) and are in fact spiritually “dead in our trespasses” (Col. 2:13; Eph. 1:1, 5).  We are “by nature children of [God’s] wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Man actually follows “the prince of the power the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2; cf. Jn. 8:44; 2Tim. 2:26). We are “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18) and our minds remain “hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7). 

That means when it comes to spiritual truth, we won’t accept it and are unable to: “The natural person does not acceptthe things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them…” (1 Cor. 2:14). Man, whose mind is set on the flesh, “does not submit to God’s law” and is unable to submit to it (Rom. 8:7).  The gospel is “folly” to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 1:18). 

The god of this world, the devil prevents people from understanding the gospel: “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2Cor. 4:4). He steals the Word from people’s hearts: “the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in the heart” (Mt. 13:19). 

Gospel preaching is to “open” the eyes of unbelievers “so that they many turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). 

Some Implications

Everything that a man does is tainted by sin. Though we are not all equally sinful, all of us have been affected by sin in every aspect of our persons. Nothing we do escapes the taint of sin. We can never please God in and of ourselves. 

Man may perform some “civil” good and may be restrained from sinning as he would (like Abimelech in Gen. 20:6) but he cannot escape the fact he continues under the power of sin.

Man is spiritually dead. Dead people cannot respond to the gospel. Unless the Lord works in the heart, the unbeliever will reject the gospel every single time (100%).

Man is spiritually blind (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:9,14). He cannot appreciate, love, believe, and accept the gospel. He sees nothing in it. The god of this world has blinded him.

Man’s will is not free. Man being enslaved to sin (Jn. 8:34) can freely act only according to his nature. His will expresses his nature and therefore, being dead in sin and hostile towards God, it will always oppose and refuse God: “being captured by him [the devil] to do his will” (2Tim. 2:26).

Man does not seek God (Rom. 3:11), is not able to submit to Him (Rom. 8:7), and is considered a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3)— man is a rebel. If a million years were added to us and a million opportunities offered to us to turn from our sins and to believe in Christ, we would never repent and believe because of our sinful condition.

Basic Reformed Theology 1

Basic Reformed Theology I[1]

Doctrine simply means the setting forth of what the Bible teaches on a certain topic. Paul said to Titus, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1) “Doctrine” here means teaching (e.g., 1Tim. 4:16 uses the same Grk word, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching…”). A set of doctrines convey a particular “theology” that no one can evade or avoid. Reformed Theology simply refers to teachings or doctrines that have been taught by the Reformers (especially Calvin, Bullinger, Bucer, Oecolampadius, Zwingli, Luther, etc.) and by the various confessional denominations that profess a similar theology (like the Presbyterians). This theology faithfully presents the Bible’s teaching. The Reformers did not “invent” its theology but carefully and clearly set forth what the Bible teaches. Seven key ideas make up Reformed Theology (RT). Most evangelicals would generally embrace the first one but only RT gives a prominent place to the other six ideas.  

Word Centered

RT teaches that the Bible is inerrant (without error) and fully authoritative (1Tim. 3:16, 17). Since the Bible reveals what we are to believe concerning God as well as what duties He requires of us, its teaching takes precedence (when rightly interpreted and understood) over man’s reason, experience, and culture. Fallen sinful man cannot think of God correctly (Rom. 1:18ff.) and must depend entirely upon the Holy Spirit to enable him to understand the truths of the Bible savingly and correctly. 

God Centered

This is God’s world which He created and sustains for His own glory. The Bible starts off with “In the beginning God…” RT believes the Bible’s story is about God’s redemptive acts and purposes. God created, God speaks, reveals, promises, redeems, protects, etc. The Bible is God centered and man was created to know, worship, and have fellowship with Him. We were created for Him: “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16); “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Rom. 11:36) That means we exist for God’s purpose — that is why we were created.

The Sovereignty of God

RT unapologetically proclaims that God is absolutely sovereign. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from God (Mt. 10:29) and He has numbered the hairs of our head (Mt. 10:30). “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…” (Rom. 8:28 NASB). No purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2) and “he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”” (Dan. 4:35) That means God governs everything and nothing happens in creation without God’s will and purpose: “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). That is why when we plan, we humbly say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Covenant Theology

RT looks at the Bible in terms of “covenants.” God enters into covenants with His people in the Bible (Adam, Hos. 6:7; Noah, Gen. 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 15, 17; Moses & Israel, Ex. 6:4; 19:5; 24:7, etc.; David, 2 Sam. 7; New Covenant, Jer. 31; Mt. 26:28, etc.) and in Christ, we entered into the New Covenant. The covenant with Adam was considered a “Covenant of Works” in which God required perfect obedience (which he failed). After that, God established a Covenant of Grace expressed differently in redemptive history. Covenants help us to interpret God’s dealings with man since man can only have a relationship with Him by way of a covenant.


Since RT is God centered, everything should be for God’s glory, to His praise. Our ambitions, our lives, all that we do, etc. should be for the glory of God: Soli Deo Gloria (To God alone be glory!). “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). We welcome one another “for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7)! “To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36; cf. Gal. 1:5). Eph. 1 punctuates the rhythm of the long sentence with “to the praise of his glory.” RT gives all the glory to God in our salvation (He gets all the credit), in our worship (God centered worship), in our lives, and in our theology. In any discussion of theology (Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), we should ask, “Who gets the glory?” Many theological formulations end up glorifying or crediting man (Arminian) or the church (Roman Catholicism) but God’s glory remains central in RT.

God’s Commandments

Though not under the law for our justification and life, we are not “outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). What counts is “keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19). RT recognizes the importance of the God’s law in the life of a believer not as a means of life but as a “rule of life informing” believers “of the will of God” (WCF 19.6). Believers have a duty to obey the Ten Commandments and the Spirit enables them to obey God’s Word (Jn. 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1Jn. 2:3-4; Rev. 12:17; 14:12).

The Creeds and the Reformation

RT is Calvinistic in its doctrine of salvation (“soteriology”). But not all “Calvinists” are actually “Reformed” because their teaching is Reformed only in the area of “salvation” and not in other areas. RT is expressed in its various confessions and creeds. The well known ones include The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms (Larger and Shorter); the Heidelberg CatechismThe Canons of Dort, and The Belgic Confession. These more or less offer comprehensive statements regarding all the major doctrines of the Bible (Loci Theologici). 

[1] Much much more could be said than what we are about to cover in this study. This very brief overview seeks to introduce some of the basic points of Reformed Theology. Note: “We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from Calvinism to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel that is too weak to sustain itself. … Where the God centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man centered naturalism or secularism.” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Faith)

Will we eat in heaven?

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

Food? Eating in Heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCPC Reading Groups for 2019 (DV)

CGG                                                                           CCC

Christian Growth Group                                            Christian Classics Club

1St Sunday of the Month                                              3rd Sunday of the Month


William Gurnall                                                          Wilhelmus a’Brakel

The Christian in Complete Armour                       The Christian’s Reasonable Service

3 Vols. (Abridged) BOT                                             4 Vols. (Unabridged) RHB


Jan.                                                                             Jan. (Vol. 1)

2:21-58                                                                        1:381-425



Feb.                                                                             Feb.

2:58-94                                                                        1:427-463



March                                                                         March

2:94-137                                                                      1:465-491



April                                                                          April

2:137-172                                                                    1:493-537



May                                                                            May

2:172-208                                                                    1:539-574



June                                                                            June

2:209-244                                                                    1:575-623



July                                                                            July

2:245-281                                                                    1:625-658



Aug.                                                                            Aug. (Vol. 2)

2:281-314                                                                    2:3-54



Sept.                                                                           Sept.

2:314-348                                                                    2:55-106



Oct.                                                                             Oct.

2:348-371                                                                    2:107-155



Nov.                                                                            Nov.

2:372-398                                                                    2:157-187