Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.11-12)

Q.11: How doth God execute His decrees?

A. God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence.

 

Under the headings of creation and providence, God accomplishes all of His good purposes. Thereby, He creates, sustains, and directs all things toward His own desired, good, and glorious ends. Nothing that comes into existence does so without God’s decree. Likewise, nothing that comes to pass does so without God’s decree. God is the prime Actor in all of creation and is necessary for its continued existence.

 

Q.12: What is the work of Creation?

A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.1

1Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3

 

Ex Nihilo

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” (Gen. 1:1; NASB; cf. the rest of Gen. 1).

The Latin term ex nihilo can be somewhat misleading. The term means out of nothing, and it is used to assert just that: that God made the whole of creation out of nothing. Some may take this assertion a bit further and claim that, before God created all things, nothing existed. Of course, this could only be understood in terms of created things. Thus, it is important for us to clarify that no created thing existed, no temporal thing existed, no material thing existed. Put more plainly, before God created the cosmos (the created order), only God existed. According to A.A. Hodge:

“In the beginning of time God first, by a word of command, brought into being all the material elements of which the universe exists,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 21).

This is a proper understanding of the testimony of the earliest portions of Scripture. There is no before God; God has always existed. There is only before the created order. Before all things were created, there was the one, triune, divine Being who is, and who was, and who ever will be. Hence, when we say that God created all things ex nihilo, we do not mean that nothing proceeded all things.

Taken in the negative, another idea represented in the notion of ex nihilo creation is the fact that God did not use pre-existing materials to make the world. Rather, all that is material was brought into existence from a purely immaterial non-existence. That which was not, by the power of God’s Word, became so. In the material sense, nothing preceded everything. These are important concepts for us to grasp, because there are many false notions of the relationship between God and all things.

The ancient Greeks taught, as Hindus still teach, that matter has always existed. In fact, ancient Greeks like Plato taught that even moral concepts such as good and evil transcended the gods. For Plato, both moral concepts and the material world is as eternal as the gods. Also, given the choice between the gods arbitrarily creating their own morality or a co-eternal morality external to the gods being imposed even on the gods themselves, Plato chooses the latter. As Christians, we affirm that God created all material things. We also affirm that God neither created nor is subject to a moral code outside of Himself. Rather, morality is a reflection of God’s eternal and immutable goodness and perfection.

 

By His Word

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light,” (Gen. 1:1-3; NASB).

It has well been noted that the first three verses of the Bible follow a Trinitarian pattern. The first verse is obviously a reference to our Father in heaven. The second verse makes explicit mention of the Spirit of God. Where, though is there any mention of the second Person of the Trinity: the Son? In order to answer this question, let us consider the one verse in the Bible that most parallels Genesis 1:1-3.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being,” (John 1:1-3; NASB).

We must note first that the apostle John begins his Gospel with precisely the same wording as the Septuagint (LXX; an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament used in the first century): “Ἐν ἀρχῇ.” John, in writing in this way, was clearly drawing a parallel between his gospel of the new creation and the account of creation in Genesis 1.

First, John tells his readers, “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1a; NASB), clearly signifying the God who speaks. Second, he goes on to say that this Word was God putting Him on par with the Father in glory, authority, and essence. Third, he tells us that He was in the beginning with the Father, drawing our attention to the eternal, intra-Trinitarian oneness and fellowship existing within the Godhead. Fourth, and most important for our discussion today, he writes that all things came into existence through the Word, and nothing came into being apart from Him.

All of this discussion of the Word of God begs the question, who is this Word of God? John answers this question in verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; NKJV). He further clarifies in verse 18 who this only begotten of the Father is: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him,” (NKJV; emphasis added; other manuscripts read: “the only begotten God”). The Word of God of which John writes is the only begotten of the Father, the very Son of God Himself, the only begotten God.

Thus, when God spoke, through the divine agency of the Son of God, all things sprang into existence. In fact, nothing that was created was created apart from the Word of God. This is an important assertion to highlight when speaking with Unitarians like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who assert that Christ was created. When confronted with the suggestion that Christ was created, we must ask how John could assert that nothing that was created was created apart from His agency. He could not have been created through Himself, could He? John obviously belabors this point so that there would be no question of Christ’s eternality. The Word is distinct from all creation, just as the Father and the Spirit are distinct from all created things.

Where then do we see the second Person of the Trinity in Genesis 1:1-3? In verse three: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (NASB; emphasis added). When God spoke the world into creation, He spoke through the agency of His Word, His eternally begotten Son.

 

Six Days

“So the evening and the morning were the first day. . . And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. . . So the evening and the morning were the third day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. . . So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. . . Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 25, 31; NKJV).

In the span of six days, God created all things that exist. This is a hotly debated issue in Christianity today, but the testimony of Scripture is plain. All things that were created were created in the span of six ordinary days comprised of both one evening and one morning. Whether these evenings and mornings put together comprised a 24, 23, or 25 hour day, the Bible does not say, but there is no reason to assume that each evening and morning spanned hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions of years.

Sam Waldron explains: “To state matters succinctly, the only sound interpretation of the Bible is the one which understands it to teach that God did, indeed, make the world in a literal work week,” (Waldron, An Exposition of the 1689 London Baptist Confession. Evangelical Press, Darlington, Eng. 2005, pg. 76). What Waldron means by literal is that the meaning of the text is to be accepted in its plainest sense. When Scripture says “evening and morning,” it clearly means to designate an ordinary day of the week.

Some have suggested that the days of creation are unimportant and that our focus really should be on God’s creative power and the beauty and perfection of His creation. Certainly they are right in the latter assertion. We truly ought to place a primary focus on the beauty and perfection of God’s creation. Furthermore, the focus of modernity on the materialistic, naturalistic science of creation is a faulty starting point, to be sure. However, this does not mean there is no significance behind God’s choosing to create the world in six ordinary days.

Certainly, were it God’s pleasure to do so, He could have created all things in the span of six minutes or six millennia. Instead, He ordained that the world should be created in six days. In doing so, He set the example for mankind of a six day work-week to be followed by a full day of covenant rest in Him.

“He ‘rested the seventh day;’ as if the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a patter? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labour of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest,” (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments. Scriptura Press, New York City. 2015, 2.4 [3]).

In short, God did not create the world in order to satisfy all of our naturalistic, materialistic inquiries. He did not create the world in the span of six days in order to help us “butter up” to the modern scientific community or to satisfy all of our vexations brought on by the Star Light theory and other such quandaries. He did, however, create all things in the span of six days. He did so as a model for us so that we might follow it.

 

Very Good

“Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day,” (Gen. 1:31; NKJV).

When God created all things, He created them good: the lights of the day and of the night, the land, the seas, the animals, the plants, the planets, the moon, the angels, and all other things whatsoever He created. There is nothing that God created that He did not in turn look upon and say, “This is good.” However, it was only after God completed one particular creation that He finally looked upon all that He had made and said, “Very good!” This particular creation was mankind.

Mankind is alone in all of creation in that we were made in the image of God. Insofar as we are created in His image, we are the pinnacle of all of His creation. As we will see in the answer to question 13, God’s image is not the only mark of favor He bestowed upon us.

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One thought on “Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.11-12)

  1. Pingback: Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.11-12) | Reformedontheweb's Blog

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