Book Review: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

During last year, I spent a good amount of time reading on books dealing with sanctification. While there are many books that address this teaching, I’ve come to realize that most books on this topic within Reformed circles have two basic problems: (1) they merely repeat and/or reword the doctrine of sanctification found in Reformed confessions and catechisms and (2) they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what is sanctification is NOT. While these are helpful and have their place, I wouldn’t say that these books are convicting or challenging. In looking for a change in pace, I picked up a classic from Jerry Bridges entitled The Pursuit of Holiness. Although it’s a relatively short book (less than 160 pages), it was one of my favorite books of last year.

Jerry Bridges begins his book with the following statement:

We Christians greatly enjoy talking about the provision of God, how Christ defeated sin on the cross and gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to victory over. But we do not as readily talk about our own responsibility to walk in holiness.

This is a perspective that I did not grow up with as a young Christian. As a child of the Holiness Movement, I grew up with the testimony “Are you saved and do you know you’re saved? Are you free and separated from sin?” However, since I have begun fellowshipping with Reformed believers, I’ve noticed that holiness is not a common topic of discussion. In an effort to avoid legalism and various strains of perfectionism, many have fallen for the opposite error – namely that sanctification functions in the same manner as justification.

The title of this book comes from the biblical command found in Hebrews 12:14

Pursue holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

In many ways, this book circles around this essential statement by carefully explaining what this verse means and by explaining what this verse doesn’t mean. However, the book goes a step further in actually discussing appropriate spiritual disciplines necessary for a genuine pursuit of holiness.

The book begins by simply declaring that holiness is basic to the Christian life and thus holiness is for all believers. One of the points that Jerry Bridges repeats is that God wants us to walk in obedience, not victory. This is a subtle point, but often times, our discussions on “victory over sin” is oriented toward self whereas walking in obedience is oriented towards God. Bridges address this concern head-on in his chapter Obedience, Not Victory, where he states

Our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of ‘I can’t do it’, but one of ‘I can do it through Him who strengthens me.’ The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient.

Secondly, Bridges argues that part of the larger problem of ungodliness among Christians is because of a misunderstanding of what it means to live by faith. He discusses this point multiple times in the book by examining the nature of our union in Christ and by examining relevant passages in Romans 6-7. The reality is that the battle over indwelling sin is lifelong and thus there is a legitimate need to cultivate personal discipline. In his chapter The Place of Personal Discipline, Bridges argues that the sure way to obtain godliness is through Christian discipline. In referencing 1 Corinthians 9:25, Bridges states:

If an athlete disciplines himself to obtain a temporal prize, how much more should we Christians discipline ourselves to obtain a crown that lasts forever?

This Christian discipline includes a regular healthy diet of the Word of God (which includes Scripture memorization and meditation) along with a regular habit in disciplining our physical body. His commentary regarding our physical body is particularly insightful. In his chapter entitled Holiness of Body, he writes

Materialism wars against our souls in a twofold manner. First, it makes us discontent and envious of others. Second, it leads us to pamper and indulge our bodies so that we become soft and lazy. As we become soft and lazy in our bodies, we tend to become soft and lazy spiritually… When the body is pampered and indulged, the instincts and passions of the body tend to get the upper hand and dominate our thoughts and actions. We tend to do not what we should do, but what we want to do, as we follow the cravings of our sinful nature.

Hence, holiness in mind and spirit cannot be accomplished without holiness in body.  This methodical discipline in our body is not contrary to “living by faith”, but it is wholly consistent and harmonious with it since true saving faith has many graces that accompany it. Based on this above discussion, this means that the battle for holiness is centered around how our human will operates and how we need to develop godly habits in order to direct our will in the appropriate direction.

Much more can be said about this little book, but it is a very challenging and very convicting book. It is not a legalistic book, but it is a book that will challenge you if you are currently apathetic regarding your growth in grace. This book will exhort you to treat your sanctification with as much skillfulness and discipline as an athlete treats his own body. This book will cause you to rejoice in the provision that God has given you as a person united to Christ. Finally, this book will encourage you to see the blessed joy that comes with obeying the Lord and walking blameless before Him.

Man’s Sin and Its Wages (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN

Lesson Seven: Man’s Sin and Its Wages

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Romans 6:23; NKJV).

 

Man’s need for redemption. One of the biggest obstacles we face in our society, when considering the task of evangelism, is helping people see their need for the gospel. Many are simply unconcerned about their eternal state. Even those who affirm the existence of a god out there somewhere believe His primary attribute to be that of mercy, so they live as though they will never have to answer to God for their sins. As we saw in our last lesson, this has never been the Christian affirmation of who God is.

“Q.11. Is not God therefore merciful?

1. Yes, very much so! He is merciful, but He is also just, wherefore His justice requires that the same which is committed against the divine majesty of God should also be recompensed with extreme, that is, everlasting punishment both in body and soul,” (Hercules Collins, An Orthodox Catechism, Q.11).

We live in a nation that has largely forsaken this understanding of who God is. In fact, many Christians will tell you never to talk about sin, guilt, or repentance when sharing the gospel with people. They don’t mind discussions of the love and the mercy of God. They don’t even mind discussions of His holiness, as long as there is no correlation drawn between His complete holiness and the sinfulness of man.

The problem is that man cannot truly understand their need of God’s mercy unless they first understand His holiness and their complete lack thereof. Individuals must be brought to an honest, prayerful contemplation of their own personal sinfulness in light of God’s utter holiness and justice. They must be brought to understand that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23; NKJV), which means they personally have sinned and fall short of His glory. Until then, the gospel will make no sense whatever.

Until man is brought to an understanding of his sinfulness and the consequences thereof, he will see no danger in staying the course. He must be brought to an understanding that his sin means eternal destruction and damnation apart from the gracious provision of God, but engulfed in His eternal contempt. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“The bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous being then made perfect in holiness, are received into paradise, where they are with Christ, and behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell; where they remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day; besides these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none,” (The Baptist Confession, 31.1)

The sinfulness of the individual. Truly, man is fallen in Adam and death has thus spread to all men (Rom. 5:12), but the carnal man must be made to see the particular offense his own sin is against a holy, righteous, and just God. He must be brought, as by a schoolmaster, to Christ and His gospel by nothing less than the sheer condemnation of the law of God (Gal. 3:24). Until then, he will see no need for redemption. He will think himself basically good and in no need of atonement. He will think himself basically good, because he is self-deceived.

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled,” (Titus 1:15; NKJV).

The mind untethered to the word of God is a mind in darkness. Even Christians, the farther we stray from the word of God, wander into self-deception and the defilement of the mind. We must ever be confronted by the word of God in order to come to a true understanding of our sinfulness and how far short of God’s holy standard we fall.

One way that this conviction has been attempted in recent years is through an exercise in which the unbeliever is ask if she thinks herself to be a good person. If she says, “Yes,” the Christian asks if he can test that affirmation. If she concedes, he proceeds to ask a series of question about her obedience to the Ten Commandments. The unbeliever inevitably fails this test and, if convicted of sin, is then offered the gospel. I largely agree with this approach. There are just a couple issues, though, that I take with it.

First, there seems to be an assumption that a short 3-5 minute presentation should be enough to convict people of their sin and help them see their need for Christ. In most cases, much more work needs to be done. There needs to be a prolonged period of sitting under the preached word and much soul-searching on the part of the unbeliever. So, while the initial presentation of the law and the gospel might whet a person’s appetite for Christ and the preaching of His word,

We should not expect that most of these initial encounters will necessarily lead to the individual’s immediate conversion. Most often, the unbeliever needs to get under the preached word at a local church where they can be discipled and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. Through that process, Lord-willing, he may eventually turn from his sins toward God and put his full trust and allegiance in Christ Jesus alone for his salvation.

Second, there is often an extremely erroneous assumption made in the way that this method is employed. Some well-known adherents to this approach teach not to even share the gospel with the unbeliever unless he demonstrates a conviction of sin and a concern for final judgment. They claim that offering the gospel to such individuals is a casting of pearls before swine (Mt. 7:6). The problem is that the law only has the ability to lead one to the gospel. It has no power, though, to convict. That power is found in the gospel alone (Rom. 1:16). It’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4; NASB).

The universal sinfulness of man. The individual must be brought to an understanding of his or her own personal sinfulness. In the process of bringing the unbeliever to this understanding, though, an understanding of the universal sinfulness of man can be instructive. Imagine you are talking to a man, and he says that he is better than most. How do you respond? This individual needs to understand that he is comparing himself to a mass of fallen, depraved individuals who also fall short of God’s holy standard.

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:5; NKJV).

It always baffled me that pastors and theologians would point to this passage in Genesis, before the flood, when speaking of the universal depravity of man. Then, one day, it occurred to me that there was not real change in the constitution of man after the flood. We are still just as depraved as they were back then. The change that occurred after the flood was in God’s dealings with man’s sin. He established a covenant with all mankind whereby He promised never again to destroy the world with water.

Man, on the other hand, is still totally depraved and under the condemnation of the law. This is indeed a universal depravity. We are all sinners and thoroughly sinful. For a man to stand and say that he is not a sinner is for him to say that he is better than every other human being that has ever lived. It is the height of arrogance, because there is none good.

10As it is written:

‘There is none righteous, no, not one;

11There is none who understands;

There is none who seeks after God.

12They have all turned aside;

They have together become unprofitable;

There is none who does good, no, not one.’

13‘Their throat is an open tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit’;

‘The poison of asps is under their lips’;

14‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’

15‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16Destruction and misery are in their ways;

17And the way of peace they have not known.’

18‘There is no fear of God before their eyes,’” (Romans 3:10-19; NKJV).

Another response, especially in the South where a lot of erroneous ideas have been floated in the name of Christianity, is to say, “Well, you don’t know my heart, and you can’t judge me.” While there is some truth to this statement, the Lord has revealed enough about the heart of man in Scripture that we can state with confidence that every man is a sinner in need of redemption. In fact, those who convince themselves that they are not sinners have actually been deceived in their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?,” (Jer. 17:9; NKJV).

We, then, are up against impossible odds. We stand in a valley of dry bones and seek to preach to the self-deceived that they are utterly sinful both in body and in mind, the very sin that hinders them from receiving our message with gladness of heart. How can we have any rational expectation, then, that they will respond aright? Lest the Lord act, we cannot. Nevertheless, the gospel message must begin here: with an accounting of both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.

The Holiness of God (Defining Evangelism)

You can listen to the audio lesson here.

You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.

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DEFINING EVANGELISM

PART III – THE PRESENT ESTATE OF MAN

Lesson Six: The Holiness of God

“And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top, (Exodus 24:17; NASB).

 

The proper starting point. Having discussed the purpose of evangelism (making disciples) and the messengers and recipients of evangelism, we finally arrive at the actual message to be delivered in evangelism. This point is where the Reformed and biblical approach will differ from many modern approaches. A great many modern approaches to evangelism center the message either on the messenger or the recipient. They might begin with asking the recipient, “Would you consider yourself to be a good person.” Some other approaches begin and end with a mere telling of the messenger’s personal testimony.

In order to be truly biblical, though, evangelism must have as its primary Subject He who is the primary subject of the Bible itself: God. The goal of discipleship is to move the disciple from a place of enmity with God to a reconciliation with God, from a place of great disparity from God to an intimate relationship with God. The problem we seek to address, then, is a problem of location.

The carnal man is located outside of the covenant promises of God. He stands as a sinner who is on a crash course with the eternal wrath of God. All of God’s attributes require that justice must be served to the sinner, because God is a God of justice and all of God’s attributes are naturally consistent with His justice. One primary focus for our explanation of the gospel, though, ought to be His holiness.

The holy and the unholy. We’re told in Exodus: “And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top,” (Exodus 24:17; NASB). In bringing the sons of Israel to repentance, God first impressed upon them His holiness. He helped them to see that He was as a consuming fire among them (cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). He did the same with Moses at the burning bush when He told him to remove His sandals, “for the place where you stand is holy ground,” (Exodus 3:5b; NKJV).

The new disciple must first come to a recognition of the holiness of God before he or she can truly understand any of the message of the gospel. The new disciple must see that God’s holiness necessarily means consumption for the unholy. God’s holiness and justice demand payment for all sins ever committed.

“He is immutably determined by the moral perfection of his nature to visit every sin with a just recompense of reward, if not in the person of the sinner, then in the person of his Substitute. The terrible lake of fire and the cross of Calvary are awful testimonies to his absolute justice,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pp. 14-15).

The carnal mind may naturally balk at such notions as a God who would punish every sin. In a desire to continue in their sin and to treat it as of little consequence, the recipient of the gospel message may go as far as to say that he or she can never believe in a God who would punish sinners with an eternity of hell. A little exercise is instructive at this point.

An illustration. In order to demonstrate the importance and the necessity of the holiness of God, the gospel messenger needs to use a reference point. One such reference point that has proven helpful in many an explanation of the holiness of God is the unbeliever’s own innate sense of justice. We must be mindful, though, that this approach does not work with all men. Men are self-deceived creatures, and you may find that men and women with an Eastern or Middle Eastern worldview have often deceived themselves to the point of denying the necessity of justice in God, and even in some cases between men.

For those who do recognize the necessity of justice between men, you may ask them to think of the worst crime they can imagine followed by asking them, now, to imagine that crime being perpetrated on a small child. For the average man who is not actively suppressing the truth in regard to his sense of justice, just the thought of such an act should evoke a sense of righteous indignation. Allow that thought to weigh on him for a moment, and then move the subject to God.

The world over, nearly every theist will agree that the god in whom they believe and whom they worship is a god of love. This recognition comes to man by the light of nature placed within them and evident to them in God’s works of creation and providence. They know intuitively that God is love. Otherwise, the world would be far worse off than it is today. However—and this is the next question we want to ask our unbelieving friends—if God truly loves that little child, will He allow the crime against her to go unpunished?

At this point, you have come just a little way in helping your friend or family member to see the importance of God’s holiness to the discussion. However, God’s holiness is not merely the starting point or a rhetorical device to get us to the point of convincing our lost friends and family that they are in danger. God’s holiness is the ultimate reference point for all things in the universe. Everything we see, hear, and understand either aligns with or deviates from God’s holiness. His holiness is the great referent. It is the necessary starting point in our discussion of the gospel, because it is the necessary starting point in our discussion of God Himself.

God’s absolute justice. God’s holiness speaks to His great otherness and His great purity. It also speaks to His unrelenting hatred of sin—deviation from the holiness of God. It is for this reason that He absolutely must punish all sin. If He punishes some sin, but not all sins, He would be terribly inconsistent. He would possess some righteousness, a righteousness comparable to an earthly judge perhaps, but He would not be completely righteous. He would be righteous enough to punish some sin, but not righteous enough to punish all sin. However, if he is not righteous enough to punish all sin, how could He be righteous enough to punish even the greatest of sins. The Bible is clear, though, that God does punish all sin and, as such, it is a very grievous matter to be found in sin. Consider Isaiah’s recognition of his own sin, when he beheld the glory of God in his temple vision:

3And one called out to another and said,

‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,

The whole earth is full of His glory.’

4And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5Then I said,

‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I live among a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,’” (Isaiah 6:3-5; NASB).

To recognize the holiness of God is necessarily to recognize our terrible lack thereof. Isaiah recognized not only the great heights of the purity and majesty of God in his vision, but also the great disparity that existed between God and himself. He recognized not merely the sinfulness of the people among whom he lived, but he took the all-consuming holiness of God into the core of his own being, and he was utterly wrecked by what he beheld. Let us not be trivial, then, in our own assessment of God’s relationship to the sinner. God hates sin so much that He willingly poured out His wrath on His own Son in order that His justice might be satisfied.

“Not all the vials of judgments, that have, or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious devils, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon his Son.,” (Stephen Charnock, Discourses on the Existence and Attributes of God, pg. 484).

Reconciliation with the God of perfection? God is completely separate in His holiness from sin of any sort. That is the definition of sin, after all: deviation from God’s holy standard. However, God’s holiness is not solely a negation of sin. It is also the complete perfection of His being. Berkhof explains: “But the idea of ethical holiness is not merely negative (separation from sin); it also has a positive content, namely, that of moral excellence, or ethical perfection,” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pg. 73).

The holiness of God does not exist in order to provide us with a rhetorical device to persuade unbelievers to recognize their sins. It is not revealed to us simply to provide us with a dilemma or a riddle that must be solved. It does, however, present us with a dilemma. It brings us before the holy, unapproachable throne of heaven, strips us bare, exposes all our shame, our imperfection, and our guilt, and leaves us condemned before a just and vengeful God.

Apart from some atonement, some payment, some divine pleading of our case, we find ourselves not merely separated from God, but under His just, holy, and eternal condemnation. As such, it is all too important that we help our unbelieving friends and loved ones to see themselves in the mirror of His infinite perfection. Do they hope to stand on the day of judgment? Apart from Christ, they should have no such confidence, for He dwells in unapproachable light.

“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16; NASB).

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 31

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Day 31

Of God and of the Holy Trinity

Chapter 2, Paragraph 1.

“…every way infinite, most holy…”

Scripture Lookup

Isaiah 6:3.

Reflection

God is absolutely holy.

What does that mean?

Thomas Vincent describes it this way:

The holiness of God is his essential property, whereby he is infinitely pure; loves and delights in his own purity, and in all the resemblances of it which any of his creatures have; and is perfectly free from all impurity, and hates it wherever he sees it.

That is both terrifying and awesome.

That God is absolutely holy is terrifying because this holiness sets Him apart from any other being. Terrifying because God is so holy that sinful beings cannot approach Him. If you attempt to come to God on your own terms, by your own strength, you will fail to know Him, because you cannot last in God’s presence with the stench of your sin still clinging to you. “I’m not that bad,” you may think. But any sin is an affront to God. What does darkness have to do with light? (2 Corinthians 6:14) “God is a perfectionist!” might be your next cry. Yes. Yes, He is. And He is perfectly good and just to set the standard of holiness, since He is most holy. How can we even begin to approach Him?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ… -Ephesians 2: 4,5

That God is absolutely holy is awesome because this holiness is essential to God. There is no blemish upon His holiness whatsoever. Have you ever been outside after it has snowed, and the sun shines so that everything is blindingly white? Or have you seen polished metal that gleams? And yet those elements of snow and metal still have impurities in them. God is so holy that the seraphim have to cover their eyes. And yet He provides a mediator in Jesus Christ. He sends His Spirit to dwell in those who trust Christ, conforming us to the image of His Son, and He delights in that!

Question to Consider

  • Have you ever praised God for His holiness?

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God

Table of Contents

Part I – Prolegomena

Part II – What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God

  • Section Two: Theology Proper
  • Section Three: God’s Decrees
  • Section Four: Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall
  • Section Five: Christ the Mediator
  • Section Six: The Work of the Spirit
  • Section Seven: The Death of the Righteous and the Wicked

Part III – What Duty God Requires of Man

  • Section Eight: Introduction to the Moral Law
  • Section Nine: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Ten: The First Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Eleven: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part One)
  • Section Twelve: The Second Table of the Moral Law (Part Two)
  • Section Thirteen: The Proper Response to Law and Gospel

Part VI – The Communication of God’s Grace

  • Section Fourteen: The Ordinary Means of Grace
  • Section Fifteen: Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

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In writing this humble series, I don’t hope to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great theologians who have already written on these subjects. What I do hope to accomplish is to make The Baptist Catechism a bit more accessible and clear for my generation. Having completed the third series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below.

 

Q.10: What are the decrees of God?

A. The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.1

1Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37

Moving along in our discussion of what man ought to believe concerning God, let us pivot a bit from what God is to what God does. Now, these two aspects of God should not be divorced from one another. Obviously, what God is will determine what God does. When we say that God is good, after all, we are claiming that God is the ultimate standard of all that is good. In order to properly define what good is requires that we do so in reference to what God is. It also requires that we do so in reference to what God does.

The first step in examining what God does is to look to His eternal decrees. In the decrees of God, we find the Source and Purpose for all that occurs, whether in the secret counsels of God or in the created order, from eternity to eternity. God Himself is the Source of everything that occurs. He is also the Purpose. The Westminster Assembly put it this way:

“The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.7).

William Collins, when penning The Baptist Catechism, changed nothing of substance in this answer. Why? This answer serves as one of the shortest, most succinct summaries of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever committed to the page. In it, we find that all that comes to pass is a result of God’s eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, and foreordained for the purpose of His own glory.

All that occurs, has occurred, or will occur is determined by the eternal will of God, comes from God, is guided and held together by God, and will ultimately culminate in His receiving all glory, honor, and power. In other words, the Source and Purpose of all things is God, God, God! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

If you really stop to think about it, Romans 11:36, from a worldly perspective, is a somewhat counter-intuitive way to end the discussion Paul began way back in Romans 9. In Romans 9-11, Paul explains how the monergistic gospel he has been describing since chapter 1 is actually good news, since many of his kinsmen are not believing. He begins Romans 9 with these words:

1I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.,” (Rom. 9:1-5; NASB).

Many in Israel would not repent. As a result, they were broken off, as branches are broken off from a tree. Paul refers to this breaking off as a partial hardening. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in,” (Rom. 11:25; NASB). How were many of Paul’s kinsmen according to the flesh coming to be hardened? They were hardened according to the sovereign will of God, according to Romans 9. God demonstrates His mercy upon whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills (9:14-18).

Paul knew this was a hard pill for his readers to swallow. It was a hard pill for him to swallow. However, it was the truth, and Christians are those who ultimately must come to the place where they affirm with Paul: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36; NASB).

Notice how, in the answer given in the catechism, God’s purpose is eternal. As we have already mentioned, God is immutable; He does not change. God has never changed His mind on a matter. What He decreed in eternity past remains unchanged to this day. Thus, the apostle Paul writes: “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (Eph. 1:4a; NASB). If God can change His mind, what would it matter who He chose to be holy and blameless before the foundation of the world? He could just as easily choose differently tomorrow, if indeed He is unstable in His decrees.

However, we know that He is not unstable. Whatsoever He has decreed will surely come to pass. It is on this truth that our hope in an eternal inheritance rests, for Paul also writes: “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Ephesians 1:11; NASB). But, if God’s will is mutable, might our inheritance be given to another? Why should we hold to it with any surety? On the contrary, Louis Berkhof writes of God:

“He is not deficient in knowledge, veracity, or power. Therefore, He need not change His decree because of a mistake of ignorance, nor because of inability to carry it out. And He will not change it, because He is the immutable God and because He sis faithful and true,” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 1941, pg. 105).

God’s sovereignty and immutability in His decrees, then, are a great comfort to us. They ensure for us all of the great promises of God. Our comfort is not the ultimate purpose of the doctrine, though. How foolish, arbitrary, overly-romantic, and trite it would be if God had determined to mold His determinative faculties around something as ultimately insignificant as human feelings. No. God’s created order does not revolve around us: our wills, our feelings, our significance, our dignity, and our glory. Rather, it is all for His glory!

It is ultimately God’s glory that hinges on His purposes being established, not ours. It is ultimately His divine, eternal reputation that is at stake. Thus, He is the One whose “good pleasure” is paramount:

“Declaring the end from the beginning,

And from ancient times things which have not been done,

Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,

And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’,” (Isaiah 46:10; NASB).

We object that God’s good pleasure must make sense to us. We must be able to wrap our finite, fickle minds around His sovereign, eternal decrees, or He is a monster! “19You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ 20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” (Rom. 9:19-20; NASB). Just as the clay does not have a right to demand to know the secret counsels of the potter, neither do we have the right to demand from God His secret decrees.

We do not get to determine the definition of good, and then demand that God fit into that mold. Rather, we determine what is good by a proper examination of God. Hence the age old problem of questioning authority. In the military, it is a soldier’s duty to disobey unlawful orders, because the law is above command in rank. In theology, we never have right disobey an order of God, because He is the law.

We have no right to question the goodness or the justice of God, because He is the standard of goodness and justice. To lay a charge against Him is to speak out of sheer ignorance. Though one may observe several instances where Lord Tennyson’s often quoted The Charge of the Light Brigade is flawed in relation to subordination in the military, it holds true nonetheless in Christian theology.

“Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.”

 

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.

_____________________________

Alfred Hitchcock is accredited with having said, “Self-plagiarism is style.” While my views have changed since writing the paper “Trinitarian Foundations for Christian Education,” I have largely used its material in this next section of our Studies in The Baptist Catechism series. As you can observe, the sections taken from the paper have been altered to reflect a change in views. I no longer take the ESS view of the Trinity in marking the unity and diversity of man, but rather point to the economic Trinity.

_____________________________

 

Q.13: How did God create man?

A. God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.1

1Genesis 1:26-28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24

 

Having examined what the Bible teaches us about creation generally, let us now turn our gaze to the pinnacle of God’s creation: mankind. Mankind is unique in that we were created in God’s image. Now, before we say anything else about what it means that we’re created in God’s image, let us first note the universality of it. The Bible does not teach that some men are created in God’s image. It does not say that some men are more created in God’s image than others. Rather, we read: “So God created man in His own image,” (Genesis 1:27a).

The Dignity of God’s Image

One might argue that the fall of man into sin changed things. Certainly the image of God in us has been marred. However, there still remains a divine image on all men, which brings with it a great dignity. Notice in Genesis 9 that, after the fall, after the murder of Abel, and even after the flood, men are still to be treated with dignity by virtue of the fact that they have been made in the image of God.

6Whoever sheds man’s blood,

By man his blood shall be shed;

For in the image of God

He made man.

7And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;

Bring forth abundantly in the earth

And multiply in it,” (vv. 6-7; NKJV).

Capital Punishment

The Bible then teaches that all men without exception, as a consequence of having been created in the image of God, have a certain dignity bestowed upon them. This dignity persists beyond the fall of man into sin. As a result, Christianity does not make light of crimes like murder. In fact, God Himself has commanded that all men who destroy a life created in God’s image are to be put to death for the crime they have committed against God Himself.

It could be said that, in the museum of God’s grand creation, He has one gallery in particular upon which He has bestowed favor. This gallery is full of self-portraits. They are not the Artist Himself, but they bear His image and are to be honored with much the same care with which we would honor His very Person. When harm is done to one of His images, it is as though an attack has been made on His very Person.

1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor,” (Romans 13:1-7; NASB).

Therefore, there is no debate in Scripture over the issue of capital punishment. When a man kills one or more human beings, given the proper amount of proof and the absence of any doubt, God’s image has been destroyed. A life has been taken; the life-taker’s life shall likewise be taken. A nation that treats this duty with contempt treats God’s very image, and thus God Himself, with contempt.

Abortion

Recently, a presidential candidate came under fire for saying that women who get abortions should be subject to penalties under law, to include imprisonment. Sadly, it was not the Pro-Choice movement that came out against the politician under question; it was the Pro-Life movement that came out and loudly denounced the statement as not representative of the Pro-Life movement. As a result, the politician retracted his statement.

Let us follow this logic, though. If abortion is murder (the destruction of the very image of God), it should be treated as murder by the governing authorities. Now, consider any other situation where a woman might pay someone to murder another human being. Let us take it even further, as the Pro-Choice movement often does, and say that the woman was raped or that she was the victim of incest. Should she have the right, under law, to pay a hitman to surgically dismember the perpetrator?

Now, perhaps we could make the case that such people should receive capital punishment from the government. That is different, though, then a woman hiring someone to murder the individual. Hiring a hitman to kill another human being, for any reason, is the same as committing the murder yourself. Why then is it any different for a woman to hire a hitman to murder the human being in her womb?

13For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them,” (Ps. 139:13-16; NASB).

Dealing with Differences

Murder is not the only crime against God’s image, though. Racism has historically taught, from a Darwinian foundation, that man has evolved from lower lifeforms and some “races” are less evolved than others. Akin to racism is also the sin of ethnic favoritism. James condemns favoritism in James 2:

1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (Jas. 2:1-7; NASB).

What is true of partiality in general is true also of ethnic partiality. We are not to hold our faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of ethnic partiality. Ethnic partiality can be practiced by people of any color and can be used to treat people of other races as either inferior or less deserving of one’s respect. We must recognize that all human beings deserve a certain amount of respect merely out of virtue of the fact that they are created in God’s image. We would not look at a self-portrait of God and curse it. Why then do we so easily curse men, who are the very image of God? To do so is sinful. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors,” (Jas. 2:9; NASB).

The disabled, the poor, the foreigner, the sick, the aged—all men are created in the image of God. Thus, we are called to treat all men with dignity and respect. If we are not used to a certain condition of man, it is understandable to have an involuntary reaction when we first meet one. The question is whether or not we take the necessary strides to accommodate for one another’s differences.

A man who has been poor his whole life is not naturally going to be comfortable in the presence of wealthy people, nor is a man who has never been to a homeless shelter going to immediately feel at home serving in a soup kitchen. A black man who grew up in a neighborhood has only known white people who are in positions of authority, like cops, teachers, etc., might have a great deal of discomfort to overcome when attending a predominantly white church. The same is true for white people who have never spent much time around non-whites suddenly attending a Korean church, a predominantly Hispanic church, or a black church.

There is discomfort to overcome when one begins to work with people with disabilities, or in a nursing home, or in hospice care. There is great difference among God’s people, but we are all created in the image of God. Though we may not do it perfectly or instinctively, we must each strive to accommodate for our differences.

 

Unity and Diversity

God did not merely create mankind with a common dignity; He also created us with personal uniqueness and value. Nowhere is this difference so immediately apparent than in our examination of unity and diversity. Men and women are both created in God’s image with the same nature and value, but men and women are also created unique in our roles and relationships. In the same way, the church was created to be one body, but each member of the body was created unique in our roles and relationships. The Bible teaches us that this uniqueness and diversity comes to all mankind as a result of having been made in the image of the economic Trinity.

Marriage

In 1Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and admonishing them to restore proper order in the church. In specifically addressing the issue of submission and headship among men and their wives, Paul draws on some rather gripping imagery. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (vs. 3). Paul’s word choice draws to mind a parallel between the complementary roles within the economic Trinity and the complementary roles God has instituted to exist within marriage.

This equality of nature and subordination of roles is what lies at the foundation of the biblical, complementarian view of marriage. The head of Jesus is God. Paul is not suggesting that the Messiah is of a lesser essence or value than God; He is of the same essence and nature in totality. Rather, it was determined in eternity past that Christ would willingly submit Himself to the Father in His incarnation and become fully obedient to Him, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). In like manner, women are called to submit to their husbands, not as a sign of inequality in essence or nature, but out of progressive conformity to the image of Christ (1Pet. 2:21-3:2).

Men and women do not arrive at the institution of marriage as two natural, complete wholes, both insisting that the integrity of their individual natures be given superiority over the union. Rather, they are united in essence and in goal. Similarly, men and women are not to see one another, as the egalitarians suggest, as having uniformity in function. They both offer unique and glorious contributions to the relationship. In their unique roles, they image forth the glory of the subordinate nature of the Godhead. As Gordon Clark writes:

“The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above another in function,” (Clark, First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary. Nutley, N.J., P&R Publishing Co. 1975, 169).

The foundation of the principle of headship in marriage is the principle of headship within the economic Trinity. Paul states this emphatically so that in drawing agreement from his readers on the issue of divine, redemptive headship, they would be forced likewise to agree with him on the issue of marital headship (Charles Hodge, First & Second Corinthians. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust. 1978, 206). Furthermore, in making his case, Paul demonstrates that the principle of marital headship is first and foremost a creation ordinance, not merely an ordinance for the church (1Cor. 11:7-9, 12; see Clark, First Corinthians, pg. 169). As descendants of Adam and Eve, those who violate the principle of marital headship are guilty before God, regardless of their relationship to the church. They are guilty of marring the image of the triune God, which God Himself has placed within them (Gen. 1:26-27).

The Church

Churches also are to have within them certain structures that are put in place to image forth the Trinitarian nature of their loving God. Such structures are fitting insofar as the churches have been redeemed and assembled through the cooperative work of each Person of the Trinity. “The Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father” (The Baptist Confession, 26.5). Based upon this understanding of the redemptive work of their triune God, the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to image forth Trinitarian uniqueness and unity.

After having shown each Person of the Trinity at work in each of the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul opens the second half of Ephesians by making mention of them as well. He reminds the church at Ephesus that the godly character and Christian unity to which they have been called (vv. 1-3) are rooted in the identity they enjoy as worshippers of one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all “who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). In vv. 7-16, Paul commences to paint a word picture of a body (vv. 4, 12-16) in which each member is uniquely gifted (vs. 7) and plays a unique role (vs. 16). Yet, each member is part of the same body which is being built up into one mature man (vv. 11-14) the head of whom is Christ Himself (vs. 15).

William Hendriksen insists, “It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him,” (William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House. 1995, pg. 199). This process in no way diminishes the unique and valuable identity of the persons involved. Rather, they each find their true value and identity as they use their unique gifts in contribution to the overall work of the body of Christ. “Christ, the head, unifies the body and causes it to grow, in which process every member has some part,” (Gordon Clark, Ephesians. Jefferson, MD., Trinity Foundation. 1985, pg. 144).

In Ephesians 1:1-4:16, Paul provides the church with some of the most vivid imagery of the economic Trinity by merely holding up a mirror. He demonstrates how, when every person in a local church is functioning properly, they will image forth the triune God who has called them into this glorious communion. Charles Hodge explains: “There are many passages to which the doctrine of the Trinity gives a sacred rhythm, though the doctrine itself is not directly asserted. It is so here. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. The unity of the church is founded on this doctrine” (Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. New York, R. Carter. 1856, pg. 209).

This exposition can be taken a bit further, though. The doctrine of the Trinity not only provides churches with a foundation for their unity, but it also provides individuals within those churches with a foundation for their dignity. It is with the foundational understanding that each Person in the Trinity supplies a unique contribution to the work of redemption that Christians also come to understand that the whole body of Christ is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (vs. 16a). “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1Cor. 12:17).

Made in the Image of a Triune God

The foundation for this doctrine does not originate with Paul, though; it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When God created man, He created him in His very own image:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

Many have warned against making an instant leap from the plural personal pronouns God uses in reference to Himself in this passage to an assertion of Trinitarian theology. It certainly is not enough to make a full argument for the Trinitarian nature of God. However, it is quite worth noting how quickly the passage goes from saying, “Let Us make man in Our image,” to saying, “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Finally, he writes: “He created him (singular); male and female He created them (plural).” Man was created unique and man was created to be united in fellowship with others.

Man was never created to be an island unto himself. In fact, before God created woman, He saw fit to vocalize this truth: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and after she was created, Adam saw fit to vocalize this truth: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The woman was a unique, distinct person while at once being on flesh with her husband. As such, man images forth the Triune God who created him; man and woman image forth the Triune God who created them (1Cor. 11:7, 12).

Rational and Righteous

Another major aspect of what it means to have been created in the image of God is that we were created “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” These three ideas interplay with one another. Obviously, righteousness assumes holiness and vice versa. Knowledge, when referring to the original estate of man, also assumes righteousness and holiness.

Knowledge

Adam was not created a super intelligent being. He was not created with all knowledge. As we said earlier in our study, were we to have all knowledge, we would be God. Adam did not have all knowledge, but he did have pure knowledge. That is to say that the knowledge that he had was pure, undefiled, and God-glorifying.

We do not often think of knowledge as having an ethical element to it. Knowledge is seen, especially in modernity, as a rather neutral endeavor. We often think, “I may be wrong about this or that, but what does it ultimately matter?” It ultimately matters because, if we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him,”—if we are to reason biblically about things—we must think correctly about things. We are often so consumed with the mere acquisition of knowledge that we do not take the time to apply to it understanding and wisdom. This is the process by which the Bible would have us acquire knowledge.

9For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NASB; cf. Prov. 2:6; 9:10).

According to Paul, the way that we take in knowledge is to first acquire it, then to apply to it understanding and wisdom and, when this is done appropriately, we will bear fruit in every good work and increase all the more in knowledge. Adam was created a learning being. He did not have knowledge of all things (e.g. good and evil; see Gen. 3:4-7), but what he did have was pure and rightly coupled with understanding and wisdom.

We know that rational thinking is godly, because it is part of the very image of God. Paul understood this rational element of God’s image when he wrote: “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him,” (Col. 3:10; NASB). When in the garden, Adam reasoned rationally. After the fall, men ceased to think the thoughts of God after him; our very thinking was marred. Now that we are in Christ, we are being renewed in this aspect of God’s image.

Righteousness and Holiness

That man was created upright is undisputed. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices,” (Eccl. 7:29; NASB). Adam and Eve were originally created holy and happy. These two qualities of their first estate were intrinsically intertwined such that, when they sinned, they fell into a new estate of sin and misery, an estate that persists to this day.

Adam was able to sin and not to sin. Since the fall mankind is not able not to sin. Since Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Christians are freed from slavery to sin, but not its presence and influence. In glory, we will be free from all aspects of sin: its power, its abiding influence, and even its very presence. These are what have come to be known as the four estates of man.

Though Adam was created in God’s image, holy and happy, we have all now fallen from that glorious estate. That is not our final end, though. As Christians, we are called and enabled to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” (Eph. 4:24; NASB). We are daily being renewed according to the image of God the Son (Rom. 8:29). According to Beeke and Jones, “[John Owen] says that while ‘image’ denoted man’s original faculties properly oriented toward God, likeness denoted righteousness and the ability to respond to God in obedience,” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pp. 670-671). In like manner, being made over (renewed) in His image means we have the righteousness of Christ and the enabling of the Spirit to respond to God in obedience.

Dominion

Finally, the image of God means that we have been granted dominion over the whole earth. The world was created for our benefit, and man was commanded to subdue it. Among other things, this means that natural resources, vegetation, the animals, and all of the other elements of the world around us could rightly have been harnessed by man in his original state to be used for his own benefit. Since the fall, even the creation has been distorted.

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” (Rom. 8:18-22; NASB).

There is a sense in which creation itself has an innate understanding of the proper order of things. The fall of man essentially removed man from his rightful throne. Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 16:11). Paul refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph. 2:2).

Thankfully, though, we read that we are no longer under his rule. We have been freed from his influence through the great love and mercy of God (Eph. 2:4ff). Furthermore, we read that the ruler of this world has already been judged as a result of the sending of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension (John 12:31; 16:11). The Godman, Jesus Christ, has reestablished man’s reign through His resurrection (Col. 2:15; cf. Heb. 2:9-18). As a result, we now understand our position of one of ruling and reigning with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6).

 

Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are His most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.4

1Psalm 145:17

2Psalm 104:24; Isaiah 28:29

3Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19

4Matthew 10:29-31

One way of considering the subject of God’s decrees is to ask the question: How does God relate to every created thing? Of course, we just spent several questions considering the fact that God relates to every created thing as its Creator. There is a great Creator / creature distinction embedded in the design of all things. However, this notion of God as Creator in relation to all things only addresses origins and design. The natural follow-up question remains: How does God still relate to every created thing? This will be the subject of our study today.

The Baptist Catechism breaks up this discussion into two sections. Just as the catechism started with a discussion of creation in general and then narrowed the focus to the creation of man, it also starts with a discussion of providence in general and then narrows the focus to God’s providential dealings with man. This week, we will simply be considering providence in general.

The Sovereign God

Another way to consider God’s decree is by considering His sovereignty. In God’s sovereignty, He created all things and, thereby, established His dominion over them. In love, He uniquely created man, stamping him with His very image. Likewise, God continues to exercise His sovereignty by His great works of providence in all created things. His special act of providence toward man is one of life, love, and redemption.

“The Calvinist finds peace in the conviction that behind God’s all-encompassing providence is the full acquiescence of the triune God. The sovereign grace and love that went to Calvary has the whole world in its hands. God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ is the essence of who God is,” (Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, pg. 40).

All things that come to pass, even the murder of the only perfect Man to ever live, are part of God’s great decree. He not only allows the evil and calamitous events of our world to come to pass. He decreed that they would and, in His goodness, He has given them purpose and meaning that we could never fully grasp.

The Supernatural God

Some assume that God’s relationship to the current state of created things is like a watch on a beach. God molded and shaped it. He fastened it all together. He even put his mark on the back of it so that people could know who made it. Then he wound it up, set it down, and walked away. This view of God and His relationship to all created things is a modern, naturalistic perversion of who God is and how He relates to the cosmos.

There is no such thing as a natural world, if we are to define natural the same way that Darwin and his predecessors have. There is nothing that just is or just does. When we say that man knows who God is because the whole of creation tells of His glory, we do not merely mean that God designed the cosmos so that men seeking for Him might discover clues in it. God does not leave the reception of His glory to the finite, fallen faculties of man to be discerned from mere clues. God is always, ever acting in every atom of His creation. If a stone attests to the glory of God and a man recognizes the glory to which it attests, God has both acted through the stone and through the man to case the attestation and the recognition. God both speaks and opens the ears of those to whom He speaks.

The Immanent God

Whatsoever comes to pass in this world then is God acting in this world. God has determined whatsoever comes to pass, and He is working it all toward His entirely holy will. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds,” (Ps. 145:17; NASB). Even that which is evil, though God ordains from eternity past that it shall come to pass, though men mean it for evil God means it for good (Gen. 50:20). The most evil deed ever committed, the murder of Christ, was used of God to bring about the greatest good ever wrought.

“Everything depends on God as the primary cause both of its substance and circumstances (Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:37-38). God often works through means, though He does not need those means. His providence both preserves all things (Ps. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3) and governs all things (Ps. 29:10; Gen. 50:20),” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pg. 163).

The All Wise and Holy God

How does God ensure that all of His acts are holy and good? God has infinite, eternal wisdom. In all of His works, His unsurpassed wisdom is on display. In love and mercy, He has ordained that we should be able to ascertain some of His great wisdom. We can fathom some of the wisdom behind His choices, but the whole of His counsel is to us entirely inscrutable (Rom. 11:33).

“This also comes from the Lord of hosts,

Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great,” (Isa. 28:29; NASB).

In His wisdom and holiness, God has decreed that whatever comes to pass, regardless of any appearance of evil in its design, is nevertheless designed to accomplish God’s perfect and good design. The Baptist Confession states this doctrine most succinctly:

“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (The Baptist Confession, 5.4).

The All Powerful God

God’s providence is not only holy and wise. His meticulous and purposeful government of all things also required a third trait. God’s providence is girded not just with holiness and wisdom but also with infinite power. God is infinitely capable of accomplishing all He has ordained will come to pass.

As we saw in our study of creation, by His mere word, all things sprang into existence. Likewise, by the word of His power, all things are upheld. Indeed, it is through the Person of the Son that God has determined to hold all things together:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3; NASB).

Conclusion

God rules all of His creation with absolute sovereignty. He is infinitely capable in His unsearchable wisdom and absolute holiness. In His absolute sovereignty, He governs both His creatures and all of their actions. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all,” (Psalm 103:19; NASB). There is nothing that occurs within the whole of creation apart from the decree of God. Every bird and every hair that falls to the ground does so only how and when it has been eternally determined by the God of glory (Mt. 10:29-31).

 

Q.15: What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?

A. When God created man, He entered into a covenant of life with him upon condition of perfect obedience: forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.1

1Galatians 3:12; Genesis 2:17

 

“COVENANT THEOLOGY, SIMPLY STATED, is the view of God and redemption that interprets the Holy Scriptures by way of covenants,” (Earl Blackburn, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 17).

What we see in Genesis 2 is not only an account of the creation of Adam and Eve. In the garden, God and man entered into a covenant. God bestowed certain benefits upon Adam; He gave him life and all the provisions he needed to sustain life in the garden. He created man sinless and in a state of joy and fellowship. Moses recounts the boundaries wherein this covenant was binding: the Garden of Eden. Finally, God established the conditions whereby man might remain in this estate: care for the garden, remain righteous, and do not eat of the tree.

This covenant between God and Adam was fully determined beforehand by God; man in no way takes part in negotiations with God over this agreement. God has given life to man, and man is expected to honor God’s just requirements in order to remain in the estate in which he was created.

“So we may say that man has not at any time entered into covenant with God but God has entered into covenant with man. It only belongs to his sovereign majesty and is the fuit of his infinite goodness to propose, as well as his wisdom to choose and order, the terms of a covenant relationship between himself and his creatures. Therefore the covenant that he has made with men is frequently in Scripture said to be the Lord’s covenant, as in Psalm 25:14, Isaiah 56:4, 6, and other places,” (Nehemiah Coxe, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pg. 35).

This particular covenant between God and Adam has major implications for us today. Paul tells us that we are either in Christ or in Adam. Where Adam was unfaithful and broke his covenant with God, ensuring that all of his children would be born in bondage to sin, Christ was fulfilled it, redeeming His church from bondage to sin.

Benefits Bestowed by God

Life. The first detail that must be examined in relation to the original state of man is the fact that God gives him life (Gen. 2:7). There were no preconditions to God’s choice to bestow life upon mankind, nor could man have done anything to earn this gift. God, out of His own good pleasure, bestowed life upon man. We often do not think of life as a gift, especially when we’re going through hardships, but it is most certainly a gift of God (Deut. 32:39; Job 33:4; Eccl. 9:9; Acts 17:25).

All life is a gift from God. I am always confounded to hear of total strangers who see “large” families in the mall or in the grocery store and stop the mother to ask, “You know how to fix that, right?” Somehow, in our society, we have come to view the gift of life, and especially the lives of children, as a burden. We have forgotten the righteous prayer of Hannah (1Sam. 1:1-11).

Tellingly, The Baptist Catechism does not refer to this covenant by its more common moniker: the Covenant of Works. This moniker focuses on the condition of the covenant rather than the benefit. Rather, The Baptist Catechism calls the covenant the “Covenant of Life,” which focuses our attention on the benefit we receive. This is the mindset with which we ought to consider all of God’s covenant dealings with man. In this sense, all of God’s covenants are gracious in that they bestow upon us a benefit not previously merited by us.

Provision. Not only did God bestow life upon Adam, but he also provided him all he needed to sustain and enjoy life in the garden. God provided Adam with food (Gen. 2:16), companionship (Gen. 2:18-23), and fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8a). It had not yet rained on the earth, so Adam and Eve needed no shelter. Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness, so they needed no clothes. Thus, we see that God had provided for them everything they needed and more.

“Adam enjoyed the unmerited privilege of physical and spiritual life. He enjoyed communion with God. He knew God. He had affectionate fellowship with him. Scripture calls such a knowledge and fellowship with God ‘life’ (John 17:3). Thus Adam had life, physical and spiritual,” (Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, pg. 338).

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus assures us that God provides for us all things that we need, and that we in turn are to be anxious for nothing:

25For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the filed grow; they do not toil or spin, 29yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34Do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:25-34).

If there is one thing that we as Christians in America tend to be guilty of, it is relying on our fallen world system to provide us with all we need. Contrary to this mode of living, we ought to look to man’s original state and see that God is the giver of all things. He placed man in a state of perfect, abundant provision. The height of this mentality is most potently displayed during election seasons in America. Our default assumption seems to be that our country will fall apart tomorrow if we do not get what we want today.

We need to be constantly reminded that God is the one who is in control. God provides for us, and if He decides to take our prosperity from us, so be it. He has not promised us prosperity; He has promised us provision.

The Character of Man’s Original Estate

Sinless. Whatever we might say about man in his original state, it is important to recognize that man was created sinless (Gen. 1:31a; Eccl. 7:29). When first created, Adam knew neither bondage to sin nor the effects of sin. His estate was not only ideal because of his external circumstances, but also because of his internal disposition. Man was created in a state of perfect communion and union with God (Gen. 3:8a).

This state of perfect communion and union with God is the ultimate goal of redemption (Rev. 21:3-4). God’s purpose in redeeming His elect is that they be conformed to the sinless and perfect image of His Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; Heb. 4:15), ensuring an eternal union and communion with God in heaven. What Adam and Eve had in the garden, freedom from bondage and penalty of sin, we will have in glory, but with the full assurance that we will never again be subject to the dominion of sin over us.

Joyful. Regarding the joy man had in his original state, first, we should recognize the fact that Adam and Eve had no shortage of joy in the estate in which God created them. They not only had an abundance of necessary provisions, but God also provided them with the most delightful provisions. “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). In other words, God originally created man to enjoy his existence and enjoy the rest of creation.

Second, God created man to enjoy the blessing of relationship. This is one of the aspects of the Imago Dei. Just as the Trinity is eternally relational, so too man (His image bearer) is created to be in relationship (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:18, 22-24). Man and woman were created for one another and, in their original state, their relationship did not bear the mark of shame (Gen. 2:25).

The Boundaries of Man’s Original Estate

The Garden of Eden. In the ancient Near-East, when two kings would sign a treaty, they always established the boundaries wherein that treaty was binding. For man, his arrangement with God was binding within the Garden of Eden. God created the garden especially for man and placed him there to tend it (Gen. 2:15), it was in the garden that God walked in their midst in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8), and it was in the garden that God placed the tree of life. When Adam sinned against God, he was kicked out of the garden and lost direct access to God and to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).

When we ponder these realities, it should cause us to look forward to our glorious inheritance in heaven. All those who are no longer in Adam, but have been transferred into the New Covenant, in Christ, have the hope of experiencing all these things. God will transfer us to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10-27) where He will once again walk among His people (Rev. 21:3-4) who will yet again have access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2).

The Conditions of Man’s Original Estate

“Under this covenant, man must do what he was commanded in order to continue in a state of blessedness. If righteous man was [sic] to remain happy, all hinges on what he does! If man failed, then the curse falls. If man succeeded, blessing would be his and to all his offspring. Historically, this divinely-given arrangement by which man may be blessed has been called the Covenant of Works. That name was chosen because its focal point was on man’s working. Everything depended upon what man did,” (Walter Chantry, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 91).

Care for the Garden. There were essentially two commands that God gave Adam in the garden. He placed him there to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15) and commanded him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death (Gen. 2:16-17). Adam’s care and cultivation of the garden was one aspect of the dominion that Adam was to have over the earth. One thing of which to take note is the fact that Adam never complained of his work. In fact, it was not until after Adam sinned against God that we see that his toil and labor became toilsome and laborious (Gen. 3:17-19).

Work, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, when we look at the fourth commandment, we see that it was not only God’s design that man rest on the seventh day, but that he work all six days leading up to it:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle  or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy,” (Ex. 20:8-11; NASB).

Do not eat of the tree. In the Garden of Eden, God expected perfect obedience from Adam and Eve, upon pain of death. Man was made upright (Eccl. 7:29). “This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to,” (Coxe, Covenant Theology, pg. 43). Coupled with this “internal and subjective” law (Ibid.), which was encoded in his very nature, was a positive precept.

God verbally commanded him not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Gen. 2:15-17).

Of course, we know that Adam did not obey God. That’s why we see in Romans 5:19: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Adam was the first man. Through his disobedience, we all became sinners but, through Christ’s obedience, all who believe in him are freed from the dominion of sin.

Conclusion

In Adam, we see that the original covenant between God and man was broken. In Christ, there is a new arrangement, the New Covenant, in which all who are in Christ are made right with God. Where Adam disobeyed, Christ obeyed. Where we are condemned in Adam, we are redeemed in Christ. Thank God for His sovereign, redemptive dealings with His people.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.14)

Q.14: What are God’s works of providence?

A. God’s works of providence are His most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing of all His creatures, and all their actions.4

1Psalm 145:17

2Psalm 104:24; Isaiah 28:29

3Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 103:19

4Matthew 10:29-31

One way of considering the subject of God’s decrees is to ask the question: How does God relate to every created thing? Of course, we just spent several questions considering the fact that God relates to every created thing as its Creator. There is a great Creator / creature distinction embedded in the design of all things. However, this notion of God as Creator in relation to all things only addresses origins and design. The natural follow-up question remains: How does God still relate to every created thing? This will be the subject of our study today.

The Baptist Catechism breaks up this discussion into two sections. Just as the catechism started with a discussion of creation in general and then narrowed the focus to the creation of man, it also starts with a discussion of providence in general and then narrows the focus to God’s providential dealings with man. This week, we will simply be considering providence in general.

The Sovereign God

Another way to consider God’s decree is by considering His sovereignty. In God’s sovereignty, He created all things and, thereby, established His dominion over them. In love, He uniquely created man, stamping him with His very image. Likewise, God continues to exercise His sovereignty by His great works of providence in all created things. His special act of providence toward man is one of life, love, and redemption.

“The Calvinist finds peace in the conviction that behind God’s all-encompassing providence is the full acquiescence of the triune God. The sovereign grace and love that went to Calvary has the whole world in its hands. God’s fatherly sovereignty in Christ is the essence of who God is,” (Beeke, Living for God’s Glory, pg. 40).

All things that come to pass, even the murder of the only perfect Man to ever live, are part of God’s great decree. He not only allows the evil and calamitous events of our world to come to pass. He decreed that they would and, in His goodness, He has given them purpose and meaning that we could never fully grasp.

The Supernatural God

Some assume that God’s relationship to the current state of created things is like a watch on a beach. God molded and shaped it. He fastened it all together. He even put his mark on the back of it so that people could know who made it. Then he wound it up, set it down, and walked away. This view of God and His relationship to all created things is a modern, naturalistic perversion of who God is and how He relates to the cosmos.

There is no such thing as a natural world, if we are to define natural the same way that Darwin and his predecessors have. There is nothing that just is or just does. When we say that man knows who God is because the whole of creation tells of His glory, we do not merely mean that God designed the cosmos so that men seeking for Him might discover clues in it. God does not leave the reception of His glory to the finite, fallen faculties of man to be discerned from mere clues. God is always, ever acting in every atom of His creation. If a stone attests to the glory of God and a man recognizes the glory to which it attests, God has both acted through the stone and through the man to case the attestation and the recognition. God both speaks and opens the ears of those to whom He speaks.

The Immanent God

Whatsoever comes to pass in this world then is God acting in this world. God has determined whatsoever comes to pass, and He is working it all toward His entirely holy will. “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds,” (Ps. 145:17; NASB). Even that which is evil, though God ordains from eternity past that it shall come to pass, though men mean it for evil God means it for good (Gen. 50:20). The most evil deed ever committed, the murder of Christ, was used of God to bring about the greatest good ever wrought.

“Everything depends on God as the primary cause both of its substance and circumstances (Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:37-38). God often works through means, though He does not need those means. His providence both preserves all things (Ps. 104:19-20; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3) and governs all things (Ps. 29:10; Gen. 50:20),” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pg. 163).

The All Wise and Holy God

How does God ensure that all of His acts are holy and good? God has infinite, eternal wisdom. In all of His works, His unsurpassed wisdom is on display. In love and mercy, He has ordained that we should be able to ascertain some of His great wisdom. We can fathom some of the wisdom behind His choices, but the whole of His counsel is to us entirely inscrutable (Rom. 11:33).

“This also comes from the Lord of hosts,

Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great,” (Isa. 28:29; NASB).

In His wisdom and holiness, God has decreed that whatever comes to pass, regardless of any appearance of evil in its design, is nevertheless designed to accomplish God’s perfect and good design. The Baptist Confession states this doctrine most succinctly:

“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin,” (The Baptist Confession, 5.4).

The All Powerful God

God’s providence is not only holy and wise. His meticulous and purposeful government of all things also required a third trait. God’s providence is girded not just with holiness and wisdom but also with infinite power. God is infinitely capable of accomplishing all He has ordained will come to pass.

As we saw in our study of creation, by His mere word, all things sprang into existence. Likewise, by the word of His power, all things are upheld. Indeed, it is through the Person of the Son that God has determined to hold all things together:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb. 1:3; NASB).

Conclusion

God rules all of His creation with absolute sovereignty. He is infinitely capable in His unsearchable wisdom and absolute holiness. In His absolute sovereignty, He governs both His creatures and all of their actions. “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all,” (Psalm 103:19; NASB). There is nothing that occurs within the whole of creation apart from the decree of God. Every bird and every hair that falls to the ground does so only how and when it has been eternally determined by the God of glory (Mt. 10:29-31).

A Working Definition of Evangelism

With a view toward making disciples and covenanting them to a local church, where they will be baptized in the name of the Triune God and taught to obey all that Christ commanded, evangelism is the articulation of the holiness of God, the sin of man and its wages, Christ’s accomplishment of redemption through His incarnation, perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection on behalf of sinners, and the proper response of sinners: repentance from sin toward God, and faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

LBCF of 1677/1689 – Chapter Thirteen, Of Sanctification

1. They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
( Acts 20:32; Romans 6:5, 6; John 17:17; Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23; Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 1:11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Hebrews 12:14 )

2. This sanctification is throughout the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war; the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
( 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 7:18, 23; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11 )

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in His Word hath prescribed them.
( Romans 7:23; Romans 6:14; Ephesians 4:15, 16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1 )