Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.15)

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).

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.13)

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.

 

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).

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VIII – 1 Corinthians 12-14

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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We often place a divide between ecclesiology and public theology but, depending on where we draw that line, we can often be in error. What we do within the church walls can potentially reap major consequences outside the church walls. If the world looks upon the church and sees that she is behaving in an unloving, disunified, or disordered manner, it very well could be that we are setting up unnecessary, though unintended, divisions between us and the culture. If we are more concerned with putting on a show for the world than speaking forth the word of conviction to the world, the world may join in, but they will have no incentive to submit to Christ’s discipleship. Rather, we will inevitably be expected to bow to their customs, preferences, and cultural mandates. Christ’s disciples will be guilted, coerced, or seduced into becoming disciples of the culture.

Preliminary Considerations

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a discussion that follows through to 1 Corinthians 14. Many, both cessationists and continuationists, erroneously believe that chapters 12-14 center on the topic of tongues. Not only do people in both of these camps believe that tongues is the central theme here, but they falsely interpret tongues as an ecstatic utterance of an unlearned language.

While continuationists more commonly believe that this is not a known language but an angelic one, many cessationists argue that the tongue is a known, though foreign, unlearned, and thus ecstatic tongue. That said, there are also several people in both camps that could not be defined precisely by the descriptions detailed above. I would argue that the Reformers, Puritans, and Particular Baptists are certainly cessationists, though they would not fit the cessationist mold described above.

Before we get into a more detailed discussion of the character of tongues and the cessation or continuation of them, it is important to note what chapters 12-14 really are about. As I have stated, tongues is not the central concern of Paul in these chapters. His central concern, as is the case in much of the rest of 1 Corinthians, is their love and unity.

Chapter 12

Paul begins his current discussion of love and unity by making a general argument, in chapter 12, for the proper use of the gifts. Paul does not offer a spiritual gifts quiz and say, “Everyone needs to take this quiz and then you will know precisely what your gifts are and the committee to which you are to report.” Just as in Colossians Paul points his readers heavenward for their remedy for sin (Col. 3:1-2) rather than toward the traditions of man and worldly philosophies (Col. 2:8), here he points them to love and unity for their spiritual growth rather than some gifts test. To put it another way, the gifts are a circumstance of the argument, a necessary point of contact, but they are not the main argument. The main argument is love and unity.

Paul does not say, “Figure out your spiritual gift and then you will know how to love the body and be strengthened in the bonds of unity.” Rather, the assumption is that they are already working toward love and unity and, consequently, their spiritual gifts have been unearthed, but some on account of their spiritual gifts were thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. Thus, if Christians want to discern their spiritual gifts, they don’t need to take a test; they need to work toward strengthening the body in love and unity. As they serve the church in this manner, they will naturally walk in the spiritual giftings God has given them, whether or not they ever nail down precisely what those spiritual gifts are.

Chapter 13

It becomes all the more clear that Paul’s primary concern is the love and unity of the church when we get to chapter 13. 1 Corinthians 13 has often been enshrined “the Love Chapter,” and people often say it from the back of their throat, like someone mimicking a Barry White voice-over. Sadly, many do not even realize the context in which this love is meant to be displayed, because they have only heard these words read in romantic contexts such as weddings. If, however, people understood that the love described here is the love that is meant to exist between Spirit-indwelt Christians as they serve and are served within the local church, they may come to view the church quite differently.

There are three all-surpassing gifts God has universally given to each one of His people: faith, hope, and love. Regardless of our individual giftings, we are all called to excel in these. However, faith is only of temporal necessity, because we have not yet seen Him face to face. Hope is likewise temporary, because we will one day receive the fulness of the object of our hope. Love, however, is different. For the Christian who has truly experienced it, the love of the saints will endure forever (1Cor. 13:8-13).

1 Corinthians 14

Now we return to the gift of tongues. Earlier, I mentioned that I do not believe that the Reformers, the Puritans, and the Particular Baptists held to a particular view of cessationism, the view that says that tongue-speakers in Corinth were ecstatically speaking unlearned languages, whether known or unknown. It is my conviction that these forerunners of the current Reformed Baptist movement would not have even considered the idea that these languages spoken in the Corinthian church were either unknown or unlearned.

Reformed and Puritanical commentary. In his commentary on 14:2, Calvin wrote: “The term denotes a foreign language. The reason why he does not speak to men is — because no one heareth, that is, as an articulate voice. For all hear a sound, but they do not understand what is said.” Calvin was clearly convinced that, in the port city of Corinth, many nationalities and, therefore, languages were represented. Thus, in the multi-ethnic church at Corinth, many languages would have been spoken, especially as traveling apostles, preachers, evangelists, and other Christians of different nationalities passed through their doors. Matthew Henry further clarified, in his commentary on vs. 11:

“In this case, speaker and hearers are barbarians to each other (v. 11), they talk and hear only sounds without sense; for this is to be a barbarian. For thus says the polite Ovid, when banished into Pontus, Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli, I am a barbarian here, none understand me. To speak in the church in an unknown tongue is to talk gibberish; it is to play the barbarian; it is to confound the audience, instead of instructing them; and for this reason is utterly vain and unprofitable.”

Particular Baptists. John Gill insisted that the tongue spoken by the “gifted” in 1 Corinthians 14 was the Hebrew tongue. He believed the language was insisted upon by some Hebrew-speaking members for the Corinthian church’s liturgy. This would have been very much like how Rome used Latin in the Medieval church, subsequently keeping many unlearned in darkness for centuries. Gill’s argument is a very interesting one, but it is also a highly unsubstantiated one.

In support of the view that these languages were learned by the speaker, the paragraph on translation of the Bible into the vulgar languages of the people (1.8), The Baptist Confession tellingly offers the following citations as support: 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28. It was my study of the confession that first alerted me to the possibility that there were other views of the nature of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. After looking into the matter further, I am convinced that historical events such as the Azuza Street Revival of the early 20th century and the camp meetings of the early 19th century have distorted the way that both cessationist and continuationist theologians understand the nature of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. To view these languages as unlearned by the speakers would likely have been considered a bizarre interpretation to the Reformers and their early theological heirs. For a more thorough argument for the “known, learned language” argument, see this article from Robert Zerhusen over at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Applications. There are two major applications for our study of Public Theology that stem from this perspective on tongues. First, as is observed in The Baptist Confession, to say that these tongues were learned, known languages is to move them from the category of a miraculous, revelatory gift unique to the first century and into such categories as Bible translation, textual criticism, sermon translation, etc. That is to say that, while all revelatory gifts have certainly ceased, tongues being neither miraculous nor revelatory continues as a gift to this day.

Under this understanding of the nature of tongues, anytime a Christian learns one or more secondary languages for service in the mission field, a Bible translation society, or service in the local church, he or she is operating in the gift of tongues. When a Honduran pastor stands and translates for a visiting American pastor preaching before his church, he is operating in the gift of tongues. When a textual critique helps a Bible translation board determine the best manuscripts from which to choose, he is operating in the gift of tongues. When a linguist takes The Second London Baptist Confession and translates it for the first time into Romanian, he is operating in the gift of tongues. So, it is consistent, in one breath, to say that you believe the gift of tongues continues today while, in the very next breath, championing the cessationist view of the revelatory gifts of the first century.

This view is often contested under the assumption that spiritual gifts are only bestowed post-conversion. However, let us recall the fact that Paul was trained as a rabbi (Acts 22:3). Timothy had learned the Word from childhood (2Tim. 3:15). Apollos, though needing further instruction in theology and perhaps other practical matters of the faith, was a gifted orator (Acts 18:24-26), and all this before they were saved. God does not appear to work on a linear timeline with the gifts. The gifts cannot be neatly placed at any given point within the Ordo Saludis. God can use a person’s past education as a linguist, a carpenter, or an accountant to uniquely equip him or her for service in the local church.

Second, we see in 1 Corinthians 14 the necessity of doing all things in the local church in an orderly manner. When the world walks into the church and sees diversity, this is a good thing. When the world sees that all ethnicities and languages are welcome within the walls of the church, they know there is something right and proper about our proceedings. However, when the gifts we should be using to serve one another are used for self-aggrandisement, we do one another, the world, and the gospel a grave disservice.

Within the regulative principle of worship, music can be chosen that aids people in feeling at home in the church. Ethnic minorities within the body should certainly be asked to provide input into such matters. However, when such an effort moves the church away from biblical worship, and the culture begins to demand elements of worship not commanded in the Scripture, the church must be ready to lovingly put her foot down.

Accommodations are necessary and right. However, those accommodations must be in line with the Bible and must accord with proper church order. Thus, Paul does not forbid the speaking of other languages in the church, and he expressly forbids others from forbidding the speaking of foreign languages. What he does require is order, because we do not serve a God of confusion, but of order.

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

Q.11: How doth God execute His decrees?

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

 

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

 

Q.12: What is the work of Creation?

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

1Genesis 1; Hebrews 11:3

 

Ex Nihilo

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

By His Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Six Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Very Good

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

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

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

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VI – 1 Corinthians 1-10

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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When discussing Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, we must recognize that Paul did not merely write to address one single issue, but several. Corinth had asked several very valid questions of Paul. There were also some concerns about which Paul wanted them to know there was no question, because the answer was so clear. There were also reports that were brought to Paul about matters on which the Corinthian church was settled, but they had settled on the wrong side. In the following article, we will address several of these concerns, because many of them are still concerns for us today. Given the theme of our series, we will primarily be dealing with those concerns that touch the issue of public theology and, sadly, we will not have time to address all of the issues as thoroughly as we might desire.

To the Saints

First, let us recognize the endearment that Paul assigns to this church. He calls them saints: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling,” (1Cor. 1:2a; NASB). Yes, this church had some major failings. However, he recognizes that they are beloved of God and, even as an apostle, he does not have the right to rail against Christ’s bride. He will go on to rebuke her, but he desires that she see that his rebukes come from a heart of love, not self-righteousness.

Furthermore, he does not write to Corinthian unbelievers out of a desire to offer a defense of the faith and attempt to validate those unbelievers’ objections to the Corinthian church’s errors. When Paul sees that the actions of the church are enabling the world in their blasphemy of God, he addresses the church. Never does he side with the world in condemning the bride of Christ.

Acquiring Knowledge

Before addressing the Corinthians’ error of being “puffed up” in knowledge, notice his prayer on their behalf:

“I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to yu by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge,” (vv. 4-5; NKJV).

Paul does not desire that the Christians in Corinth be ignorant of the truths of the faith. Rather, he thanks God regularly for the fact that they have been enriched in their knowledge of Him. Oftentimes, Christians will read 1 Corinthians, and they think there is something virtuous about remaining blissfully ignorant about the truths of God.

What these Christians do not realize is that it is the not the acquiring of knowledge Paul argues is improper for Christians. The error is found in the fact that the Corinthians were misapplying their knowledge. They were acquiring knowledge for the sake of winning arguments, or perhaps for the sake of looking good in front of their friends (1Cor. 8:1), but they were not acquiring it for the sake of growing in their worship of God.

As we acquire greater and greater amounts of knowledge, we should do so for the sake of growing closer to the God of all truth. We will address the Christian’s relationship to knowledge in more detail when we get to our study of the book of Colossians, but Christians should want to grow in knowledge. The more we know about our faith, the more we know about the God we claim to love. The more we know about our faith, the more we know about the neighbors we claim to love.

Love and Marriage

In fact, love is perhaps the defining issue in the first six chapters of book of 1 Corinthians. Paul spends an entire chapter focused on the superiority of love over any other gift we receive from God (chapter 13). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the Corinthians’ selfish motives for acquiring knowledge and presuming themselves to be worldly wise (chapters 1-2). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the factionalism that was prevalent in the church at Corinth (3-4). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the license the Corinthian church gave to unrepentant so-called brothers in their midst (5). Paul contrasts true, godly love with the practice of taking fellow church members into secular law court (6).

For our discussion of public theology, it is important at this juncture to stop here and take note of two things. First, Paul tells us not to judge outsiders. In this context, he does not mean that we do not hold political leaders—especially political leaders claiming to be Christian—to a high standard. What he means is, in regard to church life, we are not to allow open, unrepentant sinners to go around claiming to be so-called brothers (1Cor. 5:9-13). Thus, when a man claims to be a Presbyterian and brags about sleeping with married women, or a woman claims to be a Methodist and openly supports women’s supposed right to murder their children, church leaders have no right to publicly affirm their Christian profession. In doing so, these church leaders make themselves accomplices in the sins of these candidates and the resulting blasphemy of an ever watching world.

Second, it is important for the church to police itself in matters of sin and offense. We do not take our in-house disputes before unbelieving magistrates. If a matter occurs in the local church, the local church is to handle it locally. If the local church, for whatever reason, is unable to judge the matter properly, that is why we have associations. Under special circumstances, a local church may call upon local church elders within its association to serve as officiators over local church tribunals. In these instances, though, Baptist polity requires that we recognize that these associating elders are serving as consultants to the church, not as an authority over the church.

In chapter seven, Paul addresses questions raised in the church of Corinth in regard to married people, single people, widows, and widowers. The gist of this chapter, as it relates to our study, is that Christian singles ought to marry other Christian singles, married people—saved or not—ought to remain married except in the case of abandonment, if you are single and able to remain single without burning (there is an interesting debate on this word, but we will not cover that here), stay single and devote your time to God in ways that married people are not able and, if a married person’s spouse dies, he / she is free to remarry. Seeing as marriage is a picture of Christ and the church to a lost and dying world, it truly is deserving of a full chapter. One of the most important things to which Christians must commit in order to properly engage the culture for Christ is a biblical affirmation and a biblical practice of marriage.

Christian Liberty

In chapters 8-10, Paul uses their question about meat sacrificed to idols to address a whole host of issues regarding Christian liberty. When discussing Christian liberty, the same questions always seem to arise: “What can we do?” “What can’t we do?” “Where are the boundaries?” Paul answers some similar questions in chapters 8-10: “Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols if we don’t recognize those idols as real?” “Can we eat it in a pagan temple?” “Can church leaders marry?” “Should church leaders be make their living from the church?” Paul affirms that Christians are free in all of these, except assembling with pagans to partake of their idolatrous meals. He says Christians are free, but that our freedom comes with the responsibility to love our weaker brothers.

Now, we must note here that Paul does not mean that we ought to refrain from the practice of our liberty in Christ so as not to offend mature brothers. There are seminary professors, pastors, and even seminary presidents who will tell us that we ought not to enjoy our liberty in Christ so that we might appease their ill-informed consciences. These men are supposed to be church leaders, and yet they would have us treat them like weaker brothers so that they might control our actions. Brothers, if the Lord has freed your conscience in a matter, walk in that freedom. Only, do not use your liberty in such a way as to offend or entice new converts to disobey their consciences.

In chapter 10, Paul warns against using our liberty for the sake of license and indulgence rather than a means to glorify God, and he uses Israel as an example. Christians do have liberty but, if we abuse that liberty, we can shipwreck our faith. Israel had liberty to eat, drink, and play. They had plenty of reason to do so, having been freed from their bondage in Egypt. However, they sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play without any thought to the glory of the God who had just delivered them out of Egypt. Their liberty had become license and, before long, they found themselves worshipping at the feet of a golden calf. Christians must likewise be careful in the use of our liberty, lest we run the same course as the generation that died in the desert.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.10)

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.”

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper

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

______________

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. You may read Section One of our study here. Having completed the second series of articles on the Catechism, you may now read it in its entirety below or click on the links to read it section by section.

Q.7: What is God?

A. God is a Spirit,1 infinite,2 eternal,3 and unchangeable,4 in His being,5 wisdom, power,6 holiness,7goodness,8 and truth.9

1John 4:24

2Job 11:7-9;

3Psalm 90:2

4James 1:17

5Exodus 3:14

6Psalm 147:5

7Revelation 4:8

8Revelation 15:4

9Exodus 34:6

It can seem almost improper to ask a question such as What is God? as though we are calling God a thing—an impersonal, inanimate object. Rather, the question seeks to discern two things about the very personal Being we call God. We want to know, generally, what comprises God’s essential nature and, more specifically, what His attributes are.

Answering this question is of prime concern for our study, because heresies are built upon false conceptions of God. There are heresies, like Mormonism, that teach that their god had a body before he became a god and that he still has a body to this day. Mormons also teach that their god is not eternal. He will continue on for eternity, but he came into being at some point. He is everlasting, but he is not from everlasting. Other cults, like Islam, teach that their god does change. He arbitrarily changes from one day to the next, according to his changing desires. The god of Islam is not fixed.

Spirit

Enough about what God’s word does not teach; what does it teach? In order to understand what God is, we must often speak of Him in terms of what He is not. For instance, when we consider the fact that God is Spirit, we are acknowledging the fact that God is incorporeal. That is a fancy way of saying that God does not have a body. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” (Lk. 24:39; NASB). In His essential, eternal being, God does not have a body like ours.

“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,’” (John 4:24; NASB).

This is the first of many attributes of God that distinguish Him from ourselves. In His very nature, God is Spirit; He is incorporeal. In our nature, we are body and spirit. A distinction is being made here. We are not as God is, nor will we be in eternity. At the resurrection, we will receive new, glorified bodies, and we will have these bodies for all of eternity.

Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable

Here, our Catechism teaches us three more of God’s essential attributes. He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. These attributes are meant to be read as qualifiers of the attributes that follow. So, it could actually be broken down like this:

  • God is infinite in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.
  • God is eternal in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.
  • God is unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.

These attributes also distinguish God from man. They are what have lately been styled the incommunicable attributes of God. That just means that God does not share these attributes with His creatures. It is in these attributes that we find the Creator / creature distinction of Scripture. God is completely other. Sure, we exist, but we do not have infinite, eternal, or unchangeable being. As Christians, we might grow in wisdom, holiness, goodness, and truth, but we will never possess those traits infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably as God does.

In the entirety of His being, God is all of these attributes. God is essentially and exhaustively infinite.

“Can you discover the depths of God?

Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?

They are high as the heavens, what can you do?

Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?

Its measure is longer than the earth

And broader than the sea,” (Job 11:7-9; NASB).

There has never been a time when God did not exist, and exist in all of His essential attributes.

“Before the mountains were born

Or You gave birth to the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting,

You are God,” (Ps. 97:9; NASB).

God is unwaveringly trustworthy in the immutability (unchangeability) of His attributes. All of His promises we can expect He will fulfill, because of His supreme and perfect consistency. Thus, we derive great comfort from this doctrine.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,” (Jas. 1:17; NASB).

Being, Wisdom, Power, Holiness, Goodness, and Truth

Having observed God’s infinitude, eternality, and immutability, let us examine the attributes of God in which we see these characteristics on display. The following attributes are what might be called the communicable attributes. That is, these are attributes in which the creature might share in a certain measure, albeit in a finite, temporal, and changeable sense. Where we exist and may to a certain measure prove wise, powerful, holy, good, and true, these are things we receive from God, not things that originate in us. God, on the other hand, possesses all of these attributes infinitely, eternally, and unchangeably.

Being. First, let us recognize that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being. There was never a time when God began to be. He has always existed. In fact, God’s covenant name in the Hebrew Scriptures (YHWH; Yahweh, or Jehovah) was derivative of this idea. The name Yahweh is believed to have been revealed first to Moses at the burning bush:

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you,’’” (Exod. 3:14; NASB).

God did not claim to have come into being. Rather, He declared, “I AM WHO I AM.” That is to say that God exists. From all of eternity past to all of eternity future, God is. He did not create Himself, nor was He created by another. He simply has always been, still is, and always will be. He is the constant, eternal I AM.

Christ evoked this same moniker of Himself in several sayings in the Gospel of John known as the I AM statements. In a very provocative way, Christ used the construction ἐγώ εἰμι repeatedly in reference to Himself. The term ἐγώ in Greek means I in English. It is often used with action verbs to describe events (e.g. I run, I walk, I sit, etc.). When referring to being or existence, one would not typically use the term ἐγώ, but would rather choose εἰμι, which is translated into English as I am. Never would it be necessary, in the Greek, to put these two terms together, unless the person speaking is trying to make a very specific point.

Interestingly, in Exodus 3:14 in the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures (The Septuagint; LXX), God refers to Himself with these two Greek terms. In the English, we read, “I AM WHO I AM.” In the Greek, it reads, “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν.” This was God coming to Moses as the covenant God of Israel and telling him that He never began to be, but simply is from all of eternity. Thus, the Jews of Jesus’ day would have been very careful not to use this construction to refer to anyone but God Himself. Jesus, however, used it of Himself in multiple statements! In all of the following statements, Jesus refers to Himself using the construction ἐγώ εἰμι.

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life,’” (John 8:12; NASB).

““I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me,” (vs. 18; NASB).

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins,”(vs. 24; NASB; note: The term He is inserted by most English translations. It does not actually appear in the Greek text.).

“So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me,’” (vs. 28; NASB; note: Again the term He does not appear in the Greek text.).

Jesus’ I AM statements here serve to build a certain tension between Him and the religious leaders with whom He is speaking. He is blatantly claiming to be Yahweh in human flesh. Not only this, but He repeatedly calls their authority into question, even calling them sons of the devil. This interaction culminates with Christ making His claim to deity unmistakable:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,’” (John 8:58; NASB).

Jesus in this statement is not merely claiming to be infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being. He is claiming to be such because He is claiming to be Yahweh Himself! In response to this bold claim, the Jews picked up stones to stone Him, so He hid himself and went out of the temple.

Wisdom. As we mentioned when we began this study, God is the source of all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. He searches all things, even Himself, and there is nothing hidden from His sight. The Psalmist spoke well of this attribute of God when he declared the following:

“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;

His understanding is infinite,” (Ps. 147:5; NASB).

In our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, we are finite, temporal, and changing. God, on the other hand, is the source of all true knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In all three, He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. As we stated in our first study, all proper knowledge of God must have God as its Source. In fact, all proper knowledge, understanding, and wisdom does come down to us from the Lord of Glory.

Power. Psalm 147:5 also speaks to the great power of our God. The psalmist proclaims, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength.” Surely, our God is omnipotent (all powerful). In fact, His exhaustive power is so prominent an attribute as to be attributed to Him as one of His titles. In Revelation 4:8, we read of the designation given Him by the seraphim who surround His throne:

“And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within, and day and night they do not cease to say,

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come,’” (Rev. 4:8; NASB).

The Lord’s power also speaks to His authority. Sure, as the Catechism for Boys and Girls teaches us, “God can do all His holy will.” Notice though that in Isaiah 6, the Old Testament parallel to Revelation 4:8, the six-winged seraphim refer to God as the Lord of hosts:

“And one called out to another and said,

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

The whole earth is full of His glory,’” (Isa. 6:3; NASB).

This title of God teaches us that God has all authority to dispatch hosts of heavenly beings to accomplish His will in creation. For this reason, we can have confidence when we pray, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,” (Mt. 6:10b; KJV). At a moment’s notice, were it God’s will, God can exercise His infinite power and execute His divine authority to set all things right on earth, just as it is in the very presence of God. Surely, God has it in His power and in His authority to accomplish His will in all things.

This is a comfort for us as Christians who know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Rom. 8:28; NASB). God not only promises good things to those who love Him and called, He not only knows of the good things that will come to us, but He actually causes all such things to come to pass. The God who promises to work all things out for the good of His saints actually has all power and authority to ensure that His promises will be kept.

Holiness. God is not only referenced as the Almighty in these refrains. He is also called holy. Not only is He called holy, but He is thrice holy: “‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,” (Isa. 6:3b). In antiquity, when an author wanted to emphasize a particular word or phrase, he would repeat it. Holiness is the only attribute of God repeated thrice. This repetition is meant to highlight its preeminence. Of the holiness of God, the Westminster divines wrote:

“Q. 2. Is God necessarily holy?

A. Holiness is as necessary to him as his being: he is as necessarily holy as he is necessarily God: ‘Who shall not fear thee, O Lord?—for thou only art holy,’ Rev. xv. 4” (Westminster Assembly, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh. 1765, pg. 31).

All of God’s attributes could be said to be dependent upon this over-arching attribute of holiness. God’s acts are just, because God is holy. God’s love is pure, because God is holy. God’s glory is matchless, because God is holy. God’s transcendence is unattainable, because God is holy. God’s ways are not our ways, because God is holy.

Everything that God does is holy. All of His works, His decrees, His provisions, and His dealings with mankind are absolutely holy. For all the efforts of the anti-theists, there is absolutely no charge that can be laid against God on account of His works.

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways,

And holy in all his works,” (Ps. 145:17; KJV).

God’s covenant promises are also holy: “For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant,” (Ps. 105:42; NKJV). All that God has determined shall come to pass work toward His ultimate holy ends. We have the security and the assurance of knowing that God has promised good to all His saints, and His promises will surely come to pass.

All that God ordains and all that He designates as His own is to be reckoned as holy. God’s apostles and prophets were deemed holy (Eph. 3:5) insofar as they were His apostles and prophets. God’s elect are holy (Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2), even the elect of otherwise corrupt churches (1Cor. 1:2; 2Cor. 1:1). Even the day that God has set aside for His worship is to be considered holy by His people:

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,

From doing your pleasure on My holy day,

And call the Sabbath a delight,

The holy day of the LORD honorable,

And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,

Nor finding your own pleasure,

Nor speaking your own words,” (Isa. 58:13; NKJV).

Above all, let us not forget that God’s holiness is revealed to us so that we might respond in praise, and awe, and wonder.

“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?

For You alone are holy;

For all the nations will come and worship before you,

For Your righteous acts have been revealed,” (Revelation 4:8; NASB).

Goodness and truth. Finally, let us consider the fact that God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His goodness and truth. We often keep our motives and justifications secret from our children in the hopes that they will learn to trust us. We do not explain to them every reason for every command we give them. Rather, we say things like, “…because I told you so.” In these moments, do we mean to be harsh and uncaring? Not necessarily. It can be proper to respond to our kids in this way if our desire is for them to grow in their trust of us.

Yet, for as much as we know what’s best for our children, we do not know as much as God. For as much as we might treat our children with kindness, love, and sympathy, we are not as good as God. God’s goodness and truth are far above our own, and we have the privilege of being called His children. Consider the declaration made to Moses as the Lord passed by him:

“Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth,” (Exodus 34:6; NASB).

What comfort is there in knowing that, though we do not know all things and though we are mired in sin and misery, God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His goodness and truth. We have the privilege of serving this God. We have the privilege of calling Him Father. What a blessing! What security! What great and glorious assurance!

Q.8: Are there more Gods than one.

A. There is but one only, the living and true God.1

1Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10

Besides monergism, monotheism is the doctrine that most distinguishes Christianity from myriad other world religions. While it could be argued that all religions besides Christianity promote a works-based view of salvation, there are admittedly other religions that hold to monotheism. Judaism and Islam are just two such religions. Other religions, like many pagan religions, teach a view known as polytheism. This view teaches that there are many gods. Mormonism and many Hindu sects teach henotheism, a brand of polytheism in which only one of the many gods is to be worshipped.

Still others, like Buddhism, are ultimately atheistic or agnostic at their root, teaching no particular view of God or the gods. Other religions teach pantheism (all things are god) or even panentheism (god is all things and more). Others, like African Traditional religions, have adopted animism teaching that all things (plant, animal, and mineral) have a soul and are animated by a supernatural force in the world.

Christianity affirms the Shema of the ancient Hebrews: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4; NASB). God is not many. He certainly is not three gods, as Christians are slanderously charged as teaching in the Quran. As has been attested by Christians throughout the history of the church, going all the way back to creation itself, there is only one God.

“The unity of the world shows there is only one Maker. The voice of conscience testifies that there is only one Lord and Master. Reason teaches that there can be but one infinite and absolute Sovereign. This one God is called the living and true God, to distinguish his name from those of the false gods the heathens worship, who are false and dead,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 16).

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is recognized to be only One, though subtle hints to His triunity are peppered here and there throughout. The term most commonly translated God in the Hebrew text is the word אֱלֹהִים (transliteration:Elohim; cf. Deut. 4:35; 39; 7:9; 1Kgs. 8:60; Isa. 45:18), which is notably a plural noun. The term is used 2,570 times in the Hebrew Scriptures the first of which is the first verse of the Bible in which it is the fourth word written. God is also notably designated plural pronouns in several passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8).

What does all of this mean? Is God one or is He not? God certainly is but one true and living God. Yet, God has also revealed Himself in three infinitely eternally distinct Subsistences: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Christians honestly confess that we are neither Unitarian monotheists nor Tri-theists. We believe, as Scripture teaches, in the triunity of God. He is one God, and the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. These three are different Persons, and yet they are one God.

“To apply arithmetical notions to God is as unphilosophical as profane…. He is not One in the way in which created things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in contrast to two or three or a whole series of numbers. But God has not even such a relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of our contrasting Him with them’ (Newman),” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition of the Shorter Catechism. Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, Great Britain. 2004, pg. 29).

God is one, but we dare not assign to him an anthropomorphic (human-like) oneness. God is otherly one. He is one in the sense that only God may be one. Thus, it should not baffle us when cultists like Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals mistaken Christian theism with Tri-theism and deny on its face the oneness of the Christian expression of monotheism. They forget that we are not talking about their false gods. We are talking about the God of Scripture. Even in our agreement on the term monotheism, we find no neutral ground on which to stand with Unitarian monotheists.

Decidedly less of a temptation for Christians is to affirm any form of polytheism. Polytheists cannot goad us into engaging the accusation that we do not truly believe in “three.” We do not believe in “three.” At least, we do not believe in a plurality in the way that they would affirm a plurality. There is a plurality of Subsistences in the Godhead, but these Subsistences are not three gods. They are each God, and there is only one God. Again, God is divinely other in His oneness. He is neither like us in His oneness, nor is He like the gods we fabricate in their supposed oneness.

“But the Lord is the true God;

He is the living God and the everlasting King.

At His wrath the earth quakes,

And the nations cannot endure His indignation,” (Jeremiah 10:10; NASB).

God, then, is distinguished in His oneness both from any oneness that may be found in His creatures and from any conception of oneness His creatures may venture to fathom or fabricate. To say that human beings can wrap our minds around such a oneness as is found in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is to say that we are the judge of all sound reason and revelation. Consider the testimony of our Confession:

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself,” (The Baptist Confession, 2.1; emphasis added).

God’s oneness is essential to all that we confess as orthodox Christians. It is a necessary confession for all who would claim to believe in the one true God of the Holy Scriptures. To say that we are monotheists is to distinguish ourselves from all non-monotheistic world religions. However, this affirmation does not serve to link us with Unitarian monotheists. Rather, Christians hold to the Triune monotheism of Scripture, a monotheism that accords with sound reason, but a Triunity that stretches our finite minds beyond the third heaven.

Q.9: How many persons are there in the Godhead.

A. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.1

11 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19

As we move from the question of how many Gods to the question of how many Persons, we must keep in mind that our subject has not changed. We are still speaking with reference to triune monotheism. We have simply moved from our focus on the monotheism part of the construction to a focus on the triune part.

To put it another way, we are speaking with reference to the fact that God is one God eternally existing in three distinct Persons. In answer to the last question, we focused on the oneness of God. In answer to this question, we shall focus on the tri-unity of the Godhead. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

“Q.1. Whence is it that this article of our holy religion has been much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?

A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it, because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John ii. 23, ‘Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father,’” (Westminster Assembly, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, pg. 40).

Even to our day, there is no shortage of heretics who deny this essential doctrine of our faith. We need not think long to recall a handful of these groups: Islam, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, etc. The mere existence of these heretics demands that we study our faith.

Apologetics (the defense of the faith) ought to be an essential motivation for learning the catechism. As we learn the catechism, we are learning the essential elements of the Christian faith and thus tearing down strongholds erected in our own minds against it.

4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled,” (2Cor. 10:4-6; NKJV).

Catechetical instruction (discipleship) is of utmost importance. The lack of it has led to a tremendous deficiency in the church’s ability to defend the faith. For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses are notorious for being able to twist Christians in doctrinal pretzels. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold up to four meetings a week in order to indoctrinate their followers in the teachings of the Watchtower. Conversely, imagine if Christian parents committed themselves four or five nights a week to reading the Bible with, and catechizing, their families. Christians would be as immersed in the truth of God as Jehovah’s Witnesses are immersed in the lies of the devil.

The first article of this faith, the foundational principle of the Christian religion, is the triune God of Holy Scripture. God is one God, and He is three Persons. As the Westminster Assembly cited in the above quotation: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also,” (1Jn. 2:23; NASB). To deny the deity of the Son of God is to deny God Himself.

There are several passages that demand our affirmation of the triune nature of God.

22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father,” (1Jn.2:22-23; NASB).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. . . with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. . . In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory,” (Eph. 1:3, 10-11, 13-14; NASB).

“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father,” (Eph. 2:18; NASB).

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Eph. 3:14-17; NASB).

4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all,” (Eph. 4:4-6; NASB).

The above passages from Ephesians demonstrate what has commonly come to be known as the economic Trinity. When we talk about the economic Trinity, we mean God as He acts with respect to redemption. Insofar as God’s Covenant of Redemption is eternal, it could be said that God’s roles in accomplishing redemption are eternal. That is not, however, to say that God’s eternal roles impact His eternal nature. Regarding His nature, the Catechism affirms that He is “the same in essence, equal in power and glory.”

In regard to God’s acts of redemption, there is a subordination of roles. The Father elects us from eternity past and sends His Son, the Son condescends in time, obeys the Father perfectly, and atones for our sins, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit applies to us the redemption accomplished by Christ. The Baptist Confession explains it in this manner:

“…the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son,” (LBC 2.3).

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each fully God in all that entails. Whatsoever we affirm of God in is infinitude, eternality, and immutability is true of the Father. The same is true of the Son, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit. As we affirm the Godhead’s unity of essence, glory, and power, we will guard ourselves from moving from a biblical affirmation of triune monotheism into a heretical affirmation of tri-theism.

Again, affirmation of the triune nature of the Godhead is essential to the Christian faith. It is so essential, in fact, that affirmation of it was included in the earliest recorded baptismal formula. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19; NASB). The saints followed in the example of our Lord in their adopting of future baptismal formulas, requiring of baptismal candidates that they affirm the redemptive work of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us testify, along with the saints throughout all of church history, the triune nature of the God we serve.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper (Q.9)

Q.9: How many persons are there in the Godhead.

A. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.1

11 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19

 

As we move from the question of how many Gods to the question of how many Persons, we must keep in mind that our subject has not changed. We are still speaking with reference to triune monotheism. We have simply moved from our focus on the monotheism part of the construction to a focus on the triune part.

To put it another way, we are speaking with reference to the fact that God is one God eternally existing in three distinct Persons. In answer to the last question, we focused on the oneness of God. In answer to this question, we shall focus on the tri-unity of the Godhead. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

“Q.1. Whence is it that this article of our holy religion has been much opposed by adversaries, in every period of the church?

A. The devil and his instruments have warmly opposed it, because they know it is the primary object of our faith and worship; it not being enough for us to know what God is, as to his essential attributes, without knowing who he is, as to his personality, according as he has revealed himself in his word, to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, 1 John ii. 23, ‘Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father,’” (Westminster Assembly, The Assembly’s Shorter Catechism Explained, pg. 40).

Even to our day, there is no shortage of heretics who deny this essential doctrine of our faith. We need not think long to recall a handful of these groups: Islam, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, etc. The mere existence of these heretics demands that we study our faith.

Apologetics (the defense of the faith) ought to be an essential motivation for learning the catechism. As we learn the catechism, we are learning the essential elements of the Christian faith and thus tearing down strongholds erected in our own minds against it.

4For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled,” (2Cor. 10:4-6; NKJV).

Catechetical instruction (discipleship) is of utmost importance. The lack of it has led to a tremendous deficiency in the church’s ability to defend the faith. For this reason, Jehovah’s Witnesses are notorious for being able to twist Christians in doctrinal pretzels. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold up to four meetings a week in order to indoctrinate their followers in the teachings of the Watchtower. Conversely, imagine if Christian parents committed themselves four or five nights a week to reading the Bible with, and catechizing, their families. Christians would be as immersed in the truth of God as Jehovah’s Witnesses are immersed in the lies of the devil.

The first article of this faith, the foundational principle of the Christian religion, is the triune God of Holy Scripture. God is one God, and He is three Persons. As the Westminster Assembly cited in the above quotation: “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also,” (1Jn. 2:23; NASB). To deny the deity of the Son of God is to deny God Himself.

There are several passages that demand our affirmation of the triune nature of God.

22Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father,” (1Jn.2:22-23; NASB).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. . . with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will. . . In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory,” (Eph. 1:3, 10-11, 13-14; NASB).

“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father,” (Eph. 2:18; NASB).

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Eph. 3:14-17; NASB).

4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all,” (Eph. 4:4-6; NASB).

The above passages from Ephesians demonstrate what has commonly come to be known as the economic Trinity. When we talk about the economic Trinity, we mean God as He acts with respect to redemption. Insofar as God’s Covenant of Redemption is eternal, it could be said that God’s roles in accomplishing redemption are eternal. That is not, however, to say that God’s eternal roles impact His eternal nature. Regarding His nature, the Catechism affirms that He is “the same in essence, equal in power and glory.”

In regard to God’s acts of redemption, there is a subordination of roles. The Father elects us from eternity past and sends His Son, the Son condescends in time, obeys the Father perfectly, and atones for our sins, the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit applies to us the redemption accomplished by Christ. The Baptist Confession explains it in this manner:

“…the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son,” (LBC 2.3).

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each fully God in all that entails. Whatsoever we affirm of God in is infinitude, eternality, and immutability is true of the Father. The same is true of the Son, and the same is true of the Holy Spirit. As we affirm the Godhead’s unity of essence, glory, and power, we will guard ourselves from moving from a biblical affirmation of triune monotheism into a heretical affirmation of tri-theism.

Again, affirmation of the triune nature of the Godhead is essential to the Christian faith. It is so essential, in fact, that affirmation of it was included in the earliest recorded baptismal formula. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Mt. 28:19; NASB). The saints followed in the example of our Lord in their adopting of future baptismal formulas, requiring of baptismal candidates that they affirm the redemptive work of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us testify, along with the saints throughout all of church history, the triune nature of the God we serve.

Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper (Q.8)

Q.8: Are there more Gods than one.

A. There is but one only, the living and true God.1

1Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10

Besides monergism, monotheism is the doctrine that most distinguishes Christianity from myriad other world religions. While it could be argued that all religions besides Christianity promote a works-based view of salvation, there are admittedly other religions that hold to monotheism. Judaism and Islam are just two such religions. Other religions, like many pagan religions, teach a view known as polytheism. This view teaches that there are many gods. Mormonism and many Hindu sects teach henotheism, a brand of polytheism in which only one of the many gods is to be worshipped.

Still others, like Buddhism, are ultimately atheistic or agnostic at their root, teaching no particular view of God or the gods. Other religions teach pantheism (all things are god) or even panentheism (god is all things and more). Others, like African Traditional religions, have adopted animism teaching that all things (plant, animal, and mineral) have a soul and are animated by a supernatural force in the world.

Christianity affirms the Shema of the ancient Hebrews: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4; NASB). God is not many. He certainly is not three gods, as Christians are slanderously charged as teaching in the Quran. As has been attested by Christians throughout the history of the church, going all the way back to creation itself, there is only one God.

“The unity of the world shows there is only one Maker. The voice of conscience testifies that there is only one Lord and Master. Reason teaches that there can be but one infinite and absolute Sovereign. This one God is called the living and true God, to distinguish his name from those of the false gods the heathens worship, who are false and dead,” (A.A. Hodge, The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR. 2004, pg. 16).

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God is recognized to be only One, though subtle hints to His triunity are peppered here and there throughout. The term most commonly translated God in the Hebrew text is the word אֱלֹהִים (transliteration: Elohim; cf. Deut. 4:35; 39; 7:9; 1Kgs. 8:60; Isa. 45:18), which is notably a plural noun. The term is used 2,570 times in the Hebrew Scriptures the first of which is the first verse of the Bible in which it is the fourth word written. God is also notably designated plural pronouns in several passages of the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8).

What does all of this mean? Is God one or is He not? God certainly is but one true and living God. Yet, God has also revealed Himself in three infinitely eternally distinct Subsistences: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For this reason, Christians honestly confess that we are neither Unitarian monotheists nor Tri-theists. We believe, as Scripture teaches, in the triunity of God. He is one God, and the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. These three are different Persons, and yet they are one God.

“To apply arithmetical notions to God is as unphilosophical as profane…. He is not One in the way in which created things are severally units; for one, as applied to ourselves, is used in contrast to two or three or a whole series of numbers. But God has not even such a relation to His creatures as to allow, philosophically speaking, of our contrasting Him with them’ (Newman),” (Alexander Whyte, An Exposition of the Shorter Catechism. Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, Great Britain. 2004, pg. 29).

God is one, but we dare not assign to him an anthropomorphic (human-like) oneness. God is otherly one. He is one in the sense that only God may be one. Thus, it should not baffle us when cultists like Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Oneness Pentecostals mistaken Christian theism with Tri-theism and deny on its face the oneness of the Christian expression of monotheism. They forget that we are not talking about their false gods. We are talking about the God of Scripture. Even in our agreement on the term monotheism, we find no neutral ground on which to stand with Unitarian monotheists.

Decidedly less of a temptation for Christians is to affirm any form of polytheism. Polytheists cannot goad us into engaging the accusation that we do not truly believe in “three.” We do not believe in “three.” At least, we do not believe in a plurality in the way that they would affirm a plurality. There is a plurality of Subsistences in the Godhead, but these Subsistences are not three gods. They are each God, and there is only one God. Again, God is divinely other in His oneness. He is neither like us in His oneness, nor is He like the gods we fabricate in their supposed oneness.

“But the Lord is the true God;

He is the living God and the everlasting King.

At His wrath the earth quakes,

And the nations cannot endure His indignation,” (Jeremiah 10:10; NASB).

God, then, is distinguished in His oneness both from any oneness that may be found in His creatures and from any conception of oneness His creatures may venture to fathom or fabricate. To say that human beings can wrap our minds around such a oneness as is found in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is to say that we are the judge of all sound reason and revelation. Consider the testimony of our Confession:

“The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself,” (The Baptist Confession, 2.1; emphasis added).

God’s oneness is essential to all that we confess as orthodox Christians. It is a necessary confession for all who would claim to believe in the one true God of the Holy Scriptures. To say that we are monotheists is to distinguish ourselves from all non-monotheistic world religions. However, this affirmation does not serve to link us with Unitarian monotheists. Rather, Christians hold to the Triune monotheism of Scripture, a monotheism that accords with sound reason, but a Triunity that stretches our finite minds beyond the third heaven.