Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What is the Bible?

Continuing in our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we come to doctrine of Scripture. 

Q 2: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? 
Answer: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. 
Not only has God purposefully created and designed us for the end of glorifying and enjoying him, but he has also told us how to do so. God has not left us to guess what glorifies him. He has not left us to stumble around in the dark. Rather, he has revealed his will for us, a rule to direct us unto his glory and our delight. 

This rule is the word of God. This word came to his people in various ways, both written and spoken. But since revelation culminated with Christ and his apostles (Heb. 1:1-2), God’s word is now is found only and wholly in the written word of God, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. This is why the answer says the word of God is “contained in the Scriptures.” This does not mean that only some of Scripture is God’s word.  It is contained in Scripture, not in the way that an egg contains a yoke, but in the way that the weekly update I send out to my church is contained in an email (the email is my weekly update, and all my weekly update is in that email). The Larger Catechism makes this clear by saying, “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”

We find this truth clearly taught in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. Holy Scripture is God’s word, and because of this it has supreme authority. Because it is now the only form of special revelation given to us, it is necessary for knowledge of salvation. Because the whole counsel of God concerning doctrine and duty is given in Scripture, it is a sufficient rule of faith and life. Because God gave it to direct us, those things in it which are necessary for salvation are clear enough that even “the simple” may understand them (Ps. 119:130).

Thursday, January 21, 2021

What Were You Designed to Do?

Today I am beginning a series of posts based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This catechism is one of the doctrinal standards of our church and has been used for centuries by Presbyterians, Puritans, and others to give instruction in the Christian faith. I will still post other things as well, but you can count on a regular post from me on the Shorter Catechism for a while (there are 107 questions). Here is the first, and most famous, question of the Shorter Catechism: 
Q 1: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
First we need to appreciate that man has an end (that is, a purpose or goal). In a consistent evolutionary worldview, man has no intended end and has no design except that he is accidentally fitted for mere survival. We have no purpose in this worldview so we are left to determine our own identity and purpose out of nothing by mere choice.

But through a good reading of nature and especially through the word of God, we find that we were made by God with purpose and design. We were designed to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Everything else we were designed to do serves this chief end. 

First, "to glorify God," as his image, filling the earth with his glory as we reflect and represent him. We glorify him in worship (Mal. 1:6-8, 11) and by serving him in all of life. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). 

Second, "to enjoy him," gratefully receiving his gifts and favor, communing with him, delighting in him, his blessings, and his image in one another. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden not only to serve God, but also to enjoy his fellowship and favor. Psalm 16 meditates on this reality and culminates by saying to God, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

And this verse also mentions the third point in our catechism answer: "for ever." We were not created as cheaply made toys, to be discarded after a time. We were designed to fulfill this end forever. And through Jesus Christ, God has restored us to our original end and given us an eternal life of fellowship with God unto the praise of his glorious grace.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Call of Jeremiah and the Mission of the Church

"And the LORD said to me,
'Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.'" 
(Jeremiah 1:9–10)

Two Sundays ago I began preaching through the book of Jeremiah. My first sermon in the series was on Jeremiah 1. You can read the chapter here. It tells of how God called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry. You and I are not Jeremiah, so how should we apply what God says in this chapter? Here are two applications. 

1. God sent the prophets to speak and write his word, so we should receive Jeremiah's words as God's.

The first point of this passage is that Jeremiah’s message did not come from Jeremiah. God put his words in Jeremiah’s mouth (1:9). What he wrote was the word of the Lord (1:4). This is why Hebrews 10, in quoting Jeremiah, says that the Holy Spirit said these words. Therefore it did not matter that Jeremiah was youthful and inexperienced (1:6). He would not be speaking from mere experience. His words, like the rest of Scripture, would be God’s message to his people. 

This is relevant because Jeremiah’s ministry continues today. We still have his words. And the authority behind these words remains divine authority. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2). It continues to be taught by them through their written words. Just as God set Jeremiah over the nations to pluck up and break down, to build and to plant, so the words Jeremiah wrote continue to have this authority and effectiveness. Scripture remains powerful and profitable for tearing down and building up. 

God’s word shall not fail. God watches over his word and his enemies shall not prevail against it. God's word is like "a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls" (1:18). God’s word is powerful to tear down strongholds and to build up his kingdom. He shall fulfill his promises and threats. 

We learn from the call of Jeremiah that God is long-suffering with his people, giving them many opportunities to repent and be saved, giving them access to his word. Though they had walked in wickedness under Manasseh and Amon, yet God gave them a good reforming king (Josiah), a good high priest who found the law (Hilkiah), and good prophets like Jeremiah who would urge them to repentance and faithfulness. Yet many of the Jews of that day did not make use of these privileges and gifts. May we not neglect God’s provisions! Like infants who long for milk, thirst for the word of God. 

As God's word, we should receive the word of the prophets with reverence and faith. As the vision of the almond tree showed Jeremiah, God is watching over his threats and promises to perform them (the almond tree was named in Hebrew for being “watchful” since it bloomed earlier than the other trees). Therefore act upon them, turning at the threats and embracing the promises of salvation with confidence. God’s threats are not idle threats. As the vision of the boiling pot communicates, if his people forsake him, he will let loose disaster upon them.

Be willing to be corrected and reformed by Scripture. God's word is designed to destroy and build. It will correct your sins and build you up in comfort and holiness. This is God’s guidance for your good, to be believed and obeyed. Submit to his chastisement, and you will grow and be established. Resist his correction, and you will be broken.

2. God sends his church to stand upon and proclaim this word, so we should do so with confidence. 

Jeremiah 1 has much in common in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. What is said about Jeremiah is true of the church to the extent that the church faithfully proclaims the message of Scripture. God gives the church a mission to pluck up and to plant, and to do this he gives it his word and presence.

1. The Lord equips the church with his word. 

He calls ministers of the word to preach and teach it (Eph. 4). Though preachers are not infallible like the prophets, yet to the extent that they faithfully proclaim Scripture, they should preach with equal confidence and power and authority. Likewise, God desires that his word would dwell in the hearts and mouths of his people, that they might teach one another and witness to the world (Col. 3:16, 4:6). God does not make all of us prophets, but to the extent that we study and communicate the message of scripture, to that extent we have God’s words in our mouths. 

The word of God is the sword of the spirit (Eph. 6), a spiritual weapon (2 Cor. 10:4-6), by which we wage war against the domain of darkness. Like Jeremiah, the church is called to use Scripture to break down and build up the church and the nations. It does not do so by carnal weapons - not by rioting and revolutions - but by the ministry of the word. Scripture is effective to restrain and destroy the dominion of sin and to plant and build up the kingdom of God. It deconstructs and reconstructs. 

John Calvin said of the task of preachers of God’s word: 

“That is, by the word of God, whose stewards they have become, let them boldly dare to do all and to compel all this world’s glory, grandeur and power to obey and submit to the divine majesty. Through this same word let them have command over everyone. Let them build up Christ’s house and subvert Satan’s kingdom. Let them feed the sheep and kill the wolves, guide by their instruction and exhortation those who are teachable, and constrain and punish the rebellious and the obdurate. Let them bind and loose, thunder and cast their bolts - but all by the word of God.” (Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 727)

2. The Lord equips the church with his presence. 

The church becomes "a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls" (1:18) when it is faithful to Scripture. It looses its strength and power when it ceases to faithfully proclaim Scripture. God told Jeremiah, "Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them" (1:17). If Jeremiah was dismayed and shrunk back from his duty, God would give him reason to be dismayed. Likewise, if the church shrinks back from professing and proclaiming God's word, God will give it reason to fear. Do not back away from maintaining God’s truth. God’s word is the church’s glory and weapon. Like Jeremiah, the church is not impressive on its own. But with the words of God in its mouth, it can be confident. 

The church, like Jeremiah, will suffer persecution. “They will fight against you” (1:19). Jesus reminded his disciples that they would be persecuted just like the prophets who were before them (Matt. 5:11-12). Jesus calls people to repentance, and this message, even when lovingly and affectionately communicated (as Jeremiah and Jesus communicated it), is still taken as a dangerous threat by unbelievers. 

Yet, as he was with Jeremiah, God will be with his people. He will deliver you as you stand by his word. “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you” (1:19). This is just as Jesus said at the end of Matthew, that he will be with us to the end of the age, enabling us to fulfill the mission he gave us. 

Therefore, do not be dismayed by those who show hostility. Do not back away from the message Scripture has given us. Do not add to or take away from God’s word. What he has given us is solid, so do not dilute it. The church is commissioned to proclaim and teach God's word, not its own ideas. You can personally give advice that goes beyond what Scripture says, but don’t say “God says” or “the Bible says” unless God has taught it in Scripture, explicitly or implicitly. 

Encourage and pray for preachers and evangelists to boldly and publicly proclaim God's word. And do your part in promoting this message of Scripture in the world. Let the word of God dwell among you richly, talking about it, encouraging one another with it, singing hymns and psalms. Build up the church as a faithful witness to the word by filling the church with the word. Do not merely retreat to a faithful hold out, but be an active participant in maintaining the faithfulness of the visible church of Christ.

Even as you apply Scripture to yourself to destroy and build up, so apply Scripture to the nations as well. The people of God teach, model, and apply God's word to the nations, each person doing so according to their calling and place in life. Together, we are engaged in a work of reconstruction, with the word of God as our tool.


You may find reason to be discouraged as you behold dangers confronting our country and the church in our country. Judgment is well deserved. God’s word is not idle. It may be that his hand of chastisement and judgment will even more evident in 2021 than in 2020. But what should we do? Should we hide? Should we lay around idle or paralyzed? No, we should remember Jeremiah 1:17. After God proclaims coming judgement he says to Jeremiah, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” Let us not be afraid but let us get to work, faithfully communicating God’s word and faithfully receiving and practicing it ourselves.