Thursday, May 27, 2021

God's Gracious Covenant

Q. 20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
Answer: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer. (WSC)

Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy! We were helpless on our own, wallowing in the sin we loved and doomed to unending misery. But he did not leave us to perish in our sin and misery.

“Election” and “predestination” refer to God’s choice of a people to be saved by him and brought to everlasting life and glory. This choice occurred before the creation of the world in eternity (Eph. 1:4, 2 Tim. 1:9). It was not based on God’s foresight of our actions (Rom. 9:11). In fact, any faith or good deeds we do is a result, not a cause, of his decision to save us. We have no grounds of boasting in our salvation - all the praise goes to God’s grace (Eph. 1:5-6). While God is just to leave some in their sins and judge them for their freely chosen rebellion against him, showing his justice, wrath, and power, he also demonstrates his mercy in his election of some to everlasting life, not on the basis of works, but of his grace (Rom. 9:10-24, 11:5-6).

Because God had from all eternity elected some to everlasting life, he entered into a covenant of grace, a second covenant. This one would be a redemptive covenant, bringing his people out of sin and misery into an estate of salvation. It would be a covenant established upon the work of a Redeemer, not our perfect obedience. In it, salvation is freely offered to all those who believe in this Redeemer (John 3:16). Here is how the Larger Catechism explains how the grace of God is manifested in this second covenant:
“The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” (WLC, Q. 32)
God published this covenant as early as Genesis 3:15 where he gave the promise of the woman’s offspring who would crush the serpent's head. He continued to renew and progressively reveal this covenant with his people throughout the Old Testament - with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the children of Israel at Sinai and on the plain of Moab, under Joshua in the Promised Land (twice), and in King David and his heirs. The revelation of this covenant culminated when the Redeemer himself came to accomplish redemption. Jesus established the final and permanent administration of this covenant, sometimes called the “new covenant.” For more on the doctrine of the covenant, see my video on the topic here or read my blog post summarizing the doctrine here.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Misery of Fallen Man

Q. 19: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
Answer: All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever. (WSC)

In question 17, the catechism had noted that due to sin, man fell into an estate of sin and misery. Question 18 described the sinfulness and question 19 describes the misery of this fallen condition.

Through sin, all mankind lost communion with God. We were created to live with God, to communicate with him, to receive his favor and blessing, and to give him glory and grateful praise. The covenant of works had bound God and man in a bond of mutual love. But this bond was broken and enmity between God and man was introduced when man broke God’s command and sided with the serpent. Adam and Eve first hid from the presence of the Lord and then were sent out of the Garden, away from the tree of life (Gen. 3). Apart from Christ, mankind has no hope and is without God in the world (Eph. 2:12).

Not only did mankind lose communion with God, the source of every blessing, but it also justly came under his wrath and curse. People are now by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), that is, “people destined for wrath.” Because he is righteous, God's wrath burns against wickedness. “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11). God’s wrath and displeasure is a great misery for fallen man. 

God's curse makes mankind subject to suffering, death, and hell. Even in this life, God begins to punish men for their sins (Lam. 3:39). Physical suffering is combined with inner suffering: the “sense of God's revenging wrath, horror of conscience, and a fearful expectation of judgment” which are to the wicked the beginning of their torments (WLC 83). And as God had warned Adam, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Moreover, the final sentence of the cursed on the day of judgement will be to be sent away from Christ into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41, 46).

This is the summery of man’s misery, although it is not meant to sufficiently convey the experience of this misery. But this is also the misery from which we are delivered by the grace of God. That will be the topic of the next question. 

The Life of Oliver Woods

I have written in the past concerning the history of Samuel Woods, a captain in the American Revolution, a Presbyterian elder, and one of my wife’s ancestors. I would like to continue down the line and discuss Samuel’s youngest son, Oliver, my wife’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather. 

Oliver Woods was born at Boone’s Station, Kentucky, October 15, 1784, the son of Samuel and Margaret Woods.[1] He was named after an older brother who had been killed by Indians in Kentucky.[2] Later the family moved to south central Tennessee.[3] In 1807, Oliver married Nancy Haynes in what would become Giles County, Tennessee. Nancy had been born in either North Carolina or South Carolina on March 5, 1784.[4] Her father, John Haynes, and his brothers fought in the American Revolution, one of his brothers being killed and another taken prisoner at Cowen’s Ford.[5] Her father volunteered six times to serve in the NC militia during the war, and his service is recorded in his pension application.[6] Following the war, her father moved the family to Tennessee where she met Oliver.

Oliver and Nancy lived in Tennessee for the first thirty or so years of their marriage. Oliver farmed as well as taught school and vocal music, being well educated and a skilled musician.[7] During the War of 1812, he and his brother William enlisted. He served in Col. Hall’s 1st Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers, which was one of the three regiments mustered for Andrew Jackson’s expedition to Natchez (December 1812 to April 1813).[8] It is said that his brother William fought at the Battle of New Orleans.[9]

In the 1830s Oliver moved his family to Benton County, Arkansas and owned 160 acres which is today next to Wal-Mart’s Headquarters in present-day Bentonville (between SE 8th St. and SE J St.).[10] Yet by 1840 he and his wife and two of their children are listed in the census living in Barry County, Missouri. In 1850, Oliver and Nancy are listed in the census as empty nesters, both 67 years old, farming in Lawrence County, Missouri. Nancy died in 1859[11] and Oliver is listed in the 1860 census as 76 years old, living in the household of his son, John B. Woods, also in Lawrence County. It is said that Oliver was “one of the fourteen men who cast their vote for Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, and was compelled to leave the county. He went to Iowa, and died at his daughter’s, Eliza Andrews, home, in 1863.”[12] His gravestone says he died on May 14, 1863, aged 78 years and 7 months. He is buried in New Hope Cemetery, Hiattsville, Appanoose County, Iowa.[13]

Oliver and Nancy had five children still living in 1863.[14] As one reads the history of their children, it is evident that they passed on the faith of their fathers, although they had made the switch to the Cumberland Presbyterian branch of Presbyterianism. 

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church began in 1810 in the wake of the revivals in Kentucky and Tennessee and the consequent shortage of ministers. In contrast to the main body of Presbyterians, it lowered the educational standards for ordination, did not require ministers to subscribe to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and modified its confession of faith accordingly (available here). I do not agree with their modifications, but at least they were not going as far as others at the same time, like Barton Stone, who left Presbyterianism altogether.

The children of Oliver and Nancy Woods:

- Samuel Newton Woods, b. Nov. 7, 1808, m. Cicily Pace in 1828, d. April 29, 1848, Lawrence County, Missouri.[15] It was said that “religiously he was a Cumberland Presbyterian, politically he was a Benton Democrat.”[16] (This is the son from whom my wife is descended.) 

- John Blackburn Woods, b. Feb. 10, 1811, m. Martha Pace in 1832, d. July 11, 1884. He went on to own 1,700 acres in Lawrence Co., Missouri. He was a Union supporter during the Civil War, a judge, a Republican, and a Cumberland Presbyterian,[17] one of the first elders of the Presbyterian Church at Mt. Vernon, Missouri.[18]

- Nancy L. (Woods) Andrews, b. Oct. 24, 1812? m. Silas Milton Andrews in 1834, d. Aug. 23, 1903. She and her husband were early settlers of Appanoose County, Iowa and she died there at the age of 90. The Andrews were Democrats and Nancy had been a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church since she was 17 years of age.[19]

- Margarette M. (Woods) Pace, b. Feb. 24, 1815, m. Christopher Pace in 1830, d. June 23, 1895 in Bentonville, Arkansas.[20] It was reported in the Bentonville Sun (29 June 1895), that she was “born in Tennessee in 1814 and was united in marriage to C.S. Pace in 1830 and in 1835 removed to Benton county, Arkansas … The deceased united with Cumberland Presbyterian church at the age of fifteen and lived a consistent member to the time of her death ... Five children…mourn the loss of a most devoted mother and the community has lost a noble Christian woman.”[21]

- Elvira (Woods) Erwin, b. 1820, m. Robert Erwin on Dec. 12, 1843, d. Sep. 1885 in Cornersville, TN.[22]

- Andrew Pinkney Woods, b. Jan. 16, 1821, m. Elizabeth Jane McCall, d. Feb. 17, 1887 in Barry County, Missouri.[23]

--
Footnotes

1. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1878), 603. This year and state is confirmed by his listing in the census in 1850 and 1860 (Lawrence County, MO). 
2. LeGrand M. Jones, Family Reminiscences (St. Louis, MO: C.R. Barnes Pub. Co., 1894), 44. His brother’s death is also mentioned in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
3. The date is given as Nov. 4, 1807 in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. The marriage record states that Oliver acquired the marriage license on December 1st, 1807 in Williamson County, TN, part of which later became part of Giles County (Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. Nashville, TN, USA: Tennessee State Library and Archives. Microfilm).
4. This date the NC as the location is found in “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. A SC birthplace is listed in the 1850 census and in the White Journal, John Henning Woods, 1856-1873 (Ms2017-030), page 2. http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/john-henning-woods/white-2-family-tree. Her father’s pension application says that they lived in NC and moved from there to TN. 
5. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
6. Pension application, 13 Apr 1846, for John Haynes' Revolutionary War Service, Widow's pension W27. https://revwarapps.org/w27.pdf 
7. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, (Goodspeed Pub. Co., 1888), 1005-1006. There is record of Oliver owning land in Giles County, TN on Jan. 28, 1817 (Tennessee State Library and Archives; Nashville, Tennessee; Series Number: 02; Series Title: Entries). 
8. He is listed as a private in 1 Reg’t (Hall’s) Tennessee Volunteers (National Archives and Records Administration. Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M602, roll 232.) Its regimental history is available here: https://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/regimental-histories-tennessee-units-during-war-1812.
9. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006. “Oliver … and William took active parts in the War of 1812, William especially distinguishing himself at the battle of New Orleans.”
11. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
12. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006.
14. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603.
17. “John H. Woods,” The History of Lawrence County, Missouri, 1005-1006.
18. Lawrence County Missouri History, edited by Jessie C Miller, et al; (Lawrence County Historical Society, 1974), 539-540.
19. “S.M. Andrews,” The History of Appanoose County, Iowa, 603. Biographical and Genealogical History of Appanoose and Monroe Counties, (Iowa, Lewis Pub., 1903), 81. Her gravestone, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/53892815/nancy-louisa-andrews
22. She is mentioned in the family tree recorded in the White Journal, John Henning Woods, 1856-1873 (Ms2017-030), page 2 (Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.) http://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/john-henning-woods/white-2-family-tree. Other information from census records (1850-1880). 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Sinfulness of Fallen Man

Q. 17: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

Q. 18: Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A: The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it. (WSC)

As we saw last time, Adam’s sin had consequences for all those whom he represented in the covenant of works. By his sin, mankind fell from its original blessed estate. Now the catechism goes on to explain the estate into which man fell. This second estate is one of sin and misery. “Estate” here refers to man’s state or condition. The condition of fallen man is marked by depravity and its consequences.

Next week we will come to the question regarding the misery of this estate. But first, the catechism describes the sinfulness of this estate. This sinfulness consists of two kinds of sin: original and actual. “Actual” is not contrasted here with “imaginary.” Rather, the distinction is between the corruption of our nature and the activity which proceeds from it, namely, sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Both original and actual sin are truly and properly sin, being out of accord with God’s law.

Original sin consists of three things. 1. The guilt of Adam’s first sin. This guilt is imputed to mankind, (Rom. 5:12-19), since Adam acted on our behalf as our covenant head. 2. The lack of original righteousness. God had created man not merely neutral, but good (Gen. 1:31), with a knowledge of God and an inclination and ability to serve him. It was natural then for man to love and obey God, but this natural tendency was lost in the fall. 3. The corruption of his whole nature. This is sometimes referred to as total depravity, that is, the idea every faculty of man is morally corrupt. His mind is debased and hostile to God (Rom. 1:28, 8:7), his heart is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 14:9), and his body is an instrument of sin (Rom. 6:13, 19). Not every sin is equally depraved, and not every man is as bad as he could be (thank God!), yet even when he does things which externally may conform to God’s law, they are defiled by sinful motives (Matt. 6:1-16, Heb. 11:6, Titus 1:15) and therefore cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).

From this sinful nature proceeds all actual transgressions. “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). As Jesus said regarding false prophets, “every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).

This was the condition which we all inherited. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, carrying out the sinful desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3). It is only by the grace of God that we are delivered from this bondage to sin (Eph. 2:4-10).

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Fall of Adam and the Fall of Mankind

Q. 16: Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?
Answer: The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression. (WSC)

Adam was the head of the human race. God made his covenant with humanity by making his covenant with its head, with Adam (Gen. 2:15-17). It is similar to how a king might make a treaty with another nation by making a treaty with its king. In this case, Adam broke the covenant, aligning with the serpent, plunging the whole human race into a war with God. Because he represented his descendants, they all sinned in him and fell with him. His sinful nature would be conveyed to them by natural generation (Gen. 5:3, Ps. 51:5, John 3:6), and his guilt was imputed to them by virtue of the covenant (Rom. 5:12-21). Therefore all are doomed to die, being subject to the curse of the covenant of works.

This relation between us and Adam is taught in Romans 5. Paul says that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (5:12). He notes that Adam’s transgression was unique, “a type of the one who was to come” (5:14). He sinned as a representative head bringing condemnation and death to all he represented, just as Christ obeyed as a representative head and brought justification and life to all he represented (5:15, 18-19). “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:19).

Notice how our catechism carefully describes those whom Adam represented: “...all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation…” What man did not descend from him by ordinary generation? Whom did he not represent? Who did not receive his fallen nature? The one who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin. Jesus Christ is the head of the new humanity, bringing us out of our fallen estate unto life and glory.