Wednesday, October 5, 2022

To Whom is Baptism to be Administered?

Question 95: To whom is Baptism to be administered?
Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible church are to be baptized. (WSC)
Baptism is a sign and seal of our ingrafting into Christ, our partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. Who then ought to be baptized?

At first we might be tempted to say that the regenerate should be baptized. But we cannot look into the heart and see the new birth directly. The question then is, whom does Scripture tell us should be welcomed as members of the covenant? Who are the members of the visible church? The visible church is a society made up of those who profess faith and obedience to Christ, and of their children. The baptism of infants was not contested for much of church history, but it is contested in our day, so consider these points:

1. Since God makes his covenant of grace with believers and their children, welcoming believers and their children into his church, therefore believers and their children ought to be baptized (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39, 16:31-34). The New Testament does not teach that the new covenant takes a different approach to children, but rather demonstrates continuity with the Old Testament on this matter.

2. Since in the Old Testament the sign of entrance into the covenant (circumcision) was given to believers and their children, so in the New Testament, the sign of entrance into the covenant (baptism) ought to be given to believers and their children (Gen. 17:1-14, Col. 2:11-12).

3. Just as circumcision was a sign of benefits which were received by faith and was nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they could express their faith (Rom. 4:11), so baptism is a sign of benefits which are received by faith and is nevertheless applied to the infants of believers before they can express their faith.

4. Since baptism is our initiation as disciples of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), and the children of believers are disciples of the Lord Jesus, to be raised by their parents as such (Eph. 6:1-4, Matt. 19:13-15), therefore we should baptize the children of believers.

What does baptism mean for the infants of believers? It means the same thing as it does for adult believers. They bear the name of God, they have been called out of the world, they are disciples of Christ, his benefits are theirs, and they are his, provided they keep the covenant through faith in him. It means they are visible saints, having the identity of Christians rather than pagans, to be treated as such, with hope and charity, as brothers and sisters.

Baptism is not a guarantee of salvation if it is without true faith. We have the examples of the circumcised and “baptized” Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-14) and the baptism of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24). And so parents ought to be diligent in bringing up their children in the ways of the Lord, knowing that God uses the instrumentality of parents to raise up another generation to serve him (Gen. 18:19, Eph. 6:4). And all the church, of whatever age, ought to be exhorted to repent and believe in Christ, living in accord with their baptism and embracing its promises.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Symbolism of Baptism

Question 94: What is Baptism?
Answer: Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, doth signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s. (WSC)

Baptism is one of the two sacraments of the new covenant. It is the sacrament of initiation. Baptism ratifies one’s identity as a disciple of Christ. It is like the membership card of the church. It symbolizes and confirms the benefits you have by faith as a disciple of Jesus, and it also obligates you to live as his disciple. 

It is essential that the minister baptizes with water and that he does so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism requires the use of water, but not a certain amount of water. Baptism is legitimate whether it done by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, although sprinkling and pouring are especially appropriate (Is. 44:3, 52:15, Ezek. 36:25-27, 39:29, Acts 2:17-18, Heb. 9:19-22, 10:22). The essential thing is washing with water.

Jesus speaks of baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28:19. Earlier, in chapter 3, Matthew had recounted the baptism of Jesus himself. When Jesus was baptized, the Father reaffirmed his identity as his Son and the Spirit descended upon him. For us, baptism is a sign and seal of our ingrafting into Christ (Rom. 6:3-5), who brings us to the Father and pours out upon us the Spirit. Baptism symbolizes our union with the Son, adoption by the Father, and sanctification by the Holy Spirit. Through our union with Christ we partake of the benefits of the covenant of grace (Gal. 3:27-29). The washing of baptism thus symbolizes the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16) and the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). It makes visible the transition from the world into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). It also signifies and seals our covenant obligation to the Lord, to live as his holy people in newness of life (Rom. 6:4, 13). Baptism is thus designed to strengthen, direct, and distinguish you for the rest of your life, summoning you to faith in the promises it symbolizes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What Is a Sacrament?

Question 92: What is a sacrament?
Answer: A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.

Question 93: Which are the sacraments of the New Testament?
Answer: The sacraments of the New Testament are, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. (WSC)
The medieval church had developed a list of seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination. The Reformers saw that not only had these seven practices been distorted by error, but also that they had been improperly grouped together as sacraments. For example, while marriage is a divine ordinance, marriage is unlike Baptism and the Lord’s Supper because marriage is a creation ordinance that is common to all humanity. And while marriage is an earthly analogy of Christ and the church, it is not a sensible sign of invisible grace in the way Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are.

A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ for his church in his capacity as our Redeemer. Not only that, but a sacrament is an ordinance with two parts: a sensible sign and spiritual grace. There are other ordinances appointed for the church, such as the reading and preaching of the word, but sacraments are those ordinances instituted by Christ in which sensible signs represent, seal, and apply Christ to believers.

The sacraments of the New Testament are two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The old covenant had sacraments as well, which also pointed to Christ and built up the faith of believers in those days (1 Cor. 10:1-4, Rom. 4:11, Heb. 8-10). But with the coming of Christ, new sacraments were instituted by him as part of the clearer and more powerful new covenant administration (Matt. 26:26-29, 28:18-20).

In Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers by sensible signs, i.e. water, bread, and wine (Gal. 3:27, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:23-26). They represent Christ and these benefits to us. They seal and confirm them to us, assuring us of our share in them, as a handshake or wedding ring seals a promise. They apply them to us, truly offering us what they symbolize, that we might participate in them by faith.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

The Efficacy of the Sacraments

Question 91: How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
Answer: The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them. (WSC)
The word of God is not the only means by which the benefits of Christ’s redemption are applied to us. Christ has also appointed the sacraments to build us up in his saving grace. The sacraments must not be separated from the word, but are signs and seals that symbolize and confirm God’s word to God’s people.

The sacraments do not become effectual from any virtue (i.e. power) in them. They do not work automatically or by the work itself. Not all who are baptized or who take the Lord’s Supper are saved. Simon Magnus was baptized but proved himself to be in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:12-24). Paul warns Christians with the example of the Israelites in the wilderness who partook of the equivalents of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and yet perished for their apostasy (1 Cor. 10:1-6). Some people partake of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and are disciplined by God for it (1 Cor. 11:27-32).

Nor do the sacraments become effectual from any virtue in the one who administers them. As Paul wrote, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). While the godliness of a minister is important, it does not give the word and sacraments their saving power. They can be effectual even if they are administered by hypocrites (Phil. 1:15-18). If the minister who baptized you later proves to be an unbeliever, this does not make your baptism invalid.

Instead, the sacraments become effectual means of salvation only by the blessing of Christ and the working of his Spirit in those who receive them by faith (Matt. 3:11). Men may plant and water, but God gives the increase. When Jesus sent out his church to disciple the nations by word and sacrament, he also promised to be with them, making his ordinances effectual, for it is Jesus who disciples his people by these means (Matt. 28:18-20). He fulfills the promises that are sealed by these sacraments. He makes baptism effectual, washing and incorporating his people into his body by his Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, Titus 3:5). He makes the Lord’s Supper effectual, feeding his people with his flesh and blood by his Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13, John 6:53-63).

These truths help keep us from idolizing the symbols and resting in mere formality, idolizing particularly gifted ministers, or placing our trust in man, but direct us through the sacraments to Jesus Christ himself, that we might rest upon him for salvation.

Friday, September 2, 2022

How to Read and Listen to God's Word

Question 90: How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
Answer: That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives. (WSC)
If you want to benefit from the word of God, you should read and listen to it in a devout manner. The church described in Acts 2 set a good example when they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). We have been given the word of God, and “you will do well to pay attention [to it] as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). Diligence and teachableness is essential to profiting from its instruction. As the book of Proverbs teaches, life-giving knowledge and wisdom comes to those who fear the Lord and eagerly seek and call out for knowledge and wisdom from him (Prov. 2, 4, 9:7-12). Psalm 119 is an extended meditation on the surpassing worth of God’s word, the believer’s devotion to that word, and his prayer to be instructed and guided by that word.
“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you … Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law … I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments … Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” (Ps. 119:11, 18, 131, 135)
To attend to the word with diligence refers to consistently reading and listening to the word, diligently observing what it means. Preparation refers to putting yourself in a teachable frame of mind, turning away from rebellion, and remembering whose word this is that you are receiving. The prayer we should pray is that God would give us a true understanding of his word and bring it to us, not only in word, “but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5).

Hebrews 4:2 tells us that the gospel did not benefit the generation that died in the wilderness because they did not receive the word with faith. 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says of those who are perishing, “that they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Therefore, we should seek to receive the word with faith and love, that we might benefit from it. The Westminster Confession of Faith has an excellent summary of what it means to receive the word with faith,
“By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come.” (WCF 14.2)
Out of faith and love, a person will lay up God’s word in his heart and practice it in his life. And likewise, this faith and love is further supported and strengthened as we keep God’s word on our heart, in our mouths, and before our eyes as we go about our lives (Deut. 6:4-7).

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Power of God's Word

Question 89: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation. (WSC)
The Holy Scriptures are the word of God, and they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). God has appointed that his word be read (both publicly and privately) and preached. The apostle told Timothy to devote himself to “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13) because if he kept a close watch on himself and on the teaching, he would save both himself and his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16).

The Spirit of God is the one who delivered the word of God to us, producing Scripture by working through its authors (2 Tim. 3:16, 1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Peter 1:20-21, 1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit of God is also the one who makes the word effectual to salvation. The natural person is not able to understand the word of God, but the spiritual person - the one who has received the Spirit of God - is able to understand it (1 Cor. 2:11-14). While men may “plant” and “water” by preaching, yet it is God who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

The Spirit uses the reading and preaching of the word to convince and convert sinners. It is the instrument he uses to bring sinners from darkness to light, from death to life. The word of God, when the Spirit makes it effective, is like the voice by which Jesus called Lazarus to life, or the word by which God created light on the first day. It is through the word that the Spirit convicts the sinner of his sin, convinces him of his misery and danger, enlightens him in the knowledge of Christ, and persuades and enables him to embrace Christ. It is the ordinary means by which the Spirit produces faith and repentance in sinners (Rom. 10:17, Acts 26:18, 1 Peter 1:23-25).

The Spirit also uses the reading and preaching of the word to build up in holiness and comfort those who have been converted. Those who have been born again by the word ought to long for the word, as infants long for milk, that by it they may grow up into salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers not only for the gathering of the elect, but also for the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:12, Col. 1:28, 2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God shows us the way of holiness and motivates us to walk in it. The word of God is also the means by which the Spirit - the Comforter - comforts and strengthens us, giving us hope and confidence (Rom. 15:4, John 14:26).

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The Ordinances of the Lord

Question 88: What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
Answer: The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (WSC)
We saw in questions 29-31 that we are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the internal work of the Spirit, who applies it to us by working faith in us and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling. Question 88 points out that Christ ordinarily uses outward means to give us the benefits of redemption (Rom. 10:14-17, 1 Tim. 4:15-16). He uses these outward means to convert us and to continually supply us with the benefits of redemption. Sometimes we refer to these outward and ordinary means as “the means of grace.”

To use the word “ordinary” is to note that there may be exceptions, such as with elect infants who die in infancy and are nevertheless regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how he pleases (John 3:8). The catechism also notes that these means do not work automatically, but that God makes them effectual to the elect for salvation. But with respect to our responsibility, we should seek Christ and his benefits by a right use of the ordinary means appointed by him.

The outward and ordinary means are “his ordinances.” As Thomas Vincent (1634-1678) explains,
“By the ordinances of the Lord are meant those means of grace and salvation which are of the Lord’s institution, which he hath appointed and commanded in his Word, and no other … We ought not to make use of any ordinances which are of men’s appointment only, in order unto salvation, because this is will-worship, which is both vain and offensive; and we cannot groundedly expect the blessing of the Lord upon, or to receive any true benefit of any ordinances, but by those alone which are of his own appointment only.”
The chief ordinances of Christ are the word of God, the sacraments, and prayer (Matt. 6:5-13, 26:26-29, 28:18-20). Acts 2:41-42, 47 describes how these ordinances were diligently observed by the apostolic church, and how God made them effectual to the elect for salvation. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

Monday, August 1, 2022

Repentance unto Life

Question 87: What is repentance unto life?
Answer: Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. (WSC)
Repentance ought to be preached as part of the gospel proclamation (Luke 24:47). “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15). Along with faith, repentance ought to be our response to the gospel of Christ. While our repentance does not earn salvation or pardon, yet the promise of the gospel is often conditioned on repentance (Luke 13:3, 5, Acts 2:38). “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19). The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it well when it says, “Although repentance be not to be rested in as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners that none may expect pardon without it” (WCF 15.3).

Repentance begins with a true sense of your sin and an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. Hinderances to repentance include the deceptiveness of sin, the willful blindness of a sinful heart, an ignorance of the gospel, as well as doubt and despair. If you do not think you are a sinner, there is little reason to repent. Likewise, if there is no mercy for repentant sinners, then there is little reason to repent. And so Scripture exhorts people to repent by revealing the truth about their sin and God’s mercy in Christ (Acts 2:36-38).

With this knowledge, a repentant person grieves for his sin and hates his sin, and therefore turns from it unto God (2 Cor. 7:10-11, Ezek. 36:31, Joel 2:12-13). This involves confessing our sins, praying for God’s mercy and pardon. It involves repudiating the ways of sin which we formerly practiced and devoting ourselves to the Lord. It involves seeking to give restitution and to repair the damage caused by our sins when possible, with full purpose of new obedience to God. Those who truly repent will sincerely endeavor to obey the commandments of God, being exhorted to live in a manner consistent with their repentance. “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8, see also 3:10-14). “... that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20).

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Saving Faith

Question 86: What is faith in Jesus Christ?
Answer: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel. (WSC)
Saving faith is faith in Jesus Christ. It is not a mere sense of dependance or optimism. The object of our faith matters greatly. Those who place their faith in false gods, money, or themselves will be disappointed and put to shame. Those who believe in Jesus Christ shall be saved (Acts 16:31).

Saving faith is not always equal in relative strength - it may be weak or strong, small or great. We pray that God would increase our faith (Mark 9:24). But whether weak or strong, this faith is equally precious in its nature, object, and saving efficacy, giving an equal share in Christ and his promises (2 Peter 1:1). In this respect, the weakest believer can take heart that he or she has a faith of equal standing to that of the apostles, a precious faith of great worth - not because of its virtue, but because of its object: Jesus Christ and his promises.

Saving faith is not a mere awareness of Christ and his claims about himself. Nor is it merely assenting to the truth of his claims. The demons recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, and yet they remained his enemies. Saving faith is not only knowledge and assent, but also trust. A believer not only recognizes that Jesus is the Savior, but owns Jesus as his Savior and entrusts himself to Jesus (John 1:12, Acts 10:43, Matt. 10:32).

Saving faith does not take hold of some invention of the imagination, but it takes hold of Jesus as he is offered to us in the gospel, as God presents him to us. In the Old Testament, God presented this Savior to his people by promises, sacrifices, and other types and ceremonies. In the New Testament, the Christ who has come is offered in the gospel and the new covenant sacraments with greater clarity and efficacy to all nations. But in both administrations, sinners have been saved by faith in Christ, by whom they have had full remission of sins and eternal salvation.
“Accordingly, faith is nothing else than trust in the divine mercy promised in Christ, and it makes no difference with what sign it has been promised. This trust in the goodwill or mercy of God first calms our hearts and then inflames us to give thanks to God for his mercy so that we keep the law gladly and willingly.” (Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1521)

Friday, July 15, 2022

The Problem and the Solution

Q. 84: What doth every sin deserve?
Answer: Every sin deserveth God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come.

Q. 85: What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?
Answer: To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption. (WSC)
While some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others, every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse. As the catechism has already explained, the moral law of God requires perfect conformity and, falling short of that, mankind has fallen into an estate of sin and misery. All mankind has lost communion with God and has been condemned to temporary and eternal judgment for Adam’s first sin, for the depravity of our hearts, and for the sins which proceed from it. Every sin we commit deserves death, temporal and eternal (Jam. 2:9-11, Gal. 3:10). Those who continue in this way are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5). “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6).

So then, how may we escape from God’s wrath and curse? As the people asked the apostles on the day of Pentecost, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Or as the Philippian jailer asked Paul, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

The gospel proclaims the saving work of God in Christ (see questions 20-38 of the catechism). It also calls sinners to respond to the message and receive this salvation. The gospel does not merely state the facts. It also urges people to respond. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God ... Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 5:20, 6:2). In particular, God calls us to respond to the gospel with faith in Jesus, repentance unto life, and a diligent use of the means of grace. In other words, if you want to escape God's wrath and curse, you should receive and rest upon Jesus alone for salvation and turn from sin unto the service of God, diligently making use of the preaching and reading of Scripture, the sacraments, and prayer.
“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:38, 41–42)

“And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” (Acts 16:31–33)

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

We look to the space above and find great forces in an orderly system that displays beautify and usefulness. God has provided you this a vast display of overwhelming size and force at a safe distance for your observation. He has provided a seemingly inexhaustible realm of discoveries. Even though those in the ancient world had a better view of the night sky with the natural eye, we have a better ability to see and understand the stars through technology, and we continue to learn more and more.

From what we have found through modern scientific observation, our solar system has eight planets and five dwarf planets that rotate around the sun, with at least 200 moons orbiting those planets. The sun is over 100 times the diameter of the earth and is 93 million miles from us. The sun is one of an estimated 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. Our whole solar system is orbiting around the center of the galaxy. And astronomers have most recently estimated there are 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. Truly, while only God is infinite, the wonders of the heavens seem inexhaustible.

Did all of this come about on its own from nothing? No, simply adding billions of years does not solve the issue, and it creates as many problems as it seems to solve. We are told in Scripture the answer that accords with the vast power and design we see: God created all of this by his powerful word - “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens…” (Genesis 1:14).

God brought them into existence, set them in order, and put them on their circuits. He directs each one of them and they do his bidding. As Psalm 147:4-5 says, “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”

As Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Their speechless voice extends to all the earth. Their words go to the end of the earth. There is nothing hidden from the heat and light of the sun. Their regular course in joyful obedience to their Maker proclaims his existence, wisdom, and power. These lights are a witness to all the earth, calling all people to worship their Creator.

And they put man’s pride to shame. As God asked Job in Job 38:31–32, “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?”

God has appointed the ordinances of the heavens. He created gravity and the forces and patterns we discover through science. He has given his law to all the lights of outer space. He commanded, and they came to be; he set them in the expanse, and they go as he directed. The sun, moon, and trillions of stars follow his decree in glory and splendor and order, and thereby fulfill their purposes and bring glory to God. And so should you and I! As a creature with reason and will, you ought to do so with knowledge and delight.

God’s law is not a checklist, but a way of life. His sovereignty over his creatures is comprehensive, and so is his law. It says, this is the way, walk in it! It does not give you a few things to do, but it directs your whole life. It directs the whole life of man and his society. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” There is no neutrality, no room for autonomy from God. Your whole being is designed to move in accord with his moral law, directed by love for God and neighbor.

This may sound like a burden to some, but look up! Is the moon burdened by the orbit God has given it? Is God’s command a burden to the sun? Does the earth wish to be free of its rotation? No! The sun comes out in the morning “like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy” (Psalm 19:5). He sets them in honor and glory, and we admire the beauty of the spheres. His law is a blessing and a glory to them. So likewise for us, the law of God is good and wise. By it, we live according to our design, fulfilling our purpose and bringing glory to God.

But you go off the path appointed for you into the destructive ways of sin. You abandon your appointed course and rebel against the King of the cosmos. You treat the Ruler of the galaxies with contempt. You treat his appoint way with contempt and seek out your own ways, foolish ways, evil ways, ways of death.

And so what has God done about this? The one by whom all these stars and lights were made was made flesh and dwelt among us. And when the mighty Maker was dying for man the creature’s sin, the sun was darkened and the moon was turned to blood and our earth was shaken. He died that you and I might be reconciled and restored to the Triune Creator of all. So hold fast to the mercy of God in Christ, receiving this salvation by faith. And let your heart break with sorrow for your sin and joy at his power and love.

For the lights of the heavens do not only display God’s power and wisdom. They display his love. Look up and say with Psalm 8:3–4,
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
Even before sin, God was incredibly generous to draw near to man and give him glory and honor, to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. And how much more now does his vast power displayed in the heavens magnify the graciousness, steadfastness, unmerited generosity of his love for you. “Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me!”


Image Credit: NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Are All Transgressions of the Law Equal?

Q. 83: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
Answer: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (WSC)

There is a popular misconception out there that all sins are equal and that no sin is worse than another sin. Many Christians have picked this up from a misunderstanding of James 2:10, which says that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” But this verse, as the preceding and following verses explain, means that to break one commandment makes a person a transgressor of the law and liable to judgment (James 2:9, 11). Apart from the mercy offered in Christ, the law demands perfect obedience.

But while all sins are the same in how they violate God's law, are contrary to his character, and deserve eternal judgment, yet in other respects they are not the same. The Bible regularly speaks of sins that are greater than others (e.g. Ezek. 8:6, John 19:11) and which deserve greater judgment than others (e.g. Matt. 11:22, Luke 12:47-48). The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the biblical material on this point in helpful detail in questions 150-152, which you can read at this link. It describes how sins receive their aggravations from the persons offending, from the parties offended, from the nature and quality of the offense, and from the circumstances.

To believe that no sin is worse than another sin is an unbiblical concept. I believe many people hold to this idea with good intentions, but it often leads to bad consequences in practice and a superficial understanding of sin. A wise person knows how to evaluate sin and perceive various aggravations which can make a sin worse. In this way, not only is he able to address the sins of others more appropriately and justly, but he also gains a better sense of the depravity of his own sins and a better sense of the mercy of God in Christ.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Man's Ability to Obey God

Q. 82: Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God? 
Answer: No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed. (WSC)

Notice that this question begins with two qualifications: (1) “No mere man,” which excludes Jesus, the Son of God who became man, and (2) “since the fall,” which excludes Adam and Eve before the fall. After Adam’s sin plunged humanity into an estate of sin and misery, mankind has been unable to meet the requirement of the covenant of works, which is perfect obedience. His nature is corrupt and his desires are hostile to God's law (Rom. 8:7-8). 
“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
“‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one’ … For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Romans 3:10–12, 23) 
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
Not only is no mere man able to keep God’s commands perfectly, but all of us break his commandments daily. Is it fair to say we break his commands daily? Yes, because Scripture teaches us to ask for the forgiveness of our sins daily. The Lord’s Prayer, whether as a prayer or a pattern, is designed as a daily prayer (“our daily bread”) and includes the petition, “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12). How much more was this the case for us in our unregenerate state! Even as those who are delivered from the dominion of sin, we are engaged in a constant struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:17) and have need to mortify sin and live in grateful dependance upon God’s mercy and grace. Those with faith in Christ will be able to obey God perfectly, not in this life, but in the estate of glory. 

If anyone has a hard time seeing his sin, let him remember that God’s law requires conformity in thought, word, and deed and in motive, manner, and purpose. Let us not rely upon our works for salvation, but upon our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Bible and Abortion

On the one hand, one does not need the Bible to understand that abortion is immoral. It is against the law revealed in the natural order and conscience that a mother should seek the destruction of her unborn offspring. She is made to nourish and care for this little living human being. 

On the other hand, I want explain the biblical case against abortion for three reasons. First, the Bible is the true and faithful and authoritative word of our Creator, and I am a minister of this word. Second, many people profess to accept the authority of the Bible. Certainly Christians do. Even some non-Christians have respect for it. Politicians on all sides will quote it to support their policies. Third, over the years, I have seen people claim that the Bible support abortion, a dangerously misleading interpretation not only out of accord with Christian teaching from the 1st-3rd centuries to the present, but out of accord with the Bible itself.

Let me recognize at the outset that many women resort to abortion in the midst of difficult circumstances. Childbearing itself is difficult, and this is even more the case in some situations. Yet difficult circumstances are not necessarily exemptions. They can also be temptations to do the wrong thing. And that is generally the case in these difficult situations that motivate women to seek abortion. They do not justify the killing of the unborn, but should be addressed in other ways. I say “generally” only because I recognize, as do our state laws that prohibit abortion, that there are rare cases (e.g. ectopic pregnancy) where it is justified to remove the baby before it is safe to do so to save the life of the mother, although this is quite different from what is normally called abortion. 

While the Bible does not explicitly deal with abortion, it does so implicitly by condemning the murder of human beings and recognizing unborn children as human beings. To support this, let me review some passages of Scripture.

Genesis 5:1-3 and 9:6
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6)
In Genesis 9, God explains that murder is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of one who bears God’s image. Biblical ethics provides a reason to value all humans, grounding their right to life not on their level of intelligence, physical abilities, racial identity, or usefulness to society, but as beings made in the image of God.

Genesis 5:1-3 explains how this identity is conveyed to the next generation. It is not imputed to them at some point in their life. Rather, humans have the image of God by being produced from other images of God. “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God…When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Gen. 5:1, 3). Mankind, like the rest of creation, produces according to its kind. From conception, the child is made in the image of God.

Genesis 2:7
“…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7)
Some justify abortion with this verse, saying that life begins with breath. But life is given to Adam with a breath since Adam was created as an adult, and living adults generally breathe. But if an adult stops breathing, are they dead? Not necessarily. We do CPR. Why? Because there is hope they will breathe again. The unborn do not yet breathe, but at birth they will. Their lack of breath is not proof they are dead. It is proof they need the care of others. But they are biologically alive, not dead. Additionally, the Bible also speaks of the life of flesh being its blood (Lev. 17:11, 14), and does so in the context of prohibiting murder (Gen. 9:4-5, 4:10). Living humans and animals generally have blood circulating through them sustaining their life, and this includes unborn children (15-21 days post-fertilization). Again, I do not think this is meant to define life with scientific precision, but it is more to the point in this discussion, and it shows the Bible can use more than one marker to identify life.

Exodus 21:22-25
“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22–25)
This case law describes a situation where men are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and her children come out with two results, no harm or harm.

The first case (no harm) involves a premature birth and a penalty for striking the woman in such a way; the second case (harm) involves harm to the woman and/or her children, with a further penalty that fits the harm done. This is the traditional interpretation. I think this is still the best interpretation, since (1) in the first case the word for miscarriage is not used, nor do the words used indicate such a meaning, and (2) the harm is not specified, leaving it applicable to the woman and her children mentioned in the passage. Both the father and the judges had responsibility to protect and seek justice for the pregnant woman and her children. 

Some, though, interpret it differently. They say the first case involves a penalty for the accidental causing of a miscarriage, and the second case includes a further penalty if the woman is harmed. But even if this interpretation is correct - and I do not think it is - it does not greatly change its implications for abortion. Note that the child dies in both of these cases. The penalty in the second case is for compound crime toward both the mother and child. It is not comparing the death of the child to the death of the woman. Also, that the accidental causing of a miscarriage is penalized with a fine does not mean the child is not a person or alive. There is also a monetary fine in Exodus 21:32 for the death of a slave (and others, Ex. 21:29-31) by an ox accustomed to gore, but the Bible affirms their personhood and life (e.g. Ex. 21:2, 12, 16, 20, 26-27, Job 31:13-14). 

Numbers 5:11-31
“May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away.’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen, Amen.’” (Numbers 5:22)
Some claim that this passage provides a God-approved instance of abortion. This passages describes a highly unique test for when a husband was overcome with jealousy, believing his wife to be guilty of adultery without witnesses to verify the claim.

First, this “trial by ordeal” was different from those found in other nations because it used a symbolic but naturally harmless substance (water with some dust and ink) which could supernaturally produce a harmful result in the guilty, rather than using a naturally harmful substance in the hope that the innocent would be supernaturally delivered.

Second, if this passage refers to the death of an unborn child, it would be God alone who caused this, and so this would not give anyone the right to take this matter into their own hands. God gave life and he can take it away. He has laid a curse upon all mankind in response to our fall into sin that all will die, and he chooses the day of our death.

Third, this passage does not refer to the death of an unborn child. In the case of a guilty woman, it says it would make “your womb swell and your thigh fall away,” or as the CSB puts it, “causing your belly to swell and your womb to shrivel.” These terms are best understood in light of 2:28, which says that the innocent woman “shall be free and shall conceive children.” So rather than referring to miscarriage, the punishment is best understood as a visible disease indicating guilt and causing infertility. In this case, the outcome for the guilty woman would be curse and infertility, while the vindication of the innocent woman would include the blessing of conception and children.

Psalm 51:5
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
In this confession of sin written by King David, he confesses not only his sinful acts, but his sinful nature. This verse does not refer to the sins of his mother, since it is a confession of his sins and since it refers in the same way to both his birth and conception. He is stating a fundamental truth in Christian theology that following Adam’s sin, all his descendants by ordinary generation are sinners by nature and under condemnation (Rom. 5:12, 18-19, Eph. 2:3), who may be saved only by Christ (who can save born and unborn infants as well as adults, see next point). As Psalm 51:5 teaches, this sinfulness is true of us from the beginning of our existence. And this begins with conception. If an unborn child can be considered a sinner, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings.

Psalms 22:9-10 and 71:5-6
“Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:9–10)
“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 71:5–6)
Not only are unborn children participants in man’s fall, but they may also be participants in man’s renewed covenant with God. God can show this mercy to all unborn children, and he has particularly given us hope regarding the children of believers, to be their God (Gen. 17:6). As the writers of the Psalms looked back to their relationship with God over the years, they could look back even to their life in the womb. If an unborn child can be considered as a believer in God in relationship with him, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings made in the image of God.

Judges 13:4-5
“Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:4–5)
These words were spoken by the Lord to the wife of Manoah, telling of how she would conceive and bear Samson. Samson would be a Nazirite from the womb, and so his mother would need to abide by the dietary laws of the Nazirite, since the child receives his nourishment from his mother. A Nazirite was one who was specially consecrated to the Lord (Num. 6:2-3). If an unborn child can be a Nazirite, already bound by Nazirite laws, then unborn children are to be regarded as distinct living human beings made in the image of God.

Luke 1:15, 44
“…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” (Luke 1:15)
John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb for his work of making known the Son of God in the flesh. John began this work while he was yet unborn. When pregnant Mary visited John’s mother Elizabeth, Elizabeth said to her, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:43-44) Again, this implies that the unborn are distinct living human beings.

Matthew 1:18
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
The Son of God took on human nature when he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. He was a distinct living human from his conception onward. Jesus is also eternal God, but with respect to his humanity, he was made like us in every respect, except without sin (Heb. 2:17, 4:15).


The law which commands us, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13, KJV), applies to unborn children. The Bible teaches that we are to regard them as distinct and living human beings made in the image of God, and that therefore we ought not to murder such beings. The Bible makes no distinction within the life in the womb such as viability. It assumes a continuity of personhood and existence from conception to after birth. 

It is a mother’s duty to care for the helpless infant entrusted to her womb, just as it is likewise a father’s duty to care for the infant he has begotten. This parental responsibility of care and protection begins at conception. Often these duties are made easy by the parental affection and fulfillment which often accompanies this work. But things can get quite difficult, especially as we labor under the curse (Gen. 3:16-19), and so these duties ought to be reinforced by encouragement, support, and praise, as well as by custom, education, and law. When things break down to such an extent that a mother begins to contemplate the destruction of her child at the hands of the abortionist, the government has a duty to defend the life of the innocent and protect the unborn child from abortion (Psalm 82:3-4, Prov. 30:8-9, Rom. 13:3-4).

This position should be part of a larger program that supports marriage and the family (Ex. 20:12-14, 1 Cor. 7:2, 1 Tim. 5:4, 8-16). This includes passing laws such as those that limit divorce (Matt. 19:3-9), deliver the afflicted from violence (Ps. 82:3-4), hold men accountable for premarital sex (Ex. 22:16-17), and punish rapists (Deut. 22:25-27). It also involves extended family and other people and institutions stepping in when the nuclear family breaks down (1 Tim. 5:3-10, Deut. 14:29, Ruth 1-4). But while this full program ought to be promoted, the unborn should not be neglected until everything else is in place. Let them be protected by the law of the land, and let the church call people to turn from this sin and to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who gives forgiveness and hope to all who repent and believe.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Covetousness and Contentment

Q. 79: Which is the tenth commandment?
Answer: The tenth commandment is, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.

Q. 80: What is required in the tenth commandment?
Answer: The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbour, and all that is his.

Q. 81: What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?
Answer: The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbour, and all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his. (WCF)

On this commandment (Ex. 20:17), I would note several things:

1. Coveting is an unqualified (or improperly qualified) desire for that which belongs to another. This commandment does not forbid you from seeking to buy your neighbor’s donkey or asking for charity if you are in need. Good desires are desires that are qualified by things such as lawfulness, permission, and love for others: “I would like that if…” For example, one might properly think, “I would like that sandwich if it is for sale and if I have enough money.” It does not desire a sandwich which has an owner who is not willing to share. It does not desire something that is inherently unlawful for you to have, like your neighbor's spouse. Proper desire for good things evidences its goodness by being content if the qualifications are not met. But covetousness is not limited by such qualifications and is not content to hear “no.”

2. Coveting is an unlawful desire. Not only can actions and choices be sin, but your desires can be sinful as well. You ought to repent not only of your sinful choices, but also for your inclinations for what is forbidden, since even the desire to sin is sin.

3. Coveting is both a sin and a temptation to sin more. Coveting draws us toward committing other sins like stealing and adultery. This is one way that Jesus was not tempted. He was not tempted by indwelling corruption. For example, he was not tempted by his own greed, lust, or pride - for he had none. He had natural cravings like hunger, but not sinful cravings like coveting. He “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He did not give in one bit. But when we give in, it entices us to go further. Coveting will not be content to be alone - it loves the company of other sins.

4. Coveting will influence your attitude toward your neighbor. Covetousness blossoms into envy, resentment, and malice toward the owner of what you covet. It leads you to think things like, “I don’t want him to have that,” “I can’t stand him since he won’t give that to me,” “no one should have more than me,” and “this is unjust - the government should do something about it!” Resentment then encourages more covetousness, causing you to have thoughts like, “I want that because they have that.” But when coveting is replaced with contentment, contentment blossoms into respect and love towards your neighbors. It helps you to seek their welfare as well as your own. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness

Q. 76: Which is the ninth commandment? 
Answer: The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Q. 77: What is required in the ninth commandment?
Answer: The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbour's good name, especially in witness bearing.

Q. 78: What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
Answer: The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbour's, good name. (WCF)

As the catechism points out, there are at least two aspects to the ninth commandment: truth and a person’s good name. Bearing false witness against your neighbor involves lying and unjust injury to his good name. Bearing false witness also undermines the whole administration of justice, which is why false assertions in court were taken so seriously in the law of God (Deut. 19:15-21).

We ought to be honest and faithful, being true to others by speaking truthfully, keeping far from deceit and falsehood. “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22). “Speak the truth to one another…” (Zech. 8:16). Both 1 Timothy 1:10 and Revelation 21:8 place “liars” among the ungodly with murderers, the sexually immoral, etc. This duty does not justify speaking the truth unseasonably or to evil ends (Prov. 29:11, 1 Sam. 22:9-10). There are also times when deception may be justified to save life against a hostile enemy (Josh. 2:4-6, 8:3-9). Yet we must be very careful to not abuse this exception, which is like the exception regarding taking life in self-defense, knowing how we are prone to justify deceit when things get difficult. Our general duty is to speak the truth, and only the truth, in all things, without deception.

We also ought to respect and value our own good name and the good name of our neighbor. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A person’s reputation is one of his most precious possessions. To steal it from him is a grave injustice. If people do not trust you, you will find many things very difficult. And a good reputation is more easy to destroy than to build. We ought to be very careful with the reputations of others, lest we carelessly damage them. We should freely acknowledge the gifts and graces of others, defend their innocency, being ready to receive a good report and disinclined to admit an evil report concerning them, discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers (WLC 144). Claims of wrongdoing should not be ignored, but they should be investigated and validated before they are accepted (Prov. 18:17, 25:7b-10, Deut. 19:18). The righteous man is described as one who “backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour” (Ps. 15:3).

We are told, “You shall not spread a false report” (Ex. 23:1), a very relevant command in our day when it is so easy to share news. By proactively guarding against false reports, you will contribute to the well-being of society and “your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you” (Prov. 3:29). Preserving truth and honesty is a shared project. It both requires you to be discerning with the reports you read and hear, as well as discerning with the reports you share. It not only forbids slander rooted in malicious intent, but it also forbids negligence in the effort to guard against falsehood and preserve the good name of others.

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Giver of Life

The Holy Spirit is the giver of life. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).

1. The Spirit gives life to living things in the order of creation (Gen. 2:7, Ps. 104:29-30).

2. The Spirit gives new and eternal life to sinners, uniting us to the Life, causing us to be born again (John 3:5-6, 6:54-56, 63).

3. The Spirit works this new life in us, writing God’s law on our hearts, producing the fruit of the Spirit in us (Ezek. 36:27, Gal. 5:16-24).

4. The Spirit gives life to the church, making the body work together in mutual service and binding it to Christ the head (1 Cor. 12:3-13, Eph. 2:18-22).

5. And finally, our bodies will be raised up on the last day by the Spirit: “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Honest Work and Theft

Q. 73: Which is the eighth commandment?
Answer: The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.

Q. 74: What is required in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.

Q. 75: What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer: The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbour's, wealth or outward estate. (WCF)

Near the beginning of the book of Proverbs, the reader is warned to hold back his foot from the way of robbery. Robbery promises quick rewards and an easy life, but in fact robbers “set an ambush for their own lives” (1:18). Mankind was created to work in order to help each other and to exercise dominion over the earth and make it fruitful (Gen. 1:26-28, 2:15, 3:16-19). But we are tempted to be slothful and take a short cut, being pseudo-productive by stealing, robbing, cheating, and defrauding others. But “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit” (Prov. 10:2) and “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death” (Prov. 21:6). Another way a person might defraud others is by failing to fulfill his obligations to them through idleness. But this way also leads downward, since “a slack hand causes poverty” (Prov. 10:4) and “he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Prov. 10:5) and “the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Prov. 12:24).

Stealing is foolish, as the true way to prosperity is through diligent and wise work, not through violence or greedy schemes. Furthermore, stealing and fraudulent dealing is “an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 11:1). Stealing violates the stewardship God has given each man over his own property. Those who have stolen ought to give appropriate restitution (Lev. 6:1-5, Luke 19:8). If you find lost property, you ought to return it to its owner (Deut. 22:1-4). You are called to seek the good of others and to promote the common good. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Rather than seeking unjust gain, you ought to be engaged in honest labor, for your own good and also for the good of others (1 Thess. 4:11-12, 2 Thess. 3:6-12, 1 Tim. 5:4-8, Col. 3:22-25). Scripture exhorts us to work with diligence, wisdom, skillfulness (Prov. 10:4-5, 22:29), as well as with faith in God for his provision (Matt. 6).

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Sex, Marriage, and God's Design

Q. 70: Which is the seventh commandment?
Answer: The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Q. 71: What is required in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbour's chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.

Q. 72: What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
Answer: The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions. (WSC)

As we work our way through the Shorter Catechism, we come to the seventh commandment. The seventh commandment forbids violating the marriage covenant in which husband and wife are bound to be sexually intimate only with each other, being loving and faithful to each other until death parts them (Lev. 20:10, 1 Cor. 7:4). Nothing but adultery, or such willful desertion as can no way be remedied by the church or civil magistrate, can give grounds for a legitimate divorce (Matt. 19:3-9, 1 Cor. 7:15, WCF 24.6). God created marriage as a one-flesh union of a man and a woman and he designed sexual union for marriage alone (Gen. 2, 1 Cor. 6-7). Thus, by extension, this commandment forbids all sexual immorality, all sexual activity outside God’s ordinance of marriage. In case there is any doubt, Scripture is pretty clear on the specifics (Lev. 18, 20:10-21, Deut. 22:13-30, 1 Cor. 6:9, 15).

God has made us and our bodies and tells us how to use them. Sexual immorality is a rebellion against his design. Consequently, it also causes great damage to others and to society. And as Christians we have even more reasons to keep this commandment. We are not our own, for Christ has bought us and made our bodies members of his body, therefore we ought to glorify him with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:15-20). Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we ought to flee from sexual immorality, for the sexually immoral person sins against his own body (1 Cor. 6:18-19).

As the catechism says, our goal ought to be to preserve our own and our neighbor’s chastity and to avoid all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions. Questions 138-139 of the Larger Catechism provide an excellent summary of how the Bible teaches us to do this. As Jesus taught, we must keep watch over our thoughts and desires, lest we commit adultery in our hearts (Matt. 5:27-30). In the language of the Larger Catechism, we should also avoid “all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel, … lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays [e.g. movies]” (Eph. 5:3-4, Prov. 7, Is. 3:16-17, 1 Peter 3:2-4, 1 Tim. 2:9, 5:2).

Positively, we should all hold marriage in honor (Heb. 13:4), as a good and wise ordinance of God for his glory and our good (Gen. 2, Mal. 2:13-16). The one who is married should love and delight in his or her spouse (Prov. 5:15-19, 1 Cor. 7:2-5, Song of Solomon 1-8). The one who is unmarried ought to prepare for and (when ready, with wisdom) seek marriage, unless given the gift of continency (1 Cor. 7:2, 9, 1 Tim. 5:14, Matt. 19:10-12). Marriage is not fool-proof, nor does it elevate one in the kingdom of God, but it is a blessing and provision of God to be treasured and carefully preserved.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

On the Destiny of the Earth

Here are several quotes spanning the centuries concerning the destiny of the earth at the end of the age. Bede is a bit of an outlier thinking that water and fire will be consumed entirely, but all of them assert that the earth will be renovated and changed, not annihilated and/or replaced. The Bible does not teach the annihilation, abandonment, and discarding of the earth, but rather the restoration, purification, and glorification of the earth. As the mortal body of believers will be raised incorruptible, so this earth shall be freed from corruption and made new, the inheritance of those who have been saved through faith in Christ.  

Bede, Commentary on 2 Peter (c. 710):
“That very great fire ... will consume two [elements, i.e. water and fire] entirely, but two [air and earth] in fact it will restore to a better appearance… For he did not say other heavens and another earth, but the old and ancient one to be changed for the better, according to what David said, 'In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands; they will perish, but you will remain, and they will all grow old as a garment, and you will change them as a piece of clothing, and they shall be changed' [Ps. 102:25-26]. As for the things, therefore that will perish, grow old and be changed, it is definitely clear that once they have been consumed by the fire they resume a more pleasing appearance as soon as the fire goes out. For ‘the shape of this world passes away’ [1 Cor. 7:31] not its substance, just as with our bodies too, the shape will be changed, the substance does not perish when what ‘is sowed as a physical body rises as a spiritual body’ [1 Cor. 15:44].”

John Calvin, Commentary on 2 Peter (1551):
“For he thus reasons, that as heaven and earth are to be purged by fire, that they may correspond with the kingdom of Christ, hence the renovation of men is much more necessary.”
“Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as may be easily gathered from Rom. 8:21, and from other passages.”

A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (1860):
“The phrases ‘new heaven,’ and ‘new earth,’ in contrast with ‘first heavens’ and ‘first earth,’ (2 Peter 3:7, 13, Rev. 21:1) refer to some unexplained change which will take place in the final catastrophe, by which God will revolutionize our portion of the physical universe, cleansing it from the stain of sin, and qualifying it to be the abode of blessedness.”

R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (1871):
“This planet was fashioned to be man’s heritage; and a part of it, at least, adorned with the beauties of a paradise, for his home. Satan sought to mar the divine plan, by the seduction of our first parents. For long ages he has seemed to triumph, and has filled His usurped dominion with crime and misery. But his insolent invasion is not to be destined to obstruct the Almighty’s beneficent design. The intrusion will be in vain. God’s purpose shall be executed. Messiah will come and reestablish His throne in the midst of His scarred and ravaged realm; He will cleanse away every stain of sin and death, and make this earth bloom forever with more than its pristine splendour; so that the very plan which was initiated when ‘the morning stars sang to gather and the sons of God shouted for joy,’ will stand to everlasting ages.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

A Mother's Love and Duty

“They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…”
(Titus 2:3–4)

Do young women really need to be taught to love their children? Isn’t a mother’s love proverbial for its constancy, protectiveness, and warmth? Nevertheless, it is clear that this love does need to be taught and encouraged in this fallen world.

It is a mother’s duty to care for the helpless infant entrusted to her womb, just as it is likewise a father’s duty to care for the infant he has begotten. This parental responsibility of care and protection begins at conception. Often these duties are made easy by the parental affection and fulfillment which often accompanies this work. But since things can get difficult, these duties ought to be reinforced by encouragement, support, and praise, as well as by custom, education, and law.

When things break down to such an extent that a mother begins to plan the destruction of her child, the government has a duty to defend the life of the innocent and protect the unborn child from abortion. I pray that the Supreme Court follows through in overruling Roe and Casey, and also that our society turns unto the mercy of God in Christ and his ways of faithfulness and love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Q. 67: Which is the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 68: What is required in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q. 69: What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour, unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto. (WSC)

The primary reason undergirding the sixth commandment can be found in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” God has made man in his own image. To kill a human is to offer violence to God, desecrating his image. Instead, humans are owed a basic respect due to being made in the image of God, a respect which includes all lawful endeavors to preserve human life.

This commandment has great relevance to many contemporary issues. For example, it forbids abortion, because a person’s right to life depends not on independence or mental capacity, but on his or her identity as a human, made in the image of God, which begins at conception. It also forbids racism, that is, animosity, contempt, or injustice on the basis of race, for all people groups are descended from Adam, made in the image of God.

This law against killing is not without exception, as Genesis 9:6 makes clear. The duty to preserve and vindicate human life sometimes requires the taking of human life under God’s authority. It is just to take human life in cases of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense, although even in these cases the Bible gives us directions, qualifications, and limits.

On the other hand, the law does more than prohibit murder. It prohibits causing death by carelessness. It prohibits the attitudes, words, and practices that dishonor the image of God and shows violence to human life. It requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others. In general, we might summarize the command with these points:

1. Avoid murderous thoughts (1 John 3:15-18, Titus 3:3), but respond to injury with love (Matt. 5:43-45).

2. Avoid murderous and reviling words (Matt. 5:21-22, James 3:6-10), but use kind and courteous speech (Titus 3:2) and promote peace (Matt. 5:9, Rom. 12:18).

3. Avoid murderous acts (Genesis 9:3-6), but defend and support human life by responsible and charitable provision (James 2:15-16, 1 Tim. 5:8), care for health (1 Tim. 5:23, Prov. 17:22, 23:19-21, Eccl. 10:17, 2 Kings 20:7), self-defense (Ex. 22:2), and supporting the state’s role in public justice (Rom. 13:4, Prov. 31:8-9).

4. Avoid or prevent situations that needlessly endanger yourself or others (Deut. 22:8, Prov. 1:10-11, 15-16).

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

Q. 63: Which is the fifth commandment?
Answer: The fifth commandment is, Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 64: What is required in the fifth commandment?
Answer: The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals. (WSC)

The fifth commandment commands us to honor our fathers and mothers. This honor is expressed through obedience, deference, reverence, and care in old age, as I have explained in more detail here. Parents give us life. We begin as helpless infants in their hands, to be nourished and brought up unto maturity by them. We do not come into this world independent and sovereign. We are cast upon our parents and receive a wealth of unearned benefits from them and from past generations. Our basic attitude toward them then ought to be one of reverence and gratitude, of filial piety.

The catechism recognizes that this command has many implications that are brought out in the rest of Scripture. Scripture uses the terms of “mother” and “father” to describe, not only natural parents, but other superiors as well (e.g. 1 Tim. 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 10:1, Gen. 45:8, 2 Kings 5:13, Is. 49:23, Acts 7:2, Phil. 1:10). Similar honor is to be given, as the Larger Catechism says, to “all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.” And being given this honor and/or authority, these superiors are therefore responsible to God for its use. Superiors have obligations to those under them. The brief answers of the Shorter Catechism on this commandment are greatly expanded in questions and answers 123-133 of the Larger Catechism.

All of this is quite contrary to the egalitarianism is that is common in our society. It should be noted that the catechism uses the terms “superiors, inferiors, or equals” to refer to rank and status, not value. As Paul says, while the members of the body are different, yet every member of the body is essential, and none should be despised (1 Cor. 12). Scripture speaks of a spiritual equality which coexists with the structured order of society (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:21-24, Job 31:13-15, 1 Peter 3:7). These truths are complementary, because the order that God has appointed in society does not pit us against each other (although human depravity does), but obligates us to each other for our mutual good. In his design, we are interdependent, born into a web of human relations, in which each contributes and receives over the course of his or her life, with obligations binding together the weak and strong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A.A. Hodge on the Kingdom of God

"[The kingdom of God] was symbolized in the throne of David in Jerusalem and the Jewish theocracy, and it was visibly set up in its higher spiritual form when the long-promised Son of David, having redeemed his people on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to the heavens and sat down at the right hand of God. This kingdom is not one among the many competing kingdoms of the earth. It is antagonistic to the kingdom of Satan only: all the natural kingdoms of men, except in so far as they are compromised with the kingdom of Satan, are penetrated and assimilated and rendered subservient to its own ends by the kingdom of God. All other kingdoms have their rise, progress, maturity and decadence, while this kingdom alone is eternal, growing broader and waxing stronger through all ages until its consummation in the city of God."
-A.A. Hodge, "The Kingdom Of Christ," Popular Lectures on Theological Themes (1887)

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Sanctifying or Profaning the Sabbath

Q. 61: What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Q. 62: What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
Answer: The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath day. (WSC)

The fourth commandment tells us to observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy. We do this by resting from our normal activities and by using the time for the worship of God, as well as for deeds of mercy and necessity. 

Accordingly, the commandment forbids us from omitting these duties or carelessly performing them. To show contempt for God’s worship is to show contempt for him (Malachi 1:6-7, 13-14). Even though the day is a day of rest, yet this rest should not be taken to the excess of idleness, such that we neglect what should be done on the day. 

The day is also profaned by unnecessary and distracting thoughts, words, or works, as well as by sin, which should be avoided every day. Examine your thoughts, words, and works on the sabbath day and consider whether they are fitting for the day. Do they aid piety, show mercy, or meet necessities that cannot be delayed? Isaiah 58:13 tells us that the sabbath day is honored when you do not go your own way, or seek your own pleasure, or talk idly. Pleasure itself is not forbidden, but we are directed to take pleasure in the observance of the day, calling the Sabbath "a delight." 

God gives several arguments to support this command. This command is reasonable, for he gives us six days for our own callings, for our “worldly employments and recreations.” This command is just, for the day is his day, “the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” To put it to common use is to steal from God. This command is also supported by God’s own example, for he rested one day in seven when he made the world. Furthermore, this command is for our own good, for God blessed the sabbath day, so that we are blessed in the observance of it. Not only is God glorified, but we are refreshed and edified by this holy rest and by the means of grace in the fellowship of the saints.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Parable of the Ten Virgins and 1 Thessalonians 4

Something I noticed when I was preaching through the Gospel of Matthew is that when the apostle Paul describes Christ's return in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he does so in a way very similar to Jesus' parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). 

  • In addressing whether the dead shall participate in the blessings of that day, Paul describes deceased saints like the wise virgins in this parable - those who have "fallen asleep." But Jesus shall wake them and bring them with him when he returns, just as the bridegroom woke and brought the virgins with him as he entered the wedding feast.
  • Paul speaks of Christ’s coming being accompanied with a cry of command and the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God, just as the virgins are summoned at midnight by the cry, “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” In both cases, the voice wakes the dead and summons his people to greet him. 
  • Paul uses the same word for “meet” that is used in the parable (ἀπάντησις). Paul says those who are in Christ shall go up to “meet” him in the air on his way down from heaven, just as the virgins went out to “meet” the bridegroom to escort him into the hall. The other use of this word in the NT is to describe how Christians from Rome went out to meet Paul to accompany him back to Rome. As Strong’s Concordance says, the word is “seemingly almost technical for the reception of a newly arrived official.” A very similar word is use to describe how the crowds came out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus, accompanying him into the city with joy. 
  • Paul writes that having greeted Jesus, “we will always be with the Lord,” just as the five wise virgins who greeted Jesus went into the wedding feast with the bridegroom, unlike the five foolish virgins who were unprepared and unable to enter.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Matthew 24:36 and the Olivet Discourse

In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the the scribes and Pharisees that because of their hypocrisy, unbelief, and consistent persecution of God’s messengers and saints, God’s judgment would be poured out on that generation. In Matthew 24:1-3, the disciples ask about the timing of this judgment and the destruction of the temple, although they conflated it with Christ's coming at the end of the age.

Jesus answers their question and gives a clear indication of the timing. From verse 4 to 34 he prophesies concerning the events that would take place in that generation in connection with the desolation of Jerusalem. In verse 36 he begins to speak of the end of the age and distinguishes it from the destruction of Jerusalem and he gives no timing or sign for that day. Here are several reasons to take 24:36 as the point where Jesus shifts from the fall of Jerusalem to his second coming at the end of the age.

1. “But concerning…” (24:36) is a phrase used in the New Testament to indicate a change of subject or to move on to a different question. This is the case in Matthew 22:31, six times in 1 Corinthians, and twice in 1 Thessalonians. Reviewing these occurrences, commentator R.T. France writes, “In each case peri de is the rhetorical formula for a new beginning. The analogy with 1 Corinthians indicates that here the phrase marks the transition from the first of the two questions asked in v. 3 to the second.”

2. 24:34 makes a fitting conclusion to his instructions regarding the desolation of Jerusalem. In it he says that “these things” which he had described up to that point would happen before that generation passed away (compare this with the similar expression used in 23:36).

3. The disciples had asked about “the end of the age,” which is a phrase which always refers to the final judgment and consummation. It is used in the parable of the wheat and weeds for the harvest when the kingdom will be purified of all causes of sin and lawbreakers (13:39-40). It is used in the parable of the net for when those gathered by the kingdom will be sorted by the angels (13:49). It is also used in the Great Commission, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:20). So Jesus begins to speak of this final event after he has finished describing the events of that generation.

4. Jesus refers to “that day.” He had already spoken of a particular day throughout his ministry: the day of judgment, a universal judgment, when he would judge (Matt. 7:22, 10:15, 11:22, 24, 36). His parables had taught that this would occur at the end of the age. Thus, it makes sense for him to refer to his coming and the end of the age by “that day and hour.”

5. While he had spoken of the coming of the Son of Man in heaven as occurring in that generation - a reference to his ascension and reign at the Father’s right hand - he has not spoken of his “parousia,” the word for “coming” in their question, until after verse 36, except to say in verse 27 that it will be unlike the appearances of false Christs during the fall of Jerusalem.

6. While he gave clear timing and signs for the desolation of Jerusalem, he did not have knowledge concerning that day and hour of his coming, and so does not indicate its timing or signs. There is some mystery here, but at least at this point, according to his human nature and his messianic office, he did not know the day and hour of his coming. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Sabbath Rest, Worship, and Mercy

Q. 60: How is the sabbath to be sanctified? 
Answer: The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

The fourth commandment requires us to keep the sabbath day holy. This is done, first, by resting from our normal activities. “…in it thou shalt not do any work” (Ex. 20:10). God exemplified this pattern of weekly rest in his work of creation. God tells his people to take a break and to trust him, our heavenly Father. We are not slaves under harsh spiritual bondage, nor are we orphans who are on our own in this world, but we are children of the living God. This rest is a guard against a workaholic mentality, worldliness, and the oppression of workers.

This rest is also intended to make room for the devotion of the day to duties of piety and mercy. The sabbath day is kept holy, not only by resting from worldly employments and recreations, but second, by spending the day in worship, as well as in works of necessity and mercy. As a holy day, it is set apart unto the worship of God. In commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, we ought to meditate on God’s word and works and give him praise. As Leviticus 23:3 says, the sabbath is a day for a holy convocation, the assembly of God’s people in local congregations for worship. As mentioned earlier, the New Testament describes this as well, that the church gathers for worship on the weekly sabbath, which is now the first day of the week. By resting the whole day, we gain time to prepare for public worship and as well as to practice family and private worship on that day.

In Matthew 12:1-13, Jesus corrected the Pharisaic practice of the sabbath, which had turned it into a burden. He noted how the sabbath day is also a day for deeds of mercy and kindness. Even in the Old Testament, it is noted that not only should you rest, but you should give rest and refreshment to others (Ex. 23:12, Deut. 5:13). Having received mercy from God, we should show mercy to others, sharing with one another and encouraging one another. Jesus also taught that deeds of necessity are permitted on the sabbath day, rebuking the Pharisees when they condemned the disciples for feeding themselves from the grain fields.

You can learn more on the observance of the sabbath day in this short video and in these sermons: Jesus and the Sabbath and Keep the Sabbath Day Holy.