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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Christian Sabbath: The First Day of the Week

Q. 59: Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
Answer: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath. (WSC)

The sabbath day is the weekly day of rest and worship (Ex. 20:11, Lev. 23:3). The observance of the sabbath day in the Old Testament on the seventh day was based on God’s works of creation and redemption (Ex. 20:11; Deut. 5:15). But the day of the new creation and redemption in the New Testament is the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, our observance of the sabbath and its “holy convocation” (Lev. 23:3) also shifts to the first day. The fourth commandment was not abrogated, but its old covenant form was replaced by its new covenant form, explicitly connected to the work of Christ.

This shift was not a mere invention of the church, but was taught by the example of our Lord and intentionally recorded in Scripture. Jesus met with his gathered disciples on the day of his resurrection and broke bread with some of them (Luke 24, John 20:19-23). A week later, on the first day of the week, they were gathered again and he met with them (John 20:26-29). Seven weeks after his resurrection, on the first day of the week, was the day of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-16), when the disciples were gathered again in one place and the Spirit descended upon them in the morning (Acts 2:1ff). They spoke in foreign tongues and Peter preached.

After this, we find the apostles following this example and gathering for worship on the first day of the week. In Acts 20:7 we find that “on the first day of the week” they “were gathered together to break bread” and “Paul talked with them…and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” In 1 Corinthians 11 we find that the Corinthian church gathered together as a church to eat the Lord’s Supper (11:18, 20, 33), and in 1 Corinthians 16 we find that the day that they met together was the first day of the week, since Paul tells them to collect supplies for the Jerusalem church on “the first day of every week” (16:2). Finally, we find that the Apostle John received God’s word when he was in the Spirit on “the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10, a reference to the first day of the week, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

The early church continued to gather on this day, as Justin Martyr records in A.D. 155,
“We all make our assembly in common on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God changed the darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior arose from the dead on the same day.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology)

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Q. 57: Which is the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment is, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Q. 58: What is required in the fourth commandment?
Answer: The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself. (WSC)

It is just and right that a certain amount of time be set aside for the worship of God. It is true that we ought to serve God in everything we do, but part of the service we owe to God is to directly and explicitly praise him, thank him, call upon him, pay homage to him, meditate on his deeds, hear his word, and renew our covenant with him. Thus, the law regarding the sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) is a moral law at its core, not merely a ceremonial law.

In his word, God has specified that we set aside one day in seven for this purpose, as a holy sabbath. He has taught this pattern to us by the way he made the world, by resting on the seventh day and thereby blessing and sanctifying it. The sabbath is a creation ordinance that predates man's fall as well as the giving of the ceremonial law to Israel. Another catechism question will address the shift from the seventh day to the first day, but the proportion of time is the same from the creation of the world to the present. And in both Old and New Testaments, the day is specified by God’s word and sanctified by his deeds. 

The catechism accurately notes that the fourth commandment does not merely require a cessation from your normal work. The commandment requires us to “keep it holy,” that is, to set it aside from other days and consecrate it to the worship of God. God has made it holy (“hallowed it”), and so we ought to treat it as holy. It is not only a day of rest, but also a day of worship. In Old and New Testaments, the church has assembled for worship on its weekly day of rest (Lev. 23:2, Acts 20:7). Rest and worship complement each other. The rest allows us to direct our attention to the worship of God, and in turn the worship of God refreshes us. God “blessed” the sabbath day, and he makes it a blessing to us as we observe it with faith and gratitude.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Third Commandment and God's Name

Q. 53: Which is the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 54: What is required in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment requireth the holy and reverend use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.

Q. 55: What is forbidden in the third commandment?
Answer: The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Q. 56: What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
Answer: The reason annexed to the third commandment is, that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment. (WSC)

The first commandment specifies the object of worship and religious allegiance (God alone), the second commandment specifies the means of worship (only as God has prescribed, not by images), and the third commandment specifies the manner of worship, that we worship God with sincerity and holy reverence.

The third commandment forbids taking God’s name in vain, and therefore implies that we must use his name in a holy and reverent manner. Rather than using his name lightly or profanely, we must use it in a weighty manner as a holy thing.

And as the Shorter Catechism notes, the principle here refers to more than the use of a word or phrase, such as “Jehovah,” “the LORD,” “I Am,” or “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It also refers to “anything whereby God maketh himself known.” For example, the book of Malachi makes a strong connection between God’s name and his worship, word, and ordinances. The priests and people had despised God's name by treating these holy things with contempt. Jesus rebukes the vain oaths the scribes and Pharisees used by pointing out the connection between God and his altar and temple (Matt. 23:16-22). They had profaned God’s name when they had sworn by his altar and temple in vain.

Therefore, this commandment requires that we speak of God in a reverent manner. It requires us to hear and read his word attentively and reverently. It requires us to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy manner. It requires us to remember our baptisms and to remember that we bear God’s name and ought not to profane it by living in a manner contrary to it. A false and empty profession of faith is an instance of taking God’s name in vain. This commandment requires us to pray with sincerity and honesty, and to not pray mindlessly or to show off before others (Matt. 6:5-13). It requires us to be careful in our use of oaths and vows, to swear only by God, to do so reverently, and to assert nothing but what we are fully persuaded is the truth and to bind ourselves only to what is good and just and what we are able and resolved to perform. “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:12).

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Images and the Regulative Principle of Worship

Q. 51: What is forbidden in the second commandment?

Answer: The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word.

Q. 52: What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
Answer: The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship. (WSC)

The second commandment does not forbid the making of images in general (e.g. Ex. 26:1), as I explain in more depth in this lesson. It forbids the making of images to worship them or to worship God through them. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (Ex. 20:4-5). We must not direct our worship to images or bow to them. We must not make or set up images for that purpose. This prohibition applies not only to the idol worship we find in pagan religions, but also to those acts of veneration directed towards images which are promoted in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. In part, this prohibition exists because we worship a living God, who is active and who directs us, not a dead image (Ps. 135). God would have us to rise above physical objects, to direct our worship to him directly, to set our minds on things above, and to heed and respond to his word (Deut. 4:15-24, Col. 3:1-4).

Furthermore, God would have us worship him as he has appointed in his word. God decides and reveals what is pleasing to him. For us to decide this on our own is presumption. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire for offering “unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them” (Lev. 10:1). God rebuked those who practiced child sacrifice not only because they shed innocent blood, but also because he had not commanded or decreed it (Jer. 19:5). In Colossians 2:18-23, the apostle Paul condemns “self-made religion.” As the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes,
“the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1)
The second commandment also contains several reasons to obey it. First, God's sovereignty over us, “for I the LORD.” Only he has the authority to appoint his worship. Second, his propriety in us, that is, his right of possession of us, “thy God.” We belong to him and ought not stray from his appointed worship. Third, the zeal which he has for his own worship, “am a jealous God.” He is jealous for the devotion of his people. He is also zealous for his honor and glory and will not allow his name to be despised forever. “For I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations” (Mal. 1:14).

Friday, February 18, 2022

Self-Controlled, Upright, and Godly Lives

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age..." (Titus 2:11–12, ESV) 

What does it mean to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age? 

Self-controlled (σωφρόνως). This word refers to soundness of mind and judgment.

This word was one of the classical virtues, often translated as temperance or moderation. Unlike the “temperance” movement, it is not defined by abstinence, but by propriety, doing what is proper and properly using things rather than abusing them.

For example, moderation is shown with respect to things like food, drink, clothing, recreation, and sleep by using them as they ought to be used, in accordance with their purposes, as is proper and good.

And not only does moderation involve choosing the middle way between too much and too little, but it is the state of mind that allows you to make such a choice. Rather than being led away by worldly passions, by sloth or gluttony or rage or lust, a temperate person is able to do what is fitting and good and wise.

Upright (δικαίως). This refers to being righteous and just, obeying the moral law and fulfilling your obligations to others. As Jesus said, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

It is more than not harming your neighbor. It also involves loving your neighbor as yourself. It means fulfilling the duties of your callings.

This includes being honest and faithful, not defrauding anyone. It means being steadfast in promises and agreements, following through on your commitments.

Godly (εὐσεβῶς). More precisely, this word refers to being pious, that is, reverent, devoted, and dutiful before God.

Today the word “pious” can call to mind the image of someone who places all their religion in private devotions or someone who is a self-righteous prig. But it is a good word, and more precise than “godly.” Piety is a union of grateful love and reverent fear that produces dutiful devotion. True piety is born of faith, for by faith we learn gratitude and reverence, beholding the grace and majesty of God.

A popular example of piety in the ancient world was Aeneas, the hero of the Aeneid, the legendary founder of Rome. In that story, he overcame his passions and the passions of others, such as Juno and her storms, the lust of Dido, the wives of his men who sought to burn the ships, and hostile forces and civil discord in Italy. How did he overcome passion? With piety, showing devotion to the gods and his father, especially by embracing the duty they gave him of founding Rome.

A biblical example of someone known as a pious man is Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts 10). His piety is described: he feared God, he prayed diligently, gave alms, attended to God’s word, was dutiful in his calling, and led his household in God’s ways.

Moderation, Justice, and Piety
These are complimentary virtues, an apt description of the Christian life:

Moderation especially regards your own things, justice especially regards your neighbor’s things, and piety especially regards God’s things, although all three regard all three areas.

From piety flows justice and moderation. A pious attitude, gratitude and reverence, leads to contentment with your own things and diligence about your duties.

Without moderation, you are led astray. Without piety, your good deeds are profane. Without justice, your piety is hypocritical.

The grace of God is a good teacher, and it trains evil beasts and lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12) to live virtuous lives, in moderation, justice, and piety.

Worship by the Book

Q. 49: Which is the second commandment?
Answer: The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thy self to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50: What is required in the second commandment?
Answer: The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his Word. (WSC)

The first commandment deals primarily with who we worship. The second commandment deals primarily with how we worship. The two things are certainly connected. Notice in the commandment how the worship of images provokes God to jealousy. God would have us worship him as he truly is, not according to human imaginations.

The second commandment explicitly prohibits us from giving veneration to images. Worship ought not to be done in that manner. What then should we do? The positive duty implied is that we should worship God in the way he has taught us in his word. Both at Mount Sinai and in the apostasy of the northern tribes, the contrast was between God’s appointed ordinances and worship of man’s own devising. At Sinai, the people did not wait for God’s instructions on how to worship but devised golden calves for the worship of the Lord (Exodus 32). Jeroboam did not want the people worshipping according to the Lord’s instructions at Jerusalem and so he came up with his own places, objects, priests, and days of worship (1 Kings 12:25-33). We honor or despise God when we honor or despise his appointed worship and ordinances (Mal. 1:6-7).

As in the old covenant, so in the new covenant God has appointed his worship and ordinances for us to keep and observe. Christ has appointed the ministry of the word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, prayer and singing, the communion of saints, and the Lord’s Day (Acts 2:41-42, 20:7). The early church set a good example by diligently observing these things (Acts 2:42, 6:4, 1 Tim. 4:13), and the writers of the New Testament exhorted the church to keep them pure and entire (1 Tim. 3:15, 1 Cor. 11:17-34, Col. 2:6-23). 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The Sins of Impiety and Idolatry

Q. 47: What is forbidden in the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshipping and glorifying the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

Q. 48: What are we specially taught by these words, 'before me', in the first commandment?
Answer: These words, before me, in the first commandment teach us, that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God. (WSC)

As we saw in question 46 of the catechism, the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” implies a positive duty to know, acknowledge, and worship God as the only true God and our God. Question 47 explains what the commandment forbids.

The first commandment forbids the denying of the true God. Some deny that the God of the Bible is the true God. Others deny the existence of any god. Others deny the relevance of God - perhaps he exists, but he doesn’t interact with his creation. Some people openly confess this denial of his relevance, such as deists and agnostics. Others hide this in their heart and disregard God in the life they live. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). All of these forms of denying God are forbidden, as they do not give God due recognition.

The first commandment forbids not worshipping and glorifying him as the true God, and our God. As Paul says in Romans 1:18-21, God is known to all through his creation, but many refuse to honor him as God or give thanks to him. This impiety provokes the wrath of God. All men everywhere are commanded to turn to him (Acts 17:30), and God’s covenant people in particular must not omit the worship and submission that is due him as their God (Ps. 81:10-11, Deut. 32:15, 18).

The first commandment also forbids giving the worship and glory which is due to God to any other. One must not give a creature the worship and service that is due the Creator (Rom. 1:25). His covenant people in particular are bound to worship him alone. For us to worship another god is treachery, spiritual adultery (Jer. 2-3, Hosea 1-3). The fifth commandment will deal with the honor and reverence due to other creatures (Rom. 13:7), but religious worship is to be given to God alone (Matt. 4:10). No created or imagined person or thing should be treated as God. “No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24).

The words “before me” remind us that we live in God’s presence and that he notices and is very displeased with spiritual treachery. He does not tolerate rivals. He is not like any other. He alone is God. He is the source of every blessing and our salvation. May we therefore worship and follow him as the only true God and our only God.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

The First Commandment: No Other Gods

Q. 45: Which is the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Q. 46: What is required in the first commandment?
Answer: The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly. (WSC)

In my previous post on the catechism, we examined the preface to the Ten Commandments. While the preface introduces all the commandments, it has a particular relevance for the first commandment. Because God is the Lord and our God and Redeemer, we ought to know and acknowledge him as such, worship him accordingly, and to have no other gods.

The commandment, by forbidding us to have any other gods, implies that we have a duty to have the Lord as our God. And to have him as our God includes knowing him, confessing him, and glorifying him. How do we know him? We know him through the order of nature, but especially and more clearly through his written word, as we receive it with faith. It is through the gospel that we know him as our God. Furthermore, we ought to publicly acknowledge him to be the true God and our God by a confession of our faith and obedience (Deut. 26:17) and by worshipping and glorifying him as such (Ps. 50:14-15, 96:7-9).

One such confession of faith can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “The LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” Because we have only one God, the LORD, who is one, he deserves our complete and undivided devotion (Deut. 6:5) and his words ought to be on our hearts, in our mouths, on our hands, between our eyes, and on our doorposts and gates (Deut. 6:6-9). In other words, our whole life should be directed by his word unto his glory.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

A Few Arguments for Infant Baptism

Here are a few brief arguments for the baptism of the infants of believers, as well as a few notes of application. 

1. Baptism is our initiation as disciples of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). The children of believers are disciples of the Lord Jesus, to be raised by their parents as such (Eph. 6:1-4). Therefore we should baptize the children of believers.

Your baptism ought therefore to remind you of your identity as Christ’s disciple, to entrust yourself to him and to follow him, diligently learning to observe his commands. 

2. Baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, and the covenant of grace is made with believers and their children (Gen. 17:7, Acts 2:39), therefore the children of believers should be baptized.

God has always extended and confirmed his covenant mercy to the children of believers and has included them in his church (Gen. 6:28, 9:9, Gen. 17:7-13, Deut. 29:10-15, Acts 2:39). This can be compared to how, in 2 Samuel 9-10, King David, who had made a covenant with Jonathan, then extended that covenant mercy to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (who received it with humility and gratitude), and did the same with his ally King Nahash and his son Nanun (who responded with rebellion). Your baptism is a sign of God’s covenant mercy and ought to stir you to respond with gratitude and loyalty all your life, keeping the covenant by believing in Christ and demonstrating such faith by obedience to God’s word. Your baptism should teach you to call upon God as your God and Father.

3. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the covenant in the old administration (Gen. 17:1-14, Rom. 4:11) and baptism is the functionally equivalent new covenant ceremony representing the same thing (Col. 2:11-12). As circumcision was applied to infant children of believers, so baptism should be as well.

Circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness that is by faith (Rom. 4:11) and the conversion of the heart (Deut. 30:6), and yet was given to infants who could not give a profession of faith or a demonstration of conversion. These children were then called to live in accordance with the symbol as heirs of the covenant (Deut. 10:16, Jer. 4:4). Likewise, baptism into Christ is a new covenant sign and seal of the same blessings (Col. 2:11-14, Gal. 3:27-29). Children who are baptized are then raised to live in accord with this symbol, to trust in Christ for their cleansing from sin and to put on the ways of the new self in Christ and to put away what belongs to the old sinful nature. 

4. The actions of the apostolic church recorded in the New Testament are fully compatible with the practice of infant baptism, especially as households were baptized following the conversion of a parent (Acts 16:14-15, 31-34), just as households were circumcised in the Old Testament (Gen. 17, Ex. 12:48). The inclusion of children would have been assumed because of the prior biblical pattern, and there is no teaching about a change in practice as would be expected if there was a change.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Law and the Covenant of Grace

Q. 43: What is the preface to the ten commandments?
Answer: The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Q. 44: What doth the preface to the ten commandments teach us?
Answer: The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, That because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments. (WSC)

With these questions, the Shorter Catechism begins its exposition of the ten commandments. It is important to remember that the ten commandments not only contain a summary of the moral law, but they also summarize God’s covenant with his people. The ten commandments are called “the words of the covenant” (Ex. 34:28) and “his covenant” (Deut. 4:13). The Ark of the Covenant was called this because it was the ark that contained the covenant (i.e. the tablets of the ten commandments).

As was typical for covenants made in that era, the ten commandments begin by identifying the parties to the covenant and the basis for their relationship. This covenant was made between the LORD and the people he brought out of bondage. The basis for their relationship was God’s grace and redemption, the fact that he had delivered them. To put it in the language of the New Testament, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14).

The moral law does not function in the covenant of grace the same way as it did in the covenant of works. Members of the covenant of grace are not justified by their obedience to the law. The law instructs them how to respond to his grace. It defines how they should live with their God as his redeemed people. His gracious salvation binds us to obedience as an expression of gratitude and love. In fact, one purpose of his grace is to restore us to a life of loving obedience. We are saved by Christ unto good works (Eph. 2:10, Titus 2:14). As Zechariah said, God raised up Christ in fulfillment of his holy covenant “to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74–75).

As the catechism says, there are several reasons we are bound to keep all God’s commandments. First, because he is the Lord, the everlasting God who is sovereign over all. In Exodus 20:2, “Lord” is in all capital letters (LORD), which means his personal name is used (often transliterated as Jehovah and is connected to the phrase “I Am” in Exodus 3:14-15). He is the one and only true God, and obedience to him is owed by all.

Second, he is our God. As those who have entered into covenant with him by faith, he has taken us under his care and protection. He is ours, and we are his. This is a relationship not shared by those outside the covenant. As a vassal owes obedience to his lord and a son owes obedience to his father, so we owe obedience to our God (Mal. 1:6). 

Third, he is our Redeemer. He has provided atonement for our sins. He symbolized this with the institution of animal sacrifices (such as the Passover lamb) in the Old Testament, and he accomplished this through Jesus Christ. He has ransomed us from bondage, “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Therefore we should live for the will of God, in holiness and reverence (1 Peter 1:14-19, 4:2-3). “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Summary of the Moral Law

Moses holding the tablets of the ten commandments
Q. 41: Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended? 
Answer: The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

Q. 42: What is the sum of the ten commandments?
Answer: The sum of the ten commandments is, To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbour as ourselves. (WSC

God’s moral law is not random and arbitrary, but is ultimately unified, capable of being summarized in basic principles as well as being applied to particular situations. When Jesus was asked about the great commandment, he did not merely give them the most important commandments. He gave them two commandments which were foundational to the rest of the law and the prophets.
“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40)
These two commandments summarize the ten commandments, which in turn summarize the rest of the moral law. The ten commandments command us to love the Lord our God through exclusive religious commitment, pure worship, a reverent use of his name, and the observance of his holy day. The ten commandments command us to love our neighbor by honoring human authorities, by preserving our own and our neighbor’s life, chastity, wealth, and good name, and by a content, just, and charitable frame of mind toward our neighbor and his belongings. These duties ought to be done from love and in love as ways to express this love for God and neighbor. Romans 13:7-10 exemplifies how the ten commandments are summarized in Scripture with the duty to love. 

The moral law is explained and taught throughout Scripture. But it is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments in such a way that further explanation can be seen as drawing out what is implied by the ten commandments themselves.

It is important to note that the same law that condemns us as sinners is the same law that believers are taught to live by (Rom. 7-8:9, 13:7-10). The law which was given to Adam and Even in the garden is the same law to which we are being conformed as we are being renewed by Christ. It was given to Adam and Eve as a covenant of works, and it was given again at Mount Sinai as part of the covenant of grace, to be observed by his people who were redeemed by grace. The law which is that perfect expression of God’s character is the same law we follow as his people, to show our love, gratitude, loyalty, and likeness to him.