Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Three Uses of the Law (Calvin)

In The Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.7), John Calvin described the threefold “function and use of what is called the ‘moral law’” in this way: 
“The first part is this: while it shows God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. … The law is like a mirror. ... Yet this is not done to cause us to fall down in despair or, completely discouraged, to rush headlong over the brink - provided we duly profit by the testimony of the law ... that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to his mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit.” 

“The second function of the law is this: at least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law. … this constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men … the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”

“The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. … Here is the best instrument for them to learn more thoroughly each day the nature of the Lord’s will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the understanding of it. … Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression.”

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Christ's Return, the Resurrection, and Final Judgment

At the end of the age, Christ will physically return to earth, he will raise the dead from their tombs, and he will judge all mankind. These doctrines are basic doctrines of the Christian faith (Heb. 6:1-2, 1 Thess. 1:9-10). The truth, physicality, and future historicity of these things is clearly taught in Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 15, it is “this mortal body” that will put on immortality (15:53). It is the body that is raised from the dead. While the body will be changed, it will still be a body. Our resurrection will be the same kind as Christ’s, which was bodily such that the tomb was empty (1 Cor. 15:20-23).

Paul binds Christ’s and our resurrection together such that the denial of one is the denial of the other (1 Cor. 15:12-16). And he teaches that this resurrection of the dead takes place at Christ's coming at the end, when death is destroyed - and death will be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:23-26).

In John 5, Jesus speaks of a spiritual resurrection unto life (regeneration) that "is now here" (John 5:25), but then he goes on to speak of a future resurrection of the body. "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28–29).

Although none of us know the day, we are told that God "has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed" (Acts 17:31), that is, by Christ. This day of judgment shall be a good day for those who have believed in him, for they shall be openly acknowledge and acquitted and blessed with their eternal inheritance.

And as Christ's body ascended from earth into heaven, so he shall physically return to earth in the same manner (Acts 1:11).

Those who deny these teachings and teach others to do so are dealt with in Scripture as false teachers (1 Cor. 15:33-34, 2 Tim. 2:16-18, 2 Peter 3:1-7). But for ourselves, these truths are matters of faith and hope and eager expectation, regardless of how long it will be until that great day:

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Phil. 3:20–21)

"And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." (Rom. 8:23–24)

" live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..." (Titus 2:12–13)

"...what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God ... But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:11-13)

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first ... Therefore encourage one another with these words." (1 Thess. 4:16–18)

And so we confess in the words of the Nicene Creed, "...and He shall come again with glory, to judge both the living and the dead ... and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen."

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The World of Saint Patrick

There are two ways of dating the life and ministry of Patrick, the earlier dating being more common. Either (1) he was born in Britain c. 385, began preaching in Ireland in c. 432, and died March 17, c. 461 or (2) he was born in Britain c. 415, began preaching in Ireland in the 450s, and died March 17, c. 493. To give some context, here are some other events that took place in that era:

410 - The sack of Rome by the Visigoths.

410 - The Roman army withdraws from Britain.

411-418 - The controversy between Augustine and Pelagius concerning original sin and divine grace, leading to the condemnation of Pelagianism.

429 - Germanus of Auxerre visits Britain to address the Pelegian controversy, convincing the British to reject Pelagianism. 

430 - Augustine dies in Hippo in North Africa while the city is besieged by the Vandals. 

c. 430-450 - The Anglo-Saxons begin to arrive in Britain. 

451 - The Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council, meets with at least 520 bishops and affirms the orthodox position on the two natures of Christ. 

434-453 - The reign of Attila the Hun.

455 - The sack of Rome by the Vandals.

476 - The sack of Rome by Odoacer and his Germanic army, leading to the fall of the last emperor in Rome, Romulus Augustus.

c. 484 - Brendan the Navigator is born in Ireland. 

c. 500 - The battle of Mount Badon, a victory of the Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, in which the Britons are said to have been led by King Arthur.

Patrick's own writings, his Confessio and his Epistola, are available to read online here:

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

A Letter to the Exiles

Jeremiah 29 records a letter that God directed Jeremiah to write to the Jews who had already been carried off into exile around 597 BC (the final fall of Jerusalem occurred around 587 BC). This letter came to a community that was dislocated. They had become a minority and their whole world had been shaken. What were they to do? The letter provides an important message for the church today. It helps us to address the question: what should Christians do when they find themselves increasingly marginalized and caught up in the tumult of the nations?

In the letter Jeremiah stressed that this exile was not a mistake, that it would last for seventy years, and that despite appearances God's intentions were for their good. God's plans for them were for "for welfare and not for evil," to give them "a future and a hope" (29:11). He had sent them there, and he intended to bless them. “I have sent into exile… I will…bring you back…I will hear you…I will be found by you…I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations” (29:4, 10-14). God cares for his people, disposes all things for their good, and restores their fortunes in his timing.

Not all of Israel shared in this plan. Some were cast off and killed. Some would be uprooted. Yet a remnant would be blessed. The letter described how some had missed out on this: they had ignored God’s words and opposed his prophets. Some had proclaimed false and rebellious prophecies and committed adultery. That was the wrong way. 

So how should a person respond in difficult times to this message of a future and a hope?

1. Call upon the Lord with faith.

"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you." (Jeremiah 29:12) 

Verses 12-13 describe how the people would receive God's restoration. They would find him through prayer. They would be blessed as they sought the Lord with sincerity. These years were intended to train the exiles to look to God with faith. And through faith, they would participate in this future he had prepared for them.

When Daniel read Jeremiah's prophecies at the end of those 70 years, he acted upon it by praying a prayer recorded in Daniel 9. “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake…” (Daniel 9:19) 

In other words, believe in God and his promises and call upon him to fulfill them. Persevere in faith, in prayer, in believing expectation. It is by faith in God and his promises that we participate in God’s grace. Those who seek the Lord with sincere faith will not be cast out. “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith” (Romans 11:20).

Like the exiles, we continue to await more of what is promised, both in what we expect in history and eternity. God’s word here teaches you to persevere in seeking the Lord and believing his promises.

And by this faith, a believer acts upon God’s word. The following points describe how God’s people express their faith by their deeds.

2. Build and plant.

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” (Jeremiah 29:5)

Imagine them having just arrived in Babylon. What should they do? Should they expect a quick return? Should they give up hope of a return altogether? In either case, they would lack motivation to work on long-term projects.

But Jeremiah told them to invest themselves in improving their situation, digging in for a while, building homes and planting gardens. Just because they were exiles, that didn’t mean they were supposed to hold back and live in tents. They would be there for seventy years, so it was worth it to dig in. And their stay was not forever, so it was worth it to persevere. There was light at the end of the tunnel. 

Likewise, Christians are called to fulfill their callings and serve the Lord where they are. Dig in. Do not be held back by a pseudo-spiritual pietism that interprets our identity as exiles as if that means we shrink back from earthy things. You are called to take dominion of the earth in accord with your particular calling, building and planting. Develop where you live and use what you have so that it may be fruitful and productive. Do not linger in indecision, but work with what you have to maintain yourselves and others.

The apostle Paul sharply rebuked those who lived in idleness. He said, “we urge you, brothers … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:10–12).

3. Get married and have children.

"Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease." (Jeremiah 29:6) 

Get married. Get your children married. They are imperatives, just as in Paul’s epistles (1 Cor. 7:2, 1 Tim. 5:14). While there are exceptions (1 Cor. 7:7-9, 1 Tim. 5:9-10), there is a general responsibility to seek marriage.

Getting married involves a number of steps. It includes preparing for marriage. But marriage is a goal to work towards. When a person is ready, finding a spouse is a task to pursue.

Notice in Jeremiah's letter that both singles and their parents have responsibility. Both those who are getting married and their parents should be working towards this goal together. Unfortunately, in our day parents are either generally uninvolved or involved in a primarily negative manner, with a focus on preventing bad marriages. But the emphasis here is positive. Parents should help their children to get married to good spouses and to form good marriages. Again, this includes preparation (character, skills, calling) and finding a spouse.

Why? To multiply and increase. Marriage provides the basis for the future of a community. One reason for marriage is to provide offspring. If the exiles were to multiply, their singles would need to get married and have children. 

Married couples should have children, as this perpetuates and multiplies the human race (Gen. 1:28), their nation (Prov. 14:28), the church (Mal. 2:15), and their family (Ps. 127:3, 128:3-4). In particular, the focus in Jeremiah 29 is on God’s people multiplying and increasing. Certainly that happens by evangelism as well, but this is in addition to natural increase and the covenantal nurture of children. 

This instruction implies a community of believers. The community of believers is a vital part of this survival plan! One cannot survive for the long term without a community. The community (or communities) of believers provides the spouses and it is the community of believers which is being increased. The letter is addressed to the exiles of Judah, a community with recognized leaders, their elders, priests, and prophets.

God teaches his people in this text to think multi-generationally: God’s plans extend beyond one generation. God also teaches his people to live with hope: there is a future for their children and grandchildren. So many people today do not have enough hope or enough purpose to have children. They don’t mind if their people, their family, or their church dies out. But God teaches his people to think otherwise. The church of Jesus Christ has a purpose and a future and a hope!

Therefore, even when the present is difficult or discouraging, the call to get married and have children remains. Yes, there may be some like Jeremiah and Paul, with the gift of continency, who may remain single, especially in times of distress. But the community in general are called to get married and multiply.

Remember Exodus 1:12: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.”

4. Seek the welfare of the city where you dwell and pray for it.

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7) 

I was talking to someone recently about patriotism. Is it a good thing? Should one be devoted to one’s country? Even when your country does many wicked things? Certainly this devotion can be taken to excess when it is pursued without qualification. Jeremiah was thought to be unpatriotic when he criticized his people and rulers and told them to surrender to Babylon. But consider this: the Jews were told by God to seek the welfare of Babylonian communities. Babylon was not godly - it was pagan. And not only were the Jews not religiously united with the Babylonians, they were not of the same nation either. They were doubly strangers. 

You and I may rightly feel alienated by the secularism of our country. We should not assimilate into secularism. Parents must be diligent to teach their children God's word and raise them to keep the way of the Lord. But if the Jews were to seek the welfare of Babylonian cities, how much more should we "seek the welfare of the city" when it is our own nation and people? You should seek the welfare of your city, county, state, and country. You should work for the good of those around you.

Think of biblical examples. Joseph brought blessing to his Egyptian household, prison, and country. Daniel was a blessing to the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms. Mordecai saved the Persian king’s life and served in his administration. Nehemiah served a Persian king as cupbearer.

How does your work bless others around you? How do you contribute to the welfare, the well-being, of your community or country? Your contributions might not be as visible as those of Daniel and Mordecai and yet still serve an important role in our interconnected society. Figure it out and work on it with diligence, knowing that you are serving the Lord. You are also serving your own interest! “...for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

One way to seek the welfare of your community that God specifies is to pray for it. Similarly, Paul urges the saints to pray for kings and all in high positions, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).

5. Do not be immobilized by false prophets.

Do not be misled by false prophets. Instead, hold fast to the word of God. This is the focus of verses 15-32. God will judge false prophets (Jer. 29:22-23, 31-32, cp. Rev. 2-3). Do not be misled by messages of despair or messages of quick and easy prosperity. Be careful about who and what you listen to and where those messages are leading you. False prophets and teaches often lead people away from godliness into speculation, idleness, and/or immorality. 


God intends good for his people. His church has a future and a hope. Therefore, call upon him with with faith, and exercise that faith: build and plant, get married and multiply, seek the well-being of your community. Do not be immobilized by false teachers, but get to work, serving the Lord. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Children and the Lord’s Supper: Paedocommunion?

Some people today argue for paedocommunion, the idea that all covenant children should automatically be admitted to Communion on the grounds of their covenant membership without qualifications like knowledge of the gospel and a profession of faith. It is not uncommon for Baptists who have become convinced of infant baptism to wonder, why baptize infants but require a credible profession of faith for the Lord’s Supper? And yet, the near universal position historically among Reformed churches has been to admit covenant children to the Lord's table who profess faith in Christ and are of years and ability to examine themselves. 

In critiquing paedocommunion, I like to begin with a comparison between circumcision and the Passover. In the Old Testament, God strictly commanded that the infants of his people be circumcised (Gen. 17:9-14). This was to be done on the eighth day, probably for both symbolic and practical reasons. God sought to put Moses to death because his son was uncircumcised (Ex. 4:24-26). Thus, there is strong precedent for applying the initiatory sign and seal of the covenant to infants of believers. But God did not command that children eat the yearly Passover. Only the men were commanded to go up to Jerusalem three times a year for the feasts (Deut. 16:16-17). If a foreigner wanted to partake, he and all the males in his household were to be circumcised so that he could partake (Exod. 12:48).

It could be objected that only the men were required to attend the feasts in Jerusalem for practical reasons. This is probably true in part. At least, that is probably why women were not required to come (Calvin explains the exemption by saying, “through the fecundity promised them by God, they were almost always either pregnant or nursing”). But it could likewise be said that the apparent participation of all the children in the first Passover in Egypt was also for practical reasons - the Passover meal was also their dinner that night. The alternative would have been to have the young children fast.

From historical sources, we know in the 2nd century BC it was men twenty years old and over who ate the Passover. In the 1st century BC it became the practice that the age was lowered to 13. It was after the temple was destroyed that Passover returned to the household and the issue of women and children eating Passover arose (with some controversy due to the presence of wine). So in New Testament times, as when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, the norm was for Passover to be celebrated by “sons of the commandment,” men ages thirteen and above. 

And these feasts are not the only precursor to the Lord’s Supper. By referring to the “blood of the covenant,” Jesus referred to the covenant ceremony of Exodus 24, where only Israel’s leaders partook of the meal. And different sacrifices had different rules for who would eat of them.

And so unlike baptism, the Lord’s Supper has a less clear Old Testament precedent with regard to who would partake. In the Old Testament, not all covenant members were required to eat of the meal. And with respect to paedocommunion, it is not a question of whether the children of believers are members of the covenant (they are!), but whether the Lord's Supper is to be given to all covenant members without qualification.

The next step is to recognize the differences between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism symbolizes our new birth, in which God does something to us and we respond to it the rest of our lives. Baptism is a sign of entrance into the covenant. It is done once. Infants who are baptized are to grow up into an understanding of their baptism and more and more exercise faith in the promises symbolized by it. The Lord’s Supper is a sign of covenant renewal. It is administered and received often. The Lord Supper symbolizes our ongoing participation and growth by feeding on Christ, in which the Lord gives and we take, which we do in a certain knowledgable manner - doing it in remembrance of Christ, feeding on Christ by faith.

Then we must consider the text which provides the clearest direction for partaking of the Lord’s Supper: 1 Corinthians 11. In this passage, the apostle Paul gives directions on how to partake of the Lord’s Supper which limit the partakers to those who profess faith, examine themselves, and discern the Lord’s body. It must not be taken in an “unworthy manner” (11:27). Therefore a person must “examine himself” (11:28). To avoid bringing judgment on oneself, one must “discern the body” (11:29, 10:16-17), that is, understand the significance of the Lord’s Supper and embrace its implications; and one must “judge” oneself in repentance (11:31). And it is for all Christians who meet these qualifications - male and female, rich and poor - as a communal meal for the church, to be consciously received as a seal that binds us to love one another as fellow members of Christ (10:17, 11:21-22, 33).

And even as the individual has a duty to examine himself, so the church has a duty to guard the holy things and judge those inside the church, admitting them or restricting them from the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 5, Matt. 7:6). So to partake of it, a person is examined by the elders of the church concerning his/her knowledge of Christ, faith in him, and repentance. The elders admit children to the Lord’s table who are of years and ability to examine themselves, who have a sufficient understanding of the gospel and the Lord’s Supper, profess faith in Christ, and are resolved to lead a Christian life.

A church could become too stringent in its demands. The early Congregationalists of New England were too stringent in their requirements for communicant membership in their desire for a pure and regenerate church, a significant factor in early New England history. The elders should realize that they cannot see the invisible church and that the plants in rocky soil and good soil look similar at first. Elders should look for a credible profession of faith, a knowledgeable one that is not being contradicted by scandalous behavior. The Supper is not just for strong, confident Christians with a long track record of good fruit. It is a means of grace intended to build up believers, to nourish our weak and weary souls.

The shepherds of the church should be diligent to teach and exhort the whole church, including noncommunicant members, unto faith in Christ and repentance unto God. Additionally, parents have a vital role with respect to their children. They should be diligent to train their children in the faith, to raise them as fellow saints, and to urge them from the beginning to receive and rest upon the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4). They should do so, so that in time the children are ready and eager to profess their faith before men and partake of the Lord’s Supper for their further growth in the grace of Christ.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

God's Promises to Abraham and the Book of Genesis

I have mentioned in my sermons on Genesis that God’s promises to Abraham can be summarized as four: (1) blessed fellowship with God, (2) offspring, (3), land, and (4) worldwide blessing on the nations. I first came across this way of summarizing these promises in Joe Morecraft’s commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism. It has stuck with me for over ten years, and I have found it a useful summary not only of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant, but also of themes that can be found throughout Genesis. Consider how these themes can be found in Genesis' account of creation, Abraham, and Jacob's sons:

(1) Blessed fellowship with God - “And God blessed them”: Creation (Gen. 1:28), Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3, 15:1, 22:17), Jacob’s blessings (esp. Gen. 48:15-16, 49:22-26)

(2) Seed / Offspring - “Be fruitful and multiply”: Creation (Gen. 1:26, 28), Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 15:1-6, 17:7, 22:17), the future of the 12 sons (Gen. 49), esp. Judah.

(3) Land - “subdue it, and have dominion”: Creation (Gen. 1:26-30), Abraham (Gen. 12:1, 15:7-21, 17:8, 22:17), Jacob’s burial, Joseph’s bones (Gen. 49-50).

(4) Worldwide blessing on the nations - “fill the earth”: Creation (Gen. 1:26-28), Abraham (Gen. 12:3, 17:4-6, 22:18), through Judah (Gen. 49:10) and Joseph (Gen. 50:20).

This promises continue to be unfolded in the rest of Scripture. For example, the promise of land was not only fulfilled in ancient Israel’s possession of Canaan, but also in Christ’s possession of the world and our share in his kingdom, initially and progressively realized in this life and consummated in glory (Ps. 2:8, Rom. 4:13, Matt. 5:5, Heb. 11:10).

Likewise, concerning the promise of offspring, God promised (1) to be the God of Abraham’s offspring, (2) through his offspring to bring about redemption and renewed blessing, and (3) to give him abundant offspring, making of him a great nation as numerous as the stars. The offspring is thus (1) the descendants of Abraham, provided they come to share the faith of their father Abraham, (2) Jesus Christ, the chief son of Abraham, through whom the promises are fulfilled, and (3) the church, all those from all nations who are grafted into his family by their connection to Christ. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). And as heirs of the promises, they are received into the visible church with their offspring, like Abraham was (Acts 16:15, 31-34).

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Historical Context of the Westminster Assembly

I have recently started teaching a series on the Westminster Confession of Faith. You can find the recordings at this link. In the first lesson, I gave an overview of the confession and its historical context. 

In 1560, the Church of Scotland had been reestablished on the Genevan model as a Presbyterian church through the influence of John Knox and others. Further to the south, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) had gone back and forth under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tutor, settling down in the reign of Elizabeth I with the Calvinist theology of the 39 Articles and Book of Homilies, government by bishops appointed by the monarch, and worship directed by the Book of Common Prayer. 

James I introduced a few Anglican practices in the Church of Scotland and came into conflict with Presbyterian protest. His son, Charles I, became more aggressive against Presbyterians and Puritans. Under his archbishop, William Laud, the Puritans were persecuted and some who embraced Arminianism and “high church” practices were promoted. 

The tipping point was reached when Charles I sought to impose a new Book of Common Prayer on the Church of Scotland in 1637. This led to widespread protest, a firm stand for Presbyterianism by the Scottish church, and successful armed resistance by the Scottish authorities and nation, which caused Charles I to relent. Because this left the king in a poor financial condition, he was forced to assemble the English Parliament to ask for taxes. But since Charles I had ruled without Parliament for eleven years, Parliament had many grievances and desired reforms it sought to act upon once it was called into existence. 

Because of a growing desire for the reformation of the church, the English Parliament called the Westminster Assembly “for the settling of the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and clearing of the Doctrine of said Church from false aspersions and interpretations.” The assembly was composed of about 120 “divines” (ministers of the word) representing all the counties of England and Wales, along with 30 representatives from the English parliament (the members of the assembly are listed here). The assembly began with the work of revising the 39 Articles, with the chief aim of making the Calvinist theology of the articles unmistakably clear. 

A couple months after the assembly began, the Solemn League and Covenant was signed between England and Scotland. This gave the assembly the task of creating new Reformed standards for doctrine, government, and worship for the churches in the three kingdoms of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Scotland sent commissioners to assist the assembly, including Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, and Samuel Rutherford. The English Civil War had begun between the forces of the king and the forces of the English Parliament, and so the English Parliament allied itself with Scotland by this covenant. 

In The Solemn League and Covenant (1643), the kingdoms pledged,
“I. That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of GOD, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of GOD, and the example of the best reformed Churches; and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of GOD in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising; that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us. 
“II. That we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness; lest we partake in other men’s sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues; and that the Lord may be one, and his name one, in the three kingdoms. 
“III. We shall, with the same sincerity, reality, and constancy, in our several vocations, endeavour, with our estates and lives, mutually to preserve the rights and privileges of the Parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdoms; and to preserve and defend the king’s majesty’s person and authority, in the preservation and defence of the true religion and liberties of the kingdoms; that the world may bear witness with our consciences of our loyalty, and that we have no thoughts or intentions to diminish his majesty’s just power and greatness.” (The full text is available here.)
The Westminster Assembly (1643-1652) accordingly went on to produce the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Directory of Public Worship, and Form of Presbyterial Church Government. The established churches of Ireland and England did not hold to these standards for long, since Charles II rejected them after he became king in 1660. Nevertheless, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms endured as the standards of the Church of Scotland and of confessional Presbyterian churches throughout the world. 

In America, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms were adopted by the Synod of Philadelphia in 1729 and by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1789 with a few minor revisions regarding church-state relations. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church adopted them in 1936, with a few more minor revisions that had taken place in the meantime. 

Even though the Westminster Assembly (1643-1652) did not bring about the lasting uniformity of religion between Scotland, Ireland, and England that was its goal, it did lay important groundwork for unity among the Scots, Scot-Irish, and English who came to America.

Because of the Solemn League and Covenant between Scotland and England and how it shaped the task of the Westminster Assembly, Presbyterians from the three kingdoms of the British Isles were prepared to form one Presbyterian church in America. They had already gone through the work of agreeing to shared standards for doctrine, worship, and church government. This also united them as they sent missionaries throughout the world. 

The Congregationalists in New England also used the confession and catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, sometimes with modifications, which helped them to work with the Presbyterians in various ways over the years, including the Plan of Union (1803). The Westminster Shorter Catechism was often included in the popular New England Primer. Early Baptists in America also based their confessional documents on the Westminster Confession of Faith and the modifications Congregationalists had made to it.

Today, there are more Presbyterians in Mexico than there are in the USA, more Presbyterians in Brazil than there are in Scotland, and more Presbyterians in South Korea than there are in all these other four countries combined. The legacy of the Westminster Assembly endures. These documents continue to serve as a rich statement of biblical truth and a time-tested summary of the Christian faith.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Judicial Laws, the 39 Articles, and the Westminster Confession

The Westminster Assembly (1643-1652) addressed the judicial laws of the Old Testament in 19.4 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. To understand its statement, it is helpful to compare it to what the 39 Articles had said previously. The 39 Articles had served as the confession of faith for the Church of England since 1571. In its chapter on the Old Testament, the 39 Articles said, 
“Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth…”
In their initial revision of the 39 Articles (available in The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 5:326), the Westminster Assembly specified which judicial laws are no longer binding on nations: 
“Although the Law Given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christians, nor the civill precepts given by Moses, such as were peculiarly fitted to the commonwealth of the Jews, are of necessity to be received in any Commonwealth...” (emphasis added)
This helps us understand the distinction made in it the final product of the assembly. In its confession of faith, the Westminster Assembly made the same distinction in a different way, specifying which laws continue to be binding rather than specifying which ones do not. 
"To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require." (WCF 19.4) 
This is to say that the judicial laws of the Old Testament are binding on states today as far as they are of universal equity and not peculiarly fitted to Israel, a distinction that was commonly made at the time. 

For example, Johannes Piscator’s appendix to his commentary on Exodus was quoted favorably in the writings of men at the Westminster Assembly (George Gillespie, Francis Cheynell, and Samuel Rutherford). In that appendix, Johannes Piscator (1546—1625) argued that
“the magistrate is obliged to those judicial laws which teach concerning matters which are immutable and universally applicable to all nations, but not to those which teach concerning matters which are mutable and peculiar to the Jewish or Israelite nations for the times when those governments remained in existence.” (Disputations on the Judicial Laws of Moses, Braselton, GA: American Vision, 2015 [1605], 4-5)
While a member of the Westminster Assembly, Samuel Bolton published The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (1645). In this book, he said “in respect of the ceremonial and the judicial law we find few dissenters.” Here is how he explained this common view of the judicial law:
“As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil, and it served three purposes: it gave the people a rule of common and public equity, it distinguished them from other peoples, and it gave them a type of the government of Christ. That part of the judicial law which was typical of Christ's government has ceased, but that part which is of common and general equity remains still in force. It is a common maxim: those judgements which are common and natural are moral and perpetual.” (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1964 [1645], 56)
This concept and terminology was also found at this time on the other side of the Atlantic. Thomas Shepherd, minister in Massachusetts, cited and affirmed Piscator's view. The New Haven Colony affirmed in 1642, 
“that the judicial law of God given by Moses and expounded in other parts of scripture, so far as it is a hedge and a fence to the moral law, and neither ceremonial nor typical nor had any reference to Canaan, hath an everlasting equity in it, and should be the rule of their proceedings.” (Charles Hoadly, ed. Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven from 1638 to 1649, Hartford: for the Editor, 1857, 69)
I believe that most "theonomists" who seek to be confessional are in agreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith. I would also encourage theonomists to benefit from the clear thinking and hard work that has been done in the Reformed tradition concerning the application of God's law to society. For more on this topic, you can listen to my lesson on this portion of the Westminster Confession, available at this link.

Monday, January 23, 2023

For Thine Is the Kingdom

Question 107: What doth the conclusion of the Lord's Prayer teach us?
Answer: The conclusion of the Lord's Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen. teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. (WSC)
If you open your Bible to Matthew 6:13, you may or might not see this conclusion to the prayer in the text depending on what translation you are using. This conclusion is not in some early Greek manuscripts of the Bible, some of the church fathers do not include it when discussing the Lord’s Prayer, and Jerome did not include it in his Latin translation of the Bible. But it is in most of the Greek manuscripts as well as the Didache (an early church manual from around AD 90) and it is an expected end to a prayer. I think either (1) it is original but accidentally got dropped from a few manuscripts, or (2) the prayer was designed with the expectation that a doxology would be used at the end, and this one was adapted from Scripture (1 Chron. 29:11-12, 2 Tim. 4:18) and put to the prayer very early on, and that it was included in biblical manuscripts because due to its widespread use it was thought to be original. In either case, it is fitting and biblical in content.

This conclusion is a doxology, an expression of praise to God. It declares that he reigns, he is all-powerful, and he is glorious, eternally. Therefore he deserves to be reverenced and obeyed, and therefore he is able to help and deliver us.

This conclusion teaches us to rest upon God alone in prayer. He is our confidence. We make our petitions resting upon his power and goodness. It also teaches us to praise him in our prayers. Not only are we to confess our sins and make our requests known to God, but we are also to give him glory. We are to thank him for all his benefits. We are to praise him for all his excellencies. “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (Psalm 150:2)

God is sovereign over all and deserves praise and service from his creation. He is also our Father who cares for us. Therefore we we draw near to him, that we might glorify God and enjoy him, both now and forever. And to commit to the words of our prayer, witnessing to our sincere desire to be heard and our assurance that we will be heard, we say, “Amen.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Deliver Us From Evil

Question 106: What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
Answer: In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted. (WSC)
Not only do we pray for forgiveness - we also pray for a renewal of righteousness within us. Both of these are gifts we receive from God in Christ.

We need to be delivered from evil. The evil one seeks your destruction (1 Peter 5:8). Sinful desires seek to destroy your soul (1 Peter 2:11). The fallen world pressures you to live in immorality (1 Peter 4:3-4). Apart from Christ, we are evil in heart, spurred on by the evil of others around us, and in bondage to the evil one. Even in Christ, we are subject to assaults from these evil forces which seek to destroy us through deceitful temptation. You can resist them only as God strengthens you. Therefore, we are to watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation (Matt 26:41). We are to pray that God would keep us back from sins and would prevent them from having dominion over us (Ps. 19:13).

Pray that God would keep you from temptation by restraining the world and Satan and especially by subduing your evil desires, so that you view the world with purity and uprightness rather than with corrupt imaginations and thoughts. Pray that when you are tempted by the arguments of tempters, by external occasions for sin, and by your inner desire for sin, that you would be enabled to stand firm against such temptation. Pray that God would give you quick and whole-hearted repentance when you do fall into sin. Pray this not only for yourself, but for your brothers and sisters in Christ (“us”), that we all might be delivered from error, sin, and the snares of Satan.

Having prayed this prayer, do not act foolishly and think you are invincible, walking into temptation. Pray for God’s help, and then fight! Be on your guard against temptation. Mortify bad thoughts, cutting them off before they develop. Replace them with good thoughts, good habits, and good words and works.

Pray with hope, knowing that Christ does help his people overcome sin more and more. This prayer will be answered in this age and fully answered in eternity, when all God’s children shall be fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Forgive Us Our Debts

Question 105: What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
Answer: In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others. (WSC)
Our trespasses against God’s law are called debts. A debt is created when you do not pay what you owe. We owe to God complete and precise obedience. When we disobey him, justice demands satisfaction.

You are unable to pay your debts. Apart from grace, you only add to your debt. As the song goes, you are “another day older and deeper in debt.” You deserve to loose all you have and undergo eternal judgment.

But Jesus teaches his disciples that they have access to forgiveness. Jesus has paid their debts through his death, so that they might receive forgiveness through faith in him (Col. 2:12-14). God’s forgiveness is described as the forgiving of a debt. This means that when you are forgiven, you are no longer guilty and no longer liable to punishment. You are free from that burden! You are no longer in bondage to your sins.

This is a daily prayer, which implies that we sin daily. Just as we are constantly dependent for our "daily bread," so we are also constantly dependent upon God’s forgiveness. This request is an implicit confession of sins. It admits that one has debts to be forgiven. It means you should regularly confess your sins and seek God’s mercy (1 John 1:7-10).

This request also makes a connection between God’s forgiveness of your debts and your forgiveness of the debts of others. People become indebted to you when they do not fulfill their obligations to you, when they treat you wrongly and unjustly. Jesus teaches that God will not forgive the trespasses of those who do not forgive the trespasses committed against them. Jesus implies as much in the prayer and he says so in Matthew 6:14-15 (see also Matthew 18:21-35). We do not earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but it is a sign that God’s grace is at work in us when we practice this love. If you do not forgive the one who confesses his sin against you, then do not expect God to forgive you when you confess your sin to him. This prayer reminds us to not be hypocritical, asking God for what we will not give others. But if you do forgive the sins of others against you, this is an encouraging sign to you that you are a disciple of Christ and recipient of divine forgiveness.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Our Daily Bread

Question 104: What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
Answer: In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them. (WSC
In this petition, Jesus directs us away from self-sufficiency, anxiety, false asceticism, and greed. He teaches us to ask our heavenly Father to provide for our physical needs. This petition builds on several truths of Scripture.
  1. Food is a gift from God, to be received with thanksgiving and joy (1 Tim. 4:1-5, 6:17). We need food and drink and clothing, and he provides good things that are useful and pleasant. “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart” (Psalm 104:14–15). 
  2. God cares for his children. Christ’s disciples are not orphans in this world. We have a heavenly Father who responds to the prayers and needs of his children. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31, 33). 
  3. Our daily bread should be received as a gift, with gratitude, contentment, and love. This is the way to joy. And this ability to receive and appreciate his provision is itself a gift of God for which we should ask. “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Jesus makes this request very practical and concrete by saying “this day our daily bread.” Do you get up in the morning and ask God for that day’s food? Or at night, do you pray for the food and shelter for the following day? Jesus teaches us to be like Israel in the wilderness who collected a new batch of manna from God every day. He teaches us to be dependent on God, not merely in a general way, but for today’s bread.

Jesus also directs us to make a modest request. He does not say, “make us rich,” “help me win the lottery,” “make me invincible against all weakness and need.” He does not encourage that approach. Rather, he teaches us to ask for daily bread, for a competent portion of the good things of this life. If God’s gifts come with God’s favor and are received as gifts with contentment, then they can provide great joy and gladness, even if they are small and simple.