Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God

Why All Evangelicals Must Believe Christ is God
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
11 Sep, 2020

Surveys of Evangelical belief ought to be straightforward, but Ligonier’s State of Theology research has uncovered a consistent pattern of error and confusion over recent years. The following answers are from those who profess profess core evangelical beliefs about the Bible and salvation in the USA. 62% claim to believe the heresy that “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God”. 30% also agree “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God” with a further 8% unable to reject it absolutely. Other worrying trends are that evangelicals are evenly divided in response to “Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature”. Similar results were found in a survey of UK evangelicals in 2018. If this is even remotely accurate it reveals at the very least catastrophic confusion about core doctrine. Clear teaching cannot be taken for granted. We need to remind ourselves often of the glorious deity of the Lord Jesus Christ and just why it matters so much.

This not a matter of mere theological interest for those who study such matters. It is a matter of eternal life and death; it concerns our salvation. Why indeed is it so important? This is a question that the Larger Catechism asks (Q38). “Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?” The answer is very full, it shows that our salvation depends on it entirely. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience, and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favour, purchase a peculiar [special] people, give his Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation”.

How do we know that Christ is God and how does it affect us? It affects the faith, worship and obedience we owe to God. Knowing and believing that Christ is God are the two vital matters that Francis Cheynell (a member of the Westminster Assembly) helps us to do that in this updated extract. We need first of all to establish clearly from Scripture that the Lord Jesus is truly and eternally God, equal with the Father and Holy Spirit.

1. Christ Has the Same Nature as the Father

Jesus Christ is over all God blessed forever (Romans 9:5). God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16). The blessed and only Potentate, who only has immortality etc and to whom everlasting honour and power are ascribed (1 Timothy 6:16). He is the great God (Titus 2:13). The true God (1 John 5:20).

Which of the saints or angels did God at any time call: my Son, the heir of all things, the illustrious brightness of my glory, and the express image of my person? His throne as God is forever and ever, and all the angels of God worship Him (see Hebrews 1:3-13). These things are so clear and plain, that I am even almost ashamed to write more in arguing this case. Yet I am encouraged and even provoked to proceed. Jesus Christ was the Wonderful Child; a Child, and yet a Father, the Father of Eternity; a Child, and yet a Counsellor, the wisest of all Counsellors, for he is Wisdom itself; a Child, and yet a God, a mighty God (Isaiah 9:6).

The same Godhead subsists in the Lord Jesus, who is equal to the Father because He subsists in the nature of God (Philippians 2:6). The word translated “being” or “existing” in Philippians 2:6 could be best rendered by “subsisting”. This is because there is a comparison there between two subsistences or persons, the Father and the Son. The Son counts it no robbery to be equal with the Father because He subsists in the nature of God.

He has the same Divine nature, the same Godhead with the Father and “all the fullness of the Godhead” dwells truly, really, bodily in the Son (Colossians 2:9). Body is the opposite of shadow, so it might be rendered: the Godhead dwells personally in the Son and is often translated as person. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells really in the subsistence or person of the Son. Christ is the illustrious brightness of His Father’s glory, the express living image or character of His Father’s subsistence or person (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is not the character of His own subsistence, but His Father’s subsistence. The Son, therefore, has a special subsistence distinct from the subsistence of His Father. Christ is the express image of His Father’s person, and therefore the person of the Son is distinct from the person of the Father; for no person is the image or character of itself.

2. Christ is Eternal

The Godhead subsists in Jesus Christ, who was before the beginning (John 1:1). The word “was” indicates what is past. Therefore, He had His being before the beginning of time. It is clear that His eternal being is a divine being both because it is eternal and because it is not only said that He was with God before the beginning, but He was God. It clearly follows that Jesus Christ is the same eternal God with His Father; for it is impossible that there should be more than one God.

3. Christ is Jehovah

Jehovah is a title unique and special to God (Isaiah 43:11-12). Jehovah is the only Saviour, the only God. His name alone is Jehovah, the Most High over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). But the Lord Christ is Jehovah, and therefore the Lord Christ is God. Jehovah sits on a throne in majesty and glory (Isaiah 6.:1, 3, 5, 8) but the Lord Christ is this Jehovah, as the apostle, assures us (John 12:41-42). The Lord Christ is that Jehovah to whom every knee must bow; as appears by comparing Isaiah 45:21-25 with Romans 14:9-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11.

The same is clear by comparing Psalm 102:19, 22, 25-26 with Hebrews 1:10-12. Once more, compare also Numbers 14:26-27 with 1 Corinthians 10:9-10 and Numbers 21:6. Thus, Christ is so gloriously described in Revelation 1:5-8 as Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. And therefore, He is Jehovah. For the apostle there and to the end of that chapter uses these and similar expressions which comprise the sense and meaning of that divine and glorious title of Jehovah.

I might further argue this by showing that the title of Lord so often given to Christ in the New Testament corresponds with the title of Jehovah in the Old Testament. The apostles most likely purposely used the title of Lord, not to offend the Jews with frequently pronouncing the word Jehovah. The word Jehovah in Deuteronomy 6:13 and Deuteronomy 10:20 is rendered Lord when the verse is quoted in Matthew 4:10 (compare also Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37).

4. Christ is God With Us

Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is that God who took flesh and blood (1 Timothy 3:16) and that God who redeemed the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The Early Church Fathers frequently pointed to John 16:15 compared with John 10. 30 and John 10. 37. From this, they concluded that Christ has the same divine nature and Godhead with the Father. Both have the same divine and essential titles and attributes and perform the same inward operations in reference to all creatures. They inferred from this that it was reasonable to use the word “consubstantial” [that the Father and Son share the same divine substance]. Even though the word is not in Scripture, the sense and meaning are. It is orthodox and scriptural because it is evidently deduced from these verses and others previously cited. I will add one more to make it even clearer: compare John 17:10 with John 16:15. Whatever belongs to the Father as God, belongs to Christ (in terms of essential rather than personal properties).

For the clearer demonstration of this truth, let us now come down to specific matters. The attributes of God; the works of God and the worship of God are all ascribed and given to Jesus Christ. This is so that we may confess and acknowledge Him to be God, the true God, the mighty God, the self-same only God with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

5. Christ has the Attributes of God

(a) Christ is Eternal
“In the beginning, was the Word” (John 1:1). The word “was” denotes some former duration. Therefore, we conclude that He was before the beginning, before any creation or creature. It is said that He was God in the beginning and His divine nature by which He works is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is the First and Last (Revelation 1:17). He is called the first-born of every creature, because He who created all and upholds all, has the power to command and dispose of all (Colossians 1:15-17). This is just as the first-born had the power to command the family or kingdom (compare Isaiah 44:6with Revelation 22:13 and Proverbs 8:22-23)

(b) Christ is All-Powerful
He is able to subdue all things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). He is called the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). He is the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8). He made all things (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17; Psalm 102:26 compared with Hebrews 1:8-10 and John 1:10. He upholds all things (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).

(c) Christ is Unchangeable
See Hebrews 1:12, a quotation from Psalm 102:26-27.

(d) Christ is All-Knowing
He knows what is in the heart (John 2:25). He is the searcher of hearts (Revelation 2:23). He knows all things (John 21:17). He is the wisdom of the Father (1 Corinthians 1:24). He knows the Father of Himself (Matthew 11:27) and according to His own will reveals the secrets of His Father’s bosom as the Word. All the treasures of wisdom are in Him (Colossians 2:3).

(e) Christ is Infinite
He is not contained in any place, He was before there was any place, and created all places by His own power (John 1:1, 3). While He was on earth in respect of His bodily presence, He was in the bosom of the Father – which must be understood of his Divine Nature and Person (John 1:18). He came down from heaven yet remained in heaven (John 3:13).

6. Christ Does the Work of God

Christ performs the works of God, those divine and supernatural works that are special and unique to Him. Those such as none but God can perform. He raised the dead by His own power at His own will (John 5:21, 28-29; John 11:25). He is called the resurrection and the life because He is the author of both. Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (John 5:17, 19). He wrought miracles, He has the same Nature and power with the Father, and therefore does the same works. He regenerates our Souls, pardons our sins, saves our souls. He has appeased the wrath, and satisfied the justice of God, by His divine mediation. He gives temporal, spiritual, eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:17; John 6:38, 40).

7. Christ Receives Divine Honour

(a) All the glorious angels are commanded to worship Him (Hebrews 1:6).

(b) All true Christians are described by calling on and believing in the name of Christ (Acts 9:14; John 1:12).

(c) All are obliged to give the same honour to Christ which they are required to give to God the Father (John 5:23).

(d) There are many examples of this being done in Scripture which confirms these commands (Acts 7:59-60; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 22:20).

(e) Baptism is administered in the name and to the honour of Christ (Matthew 28:17-20).

(f) At the Day of Judgment, every knee must bow to Him and acknowledge Him to be equal to His Father (Isaiah 45:21-25 compared with Romans 14:10-12 and Philippians 2:6, 9-11).

(g) All that are justified believe in Him and those who believe in Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 3:25-26; 1 Peter 2:6-7).

(h) The apostolic benediction so often repeated in the epistles includes the Lord Jesus Christ in a divine blessing.

Because God is true, He will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 48:11), and He because He is just He cannot do so either. Though Christ is a distinct person from His Father, He is not a distinct God but one and the same God with Him, God blessed forever.

8. We Must Believe in Christ as God

God the Son is the object of our faith (John 14:1). The whole gospel was written for this purpose, that we might be persuaded to believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31). Believing this is necessary and effectual to salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13; 1 John 5:20). We are to believe in Christ as a Mediator, that our faith and hope may be settled in God (1 Peter 1:21).
The great encouragement to believe in Christ as an all-sufficient Mediator is this, Jesus Christ is the natural Son of God. If Christ presents us to His Father, we are confident that the Son of God, His only begotten Son will prevail with His Father for us. His relation to God assures us that the intercession of our High-Priest will be irresistible and undeniable (Hebrews 5:5-6; Psalm 110:1, 4; Psalm 2:2,7-8; Hebrews 7:25, 28). All the offices of Christ are based on His Sonship. His kingly power (Psalm 2:6-7); His prophetic office (Matthew 17:5) and His priestly office (Galatians 2:20).

We must believe in Christ as God, the self-same God with the Father. When we know Christ to be God, we must glorify Him as God by believing in Him. When Peter preached to Cornelius, he told them that Jesus Christ was Lord of all (Acts 10:36), judge of all (Acts 10:42) and that all the prophets gave witness to Him. Also that through His name, whoever believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins (Acts 10:43).

We must abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9). Every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). The Father is glorified in the Son (John 14:13). The Son is to be glorified in all them whom the Father has given Him (John 17:10). And Christ is to be glorified by their believing in Him (John 17:23). And the Father Himself loves them because they believe in the Son (John 16:27). If we do not honour the Son, we do not honour the Father (John 5:23). There is also the great mystery of uniting the soul to Christ by Faith (Ephesians 5:32) and making of it one Spirit with the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Conclusion

These truths are not mere items of information. They are food for faith to feed on, they are reasons for love to wonder and adore, they are encouragements to persevere in obedience and dependence on Christ. A failure to teach people clearly the core truths of Christ robs them of the fulness of these things and means that they are not learning Christ as they are meant to. Cheynell gives us a final way to apply these truths.

We may then look upon the Son, admire and bless the Father, look upon the Father and bless the Son, look upon Father and Son and bless the Spirit, look upon all three, admire and bless, adore and love, know, believe and obey all three coequal persons, subsisting in the same most single Godhead, and have access to the Father through the Son, and by the Spirit with reverence and confidence, zeal and love.

Note: the Ligonier survey results can be found at https://thestateoftheology.com/

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Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust

Discerning Truth in an Age of Distrust
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
27 May, 2020

A crisis is fertile ground for conspiracy theories to flourish. Many rumours and ideas with little supporting evidence can circulate rapidly. At times these theories do not change people’s lives much. But if it changes behaviour in relation to protecting life and health it becomes different. Some theories are related to the Bible or are shared by Christians. Others function like religious beliefs. In this, as in all truth claims, we need the grace of discernment. We need to know the Scriptures well and accurately to test what we hear. How much is it someone’s personal opinion or does it have the authority of the Bible? In other matters we need to apply the principles of Scripture. We need to be very careful about preserving and promoting the truth (Zechariah 8:16). This involves avoiding rushing to hasty judgments about doubtful things in case we are spreading false rumours, especially if it could be slander (Proverbs 6:19 and 29:11). We need to consider what impact our opinions may have on others. Yet we also need to avoid evil suspicion since even some truly biblical beliefs are widely ridiculed and this does not make them wrong. We should not be gullible about mainstream opinions either. When online sermons, teaching and discussions are everywhere, we also need to know what we can trust. How do we discern true biblical teaching and weigh carefully claims that we encounter?

1 Thessalonians 5:21 helps us with understanding our duty of discernment. It speaks of testing or proving all things, including what we hear. As James Fergusson observes, it belongs in a list of instructions for living as Christians (1 Thessalonians 5:11-22). 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Fergusson clarifies that not despising preaching (v20) does not mean Paul requires obedience without question to everything which ministers preach. He commands them to prove and test accurately what they hear by the written Word (Acts 17:11). The word in Greek implies testing something by a standard as goldsmiths test gold using a touchstone. 

To hold fast literally means to hold tightly with both hands, against all who would withstand it. They must hold fast that which is good, or what testing has shown to be good doctrine firmly grounded on the Word. They are consequently to abstain from that which is found to be evil or unsound. Fergusson goes on to make the following observations.

1. Christians Must Discern

Most people are naturally so foolish and unthinking that when they are running from one sinful extreme, they are in no small danger of going to the other unawares. The evil they are fleeing from is always in front of them. Thus, while they are so greatly intent on avoiding it, they do not notice the snare behind them. Paul implies this in dissuading them from the extreme of blind obedience to their ministers after having dissuaded from the other extreme of despising preaching (v20).

2. Christians Can Discern

All Christians may not have received an equal measure of gifts (Romans 14:1). The Lord has, however, given a spirit of discerning, in a greater or a lesser measure to all. If this is diligently and carefully made best use of through searching Scripture (Acts 17:11) and prayer (Psalm 119:19), they may be enabled to evaluate what they hear in preaching. In doing this they will choose and embrace what is sound and nourishing, and refuse and reject whatever is erroneous and hurtful. If they did not have such a spirit of discernment given them by God, it would have been pointless to instruct them “to prove all things” and “hold fast that which is good”.

3. Christians Must Discern Carefully

The spirit of discernment that God gives to Christians, should be exercised in evaluating their minister’s teaching. This does not mean they pass judicial sentence on him; they are not his judges (1 Corinthians 14:32). Neither does it allow them to vent disparaging censures against him, making his ministry repellent to others in all things. It means discerning how to regulate their own behaviour in choosing what is right and refusing what is wrong in what they hear. He instructs them to exercise discretion in relation to their own practice so that they may “hold fast” what is good.

4. Christians Must Test Their Opinions

A fixed resolution to maintain any opinion constantly should flow from a rational conviction (after careful search) that the opinion we hold is true and sound. Otherwise our constancy and fixed resolution is only self-willed pertinacity (Jeremiah 44:16). So, when truth is discovered after careful enquiry, we ought to be so fixed and absolute in our resolution to maintain it that we may not waver or be tossed to and fro with any contrary wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). Before they are resolved, he urges them to prove or test and then hold fast without wavering what they have proved to be good.

5. Christians Must Not Abuse Their Freedom

Christians must abstain from and avoid not only that which is really and in itself evil and sinful, but also any appearance or representation of evil (v22). They must avoid anything (unless commanded by God) that may give just grounds of suspicion to unprejudiced onlookers. These are those who are not malicious (Galatians 2:4-5), even though they may be weak (1 Corinthians 10:28). They may have just reason to suspect those practising such things as being guilty of wrongdoing. This might include dangerous phrases of speech in preaching even though they are not plainly heretical (1 Timothy 6:3). Other examples include eating at a feast in an idol’s temple (1 Corinthians 10:21) or close and unnecessary company with ungodly, immoral persons without a call (Luke 22:55). Close company in private suspicious places with persons of a different sex, especially if he or she has a bad reputation must also be avoided.

A conscientious, sensitive Christian must consider the eye of men as well as the all-seeing eye of God in abstaining from evil. They must not only abstain from what their own conscience will condemns as vile in itself and in God’s sight. Anything that has the appearance of evil to others and by which his good name might be justly wounded by others is also to be avoided. Conscientious Christians will not only strive to walk without falling. They will also seek to avoid being the occasion of others falling by their careless use of Christian liberty. They will strive to be on their guard against all, not just some temptations. They will not do this merely at some times, but always. This is required as the highest point of a spiritually sensitive Christian walk, to abstain from the appearance of evil. They abstain from that by which someone’s reputation might justly suffer or his neighbour be made to stumble. They will abstain not only from some but from all appearance of evil.

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Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
31 Jan, 2020

One of the unspoken assumptions in the Church today is that doctrine divides while action and love unites. It’s assumed that a focus on doctrine not only makes the body of Christ introspective but also divisive. Who wants conflict and division? But the difficulty is that people want to act and do certain things driven by their doctrinal understanding. This then leads to differences and may well divide. It ignores the fact, however, that doctrine is supposed to divide. We are meant to divide from those who teach false doctrine (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9). One of the slogans of the ecumenical movement has been that “Christ unites but doctrine divides”. When we look at Christ’s teaching, however, we find that His doctrine created divisions (Matthew 10:34). If we take a closer look at an example of when His teaching created division it will cast significant light on this issue.

There is a division among the people in relation to Christ’s doctrine in John 10. Similar divisions are recorded on three separate previous occasions (John 6:52; John 7:43; John 9:16). This is why in John 10:19 it records that the people are once more divided in their opinion about Him. Many slander Him as being possessed and mad. According to them, He is should not therefore be heard (John 10:20). Others maintain that His doctrine and miracles sufficiently refute such a false charge (verse 21). George Hutcheson draws the clear lessons for us from this incident in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Doctrine Does Not Always Have A Positive Impact

Christ’s doctrine will not fail to have an effect or operation among those who hear it, whoever they are. All of those present at this time have an opinion about these sayings.

It is not to be expected that Christ’s doctrine will have the same effects in everyone. As it gains ground with some, so others will harden themselves the more that they are dealt with. This is what we see here in the different opinions about Him and His doctrine.

2. Christ’s Doctrine Divides Because of Sinful Opposition

When Christ’s doctrine meets with various kinds of dispositions, it ordinarily occasions division or schism. This is due to the perverse obstinacy of some in opposing the truth which others maintain: “there was a division (or schism) therefore among the Jews for these sayings”. This is not to be attributed to the doctrine itself nor to those who maintain the truth. It is only due to the corruptions of those who oppose true doctrine. The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

As Christ’s doctrine ordinarily finds people as they were, if not worse, so they often relapse into the same opposition to Him and His truth. There was a division again after similar debates (John 7:43 and 9:16). They were still the same and He noticed that this was so.

3. Christ’s Doctrine May be Opposed by the Majority

When divisions and schisms take place due to Christ and His doctrine it is no strange thing to see the majority on the wrong side of the controversy. There are many who slander Him and only few who take His side.

4. Christ’s Doctrine May Stir Up Malicious Opposition

Those who oppose Christ and His truth are ordinarily so possessed with prejudice and malice that they will not so much as hear Him. Neither can they endure others listening to Him patiently. They asked others why they listened to Him (v20).

The strongest arguments that prejudiced malice have against Christ and His truth are only slanders against Him, the truth and those who convey it. Their argument is that He has “a devil” which explains why they think He is mad and therefore ought not to be heard (v20).

Malice is so prejudiced and blinded that no reason may be expected from those who are possessed with it. They will most unjustly and obstinately slander, if it were possible, even Christ Himself. Although He came to destroy the works of Satan and is the wisdom of the Father, they said He had a devil and was mad. Although they had often reproached Him with this (John 7:20;8:48) and Christ had refuted it, yet they still cast it at Him again.

5. Christ’s Doctrine Speaks for Him

Malice may be as prejudged and violent as possible, but Christ will still get some who will justify Him and His doctrine. There are others who contradict these slanders.

Christ’s doctrine and works are sufficient to plead for Him and to refute adversaries even to their face. Their reply went home against these malicious people that these were not the words of someone with a devil. “Can a devil open the eyes the blind?” (v21)

Those who would own Christ especially in a time of opposition ought to study His doctrine and works to esteem His Word. They first of all commend His words as not the words of a devil and then commend His work: “Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (v21)

Conclusion

It is clear therefore that Christ’s truth will divide especially when His Word is categorically denied and resisted. When the doctrines concerning Christ and His work are denied and set aside there will always be division. When the authority of Christ’s Word is rejected, division is a necessary thing.

Doctrine is also, however, a unifying thing. Christ’s intention was that His doctrine would unite His people. The truth is crucial to His prayer for their unity (John 17:8,17,19, 23). If we do not have “the unity of the faith” we will be tossed about with every wind and wave of doctrine and unstable (Ephesians 4:13-14). Differences inevitably arise but we are to strive after unity of understanding. Paul identifies a unity in truth as essential to a unity among the Corinthians. He urges that they “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you”. They are to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). We must not separate Christ and His Word. His sheep hear His voice and they know Him (John 10:14 and 27). We need to continue in His Word (John 8:31).  

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Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.
18 Apr, 2019

For some reason we don’t seem to speak much about Christ’s ascension to heaven. It’s a key but neglected doctrine. Which is strange because it connects with the present glory and work of Christ. It also has everything to do with the current status and needs of God’s people. Christ in His human as well as His divine nature is enthroned and His people are there spiritually also (Colossians 3:3-4). Gifts flow from the throne of heaven to Christ’s people. Everything we need is secured by Christ being in heaven interceding for us (Hebrews 8:1).

The gifts that flow from the ascension are described in Ephesians 4:8. James Fergusson explains how we should understand and apply this. He notes how Paul uses Psalm 68:18 to confirm what he said in verse 7 about Christ as the origin and giver of all graces and gifts. In that part of the Psalm, David looks beyond the ark as a type and shadow, to Christ the substance. He prophesies of things to come as already past to point out their certainty. He foretells that Christ would ascend triumphantly on high (to the highest heavens, Ephesians 4:10). He would lead captivity captive, having triumphed over His enemies by the cross (Colossians 2:15). His ascension would continue the triumph by plainly declaring that He had entirely routed all the spiritual enemies of His Church and Kingdom.

Conquerors in their triumphal processions used to drive their captive enemies before their own chariots (see Judges 5:12). Triumphing conquerors also used to divide and scatter the spoil by giving gifts. Paul alludes to this. He shows that Christ by virtue of His ascension distributed a large measure of gifts and graces on His Church.

 

1. Christ’s Ascension Gives Heaven

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having finished the work which was given Him to do on earth (John 17:4)  ascended physically to heaven. He carried His human nature up there (Acts 1:9-10) so that He might be exalted in that glory which He had before the world existed (John 17:5). He went to take possession of heaven in our name (Ephesians 2:6) and prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

 

2. Christ’s Ascension Gives Victory

Christ engaged in warfare on our behalf with many strong and powerful enemies i.e. the devil, the world, sin, death and hell. He gained an absolute complete victory over all. Although the godly must have battles with these (Ephesians 6:12), Christ the Head of believers is now above the reach of danger from enemies, and consequently so are believers in their Head. They are above all danger also because all their enemies cannot harm their salvation (Romans 8:35-39). Sin and Satan no longer reign in them (Romans 6:12, 14). Death has lost its sting towards them (1 Corinthians 15:55) instead it becomes a passage to life (Philippians 1:23). He led captivity (or a multitude of captives) captive, these are those that fought agains Him.

Satan’s constant opposition against the Church and Kingdom of Christ does not arise from hopefulness of prevailing in that terrible work. It comes from his inveterate blinded malice against the salvation of sinners which drives him oppose it even though he knows he cannot harm it. All his malicious cruel actions against Christ had achieved nothing except his own eternal shame and confusion. He could not avoid knowing this at Christ’s ascension. Christ by His ascension openly declared that He had led captivity captive.

 

3. Christ’s Ascension Gives All Gifts and Graces

Common gifts are sometimes called grace (Ephesians 3:8) because they are freely given (1 Corinthians 4:7). From the example given in verse 11 of this grace in the gifts and offices of the ministry it is clear that grace is meant primarily in this sense here. It is only in those common (rather than saving) gifts and graces that real believers essentially differ. Some are given to one, and some to another (1 Corinthians 12:8). All have one and the same saving graces (2 Peter 1:1), however,  although they differ also in the measure and degree received of those, (1 John 2:13). In that respect, even saving graces may be also be meant here.

The previous verse (Ephesians 4:7) speaks of “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”.
All these gifts of grace come from the same source (Ephesians 4:8-12). They are all given for the same purpose (Ephesians 4:13-17). Grace here does not mean God’s favour or saving grace as in other places (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Instead it is the fruits that flow from this saving grace. He shows that although every true member of the Church has received grace it may be in a way that differs from the grace of others. Yet all those different graces of the different members are given by the same Christ. They are received to the extent which seems good to Christ as the giver to measure out to everyone.

He gives to everyone some gift and in some measure.  Thus, although the same saving grace is given to all who are truly regenerate, it is not given to all in the same measure. Yet no one has all gifts or all the same offices in which they may exercise their gifts (verse 11).  The greatest degree of gifts and graces, which God bestows on any is far below the fulness of grace which is in Christ (Joh. 3:34). Those who have received most, are capable of receiving more. Receiving grace according to a measure implies they are capable of receiving more.

By His ascension Christ manifested the good He had secured to those for whom He died. Common gifts were purchased by His death as well as saving graces. This includes common gifts for the good and edification of His Church (Matthew 7:22-23). Both saving grace and common gifts are included here in the word “gifts”. At His ascension, He gave these gifts that were purchased by His death in larger measure than He had previously. He gave them “to men” generally, even to rebels (Psalm 68:18).

 

Conclusion

These are just some of the gifts that we continue to receive from the ascension of Christ besides the primary gift of the Holy Spirit. There is also access to the throne of grace to find more grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). These truths are well summarised by the Larger Catechism (Q53). It speaks of how how Christ was was exalted in His ascension because He

in our nature, and as our head, (Hebrews 6:20) triumphing over enemies, (Ephesians 4:8) visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:10; Psalm 68:18) to raise up our affections thither, (Colossians 3:1-2) and to prepare a place for us, (John 14:3) where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world (Acts 3:21)

Larger Catechism Q54 also explains how Christ is exalted in His sitting at the right hand of God. It is because

as God-man he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father,(Philippians 2:9) with all fulness of joy, (Acts 2:28) glory, (John 17:5) and power over all things in heaven and earth;(Ephesians 1:22; 1 Peter 3:22) and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, (Ephesians 4:10-12; Psalm 110) and maketh intercession for them (Romans 8:34).

The ascension reminds us that He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). He is there reigning and expecting all His enemies to be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25). So it should also give us hope, encouragement and joy so that we may be steadfast and always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?

Are All Sins Equal?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
12 Apr, 2019

Is quite common to hear the notion that all sins are the same in God’s sight or that no sin is worse than any other sin. The reasoning behind this is that one breach of God’s law makes us guilty of breaking all commands (James 2:10). Another way this is justified is by saying that all sin meets the same penalty (Romans 6:23) or that its remedy is the same in the cross of Christ. The motivation behind this can be well-intentioned, perhaps not wanting any sin to be seen as small in itself. It deflects unwanted moral judgments by requiring that others must be without sin themselves to avoid hypocrisy. Perhaps the overwhelming emphasis on equality in our culture also steers people towards this idea. But is it right to say that all sins are equal?

It is certainly true that the least sin is an offence against the infinitely holy God and therefore absolutely evil. There is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t matter. But this is not all that can be said. The claim that sins are judged absolutely equally by God does not stand up to Scripture (James 3:1; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 11:24; Luke 12:48; Mark 9:42; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).  Forgiveness also relates to different levels of sinfulness (Luke 7:41-42, 48). To reason from what sin deserves to what sin is in itself risks ignoring what the Bible says about whether some sins are more sinful than others (1 John 5:16). Christ Himself says that some sins are greater than others (John 19:11).

Let’s be clear that Scripture does say that some sins are worse than others (Exodus 32:30).

  • Some idolatry is even worse than other forms (Ezekiel 8:6, 13,15; Ezekiel 23:11);
  • Some commandments are of greater weight than others (Matthew 5:19; Matthew 23:23);
  • Some sins are worse because they involve sinning wilfully and defiantly (Numbers 15:30 and 15:22, 24, 27, 29);
  • Some sins are worse than others, such as sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18);
  • Some sexual sins are worse than other sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1; Romans 1:26-27; Leviticus 20:10-16 compared with 20:17-21)

 

What Makes Some Sins Worse Than Others?

None of this excuses or belittles any sin, it simply gives us God’s perspective on degrees of sinfulness. The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q150), like the Shorter Catechism (Q83) makes it clear that “all transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous”. Yet some sins “are more heinous in the sight of God than others”. They are either more heinous “in themselves” or because of certain “aggravations”. Aggravations are the things that make a sin more serious. It is a term still used in the law courts to mean an aspect of a crime which increases its guilt over and above the offence itself. Aggravated assault, for example, is different from simple assault depending on the intent, the weapon used or the extent of the injury. In Q151 the Larger Catechism goes on to explain what these “aggravations” are in relation to God’s law. When we consider these we see that the whole subject is much more extensive and challenging than the “all sins are equal” mantra acknowledges.

(a) The Person Sinning Makes Some Sins Worse

  • if we are older and “of riper age” (Job 32:7,9; Ecclesiastes 4:13) it is more serious than in someone younger. Wisdom should have come with years and experience. This is because we have had greater opportunity to learn God’s will, experience His grace and how to overcome temptation.
  • if we have greater experience or grace. Solomon had experienced much from God and the example of his father yet he sinned against what he knew and had received (1 Kings 11:4,9). The greater progress someone has made in holiness and godliness, the less excuse they have and the greater their fall when they sin.
  • if we are “eminent for profession” of Christianity. David made the enemies of God to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14) because of the prominent nature of both his sin and relationship with God. The inconsistency of one so committed to serving God made it worse than it would have been in others.
  • if we have greater gifts and responsibility. Where God has blessed us with greater knowledge of the Bible and opportunities to gain this we are more responsible for using these gifts not to sin (James 4:17; Luke 12:47-48). Where we are in a position of responsibility towards others in society, work, church and family we have greater guilt in sinning because our actions carry more weight and influence (Jeremiah 5:4-5. 2 Samuel 12:7-9; Ezekiel 8:11-12. Romans 2:17-24). Higher standards are expected of us and more eyes are upon us.
  • if our example is likely to be followed by others. If we are likely to lead others astray we incur guilt for that as well as our own actions. It can have a significant impact on a lot of others who may follow our example (Galatians 2:11-14).

(b) The Person Sinned Against Makes Some Sins Worse

  • sinning against God is worse than sinning against others (1 Samuel 2:25; Acts 5:4; Psalm 51:4). This is because of the infinite majesty and holiness of God and because our greatest responsibility is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
  • sinning against things by which God makes Himself known is worse. This may include His attributes (Romans 2:4) or name (Exodus 20:7). It may also include despising His worship (Malachi 1:3-4) which is meant for displaying His glory.
  • sinning against Christ and His grace is worse. We are warned solemnly against refusing His message, promises and offers of grace in the gospel (Hebrews 2:2-3; Hebrews 12:25)
  • sinning against the witness and working of the Holy Spirit is worse. If we lie to Him or resist, despise and blaspheme Him it is worse (Acts 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:29; Matthew 12:31-32; Hebrews 6:4). If we grieve and quench Him it is worse (Ephesians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:19)
  • sinning against superiors is worse. This is because they have a God-given authority and are to be respected and obeyed (Jude 8; Numbers 12:8-9; Isaiah 3:5)
  • sinning against relations is worse. We have particular family or other social bonds that we must respect and not abuse. We have greater obligations and responsibility towards them (Proverbs 30:17; 2 Corinthians 12:15; Psalm 55:12-15).
  • sinning against the souls of others is worse, such as when we mislead them spiritually especially in matters of salvation (Matthew 23:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:15).
  • sinning against believers is worse because of the bonds and ties of grace. (Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 6:8; Proverbs 6:19).This is especially so in relation to those of the Lord’s people who are weaker (1 Corinthians 8:11-12; Romans 14:13,15,21).
  • sinning against a corporate body is worse (Joshua 7:20, 21, 25; 1 Kings 14:16).

(c) The Nature of the Sin Makes Some Sins Worse

  • the clearer the command sinned against, the greater the sin. The more expressly God has commanded or forbidden something the greater the guilt in disobeying (Romans 1:32; Ezra 9:10-12; 1 Kings 11:9-10).
  • the greater number of commands sinned against, the greater the sin. Some sins break more commands than others. Covetousness is idolatry as well as being against the tenth commandment (Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 6:10). Achan’s sin involved coveting and theft (Joshua 7:21). Ahab coveted and took Naboth’s land by perjury, theft, murder and injustice.
  • the greater the impact, the greater the sin.It is a serious thing to stumble and harm others by our sins (Matthew 18:7; Romans 2:23-24).
  • the more openly committed, the greater the sin. Sin is still sin in the heart but when it is expressed in words or actions it brings greater public dishonour to God and damage to others (James 1:14-15; Matthew 5:22; Micah 2:1).
  • the greater the consequences, the greater the sin. We cannot make amends for our sin by our own actions as it relates to its guilt before God as though we could atone for it. But sometimes we can pay back something that was stolen or lost. It is more serious when we cannot make any restitution. David could not restore the life he had taken away or the marriage he had destroyed (1 Samuel 12:9; see also Deuteronomy 22:22 compared with Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Some damage to reputation and honour cannot be removed (Proverbs 6:32-35).
  • the greater the restraints, the greater the sin. God may use various means that ought to restrain us from sinning. Some saw the miracles of Christ and heard His teaching but it did not restrain their unbelief (Matthew 11:21-24; John 15:22). It increased their guilt that they had such privileges. God’s goodness, mercies and deliverances towards us should also restrain us (Isaiah 1:3; Deuteronomy 32:6). It is a serious matter to despise His goodness and forbearance (Romans 2:4). To sin against judgments also increases our guilt (Amos 4:8-11; Jeremiah 5:3; Revelation 9:20-21). Other things that should restrain us are the light of nature and convictions of our own conscience (Daniel 5:22; Titus 3:10-11). Certain things should be obvious to us even without special revelation (Romans 1:20, 26-27; Romans 2:14-16). Outward restraints include the warnings of others in public or private (Proverbs 29:1). Official church discipline (Titus 3:10; Matthew 18:17) and civil punishment (Proverbs 27:22; Proverbs 23:35) ought to restrain us. It is also serious when we sin against our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or others (Psalm 78:34-37; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 42:5-6,20-21; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6; Proverbs 20:25; Leviticus 26:25; Proverbs 2:17; Ezekiel 17:18-19).
  • the greater the wilfulness, the greater the sin. If we sin deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, boldly, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance (Psalm 36:4; Jeremiah 6:16; Numbers 15:30; Exodus 21:14; Jeremiah 3:3; Proverbs 7:13; Psalm 52:1; 3 John 10; Numbers 14:22; Zechariah 7:11-12; Proverbs 2:14; Isaiah 57:17; Jeremiah 34:8-11; 2 Peter 2:20-22).  

(d) The Circumstances Make Some Sins Worse

  • sinning in or around the time of worshipping God or on the Lord’s day is worse (2 Kings 5:26; Jeremiah 7:10; Isaiah 26:10; Ezekiel 23:37-39; Isaiah 58:3-5; Numbers 25:6-7; 1 Corinthians 11:20-21; Jeremiah 7:8-10; Proverbs 7:14-15; John 13:27,30)
  • sinning after God has chastised us is worse (Ezra 9:13-14)
  • sinning in public, or in the presence of others is worse. This is especially true if they are likely to be encouraged to sin by it (2 Samuel 16:22; 1 Samuel 2:22-24).

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Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
5 Apr, 2019

Events, strategies, commitments, principles. Everything seems to be subject to change in human affairs, especially politics. An even more changeable future seems inevitable as uncertainty increases. It’s a world of tumultuous, relentless and constant change. Technological, social and moral change in particular, seem to be speeding up. Things we never expected to see are now considered normal. Some change is deeply troubling and other change is good. All this makes us less confident and optimistic in predicting the future. But there is no real reason to fear if we are connected to the unchanging reality of the eternal God.

Hugh Binning points out that the most profound thing that we can say about God is also the simplest. “The Lord gives a definition of Himself”. It is short and we may not think it says much—”I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When people seek to exalt themselves they want to be described in grand and majestic ways to flatter themselves. But there is more majesty in this simple title “I AM” than in all others. This is spiritually discerned.

To compare God with others and say that He is best gives too great significance to the things which we use for comparison. Thus, the Lord calls Himself “I AM”, meaning “I am as if nothing else were”. Not, “I am the highest, the best and most glorious that is”. This assumes other things have some being and glory that is worth taking account of. Rather it is “I am, and there is none else; I am alone”. Nothing else can say, “I am, I live, and there is nothing else”. Everything else is dependent on God. Thus, nothing besides God, can say, “I am”. All things are only borrowed drops of this self-sufficient fountain. If anything comes between the stream and the fountain it is cut off and dried up.

See the profound mystery of God’s absolute self-sufficient perfection enfolded in these three letters, I AM. If you ask what is God? There is nothing better than this, “I AM,” or, He that is. If I would say He is the almighty, the only wise, the most perfect, the most glorious, it is all contained in this, “I am that I am”. He is all those perfections simply, absolutely, and solely.

 

1. Our God is Eternally Unchanging

He never was nothing and never will be nothing and may always say, “I am.”  God is eternally unchanging (Psalm 90:2). Now this is properly to be; and this only deserves the name of being. All the generations past; where are they now? They were, but they are not. And we then were not, and now are; for we have come in their place and in a little time, which of us can say, “I am.” No, we “fly away as a dream” (Job 20:8). We “are like a tale that is told,” (Psalm 90:9) that makes a noise in the present and then it is past. Within a few years this generation will pass, and no one will make mention of us. Our place will not know us, no more than we do now remember those who have been before (Psalm 103:16).

Christ said of John the Baptist, “he was a burning and shining light” (John 5:35); “he was,” but now he is not. But Christ may always say, “I am the light and life of men” (see John 1:4). Man is; but look backwards a little, and he was not; you will find his origin. Go forwards a little and he will not be, you will find his end. But God is “Alpha and Omega…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Who can find the beginning and end in such a being who is the beginning and end of all things, yet without all beginning and end? The soul is enclosed between infiniteness before and infiniteness behind. It is between two everlastings; whichever way it turns, there is no way out. Whichever way it looks, it must lose itself in an infiniteness round about it.

We change in our days and are not today what we were yesterday. But “he is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Every day we are dying, some part of our life is taken away. We leave one more day behind us, it is gone and cannot be recovered. Though we vainly please ourselves in the number of our years and the extent of our life, the truth is that we are losing much of our being and time as it passes. First, we lose our childhood, then we lose our adulthood. Then we leave our old age behind us also and there is no more before us.

But when God moves all things, He remains immoveable. Though days and years are in a continual flux and motion around Him and they carry us down with their force yet He abides the same forever. Even the earth and heavens that are established so sure grow old but He is the same, and “his years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). He is the beginning without any beginning; the end without an end: there is nothing past to Him, and nothing to come. He is all, before all, after all, and in all. He beholds all the changes of the creatures out of eternity. There is no change in His knowledge, as there is in ours (Acts 15:18). He can declare the end before the beginning; for He knows the end of all things, before He gives them beginning. He is never driven to make consultations in any emergency as the wisest of men are, who could not foresee all events. “He is in one mind”; He had it from everlasting and “who can turn Him?” (Job 23:13).

 

2. Our Response to the Unchanging God

Job’s response to knowing God as He is was to humble himself and repent (Job 42:5-6).  Here is the true knowledge of God’s majesty, which uncovers within you a mystery of iniquity. Here is the knowledge of God indeed, which abases all things besides God, not only in opinion but in affection. It attracts and unites your soul to God, and draws it from yourself and all created things. This is a right revelation of divine purity and glory, that stains the pride of all glory. True knowledge empties a soul of itself and humbles a soul in itself, that it may be full of God. He that thinks he knows any thing, knows nothing as he ought to know.

This then is the first evidence of the saving knowledge of God. It removes all grounds for empty confidence so that a soul cannot trust in itself. The purpose of this is that a soul may trust in God and depend on Him in all things. For this purpose the Lord has called Himself by many names in Scripture which correspond to our various needs and difficulties. This is so that He might make known to us how all-sufficient He is, so that we may turn our eyes and hearts towards Him. This was the purpose of this name, I AM; that Moses might have support for his faith (Exodus 3:14). “I AM;” I, who give all things a being, will give a being to my promise. I will make Pharaoh listen and the people obey.

What is there that this name of God will not answer? It is a creating name—a name that can bring all things out of nothing by a word. If He is what He is, then He can make what He wishes from us. It is a name that brings us comfort (Isaiah 41:12). If we believed this how we would submit to His blessed will. If we believed this would we not make Him our dwelling-place?  Would we not be assured of our own stability and the stability of His church because of His unchangeable eternity? (Psalm 89:1; Psalm 102:27-28). How can we think of such a fountain-Being without acknowledging ourselves to be shadows of His goodness? We owe to Him what we are, and so must dedicate ourselves to His glory. How can we consider such a self-Being, independent and creating Goodness without a desire to cleave to Him and confidence to trust in Him? This is to know Him.

 

3. Ourselves Compared to the Unchanging God

When we think on His unchangeableness let us consider our own vanity. Our glory and perfection is like a summer flower, or like a vapour ascending for a little time, our best estate is altogether vanity. Our plans are soon broken off and made of no effect, our resolutions change. This is mortality, we are not always the same. To be one thing now and then another thing is a characteristic of sinful and wretched man. Therefore let us “cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isaiah 2:22).  Do not trust in princes who will die, far less in ourselves who are less than the least of men (Psalm 146:3). Let us put our trust in God who does not change and we will not be consumed (Malachi 3:6).

We will never be ashamed of any hope we have in Him. There is nothing else you trust in which will not, without doubt disappoint you. Whatever you hear or know of God is vain and empty, unless it descends into the heart to shape it with fear and love to Him. It must extend into the outward actions and conform it to obedience. Otherwise when you “know God” you “do not glorify Him as God” and that knowledge will be worse to you than ignorance. It will only harden you and ultimately be your solemn accuser and witness (Romans 1: 21-24). The true knowledge of Jesus Christ is never unfruitful. The things that spring from its root are humility, self-abasing confidence in God, patience in tribulations, meekness in provocations, temperance and sobriety in lawful things (2 Peter 1:5-8).

 

Conclusion

It is a source of wonder as well as comfort to contemplate a God whose being, plans and promises never change. This should draw us to God again and again. He can keep our hearts steadfast. Whatever else and whoever else may change, let us seek to have an unwavering devotion, obedience and love to Him by His grace.

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What is the Purpose of Life?

What is the Purpose of Life?

What is the Purpose of Life?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
8 Mar, 2019

Why did God make me? What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? These are important questions that most people ask at some point in their lives. The Shorter Catechism dives in at the deep end by tackling this fundamental issue in the very first question. “What is man’s chief end?” is basically asking, “What is the point of our existence?”

This article is a chapter from the book “Bible Truth Explored” by Murdo A N Macleod with Catherine Hyde.

 

No special purpose?

Many people think that we have no special purpose in life. They think everyone can choose their own goals in life, because there is no more to life than enjoying ourselves and getting the most out of our time here. What a poor, selfish attitude that is! Jesus told us about a man who said to himself, “eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Because that was his sole purpose in life, God called him a fool. The Catechism tells us that we do have a purpose, or an “end,” a goal or aim in life.

 

Many special purposes?

Many people also think that there are many special purposes for living. They include to work and look after our families, education, science and development, and of course recreation. While all these are important in their own place, none of them is our chief end. We have one “chief” purpose, one supreme aim. Our “chief end” is our foremost special purpose, the whole point of our existence.

What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

 

To glorify God

Our chief end has two aspects. The first aspect is “to glorify God.” Does this mean that we have to try and make God more glorious than He already is? No. We cannot add to God’s glory. It is already perfect. It can neither be increased nor reduced.

“We have one ‘chief’ purpose, one supreme aim.”

However, there can be variation in how God’s creatures display His glory. Think of the sun. We cannot make the sun shine brighter, but clouds sometimes hide or block the sun’s brightness. We cannot make God any more glorious than He is. But our sins are like clouds, which hide or overshadow God’s reputation. Our sins make the world a darker place and obscure God’s honour.

To “glorify God” is not to add to His glory but to live in such a way as honours Him and declares His gloriousness to all who see and hear us. It is to live a life of obedience to God, not hiding His glory behinds clouds of disobedience.

Our duty is to do everything to the glory of God. Our lives are not divided into parts, one part about spiritual matters and the other part worldly concerns. It is not a case of having one part of our lives obeying God and another driven by a desire to please and glorify ourselves. Whether at home or work, study or leisure, our whole lives are to be focused on glorifying God.

 

To enjoy God

The other aspect of our chief end is “to enjoy God forever.” Enjoying God means being pleased and delighted with who God is, finding Him to be the one source of our deepest satisfaction and pleasure. This enjoyment is a consequence of glorifying God, although it should not be our main motivation for glorifying God. We should glorify God because God is so glorious, not because of the pleasure we may consequently experience. When we think of how we enjoy God, we can think both of enjoying Him in this world and of enjoying Him in the world to come.

 

Enjoying God in this world

The Christian enjoys the presence of God. This is because God has restored a friendly relationship between Him and them. Instead of being afraid of God and antagonistic towards Him, the Christian finds pleasure and satisfaction in the presence of God.

The Christian enjoys pleasing God. Instead of making it their priority to please themselves, or keep other people happy, the Christian enjoys thinking about God and how they can serve Him and glorify Him best with their lives and talents.

The Christian enjoys activities in which they meet with God. Instead of being most happy when God is pushed to the back of their minds and feels very far away, the Christian enjoys every opportunity to spend time with God. These opportunities include reading the Bible, praying, and church services on the Lord’s Day.

 

Enjoying God in the world to come

The Christian’s enjoyment will last “forever” because God is everlasting. The enjoyment of God which the believer has in this world is only a little foretaste of what they will enjoy in eternity. In heaven, they will be able to completely and continually glorify and enjoy God.

Our chief end is something that should absorb our attention and energy. It should never be far from our thoughts that the main reason for our existence is to glorify and enjoy God. When we are more concerned about our own glory, and find our pleasures in other things, we show that we are not fit for our main purpose and our priorities are all wrong. We should take Paul’s advice: “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

BIBLE TRUTH EXPLORED

Based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, this book helps us to see how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that we can learn, live and love the Truth.

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

Who Are You?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
18 Jan, 2019

From gender to nationality to race–can we choose the identity we want? Are these things that drive identity politics real? Even if we resist every other label – what exactly does human mean these days? Other subtle influences within society point us to find our identity in what we have and what do. Is there something fixed that goes beyond changeable subjective notions?

Yes. We can draw our identity from what God has done and what God has said. We need to go back to the beginning, to creation. We cannot understand who we are without this. This is the foundation of understanding our personal identity. That is exactly what Hugh Binning does in the following updated extract.

 

1. Our Original Identity

It is certain, that you will never rightly understand yourselves or what you are, until you know first what humanity was made to be. You cannot imagine what your present misery is until you know the happiness man had when he was created: “let us make man in our image”.

Some have called Adam a microcosm of the world, because he had heaven and earth as it were married together in him. He united two very remote and distant natures. The dust of the earth and the immortal spirit  (called the breath of God) sweetly linked, conjoined and inclined to one another. In this piece of workmanship the Lord made a microcosm of all His works. He brought together in one creation the marvellous wisdom, being, living, moving, sense and intelligence which are scattered across the other creatures. We carry around in ourselves the wonders we admire in the rest of creation.

With a mere simple word, this huge framework of the world started out of nothing. But in creating humanity God acts as a skilful craftsman: “Let us make man”. He makes rather than creates. He first raises the walls of flesh, builds the house of the body with all its organs, all its rooms, and then He makes a noble and divine guest to dwell in it. He breathes into it the breath of life.

 

2. Our Unique Original Identity

But what the Lord would have us consider most is the image of Himself imprinted on man —“Let us make man in our own image.” There was no creature without some engravings of God and His power, wisdom, and goodness. The heavens are said to declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). But whatever they have, it is only the lower part of that image, some dark shadows and resemblances of Him. But the final work of creation is made according to His own image. He reflects Himself in this as with a mirror. The rest of creation resembles His footstep but man resembles His face. He was made “in our image, after our likeness”.

It is true that only Jesus Christ His Son is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person”. He alone  resembles Him perfectly and thoroughly in all properties. He is another self in nature, properties and operations. He is so like Him that He is one with Him, it is really a oneness, than a likeness.

But man was created according to God’s own image, with some likeness (not sameness or oneness) to Himself. That is a high privilege indeed, to be like God. How could man be like God, who is infinite, incomprehensible, whose glory cannot be given to or shared with another? There are unique aspects of His being in which He not only has no equal not none even to compare to Him. In these He is to be adored as infinitely transcending all created perfections and conceptions. But yet in others He reveals Himself so as to be imitated and followed. For this purpose He first stamps these qualities on man in shaping him at first.

 

3. Our Original Moral Identity

If you want to know what those qualities are in particular the apostle defines them.  They include “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), “righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:21). This is the “image of him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).  It is the image which the Creator stamped on man, that he might seek Him. He set him apart for Himself to keep communion with him and to bless him. There is a spirit given to man with a capacity to know and to will. This is God’s face sketched out and this is not engraved on any other creature that has feeling. One of the most noble and excellent operations of life which exalts human beings above brute beasts is the capacity to reflect on ourselves and to know ourselves and our Creator. Other things have natural instincts suitable to their own nature, but none of them have a capacity to know what they are or what they have. They cannot conceive ideas of He who gave them a being.

He has limited the eye to respond to colours and light, He has limited the ear so that it cannot act without sounds. He has assigned every sense its own proper range within which it moves. But He teaches man knowledge, and He enlarges the sphere of his understanding beyond visible things to invisible things or spirits. He has put a capacity in the soul to know all things, including itself. The eye discerns light, but does not see itself. But He gives a spirit to man to know himself and his God.

And then there is a willing power in the soul by which it gives itself towards any thing that is conceived as good. The understanding directs and the will commands according to its direction. Then the whole faculties and senses obeying these commands make up an excellent portrait of the image of God. There was a sweet proportion and harmony in Adam, all was in due place and subordination. The motions of immortal man began within. The lamp of reason shone and gave light. There was no stirring, choosing or refusing until reason moved. This was like a ray of God’s light reflected into the soul of man.

When reason discerned good and evil this power in the soul influenced the whole person accordingly, to choose good and refuse evil. There would have been no living resemblance to God if there was only power to know and will.  These capacities must also be beautified and adorned with supernatural and divine graces of spiritual light, holiness and righteousness. These complete the image of God on the soul in full colour.

There was a divine light which shone on the understanding until sin intervened and eclipsed it. The sweet heat and warmness of holiness and uprightness in the affections came from the light of God’s face.  There was nothing but purity and cleanness in the soul, no darkness of ignorance, no muddiness of carnal affections. The soul was pure and transparent, able to receive the refreshing and enlightening rays of God’s glorious countenance.

This was the very face and beauty of the soul. This is the beauty and excellency: conformity to God. This was throughout the whole: in the understanding and the affections. The understanding had to be conformed to God’s understanding, discerning between good and evil. As a ray of that sun, a stream from that fountain of wisdom, a light from God’s understanding it has to be conformed to Him.

The will agreed with His will: approving and choosing what He approved and refusing what He hated. This union was closer than any bond among men. It was as if there were not two wills but as it were, one. The love of God reflecting into the soul drew the soul back to Him again. Love was the conforming principle which shaped the whole person without and within to be like God and obey Him.  Man was formed for communion with God, and he must have this likeness or else they could not join as friends.

 

4. Our Original Moral Identity Destroyed

But it is sad to think where we have fallen from and how great our fall is. To fall from such a blessed condition is great misery indeed. Satan has robbed us of our rich treasure, the glorious image of holiness. He has drawn the very image of hell on our souls the very visage of hell, the distinctive features of his hellish countenance. But most people are unaware of anything of this. If we could consider all the sad and awful consequences of sin in the world and what miseries that one fall has brought on all humanity we would see what a fearful fall it has been.

Sin intervened between God and us, this darkened our souls and killed them. The light of knowledge was put out, the life of holiness extinguished. There now remains nothing of all of that stately building except some ruins of common principles of reason and honesty in everyone’s consciences. These merely show us what the building was like. We have fallen from holiness and therefore from happiness. Our souls are deformed and defiled. If sin was visible, how ugly the shape of the soul would be to us. This is because it has lost its very beauty, which is God’s image.

 

5. Our Original Moral Identity Restored

We must know where we have fallen from and into what a gulf of sin and misery we have fallen. When we know this, the news of Jesus Christ, a Mediator and Redeemer of fallen man will be sweet to us. It was the Lord’s will to let His image be marred and ruined in us because He had this purpose to repair and renew even better than of old. He created (the human nature of) Christ according to His image for this purpose. He stamped that image of holiness on His humanity. This was so as to be a pattern and pledge of restoring original glory and excellence to the souls that flee to Him for refuge. He has made His Son like us that we might once again be made like Him. He said in eternity, “let one of us be made man”. This was so that it might be said once more, “let man be made like us, in our image”. Only a second creation can do this. Look at your hearts to enquire if it this new creation has been formed in you. You must be re-created in that image if you belong to Christ.

 

Conclusion

There are many voices in our generation encouraging everyone to seek their own identity. Young people are often on a quest to find an identity even if it means that their minds and bodies are at odds with one another. But this will never bring the happiness and peace we seek. We have lost an identity and we need it recovered, but it is the identity God has given and offers not the one that we choose out of our own preferences. In one sense the gospel is saying to us, “be who you were meant to be, who you were created to be.” We will only find that if we are a new creation in Christ. This is the true basis for our personal identity.

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Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
28 Dec, 2018

We have a certain natural inclination to “some new thing” (Acts 17:21). We live in time and that makes the expectation of change inevitable. New beginnings (such as a new year) can open fresh opportunities for transformation.  But it becomes unhealthy when we value things simply because they are new rather than using a more enduring standard. An addiction to novelty creates destructive rootlessness and distraction. It afflicts the world and the Church. Adhering to things simply because they are old rather than because they are true is also lethal, however. How do we develop a healthy approach to new beginnings that doesn’t discard everything in the pursuit of novelty?

We need new and old brought together in an enduring way. We need to consider time in the context of eternity. Hugh Binning explains how Christ is the unchanging but also the ever new; how He is eternal but entered time. These thoughts (drawn from 1 John 1:1-2) take us into the mystery of Christ’s person. “That which was from the beginning” could be seen, heard and touched.  As Binning says, this combines antiquity and novelty together in one, and that makes it all the more excellent and wonderful. This is the glorious way in which the “Word of life” is brought within our reach. We can expect new and fresh blessings from the unchanging Word of life but they are of eternal benefit.

 

1. Considering the Unbegun Beginning

Christ is that which was from the beginning, which was with the Father before all antiquity from eternity.  He is not only from the beginning of time but before all time, before all imaginable beginnings. Christ Jesus, the Father’s Word, was with the Father from the beginning. He was with the Ancient of days who infinitely and unmeasurably antedates all antiquity. Compared to His endurance all we regard as antiquity is mere novelty. The infinite, beginningless, immeasurable endurance of God before this world can never be unravelled by the imaginations of men and angels. Even if they had all eternity they could never unravel it.

There is nothing so old, He is infinitely before the oldest and most ancient creatures. The age of this Word is like a labyrinth with innumerable turnings and windings. Those who make the most progress and the longest search will be just where they were, always beginning, and never coming nearer the beginning of His duration. This is because it is the beginning of all things that have had a beginning but has no beginning itself.

This is what makes religion the richest and most transcendent subject in the world. It presents us with a twofold eternity. It surrounds the soul with a “past” eternity without beginning and a “future” eternity without end. “That which was from the beginning”, before all beginning, either real or imagined. How much there is in that to settle a soul in view of all the false, painted appearances of the world.

 

2. Consider the Incomparable Christ

Such a Saviour is held out to us. We are to come to and lean on the Rock of ages. He is the one on whose word the whole universe is established and stands firm. He infinitely exceeds and precedes all things visible or invisible and all their changes. From eternity the Father and Son took delight in the thoughts of peace and good will they had towards us, which would be revealed in time. If they delighted in planning it how much more in accomplishing the whole plan.

Think what an incomparably excellent Saviour we have who is one with God and equal to Him: one with Him from all eternity. What a strong foundation this is for faith and confidence, what a Rock on which to establish a floundering soul. Man’s misery and curse being liable to endure for all eternity, there is One to deliver them from that, who was Himself from all eternity. Who could purchase for us such absolute blessedness throughout all eternity, except one who was Himself from all eternity? What marvellous proportion and beauty there is in the ways of God. Everything is devised by infinite wisdom so that that we may have strong consolation.  

Consider how the Word of life is held out to you and yet you do not allow your hearts to be moved, or stirred after Him. This is to forsake a great mercy, the eternal Word of life as the infinite Wisdom of the Father. Will we let this offer run past us every day and never find pause from the multitude of business, thoughts and lusts of the world? Will we never look beyond this world, to God, and His Son Jesus Christ? Will we never take seriously either the one that was before all things or our own souls, that must survive and outlive all visible things. 

 

3. Considering the Ever New Christ

But there is also a newness in this subject, which increases admiration and may engage our affections all the more. The “life was manifested” (verse 2). He is such a Word of life that though He was invisible and untouchable from the beginning, yet He was recently clothed with flesh that made him both visible and capable of being handled. These are the two poles on which the mystery, glory and wonder of Christianity turns. The antiquity of His real existence as God and the newness of His appearance in the flesh as man.

He who was so blessed from everlasting begins to be manifested in the fulness of time. To make Himself visible, He takes on our flesh. It was only for this purpose, that He who was Life itself and the eternal life might become life to poor dead sinners and give them eternal life. In taking on our flesh, the Word is more wonderfully manifested and made visible than in the creation. In creation the Creator made creatures come out of nothing at His command. But in this, the Creator is made a creature. He once gave a beginning of being to things that had no being. Being before all beginning Himself, He now takes a beginning and becomes flesh, which He was not before.

How wisely and wonderfully it is planned that, for the good of lost man, the Son of God should be made of a woman.  The lower the nature in which He appears, the higher the mystery is and the richer the comfort is. The glory of the only begotten Son of God was more visibly manifested in that He appeared in such a low form. It is for power to show itself in weakness and such glorious rays to break out from under such a dark cloud. This was greater glory, and more majesty, than if He had only showed Himself in the most perfect creatures.

 

4. Consider Our Need of His New Blessings

When we see the ancientness of our Saviour and the newness of His appearance in the flesh brought together, it ought to endear Him to us. He has come so near us, and brought his own Majesty within our sphere so that we can lay hold of it. He did this for no other purpose except to make life and immortality shine as beams from Him to bring dead souls to life.

Let us open our hearts to Him, and then welcome such fresh news with new delight. Though it is many centuries old, this news is still recent to a believing heart. There is an everlasting fountain in it that sends out fresh comfort to souls every day. It is as refreshing as the first day this fountain was opened. This is the new wine that never grows old, indeed it is renewed in every generation with some new manifestation of the love of God. Christ’s incarnation was the first manifestation of the Son, the very morning of light and life, the dayspring visiting the world that was buried in the darkness of idolatry.

The Sun of righteousness first appeared up above the horizon at that time. But it is still now the same “day”. He has been appearing by greater degrees, shining more and more to the noon day (2 Peter 1:19). This Sun has never set since, but gone round about the world in the preaching of the gospel. It has brought life and light from one nation to another, and one generation to another. We ought to welcome His kindly and affectionate love to mankind (Titus 3:4). This is what shines so brightly. The beams of grace and love to men are the rays that come from this Sun of righteousness.

 

Conclusion

A new year offers new opportunities for fresh appreciations of the glory of Christ. We need to take regular time out from the treadmill of demands and the constant feed of new content to seek this. As we do this we will be brought into contact with eternal realities. Are we trading things these opportunities and only gaining things that are new but immediately grow old? The promise of the new that the world constantly offers soon proves empty. There are new blessings to lay hold on in fellowship with Christ, the Word of life as we seek to live out this glorious gospel. These blessings are of eternal significance.

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Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?

Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?

Does it Matter What We Believe About the Holy Spirit?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
2 Nov, 2018

It used to be said that the Holy Spirit was the forgotten person of the Godhead. Now, it seems, the majority of evangelicals aren’t even sure if He is a person. The State of Theology survey on both sides of the Atlantic shows that most think the Holy Spirit is a force but not a personal being (55% UK, 56% USA). Is that a problem? Yes, Scripture makes it clear that the Spirit is a person. The belief that He is just a force (as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses) was condemned as heresy at the Council of Constantinople in 381. But this is not only about a core article of faith, it has deep practical implications for our everyday spiritual life.

There are many ways in which the Bible teaches that the Spirit is a person and they all relate to His ministry to believers. So it matters a great deal that He is indeed a person. There is such a thing as the communion or fellowship of the Holy Spirit and you can only commune with a person (2 Corinthians 13:14). In His activity within believers it is clear that He has a mind (Romans 8:27), a will (1 Corinthians 12:11; Acts 15:28) and emotions (Ephesians 4:30). Not only can He be grieved but He can be vexed or angered and insulted (Isaiah 63:10; Hebrews 10:29). He can also be lied to (Acts 5:3-4).

As someone who speaks, the Spirit personally teaches, convinces and reminds (Acts 8:29; Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 2:13; John 16:8; John 16:13-14). He empowers (Zechariah 4:6) and guides believers (Isaiah 48:16; Romans 8:14; Acts 16:6-7). He witnesses with them (Romans 8:16), comforts them (John 14:26) and intercedes for them (Romans 8:26). He commands (Acts 8:29; 13:2; 16:7) and must be obeyed (Acts 10:19-21).

Can we do without the personal activity of the Spirit? That would be an impossible thought. The confused opinions about the Holy Spirit revealed in the recent survey show the need for clear teaching in the truths of Scripture. We have tools for this purpose in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. One of those who helped compile these documents was Francis Cheynell (1608–1665) who also wrote about the trinity and the practical necessity of believing in One God in Three Persons.

 

Obeying the Spirit is For Our Comfort

In hearing the Word we must give the same attention and devotion to the Spirit as we do to the Father and the Son (Hebrews 3:7-8 compared with Psalm 95:8). The Holy Spirit forbids us to harden our hearts against Him speaking in the Word (Acts 7:51). We grieve the Spirit when we resist the Spirit and will not give our spiritual assent and consent to the Word.

God the Holy Spirit is to be obeyed. We are devoted to His service in baptism. Our bodies and souls are temples consecrated to His honour and service. The Spirit conquers our carnal reason, puts to death our corruptions and subdues our hearts to obey Him as well as the Father and the Lord Jesus.

The Spirit is the spirit of conviction, regeneration, conversion, sanctification, edification and consolation (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 5:22; 1 Corinthians 12:8-9). The Spirit is the God of all comfort, it is His special function to comfort mourners.

It highly concerns us to obey the Holy Spirit and answer the many calls and motions of the Spirit with sincere obedience. Thus, our effectual calling may provide evidence of our election. This Spirit is the spirit of sanctification and adoption, the spirit of revelation and comfort, putting sin to death, making us live to righteousness. The Spirit quickens, moves, enables, inclines, persuades us to beleive in Christ, to love one another and to keep all the commandments of God.

This Spirit of faith, love, and obedience is the spirit of sanctification. If you find the spirit of sanctification in you, take good comfort even though the spirit of adoption seems to withdraw from you. He is certainly present and not idle or silent; He speaks by His real works and sweet fruits. The spirit of sanctification is one and the same as the spirit of adoption.

We know from the Spirit that Christ abides in us, that we dwell in Him and He in us (1 John 3:23-24; 4:13). If there is therefore a spirit of faith, love, and obedience in you, rejoice in it, lift up your heart to God in thankfulness for it. Thank God if you have a heart obedience to the doctrine given to you by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:17). If you are much engaged in supplication and thanksgiving, the spirit of supplication will be a spirit of adoption and an oil of gladness (Hebrews 1:9).

The Spirit will teach you to cry “Abba, Father” with comfort (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). The Spirit will fill your souls with all joy, and peace in believing, and in obeying. The joy of the Spirit shall be your strength. The comforts of the Almighty, including all the comforts of the kingdom of God (which consists in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit) shall be all-sufficient to revive and support your dejected spirit. All your fears and discomforts shall be dispelled, your wants supplied, your wounds, sores and infirmities healed. Ultimately, you will be filled with all the fulness of God (Malachi 4:2; Ephesians 3:19).

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Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
14 Sep, 2018

Some people are inclined to think that confessionalism has a stifling effect on the Church. They assume that adherence to Bible-based creeds and confessions inhibits vitality or freedom. To them the Church is more about relationship and are suspicious of things that are more formal and less subjective. Others want to be as flexible and inclusive as possible for attracting others and play down doctrine. Are these prejudices about confessionalism valid? Are they consistent with Scripture? It is remarkable in fact how often growth in faith is connected with the personal and collective growth of believers in Scripture.

Adopting and using a biblical confession of faith does not guarantee that the life of a particular congregation will be as healthy as it ought to be. It will, however, guard against certain spiritual diseases that come from false teaching. In Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul tells us that the Church is meant to flourish by means of truth. It is meant to be edified in love as we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:13 and 15). We are to “all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. But this cannot happen if we are like children, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. By “speaking the truth in love” the Church is to “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

The less of the truth of the Bible we confess the less vitality we have. Christians are to resist error and hold to the truth and so walk in Christ, being rooted, built up, and established in the faith (Colossians 2:6-7). The Bible is not minimalist in the way that it declares the truth and neither should we be. A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfill its commission to make spiritually mature disciples (Matthew 28:20).

 

The Importance of Confessions

God has given us His Word so that we would have the information He wants us to know. A confession of faith is us putting in our own words what we understand God to be saying in His Word. Some people say they have no creed but the Bible. But they still have their own interpretation of what the Bible teaches. They either do or don’t believe in the Trinity, for example, or justification by faith alone. They just haven’t written down their beliefs in a systematic form. They do have a creed, just not a publicly available one.

Meanwhile, all sorts of heretics can quote the Bible. So if we restricted ourselves to using only the words of Scripture this would be an inadequate way of stating the truth. When someone quotes Scripture, it is always legitimate to ask, “What do you mean by that?” To say, “I only believe the Bible” is meaningless unless it is further defined. When a church writes down its understanding of what the Bible teaches, it allows anyone to see what it believes, and it also helps the church achieve clarity in its mission to tell the world what God’s Word says. This is why Jude exhorts us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Paul charged Timothy to hold fast the “form of sound words” and to guard “that good thing which was committed” to him (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

Anthony Tuckney (1599-1670) played a key role in shaping the Westminster Confession of Faith. He uses these words from 2 Timothy 1:13 to explain the value of confessions. He defines confessions as a way of setting down God’s truth in an orderly way. It is gathering such truths together which are scattered throughout Scripture. He then explains some of the benefits of a confession.

 

1. Confessions Help Us Grow in Truth

Forms of sound words have been used as declarations, not only of what we ourselves believe but also of what we think that everyone should believe.  We also desire and require that all with whom we join in the closest Church fellowship should profess or at least not openly contradict it. This is how it was with the apostles in what they decided in Acts 15 and how it is with Churches and their confessions until this day; and so may it be always. When controversies arise they may be better understood and resolved by the help of such confessions. They may also be a deposit (2 Timothy 1:14) to be given to posterity as legacies or inheritances of their forefathers’ faith.

 

2. Confessions Help Us Grow in Unity

Confessions are not only badges of our Christian Church communion but also great helps and furtherers of it. By this means troublesome divisions may be prevented and the peace of the Church better preserved. This is a benefit when we all profess the same truth, and all “speak the same thing” and are “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

 

3. Confessions Help Us Grow in Peace

Failure to keep more closely to such “forms of sound words” has allowed every one to speak and write the vain fancies of his own heart and spread the foulest heresies and blasphemies with impunity. It has torn us in pieces and divided us. May the Lord in mercy speedily heal these gashes and ruptures. One special means to cure this is holding fast the form of sound and wholesome words (2 Timothy 1:13).

 

4. Confessions Help Us Grow in Strength

The apostles formulated their decisions to help those who were weak (Acts 15:24) and a confession does this also. The truths scattered throughout the whole Scripture are gathered together in a synopsis for them to see more clearly. Where there are things more obscurely expressed they are more familiarly presented to those of weaker understanding.

 

5. Confessions Help Us Grow in Discernment

Confessions help to uncover and repulse seducers and subverters of the souls of God’s people (Acts 15:24). The same fence that keeps the deer in, keeps out the ravenous wild beast. They are a fence to the vineyard and so are of very good use in the Church. Some poison  can hardly be detected at first but as the mouth takes its food, so the sheep of Christ’s pasture discern by a divine instinct what food is wholesome and what is otherwise. It is not just those who have their senses exercised to discern good and evil, even the new-born babe has this taste. As soon as it is made partaker of the divine nature, it can tell when the sincere milk of the Word is adulterated (though perhaps not in what way). A godly Christian (who had a better heart than head) once had his spirit rising against something which he heard in a sermon, but he could not tell why. Afterward it was shown to him to be very corrupt doctrine.

 

6. Confessions Help Us Grow in Health

A form of sound words is especially that by which they recover and gain health and strength and so thrive. The new-born babe fattens and grows by the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). It is bad soil in which good plants are starved or diseased. Is it likely to be a wholesome diet if men (otherwise well and full of  health) do not thrive on it? A good tree (our Saviour tells us) brings forth good fruit and the same may be said of good doctrine. Although by the corruption of men’s hearts, good doctrine may not always bring forth good fruit in their lives, yet bad doctrine naturally brings forth what is bad and abominable. But let us continually esteem wholesome spiritual food. The man of God lives and thrives by this and does God’s will cheerfully. Like Elijah (who went forty days and nights in the strength of what he ate) the Christian continues in the strength of this food through the wilderness of this world until he comes to the mount of God. A sound heart relishes and thrives by sound doctrine. Since man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God it is not sufficient that these sound words have man’s approval. They must be not only acceptable words but grounded on what God has instituted, they must be words of truth, words of the wise given by one Shepherd.

 

Conclusion

If this is so, be sure to “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). As Christ said to the Church of Thyatira “that which you have already, hold fast till I come” (Revelation 2:25). Be sure to hold fast, take heed that you are not robbed of it but are sure you have it. In various passages (Revelation 6:9 and Titus 1:9) to hold fast means that we hold the truth so fast against all opposition that no strength of man or devil may force it from us but that we maintain it against all.

The truth is heaven’s pledge (2 Timothy 1: 14) with which God has entrusted us. Our souls are the pledge (2 Timothy 1:12) with which we trust God. We should be as careful of His pledge as we would have Him be of ours. Be sure that we will be called to an account for this and how solemn it will be if we are like the one described in 1 Kings 20:39-40).

This is the bequest given to us by our godly forefathers, should we not similarly careful to transmit it to our posterity (Psalm 78:3-4)?  The martyrs have sealed it with their blood, will we prove guilty of that through our unfaithfulness? This is the best part of our children’s inheritance, as the law was (Deuteronomy 33:4). Make sure that our forefathers will be not ashamed of us and our posterity at the resurrection for betraying God’s truth and our trust. Hold fast is the charge to many of those churches written to in Revelation 2 and 3, both the best and the worst. Holding fast may cost us in contending but if we are we faithful in the conflict, we may be sure of the conquest.

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Is Uncertainty a Virtue?

Is Uncertainty a Virtue?

Is Uncertainty a Virtue?
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
27 Jul, 2018

Increasingly, there is a subtle tendency to sidestep difficult and inconvenient issues by saying we cannot be certain about them. Of course, being non-dogmatic is thought to be a virtue in our culture. Yet it’s one thing to acknowledge a defect in our own understanding, it’s another thing to claim that for everyone else. Open questions and matters indifferent seem to have increased at the expense of the practical authority of Scripture. Sometimes muddying the waters means people feel free to take up a definite alternative position. For instance, where professing evangelicals want to support something like same-sex marriage. If they can make the Biblical passages seem unclear then they feel justified in their position. But where do such claims end in relation to God’s revealed will? What indeed are we saying about God’s ability to give us clear teaching?

Of course some parts of the Bible need more careful study than others to understand them in the right way. But this is different to saying that they cannot be understood. There can also be doubts and difficulties that we must work through but that is something different to making doubt an essential aspect of our belief. It is different to the idea that the Church must progress (claiming the leading of the Spirit) to believe things that are flatly contradictory to Scripture and to how former generations understood Scripture. One former evangelical has recently written a book called The Sin of Certainty to champion the conviction that striving for certainty is destructive. One may well ask how “certain” the author is about that conviction itself.

This idea of virtuous uncertainty is not in fact a biblical idea. God has given us “excellent things in counsels and knowledge” to make us “know the certainty of the words of truth” (Proverbs 22:21). “All Scripture…is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We are meant to be able to handle it skillfully and in the right way (2 Timothy 2:15). We are not meant to “be tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Our love abounds through knowledge not through ignorance (Philippians 1:9). Even in things indifferent “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

These issues are not in fact new. Samuel Rutherford had to counter a rising skepticism and we can learn a lot from the principles he draws from Scripture. He gives particular focus to the idea that it doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we believe what is necessary to be saved.

1. We Can be Certain About Things that are Not Fundamental

We believe with certainty of faith, many things which are not fundamental. For example we are not to be “ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Many (we may suppose) are in glory that died ignorant of this and without believing or. Or at least they died without any certainty of faith on this point: that with God time has no coexistence of duration whether long and short. Yet Peter asserts that it is to be believed with certainty of faith.

The Holy Spirit tells us of many historical matters in Hebrews 11. We believe these by certainty of divine faith but they are not fundamental. If we do not believe all that Paul and the rest of the apostles have written and Moses and the prophets have said we must take them to be false witnesses in saying, preaching and writing what is not true. Paul says so (1 Corinthians 15:15).

The apostles say, “we are witnesses of these things” (Acts 5:32). Now these things refer not only to Christ’s death and resurrection but also to points that are not fundamental. They include identifying the instruments of His death (verse 30; Acts 4:10 and Acts 3:26). The apostles and the Holy Spirit were witnesses of the truth of both fundamental and non-fundamental things (Acts 1:8). Christ said they were “my witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48). These things are identified in verse 44, “all things that must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me”. This includes the sacrifices, types, and particular ceremonies that were shadows of Christ.

2. We Are to Examine the Truth to Gain Certainty

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) means prove and search our the true meaning of divine truths. Having thus proved and believed, hold the truth. It does not mean believe it for a day and yield to the complete contrary tomorrow, and then find and yield to yet another contrary principle the day after. If this was so the Holy Spirit would be commanding doubting, doubting till we lose faith and find it again and lose it again in a circle.

If this was the case, then the Bereans (Acts 17:11) must examine their own examining and their own doubtings and believing, and so on to infinity. It would be as though when they find Christ to be in Paul’s teaching and Moses and the Prophets, yet they must still examine and doubt. As though they should only believe the teaching of the prophets, apostles, and the Holy Spirit with reserve, waiting until they ‘receive’ new and contrary understanding from the Holy Spirit.

This is to teach us to be carried about with every wind of doctrine. Believing the truth of Scripture (whether in fundamental or non-fundamental things), however, is to believe a truth, because the Lord (cannot lie or speak untruth) says so.

3. We Ought to Pray For Certainty

We should pray “Lord enlighten my eyes” but this is not a prayer for conjectural, fluctuating and changeable understanding. Such a prayer for new light, is not that the Holy Spirit would teach us to believe truths and falsehoods in a circle. Instead it is a prayer that God:

  • Would give the Spirit of revelation to see gospel truths with a clear revelation of faith;
  • That He would be pleased to cause the light by which we see the same ancient gospel truths to shine more fully, with a larger measure of heavenly evidence.
  • That our understanding may so grow that we see new deductions, consequences, and heavenly new, fresh conclusions from the former truths of God.

Skeptical faith desires God to give us a contrary new light so that we would believe things to be true which were formerly believed to contradictory to the Word of God. This would turn light into night darkness, the truth into a lie, and make the Spirit of truth the father of lies.

4. The Apostles Encourage Certainty

The apostles never urge us to know any truth of God with a reserve. The apostles and the Holy Spirit in them, urge us to know assuredly that Jesus is Christ the Lord. They exhort us to be rooted and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7). They urge us to be fully persuaded of everything both fundamental and historical concerning Christ. Luke wanted Theophilus to “know the certainty” of the “things most surely believed among us” (Luke 1:1, 4).In Hebrews 5:12-13 the apostle exhorts us to believe many points concerning Christ beyond the first principles of the oracles of God. He exhorts them to progress to maturity (Hebrews 6:1). 

5. The Word of God is Able to Give Us Certainty

The principle of uncertainty implies the Word of God is obscurity and dark, not able to instruct us in all truths. It makes a blasphemous charge against the Holy Spirit, as if He had written the Scriptures with the intention that we would have no assured and fixed knowledge. It would leave us not with faith but a mere probable opinion, a conjectural, dubious apprehension of truths, with a reserve to believe the contrary. This would be as though the Lord’s purpose was to make us all skeptics and die doubting.

The apostles command us to believe and be comforted in believing the truths which they themselves believed as Christians and as fellow citizens with us. Are we going to say that the apostles also believed with reserve? That would be blasphemous.

6. We Must Serve God with Believing Conviction

All our practice must be in faith, i.e. with a persuasion that what we do is according to the revealed will of God. If it is otherwise we sin (Romans 14:23) and are condemned in all we do. But if faith with reserve must be the rule of our practice, we can do nothing in faith.

Conclusion

Today we face those who claim to be “progressive Christians”. They tell us that inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers and we should explore the truth rather than declare it. They seem very uncertain about what God’s Word says but very certain about what human opinion (especially science) maintains. They are ready to say that we can’t be sure that the Bible condemns same-sex marriage but move quickly to say that we can be sure that it is ok. They tell us that we shouldn’t judge others. But that in itself is to pass moral judgement on our conduct. Christ says it is necessary for reconciliation to point out what others have done wrong (Matthew 18:15). The tide of uncertainty is influencing some evangelicals in subtle ways and we need to recognise this so as to resist it.

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