Saturday, March 25, 2017

WCF LC Commentary

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Note: Page breaks are between question groupings.

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Westminster Larger Catechism #1

Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer 1: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God,[1] and fully to enjoy him forever.[2]

In this opening question of the Larger Catechism and short one line answer we find both the duty of man and his destiny. We also find that the proof texts are sparse, namely, Rom. 11:36 and 1 Cor. 10:31. Yet we could spend many pages and hours of study properly doing the exposition and laying the foundation for such a complete and bold Statement.

Few new comers to the faith fully understand nor appreciate this statement of fact until much later in their spiritual walk with the Lord. The answer calls for far more assumption of facts not in evidence than they have, and the proof texts while valid, seem to lack the concise clarity of other statements made by the Divines.

Nonetheless the understanding and application of this tenet of our faith is not only the foundation of our faith, it is the capstone. The understanding thus gained will lead to what our fathers called piety, and what we today would label world view. An internal filter by which everything we think, say, or do is measured against the Holy Writ less we unwittingly sin against God.

This then being the basis for our life here and in eternity, it would seem most advisable for us to fully understand what we must do to glorify God. Since even to the most ignorant it must be most clear there is nothing the creature can do for God, or that God needs from the creature, the answer to this question is not as simple and obvious as one might think. It will take much time, study, and prayer for the beast within (even the redeemed) to come to the point where they can see and agree there is no purpose under the heavens for mankind other than God’s glory. We simply have a problem putting aside self and bowing to the total will of another, even God. When for various and sundry reasons man does see it as in his best interests and so subject himself to another, the subjection will be neither perfect nor long lasting, the nature of the beast will soon regain control and bring about the downfall of man’s decision. Thus we see woven into this first question, the necessity of two of the five classic points of reformed theology, Total Depravity and Perseverance of the Saints. This beginning point also requires assent to the Sovereignty of God. While this isn’t part of our beloved TULIP, it is the foundation, heart, and end of the reformed faith.

How do we glorify God then becomes the most important question we will ever face. The answer is as short and sweet as the first question of the Larger Catechism, by obeying God. This is why Christ could say to Satan, “. . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Jesus Christ then being God manifested in the flesh and testified to as being the Word of God, was able to speak of His body as that bread which man can eat of and never hunger again (John 6:35). Likewise we see Christ on the occasion of His last Passover meal, set in place the celebration of the Lord’s Table, whereby the believer partakes of His body, that he might receive the full benefit of the death of Christ for him. By this gift of the living Word for a dead world, Christ was fully justified in saying “if you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). These words of our Lord we can see as a summary of God’s command to the church in the wilderness and the renewing of the covenant at Sinai in the giving of the Law. We see the result so vividly portrayed in the Scriptures when God’s creation fails to obey Him in the first chapters of Genesis where man disobeyed God and death entered the world. Here we also see the fourth petal of the TULIP become a reality, in that by nature man will disobey God, and refuse to obey Him. Thus left to himself, man could not make use of the grace shown in the gift of God’s Son (Word) to bring about the redemption of man and thereby glorify God. God gives the gift, then providentially brings about the willingness of the created to obey Him and thus receive the grace offered. For it is written, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13).

To this point we have seen three of the five classic points of Calvinist theology tied to this first question of the Larger Catechism. The second petal is most obvious in consideration of these facts, for we both know and have experienced the inability of man to maintain obedience to God’s Word, and when left to himself, to even show a great concern for the keeping of the Law. The world around us screams the unworthiness of the created for the gift of grace bestowed on man by God in the redemption of the elect, thus unconditional grace becomes a necessity.

While it would take more effort, it is no stretch to see the third petal as also a necessity. If man’s reward for meeting the requirement of God to Glorify God results in man’s destiny, enjoying God forever, then the opposite for not glorying God is also obvious and the fires of hell become very real. From many verses we know that while hell was created for Satan and other fallen angels, there will also be a human populace there and the Unitarian is thus put to flight as the third petal spreads forth in full bloom, and the harsh reality of those not elected of God being left in outer darkness. Here we also see the capstone of Calvinism the last petal of the TULIP guarantee that which man cannot do for himself, maintain the obedience needed to glorify God, God does for him. For as man cannot effect his own salvation, he cannot bring it to fruit. Thus we are enabled to see that the beginning, life, and end of man is to glorify God, that he might enjoy Him forever.

Thus in this first question we find not only the duty of man and his destiny, but the foundation and heart of all reformed theology, which so clearly teaches that every thought and action in life must be brought within the bounds of the Bible in loving obedience to a merciful God, whereby Paul could proclaim, “By the tender mercies of God, I beseech you to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

by Dr. Chuck Baynard

[1] For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. {whom: Gr. him} (Romans 11:36 AV)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.(1 Corinthians 10:31 AV)

[2] Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. {strength: Heb. rock} For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.(Psalms 73:24-28 AV)

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:21-23 AV)

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