Sunday, April 30, 2017

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster Larger Catechism # 16

Q16. How did God create angels?

Answer: God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.

References: Col. 1:16; Ps. 104:4; Mt. 22:30; Mt. 25:31; 2 Sam. 14:17; Mt. 24:36; 2 Thess. 1:7; Ps. 103:20-21; 2 Pet. 2:4.

Angels have always captured the imagination of man and volumes have been written about them. However, there isn’t that much disclosed about them in the Holy Writ that is not covered in this statement by the Westminster Divines. John Calvin taught that there were some things that God had not disclosed, and to enter into speculation about such matters was unlawful for man and sin. Paul makes a similar statement when he speaks of being snatched away to the third heaven where he heard things that were not lawful for man to utter. Paul spoke these words in the context of visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:4). So it is I think we need to tread lightly concerning angels in general and where Scripture remains silent, let us not enter into vain superstitions and speculations.

One of the things that caught my eye on first reading was that the angels are subject to change. When speaking of mankind, the choice of word is subject to fall. This is one of the places one could wish to have sat with the Divines as these two words were discussed. I see no indication here that it is impossible for there to be a future rebellion in the heavenly host and other angels by reason of sin be transformed from angels of light to those of darkness. Yet, this doesn’t seem to fit the whole of Scripture and we need more light to understand what the divines were saying in this question.

The same term of “election” is applied to both angels and men in Reformed theology. We could in a sense then even claim that the “Unconditional Election” of the TULIP applied to angels. Can we find other points that transcend these two areas of creation? I don’t think it is much of a reach to see the bright hues of the fifth petal shining over both realms, and those whom God has “elected” both of angels and men resting safely in the decrees of God. As we begin to look at this question in the light of the TULIP, I think we can get a glimmer of why the choice of change for angels and fall for men. If petals two and five apply, what of the other three. We see the fourth petal fade when moved to the heavenly abode of angels, for there is no offer of grace to “changed” angels as there is to fallen man. We also see that without the “archetypical” representative having fallen into sin, that the first petal cannot be applied as it is with man who is conceived and born in sin. The difference? All angels are of immediate creation and have not a “federal” representative from which sin can be imputed. Haven fallen from the holy estate in which they were created, there is no offer of a savior and thus the third petal too grows dim when trying to transcend the spiritual realm of God’s angels.

While this isn’t exactly a precise nor orthodox method, I think when we will look at the Scriptures and doctrines derived there from in the light of the TULIP we will see much understanding of doctrines that on the surface appear to have no connection to the classic points of Calvinism. As long as we don’t have to stretch nor twist Scripture in the process, using the TULIP as a hermeneutical tool will help us stay on solid ground theologically. For as we develop one doctrine it cannot contradict nor diminish another part of the whole. As Scripture itself is most beautiful and majestic in part because of its unity from cover to cover, so our total theology must have the same unity. If we accept then, the five points of Calvinism as the heart of Reformed theology, we must at least see if we harm this vital organ of our faith as we develop individual tenets of this theology.

What then we can know for sure about angels that is of any import to us is contained in this statement of the Divines containing only twenty-seven words. While there are other areas or duties we can find support for in Scripture, I find this statement most complete and sufficient to be taught as doctrine of the Church. We can rest assured that the Divines were well aware of Calvin’s words concerning angels, and though Calvin ventures a Sabbath’s day journey further so to speak, he too limits conclusions about this heavenly host to a very short segment of his “Institutes.” Less we wander into some strange place, I think we do well to emulate these fathers of the Reformed faith. One then can wonder where such volumes of work concerning the angels, and the myriad of icons depicting these unseen citizens of heaven come from. While I would hesitate to go so far as declare them satanic in origin, they are at best the vain ramblings of uncontrolled imaginations of men. Such to be guarded against, lest we too fall into idolatry as some of our ancient fathers did, when venturing beyond the revelation of the Scriptures.

Dr. Chuck Baynard

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