Thursday, February 22, 2018

WCF LC Commentary

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Westminster LC #6 Commentary

Q6: What do the scriptures make known of God?

A6: The scriptures make known what God is,[1] the persons in the Godhead,[2] his decrees,[3] and the execution of his decrees.[4]

Some of the greatest debates in the history of the world have been about man’s search for God, and man’s ability to know God. To boldly declare the Scripture reveals all this to a world torn asunder with wars over the Bible and the right to worship God in a particular way, this statement alone set the Westminster divines apart from the world of their day. The Scripture references given to provide the proof text for this statement speak volumes, but only to the student who wants to dig in and find God. The references are as bare as the statement, by themselves. They are sufficient to place this statement within the Bible, but don’t define it. Were it our purpose, we could spend a hundred pages here and not finish the task. Appealing to one of the proof texts, Hebrews 11:6, I will leave much here to faith.

In my opinion the Scriptures teach all of this and so much more. The Westminster Divines here, have chosen for example to use Acts 15:14-5, 18 and 1 John 5:17 to show that Scripture make known God’s decrees and execution of those decrees. Both of these deal with salvation and clearly reveal the second, fourth, and fifth petal of the TULIP. Yet, God’s decrees are not only those that deal with salvation, for the doctrine of election preceded that of salvation. I believe it is just as much God’s decree that the universe itself is sustained by “natural” laws that were created by the word of God and thereby are decrees.

What is a decree anyway you may ask? Someone in authority has said something will happen or be done in a certain way. A sovereign has spoken! Thus God has said the seasons of the year will continue until the end of history as we know it. So while it is correct, and “very Reformed” to limit the decrees of God to certain areas, I don’t agree there is any such limit to God’s “eternal decrees.” It is hard for the American mind, and most other Western nations to understand sovereignty. I think one of the best examples is found in the book of Esther. Here an earthly king has spoken, given a decree that on a certain day the Jews will be killed. He cannot change nor take back that spoken word, and all the more so if it has been reduced to writing and signed. In Esther, through the efforts of Esther (read in God’s providential care and direction) the king becomes aware he has made a bad ruling and it needs to be rescinded and fast. He can’t change his word, so he issues another decree that allows the Jews to defend themselves. We can’t grasp this, for we would have been defending ourselves anyway, with or without permission. However, if this is true of an earthly king’s inability to change his “decrees” and remain righteous, how much more so must it be of God?

I used to smile to myself when I was in the military and I told a soldier to do something. If it happened to be something they didn’t like or agree with, they always asked is that an order? To which I replied, “did I say it?” When in a position of authority over others, saying is doing, and the lesser is bound to obey it. God gave us then many decrees, that deal with all of life. Christ softened the terminology and gave us two rules of love, and said “if you love Me, you will obey My commandments”, and “My true disciples will obey My commandments.” It would seem Christ has given a choice to man, and these words (decrees) would only be binding upon those who were His disciples, or those who loved Him. Not so! Even at the moment Christ was speaking, He was subject to the rule of Rome. This empire had people from every nation and religion on earth. Do we suppose that the Roman emperor would have not executed someone for not obeying his commands because they weren’t Roman, didn’t agree with him, were not his people and followers of Rome? Everyone within the boundaries of Rome obeyed the Roman emperor on pain of death for disobedience. Now whom upon the earth then stands outside the decrees of God? Who by nature of their citizenship or allegiance have permission to disregard the King of Heaven’s commandments?

Concerning the part of the answer that says the Scriptures make known “what God is.” Here there is a limit. The agnostic as well as the gnostic being opposites of the same continuum are wrong. I think perhaps that Scriptures makes known that God is, is a more correct statement. The difference of the “w” and “t” in this case make a vast difference. Though we can know something about God, and definitely see in Scripture that God is, the former cannot begin to be perfect, while by faith the latter can be complete. It was this sure knowledge that God is, which gave the strength and courage to those who have died for Christ throughout the centuries.

What then does the Bible reveal about God? How does Scripture impart this truth about God. I think the best description of God exists in examining His attributes. Scripture explicitly lists many of these, others are implicitly clear from the historical narrative of Scripture as we watch how He has interacted with His creation in the past. Being a perfect sovereign, God cannot change, and history as far as it reveals how God has spoken in the past, reveals how God will act in the future. Nonetheless, in the attributes we begin to see clearly what God is.

One of the first assignments I give to new disciples is to search the Scriptures and write down the attributes of God, then divide this list into two columns. First list those things which belong to God alone. Second list those things which belong to God in perfection, but which God has chosen to allow man to exercise the same attribute, though in a far lesser degree of perfection. God’s “omni” attributes would be an example of the first, while patience, love, and mercy would be good examples of the second.

Indeed we can know God is, and to a limited degree know what God is. The source of this information about God is only empirically given to us in Scripture. Life and experience will reveal God in many of the same ways, but this is subjective and we cannot live by these experiences (feelings). Christ said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Since Calvin the chosen order of teaching systematically has been to begin with knowledge of God, then Scripture, and third the Trinity. The Larger Catechism begins with this order of things. The Westminster Confession of Faith proper reverses the first two and begins with Scripture, then God and the Trinity. This isn’t a contradiction, but gives weight to the fact that God’s word is in a sense God, for it cannot change. While there cannot be any other God, and we don’t bow down to worship the Bible, we should pay it proper reverence, for it is the word of God, and as the Ruler of the universe, seen and unseen, to be obeyed without debate nor doubt, God, has spoken, this word (decree) cannot, will not change. This is why Christ said “not one jot nor tittle will pass away.” Here we can “know” about God, here we find the soil to plant our precious TULIP, knowing the foundation is sure, and despite the ravings of earthly monarchs, it will grow and blossom. The fantastic promise of the fifth petal stands firmly on this knowledge of God, and that He will not change. Here the Reformed church dares to point to the third petal and put to silence the universalist. It is in these decrees that the second petal bursts into the world. The fourth petal would fall to the ground without the sure decree of a sovereign Creator who has spoken. Once more we find the Westminster Divines have included the whole TULIP in one short sentence, and we are only up to question six. Dare the modern church leave off the teaching of this precious flower, and then wonder why we seemed to have lost our mooring? God has spoken!

Concerning decrees, I would like to take a moment here and explain my understanding and belief concerning God’s eternal decrees. While the word or edict of a sovereign can rightly be considered a decree in the most simple application of this term, in dealing with God I choose to use the term command or commandments with all but the one eternal decree of election. I deny a so-called double predestination that teaches God chose those whom He would elect and also chose those whom He would predestine to perdition. The decree of the election stands alone in the eternal counsel of God. While not being of the elect means all others are just as surely condemned as the elect are saved, the decree was positive and for election alone. I do this for several reasons that will become more clear I think as we progress through the catechism and deal with the many doctrines of the Reformed church taught in this document. However I primarily choose this distinction because the election must stand solid throughout the revelation of God. I place all else in the realm of providence whereby there is room for variance and it not cause God to contradict Himself. For example, the Bible teaches that God has life in his hand and knows the end from the beginning, yet we see the life of a man extended 15 years in the Bible. The granting of the extra years by God did not contradict His word, nor change the eternal scheme of things. It is only in this sense that prayer means things and removes the Reformed faith from the dwelling place of the fatalist. So while in places, as in this question the use of decree is connected with the lower meaning so to speak and is of providence, when used as the decree of God I only recognize one decree, and that is of election. The word of a sovereign spoken or written cannot change nor be broken or he is not sovereign. God cannot break this rule and still be God. So the distinction is a necessity in my thinking of that which is eternal in that God has set it in place, the laws of nature for example, but with the ability to suspend those rules at His will. There can be no miracles in my opinion without this distinction, though it may appear as splitting hairs to some.

by Dr. Chuck Baynard

[1] But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 AV)

[2] All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. (1 John 5:17 AV)

[3] Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. (Acts 15:14-18 AV)

[4] For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:27-28 AV)


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