Specifics Of God’s Calling 2 – Continued (Part 2)

Thus, the beginning of our text, “Blessed be God…” runs through the entirety of the passage, and is the underpinning for all the reasons to give Him such praise. Without this theme being noticed, the meaning of the pericope loses coherence, for what God works to our benefit is always to show that which He is, that being not merely the source of all that is good and holy in the unique manner that belongs only to God, but to express His inexpressible, self-contained, infinite, eternal and unchanging essence in a manner that elicits wonder, and the expression of that wonder resulting in paeans of thankful praise from those creatures He deigned to create to show that which is true of Him alone.

This is the expression of the first point: “Blessed be God.” This is not a suggestion of happiness based on interaction with anything, but an expression of that state in which God alone exists. While we are told, by our Lord, that we shall be blessed for various reasons (cf. Matthew 5:3-11), God, in Himself, is always blessed, which is to say in a state of perfection that has no need for any interaction with any but Himself. ([1]This goes into theology proper [the Doctrine of God]; however, we will not belabor the point here.) We must note that God did not need to create, but in our passage, that which is true of Him is observed and stated, for the purpose of bringing about that praise of Him which is due His inestimable, glorious holiness, and that by His creatures – not because He needs such to prove that which He is, but because it pleased Him, in His perfection, to decree such to come about.

The expression of the second point is clearly perceived in the words set forth in Holy Writ as well: “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

As has been stated, this is not of a need for our Great God to do such, but of His good pleasure. He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (in the realms of the heavenlies) by His beneficent fiat, not due to our being owed such blessing.

If we are to ask, what blessings has God given to us, regarding that which pertains to such that we might be assured of His divine pleasure in both this life, and the life that is to come, it is simply answered: “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” What greater blessing is there in this life that we can be assured of, or what better proof of that greater blessing which is to be given us in the age to come, than to surely know that we have these blessings now, at this time, here, for our benefit, to the praise of the glory of His grace in Christ Jesus?

This, alone, is cause to worship, and by worship, I do not intend merely acknowledgement of the greatness of our God, but of that which He has deigned to do. The worship intended here is that of thanksgiving for His glorious condescension to those creatures, such as you and I, whom He had no need to create in the first place!

If you think yourself worthy of such interaction and communication with our God, think again! He had no need of you, and He gains no glory through you, yet He has willed to receive that acknowledgement of who He is; you add nothing to His glory, yet He has willed to receive such paltry thanks and worship of Himself by that which He has done in His Son, and furthermore, He has revealed that unto you!

Do you give Him such thankful, worshipful praise? Do you render Him the praise that is due Him because of what He did for you in Christ, apart from any perceived merit on your part?  The particular merit belongs to Jesus Christ alone, whom God set forth as a propitiation for the sins of His people – this is both the fountain of and the reason for both our works and praise (see 1 John 2:2; 4:10 with Romans 3:21-31; Ephesians 2:10; Luke 7:7-10; etc.).

The remaining texts in our pericope simply add to the reasons for our doxological expression of thanksgiving towards our great and glorious God.

We will be given to worship Him in this continuing doxology as we consider the remainder of the particular portion of this Scritpure.

[1] See London Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 (hereafter LCF) Chapter 2.2; Also, God Without Passions: A Reader, edited by Samuel Renihan, 2015 – Reformed Baptist Academic Press (RBAP – http://www.rbap.net)

Revelation is Covenantal – Covenant Theology – A Continuing Overview

Revelation is Covenantal

From our previous posts, we can see that covenant theology is not a construct we impose upon the Scripture, but rather, that paradigm which God has been pleased to reveal His dealings with those He created, for His glory, in revealing those dealings. That these dealings have to do with the Covenant of Redemption made by God eternally and unchangeably with Himself gives the proper weight to what we have come to know as Covenant Theology.

Consider the record: Acts 13:32-33:  And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ Hebrews 1:5: For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?  And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.” But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

Hebrews 6:16-20: For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

This is the eternal counsel of the Almighty breaking in for our benefit to know that which He has done in the Son from before the world, or creation, began. That which He promised by an oath of everlasting and unchanging decree, He has deigned to reveal to us within His written Word. That which was decreed before the world began (eschatology), He has deigned to show us (revelation).

Because of this, we can see that as God has decreed to relate to us by means of the covenants He made with His people throughout redemptive history, so those covenants all contained within them, to varying degrees and in progressive manner, the unfolding of the Eternal/Everlasting Covenant. So, the revelation of that which He discloses to us in Holy Writ is none other than the means by which He also communicates with us, and the covenantal structure is plain to see throughout Scripture. The first promise made – the proto-evangelion (first gospel) unfolds further with each historic covenant, and the shadows become more substantive in each additional covenant, with key aspects of the promise being unfurled for us as we go through them. With the Noahic, we see the promise of the New earth and heavens, and a picture of salvation; with the Abrahamic, that of the further establishment of the people, the Priesthood of the Messiah (Genesis 12:3; 14:18-20; 17:1ff; Psalm 110:1-4; Hebrews 6:20; 7:1-3, 11, 17), and the nation the Messiah would come through, with further pictures of salvation; with the Mosaic, the continuation and guarding of that line and the establishment of the Kingship the Messiah would inherit through the Davidic (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13; 10:12-13; 12:2) both with more types and promises (Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) concerning the Prophet who would come. All these were guardians of the lineage that brought about the Messiah, with hints and typical aspects of that which would be finalized by Him when He came into the world. Notice how that which was typical was realized in the anti-type of our Lord, and is being realized in His body (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:20-22).

May we see that which God intended for us to gather from His disclosure of His divine purpose from before the world was formed, rather than to read into His revelation our predictions to justify our particular paradigms of that which He has communicated to us in His grace.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill H

What Is Covenant Theology – A Continuing Introduction

Creation Then Covenant

In our last installment, we noticed that eschatology drives revelation, and revelation, in turn, drives the illumination of that covenantal structure by which our God has deigned to communicate His will to us in an ever-increasing manner of  promise, via the historic covenants, which promises find their final form in that which we call the ratified Covenant of Grace, which is the New Covenant.

Man was created prior to the covenantal structure of Scripture being revealed. We see, first of all, the creation of all things and all other living creatures, then man (Genesis 1:26). Man was not immediately in covenant with God through virtue of God creating him, but was placed in the Garden of Eden and given that moral law to obey God (Genesis 2:7-8; 15-17). Thus, the first covenant we have in Scripture has come to be known, by covenant theologians, as “The Covenant of Works,” for it required Adam’s perfect obedience to God in cultivating the Garden and keeping himself from eating of the forbidden fruit. We call this the first publication of the Moral Law of God in that the entirety of obedience to God is encompassed by both the positive and the negative aspects of the commandments given. Although it is not said, in precise words, that the Lord our God commanded Adam to cultivate the Garden, the implication of positive obedience is strongly implied, while the explicit negative obedience – “do not eat” was given, with consequences. The implications of keeping (and the Hebrew word may also mean “guard,” as it is used of the tabernacle and temple duties of the priests) the Garden has consequences to the way man will relate to the world God created, which in turn has reference to the second table of the Moral Law (last 6 Commandments of The Decalogue), while the explicit command to refrain from doing that which God has forbid has direct relation to the first table of the law (first 4 commandments of The Decalogue). Thus, in both a positive and negative sense of obedience, in order to not only retain the righteousness/goodness with which he was created (and attain to a still higher righteousness/goodness in the eternal state), Adam must obey God by doing that which he was commanded to do (cultivate/guard the Garden) and not doing that which he was forbidden (disobey God), with the consequence that failing to obey God perfectly would result in the loss of life. Scripture reveals, as it unfolds, that this loss of life was first spiritual communion with God, and secondarily physical loss of life (Romans 5:14; cf. Galatians 3:21).

In noting that creation comes before Covenant, we are merely affirming that which was given in our first post in this series, which is that fact that eschatology not only drives Covenant Theology, but drives that very vehicle which gives rise to our ability to understand Covenant Theology, which is revelation. Without the decree of our God, we would have none of the building blocks of revelation, and those building blocks invariably resolve themselves into the covenantal structure by which God has been pleased to communicate His decree (and so His revelation), to mankind.

May we be blessed to understand that this communication of covenantal dealings has, as its model, that first covenantal dealing before time and creation began, in the Covenant of Redemption within the counsel of our God with Himself, and by disclosure, He has deigned to reveal His pleasure in that counsel to we who are His created creatures, to our benefit, and His glory. The unfurling of redemptive history echoes both the dealings of God with His elect in Christ Jesus, and His dealing with those who will not have Him as their king. These are the two main themes which we will find again and again throughout the history of mankind, which is to say, quite simply, redemptive history.

May God use these inadequate words from an inadequate disciple to bless and nourish those who are considering these truths.

Soli Deo Gloria – Bill H

Covenant Theology – An Overview From An Introduction

It has come to my attention that, although I would not consider myself the best expositor of the Covenant Theology of the Particular Baptists of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (what today is called 1689 Federalism), that there is an interest in my posts regarding these doctrines.

At the outset, let me say that covenant theology, of whatever camp among the orthodox Reformed (of which I, and others, count our Particular Baptist brethren of past years, and so ourselves), must, of necessity, deal with various motifs which occur in such theological constructs. As a result, it is unavoidable that eschatology, the “temple motif” of Scriptures, and various other doctrines, which are inextricably intertwined with the doctrine of the covenants should be left out of such discussions (at least, to me, it is unavoidable).

To this end, I posted my first post entitled “What Is Covenant Theology,” which deals quite briefly with these various elements, but brings them to the attention of the reader for further consideration.

Subsequent posts will follow seeking to define, in an introductory manner, some of these elements.

What should not be mistaken is that this is to addressof Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology (i.e., 1689 Federalism) in exhaustive, or even slightly exhaustive detail. This is simply to give the reader some building blocks to consider upon which to build.

May our God see fit to bless you as we meditate upon these series of posts as they are forthcoming. Please be patient – I am working on more than one project, and the synthesis of certain documents to bring about these articles will take some time.

In His name, to His glory alone, in and by the application of our Lord’s merits to those who undeservedly gain such benefit – Bill H

Specifics Of God’s Calling, Part 2

This will be another ongoing series of posts – I do not know what number it will reach. Although this was not my intention, initially, the subject matter of the Scriptures of which the initial post treats makes such necessary.

It is hardly an expectation to think that such matters as I am addressing could or would be so addressed within the scope of one posted article, yet I had not thought to go beyond that one article. However, since these things frequently come up in discussions, I thought it might be good to further address them in another passage which treats of them, for the benefit of those who are assisted by a lay-teachers/elders’ handling of such things.

I posted an article exegeting Romans 8:29-30 some time ago, regarding the specifics of God’s calling of His people, regarding the covenant He decreed for man to be saved, which is according to the Triune Covenant of Redemption He decreed in counsel with Himself (Ephesians 1:3), some time back, on a blog I formerly posted articles to; I reposted it on the blog I now share in posting articles with my good brother in the faith, Fernando Cassie Ramirez, and which is also a blog that give information on how to contact us at our present house church location (the information for contact is the email addresses given in the definition of the blog).

It was entitled “Specifics of God’s Calling,” and was somewhat of an exegesis of Romans 8:29-30.

Consequently, because I felt the need to somewhat expand upon this, I am writing this follow up article, but this time, it will deal with a portion of Ephesians 1 as to some of those specifics.

Here is our text:

Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV)

3   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
5   he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

In this text, the reasons for our praise (doxology) to the Father are given in that work of God accomplished in the incarnate and glorified Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. These reasons are: [1]

  1. He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (all spiritual blessings) in the heavenly places.
  2. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him (v 4[2]).
  3. He predestined us in love for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (v 5).
  4. This is for the purpose of praise towards Him for this glorious grace (v 6).
  5. He blessed us in Christ (the Beloved – v 6).
  6. He gave us redemption through the sacrificial death of Christ (in His blood – v 7a).
  7. This redemption accomplished forgiveness of our trespasses, according to His gracious riches (made in Christ v 7b, c).
  8. He lavished these riches of His grace on us in all wisdom and insight (v 8).
  9. As a consequence of this lavishing of His riches of grace, this wisdom and insight is how we apprehend (making known) the mystery of His will (all these things, again, are given us in Christ), and this is according to His purpose (v 9).
  10. That purpose is set forth in Christ as His plan for the fullness (completion, recapitulation) of times (eschatological terminus of redemptive history) which is shown in the uniting of all things in heaven and earth in Christ (v 10).
  11. Because of His predestination of us, who works all things according to the counsel of His will, we have been given an inheritance (in Christ – v 11).
  12. This is all to the praise of His glory, both for those who were first chosen, and subsequent generations of those who believe according to that predestinating, lavish grace of God in Christ vv 12-14).
  13. This is all proven by the downpayment, or surety, of His Holy Spirit sealing all believers unto that final redemption (vv 13-13)

These propositions could be divided differently, but this is a basic working outline of the passage which shows what God has done for us in Christ, and we need to notice the first thing that especially dominates this passage, which is that God is the subject, and we are the objects of His actions in Christ Jesus. The Father works through the Son to give us the blessings and lavish grace that secure our immediate salvation from the effects of sin and the present power of sin to bring about our present regenerate status, and ultimate glorification in the age to come. All these things are to bring about His glory (our present and future praise of Him) for the reasons listed above.

This will be followed by posts dealing with the specifics, but I did wish to make a start.

Blessing in Christ, to the solo glory of our God – Bill H.

[1] The following is largely dependent upon the excellent exegetical work of Pastor Richard Barcellos on this passage. I do not attempt to handle the technical details of the Greek grammar as he did (nor could I). His article is available in the following book: Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastor’s Conference, Volume 1, 2012, chapters 5 & 6, An Exegetical Case Study in the Doxological Trajectory of Scripture: Ephesians 1:8-10 in Light of its Immediate, Contextual Meaning and Redemptive-Historical and Canonical Trajectory, Parts 1 & 2

[2] This has rightly been called a statement of eschatological importance, although dealing directly with our salvation. The fact that it refers to that period when God chose us, which was before creation, is the eschatological factor; this also shows us that eschatology, rooted in who God is, precedes revelation.

What is Covenant Theology?

Covenant Theology

Introduction

What it is:

Covenant Theology is not a new understanding of Scripture; in fact, it is that system which God, in His divine providence, established to communicate His sacred Word to His chosen people throughout what we know as “redemptive history.” The difference between what the world calls “history” and what we call “redemptive history” is simply the fact that God is the Author of all history, and the ultimate goal – the eschatological culmination which our God has decreed He has been pleased to communicate to us by means of covenants.

The driving force behind revelation, and so Covenant Theology, is eschatology – eschatology precedes revelation – (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) – The end of revelation, and so Covenant Theology, is also driven by eschatology, and is the renewal of all things, beginning with Christ, and having its completion is the ultimate salvation in the New Heavens and Earth where He gives us our glorified, sinless eternal bodies to go with the regenerate nature we received when we were saved Romans 8:19-23; Ephesians 1:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; 2 Corinthians 2:4-5; Revelation 21-22). This makes the importance of Covenant Theology obvious. As we know all things are moved along by God’s decree (which is understood to have always existed unchangeably, as God does not change and is infinite and eternal – this is an eschatological statement, as well as a statement regarding God), it is through the revelational understanding of Covenant Theology that we are privileged to be given the comprehension of the outworking of that decree. In this sense, we may say that Scripture is the outworking of God’s covenantal dealings with those He created.

In other words, Covenant Theology is the system God imbedded in His Scriptures to show how we are to see and understand who He is, how He relates to His chosen people and those who are not, and how we, as His people, relate to one another. For us, it is the history of salvation, with all the promises, admonishments and teaching necessary to grow in holiness with and by God, and that means it is indispensable for us to work as individual yet joined (organically unified) members of Christ’s body. For the reprobate, it is the history of idolatry leading to damnation where individualism is not only celebrated, but worshipped. In Covenant Theology, which is simply to say the true manner in which we read God’s truth, we are shown the “interconnectedness,” or harmony, of Scripture, and how God saves His people to His glory and their benefit, as well as how He judges those who are not His people, also to His glory.

To give some idea of the importance of the covenantal construction of Scripture, in the English versions, the word “covenant” appears 292 times in the KJV, 293 times in the NJKV, 319 times in the ESV, and 315 times in the NASB (the difference in the number of times between English translations is due to the translations of certain words into other, related terms, such asdecree,“statutes,” “testament,” and etc.). This alone would indicate the way God relates to His people is especially considered by Him to be by way of covenant. That our Creator built this system of doctrine into His Scriptures shows the importance it carries, and the key to that covenantal doctrinal emphasis is our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Testament has the word occur 32 times in the ESV, 33 in the NASB, 28 in the NKJV and 20 in the KJV).

THE COMFORT OF GOD’S UNCHANGING LOVE

As the conversations regarding Theology Proper (the doctrine of God) are coming more to the fore, it occurs to me what comfort that which is the classical doctrine of God (classical theism, or orthodox theism), gives to the believer.

I recently posted a comment to a dialog that was on the Reformed Baptist Fellowship blog. The Original Posted Article was by Pastor Jim Butler, of Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack. The article by Pastor Butler, may be found here, entitled A BRIEF STATEMENT ON DIVINE IMPASSIBILITY. I highly recommend not only reading the article, but the comments which follow, which will show certain things that are coming to light in this present age.

What is inherent in the discussion is that God has perfections, not passions or emotions. God’s perfections are that by which we derive our great comfort, and I find that which most greatly comforts me is that, in His eternal, infinite, unchanging being, He gives to us a love which is based in His love of Himself. We have no fear, because that which is of God cannot ever change.

1 John 4:18-19: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

The love with which we love Him is based upon, grounded in, and derived from the love which He first loved us with. Since that love is His love of His Son, we are given to not have fear of circumstances in this life, or of eternal judgment, and His love is being perfected in us. Because God is pure act (Exodus 3:14), all that He is continues from “everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2). His love continues because “God is love,” and that not as an addition or mood, but part and parcel with His essence and being, which cannot change. This is the love with which He first loved us – Himself. God is not love as a component of His being, but in His being “God is love.”

No mistake should be made, or is here intended, as to that which I am stating about our God. I am not saying that all that God is, is love alone. Indeed, Scripture gives us the truth that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), jealous (Exodus 20:5), righteous (2 Chronicles 12:6; Psalm 7:11; 11:7) and many other things which are but a definition of that way we perceive Him, for He is all of those things, all at once, without addition or subtraction or change, infinitely.

Therefore, while we speak of God, we can never completely properly portray Him, even with the words He has condescended to give us those views of Himself in His revelation. He not only is love, but is also defined by Himself in myriad other ways which accommodate our understanding, but do not give us that full knowledge of Him which is only His (1 Corinthians 2:11; cf. Romans 11:33). When we grasp that which He has given us to know about Him, we must say “these are but the outskirts of His ways” (Job 26:14). Regarding these different expressions which sound like human emotions to us, we must always keep in mind, as with all those passions expressed and experienced by mankind, that these things which are temporally felt, suffered, and expressed by and to us, are but the shadow of a shadow of that which is true of our God in unchangeable, infinite, eternal, uncreated manner.

God is indeed jealous of that which is true of Him, and He will – in fact does – consume those who hate Him, according to the unchanging good and righteousness which He is, yet this in no way detracts from that love He has everlastingly decreed to express towards those who are encompassed within His decree of election in Christ Jesus. He is jealous as an outworking of His righteous perfection of good as opposed to anything that is not perfect and good as He is, yet we must not suppose this is jealous (nor that we are consumed by Him in the same way as we think of our being consumed by the passion of jealously) in the manner of men, but rather, that these finite expressions are accommodated to our understanding as those He created, that we may indeed stand at the outskirts of the interminable reaches approaching who He is to gain that merciful and loving understanding of Him He has allowed (indeed, the usage of such language as “allow” is, itself, a proof of accommodation, for God does not “allow” one thing and not “allow” another – as the apostle wrote, “we speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh”). We may not know Him exhaustively, but we may know Him as He has revealed Himself, which is yet such a broad range of knowledge of Him that we can say we have been granted to know Him who is unknowable in a manner suited to our comprehension (and this is only true of those He has given His Spirit to abide in to understand these things1 Corinthians 2:12-16).

This is reason for great hope, for our God cannot be affected by the pallium of human investiture.  Regardless of how we see or perceive Him, He remains as He is: most serene, most blessed in and of Himself, and it is of that unchanging blessedness which He has deigned to give to us, those whom He created, as He wills.

The first thing, then – indeed the chief thing – to remember in addressing this most foundational doctrine of our faith is this: We are out of our dept. That which may be comprehended about God is given of God to us, but of all that He has entrusted us to know of Him, primarily in special revelation (Scripture), and secondarily through natural, or general revelation, the thing He drives home, time and again, is that we cannot know Him exhaustively. He is infinite and eternal, the only being of which it can be said that never did He have a beginning, nor will He have an end, or experience change. When He describes Himself to us in His Scripture, He is giving us brief glimpses, as of catching a view of a distant sun, thousands – no, billions and billions – of universes removed, through the most monstrous telescope which could ever be made, with atmospheric disturbances in our field of vision each microscopic measurement  of the way.

When we think of His glory, we must understand we are seeing that which we cannot approach in fractions of fractions of reflections. As the apostle Paul spoke of “in a glass darkly,” and made comparison to the eternal state with God as “then face to face,” He nevertheless did not contradict what he states elsewhere of the inability of man, whether perfected of God or before, to truly know God (1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. Romans 11:33; 1 Timothy 6:13-16).

The breakdown which has often – too often – come to the fore in the current discussions among modern Reformed and orthodox evangelical theologians is that of analogical predication, which is language, such as we use, to describe God. In other words, God uses the language He gave to man to define Himself to man, and He does this in two ways: 1) By descriptions of Himself, and 2) by descriptions of what He does in the world (and this is very simplistically put). It should be obvious that passages which speak of who God is – that is, as to His essence and being – necessarily establish the meaning of passages speaking of that which God does.

As a for-instance, God tells us, in Psalm 90:2, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. This is God giving us information about His essence and being through Moses’ prayer. He is not one who came into existence, nor is His existence, essence and being limited by that which He created. He has always been, and will always be, the great I AM THAT I AM. In light of this fact, anything God does within His creation which has temporal results that are now, then pass away, must not be thought of as referring to that which He essentially is. Also, such effects are outside of God’s essence and being, which is to say, though He causes them to come about, and so affects that which exists within His creation, He is not, in turn, in any manner affected by these changes. His love is a perfection, as is His righteousness and other attributes, so that He is these things unchangeably, eternally and infinitely, all at once. Nothing He does changes Him, and nothing done by those whom He created affects Him to bring about change in Him.

It is precisely because of who He is that His love is able to interact with that which He created without, in turn, causing Him to respond to those things which His creatures undergo. Since God is pure act, His love never had a beginning, cannot grow, and will never end. It is perfect in the quality and quantity (if we may use such a term of He who cannot be measured) that God is perfect, which is why, when the theologians of the church throughout history speak of those emotive passages in Scripture which would be passions for us, they call them perfections when referring to God. That which is perfect has no need of anything to be added to it to become more perfect (realizing the expression “more perfect” is an oxy-moron), and so it is with God in all that He is. He is perfectly merciful, therefore there is no need that He respond to the sufferings of His creatures with any further mercy elicited by their sufferings.

It is precisely here that some modern theologians, trying to explain the language of emotion predicated of God in Scripture, go astray. They cannot imagine a God who did not suffer with His people, therefore they base their observations and expositions of those passages which show us that analogous relationship between the Creator and His creatures in backwards fashion. Where they should allow the passages which speak of the being and essence of God to determine the meaning of the passages which speak of His interaction with His creatures, they reverse this order, and in doing so, predicate change of God based on a univocal (one-to-one) relationship of the Creator with those He created. Instead of a God who tells us He cannot change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17), and instead of taking comfort in the God who perfectly loves and is perfectly merciful at all times, they attribute the malleable nature of the creature to Him, in order to bring Him down to a level they can understand (but God cannot be understood as a man understands another man Psalm 50:21).

Instead of the comfort of a perfection of love, righteousness and mercy that is beyond the ability of man to comprehend, they posit these traits in the One who created them to be responsive, when God has no need to respond, since He is already perfect in all these things all at once, forever.

If we were to take all the human miseries of all time and bundle them together, God’s love and compassion would be more than enough to encompass these without His need to react to them, because for God, where all these are perfect, He cannot become more complete in them. It is because He is perfect that we take comfort. A God who could change would not be the God of Scripture, nor would He be able to offer us that solace that comes from knowing that He is the most loving, most compassionate, most just God, for there are none like Him. He is the Creator, who was perfect in all these things at one and the same time, without beginning or end, before ever He created, and He cannot become more perfect in any of them. His perfections are at one with who He is, which is to say, His essence.

This is our comfort in the love of God. Perfect love does, indeed, cast out fear.

This is intended to be a brief meditation on the comfort of our everlastingly, infinite, unchanging God for the purpose of our comfort in and of Him, so I will end it with the apostle’s benediction:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

SDG – Bill

EDIT – Upon a brief interaction with a beloved brother in the Lord, I want to say that I do affirm that God has emotions, but not as we think of them. Emotions, as God has them, being pure unchangeable act in infinite and eternal being and essence as He is, are not unstable, or brought upon Him where He now feels love, now feels mercy, now feels hatred, or wrath, etc.

Rather, God is, in Himself, most pure and complete in a manner we cannot conceive of for ourselves. He is unique, with none to compare with Him. It is precisely because of the constancy of His emotions, which I have called “perfections” in the article above (along with other theologians of the past among the Reformed and earlier), that I choose that terminology.

A Few Words on Revelatory Gifts

Introduction

There have been a number of scholarly treatments of the so-called “debate” over whether the apostolic or revelatory gifts have ceased or are in effect at this present date.

I do not suppose this will be added to that list of fine articles and books, and I do not think there truly needs to be anything added to that list. The purpose of this short article is to merely give an oft neglected part of the argument to the interaction.

First of all, let me preface the article by saying that I do not suppose there actually is a viable debate. I realize that this may sound insulting to those who wish to believe that all things are open for discussion, as well as the fact that well intended men from both sides of this particular divide have actually participated in the interchange. I do not intend insult, so if anybody reads this in that manner, such understanding will be a drawing of a conclusion that was not determined or intended by me, although I suppose that is a desire that may prove somewhat futile.

What I mean is that the side that has Scripture on it is so overwhelmingly verifiable, that the other side must operate on conjecture grounded in faulty hermeneutics. Such is the case with a number of settled theological doctrines, such as the Doctrine of God (Theology Proper), the Doctrine of the Atonement, the Doctrine of Christology, the Doctrine of Man (Anthropology), etc. In fact, I would say that the primary premise of those who affirm the continuation of the revelatory gifts, whether in practice or by not denying the cessation of them, errs in the doctrines of Bibliology, Theology Proper, Pneumatology, and Anthropology, for they must have an imperfect view of God, an imperfect view of Sola Scriptura, an imperfect view of the working of the Holy Spirit, and an improper view of man in order to propagate even a cautious affirmation of the continuance of the revelatory gifts.

To further clarify: Just because a doctrine is argued about does not mean that is has not long been settled by Christian orthodoxy. That is simply the plain fact of the matter with the examples listed. I propose such is exactly the case with the doctrine of the revelatory gifts, as well.

What Are Revelatory Gifts?

It is the contention of this writer that the revelatory gifts of the Holy Spirit, often called the “miraculous gifts,” are for the purpose of pointing to the veracity of the one performing those miraculous works of God. It is furthermore my contention that in validating the messenger as being of God, the ministry and message of that messenger are validated; i.e., that which the messenger is proclaiming is shown to be true, and the words which that messenger speaks and writes are shown to be true.

Now, please note, that all those prophets and apostles used of God to write the New Testament epistolatory literature performed these special, or revelatory miracles at some point in their ministry (with the possible exception of the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews and the epistles of James and Jude). Since the purpose of the miraculous/revelatory gifts pointed to the veracity of the messenger and his message as being from God, they are also often called “sign gifts.” This is definitive of function, for a sign points one to something, or tells one to do or not do something (think of traffic signs). Therefore, these special revelatory gifts pointed to He who gave the power of those gifts for the purpose of validating both those who gave the message, and the message itself, as being from Him. This is what revelatory gifts are, and what they do, or did, rather.

What Revelatory Gifts Are Not

The doctrine of the revelatory gifts is often confused or conflated with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That is, there are some who say if the Spirit of God is always the same, being God (and He is), to suppose that He has ceased to work in the way He worked in the New Testament (and other periods where special revelatory gifts were used) would be akin to stating that God changes. However, such is faulty thinking, for a number of reasons. Therefore, what revelatory gifts are not is the normative manner of God working throughout redemptive history, both prior to, and subsequent to the ministry of our Lord in His first advent, and that of the apostles subsequent to His ministry. This will be dealt with in three reasons listed below, followed by a conclusion.

Three Reasons to Affirm the Above

Reason number one is that such thinking supposes that God has always worked by way of giving special revelation through particular revelatory gifts to individuals throughout redemptive history. This is faulty because exactly the opposite is proven to be true when we read Scripture. There are a few periods in redemptive history where God used men to reveal Himself through the miraculous, or revelatory gifts, but on the whole, the history of the people of God is one in which ordinary people are called to obey the revealed, written Word of God that is extant in their time, without more being added to that revealed written Word. If we were to keep all the pages of Scripture that show us special, revelatory gifts working through chosen men of God in redemptive history, and subtract from all the pages where such things are not occurring, we would not have much of Scripture left. Subtract all the passages except where Moses was used of God to work miracles, Elijah and Elisha, our Lord during His ministry, and the apostles during theirs, and we are left with very few pages of Scripture to deal with. This is not a matter of dispute, for any fair reading of the Scriptures will readily reveal the truth of this statement, and I invite the reader to do such, if they are in doubt. This is also not taking into account God speaking to various of the prophets, but of them all, only Elisha and Elijah did actual miracles after Moses – the rest received revelation which was subsequently written down for our instruction, but they did not do miracles.

The second reason follows hard upon the first, and it is this: As our understanding of God, and His purposes for man, both saved and unsaved, is founded upon Scripture – which is to say, upon special revelation – so was the understanding of God’s purposes for His people, and those who were not His people, gained by those of old. Although special revelation gave us the Scriptures, much of that special revelation was given through the meditation, by men of God, upon that which was previously revealed. Nothing new was added; these men of God simply meditated and were given understanding of that which they meditated upon by God. The distinction is this: these men were infallibly informed of God, by His Spirit, as to that which was true, regarding that which had been written, and it was that which was proven true already which they exposited, not any new truths they received.

As I said at the outset of this article, I do not propose to add much of a polemic to the body of literature already extant on these things, therefore, I appeal to those reading to make their studies of the Scriptures to see whether these things be true or not, as indeed, the Bereans, who searched the Scriptures as the apostle Paul exposited them, did (Acts 17:1-12). And please note, they searched the Scriptures, not looked to signs. This is normative, not the performance of miracles, and this is the established pattern in Scripture. In fact, miracles are generally – and oftentimes specifically – given as a sign of judgment, not blessing.

The third point of this article, is that because the first two points are true (which the reader may determine by the use of the analogy of the faith and the analogy of Scripture, which is to say, reading all the Scripture relevant to these matters [1]), therefore, they comprise that which is called the harmony of the Scriptures. The “harmony of the Scriptures” is inclusive of both these two principals of interpreting the Scriptures, and is not only those interpretive principles which were used by those men of God moved by the Holy Spirit to give us further revelation, but those who used the same principles in those times sparse or devoid of such direct communication of God, knowing that the Word of the living God was enough to understand the purposes of the living God. Types and shadows have been defined and expounded upon for us, by God’s fiat, and the mysteries of the gospel and redemptive history have been fully disclosed (I do not cite Scripture here, supposing that the reader will readily understand these terms and the concepts within them), therefore, God, in His sovereign decree, has willed that these former manners of disclosure of His will to His people are past, and we are to appeal only to His written Word to determine that which He requires of us [2]

The outcome of the first three points brings us to the final point of this article, and that it is a point that is most always ignored, which is the fact of the great silence of any mention of the revelatory gifts in both former Scripture, but especially, subsequent Scripture as it is given us in the expounding of the work of God in Christ Jesus, by the Spirit, through those parts of the New Testament (the document of the New Covenant) we call the epistles.

When Is An Invalid Form of Argumentation of Valid Use?

Now I know there are those who will immediately toss out the proverb, “An argument from silence is no argument at all!”

To these, I must give a rational answer. My first answer would be a rhetorical question: “Sir, have you experienced a gunshot wound today, or in your entire life, for that matter?” (“Gunshot woundcould be substituted with any number of things, such as being carried away by a tornado, hit by a train, etc.) If the answer is “no,” I would venture onto the next part of the question: “Sir, do you know of any who have?” If the answer were no, I would venture onto the next part of the question: “Sir, how possible is it, considering the amount of those you know, and your own experience, that you shall sustain a gunshot wound at any time in the future? Bear in mind, sir, that the news sources are unashamedly absent of accounts of most of the populace of the world sustaining gunshot wounds prior to the demise of most of those people, and that your own experience substantiates that lack of reporting of gunshot wounds to the general populace of the world, as well as the experience of most of the population of the world.”

Of course, the reason the media, worldwide, is absent of most of the people of the world sustaining gunshot wounds is that they do not, indeed, sustain such.  A person arguing for the possibility of each person experiencing such a thing, based upon the fact that a small percentage have, and do, indeed sustain such things, would be to engage in hyperbolic fantasy of the most extreme kind.

Now, we go to the extremity of the argument, which is simply this: Just because it does not happen generally does not mean it will not happen occasionally.

This is true, per our example (you might sustain a gunshot wound), but at this point, we must bring in the divine will. To put it briefly, if God willed that you never sustained a gunshot wound, speculation about whether you would or not is vain. Likewise, if God ordained that you, as a non-combatant, living in suburban luxury and safety, sustain a gunshot wound, you will.

This extremely ridiculous faux example has a point, however, and that point is set forth below in somewhat syllogistic manner.

The gist is this: What God has willed comes to pass.

The crux is this: God has not willed for revelatory gifts to continue.

The proof is this: The overwhelming majority of the epistolatory literature in the New Testament (the corpus document of the New Covenant) not only does not mention these revelatory gifts as ongoing, but specifically omits them as necessary, in light of the completed revelation that forms the apostolic, reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

While an argument from silence can be, and often is, fallacious, in various contexts of discussion of many historical works, in the discussion of the revelatory gifts (as that discussion pertains to the Scriptures), and most especially the guidelines for how the visible church is to live, relating to each member and the interaction among members in local covenant communities who are in formal fellowship with one another, it must be considered that God gave us that document for our faith and practice. This is to say that, while there are guidelines in the gospels and the book of Acts for how believers are to live with one another and as members of the body of Christ, the final instructions our Lord ordained we follow came about in the Spirit giving the epistolatory literature. If the silence on the continuing use of the revelatory gifts is, therefore, a part of that special revelation on how the church is to both hold and practice its faith in regards to God and  one another, both in a corporate worship setting, and outside that setting, it is a very loud silence that speaks directly to the fact of whether such revelatory gifts are to continue, or whether, in fact, they have ceased with the cessation of special revelation as given through the New Testament prophets and apostles (those men of God moved by the Holy Spirit to pen the guidelines by which the church is to live in ongoing manner). This is in keeping with the Regulative Principle of Worship, as well.[3]

Outside the chapters of 1 Corinthians 12-14, and a brief mention which is given in Galatians 3:5, there is not another mention of the revelatory gifts of the Spirit in the epistolatory literature. Rather than being insignificant, this silence is of God, and has as much significance, in that respect, with the 400 years of silence between the last Old Testament prophet and the ministry of John the Baptist (and if we are to consider revelatory gifts, between the last Old Testament prophet and the ministry of our Lord during His first advent). None would be so foolish as to suggest that the silence between the last Old Testament prophet and our Lord’s first advent was not normative for those years, yet when it comes to these years after the last apostle has passed to glory, many will insist that what was normative during the ministry of our Lord, and progressively diminishing during the ministry of His apostles (more in the early years, dwindling to all but a trickle, if not completely ceased, towards the end of their ministry), is now supposed to be the normative experience of the church until Christ returns.

In such a use of Acts (which shows the diminishing nature of the apostles use of revelatory gifts) and 1 Corinthians 12-14, with the dash of Galatians 3:5 thrown in for good measure, these portions of the New Testament are used as the presuppositional rubric for the entirety of the New Testament epistles, which, to put it mildly, is not the way we do hermeneutics.

The normative manner of doing hermeneutics insists that those portions that consistently speak of how a believer is to live and act among other believers is so well laid out in the rest of the epistles, that by using the two hermeneutical principles we set forth (see footnote one), it is quite easy to see that by not reiterating, over and over again, the use of the revelatory gifts, and actually, laying out the spiritual fruits which have to do with being conformed to the image of Christ, we have the manner of our faith and practice given to us in such plain terms, that it takes imposing the few upon the many to change that which is so clear throughout the epistles. Since it is the rule that seemingly contradictory passages are explained by the context not only within which they are, but by comparison of passages which teach the manner in which our faith and practice is to be worked out – in this case, that means the entirety of the New Testament epistolatory corpus – we are not left in the dark as to how to conduct our Christian lives in all ages until our Lord comes again.

In that corpus, we are told to “walk in a manner worthy (“worthyhere carries the meaning of consistency, not merit [4]) of the calling with which we have been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1b-3) There is a positive lists of characteristics which are derivative of (finitely) the character of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a negative set of things we are not to do that run through this chapter (in fact, the practical application of the first portions of his epistles often runs through the latter chapters of those letter of the apostle Paul to the churches).

Likewise, in Philippians 2, we read of the manner in which Christ came into this world and served in His humiliation, and are exhorted to “have this mind in yourselves,” after listing how we are to interrelate among one another in covenant community, which is based on our being in covenant with God through Jesus Christ. There is also a set of positive and negative commands and exhortations running through this chapter, and continuing through the epistle to the end.

We could find similar lists in Romans, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, the pastoral epistles, James, Hebrews, Peter and Paul; what we could not find, however – what is absolutely, glaringly absent from any of these epistles – are commands, admonishments, instructions or exhortations to seek any of the revelatory gifts, much less how to exercise them. Besides the chapters mentioned above in 1 Corinthians, and the one verse in Galatians 3, they are not only conspicuously absent, but (it is my contention) purposely so. Throughout the corpus of the New Testament epistles, we are told to “walk in the Spirit,” that we are to live “in Christ,” and that we must manifest the “fruits of the Spirit,” which is simply another way to list the characteristics that found their full and faultless expression in Christ Jesus. We are not told to “seek spiritual gifts” outside the one epistle, in one chapter of that epistle (and the translation of that passage is disputed [5]), and those chapters sandwich “the better way” which does not address the use of spiritual gifts, much less revelatory gifts, at all.

A few comments should be made concerning 1 Corinthians 12 & 14, and the mention of revelatory gifts in Galatians 3:5. The fact is, the first epistle to the Corinthians is largely corrective, as they were a church in disorder. Paul addressed several doctrinal and moral issues throughout the epistle, and there is no reason to suppose he deviates from this pattern in the Corinthians seeking of revelatory gifts. In fact, it is highly probable, from the mention of tongues and the word [6] used for those, that Paul was addressing the matter of the Corinthians carrying over the ecstatic utterances that took place within the pagan religions that they were formerly a part of before coming to believe in Christ. In their zeal to seek the gifts of the Spirit, they had carried over that which was supposedly proof of the interaction of deity, in their former pagan worship, into their Christian experience; wrongly so, as they had done with many other practices and doctrines which the apostle addresses throughout the epistle. In seeking to be spiritual, they had placed experience over and against doctrine, defining the latter by the former, which is precisely why the apostle addresses these things and sandwiches the “better way” of chapter 13 between his treatment of them.

In the Galatians 3 reference, there simply is no reason to assume that the apostle is speaking of anything other than the fact that the Spirit worked miracles among the Galatian churches during his ministry among them, as recorded in Acts 16 and 18. In fact, the rest of the epistle not only makes no mention of these things, but sets out that which was normative to Christian living in both prohibitive and positive language (Galatians 5:19-23).

Conclusion

There is a purpose to the special revelation that God has given to His church. Within that purpose, there is contained how we are to view God, how we are to view mankind, and how we are to view one another who are “in Christ.” The last contains direct prohibitions on how we are not to act, and prescribed commands on how we are to act, both towards the world in general, and fellow believers specifically. The dearth of information or directives concerning seeking revelatory gifts within the body of the epistolatory literature is a telling absence, and this silence on these matters has a reason: we are not to seek those things which were peculiar to the particular time of the fledgling church as normative; rather, we are to seek, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to conduct our manner of lives according to sound doctrine, for it is by this sound doctrine that we are informed of the moral living which is commanded and demanded of God’s covenant people, and which they haltingly, imperfectly, live, by the power of Christ through His Spirit dwelling in them.

An unhealthy and disproportionate seeking after signs which were for the purpose of revelation in the formative period of the church has led to all sorts of confusion, wrong living, and wrong doctrine – even heresy of the worse sort. Instead of placing a few portions of Scripture over the rest of Scripture, we are to read those portions for the purpose they were intended, which was not to give a pattern for the lives of believers throughout the ages of the church, but to show that those whom God used to give us the balancing directions on how to view and live with one another were genuine, as was their message. That time has passed (Hebrews 1:1-2), and is not being repeated over and over again. To take a “soft” position on this matter is as much a promotion of the errors contained in certain quarters of the church as is the active promotion of them. Where such errors concerning these things have been proven, time and again, to lead people astray throughout the history of the church, the warning is clear: do not seek that which God intended only for the formative period of His church, and has now abrogated.

God has spoken, and what He did not see fit to speak has as much to say to us as that which He did. We do not call down plagues or fire on cities or peoples, we do not raise people from the dead, and we do not receive new revelation. We do not seek the revelatory gifts, or place experience over reasoned understanding of doctrine which the Holy Spirit used to conform us into the image of our Lord and Savior. When the majority of the directives to the church, contained in the epistolary corpus, has, as its focus, how to live in the sphere of the power of the Holy Spirit to bring forth those characteristics of Christ that He showed to us perfectly, we are not to seek those gifts that were given to special men – the New Testament prophets and apostles – upon whom the foundation of the church was laid (Ephesians 2:19-22). We are not the foundation, but that which has been, and is being built upon that foundation. Let us pay particular attention to being led by the Spirit to walk in Christ, as we are being conformed to His image, and not be led astray by an unhealthy obsession with those things which were foundational. Let us note the absence of teaching on these things as even being peripheral, and concentrate on those things which run throughout the epistles. It is by this proper concentration of those things that pertain to godliness and holy living wherein we find the balance of the Christian life, not transitory things magnified above them.

SDG – Bill H

[1] analogia fides: the analogy of faith; the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci (q.v., locus), as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae (q.v.), the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture.  – analogia Scripturae: analogy of Scripture; the interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event. SEE analogia fides – Richard A. Muller. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Kindle Locations 325-328). Kindle Edition.

[2] 1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of The Holy Scriptures – 1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14,15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19,20) MY NOTE: I add Hebrews 1:2 to the Hebrew 1:1 Scripture citation

[3] For a Reformed Baptist position paper on the Regulative Principle of Worship, please go to The American Reformed Baptist Church Association Website and read – http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/arbca_carlisle_pa/regulative-principle.pdf

[4] 66.6 ἄξιοςb, α, ον; ἀξίωςb: pertaining to being fitting or proper in corresponding to what should be expected—‘proper, properly, fitting, worthy of, correspond to.’ Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 627). New York: United Bible Societies.

[5] earnestly desire – In context, this could not mean that believers should desire the more prominent gifts, when the whole chapter has just been confronting the fact that they have sinfully been doing just that. Desiring a gift for selfish reasons is wrong, since they are sovereignly given by God as he wills (vv. 7, 11, 18, 28). Therefore, this must be rendered not as an imperative (command), but, as the verb form allows, as an indicative (statement of fact), “You are desiring the showy gifts, wrongly.” The real imperative is to stop doing that and learn the “more excellent way,” the way of love, which Paul will explain in ch. 13. –  John MacArthur Study Bible Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:31 – MY NOTE: I have also verified this rendering of the Greek from other sources, and am convinced of its verity.

[6] 33.3 γλῶσσαc, ης f: an utterance having the form of language but requiring an inspired interpreter for an understanding of the content—‘ecstatic language, tongue, ecstatic speech.’ ὁ γὰρ λαλῶν γλώσσῃ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις λαλεῖ ἀλλὰ θεῷ ‘he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God’ 1 Cor 14:2. Most scholars assume that the phenomena described in Ac 2:4 (see 33.2) and in 1 Cor 14:2 are significantly different in that in one instance people understood in their own regional language or dialect and in the other instance an interpreter was required. It is for that reason that many interpret γλῶσσα in 1 Cor 14:2 as ecstatic speech, which was also an element in Hellenistic religions and constituted a symbol of divine inspiration. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 387–389). New York: United Bible Societies.

The First Three Commandments

INTRODUCTION

The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, are the primary summarization of the Moral Law of God in Holy Writ. The observation of these moral laws is not limited to only the people who are called by God’s name, having gained the inheritance of that relation with God through the work of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, but is required of all His rational creatures everywhere, at all times, without exception. This requirement is because that which we call the Moral Law of God, although summarized in The Decalogue, preexisted that summarization and all subsequent summarizations given throughout Scripture, which, in turn, is because this Moral Law derives from the very character of the Creator Himself.

In this article, we concern ourselves with the first three of the commandments, all of which have to do with the proper worship of God.

The Decalogue may be found in two places in the books written by Moses, commonly called The Pentateuch, or Torah. These two places are Exodus 20:2-12, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The reader is encouraged to peruse these two sections of Scripture, as well as all parts of Scripture which have summarizations of God’s Moral Law.

The First Three Commandments: An Overview

The first three Commandments, as given in the Decalogue, may be summarized as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

Because these are simple summations of what are, themselves, summaries of God’s Moral Law, it will be helpful to look at the wording of these Commandments in the appropriate places from Scripture:

  1. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:2-7, ESV)
  1. “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them; For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Deuteronomy 5:6-11, ESV)

 These first three commandments are all of a part, which is to say, they determine how man, created by God, will conduct His worship of God. Since they derive from the character of the Creator to show that character to those He created, they are not limited to a specific time period in redemptive history, but like the God whom they derive from, are atemporal in essence, which is to say, they transcend time, space and matter, because of the God who created time, space and matter, yet Himself transcends these things.

However, they have a respective context within time, space and matter, in that we perceive them within those contexts, and in that sense, they are temporal expressions of the atemporal perfections of the divine character given to us to comprehend Him, for us to guide and conduct our worship of Him accordingly.

There are simple reasons given in the summarizations of God’s Moral Law for the manner in which Israel was to worship Him in these first 3 Commandments. These are as follows:

The First Commandment

I AM the LORD your God.” This particular part of the 1st Commandment gives the reason for worship for not only Israel, but all mankind. This is the uncreated One who created them; therefore, He is worthy of worship. Without having been created, they would not exist; in creating them, He determined that which is proper to worship Him, and that worship will always be consistent with both His character and the derived nature of those He created. He is the God who has none to answer to, in that He is uncreated, infinite, self-sustaining perfection, and all that is good is defined by His being and the revelation of that being (Mark 10:18; Acts 17:24-28; Romans 1:19-20). Thus, the manner in which we know how to worship God is revealed first of all in natural revelation, which leaves mankind without excuse if any choose to worship Him differently (Romans 1:20-23). Although summarized in this and various other parts of Scripture, He is inherently known to all men by natural revelation, and that which is known from natural revelation is here specifically and positively given as a command in special revelation (although bypositively,” we do not wish to conflate the Moral Law with the Judicial, or Civil Law – more on this further on).

This is also put as a part of “the preface to the Ten Commandments” in the Westminster Larger Catechism (hereafter WLC), Question & Answer 101, which reads as follows:

  1. 101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
  2. A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the eland of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments. [1]

The next part of this beginning of the 1st commandment has been given its exposition by the reference in the WLC, but it bears a bit of commentary.

 “…brought you out of the land of Egypthouse of slavery.”

Our first observation is that this is speaking of Israel, since they were the ones in that situation, but it more so speaks principally, in typological manner, of the redemptive power of God exercised throughout redemptive history towards all His people, specifically, those comprehended in the freedom from sin that is realized in Christ.

In Scripture, the concept of Egypt gives rise to the notion of being under the bondage, oppression and slavery of sin as one’s master, representing the danger of dependence upon the flesh (2 Kings 18:20-21; Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-3; Jeremiah 42:13-22; Ezekiel 20:7-8; 23:3-19, 27). It is also representative of returning to such bondage (Exodus 14:11-12; Numbers 14:3-4; Nehemiah 9:17; Hosea 8:13; 9:1-3; Acts 7:39), and it is depicted as that which is judged, typologically pointing to the judgment of all sin in apocalyptic manner (Exodus 7-12). It is also instructive that our Lord’s life, as Israel’s before they inherited Canaan, was saved by being led into, then out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15; cf. Hosea 11:1). As the judgment on Egypt typified the judgment of those who remain settled in their sin, defying the Lord, so the temporal salvation and spread of the natural seed of Abraham after that typified the spread of his spiritual seed – the eschatological spread of the gospel among the nations after that judgment of sin in Christ (John 12:31-32; Acts 2; 10; 13). Since deliverance from this fatal taskmaster is realized, first, in the spiritual promises which run through each historic covenant, and secondly, in the actual capture, defeat and death of that taskmaster in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension to glory by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; 12:31-32; Matthew 20:28; Ephesians 4:8; cf. Psalm 68:18; Colossians 2:15; cf. 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15), whereby He  was that One who would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; cf. the completed work of our Lord in the lives of believers in Ephesians 2:5, where the Perfect Passive Participle shows a past action completed and presently true, modifying the pronoun “you,” referencing the entire group of those who have believed in Christ, by faith, though that grace that was given them in regeneration), we may safely infer this part of the commandment for those who are God’s people in all ages.

Our second observation follows that, therefore, this part of the 1st Commandment has particular application to those who are especially the people of God through His divine intervention and deliverance, whether that intervention and deliverance is of a finite nature from a certain situation, or especially, the eternal nature of being freed from sin and given eternal life.

Our third observation is that all people were given to partake of death in the fall in Adam, therefore, they owe a special allegiance to the God who yet saves them from the effects of that condition (immediate death, both physical and spiritual – this has no reference to the eternal state, or the loss of communion brought about by Adam’s sin, but the immediate suffering of that eternal state presently deferred solely due to God’s goodness and forbearance – Acts 17:26-30). This agrees with the degree in which He gives to people those general blessings of His providence, given indiscriminately to all mankind in all places at all times (Psalm 145:9; 65:9-13; 104:27; 145:9; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:24-25). This therefore establishes that link to the goodness of the Lord which is to lead to repentance (Romans 2:4), yet it is not to be supposed, from this normal, or common graciousness of God, that without the working of the Holy Spirit regenerating the sinner they will be able to come to that repentance.

You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This is the outcome of the first two parts of the 1st Commandment, and also a leading into the 2nd. However, this, as with all the Moral Law, is found in the Scriptural accounts before the Decalogue was inscripturated.

We see this in the Garden of Eden, where there was only one God for the first couple to worship; even after the fall, there did not immediately arise the notion of worship of other gods. In chapter 4 of Genesis, the fallen offspring of Adam bring their sacrifices before the one true God. After that, there is apparently a steady progressing away from God and the true worship that is due Him alone, until the time of Seth. Following that, we come to the corruption of true worship of the one God, corruption which occupies men’s minds to the point where they only seek that which is wicked continuously, and the ectypical judgment of the entire world (which signifies that there will be a day when the world is finally judged) is seen with the flood, whereby only 8 souls were saved. This is entirely related to the perversion of the worship of the one true God, for in keeping that worship, there is reward (consider Psalm 19:7-14 with Psalm 51:16, which considered together, speak of obedience to God, not of keeping the national laws of Israel, but of the obedience of the heart which springs from a regenerate life), while all throughout Scripture, we see that the perversion of true worship brings judgment (Deuteronomy 28:59-68; Revelation 9).

To take a giant leap forward in redemptive history, this brings us face to face with the reality of our own penchant to seek that which is only available in the proper worship of our God. In doing this, we must ask exactly what it means to “have no other gods before ME?”

To answer that question, another question needs to be asked: What constitutes worship?

The answer is that worship, as defined in Scripture, is that which is given to the one True God, and involves elements of fear, respect, reverence, love and service, by keeping the commandments of God which He has prescribed in a positive manner (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-5). These commandments, being positively prescribed by God, are those which govern men, and in keeping them there is reward (Psalm 19:7-11). Thus, worship is given by the prescribed means God has directly commanded in His Word, and involves various elements within those means. Although the elements of that prescribed worship change within their covenantal context, in all covenantal contexts the keeping of His commandments (the moral law) is required as a part of the worship of Him.

The result of proper worship of God by His people is that not only do they give praise and thanks to Him by following His prescribed means to do so, but that such proper worship by God’s people causes others to give praise and thanks to God (Matthew 5:14-16).

Thus, proper worship of God is the keeping of His commands relative to that covenant economy His people are within, which will include all moral commands (as summarized in the Decalogue and many other places in Scripture) in a manner which causes not only the participants to thank and praise God, but those observing the participants to likewise engage in doxology (doxology, as used here, refers to acknowledgement of God for who He is, and carries neither a positive or negative connotation[2]).

Excursus: The Tripartite Division of the Law of God

It is necessary to define the tripartite division of the law of God here, lest those reading think the laws which governed the nation of Israel, as a theocratic nation, are all in place and binding to the people of God spread out all over the world in exactly the same way.

This division is of the Moral (that which derives from God’s very character, and so is eternal), Civil (that which is set for the covenantal dealings of God with His people regarding the worship proper to that covenant in which they live, as well as that which pertains to living in a manner with one’s fellow citizens in the covenantal economy in a manner which shows their honor of the God who prescribed those laws of civil interaction – as such, these laws are coupled with that covenant economy that they were given in, and not necessarily to be enforced in the same manner when that covenant economy has passed), and Ceremonial (that which has to do with the particular means of worshiping God in the covenant economy concerned with that worship, and which prefigured Christ in typological and shadowy form in the historic covenants, but which ceremonial manner of worship is now dissolved, the only two commanded ordinances of God to His people today are the Lord’s Supper, and baptism).[3]

Gill divides these respectively into, Ceremonial, Judicial and Moral. Of the first, he states “it involved the ecclesiastical state of the Jews, their priests, sacrifices, feasts, fasts, washings, &c. and though some of these rites were before the times of Moses, as sacrifices, the distinction of clean and unclean creatures, circumcision, &c. yet these were renewed and confirmed, and others added to them; and the whole digested into a body of laws by Moses, and given by him under a divine direction to the people of Israel.” Moreover, he states “This law was a shadow of good things to come by Christ, of evangelical things, and indeed was no other than the gospel veiled in types and figures; the priests served to the example and shadow of heavenly things; the sacrifices were typical of the sacrifice of Christ; the festivals were shadows, of which Christ was the body and substance; the ablutions typified cleansing by the blood of Christ; and the whole was a schoolmaster to the Jews, until he came; but when faith came, that is, Christ, the object of faith, they were no longer under a schoolmaster, nor had they need of the law as such; there was a disannulling of it, because of its weakness and unprofitableness; for it became useless and unnecessary, having its accomplishment in Christ.”[4]

This agrees with our definition, as well as our Confession of Faith, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter LBC) in chapter 19.3, Of the Law of God:

3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, f prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions g of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end, h abrogated and taken away.

(f Heb 10:1; Col 2:17; 1 Co 5:7; h Col 2:14, 16-17; Eph 2:14, 16)

As to the Judicial, that is what we have called the Civil, of which Gill states “The judicial law, which respects the political state or civil government of the Jews, and consists of statutes and judgments, according to which the judges in Israel determined all causes brought before them, and passed sentence; in which sentence the people were to acquiesce (Deu_17:8-11). Such as related to any injuries done to their persons or property, and to the punishment of offences, both of a greater and of a lesser kind; these were given by Moses, but not made by him; they were made by God himself. The government of the Jews was a very particular form of government; it was a theocracy, a government immediately under God; though he is King of the whole world, and Governor among and over the nations of it, yet he was in a special and peculiar manner King over Israel; and he made laws for them, by which they were to be ruled and governed: nor had the commonwealth of Israel a power to make any new laws; nor any of their judges and rulers, not even Moses, their lawgiver under God: and therefore, when any matter came before him, not clearly determined by any law given by God, he suspended the determination of it until he knew the mind of God about it; see (Lev_24:12; Num_15:34). And when the people of Israel were desirous of a king, after the manner of neighboring nations, it was resented by the Lord, and reckoned by him as a rejection of him from being their King; and though he gave them a king, or suffered them to have one, it was in anger; and so far he still kept the peculiar government of them in his hands, that their kings never had any power to make new laws; nor did their best and wisest of kings make any, as David and Solomon; and when a reformation was made among them, as by Hezekiah and Josiah, it was not by making any new regulations, but by putting the old laws into execution; and by directing and requiring of the judges, and other officers, to act according to them.”

This is instructive to us, in that we can see a cross-over of God’s Moral law, as to general equity, into some of the governing precepts of His judicial, or civil law to Israel, yet these civil laws remain distinct as pertaining to national Israel prior to the dissolution of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New Covenant. It is also instructive to us to note that when reformation came, to lead the people from debauchery, defection and idolatry back to the Living God, it was done with that which was established to rule over them in their worship and relations to God and one another, not by some new law.

Here, we point to the fact that where God dissolves, it is finished; where God establishes, it remains as long as He willed it to remain, and that this remaining is of His positively established precepts, or commands, as such related to the particular covenant economy and the substance thereof. In the New Covenant, we have the promises of the Messiah and His people established, the principals of which are the Moral Law, not to save, but to guide for growth in holiness from the substance, which is grace. Thus, we see a positive connection of the perpetuity of the Moral Law with the grace which saves, sanctifies and ultimately, glorifies, which gives the understanding of keeping the commandments of God in Christ, as they are not burdensome, but liberating (1 John 5:2-3).

This leaves us with that which informs every just law put forth by God, regarding His church, and regarding the governments of man, for if they are just, although not being exactly the same as the civil laws of the Mosaic economy, the derive their righteous standing and effects from that which, itself, derives from the character of He who created all things.[5]

This means that the Moral Law, being perpetual, will naturally be seen in any of those laws God expounds to the church in the ratified, instituted Covenant of Grace (i.e. the New Covenant), as well as at large among the governments of man (except where purposed disobedience, stemming from hatred of their Creator, is the foundation of laws). This is spoken of as “general equity” in the LBC, chapter 19.4:

4 To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general i equity only being of modern use. (1 Co 9:8-10)

What this means is that all that is just, and therefore connects to the character of God within laws established of the governments of man, partakes of that unchanging and eternal moral essence (Moral Law) which derives of that character of God. Like God, since it derives from who He is, it cannot change or end (although the Scriptures speak of the Moral Law personified, this is an example of giving the characteristics of the Lawgiver to that which derives from Him – the Law itself is notalive”). That this is true of the commandments known to the church is considered a given; that it is true of the laws of mankind’s governments only holds true where they incorporate of that righteous character of God’s law which the Scriptures put forth (indeed, all good and just laws have their foundation in God’s Word). This is the use of general equity in the LBC.

Therefore, this leaves us to define the Moral Law, which has been done somewhat above, but bears repeating.

The Moral Law is kept by obeying the totality of the 2 Tables of the Decalogue, which give us out duty to God (1st four laws) and our duty to our fellow-man (remaining 6 laws). This is spoken of in various ways throughout Scripture, including, but not limited to, a variety of summaries in the New Testament (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8-13, etc.). It is clearly seen that, by the grace whereby we have been saved, we are able to “fulfill the law;” however, since we are still plagued with the remaining corruption of the flesh, we cannot completely and perfectly obey this faultless and eternal law at all times, and must be dependant upon the grace of God in Christ our Lord, since He alone fulfilled the requirements of God’s law in every particular, and we are credited with that righteousness only He ever perfectly lived as the unique God-Man.

The Second Commandment

This brings us to the 2nd Commandment, which reads, again, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

This is a continuation of the 1st Commandment, but it goes further in defining what is prohibited, and communicates that which men are prone to do, which is the making of idols. This is even true in the Christian communities, and it is a grievous sin, but not one that is unforgiveable for the truly repentant.

Rather than treat the clauses separately, we will consider this commandment as one unit.

Since we are to “have no other gods” before our God, it follows that anything which is favored above Him becomes an idol, whether it is made out of some material, or the imaginings of the mind. The substance of the idol is not the issue; it is the putting one’s affections upon that which is formed, be it material, or immaterial. Because the 2nd Commandment does not name that which is immaterial immediately in the context, men are prone to take it as only dealing with physical manifestations that violate it, but the essence of the law, deriving as it does from the character of God, is not material, but spiritual, so it is not only entirely possible to break this commandment in one’s thoughts, it is quite easy to do, and, to our grief, one that we do break all too often.

In his Systematic Theology, R.L. Dabney describes this sort of idolatry in this manner:

“The most current breach of this commandment in nominally Christian communities is doubtless the Sin of inordinate affections. Scripture brands these as Idolatry, or the worshipping of another than the true God, especially in the case of covetousness; (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; Job 31:24-28.) and parity of reasoning extends the teaching to all other inordinate desires. We conceive formal idolatry, as that of the Hindu, a very foolish and flagrant thing; we palliate this spiritual idolatry of passions. God classes them together, in order to show us the enormity of the latter. What then is it, that constitutes the “having of God for our God?” It includes, (a) Love for Him stronger than all other affections. (b) Trusting Him, as our highest portion and source of happiness. (c) Obeying and serving Him supremely. (d) Worshipping Him as He requires. Now that thing to which we render these regards and services, is our God, whether it be gold, fame, power, pleasure, or friends.” (He discusses this in his treatment of the 1st Commandment, but we elected to include it in our treatment of the 2nd.) [6]

For this reason, we are given the intent of the commandment in various texts. Our Lord puts forth that the 7th Commandment is broken by those who never touch a woman but look upon her with intent to appease their sexual appetite (Matthew 5:28), and the apostle Paul equates the desire to have which belongs to another as idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). This puts the 2nd Commandment on the spiritual plane (indeed, it puts all the commandments on the spiritual plane) of the thoughts we have, and shows the difficulty of keeping it (not the impossibility).

The remaining strictures of the commandment hold blessings and curses, one deriving from God’s gracious love, the latter deriving from His righteous indignation against those He created holding, in the place of worship, anything other than Him, regardless of whether that is of material of immaterial substance.

The effects of His judgment could be felt by those generations of progeny after the initial sin was committed (and by initial sin, we do not mean a one time occurrence, but a pattern of commission, as in the history of Israel in going after the false gods of the nations God had separated them from). The third and fourth generations signifies not an exact end of the judgment of God on the line of those who patterned their lifestyles after idol worship, but the far-reaching effects of such sin.

When we sin in such a manner, but for the grace of God, others suffer the effects along with us. This ranges from those of our flesh and blood families, to our brethren in Christ, and if not for His grace in Christ Jesus, we could not recover. Men have sown much grief to their families by idolatrous doings, and even after one is saved, this can happen. The only remedy for such things is thorough attendance to the ordinary means of grace (prayer, preaching/teaching, singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to teach one another of God along with and during covenant fellowship on the Sabbath, reading and studying the Scriptures).[7]

Obedience, however, involves exactly that repentance for the sins we commit (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 55:17; 66:2), as well as the power to fight against doing them in the future. The remnant of the corruption of the flesh is strong, but thankfully, God in us is stronger (Galatians 5:24-25; 1 John 2:16-18; 3:8-9; 4:4b). The love of God to His people is inherent in the Moral Law, in that He gives great blessing to those who are found in Christ, and this is the mercy, or steadfast love, which He shows to thousands of thousands, or thousands of generations of believers. Proper worship of God is an expression of that love He first showed us, which reaps those blessings He has given us in Christ (1 John 4:9-11; Ephesians 1:3).

The Third Commandment

The final piece of the first three commandments is the continuation of that form of proper worship of God, and involves empty use of the means and forms of worship of Him, as well as living in a manner which speaks of He who made us, and gave us life while we were yet dead in our sins, in a way that represents Him as He is not.

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

If we give service to God with our lips, but our conduct is contrary to that which we say, this is called, biblically, vain. The meaning of this word is brought out well by the short article in The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

שָׁוְא (šāwʾ) emptiness, vanity, falsehood.

This noun appears fifty-two times in the ot most often in Ps (fifteen times) followed by Ezk (eight times), Job (six times), Jer (five times, only in the adverbial phrase laššāw ʾ “in vain, vainly, to no avail,” and always preceding the verb: 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15 (perhaps); 46:11).

The most familiar use of šāw ʾ is in the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11). Literally the sentence reads, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God laššāwʾ,” the same construction as noted above in the Jer passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.

That the primary meaning of šāw ʾ is “emptiness, vanity” no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that hebel “vanity” is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Psalm 24:4 may then be rendered, “He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.” Dahood (Psalms, I, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; 31:6 [H 7]; 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer 18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially.

Not only are idols “deceptions” but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugarcoat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14, Ezk 13:6–9, 23).

The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) “in vain” will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the LXX’s translation of laššāwʾ as epi mataiō “thoughtlessly.”

Bibliography: Childs, B., The Book of Exodus, Westminster, 1974, pp. 388, 409–12. THAT, II, pp. 882–83.[8]

So, we see that worshiping God in a manner where we lift up His name in appearance, whether before others or in private, without the “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5), makes not only a mockery of our pretense of worship, but mocks God. Since all of our living is to be done in praise and thankfulness to the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31), when it is not done with such, that is “using” or “lifting up” the Lord’s name in vain. It is a false witness of the Father who sent our Savior, God the Son incarnate, to suffer and die for our sins, it is a false witness of the Son, and it is a false witness against the Spirit who has been given us. It shows that which is of the world to the world, which is lying and hypocrisy, rather than the genuineness of truth from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. Since God justified us, such sin is horrible, but again, the sincere penitent is restored to knowing the vital communion with God He initiated and established in Christ, as well as growing in that grace and knowledge which show the reality of a transformed and transforming life (Titus 3:4-6; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Conclusion

We have seen that the true worship of God is contained in an ongoing flow through the first three Commandments of the Decalogue, which is the primary summary of that Moral Law which derives from the very character of God. Further, we have seen that this Moral Law, deriving from His character, is eternal, and never abrogated, but fulfilled, or held up.

True worship of God is incorporating the fact that He is the one True God, the only One worthy of worship, and this intends that nothing else shall occupy that place of worship which He alone requires and deserves. It also entails a life that, springing forth from the life of Christ by His Spirit dwelling in us, gives to God that love that is a finite expression of His infinite, electing love which He first gave us. This worship spurns all false expressions of veneration and adulation of God, those forms without substance that are lifted up to Him without meaning, or worse, actually, with the opposite meaning of that which true worship intends and gives. It is worship which occupies the heart and expresses love from a pure heart and sincere faith and good conscience, because it knows whom it has believed in, and that He gave that belief by lifting us out of the spiritual grave of being dead in sins, without God and without hope in this world. It also spurns living in a fleshly manner which shows those watching that world system that guides all unregenerate sinners who yet hate God (Ephesians 2:1-3).

True worship, then, is born of grace given love, expresses itself in grace given thanks, and lives in a manner consistent with the God who has called us out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His Beloved Son – a literal transference from the life we had to the life which we now have, and will have in full, when our Lord returns to complete us in glory (Colossians 1:10-13; Philippians 3:20-12).

Although I have attempted to do justice to the first three Commandments, I know that, as in expositing any portion of the Word of God, I have fallen far short. It is my sincere hope that this inadequate treatment may give those who love the Lord their God a better understanding of what, exactly, the Moral Law of God is, and how that is expressed through not only the first 3 Commandments of the Decalogue, but the remaining Commandments; not only in the particular summarization of that Moral Law we know as the 10 Commandments, but as this truth of God’s law is explained and summarized throughout Scripture. Coupled with this hope is that both I, and those reading this, may grow in His grace and knowledge and love, to the praise of His glorious grace in Christ Jesus, who loved us, and gave Himself for us, to claim us for the kingdom of God forever.

SDG – Bill H

[1] The Website of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, http://www.opc.org/lc.html

[2] For example, positive doxology involves praise of God for who He is and who He has revealed Himself to be to those who are His people (Hebrews 3:15), whereas praise that is given to God which is simple acknowledgement of who He is may be the result of unregenerate peoples responding to His judgments (Revelation 6:12-18). In either case, God is glorified.

[3] For detailed definitions and discussion of the various aspects of God’s law in Scripture, see Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology,  Richard A. Muller – 1985 by Baker Book House Company Published by Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287 – Paperback edition first published in 1995 ISBN 10: 0-8010-2064-6 ISBN 978-0-8010-2064-3

[4] John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 4.6.1, Of The Law of God

[5] This derived righteousness of the laws that govern any, noted as “good laws,” above, can be called “general equity.” Brandon Adams gives a very detailed look into this in his article, 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21, available at http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/1-cor-513-is-the-general-equity-of-deut-2221/ – see below, also.

[6] RL Dabney (2011-09-29T11:29:47+00:00). Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 10652-10659). Kindle Edition.

[7] The far reaching effects of disobeying God’s Moral law in this 2nd Commandment must not be confused or conflated with the heretical teaching of “generational curses” given by Word-Faith and other heretical teachers. What we are speaking to is of God’s Moral Law in this Commandment, but is subject to grace for those He has saved; that is, because of grace, some of the effects of breaking this commandment, which such breaking is repented of, are not causal. Nevertheless, when, say, a man idolizes lust and that destroys his marriage and family, though he be forgiven of God, the temporal effects to the family are both immediate and far reaching, unless God intervenes to change them – again, by His mercy.

[8] Hamilton, V. P. (1999). 2338 שׁוא. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (908). Chicago: Moody Press.

Of Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms and Christianity

In my limited time as one who believes the historic ecumenical creeds of the church universal, as well as the further and most necessary fleshing out of our “faith once for all delivered to the saints” in the historic Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries, I have found what had been lacking in my own knowledge (and experience, by that transformative truth of Scripture), in what I shall call, for the purposes of this article, both Calvinism and evangelical Christianity.

Coupled with reading various historical accounts of both the development of the exposition of the great doctrines of evangelical Christianity throughout the history of the church universal, which our great God willed we recover and make known among the nations through the Protestant Reformation, I have also read various historical accounts of the opposition to that which has come to be called Calvinism (in the historic sense), by which I intend the Reformed (which is to say Biblical) faith.

The book I finished reading, most recently, is The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray. Despite the title, the book concentrates not so much on biographical materials as it does the main controversies which were a part of Charles H. Spurgeon’s time of ministry. The most obvious, most insidious of these was, in my opinion, what has come to be called The Downgrade Controversy.

Now, I know that not all the Reformed confessions are in lock-step with each other, and this is proven by the reticence and outright hostility of some who hold to paedobaptist confessions of faith to acknowledge that such formulations as the London Baptist Confession of Faith (to be fair, the door swings both ways, mostly due to ignorance on either side[1])  deserve their due place in the history of the long line of those who followed, and still follow, in the footsteps of the first and subsequent Reformers of the church. Such details, however, are beyond the scope of this article, and I shall confine myself to those areas where we are agreed, as was the greater intention of all the great Reformed confessions.

By both Calvinism and evangelical Christianity, I intend that body of doctrines given us by our Lord and God which permeate the Scriptures[2]. These doctrines are included in a frame of what has come to be known as Covenant Theology, which is set forth in no uncertain terms in the great Reformed confessions. Such includes the soteriology which has come to be known, variously, as the Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrines of Grace.

Now, many have recovered his soteriology, yet have not accepted the covenantal structure of Scripture. While we rejoice at the many who have been taught the truth of such monergistic salvation which glorifies our God, we must note that without the understanding of the covenantal structure in which it takes place, that there have been errors which cannot help but come forth when the covenantal structure of the Scripture is unacknowledged. The doctrine of Scripture is a coherent whole, a harmony of God’s teaching that cannot be taken apart and considered apiece, unless it once again be looked at together in the final analysis.

Past these introductory comments, what I wish to observe, in this article, is that the faith once delivered to the saints has faced its enemies, without and within the church catholic, throughout redemptive history. This can be said to be true of the entity which was the church prior to the establishment of the New Covenant, that national entity which alone was elected by God to give witness of His inestimable glory to the world at large, and which is known in Scripture, and world history, as Israel.

Objectors will no doubt point out that Israel was not the church of the New Testament; this is true. However, it was the body elect of those who were to put forth the truth of God to the people of not only their own nation, but the world, and as such, being that elect body, comprised the vast majority of those who were the chosen people of God, during that long period of time, for that purpose. In noting that such was the case, it must be noted, also, that the greatest challenge to the purity of God’s people witnessing to His glory was not the surrounding nations, or those false gods they worshipped, or those nations’ paganistic cultures, but rather, the assimilation of all these various elements of the seed of the Evil One, the Devil, who deceived the woman and whose deception was readily and freely embraced by the first man, Adam.

The history of the world is a composite of the redemptive purposes of God for His people, and the efforts of the Evil One to subvert and destroy those redemptive purposes. Ultimately, it is all about God’s redemptive purposes, for none of that which the Devil has, can, or will yet do, can stand against God’s purposes, anymore than a solitary straw could stand still being exposed to the wind of a hurricane. (All through the Scriptures, God’s sovereign power is represented in no uncertain terms, such as in Job 42:2 and Daniel 4:34-35). The force of the will of the sovereign uncreated Creator can no more be thwarted by the Devil than any other being God created, and this is part and parcel with our hope of salvation.

In Reformed Covenant Theology, which is supremely represented in the great Reformed confessions, there was a recovery of that structure by which God deals with His creation, primarily directly with man, whom He created in His image. The fall – the marring of that image of God in man – was intended to show man the futility of endeavoring to reach that blessed communion with his Creator of his own efforts, yet it was also the beginning of the plan of God in redemptive history – set forth from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-11; Titus 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:9) – brought forth in the first promise of the gospel (Genesis 3:15).

This structure is readily apparent throughout the Scripture, and is shown to go forth in progressive steps[3] towards those two momentous events which are the pivot and end of history: The first advent of our Savior, in order to suffer the wrath of God on our behalf, reconcile us to God by His solitary work, and give us that life eternal He alone worthily earned, and the second advent, where He will come to grant us those bodies which will no more suffer and sin, but be like His glorified body, at the same time judging those who hate Him.

With these two objective truths of Scripture in mind, we see the slowly revealed progress of each historic covenant to serve that purpose of God which culminated in our Lord, and we see the two main structures of Covenant Theology, which have two representative heads, or federal heads:[4] Adam, for those who are yet trying to be justified by their own efforts, and Christ, who justifies those who place their faith in His completed work to the Father’s glory and His people’s eternal benefit. Every other historic covenant, with regard to membership, is a mixture of these two,[5] where the evil seed of the Devil (the children of the flesh), and the righteous seed of the Messiah (those born again of His Spirit by grace through faith), abide side-by-side, yet at purposes opposed.

This brings us to our next point in this article, which is this: The children of the Devil are not only known to be represented by Adam, but every time we see opposition to God and elevation of man in Scripture, we see a microcosm of that final salvation and judgment which will come when our Lord returns for the second, and last time. There is the world which hates God, recognizing there are those who are God’s, who are in the world, yet not of the world (1 John 2:15-16; John 15:18-19; 1 John 4:2-5; 5:19). These two federal bodies of people must exist together, yet distinct, until the end of things, and this is also something that is brought out in the great Reformed confessions. This dichotomy has been referred to by various labels, but for our purposes, we merely note its existence.

Which, finally, brings us to our main point: Everywhere the church of our Lord Jesus Christ has flourished, it has been with, at least, a minimal understanding of the progressive and intermixed purposes of the historic covenants, and most especially the two conglomerations represented by their respective heads, the first and last Adam, in what has commonly and explicitly come to be called the Covenant of Works (first Adam) and the Covenant of Grace (last Adam, Jesus Christ). Where these have been denied, idolatrous autonomy, falling in line with the respective judgments which are shown to take place every time man seeks His own glory above that of His God’s glory, has ensued, along with like judgments (One example of this would be the teaching of dispensationalism, which has formed a system that professing believers could shallowly embrace, thinking themselves free of having to deal with persecutions and tribulations).[6]

Furthermore, all these things have been painstakingly set forth as plainly as possible by our God in His Holy Scripture – at least, plainly enough for His purposes and our understanding.

This brings us to our final point: The church of our Lord Jesus Christ realized, in its infancy, the truth of these things in a manner which was lost sight of, for a time, then recovered and expounded upon by what we know as the Protestant Reformation. As the Light of the World shone forth in the pages of Scripture during His first advent, so He willed to again shine forth the light of His truth in the pages of church history by the recovering of the very doctrines which God had set forth through His Son, apostles, and prophets for our instruction, admonishment, and worshipful service to Him and one another.

These truths, despite some disagreements, are set forth the most explicitly in the great Reformed confessions, which are a compendium of the great doctrines of Scripture in synthetic format (by which we mean separate doctrines, joined together, comprise the whole of that glorious body of truth God has given us). To say that these are not an exposition of greater understanding of those truths laid out for us in Scripture would be to dismiss those very truths, as the God who set them forth for us laid them out to be discovered, meditated upon, and expounded upon for the benefit of His people, to His everlasting and redounding glory. More, it would be to discount the very sovereign purposes of God, and so at least a tacit denial of Him to various degrees, to disallow that this is what He intended.

These truths were set forth to be discovered; first, by direct revelation to the apostles and prophets, and secondly, by the enlightenment which comes from studying such truths from the same Spirit of God who indwelt the first believers of the church, up to believers of this present time. They were not meant to be discovered in a vacuum, but in the broad context of the history of the church, by men so gifted of the Holy Spirit.

This is exactly what happened with the recovery of these truths in the Protestant Reformation, and it is exactly what continued to happen since that time, with the high expression of the grand body of Scriptural doctrine being set forth plainly, yet robustly, in the great Reformed confessions of faith.

Since these confessions have been penned, there has not been one moment in church history where these truths have not been promoted and expounded upon with greater clarity. There has been ebb and flow of such discovery and exposition, but where the church has flourished, so have these sublime doctrines, and where the church has floundered, it has been because of the willingness of various segments, large and small, of the church of Jesus Christ to embrace the elements of the world to the sacrifice of these truths for the sake of a seeming unity which discounts these very same truths.

It has been well said, in several ways, that there can be no true unity of the church which sacrifices the great teachings of the Christian faith. This is proven and shown in the very pages of the New Testament, was proven and shown in the very pages of the Old Testament, and continues to be proven and shown in the pages of the history of the church.

Men cry “The Bible alone is our creed!” while knowingly, or unwittingly, failing to acknowledge that the creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the church, most especially since the time of the Reformation onward, are the highest standard of revering both that Word of God and the God who gave us that Word.

Where men have failed to uphold the truths of Calvinism, the church has invariably followed the nuances and predispositions of those who built the tower of Babel in Genesis, who arrogantly sought to establish their own prominence and glory over that of the God who created them, saying “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4) Seeking to make a name for themselves, even well-meaning men have set the creature above the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. They affirm their independence, and that they can approach the glory of heaven by their own strong arm, which always turns out to be a flimsy reed that breaks under the weight of such arrogance. Also invariably, God confuses their purposes and scatters them to seek that which they were after, as at Babel, yet within such judgments, His purpose always inexorably forges ahead, for it could not be otherwise.

Also, when men set themselves to deny those splendid doctrines which have the covenants as their structure, and the New Covenant (which is to say, the Covenant of Grace realized and ratified in redemptive history), they open, either inadvertently or purposely, the doors of the church to new methods of interpretation of the blessed Scriptures of our God, which methods turn out to be nothing other than new forms of Babel, set for judgment, to the detriment of the church and the misery of men.

In conclusion, it is our contention that where the great Reformed confessions, creeds, and catechisms have held sway, and the people have applied themselves to learning those great Biblical truths of the evangelical church contained therein, the church has met with much success, and God has received the doxology of praise which is only rightfully His. However, that which brother Spurgeon experienced, to his grief, and the churches of that day’s demise, already mentioned above as The Downgrade Controversy, has been a constant companion of the truth of God – the peoples yet remain mixed, and the churches, individually and as a whole, where they depart from these great truths of the Reformed confessions, find themselves not only adapting to the world, but adopting its ways, and so rather than being a light to the world which reflects The Light of the World, they become mirrors of the world, reflecting its own self-righteous aggrandizement back to it, where the simple gospel becomes a simpleton’s gospel, devoid of those truths which are the backbone, foundation and cement of the church, for as our Lord said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17).

Such is the case today that we have seen, yet again, another recovery of “the old paths;” yet, as always, it is not without the admixture of Babel seeking to reach heaven by the strength of men without the strength of Christ.

To continue on the narrow path, we need those old truths which are timeless, because they issue from He who is outside of time, and directs all time to His ends. We need to once again be confessional, creedal, and covenantal in our approach to and application of God’s Word, if we wish to see the current atmosphere of recovering the true faith, the Reformed faith, continue. We need to let our God’s prescribed methods of the ordinary means of grace in the singing and preaching of the Word dictate our worship.

Where any church, or group of churches, stray from these things, Babel will once again seek to raise its ugly tower of man’s preeminence, where he seeks to be like God, and brings judgment upon himself and his fellows. God grant that we continue along that path He has willed until that glorious day, and that He downgrades the Downgrade that yet seeks to undermine His Holy Purposes. We know He will prevail, for it cannot but be so.

[1] Thanks to Patrick McWilliams for pointing this out to me; also, thanks to my brother for reading and suggesting valuable edits to the article. Patrick proofreads professionally, so for those of you looking for professional help with editing of books and articles, you can find his email address at his blog, The Sovereign Logos.

[2] I cannot help but refer the reader to Spurgeon’s outstanding defense of these doctrines at http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm

[3] The language of “further steps” is used in describing the progressive nature of God’s revelation of His gospel promise in the Covenant of Grace through promissory and typological form in chapter 7, paragraph 3, entitled Of God’s Covenant, in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter 2 LBC). This points to a difference in the formulation of Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology from that of our paedobaptist brethren. For a comparison, go to http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_sdfo_lbcf.html.

[4] LBC chapter 7. The language of “federal” and “federalism” is used to define that system of theology, inherent in the Scriptures, by which all individuals in history (whether one calls it divine history, redemptive history, or simply, history, it remains the same), line up under one or the other of the two active covenants which remain until the New Heavens and New Earth are inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ. These two covenants are, respectively, under their federal heads, the Covenant of Works (Adam as the federal head of all unsaved peoples) and the Covenant of Grace (Christ Jesus as the federal head of all saved peoples). As such, “federalism” is synonymous with Covenant Theology.

[5] By “mixture,” we do not intend the dual administration model adopted by our paedobaptist brethren, but rather, the co-existing of the substance of the Covenant of Grace in promises and types alongside the physical and material promises of the historic covenants, whereby the substance of the Covenant of Grace is not conjoined to that of the substance of the historic covenants. Although together in the historic covenants, they are not of the substance of the historic covenants, but rather, that of the promises of the gospel, which would be ratified in the coming, life, death and resurrection of the Messiah.

[6] This, of course, is not true of all that hold to dispensationalists, but of those who embrace the doctrine with no question for the purpose of holding to that which appeals to the flesh. Persecution is not welcome, but it is promised us (Acts 14:22b; 2 Timothy 3:12), and with a shallow embrace of what amounts to escapist eschatology by immature believers, this truth is one which is dismissed all too readily.

SDG – Bill