A. Alexander on “The Pastoral Office”

One of the articles in the Banner of Truth‘s new release, The Pastor: His Call, Character, And Work, has been a tremendous blessing and excellent challenge to my own spiritual health and work as a pastor. It was delivered by Archibald Alexander, and the title was “The Pastoral Office,” found in chapter 5.

One paragraph in particular was such a blessing I wanted to share it with you. I encourage you to purchase your own copy in the link above. Without further ado, here is the quote.

“The love of Christ ought so to predominate, so to possess his mind, and to bear him along, that every interfering, or opposing principle, should be neutralized or extinguished. This should suggest all his plans, guide all his operations, give energy to all his efforts, and to afford him comfort under all his trials. Constrained by the love of Christ, he should cheerfully forego all the comforts of ease, affluence, and worldly honour to serve his Master in places far remote; or far removed from public observation.This holy affection should impel him to undertake the most arduous duties, and encounter the most formidable dangers; this should enkindle the ardour of his eloquence, and supply the pathos of his most tender addresses.” (page 93)

What a comfort, and what a challenge!

How did God create man?

This post was originally published at warriorcreek.org, used with permission.

QUESTION

Q. 13: How did God create man?

A. 13: God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.

(Genesis 1:26-28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24)

EXPLANATION

In this question of the Baptist Catechism, we address the creation of humanity. The previous question asked, “What is the work of creation?” The answer provides specific insight into what God made, the time in which God made it, and the goodness of it. Question 13 seeks to add more information, specifically with regards to the most special of God’s creation: His image-bearers. Let’s look at the answer in more detail.

Humanity: Man and Woman

The first part of the answer is rather countercultural, but the Scriptures do not conform to culture, they transform it. God made, according to Genesis 1:26, “man.” Though this term can be used of only males, it can also be used in a collective sense (i.e., man means humanity). This new group, different from the rest of the creatures, is further divided into male and female. There are two genders, and these genders have different roles and functions. God created males and females to work together to bear children through their union (Gen. 1:28).

After His Image

The next phrase in Genesis 1:26 is “in our image, after our likeness” (ESV). Scholars and theologians have debated this point. Though this post will not address that in detail, we will satisfy ourselves with Bavinck’s summary of the matter, “The human soul, all the human faculties, the virtues of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and even the human body images God.”[1] If you caught what Bavinck just said, he included the following that we find in the Baptist Catechism, “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” In other words, God’s image is displayed in humanity through knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This takes place before the Fall, which will be dealt with in Questions 16-23. At this point in creation, sin has not entered (hence the description in the answer to question 12 that it was “all very good”).

With Dominion Over the Creatures

The final description of the creation of humanity covers their role over the other creatures. In Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (ESV). This verse encompasses the entirety of creation. There is nothing that falls outside of humanity’s dominion in the physical creation. He holds “dominion” over it all. It basically means to rule. Humanity is to cultivate creation for the glory of God. He is to use knowledge, righteousness, and holiness to further God’s glory in this creation.

APPLICATION

There are three main points that I want to draw applicational thoughts.

1. According to God’s Word, there are two genders: male and female.

This is extremely counterculture, and I am sure will be labeled as hate speech. Please understand that as Christians we do not hate anyone. We are submitting to the highest authority, God. As Creator, He made human beings in two genders. This, in turn, affects our relationships with one another in the various fields and situations in which we find ourselves. One example is the leadership of the church. The Scriptures teach that qualified men are the shepherds/teachers in the church. A lady, though gifted and talented, cannot serve in this capacity. God created us differently, but equally. A man is not worth more in the eyes of God than a woman. Likewise, a woman is not of higher value to God than a man. Rather than fight against the creative purposes of God, we should embrace and celebrate our differences, glorify God for His wisdom, and look to Him for fulfillment.

2. As image-bearers of God, every human being is of unequaled value.

The application of this thought is tremendous for a multitude of reasons. As Christians, we believe the Scriptures teach that humanity is made in God’s image. Thus, to destroy an image bearer is called murder (cf. Gen. 9:5-6). However, honoring the image-bearers of God extends well past murder. James ties how we speak to the value of image-bearers. He writes, “with it [the tongue] we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9, ESV). In other words, valuing human life is more than simply not ending it without lawful justification. This is the teaching of Scripture in providing for those in need as well. As Christians, we must value the image of God in others.

3. We must take care and cultivate creation.

This is the final application, and it is drawn from the command to have dominion over creation. We are to rule it. However, this in no way implies a dictatorship that cares for nothing. In fact, it implies the opposite. We are to take care of God’s creation. Though I do not agree with all of her thoughts, Kathryn Tanner is absolutely correct when she writes, “The earth’s geological features and animal and plant life are routinely sacrificed before the altars of corporate profit and a moneyed public’s ever-expanding hunger for consumable goods.”[2] In other words, we will dominate creation without giving it a second thought. This is not the way for Christians. We are to have dominion over creation. We should care for it, and work with it rather than against it.
The Baptist Catechism offers us much in question 13. We would do well to follow God’s Word as His image-bearers for His glory and our good.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume Two: God and Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 530. [2] Kathryn Tanner, “Creation, Environmental Crisis, and Ecological Justice,” in Rebecca S. Chopp and Mark Lewis Taylor, eds., Reconstructing Christian Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), 99.


For more from this series, see the following.

Question 12

Question 11

Question 10

Question 9

Question 8

Question 7

Question 6

Question 5

Question 4

Question 3

Question 2

Question 1

Cultivating Gentleness

The apostle Paul, seeking to help his son in the faith, wrote to Timothy, “The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves…” (2 Tim. 2:24-25, KJV). In his encouragement and instruction, Paul was certainly not afraid to stand boldly for the truth. After all, he withstood Peter to the face (Gal. 2:11). He endured stoning (Acts 14:19-20). He even went so far as to say, “I would that they were even cut off which trouble you” (Gal. 5:12, KJV).

But Paul was also a gentle man. Humility, patience, kindness, grace, all of these find themselves frequently in Paul’s manner of life and in Paul’s written instructions (both to churches and to individuals). So, how does one reconcile Paul the humble with Paul the bold? He was a servant of Jesus, a man “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, KJV). Though not perfect like his Lord, Paul sought to be like Jesus in every way (just look at Phil. 3:7-12). In his pastoral advice, Paul yearned to teach young Timothy how to balance grace and truth. I pray that we see this balance in our pastors and theologians today.

I have been saddened at how some pastors and theologians conduct themselves. With the advent of the internet and social media, we are connected in unique ways. While this has been wonderful in most cases, it has also provided a unique window into the depraved, human heart. One evidence of that depravity is our harshness with one another, particularly as it relates to our views of theology and practice.

We have, sinfully I might add, neglected Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Rather than gentleness, patience, and meekness, we see harshness, rudeness, and prideful arrogance. As I have pondered this instruction, the Lord has revealed my own nasty attitude toward others. I have been guilty of searching for that “mic drop moment.” I am gracious for the Lord’s working in my own heart, for His patience toward me in instructing me when I opposed myself.

All of this is to say I want to pass on what the Lord has written in His Word to help my brother pastors and fellow theologians. Because, as we grow deeper in our understanding of God’s Word and theology, it should result in more humility, more patience, and more charity with other believers. I say should because, along with the additional knowledge accrued through long and instance study comes the dangerous dragon of pride. That is why, as our Savior did, we must balance grace and truth. We grow in our patience, love, and kindness as we grow in our knowledge of theology. Here are three suggestions that should help us from the text.

Remember that we are the Lord’s servant


Paul plainly states, “the servant of the Lord,” a reminder of who we are (2 Tim. 2:24, KJV). We are, by our natures, slaves to God. We were dead in sins (Eph. 2:1-2) and God has made us alive (Eph. 2:5). We were once without hope (Eph. 2:12) but now we have the God of hope (Eph. 2:18, cf. Rom. 15:13). In other words, we were in a terrible plight, more than any human being can imagine, when God saved us and changed us. We are His, and as such we remember our terrible estates prior to salvation. This alone should lead us to humility, knowing how blind and foolish we were without Christ. We are also reminded that we are the Lord’s slaves. We do His bidding, in His way, for His glory. We should never seek to “own” our opponents, we should see to instruct those who oppose God.


Actively avoid fighting



The servant of the Lord “must not strive,” Paul writes to young Timothy. In other words, he should not be a fighter. There are those who walk around with the proverbial
chips on their shoulders,” waiting for someone to miss quote a passage of Scripture or to unknowingly miss a fine theological point. Once this happens, they, like the Thing, yell “It’s clobbering time!” and take the individual to task. The servant of the Lord must not be this way. Paul offers a counter to this mindset in the following phrase.

Be Spirit-filled

The counter to a fighting spirit is to be filled (i.e., controlled) by the Spirit. To be so in tune with God’s Word and Spirit that His fruit is evident in your interactions. Be gentle, Paul says. Be patient. Meekly work to help those who are not in tune with God’s Word. These are the antidotes to ugly divisiveness.

While this is not exhaustive, it does provide us with some helps. Let us be gentle with our interactions with those who oppose us. Let us meekly teach them, when God provides opportunities, the gloriously good news. Let them see “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27, KJV).

What is the work of creation?

(This blog was originally posted on warriorcreek.org, used with permission)

QUESTION

Q. 12: What is the work of creation?

A. 12: The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good.

(Genesis 1 throughout; Hebrews 11:3)

EXPLANATION

In the last post, the question was asked, “How doth God execute His decrees?” In other words, God exercises His will on everything, but how? The brief answer was God utilizes the works of creation and providence. We will focus on creation in this follow-up question.

The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing…

The Scriptures teach that, before God spoke all things into existence, there was nothing. God has no beginning nor ending. Creation, what we see (physical) and what we do not see (spiritual), came into existence at the express command of God. These astounding words begin the entire Bible with bluntness and plainness, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, ESV).

Genesis chapter one details the creation of everything. This does not mean that it details every type of fox or bat or insect. However, it does mean that God created everything from nothing. God’s power, creativity, and wisdom are depicted throughout the known universe. The wonders of this planet upon which we live baffle the mind. The precision and balance of earth is astounding. The beauty of the leaves, the variety of the clouds, and the millions of insects crawling all over the earth, all point to the infinite wisdom, power, and creativity of God.

…by the word of His power…

In Genesis chapter 1, we see the repeated phrase “And God said…” and in Hebrews 11:3 the author states that we know “the universe was created by the word of God.” It was His word, not a natural process, by which all things came into existence. Sure, adaptation and microevolution occurs. No one with any sense of the wonders of creation should doubt this. This acknowledgement, however, does not mean that Christians believe in naturalistic evolution. Contrary to what Richard Dawkins claims, evolution (i.e., biological, naturalistic evolution) is not a fact.[1] God created everything by His Word. Since this post is not addressing evolution, we will simply leave it at this.

…in the space of six days…

The Scriptures teach that God created the heavens and earth in six days (cf. Gen. 1, Ex. 20:11). While there is debate on this (at least in the scholarly world), the Scriptures indicate six days. The lengths of the days may have been different (in other words, the first days of earth’s existence may not have been 24 hours, they may have been 23 hours). This mention of six days is important, because it sets the pattern for a normal human work week. We are, as Scripture describes, to work six days and to rest on the seventh (or, Sabbath). In addition, it will also be important when we get to the section of the Baptist Catechism that addresses the 10 Commandments generally and the Sabbath specifically (questions 62-67).

…and all very good.

That is God’s estimation of His glorious work of creation. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, ESV). In other words, it was right. Everything was set. It was without flaw. It was, at least at this point, free from sin (that will be addressed in question 16).

APPLICATION

There is nothing that this teaching leaves untouched. Literally, everything depends upon one’s views on the origin and operation of the universe. For example, one glimpse into humanistic thinking (which is devoid of anything supernatural) provides the outworking of a view in which everything came into being on its own. This has enormous applications on one’s view of the value of life. Again, it affects one’s understanding of and application of morality.

If, on the other hand, you believe the Scriptures, then God is the ultimate authority. He created everything and has complete rule over it. Issues such as the value of life take on a different role. Helping others does, too. It matters what you believe.

On a similar note, it also matters for our acceptance of Scripture. For example, if we debate on the phrase “six days,” found in Genesis and Exodus, we undermine the Scriptures. If six days does not mean six days, does sin mean sin? Does salvation by grace through faith really mean salvation by grace through faith? Now, I am reasoning to ad absurdum, but I do so to make the point. If we question the directness of Scripture at this point, where does it end? We need to study the Scriptures, no doubt. And there are issues that are not clear.[2] However, when Scripture speaks with clarity and then confirms this clarity, we are left with no room to doubt.

A final note of application (though there are many more) involves our view of creation. While there are animals we do not like, and for good reason should seek to avoid and exterminate some creatures (rats, for example). However, this is not a blanket statement to destroy God’s creation indiscriminately. His creation is good. We should, therefore, take care of His good creation


[1] Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (New York, NY: Free Press, 2009), 8.

[2] The London Baptist Confession of Faith acknowledges this in 1:7, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all…”

How does God rule?

QUESTION

Q. 11: How doth God execute His decrees?

A. 11: God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence.

EXPLANATION

The previous begins a discussion on God’s decrees that will subsist of questions 11-15. We already laid the foundation for this question, and if you have not read it I encourage you to do so.

This question involves how God executes His decrees. In other words, we are focusing on the manner. It is similar to fixing a car. There are multiple ways an individual can approach this task. He can fix it himself. He can take it to a friend, or a shade-tree mechanic. Or, he can take it to the dealer. Those three options are how he can fix his vehicle.

What are God’s ways to execute His eternal purpose? (See question 10) The Catechism states, “God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence.” There are two ways, then, that God fulfills His eternal purpose.

Creation

Creation will be addressed in the next question, so we will only highlight this point. By the work of creation the Catechism means God’s work in and through creation. His eternal purpose includes creation. Genesis 1:1 provides the summary teachings of Scripture, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (ESV) He created everything, all things seen and unseen, spiritual and fleshly, all varieties. He created everything. It is His creation, and He executes His eternal purpose with and in the work of creation.

Providence

The work of creation deals with the matter of God’s decrees. In other words, like clay in the potter’s hands, so creation is the clay in the Potter’s hands (cf. Rom. 9:19-24). He exercises His eternal purpose with creation through the works of providence (elaborated further in questions 14-15).

The works of providence are God’s governing and preserving His will. I encourage you to take time to read through the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, chapter 5. The framers of that Confession elaborate on the brief teachings found here in questions 11 and 14-15.

What we learn in this brief answer is that God directs His creation for His eternal purposes.

APPLICATION

We will have more meat for application when we get to questions 12-15. However, there is one application that I think we can draw: encouragement.

We can and should be encouraged by God’s execution of His decrees through creation and providence. Why? It means that everything that happens comes from His sovereign, fatherly hand. Read this remarkable words from the Confession, “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, to the end  for the which  they were created according unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.” (2LCF 5:1)

Are you going through a difficult time? God is executing His eternal purpose. Are you discouraged with how your life has turned out? God is executing His eternal purpose. Are you in the throes of discouragement and depression? God is executing His eternal purpose.

Now, go back and read that excerpt from the Confession. Notice how many times the word good, goodness, mercy, and wise appear. It is not blind faith, it is the guiding and good hand of God. Couple that with the wonderful truth of Romans 8:28, and what we have is the antidote to the discouragements and ailments of this life. We have the cure to the disease of discontentment. We have the treatment for the cancer of doubt. We have the remedy to sinful thoughts, words, and actions. God executes His decrees through the works of creation and providence.


Question 10

Question 9

Question 8

Question 7

Question 6

Question 5

Question 4

Question 3

Question 2

Question 1

Is God in charge?

That is an important question with enormous ramifications. Depending upon your answer, you will either live a life of immense peace and joy or you will endure a life of constant anxiety and worry.Question 10 of the Baptist Catechism is important, practically and theologically.

QUESTION TEn

Q. 10: What are the decrees of God?A. 10: The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby for His own glory, He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
(Ephesians 1:4, 11; Romans 9:22-23; Isaiah 46:10; Lamentations 3:37)

EXPLANATION

We return to our initial question, “Is God in charge?” The Baptist Catechism, building upon the teachings of Scripture, answers in the unequivocal affirmative. God is in charge. God reigns. He rules. The answer, of course, is more elaborate, and we would benefit greatly from taking our time.
First, the question focuses on decrees. This refers to God’s rule of His world. The Catechism answers that the decrees of God have four aspects (for lack of a better word): timing (eternal), object (his will), purpose (His own glory), sovereignty (He hath foreordained).

Timing of God’s Decrees–eternal

God is eternal, having neither beginning nor end. His purposes, according to Scripture (see Eph. 1:4 and 11), were present before any spec of creation was spoken into existence. Nothing, then, will take God by surprise, because nothing happens without His movement.

Object of God’s Decrees–according to the counsel of His will

The object of God’s decrees is according to the counsel of His will. Or, to put it another way, what God wanted God accomplished. Listen to Isaiah’s words, “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” (Isa. 46:10, ESV) What God wants, God does.

Purpose of God’s Decrees–for His own glory

God rules and reigns in everything so that He would be glorified. He is, as we have already established, the first and chiefest Being. It is right, then, that He be glorified. No one thinks it is wrong to remark on the beauty of the bride on her wedding day. No one blinks when the children thank their father for a perfectly grilled steak. Why do we have a problem that God seeks His own glory?
John Piper writes, “So, the deepest problem we have in dealing with God’s self-exaltation is not that we don’t like some kinds of self-exalting authority but that fallen human nature does not like any kind of divine authority over our lives.” (Piper, Providence, 41) That, I believe, is absolutely correct. We hate God, therefore His self-exaltation is despicable in our eyes. But God decrees all for His own glory.

Sovereignty of God’s Decree–He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass

Nothing, absolutely nothing that occurs happens without God’s foreordination. Now, this may come as a shock, particularly if you do not come from a confessional background (e.g., London Baptist Confession or Westminster Confession of Faith). However, it is biblical. The framers of the London Baptist Confession provide some additional light that is worth our attention.

God hath decreed in Himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.

2LCF 3:1

A perfect example of this teaching is found in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. In Acts 2:23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Did you see how God moved in such a way that the death of His precious Son was definite, but the individuals were responsible for their sin? It is incredible, and God is glorious in His decrees.

APPLICATION

Now, I relish these theological truths. I love contemplating the divine sovereignty and providential rule God exercises over His creation. But how does this affect our daily lives?

Not surprisingly, it is incredibly valuable for our lives. Van Mastricht, a Dutch theologian from years ago, offers this practical blessing of God’s decrees, “…a devout reflection upon the divine authority and power builds a solid confidence in which we securely commit ourselves, our goods, all our fortune, efforts and undertakings, to God.” (van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, Vol. 2: Faith in the Triune God, 450)

In other words, God is in control. While this does not absolve us from personal responsibility, it does mean that God is accomplishing His plans. Have you lost something dear to you? God has a reason for it. Do you ever wonder why so much evil abounds? God has a reason for it. Are you frustrated with your current circumstances? God has a reason for it.

Is God in charge? Yes, He absolutely is in complete charge. I close this section with words from John Piper.

“The providence of God–his purposeful sovereignty–is all-embracing, all-pervasive, and invincible. Therefore, God will be completely successful in the achievement of his ultimate goal for the universe.”

John Piper, Providence, 691

Question 9

Question 8

Question 7

Question 6

Question 5

Question 4

Question 3

Question 2

Question 1

To purchase a copy of Petrus van Mastricht’s volume II Faith in the Triune God, click here.

To purchase a copy of John Piper’s Providence, click here.

Three in One?

The 9th Question of the Baptist Catechism involves the trinity, that is, the triunity of God. Let us look, first, at the question and answer, and then, second, at the implications of a trinitarian view of God.

QUESTION NINE

Q. 9: How many persons are there in the Godhead?A. 9: There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.(1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19)


EXPLANATION

As we just learned through questions 1, 7, and 8, God factors into the Catechism’s teaching, and our understanding, at the foundational level. There is one God, only God, as the Scriptures teach. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4, ESV).


Question 9, however, asks about persons. The 2LCF helps clear up our possible confusion (which, if we are honest, will be much, for we are finite creatures and He is infinite). Chapter 2 is “Of God and of the Holy Trinity,” and we read these words in paragraph 3, “In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word (or Son), and Holy Spirit…” Subsistence is an uncommon word, but when the Catechism was authored the word was used to denote the different persons in the Godhead. This is what we refer to as the Trinity.

There is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three persons, or subsistences, are God, and only one God. As with most things in church history, the Trinity has received much debate. Blood has been shed, councils held, and books upon books have been written upon this subject. Our purposes are not to delve into this debate. Rather, we seek to understand the collective teachings of the Catechism.


The unity (oneness) and trinity (three-in-one) are taught in this answer. But there is additional clarification offered. This information, based upon the teachings of Scripture, helps clear up confusion further and carefully and succinctly dismantle arguments that are heretical.


These three persons are “one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory.” Without getting too philosophical, I find van Mastricht’s words helpful in defining essence. He writes, “by the word essence we intend nothing other than what Scripture designates by θεοτης, ‘deity’ (Col. 2:9)…God exists through essence, not simply a being, but the being par excellence.” (Van Mastricht, 2:85) It is, in my own words, His Godness.


APPLICATION


What does this matter to everyday lives? Does it change how we live? Does it motivate us to wake up and go to work? Does it affect how we treat our spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, etc.?
If you are feeling particularly nerdy, you can purchase a copy of van Mastricht’s work. He offers seven practical benefits of the Trinity.
To answer these questions, I turn to Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley, authors of Reformed Systematic Theology. They write, “The doctrine of the Trinity informs Christian spirituality in a number of ways. It traces a gospel pathway of communion with God via the Mediator: fellowship with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. It opens up the possibility of distinct communion with each person of the Trinity. And it brings an unspeakable fullness of glory that captures the whole person because the Christian’s communion is with the one and only God.” (Beeke and Smalley, 945)


For the previous questions, simply click the number below.

Question 8

Question 7

Question 6

Question 5

Question 4

Question 3

Question 2

Question 1

To purchase a copy of Petrus van Mastricht’s volume II Faith in the Triune God, click here.

To purchase a copy of Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley’s volume I Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God, click here.

How many gods are there?

Are there more gods than one?

QUESTION EIGHT

Q. 8: Are there more gods than one?

A. 8: There is but one only, the living and true God.

(Deuteronomy 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10)

EXPLANATION

How many gods are there? Well, that depends upon whom you ask. For example, if you ask a Hindu, their answer will exceed a million gods and goddesses. If you ask a Latter Day Saint, their answer would also be more than one. If you ask a Jewish person, they will say one, as would a Muslim. How would a Christian answer?

The Christian would answer, as the Catechism does, that there is one God. But what about the Trinity? We will get to that (in the next question, actually). However, remaining anchored to the Scriptures, Baptists will always acknowledge that there is but one only, the living and true God.

The passages cited help clarify our understanding of the oneness of God without neglecting the triunity of God. In Deuteronomy 6:4 we read these words, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (ESV). He is, as Moses declares to the people of Israel, one. He alone is God, and only God. There are no other gods or goddesses. The Scriptures teach the exclusiveness of God.

He is also the living God. Jeremiah tells us, “But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10, ESV). If you read on further in that chapter, Jeremiah contrasts God with false gods and goddesses, demonstrating the power of God to bring about creation (see 10:12-13). Idols are dead, they cannot hear nor see nor deliver (cf. Psalm 115:5 and 135:16). Only God, the God of Israel, is the one true and living God.

APPLICATION

There is one primary application that I would like to focus on today, though there are certainly many more. The application is: God is God and we are not. The first of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3, ESV). Yet, this is often the command we violate the most. Daily we attempt to live for ourselves, for our desires, our wills. This is nothing less than idolatry. God demands obedience, sole obedience. He does not share with anything or anyone.

Christians need to worship God and God alone. Let this Catechism remind us of this vital truth!

Good Theology and a Bad Heart: A Lesson From Jonah

At the time of writing this post, I will begin preaching through Jonah this coming Sunday. By the time this post appears, I will have already preached two sermons from this book. (The timing of these two sentences is making my head hurt!)

I have learned so much in my preparation, and one thing has stood out to me: Jonah had an incredible grasp of theology. He was a faithful prophet of the LORD (2 Kings 14:25). Implied in that is a grasp of God’s Word as well as the belief that God is a communicating God.

We learn a lot more about Jonah’s theology from the book that bears his name. Jonah has a deep understanding of the holiness of God. It is encapsulated in his message from the LORD (1:2). Jonah understood that God was sovereign over His creation. He acknowledged that the LORD “made the sea and the dry land” (1:9, ESV). Along those same lines, he reasoned that the LORD was in control of this dire storm (1:12). Jonah’s understanding of God’s providence through his experiences are further testified in chapter 2. We read in his prayer, “you cast me into the deep” (2:3a) “all your waves and your billows passed over me” (2:3b, ESV).

Additionally, Jonah had a biblical view of God’s grace and forgiveness. After being vomited onto dry land by the fish, the LORD gives Jonah a second change to preach, and Jonah obeys. He preaches the message of judgment (3:3-4). Now, it must be said that Jonah did not preach the possibility of forgiveness, only judgment. Yet, in chapter 4 we see Jonah’s response at the repentance of the Ninevites (3:6-10). He says, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2, ESV) Jonah knew that God was a forgiving God.

To summarize, then, Jonah had a firm grasp of the following theological truths:

  • Jonah knew the Word of God
  • God was a communicating God
  • God’s holiness
  • God’s creative power
  • God’s providential reign over His creation
  • God’s grace and forgiveness

What, then, was the problem? Jonah’s problem, and far too often our problem, is that his theology was disconnected from his life. In other words, Jonah was a hearer of the Word and not a doer (cf. James 1:22). Jonah’s theology was orthodox, but his life was abysmal. He knew that the Lord was holy, yet failed to live holy (cf. 1 Pet. 1:16).

What does this have to do with us? As I considered the fleeing prophet, I asked myself, “What does this have to do with me?” It shows us that orthodox doctrine alone is not righteous. You do not truly love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength if your theology is right and your life is not (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). I have personally witnessed individuals who’s theology is orthodox, mature, and well-articulated, yet their lives could not be further from the Truth. We witness this on social media on a regular basis.

We also experience it in daily life. I have had the privilege of working for several companies. In addition, I have formed friendships with many different people. One of the most disappointing experiences was working with individuals who knew theological truths but failed to live in accordance with the Scriptures. As I consider my life, I wonder how many times my life contradicted my theological beliefs? Oh God, please forgive me for this depravity!

As we read Jonah, let us consider his theological correctness and the divide between his head and his life. Let us, through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, balance a right life with right doctrine. Let us life and believe in a way that God is honored and our fellow human beings are helped.

What is God?

Q. 7: What is God?

A. 7: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

(John 4:24, Job 11:7-9, Psalm 90:2, James 1:17, Exodus 3:14, Psalm 147:5, Revelation 4:8, 15:4, and Exodus 34:6)

EXPLANATION

Since God is the first and chiefest being, and since God has graciously provided His Word that gives us the knowledge that we need about Him as well as how to live for Him. It is important, then, that we know who and what God is. The Baptist Catechism provides a helpful, brief, and packed answer to the question, “What is God?”

Without getting into too much nerdy detail (and trust me, this is really difficult for me!), theologians have regularly divided God’s attributes (or, characteristics, and many other labels) into communicable and incommunicable attributes.

What do these mean? Berkhof helps distinguish these two terms when he writes, “While the incommunicable attributes emphasize the absolute Being of God, the communicable attributes stress the fact that He enters into various relations with His creatures.”[1] So we could delineate these terms further (and possibly simpler) by saying that God’s incommunicable attributes are what make Him God (e.g., infinite) while His communicable attributes are those that we experience (or, demonstrate, e.g. His holiness).

The Catechism, as we have noted, is not exhaustive. It is meant to be a teaching tool, providing the foundation truths of the faith and encouraging further study and contemplation. Even with that, however, the Catechism provides ten answers to the question, “What is God?”

Books have and will be written. The infinity of God provides a never-ending source of materials for study and praise. How can we summarize this important and life-changing question? God, though completely transcendent (i.e., out of our reach), He is also immanent (i.e., close and understandable to a finite degree), has graciously revealed Himself to us. The Scriptures cited above offer a presentation of these ten aspects of God (which include communicable and incommunicable attributes).

APPLICATION

As with all these attributes, we could spend eternity and never plunge its depths. We will, therefore, limit our applicational thought on one facet: God’s holiness. In Revelation 15:4, the individuals who were victorious over the beast (15:2) declare to the Lord, “For You alone are holy” (NASB). God is holy. That is what God is, if you will. There are a variety of ways to describe this, such as God’s separateness from creation and His moral perfection. But how can we apply this knowledge? Peter offers us a helpful and direct way in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy” (NASB). In other words, be like God. Imitate Him, represent Him to others, strive for holiness!

Search the Scriptures for the incommunicable attributes and praise Him for His grace! Study and live the Scriptures as you learn about the communicable attributes and praise Him for His grace. What is God? Our God is unimaginably marvelous!


[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1938), 57-58. You can purchase it <a href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=librarymusing-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=1773563319&asins=1773563319&linkId=77d3318bfa191c37dad7a91e36e72fed&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff"> here.