Monthly Archives: March 2017

Redemption Applied Is Not Readymade

To be sure, some people come to faith in dramatic ways. Others come through slow study. Still others, like my sons, grew up in Christian homes and cannot recall a day when they did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Neither the Bible, nor church history, nor Christian experience indicates that a one-size-fits-all crisis conversion is necessary. And the Reformers pressed for a view of Christian discipleship as typically rooted in the catechetical nurture of the baptized community, rather than in radical conversions. The preaching of the Word, sacraments, and prayer are the three ordinary means of grace, as Presbyterians call them. And good Evangelicals know that this is how disciples grow in their faith, regardless of whether they have been Christians all their lives or have come to faith by a crisis experience.

(Carl R. Trueman)

Belgic Confession, Article 2

By What Means God is Made Known Unto Us

We know Him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.

Secondly, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word; that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.

Trinitarian Foundations of Theology

The foundations of theology are thus trinitarian: The Father, through the Son as Logos, imparts himself to his creatures in the Spirit. Theologians also distinguish God’s own trinitarian self-knowledge (archetypal) from the revealed knowledge accommodated to human understanding (ectypal) (ed. John Bolt, Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Abridged in One Volume, 50).

Freedom of the Will, Bondage of the Will, and Grace — “Only through the grace of the gospel does fallen humanity freely choose what is spiritually good . . .”

This point cannot be stressed enough: the divines believed that if human actions were not contingent (that is, freely chosen), then God could in no way hold sinners accountable for their sin. Conversely, if human acts were not truly contingent and free, then there would be no need for the response of faith to the preaching of the gospel. Another important element to consider is that Reformed theologians believed that God is free, and in an analogous fashion so are his creatures. The Confession states that God is “most free” (2.1) and that man, male and female, was created “after his own Image” with the “Law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it: and yet, under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change” (4.2). The Confession affirms freedom of the will, but there are some important qualifiers regarding the nature of humanity’s freedom (J. V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 110).

In the garden Adam was free to sin and not to sin, but once he sinned, he plunged himself and all of his progeny into bondage. The nature of the bondage, however, is important to note; while fallen humanity is unable to do any spiritual good, this does not mean people have lost freedom of choice. The Reformers make a common distinction between what Martin Luther (1483-1546) famously called teh bondage of the will (voluntas) and free choice (liberum arbitrium). The human will is bound to sin, but our choices are free and not forces upon us. Even though God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, people freely make their own choices. God is not the author of sin and offers no violence to the will of creatures–they freely choose sin. Only through the grace of the gospel does fallen humanity freely choose what is spiritually good, though we are still hampered by the abiding presence of sin. When sinners are converted and ultimately glorified, they are completely freed from sin and immutably able freely to choose good. The question naturally arises, whom does God free from the bondage of sin? (111).

God Permitted

God, despite the decree of Adam’s fall, is not the author of sin. God does not force anyone to do anything. In fact, the [Westminster] Confession–unlike Calvin–for example, argues that God permitted the fall; permission is a category that Calvin largely rejected. The Confession states, “This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsell [sic] to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory” (6.1). Judas could have refrained from betraying Christ, but instead freely chose to do so, and he freely chose suicide over repentance (J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 100).

The Independence and Freedom of God

Understanding God’s attributes, considered both absolutely and relatively, is key to the proper understanding of how the divines explain the nature of the decree. This absolute-relative distinction (opera ad intra-ad extra) highlights the independence and freedom of God in contrast to the created order. God is free, for example, to create and not to create; the creation is not part of God, neither is it an emanation from him, but rather it is radically contingent–it does not exist necessarily but is created ex nihilo (J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 100).

Archetypal & Ectypal Theology

The distinction between God’s internal and external work rests upon another key distinction covered in the previous chapter, archetypal and ectypal theology–God’s knowledge of himself, which is perfect, infinite, and known only to him, and the revealed copy or shadow, which is perfect and true but finite and suited for humanity (J. V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 100).

opera ad intra & opera ad extra

This division of attributes, though listed together in [Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2], relies upon a standard way of explaining God’s person and work, namely, his opera ad intra (internal work) and opera ad extra (external work). In other words, God can be considered either absolutely separately form his creation, or relatively, as he is related to his creation. As Johannes Wollebius (1589-1629) notes, “Both essential and personal works include those affecting God alone [ad intra] and those whose effects are felt outside of God [ad extra].” Likewise he states, “Those works of God which have their object outside of him are either immanent and internal, or outgoing and external” (J. V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, 100).

Hearing the Word Preached & Preparing to Preach the Word

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 160. What is required of those that hear the Word preached?

A. It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

For believers, it is a blessing and privilege to weekly hear the word preached.

Do you …

  1. Attend upon the Word preached?
  2. Attend upon the Word preached with diligence?
  3. With preparation?
  4. With prayer?
  5. Examine the Word preached by the Scriptures?
  6. Receive the truth with faith?
  7. With love?
  8. With meekness?
  9. With readiness of mind?
  10. Receive the Word preached as the Word of God so you can mediate and confer of it?
  11. And hide it in your heart, that it might bear fruit in your life?

For ministers, it is a blessing and privilege to weekly preach.

Do we …

  1. Attend upon the Word as we prepare to preach?
  2. Attend upon the Word with diligence?
  3. With preparation?
  4. With prayer?
  5. Examine the Word as-it-is-prepared-to-be-preached by the Scriptures?
  6. Prepare to preach the Word with faith?
  7. With love?
  8. With meekness?
  9. With readiness of mind?
  10. Submit ourselves and our mind to the Word by meditating and conferring upon it?
  11. First hide the Word in our heart, in order that later it might bear fruit in its being preached?