Sunday, October 22, 2017

GOD'S ETERNAL PLAN


GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 3)

Introduction

I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve been getting good mileage from a line from a poem by the Scottish bard Robert Burns. It’s a line from his poem, “To a Mouse”. What’s the line? “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.” If you were to look up the Scottish dictionary you’d find that “gang aft a-gley” simply means that plans often go wrong. Isn’t that the way of it? After all our scheming, after all our planning, some unforeseen factor comes along and thwarts them! In Burns’ poem a little mouse had built its home in a field and Burns came along and wrecked its house with his ploughshare.

Now, I think we’d all agree with Burns when it comes to the best laid schemes of mice and men, but what about when it comes to God? Can God plan something and have it come to pass in every minute detail exactly the way He wants it? Of course He can – and He has! For who or what can thwart the plan of God Almighty? He is the eternal Sovereign God, isn’t He? He is the Creator, and as such is Lord of all creation.

Yet, some folk think that God is helpless – that He is unable to act in His creation. They look around and see wars and death, and they conclude that the world is in chaos – out of control. But the Christian looks around and he sees that everything is going according to God’s eternal plan.

Yes, there is sin, misery, and death – even war. But there will come a day when men will stop their fighting and beat their swords into ploughshares. Yes! There will come a day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore. How do we know? We know because God has revealed it so!

In the following we’ll look at the eternal plan of God and some of the out-workings of His plan.

The Plan Contemplated

To plan something is to form a scheme or method or design for the attainment of some object. In other words, first, you have in mind the object you want. And second, you put your plan into action. Well, God being eternal, He eternally had a plan in mind, and He has put His plan into action.

What is the object God has in mind for His eternal plan? And what exactly is this eternal plan that God has in mind? Well, in short, the object of God’s eternal plan is His own glory. And we see His eternal plan unfolding every time the sun rises and sets. As each day passes, a little more of God’s secret plan is revealed.

What are we saying then? Are we saying that sin, misery, death and mayhem – the things that we see in the news – are all part of God’s eternal plan? Yes! That’s exactly what we’re saying, though you need to be careful here. We’re saying this because the Bible says it. Try Acts 15:18 for starters, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

Does the creator of the heavens and the earth and all therein not have a plan in mind? Of course He does! Therefore, large or small, every event of every day is known to Him from eternity past, which is to say that all His works of creation, its daily and constant upkeep, were known to God even before He put His plan into action. Therefore nothing can sneak up and surprise God.

There is nothing unforeseen to the eye of God. There can be no fly in the ointment for God. There can be no stick in the spokes of creation for God. The ball never gets stuck upon the slates for God! As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

What is the purpose of God? Well, that’s what we’re contemplating. His purpose is an eternal purpose. A purpose is an idea or ideal kept in mind as an end of effort or action. A purpose, then, is a design or aim. What’s the big idea? What’s the grand design? What’s does God Almighty aim to do? Well again, it’s all about glory – His glory. The idea, design, or aim is about God glorifying Himself. And regarding angels and men there are two ways in which He glorifies Himself. God either glorifies Himself according to His grace or according to His justice.

Think about it, Man is the image and likeness of God, yes? Well, what’s the chief end of man? It’s to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Man is to reflect God by glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31. God glorifies Himself in everything He does. And His image man is to glorify Him in everything he does.

Another couple of verses that speak of God bringing to pass the eternal plan He has in mind are Ephesians 1:11&12, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” Therefore, one of the ways that God glorifies Himself is by redeeming, in time, those whom He has in eternity past predestined for redemption.

Notice in Ephesians 1:11 that God “…works all things according to the purpose of His own will…” God’s will, therefore, is not affected by anything outside of Himself. He simply wills things to come to pass because He has had those things in mind from all eternity. And His purpose for bringing these things to pass is, of course, His own glory. And part of His glorifying Himself was in His predestinating those who would in time trust in Christ.

Those who are predestined are those who have been chosen by the Father in eternity past. They are those who have been redeemed in time by the Son. And they have been, or will be, regenerated i.e., renewed by the Holy Spirit in their own lifetime.

God had in mind the entire mass of mankind viewed in its fallen state when He, out of His mere free grace and love, predestined some of that fallen mass of humanity to everlasting life. In eternity past God planned to save a multitude innumerable. Yet, there is a much smaller number of the fallen mass of humanity who, in the wisdom of His counsel, God has passed by.

Those who are saved are saved to the praise of His grace, Ephesians 1:6a. Those who are passed by are damned to the praise of His justice, Romans 9:17. Those who are saved are saved by God’s grace alone. And those who are damned are damned by their own sins alone. But whether saved or damned, all humanity, according to Scripture, deserves to be damned by God for eternity for its sins against Him.

God is not the author of sin – He simply permits it to take place in His creation – for a time. God didn’t make Adam disobey Him in the Garden. Adam exercised his own free will when he sided with Satan against God. However, as we’ve already noted, God had the Fall of man in mind before the foundation of the world.

There’s a verse of Scripture in the Book of Revelation that spells it out for us. Revelation 13:8 speaks of those, “…whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life are those of the fallen mass of humanity God has passed by, which is to say that they are those whom God has not predestined, or chosen, or elected before the foundation of the world for salvation by Christ the Lamb – the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. The wrath of God abides on them, John 3:36. Therefore these are they who remain unrepentant and unbelieving. These are they who will see the justice of God on Judgment Day.

The Plan Completed

The eternal plan of God we have just been contemplating has been completed in principle. That the eternal plan of God would be completed is encapsulated in the words of Revelation 13:8b. There Jesus Christ is spoken of as “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

This is one of those verses that attest to the fact that God had the Fall of man in mind before the foundation of the world. If the Fall had not taken place, then there would be no sin, misery, and death in the world. And if there were no sin, misery, and death in the world, the death of Christ would be meaningless. For sin, misery and death are the context in which God had decreed, in His wise counsel, to send His Son to become the Lamb slain to take away the sins of the world.

The death of Jesus was to be the death of death in time. The slain Lamb was to be the punishment and payment for sins, the sins of God’s chosen people. Therefore God had it in mind from all eternity that Christ would die for the elect of God.

So, the Fall of man was no surprise to God. In fact God permitted and purposed the Fall to demonstrate His glory in grace and in justice. “Our first parents sin God, was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory”; as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it. Therefore, Adam sinned of his own free will and accord.

God didn’t coerce Adam into sinning. God didn’t cause Adam to sin. Think about it, this means that God has 100% sovereign control of all the actions of all creation. But nevertheless, Adam is 100% responsible for his own sinful actions. Don’t miss the point being made here. God permitted Adam to sin against Him. In other words, God did not interfere with Adam’s free will. Therefore this testifies that God didn’t create Adam as an automaton.

Men are not a bunch of windy-up robots under the despotic control of a capricious God. God doesn’t make us do things while He sits in heaven twiddling knobs on a remote control. No, man is created in the image and likeness of God – the God who is free! Man was created to express that freedom – the freedom of God – on the creaturely level. As you know, freedom is the ability to choose and to do good or evil. Adam chose to do evil – He chose, he willed, he free-willed to sin against God. He chose to go against the revealed will of God.

Now, what does this have to do with the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? Well, just as God could have sovereignly prevented Adam from sinning, so He could have sovereignly prevented Christ’s death on the cross. But He did neither. He permitted Adam to sin against Him. And He permitted men to nail His Son to the cross. Why? He permits evil because it is included as part of His eternal plan.

There’s a verse in Acts that illustrates this very thing. Speaking of Christ it says, “…Him, being delivered by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death, whom God raised up…” Acts 2:23

But again we must state that even though Christ’s crucifixion is included in God’s eternal plan, God is not the author of sin. By which we mean that He did not and does not cause any angel or man to sin. God remains without spot or stain regarding sin and evil. And does Christ’s death on the cross not prove this irrefutably and conclusively? Of course it does!

Jesus Christ is one Divine Person with two distinct natures. He is the God-man – God and Man in one Divine Person. He is the 2nd Person in the Trinity clothed in human flesh. Therefore, if God was the author of sin and evil how could Christ Jesus possibly be declared to be the lamb without spot or stain? If He were the author of evil, wouldn’t He have the blood of all humanity on His hands? Yet Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18&19, that you were redeemed “…with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “…how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

So, if Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and if Christ is the Lamb without blemish and without spot, and if Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, then God is without blemish and without spot, because Jesus Christ is both God and man in one Divine Person. And not only that, if Jesus Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, and if Jesus Christ HAS taken away the sins of the world by His death, and if God HAS in mind from eternity that the Son of Man’s death would take away the sins of the world, then because Christ HAS died God’s eternal plan HAS been completed!

Christ’s resurrection from the tomb is “Mission Accomplished!” isn’t it? What mission? The “Mission” decreed by the eternal counsel of the Godhead in eternity past; i.e., the “Mission” that began to be put into action upon the first moment of creation.

So we see then that the entrance of sin and evil into creation through angels and men, even Adam, was included in God’s eternal plan. And the removal of sin and evil from creation by the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God without blemish and without spot, was also included in the eternal plan. God’s eternal plan has been completed by the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. And is now being consummated, i.e., brought to its final and permanent state of completion, throughout creation by the secret working of the Holy Spirit.

How do we know that His plan has been successfully completed? We know because Christ HAS been raised from the dead! And we also know because the Holy Spirit HAS been poured upon the earth by Christ from Heaven.

Now, some of you may be wondering how sin and evil can have been removed from creation when sin and evil are still around. Well, we never tire of reminding each other that the sins of the world have been taken away by Christ by the Lamb of God. Christ HAS died for our sins. Christ HAS risen for our justification. Therefore the new world order HAS begun! What has been completed in principle in creation is now being completed in practice in creation by the secret work of the Holy Spirit.

Are you with me? I know this is hard for us to understand. We look around and we see sin, misery, and death still in the world. So how can the plan from eternity have been completed in time?  Well, think about the fact that over four thousand years had passed from the first moment God had put His plan into action till its completion by Christ. God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in 4004BC (Bishop Ussher) or thereabouts. After Adam’s sin, for four thousand years God permitted sin, misery, and death to exist in His creation. Then He put death to death by permitting His Son to be put to death on a cross.

But how much longer will God permit people to practice evil in His creation? The cross put death to death in principle – the Holy Spirit has already started to put that principle into practice. Therefore God will permit sin and evil until death, our last enemy, is finally destroyed in practice. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23.

Don’t miss it; death is God’s judgment upon sin and evil. When death has finally been removed, God’s Judgment will have ended. As all Christians know, death is removed from all who keep on repenting and keep on believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Can you see then that the Judgment of God has already begun? The world at the moment is being divided into the bit that will be saved and the bit that will perish. Or, if you will, the world is at this very moment being divided into the more familiar sheep and goats, wheat and tares. How is this so? It’s because Christ work is finished, completed. That’s what He said on the cross, wasn’t it? “It is finished!”

The Lamb slain in eternity in the mind of God has been slain in time in the actual physical world. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is the Lamb slain in these last days of the world.

The Plan Commemorated

Christians commemorate the finished, i.e., the completed work of Christ. For what’s the Lord’s Supper all about if it’s not about commemorating Christ’s completed work? Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me” 1 Corinthians 11:24&25.

But the Lord’s Supper also has a present and a future aspect to it. For the Lord’s Supper proclaims in the present His death till He comes again in the future. Think about it, the two Sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper – are what physically and spiritually separate us from the world. The sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares, are separated by the Sacraments. To be sure, only the Lord Himself knows His true sheep. Some weeds look like wheat just as some goats look like sheep! But, there is a physical and spiritual separation of the sheep and the goats taking place throughout the world wherever the Gospel is proclaimed.

In particular, it’s when a Christian prepares to sit down with the Lord at His table that he personally contemplates the eternal plan of God. And at the Lord’s Table he contemplates the work Christ completed on the cross. Therefore it’s especially at the Lord’s Table that the Christian commemorates the finished work of Christ. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” 1 Corinthians 11:26. So, the time-factor in the Lord’s Supper is three-fold: the present proclamation of the past death of the Lord who is to come.

What happened when Jesus died? The sins of the world were taken away by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. What happens to your sins when you repent and believe in the Lamb? Your sins are presently removed from you by the past death of the Lamb. What happens if you do not repent of your sins and do not believe in the Lamb for salvation? “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” John 3:36.

So, what are we commemorating in the Lord’s Supper? We are commemorating the wrath of God being removed from us by the work of Christ two thousand years ago, and also the work of the Spirit and the Word in our hearts today. And if the wrath of God has been removed from us, then Christ’s work is indeed complete. And if Christ’s work is complete, then the matter of Judgment has already been decided. And when was it decided? It was decided in eternity past in the eternal counsel of the Godhead, which is to say that God knew from eternity those for whom the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.

Do you see it? The “Lamb slain”, i.e., the Saviour has to be somebody’s Saviour, doesn’t He? Christ’s work on the cross was a good work, a finished work, a completed work. Yes? Well, again, “Known to God from eternity are all His works.” Therefore, according to God what did the eternal Son of God step into time to do? He came to save His people from their sins, didn’t He? And who are God’s people? They are all those who will, by the grace of God, believe in Him.

Conclusion

I would urge you to continue to repent of your sins and continue to believe in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. For without the inclusion of Christ, whatever your schemes or plans, no matter how best you lay them, they will perish along with you like the little mouse-house of Burns’ poem.

So start beating your sword into a ploughshare. And start ploughing as straight a furrow as you possibly can in this life. Fix your eyes on the immovable rock at the end of the paddock. Fix your eyes upon Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. God’s eternal plan has not, cannot, and shall not fail or be thwarted. To God alone be all glory. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

THE TRINITY IN UNITY


THE TRINITY IN UNITY

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 2)

Introduction

We know that the only one living and true God is. It’s on account of the things God has created and His upkeep of them that we know that the one living and true God is. Our own conscience testifies to us that the living and true God is. We look at the sun, the moon, the stars and we know that the one living and true God is. We look at the blue sky, the blue sea, and the green earth and we know the one living and true God is. We see how fearfully and wonderfully we have been made and we know the one living and true God is.

The one living and true God is – all creation trumpets that in our ears. All creation flashes it before our eyes. Everything that we taste, touch, and smell testifies that the one living and true God is. And if all of that were not enough, the very Word of God, the Holy Scriptures testify that the one living and true God is.

Now then, here’s where it gets difficult. How well do you know the one living and true God? Do you know what He is like in and of Himself? Most of us are able to describe God in relation to the world. But how many of us are able to describe God as He is in relation to Himself? In other words, we‘re asking how many of us actually know what God is.

We tend to think of God in terms of what He does and how He acts. But what is God like before He created the heavens and the earth and all therein, including you and me? Well, that’s what we’re attempting to investigate in the following.

The heavens and the earth and all therein reveal that the one living and true God is. But the Scriptures reveal to us what God is like in nature and in person. Therefore, we need to search the Scriptures to find out about the nature and personhood of God.

The Nature of God

When we carefully search the Scriptures to find out about the nature of God, we discover, to quote the WCF, that “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity…” So, the nature of God is three persons of equal unity, which is to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. And each Person in the Trinity is of equal power. And each Person in the Trinity is eternal. Note, therefore, that God is three Persons in unity.

Let us focus on the unity of God for the moment. Now, it’s no secret that the heavens and the earth and all therein reflect the unity aspect of God. We can see the interconnectedness of it all as we study God’s creation. We can see that we are of the same stuff as the visible universe. We eat fruit and vegetables, and the flesh of birds, animals, and fish. We eat to replace the lost proteins and minerals out of which our bodies are formed.

God made us out of the same material He made the universe out of. But we know that there are also invisible things in God’s creation. We know instinctively and inherently that there is more to us than meets the naked eye. We know that there is a “spiritual” aspect of man. Man has a yearning, an inclination to worship God who is invisible. However, the trouble with man is that he creates a god in his own image. He does this because the General Revelation of God is insufficient for how we are to worship God.

Man, as it were, fills in the blanks when it comes to worshipping the one true and living God. However, God has given us Special Revelation of what and who He is, what and who we are, and how we are to serve and to worship Him. Jesus says in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth.” And Jesus says in Mark 12:29, “… ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’”

So God is Spirit, and God is one. Therefore there are not three spirits, nor are there three gods. Rather, according to Jesus, there is only one living and true God. Therefore all stick, stone, wooden, plastic, crystal, glass, brass, gold, silver, or anything made of any created material is a false god. As is any god imagined who is contrary to what the one living and true God has revealed about Himself in His Word.

So, thus far we’ve noted that God is one, and that He is Spirit. Therefore we can safely say along with Scripture that God – who is Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit – is one Spirit.

The Apostle Paul says the following about God, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen” 1 Tim. 1:17. So we see then that God who is one Spirit is also eternal, immortal, invisible, and alone is wise. God is eternal in that He has no beginning or end. God is the eternal IS. He always was, is, and will be – He is eternal.

And He is immortal – He lives forever, He cannot die. He lives forever, and He cannot die because He is eternal. That’s what eternal means – it means forever. God is from eternity to eternity.

And the eternal God who is Spirit is also invisible. He needs to reveal Himself to you before you will see Him. In other words, He needs to clothe Himself in something visible before you will see Him. In Old Testament times God appeared as the Messenger or Angel of the Lord. He appeared as the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire, just to name a couple. But unless God reveals Himself to us He remains out of sight because He is invisible.

Paul says that God alone is wise. What does he mean? Well, he’s at least saying that God does not just have an attribute of wisdom. Rather, God IS wisdom. Therefore all wisdom, wherever it may be found, comes from God who is alone wise. And because God alone is wise, all His counsels, all His plans, are wise. And all the out-workings of His plans in creation work according to His Divine wisdom. Therefore who is able to outsmart the living and true God? Who able to pull the wool over His eyes? No created thing, no one!

God alone is uncreated. Everything other than God has been created by God. God alone is Creator. Everything other than the Creator is a creature. Space, time, matter, have been created by God and are therefore creatures. The heavens and the earth and all therein are creatures. Angels are creatures.

What was there before in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and all therein? From all eternity there was only one living and true God – the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The interconnectedness of creation reflects the interconnectedness of the Creator. Or to put it another way, the unity of the universe is a visible expression of the invisible God. Don’t stumble on this point.

The creation is not God. Rather creation is an expression of who God is, albeit a limited expression. But though God transcends His creation, He is present everywhere in His creation. The ocean fills every nook and cranny of the seabed. God fills all of creation. The LORD through His Prophet Jeremiah puts it like this, “‘Am I a God near at hand,’ says the LORD, ‘And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the LORD; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the LORD” Jeremiah 23:23&24.

We’ve seen so far that the one living and true God is indeed one, He is Spirit, eternal, immortal, invisible, alone wise, and He is also immense, i.e., filling heaven and earth. Now, Scripture has revealed to us many more attributes of God than we have space to consider. But for the moment we have seen that the nature of God stands alone, it is unique. God alone is by nature Creator. Everything else is by nature created and is therefore by nature creaturely.

The oneness or unity of creation is in the creaturely-ness of all created things. The oneness or unity of the Godhead is that He is the one only living and true God. And because He alone is Creator, He is able to reveal something of His Divine nature to, by, and through the things He has made.

As creatures made in His own image and likeness, He has given us the capacity of at least a limited understanding of His nature. To be sure, the mind boggles when trying to comprehend all revelation God has given of Himself. But, as the writer to the Hebrews says under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “…he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

How many people do you know that are interested in the attributes of God? Shouldn’t all Christians be interested in the nature of the one true and living God? Of course we should! However, when we consider the attributes and nature of God we are looking at what God is. And that’s basically what we’ve just been doing, isn’t it? We’ve been studying WHAT God is. But WHO is God?

The Personhood of God

When we say God is a Trinity in unity we are answering both the what and who is God questions. What is God? God is the Trinity in unity. Who is God? God is the Trinity in unity.

But what do we mean by saying this? And who do we mean? Well, we mean that the three Persons in the Godhead are the one living and true God. So, to answer the who question, we need to consider the three Persons in the Trinity.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts what the Bible says thus: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity.” WCF 2:3.

Perfect unity calls for equality, yes? Think about it, can a master and a slave have perfect unity? They might have some kind of unity. But it wouldn’t necessarily be perfect unity.

We share a certain unity with birds, animals, and fish. But it’s not a perfect unity. We all are creatures, but man is a special creature. Unlike the animals, birds, and fish man alone was created in the image and likeness of the Creator. So, whatever interconnectedness or unity we have with other creatures, it is imperfect. Why is it an imperfect unity? It’s because we are not all of the same substance, power, and eternity.

Only man is a spiritual being, by which we mean, only man is a spirit-being with a body. This is because only man is made in the image of God who is Spirit and eternal. Whales and dolphins might have a mysterious aura of intelligence. The owl might be wise, the fox cunning, the serpent subtle, but only man images or reflects God’s “Spirit-ness” on a creaturely level.

But, when it comes to the living and true God, the three Persons in the Godhead have perfect unity. The perfect unity is on account of Their perfect equality of substance, power, and eternity. The Father is pure Spirit because He is God. The Son is pure Spirit because He is God. And the Spirit is pure Spirit because He is God. The substance of God, then, is pure Spirit. When we talk about pure water, we mean water that is unpolluted. We mean that the water has nothing mixed with or in it – it is water, pure water, perfect water. Well, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are Spirit, pure Spirit, perfect Spirit.

What about the power of God? Does the Father have more power than the Son or the Spirit? Or does each Person have equal power because each is equally God?

When God manifested Himself to Abraham, He said, “I am Almighty God” Genesis 17:1. In the Book of Revelation the four living creatures say, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” Revelation 4:8b. Almighty means “all-powerful”, or Omnipotent. The Father is Omnipotent, the Son is equally Omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is equally Omnipotent. But to say that there are three separate Omnipotents is an absurdity of absurdities! There can only ever be one Almighty – one all-powerful. Therefore the Trinity in unity is Almighty God.

Jesus says in Matthew 28:19 that the discipled nations are to be baptised “…in the NAME of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The three Persons are one in substance, power, and eternity. Therefore, the three Persons of the Godhead share one name. They share one name because God is a trinity in unity. Each Person equally shares the title “God Almighty”.

Now, when we talk about God being the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are talking about three distinct Persons in the Godhead. We are NOT talking about three separate Persons in the Godhead. We are NOT saying that the one God exists in three different forms. NOR are we saying that the Father became the Son, then became the Holy Spirit. No, what we ARE saying is that there are three distinct Persons who are the one God Almighty.

Now, we spoke a little about attributes a little earlier when we spoke about the interconnectedness or unity of things. The birds, animals, and fish share some of our attributes, don’t they? We’ve mentioned that dolphins are intelligent, foxes are cunning, owls are wise, etc. But we know that there are attributes belonging to us alone – not shared with any other creatures. Yet, those attributes that belong to us are also attributes of God – attributes that He shares with us.

God is Spirit. God, for His own glory, has created man as a spiritual being, i.e., a soul spirit with a body, which is another way of saying that we were created in order to worship Him in spirit and truth. But the point I make is that God shares some of His attributes with us.

Now, when we consider each of the three Persons in the Trinity, we can see distinctions. We are able to see that each Person has attributes belonging only to Himself. The Father has the attribute of Fatherhood. Fatherhood does not belong to the Son, but Sonship does. Sonship does not belong to the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has neither Fatherhood nor Sonship. Therefore the Spirit also has a distinctive attribute.

The WCF states it like this: “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”

The Father has never been without the Son throughout all eternity. The Son has never been without the Father throughout all eternity. The Father and the Son have never been without the Holy Spirit throughout all eternity. And the Holy Spirit has never been without the Father and the Son throughout all eternity. Simply put, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are eternally God.

But, there is private or personal property that belongs to the Father. And there is private or personal property that belongs to the Son. And there is private or personal property that belongs to the Holy Spirit. The private or personal property is, again, Fatherhood, Sonship, and Holy Spirit-ness. Or, more technically, eternally begetting, eternally begotten, and eternally proceeding.

Now, it’s when you consider these personal distinctions in the Godhead that you begin to see more clearly the Personhood of the one living and true God. In other words, we become personally acquainted with God when we start to understand that He is also Triune in nature. Sure, we might understand something of the nature of God when we read in His Word that He is infinite in Being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute etc. etc. But when we discover by His Spirit through His Word that He is the Trinity in unity it all becomes very personal.

Here is God in communion, in fellowship with Himself. The Father fellowships with the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father loves the Son from eternity. And the Son loves the Father from eternity. The Holy Spirit eternally shares the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father. But the personal thing is that the Trinity in unity wants to fellowship with me and have me fellowship with Him! This is incredible! Astounding! That the one living and true God would condescend to fellowship with sinners like you and me! “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1.

When you know what God is – when you know who God is – it just boggles the mind to think that God Almighty would build a rapport with a speck of dust like you or me! But that’s the very nature of God, isn’t it? God is Fellowship – He is the Trinity in perfect unity.

To a certain extent we can fellowship with birds and animals, even fish! As a boy I had a pet crow that went everywhere with me, even to school on occasion! We have a pet dog. My daughter, Nina, had a great friendship with a goldfish! We can build rapports with other creatures. But our fellowship is limited by the creature’s lack of spiritual endowment. And we can enjoy more personal fellowship with other persons. But again that fellowship can be limited by the other person’s or persons’ lack of spiritual attributes. Only God can fully satisfy man’s yearning for personal fellowship. To be sure, the relationship between a husband and his wife can come pretty close. However, only the living and true God can satisfy man’s craving for spiritual fellowship.

The atheist tries really hard to suppress the spiritual craving and explain it away. The New Ager tries to satisfy the craving with substitutes for the living and true God. So does all false religion. But when a person, by the grace of God, begins to know what God is, and also begins to understand who God is, then his soul begins to be satisfied. For then he begins to feel the warmth of God as he gazes upon the very being of God. Like a mirror in the sun he reflects the warmth of the fellowship he has with God upon those around. 

Conclusion

Above, we’ve briefly considered something of the nature and the personhood of God. We’ve seen, albeit ever so briefly, that the true and living God is the Trinity in unity. And we’ve noted that all of His creation reflects, in some way or other, some of His attributes. Man, especially on account of his being created in the image and likeness of God, has been endowed with certain of God’s attributes on the creaturely level. Another way of saying this is that man shares certain aspects of the nature and personhood of God at the creaturely level.

Now, on account of what we’ve looked at, it should be obvious to us, that God alone is the source of all life, and existence. The sun, the moon, and all the stars, planets, asteroids, everything exists because Almighty God created and sustains it in His wisdom. Every blade of grass on earth, every piece of plankton in the sea, the birds, the bees, the trees, everything that has life in it has been made and is sustained and maintained by God, including the inert things. Therefore all of creation must render to God whatever worship, service, or obedience God requires of each creature. Or to put it another way, all of creation ought to be glorifying God each in its respective sphere.

Birds, fish, and animals glorify God by being what they are. The sun, the moon, and the stars glorify God by being what they are. But what about us? Do we glorify God by being what we are? What are we? And who are we? Well, we cannot fully and accurately know and understand what we are and who we are until and unless we begin to know and understand what God is and who God is.

In the above we’ve seen something of what and who God is. And we’ve summed it up by saying that God is the Trinity in unity.

In light of what we’ve looked at we should be able to understand what Jesus means where He says these words found in John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” And also in John 14:9, “…he who has seen Me has seen the Father…” We might put it like this: The Spirit reveals the Son who reveals the Father; for the Holy Spirit testifies of the Son who testifies of the Father. That’s the nature and personhood of the Trinity.

We need help to see Jesus as He is revealed in Scripture. That’s why Jesus sent the Helper to help us. Therefore the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And He comes to whoever the Father and the Son send Him.

But the place for us to start looking for Jesus is at the cross. For that’s the place where the only one living and true God has revealed clearly what and who He is. It’s at the cross that we see the love of the Triune God manifested most clearly.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” John 3:16-18.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE


THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1, paras 1-5)

Introduction

Have you ever wondered why God is so hard to see? We all know that God is there, but how come we can’t see Him? Speaking of God Job says in Job 9:8-11, “He alone spreads out the heavens, and treads on the waves of the sea; He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the chambers of the south; He does great things past finding out, Yes, wonders without number. If He goes by me, I do not see Him; if He moves past, I do not perceive Him.”

I think Job is speaking for us all here. “If He goes by me, I do not see Him; if He moves past, I do not perceive Him.” But one of the “blessings” in the Beatitudes is: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” Matthew 5:8. But why can’t we see God now? Well, it all depends on God, doesn’t it? It depends on whether God wants us to see Him or not. Therefore, in a word, it all depends upon revelation.

God needs to condescend to reveal Himself before we shall see Him. We can build as many high towers into the heavens as we want. We can send rockets to the moon, Mars, and all the stars. But unless God deigns to manifest Himself to us, we shall never see Him!

What we’re looking at in the following has to do with the revelation – or revealing – of God. First we’ll look at the revelation of God and then we’ll consider our response to that revelation,

Revelation

The Westminster Confession of Faith says that God manifests or reveals His goodness, wisdom, and power through the light of nature, the works of creation and providence “as to leave men inexcusable.” We agree then with the Confession that God reveals His existence through the things He has made; and also the upkeep or sustaining and maintaining of these things.

As you know Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Therefore we can see the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, for example, all throughout God’s creation. And in the fact that He sends rain and sunshine so that the creatures He has created might be fed.

Psalm 104, for instance, tells of these things. “He sends the springs into the valleys; they flow among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. By them the birds of the heavens have their home; they sing among the branches. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth” Psalm 104:10-14.

When we look at the things that God has created we see evidence, i.e., proof that God is – that He exists. This is what is called “General Revelation” – it is revelation for everyone to see plainly. Only a fool would deny the existence of God. For the existence of God is as plain as the nose on your face!

Now, when we speak of being able to know God’s goodness, wisdom, and power through the “light of nature” we are speaking about your ability of sense and reason. You and I are able to sense things around us. We normally speak of five senses, don’t we? We have the sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. We call the “sense-centre” – through which all five senses are filtered – the “heart”, don’t we? The five senses bring outside information to the heart, don’t they? The heart evaluates the information brought to it through the five senses. That information is revelation of GodGeneral Revelation.

So, we need to ask: What does the heart make of this General Revelation? What conclusions does it draw about God who comes at us through our five senses? Well, “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God” Psalm 14:1. There is all this revelation of God outside of us, and the fool says in his heart, “there is no God!”

So, we now need to ask: Is there something wrong with the revelation of God? Or is there something wrong with the way the heart handles this revelation? We’d have to say that there is nothing wrong with the general revelation of God. Therefore it’s the heart of the fool that is faulty.

At this point we conclude that there is an outer testimony to the existence of God. That witness or testimony is in the things that God has created and His upkeep of them. But hasn’t God also made us? Didn’t He create us as His own image and likeness? Of course He did! And that’s how come we know of the existence of God through the things He made.

We have been created by God to consciously glorify God. But there’s something wrong with our conscience, isn’t there? Paul says in Romans 2:15 that our conscience either accuses or excuses us. And he says that God has written the work of His Law upon our heart. Therefore, your “sense-centre”, your heart, which is to say, your conscience accuses you when you go against God.

So, we’ve got all this general revelation of God coming into us from the outside via our sense-centre and what do we do with it? Well, let’s read what Paul says to the Romans in Romans 1:18-22, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”

So we see then that men suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. And we see that what may be known of God is manifest or revealed to them and in them. We see that God has revealed Himself so clearly to man, that we are without excuse. And we see that, although we knew God, we do not glorify Him. With all this in mind we can safely conclude that there is therefore nothing at all wrong with the revelation of God. Rather something is wrong with our hearts.

Although man, in a certain sense, “knows” God through the things God has made, he seeks to keep the lid on that knowledge! The sense-centre, the heart, the conscience is the very thing that testifies to us the true and living God exists. However, our conscience is also telling us that God is not happy with us. That’s one of the reasons why we try to suppress the truth of God. Our conscience is accusing us of going against God. And we all know that there is a penalty for breaking God’s Law. And we are reminded of that penalty every time someone dies. For the wages of sin is death!

But is there no good news for man? We can all see the goodness, wisdom, and power of God in His General Revelation. And we also can see the wrath of God revealed in the things around us. But what about the hope of God? Is hope for man displayed in the General Revelation of God? No! God reveals hope for man, i.e., salvation through another means. This means is called “Special Revelation”. Whereas General Revelation makes it known that God is, and therefore leaves us without excuse, Special Revelation makes known what we are to believe about God and what He requires of us.

Special Revelation deals with faith and life or duty. In other words, the light of nature, the works of creation, and providence are not sufficient to give us that knowledge of God and His will, which is necessary unto salvation.

So, God then, because He is gracious, has revealed the way of salvation. This is what we mean when we speak about Special Revelation. God used to give Special Revelation by speaking to and through His Prophets and Apostles. But since the coming of Jesus Christ these ways of Special Revelation have now ceased. Now we have the Holy Scriptures – the Bible.

Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnated. The Scriptures are the Word of God inscripturated. The Word of God inscripturated speaks of the Word of God incarnated. Jesus says in John 5:39&40, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” The Scriptures reveal the way of salvation. Jesus Christ is the way, John 14:6. We must come to Him to receive life.

As part of God’s General Revelation, the light of nature, i.e., our conscience, tells us that there is something wrong with us by accusing or excusing us. E.g., speaking of the Gentiles, Romans 2:15 says, “[They] show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them…” But God’s Special Revelation tells us what is wrong with us AND what God has done about it.

God wrote His Law on our hearts when He created us. Our conscience lets us know that we are breakers of God’s Law. The Scriptures testify that we are indeed breakers of God’s Law. But, the Scriptures, beginning to end, reveal God’s grace towards breakers of His Law. In other words, the Scriptures contain the Gospel, or the Good News of God’s salvation for fallen man. This salvation, or promise of eternal life, is centred on the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament reveals that Christ is coming and what He is coming to do. The Gospels reveal that He has come and what He did do. And the Epistles reveal what it all means.

But the question necessarily arises: How do we know the sixty-six books of the Bible are true? How do we know that there should only be sixty-six books included in the Bible? Who says? Who gives the Bible its authority to be the rule of faith and life? Well, this is where we need to move from the objective to the subjective. We need to consider what is going on in your heart as well as what is going on around you.

We’ve seen above that God has given us General Revelation of Himself. And He has also given us Special Revelation of Himself. And, of course, these means of God’s revelation complement, but never contradict the other. But how are we to respond to God’s revelation General and Special?

Response

Your response to all revelation from God ought to be belief on your part. But how do we know which is true revelation from God? Or to put the question another way: How do we know the Scriptures are authentic and therefore authoritative? Well, we’ve already considered the fact that we know that God exists on account of our own conscience; which also lets us know that we are being judged.

Your conscience accuses you because the work of God’s Law is on your heart. Just think about it, if you think your conscience accuses you because you have set yourself such a high moral standard – then you must be insane! Why on earth would you set yourself a standard of morals you cannot possibly meet? And yet even when people have a low set of morals they still cannot silence their conscience from its accusations!

Your conscience accuses you because God wrote His Ten Commandments on your heart when He made you. Therefore, even before we even pick up a Bible, subjectively, i.e., inwardly we know that God is. And we know that He is a Moral Being who holds us accountable for our actions. And in the light of nature, i.e., when our sense-centre considers God’s works of creation and providence we are left without excuse. Which is to say that, when we on the inside are conscious of what’s on the outside, we know that God is our Maker and that He is our Moral Judge. We know therefore, no matter how much we might try to suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness, that God has authority over us.

God’s General Revelation through the light of nature, the works of creation and providence reveals God’s authority over all creation which includes even us. Psalm 19:1&2, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge.” So, if we see God’s authority through the things He has made, which leaves us without excuse for not seeking God, then we should be able to see the authority of the Scriptures.

The Scriptures claim to be the Word of God inscripturated. Jesus claimed that the Scriptures spoke of Him as a Person, and also as the way to eternal life. Therefore, Jesus Christ is acknowledging the authority of the Scriptures as the very Word of God.

Jesus in Luke 24:44 refers to the complete Old Testament – as we know it – when He says, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” There are thirty-nine Books in the Old Testament, i.e., in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

Jesus promised that He would give His Apostles the Holy Spirit so that they could write the New Testament: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” John 14:26. And also John 15:26&27, “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” So, when we see that the Apostles did indeed receive the Holy Spirit, and that they did indeed subsequently write and/or oversee the writing of the New Testament, we can accept the Bible’s authority. 

The Apostles viewed the twenty-seven Books of the New Testament as having equal authority with the thirty-nine Old Testament Books. We see this demonstrated, e.g., by Peter in 2 Peter 3:16 where he refers to Paul’s thirteen letters (fourteen if Paul wrote Hebrews) as being part of the “rest of the Scriptures”.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” So, do the thirty-nine Books of the Old Testament testify of Jesus? Yes! Do the Gospels and Acts testify of Jesus? Yes! Do the Epistles including the Book of Revelation? Yes! Is Jesus telling the truth when He says of the Scriptures “…these are they which testify of Me”? Of course He is!

But how do we know that the sixty-six Book of the Bible are the very Word of God? How do we know that there should be only sixty-six Books in the Bible? How do we know that we shouldn’t include those books called the Apocrypha, for instance? Well, none of the books of the Roman Catholic Apocrypha claims to be Scripture for a start.

But there is another way being fully persuaded and assured that the sixty-six Books we have are the complete Bible and are the infallible truth. We are convinced of their Divine Authority by the same Holy Spirit who moved over forty men over sixteen-hundred years to write the sixty-six Books of the Bible.

The Holy Spirit convinces us of the Divine Authority of the Scriptures by bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. Therefore it is not men, or the Church, or the Pope of Rome that gives the Bible its authority. It is Almighty God who gives the Bible its Authority, because the Bible is His Word inscripturated. And Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnated.

Jesus is the last Word of God to fallen man. Therefore according to Scripture, Jesus is the final Word. Hebrews 1:1&2 for example testifies to this clearly, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things…” And the Scriptures give us clear warning not to add to, or take away from, the Word of God, Prov. 34:5&6; & Rev. 22:18&19.

Now, some people might think the Bible is a great book, with great poetry, and a majestic style. But unless the Spirit brings the Word to bear savingly in your heart you’ll continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. For the Spirit has come to convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, John 16:8.

What should be our response to the Revelation of God – whether that Revelation of God is General Revelation of Special Revelation? What should our response be to the Spirit of God in other words? You cannot escape the Spirit of God, can you? He’s convicting you in General Revelation, isn’t He? You look around and you see the irrefutable existence of God.

And this evidence you have all around you is not evidence of any-old God. It’s not that you acknowledge that there might possibly be some kind of God. No, the true and living God makes His existence known through the things He has made. And He makes Himself known to you by His Spirit, doesn’t He?

Think about those verses of Scripture in Psalm 139 for a moment. There you are – a non-Christian – confronted by the light of nature, the works of God in creation and His providence. How are you going to avoid the truth of God’s existence staring you in the face? How are you going to avoid the Omnipresent Spirit of God?

Although Psalm 139:7-10 is speaking of someone who doesn’t wish to suppress the truth of God, nevertheless, it does make a solid point. “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” The Spirit of God speaks to our hearts through the things God has made. He speaks to our consciences no matter where we are or where we go.

But, we need the Spirit-breathed Word before we can know the way of salvation, don’t we? Contrary to what some people have thought, the way of salvation is not written in the stars. Rather, it is written only in the sixty-six books of the Bible. Yet people are ready to ignore the Authority of the Bible. God is testifying to His existence throughout all creation. And He is revealing in the Bible who He is and who and what we are and what’s wrong with us, and how God has fixed us, and His creation.

But what’s it like for some people?  Well, it’s like they are having a nice leisurely stroll on some green and luscious grass in a wide-open park. Here and there, there are plants, trees, birds and bees and animals. But you see a sign on the grass. When you draw closer you see what’s written on it. In bold print the sign reads, “KEEP OFF GRASS!”

So, people get offended by that, don’t they? ”By whose authority are they telling ME to keep off the grass?” “Whose grass is it anyway?” “Nobody’s going to tell me what to do!” But isn’t this the way people treat God’s World and God’s Word? They deny that God owns the world and they find His Commandments offensive – like a “Keep off Grass” sign!

But what if the “Keep off grass” sign said, “‘Keep off Grass’ – area deadly contaminated? Please go to water shower at narrow gate on narrow path for cleansing.” Isn’t that what the Scriptures are saying to the world?

God is saying to the world in the Scriptures that the world has become contaminated by our sin. He is saying in the Scriptures that negative reaction to His Law is proof that you are contaminated. But He is saying in the Scriptures that you can be cleansed of your lethal contamination – cleansed by the blood Christ shed on the tree. But you must come to Him that you may have life – eternal life! You must enter through the narrow gate – you must go down the narrow path.

Conclusion

So, what is your response then to the way of salvation revealed in Scripture? The way of salvation revealed in the Bible is that we are saved by the perfect works of Jesus Christ. We are cleansed of our sin by virtue of the blood shed on the cross by Jesus – the Lamb who takes away the sin (i.e., the lethal contamination) of the world. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ are the heart of the matter.

Has the Holy Spirit convinced you that you need the grace of God to be saved? If so, what then is your response to the authoritative revelation of God whether General or Special? Has the Holy Spirit convinced you by the light of nature, the works of creation and providence that God is? And if so, has He also convinced you that the Scriptures come with all the authority of Almighty God? Well, if He has, instead of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, you will be rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.