Larger Catechism, #93

The Larger Catechism

Question 93

 93. Q. What is the moral law?

A. The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body,[399] and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man:[400] promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.[401]

 

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[399] Deuteronomy 5:1-3, 31, 33. And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day…. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it…. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess. Luke 10:26-27. He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [400] Luke 1:75. In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. Acts 24:16. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. [401] Romans 10:5. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. Galatians 3:10. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Galatians 3:12. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

Introduction

Though the Bible does not use the specific label “moral law,” yet we can find the label’s concept in the Bible. The moral law refers to all the laws, rules, statutes, etc. God has revealed. For that reason, Q. 98 can ask, “Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?” Strewn throughout the Bible is God’s moral law and its comprehensive summary is found in the Ten Commandments.

Some are suspicious when theologians use labels not found in the Bible. We must also be careful not to impose foreign concepts on to the Bible. Yet, just because the specific label cannot be found does not mean it should automatically be suspect. Its definition or meaning should be critically evaluated according to the Bible’s teaching. The word “Trinity” cannot be found in the Bible but its meaning can.

 

The Will of God

We have developed what man is to believe concerning God in questions 1-90. Now we can study man’s duty to God. The LC states, “The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind…” The moral law is God’s will to mankind. As Vos stated, the moral law “is not a human discovery.” That is, these are not the ideal constructs of man discovered through intense moral and mental reflections. The moral law ideally fits man and man is fit for the law (before the fall) yet it is not something he discovered. God revealed it to man; it was not constructed by man. One writer, presumably a liberal pastor, authored a book entitled The Ten Commandments: The Master Key to Life.[1] In that book, the author sought to commend the Ten Commandments by arguing that Moses was a highly educated man and that he delved deeply on the mysteries of the human condition. Besides, Moses was also a great prophet and inspired by God: “He set down and described the human soul and the way it works. He described it in this writing which we break into ten clauses and call the Ten Commandments…within these Commandments he concealed the laws of psychology for those who were ready for them.”[2] The author could not be further from the truth. Its relevance and binding character come to us not because Moses was educated, or the commandments reveal the “laws of psychology” but because they are the declaration of the will of God to humanity. The Ten Commandments declare God’s will and not man’s brilliant insights and reflections.

Furthermore, the moral law is “not a force or principle inherent in the universe” (Vos). Since man did not “discover” it, he also cannot tap into it as if it were inherent in the universe. If it were inherent in the universe, then no confusion over it could be found.

The point of these denials stems from the Biblical teaching that the moral law came from God and that He revealed it to us. This is what God declares to humanity as His will for us. Humanity is not at liberty to accept it or not — it is required that we obey; rebellion will be punished. If the law came through discovery or was inherent in the universe, then its binding nature could be questioned. Just because we discovered it or realized that it was inherent to the universe does not mean we are obligated to obey it. We could simply accept them much like the way we accept some laws of physics.

Because it is God’s declared will, God binds all of humanity to it: “directing and binding every one…” God’s will directs everyone of us (whether obeyed or not) and He has bound all of us. Leaders, princes, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, sophisticated and the simple, etc. are bound by God to obey. Some powerful people tend to believe they are “above” the moral law and that only mere poor destitute mortals are bound to it. Yet God binds every one of us to obey. On judgment day, it will become clear how extensive God’s will is/was.

In Deut. 5, we read, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.” It was revealed to them and therefore binding. Yet in Rom. 2:14-16, we find a similar law written in all the hearts: “they are a law to themselves…the work of the law is written on their hearts.” God will judge both the Jews and Gentiles on judgment day and on the Jews, He will use what He revealed while those without the law show the works of the law in their hearts.

 

Personal, Perfect, and Perpetual

The LC states that God’s moral law direct and binds every one “to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body…” Once we understand this, we will better understand why the Westminster divines exposited the Ten Commandments as they did.

Personal” obedience means that each individual is bound to obey the moral law. No one is exempt. Each person must obey everything God demands of His moral law. In the minds of some, they believe, given their difficult backgrounds, their peculiar plight, their “unique” circumstances, etc. they feel that they can exempt themselves from some of the demands of the moral law. “I don’t have to be as kind or loving, etc. because no one ever loved me or cared for me.” “Taking advantage of someone is permissible for me because everyone in my life took advantage of me.” God still requires their personal obedience; the demand did not diminish because of their circumstances.

Furthermore, nobody else can obey for us (by proxy). Even Christ’s active obedience does not release us from personal obedience. God’s moral law binds us personally. In Christ, “Obedience, indeed, is not to be performed by us with the same view with which he [Christ] performed it.”[3]

Perfect” obedience explains itself. That is, each individual must perfectly obey all of God’s moral law. Paul cites Deut. 27:26 in Gal. 3:10, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” The assumption in that verse is that obedience must be complete and perfect and not half-hearted or disingenuous. Adam could not have eaten half of the forbidden fruit and declare that he still obeyed God’s law nor could he have squeezed the juice from it (presumably possible) and object by saying, “I didn’t eat it; I drank it.”

Is it not true that sometime we fool ourselves into believing that going through the motions is sufficient? I love my neighbor only in deed but not in word or affections. We can think of numerous examples. How many of us would be content with a plumber who pretty much fixed our leak but it was not “perfect” or complete. It still drips but it doesn’t drip like it used to! Even we demand more. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)

Perpetual” entails that our obedience to God’s moral law does not stop. “I will never forget thy precepts.” (Ps. 119:93) The Psalmist also says, “Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.” (Ps. 145:2) A young man may think he is not compelled to be as morally scrupulous as an older person. He believes he will be more diligent and compliant when he is older (and has more time). The exact opposite might be argued by an elderly man. He is too old to really obey thoroughly. He can speak his mind, be cruel, etc. because he has earned the right to do it. In both cases, the individual assumed seasonal obedience and not perpetual.

To the three descriptions are added the following: “in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body…” Our personal, perfect and perpetual obedience must not be viewed superficially. Our “frame and disposition” refer to our motives, heart, attitude, etc. The whole person, body and soul, must act in complete conformity to God’s moral law. That is why we are told that the one who hates his brother is a murderer (1Jn. 3:15; cf. Mt. 5:21ff.). The heart sin makes us liable. Jesus charges us with adultery in our hearts when we lust after a woman (Mt. 5:27-30).

 

All Those Duties

The personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience required of us pertains to both tables of the law: “and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man.” The moral law includes our obligations to God and to man. Paul endeavored to do that (“And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.” Acts 24:16) We cannot pretend to love God and hate our neighbors. Some love to lead a quiet life in solitude separated from humanity but he “oweth” his neighbor love and duties of righteousness. Other people are humane and see no need to talk about God, or to obey and worship Him. As long as they are moral, it should be sufficient (not that they are truly “moral”). Yet the moral law requires their obligations to God as well. A truly moral person is the godly person who worships and obeys God as he loves his neighbors.

 

Life and Death

The moral law has sanctions: “promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.” This has not changed since the Fall. Everyone is still obligated to obey perfectly and personally. If not they will perish. We cannot fulfill what is required but Christ has taken upon Himself the judgment of sin and His righteousness is accounted to us and thus the legal requirements are met. We must personally obey but that obedience does not earn the promised life. The moral law no longer serves as a covenant of works but as a rule of life for believers.

 

[1] Emmet Fox, The Ten Commandments: The Master Key to Life (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953). I found this in a used bookstore and was curious about his explanation.

[2] Fox, The Ten Commandments: The Master Key to Life, 34, 35.

[3] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 300.

Posted in Larger Catechism, Moral Law, Sunday School Lesson | Leave a comment

Larger Catechism, #91-92

The Larger Catechism

Questions 91-92

91. Q. What is the duty which God requireth of man?

A. The duty which God requireth man, is obedience to his revealed will.[397]

92. Q. What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?

A. The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.[398]

 

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[397] Romans 12:1-2. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Micah 6:8. He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 1 Samuel 15:22. And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. [398] Genesis 1:26-27. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Romans 2:14-15. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) Romans 10:5. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. Genesis 2:17. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

 

Introduction

Questions 91-148 thoroughly develop the contours of the moral law. For the most part, these questions explain what the Ten Commandments teach. However, questions 91-98 cover the idea of the “moral law.” Question 92 introduces it while question 93 answers the question, “What is the moral law?” The Heidelberg Catechism goes straight into asking, “What is the Law of God?” (#92) and the answer is the recitation of the Ten Commandments. It does not delve into the nature of what a “moral law” is. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) explains the three-fold division of the law in Ch. 12 (“Of the Law of God”): moral, ceremonial, and judicial [civil] (“which is occupied about political and domestic affairs”).[1] Our LC seems to develop these distinctions more thoroughly.

Yet concern about the “moral law” has interested many. In fact, many book have been written on “moral philosophy.” Yet these “theories” of right and wrong appear to be speculative to most simple and common sensed people. Their suspicions are well founded. Ethicists or academicians set aside some of the most common tenets and in turn argue for what most would consider vulgar and untenable. In a secular world, a firm and sure ethical system cannot be maintained. What makes what Hitler did right or wrong? Does might make right? Is my sense of “guilt” sociologically conditioned? Who can say this or that is wrong? Moral philosophers write volumes arguing for their method but

Philosophers, like Kant, offered what he thought was a very reasonable view of right and wrong (called “deontology”).[2] We are to act from a sense of duty to what he called the “categorical imperative.” That is, we act according to that maxim which we can will would become a universal law. This vision in theory seems plausible providing everyone was perfectly reasonable and that our depraved nature would not impede or darken our understanding. Numerous other theories have been offered but the Christian looks at this differently.

We believe God exists, that He acted and acts in history, and most of all, that He has revealed (and reveals) Himself through the Scriptures.

Duty to God

“What is the duty which God requireth of man?” This answer assumes much. The catechism assumes the existence of God, the obligation of man, and the revelation of God. The fact of God’s revelation enables us to assume all three. God’s Word came to us and changed us and in turn we learn what He requires of us. The answer states, “The duty which God requireth man, is obedience to his revealed will.

All the passages used to support the question (Rom. 12:1-2; Mic. 6:8; 1 Sam. 15:22) assume a covenantal context, that is, it assumes that God had already redeemed specific sinners (cf. Rom. 12:1-2, “by the mercies of God”; Mich 6:8, “with thy God”; 1Sam. 15:22, Samuel spoke these words to Saul, then King of Israel). This is reasonable. Only true believers, redeemed from their sin and darkness will acknowledge the Lord’s will for them. They only will bow to God since He lovingly redeemed them.

Yet, all creatures, because God created them, owe their obedience to His will. God will hold all men accountable to Himself (cf. 2Cor. 5:10). Man, as created and dependent beings, owe their entire existence to God and are obligated to their Creator. Vos says that “we are under moral obligation to love and serve him.”

Atheists deny this. They believe that man defines himself and no deity can demand obedience from him (“the divine command theory”).[3] Most secular people, who at best are agnostic, for all intents and purposes, do not look to God for right and wrong. They either look to society or to their own gut level instincts.

God requires that we obey His revealed will. Again, this assumes God reveals and indeed, He has revealed His will clearly in His Word. Yet, Christians recognize a history of revelation has been given to them by God; that revelation has been written down in the Bible.

 

Moral Law and Adam

Before God’s revelation had been written down, God revealed Himself by speaking to His people. It began at creation. The question asks, “What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?” If in fact, man was obligated to obey God’s revealed will, then what was the very first revelation? “The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.

God spoke to Adam and specifically instructed him. Every believer recognizes that Adam received a special command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Yet, the divines also add that Adam was to obey “the moral law.” This may appear strange to Bible students who have not reflected on this point. God created Adam with a moral compass and enabled him to obey his creator. A “moral law” guided him.

The clearest biblical evidence for this is Romans 2:14-15: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…” The law’s requirements (“work of the law” – τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου), what they are to do (as in v. 14) is written on their hearts. Paul does not say that the law itself is written on their hearts (since this is a New Covenant blessing, Jer. 31:33) but rather its requirements: “Things required and stipulated by the law are written upon the heart.”[4] The New Covenant promise meant more than a bare knowledge of the laws; rather, it enabled them to know God (v. 34) and walk according to His Word by the empowerment of the Spirit (see the New Covenant reference in Ezekiel, 36:27). So Rom. 2:14-15 clearly indicates God wrote the work of the law in man’s heart. We take this to be another way of saying that God wrote the moral law in man’s heart (“written on their hearts”).

G. I. Williamson offers an explanation as to what it was Adam knew and his statement is one of the best on this.

This does not mean that God gave Adam the law in an externally revealed and codified form. ‘For the law was given by Moses’ (John 1:17). Paul teaches us that the law was first transcribed in the human conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). It was ‘written in the hearts’ of men. This, however, does not mean that Adam was conscious of the Ten Commandments in the same way that we are. To us the law is a negative power which incites our enmity. In him it was a positive sense (perhaps like an intuition) which incited love of God and of good. But the difference was in Adam’s relation to the law, not the law itself.[5]

Many of the Puritans argued that this moral law in Adam is the same as the Ten Commandments (cf. a Brakel): “…the law which is impressed upon man’s nature, is identical to the ten commandments, even though they are not equal in clarity.”[6] Even if it could be argued that Adam did not labor under a Covenant of Works, the moral law still dictated his conduct. He was not created morally neutral. For example, his knowledge of his wife, her relation to him, etc. assume the sanctity of marriage and the moral laws governing marriage. Gen. 2:24 is something Adam himself understood. Murray says, “Verse 24 is an inference drawn from verse 23… [and] was known to Adam…”[7] Jesus’ own statement teaches this when commenting on the implications of v. 24 (Mt. 19:5), “but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt. 19:8). That is, the teaching on marriage was from the beginning, at creation. It would be strange to argue that it was from the beginning and that Adam was the only one that did not understand it.

Why belabor this point? Why should we insist that the moral law existed in Adam? These three points may help us.

1. The moral law is not a strange new thing in God’s salvation history. It existed in Eden and expanded or was expounded it greater details later on redemptive history.

2. The moral law is not a “Mosaic” thing. The idea of law and obedience did not spring out of the Mosaic covenant. Adam was not “law-less.” A moral law governed his behavior.

3. The moral law is not arbitrary. The moral law declared in the OT were not “arbitrary” and restricted to ethnic Israelites. Its moral demands pertain to all human beings since it exists in all man (starting with Adam).

 Watson says, “The end of our obedience must not be to stop the mouth of conscience, or to gain applause or preferment; but that we may grow more like God, and bring more glory to him.”[8] That would have been the case with Adam before the fall and that should be the case now for believers. Adam had the moral law as an image bearer to glorify God. Restored sinners have been placed in a similar position to do the same. To be “converted” and not changed enough to live in obedience to God’s moral law would be a monstrosity.[9]

[1] James T. Dennison and Jr, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: 1552-1566, trans. Jr. James T. Dennison, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 831-832.

[2] The approach that determines whether something is good or bad by examining the acts, rule, duties, etc. the person attempted to fulfill. Therefore, it could still be a “good” act even if it had bad consequences. (Christianity is a “form” of deontology.) Cf. See “deontology” in Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vols. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1967) and Dagobert D. Runes, The Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: Philosophical Library, 1942).

[3] Cf. Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 13. Atheists believe they have plausible theories for moral actions. Martin says that atheists have offered “several impressive attempts” — and therefore, he says, theists cannot argue that atheism will lead to moral relativism.

[4] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 1, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 75.

[5] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004), 179.

[6] Wilhemus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, 4 vols. (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1992-95), 3:42.

[7] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), 28-29.

[8] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), 3.

[9] The very idea of the “moral law” is carefully developed in the subsequent LC questions.

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No matter how goofy or insignificant your church is…

Kevin DeYoung, in his marvelous little book entitled The Hole in our Holiness, made this simple important observation:

Because the church is the body of Christ, we cannot have communion with Christ without also communing with our fellow Christians. Fellowship within the family of God is one expression of communion with Christ. John says, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). That’s a remarkable statement. No matter how goofy or insignificant your church may seem, fellowship in that body of believers is fellowship with God.10 Those serious about communing with Christ will be diligent to share in fellowship with other Christians (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:24–25). In more than a decade of pastoral ministry I’ve never met a Christian who was healthier, more mature, and more active in ministry by being apart from the church. But I have found the opposite to be invariably true. The weakest Christians are those least connected to the body. And the less involved you are, the more disconnected those following you will be. The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart. (p. 132)

I have been a pastor for almost two decades and I concur wholeheartedly with DeYoung: “The weakest Christians are those least connected to the body.” Many have proclaimed the exact opposite but I’ve seen the ravaging effects of neglecting the body of Christ. Middle aged men and women to senior citizens have shriveled into spiritually gaunt and hollow souls. The church had been kept at a distance and they marginally (and nominally) maintained their membership — they are not only weak, they are (almost?) spiritually dead.

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Zechariah 13, God’s Discerning Refined People

Zechariah 13:1-6

The difficulty of interpreting this passage stems from the phrase “on that day” used three times in these verses. Adamant premillennialists take this to be a reference to the era before the second advent ushering in the millennium. I think this refers to the first advent of Christ. The first reference to “on that day” in v. 1 clearly refers to Christ’s shedding of His blood for the redemption of His people. As they mourned the one whom they pierced (12:10), so God will open for them a fountain “to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” Even dispensationalists admit that this clearly refers to Calvary but believe the promise of this verse has yet to be fulfilled.[1]

We can reasonably conclude that if the first reference to “on that day” refers to Christ’s work on the cross (at His first advent), then it seems entirely appropriate to assume the other two “on that day” references also denote the first coming of Christ. Using the language and imagery contemporary readers would have understood, the effect of Christ’s coming, death and resurrection is to cleanse His people from the two major sins which always plagued Israel, namely, idolatry (v. 2) and false prophets (“spirit of uncleanness” v. 2). God’s people will be discerning enough to root out the false prophets. Baal worshippers often cut themselves (cf. the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in 1Kings); those false prophets will be exposed and cut off.

This does not mean that the New Covenant community will never face false prophets or teachers (they will continue to exist and molest the people of God, 1Jn. 4:1) but because we have the anointing to teach us all things (1Jn. 2:26-27) as prophesied in terms of the New Covenant (“they shall all know me” Jer. 31:34), we will be better equipped to recognize and resist them. Webb suggests that this was written “to assure us that on the last day all lying in God’s name and all compromising with the truth on the part of his people will be over.”[2]

 

Zechariah 13:7-9

Before our Lord was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples that they will fall away from him and he cited v. 7 (Mt. 26:31, 32). This verse therefore refers to Jesus Christ. Whereas in ch. 12, Israel will mourn for the one they pierced, here God is the one who strikes the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus. It is God (“Declares the Lord of hosts”) who says “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me [that is, God].” The “sword” represents the Lord’s own judgment against His Son and it will scatter and purify the sheep (vv. 8-9).

Some believe vv. 8-9 refer to the ethnic Israelites for the future in the “great tribulation,”[3] just before the supposed Messianic age (i.e. Millennium).[4] Surely what is said here in vv. 8-9 refers to God’s new covenant people. They will be refined; over time, through persecution, trials, difficulties, adversities, etc. the Lord will have His people persevere. Remember, it is the one who endures unto the end who shall be saved. The glorious future of God’s people (already mentioned in Zechariah) must be seen in conjunction with her afflictions (cross before glory).

Malachi also mentions this refining: “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” (Mal. 3:2, 3)[5] Zechariah’s vision of the future accords with Malachi’s.

The prophecy ends this chapter with the comforting words of covenant promises: The refining will enable His tested people to call upon God. God will declare them to be His people and they will say, “The Lord is my God.”

Lesson: The Lord knows those who are His and through the refining, all God’s children will persevere. God will own us because He has saved us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[1] Kenneth Barker (EBC Revised) admits that New Covenant community of Jews and Gentiles received the “benefits promised to Israel.” That is, we only received the benefits of this by God’s grace but we are not the heirs of these promises in Christ. He says, “These blessings will yet be experienced by ethnic Israel at the second advent of their Messiah (Ro 11:25–29)…” See Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in Daniel-Malachi (vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Revised Edition, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 819. M. Unger says that the “cleansing fountain was opened potentially for Israel and the whole world. But because Israel has rejected this fountain, it will not be open to her experientially until in that [future] day…” (Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah’s Glory, 222).

[2] Webb, The Message of Zechariah, 167.

[3] M. Unger, Zechariah: Prophet of Messiah’s Glory, 235.

[4] For example, K. Barker in the EBC Revised series.

[5] Cf. Michael Bentley, Building for God’s Glory (Haggai & Zechariah), Welwyn Commentary Series (Durham: Evangelical Press, 1989), 212.

Posted in Bible Commentary, Dispensationalism, Eschatology, Minor Prophets, OT Exposition, Zechariah | Leave a comment

Zechariah 10 – God’s People Gathered Together as One

Zechariah 10

[We have been covering Zechariah in our OT Reading during Sunday morning worship services. I have not posted all the comments I make after the reading but I am posting this ahead of time for this coming Sunday 3/30/14 since I won't be able to cover all of it. The notes up to this chapter will be uploaded sometime in the near future.]

Verses 1-5

Many in the ANE (Ancient Near East) believed that certain gods and goddesses gave rain but Israel must remember God alone gives rain (v. 1). The “household gods” indeed “utter nonsense” (v. 2) which their leaders seemed to have consulted. God will punish these leaders and will Himself care for his flock (v. 3). God’s flock will be transformed to a “majestic steed” and the replacement leaders will be like the cornerstone, tent peg, and a battle bow (v. 4); the leader may in fact be the Messiah. These new leaders will triumph over their enemies “because the Lord is with them” (v. 5).

Verses 6-12

God will reunite Judah (the southern kingdom) and Joseph (the northern with Ephraim and Manasseh – or all the ten tribes of Israel) (v. 6). God will gather His people because He redeemed them (vv. 8-10). “As a shepherd whistles for his flock, the Lord will whistle for his people (v. 8), bringing them back from the nations where he scattered them.”[1] When Israel broke the covenant, most of the tribes of Israel disappeared but this prophecy indicates a reunited people will emerge — a new Israel.

His people will return from their exile (v. 10).[2] God will strike down the enemies of the North (Assyria) and the South (Egypt) (v. 11).[3] All the obstacles (like the sea and the Nile) will be removed (v. 11) – something like a new exodus will occur. God gives his people this promise: “I will make them strong in the LORD, and they shall walk in his name,” declares the LORD.” (v. 12)

Something seemingly impossible will happen. A strong renewed and united people of God, a new Israel will materialize. A return that looks a new exodus will occur. As one writer said, “The new exodus produces a new Israel, in which all exiles will be included.”[4]

When will this happen? In Zech. 9, we read of the Messiah’s coming on a donkey into Jerusalem (9:9) and His coming will trigger all of these events (restoration of God’s people, the judgment of the nations, the rebuking of bad leaders, etc.). It is when Christ comes into Jerusalem all this will happen — “That will be the time for false shepherds to be judged, for the dispersed flock to be regathered, and for a new Israel to be created. Not everything would be fulfilled then, for Jesus himself spoke of a yet future coming of the kingdom, for which his disciples were to pray.”[5]

As the same commentator astutely stated, “The essential point is that the fulfillment would come through him [Jesus], and his arrival in Jerusalem would be the sign that it was beginning to happen.”[6]

There are some who believe that God will resurrect real Jews who died over two thousand years ago to come back to the land (drawn from phrase “they shall live and return” in v. 9b).[7] Others believe literal Jews will especially go through Assyria and Egypt. Again, we need to be careful here. The point here is that God gave a vision of Israel returning in the language and context fitted for them. God fulfills that in a greater degree by bringing many nations to Himself through Jesus Christ (beginning in Acts 2 where the various nations were present) — one united people. The fulfillment exceeds the prophecy. God’s elect people do come from their spiritual exile and at Christ’s second coming, all the nations will be subdued and judged.


[1] ESV Study Bible

[2] Dispensationalists say, “Judah’s return will be from all directions, but according to the tenth verse Ephraim will be brought back from Egypt and Assyria” (A. C. Gaebelein, Studies in Zechariah). Another writer says, “While the regathering is to occur from around the world, there will be a special emphasis upon the Middle East nations” (vv. 10-11)” (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, revised ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2001), 798.

[3] Curiously, Ryrie takes Egypt and Assyria to be representatives of “all the lands of Israel’s present worldwide dispersion…” (Ryrie Study Bible). How can these two nations “represent” something that is not literally Egypt and Assyria when they will not permit others to represent “Israel” as the people of God. However, we take Egypt and Assyria to be representatives of the nations opposed to God’s people, i.e., the church (much like how the Great Babylon of Revelation represents the world). Eugene Merrill also does the same as Ryrie.

[4] Webb, The Message of Zechariah, Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 20003), 142.

[5] Webb, Zechariah, 143.

[6] Webb, Zechariah, 143.

[7] Cf. Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary – Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Minor Prophets Exegetical Commentary Series (Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 244; Merrill Unger, Zechariah (cited by Eugene Merrill).

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Proverbs 11:12

Proverbs 11:12

11:12 — Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

We gain nothing in belittling someone. At the very least, it certainly reveals a lack of wisdom. The wise man will not say anything; silence can do much good while speech can do much harm (all things being equal – though the opposite can be just as true). Albert Barnes says, “None but the man “void of wisdom” will show contempt for those about him. The wise man, if he cannot admire or praise, will at least know how to be silent.” We must remain silent in the area of belittling or despising the neighbor. The fool verbally abuses his neighbor (he destroys him, v. 9); the wise will keep silent from saying such things. He has the sense not to blurt out what is in his thoughts or feelings. He waits for the right time to speak (cf. 12:23; 15:2) – a word in season or “as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

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Proverbs 11:10-11

Proverbs 11:10-11

11:10 — When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.

The influence of the wicked or righteous can be quite extensive. “This proverb makes this observation by saying that the presence and prosperity of the righteous and the languishing of the wicked are good for a city.” (Longman)

The righteous fear God, and live in the practice of justice and charity towards men. These virtues procure the esteem, even of those who have no experience of the power of religion; and therefore, when it goes well with them, their neighbours rejoice; but when the wicked fall, there is shouting, because they were living plagues, and employed their prosperity and power for the gratification of their own selfish and unrighteous passions.… Righteous men are actuated by nobler motives than the applause of men, and yet they must regard the good-will of others, as a means of being useful Wicked men, on the contrary, are like swine, of no use till they die; and their fall is not a misfortune to others, but a relief. (Lawson)

 Verses 9 and 10 give us two ways to check ourselves. Do we influence our neighbors for good? Will our welfare cause our neighbors to rejoice? Will our departure even be missed? Though we do not live for the praise of man, we nonetheless can see something of our positive or negative impact on others by their responses to us. “Rome rejoiced at the death of Nero, and the public rejoiced in the French Revolution at the death of Ropespierre.” (Waltke) This proverb must be kept in balance with 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles…”

 

11:11 — By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.

Similar to v. 10, we see the community or corporate effect of the godly. The godly are blessings to the city — their character, prayers, example, etc. all have a positive impact. The community is exalted on account of all the blessings the righteous bring to the people.  The wicked, on the other hand, destroy their neighbors with their mouths (v. 19) as well as the city (v. 11). Their advice, words and outlook, etc. destroy many. They do not benefit society. “Their mouth is a pestilence, which infects their neighbours, till the fatal venom of iniquity corrupt the body of the community, and ruin become inevitable; or else their counsels prove destructive to its welfare or existence.” (Lawson)

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Proverbs 11:5-9

Proverbs 11:5-9

11:5-8 — 5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. 7 When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.[1] 8 The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead.

These verses continue the theme found in vv. 3-4. The wicked fall “by his own wickedness” and they “are taken captive by their lust.” His wealth will not protect him (v. 4) and all his hopes will also perish with him (v. 7). His wealth will neither protect nor deliver him (v. 7). The wicked look to their wealth for deliverance and protection (expectation = hope). All that he has used to protect himself from the impending calamity will fail; his fears will be realized.

The righteous, on the other hand, will walk in a straight (smooth) path and will be delivered from trouble (v. 8). Each one will reap the fruit of his actions. The wicked walks into trouble while the righteous are delivered from it. Haman is hanged; Mordecai escapes; Daniel survives the lions; his enemies fall prey to them.

 

11:9 — With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

This is not an exact parallel but quite close. Solomon once again contrasts the godless and the righteous. The godless (or the deceiver) uses his mouth for evil; the righteous, on the other hand, utilizes his knowledge for good. The godless destroys his neighbor with his mouth while the righteous delivers himself (and presumably his neighbor) with his knowledge. “We are likely to understand this to mean that the speech (advice, counsel) of the godless leads to harm for those who are close to them because it lacks knowledge. And then in the second colon, the knowledge of the righteous when spoken allows not only the righteous but also those around them (their neighbors) to navigate life’s difficulties.” (Longman) Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Does my advice help or harm? Do my words destroy or deliver? Are my neighbors or friends better off on account of my words or are they worse off?” What does our past history indicate?

I’ve seen a record of destroyed or strained relationships because of something a person said. The person seems oblivious to it and engages in the next relationship only to sour it. Their counsel, conversations, etc. did eventually ruin relationships. Unfortunately, I have in mind people who are members in churches. Though not godless in their lives, their words appear to be no different than the godless on account of its impact on people. Do we know of anyone truly blessed by the words we have spoken (not advice concerning decoration, how to fix a car, input regarding vain interests, etc.)? Has our knowledge delivered anyone?


[1] Many textual and philological issues complicate our understanding of this verse. I will simply use the text as offered by ESV.

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Proverbs 11:3-4

Proverbs 11:3-4

11:3-4 — 3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. 4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.

Security comes through righteousness. The godly live with integrity (wholeness, completeness, etc.) and this leads or guides them to their desired goal. They will be safe in the “day of wrath” or “death” (parallelism between the two). The wicked live crooked lives and it will destroy them and ultimately, even their wealth won’t help them in the day of God’s wrath. “The wealth that the subversive and treacherous accumulate in defiance of the Lord’s rule and at the expense of others will backfire and not save them in the time of God’s wrath (vv. 3b-4a).” (Waltke)

A path of integrity in the Lord will have consequences. If we escape notice in our duplicity, if we avoid punishment in our treachery, then we are assured that this course of life will not last. Eventually, it will come back on the person. Though riches can preserve a person in some things (cf. 10:15), it cannot help in the sure things (God’s judgment). The righteous generally escape difficulties while the wicked generally invite them (v. 8).

Christologically interpreted, Christ’s righteousness enables sinners to escape death and the day of wrath because the Son of God delivers us from the wrath to come. His own death secured life for us and His righteousness delivers us from death.

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Larger Catechism, #79

The Larger Catechism

Question 79

79.       Q. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from the state of grace?

A. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God,[342] and his decree and covenant to give them perseverance,[343] their inseparable union with Christ,[344] his continual intercession for them,[345] and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them,[346] can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace,[347] but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.[348]

Scriptural Defense and Commentary

[342] Jeremiah 31:3. The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. [343] 2 Timothy 2:19. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. Hebrews 13:20-21. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Samuel 23:5. Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow. [344] 1 Corinthians 1:8-9. Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. [345] Hebrews 7:25. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Luke 22:32. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. [346] 1 John 3:9. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1 John 2:27. But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. [347] Jeremiah 32:40. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. John 10:28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. [348] 1 Peter 1:5. Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

 

Introduction

This instructive question ponders something we have all considered — “Will I make it to the end?” The question also assumes the sad failures all believers have experienced. Our imperfections, the numerous temptations that confront us, and the actual grievous sins into which we fall make us wonder if any one of us will make it unto the end. Given these experiences, the answer, if left to ourselves, would be an unequivocal NO! None of us will persevere.

The question addresses “true believers” and not gospel hypocrites. The Larger Catechism does not ask, “Will any of those who profess faith in Christ fall away from the state of grace?” If this were the question, then the answer would be an unequivocal YES. Some in the church will fall away from the state of grace. The question assumes the existence of true believers in the midst of many professors of faith (pretenders, self-deceived, ignorant, etc.).

 

Our Personal Observations?

For some, this question seems to contradict what appears to be patently obvious. Surely, we have all met with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and members of the church who fell away from the faith. No one can deny these observations. But our observations cannot determine the genuineness of someone’s faith. Were they “true believers”?

Many have argued as a theological axiom that the possibility of apostasy (falling) always remains in believers. Philip Limborch stated,

We maintain that, notwithstanding divine grace, by which a believer may persevere in faith, there remains in man a power of falling away, and, therefore, that a believer may totally lose his faith and regeneration, and may continue in apostasy to the end of his life, and so eternally perish.[1]

 Limborch does not emphatically state “true believers” (though he no doubt had them in mind).  Other Arminian statements more emphatically affirm the genuine possibility of apostasy among true believers.

True believers may apostatize from the true faith, and fall into such sins as are inconsistent with true and justifying faith; nay, it is not only possible for them to do so, but it frequently comes to pass. True believers may by their own fault become guilty of great and abominable crimes, and may continue and die in the same, and consequently may finally fall into perdition.[2]

 No consolations can be gleaned from such statements. These Arminians fear carnal security so the threat and reality of apostasy must be published to warn believers. For some, the nature of being human (created in God’s image) necessitates the possibility of falling away (freedom of the will).[3]

 

True Believers and God’s Love

The LC begins the answer with, “True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God…” Those who are God’s elect, the true believers, will not totally and finally fall away because of God’s unchangeable love. The answer does not focus on the special powers of the true believers but on God’s unchangeable love. The temptations and falls of believers are sufficient enough to undo us. We do not keep ourselves in God; He keeps us. Jeremiah 31:3 states, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” God’s covenant faithfulness (his dRs`Dj) continues in spite of their unfaithfulness. God’s everlasting love stands in stark contrast to the other “everlasting” references in the previous chapters: “eternal dishonor” (20:11) and “everlasting reproach” (23:40) — these God threatened against those who opposed Him. But God’s everlasting love serves as the basis and reason for His people’s continuance — on account of his unchangeable love, they will not fall away.

 

True Believers and God’s Decree and Covenant

In God’s great everlasting love, He decreed that genuine believers would persevere. This gift of perseverance comes to us as true partakers of the covenant of grace: “True believers, by reason of … his decree and covenant to give them perseverance…” In 2 Tim. 2:19, Paul declares something that can be easily downplayed or overlooked (because the context is neglected): “But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal:  “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.”” The false teachers were upsetting the faith of some (v. 18) but God’s foundation stands, namely, His church (cf. 1Tim. 3:15) or most likely His eternal decree (as our divines seems to have taken this verse to mean): “The apostle’s assertion is, that, notwithstanding the existence of such cases as he had just mentioned of defection from the truth and the consequent loss of salvation, there is a firm or strong foundation of God which remains steadfast.”[4]

That foundation bears God’s seal — “Seals were used commonly to identify legal ownership of property and, like signatures in modern practice, to guarantee authenticity, genuineness and integrity or to preserve the secrecy of the contents of a letter or of some product.”[5] In this context, God’s seal represents those who are His and those who are not. The phrase Paul uses echoes Numbers 16:5 (Korah’s rebellion) — in the midst of defections, God’s eternal foundation will stand bearing His seal which states that God knows who are who are not His people.

God’s known people are in an “everlasting covenant” through Christ’s shed blood (“Now  may the God of peace  who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus,  the great shepherd of the sheep, by  the blood of the eternal covenant,  equip you with everything good that you may do his will,  working in us  that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ,  to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Heb. 13:20-21; cf. 2Sam. 23:5) and God will enable them to live holy lives well pleasing to Him. God has made them His through Christ who died and rose again for them in terms of the everlasting covenant — the fruit of which is that they would be sanctified (equipping them to do His will). Believers will not fall away from the state of grace because the eternal covenant will enable them to persevere by equipping us “with everything good that [we] may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight…

 

True Believers and the Union with Christ

“True believers, by reason of … their inseparable union with Christ” will not fall away. God has called them into fellowship with His Son and will them us to the end (1 Cor. 1:8, 9, “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”) Believers have fellowship or union with their Lord and on account of that, Paul taught that they will be sustained to the end and “guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God will sustain them to the end because He is faithful — faithfully enabling them to have fellowship with Christ. This vital fellowship with Christ will keep believers — Ridgley states that in this union, Jesus is the believer’s “vital head, from whom they receive spiritual life and influence; so that as long as they abide in him, their spiritual life is maintained as derived from him.”[6]

 

True Believers and Christ’s Intercession

“True believers, by reason of … his continual intercession for them” will not totally and finally fall away. Our living Lord intercedes for us. [See our study of Christ’s intercession in previous studies on the LC.] Verses used to support this are Heb. 7:25 and Lk. 22:32: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Luke records these words of our Lord, “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

We will not fall away since God will save us to the uttermost. We are told what means God uses: “because Christ intercedes for us.” “The direct result of his intercessory activity is the sustaining of the people and the securing of all that is necessary to the eschatological salvation mentioned in the previous clause.”[7] John MacArthur helpfully stated the following:

 The security of our salvation is Jesus’ perpetual intercession for us. We can no more keep ourselves saved than we can save ourselves in the first place. But just as Jesus has power to save us, He has power to keep us. Constantly, eternally, perpetually Jesus Christ intercedes for us before His Father. Whenever we sin He says to the Father, “Put that on My account. My sacrifice has already paid for it.” Through Jesus Christ, we are able to “stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). In His Son we are now blameless in the Father’s sight. When we are glorified we will be blameless in His presence.[8]

 

True Believers and the Holy Spirit and the Seed of God

“True believers, by reason of … the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them” cannot finally fall away. God’s seed remains in us (1Jn. 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”) as does His Spirit (1Jn. 2:27, the Holy Spirit is the “anointing”). The principle of life (“seed”) exists in us on account of the new birth (“he has been born of God”). We have all received the Spirit (1Jn. 2:27, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.”).

The “seed” language suggests parentage and genealogy. A new life principle from God came into us and now operates within us. Boice says that “God’s seed” (spe÷rma aujtouv) refers to “the very nature of God abiding in the Christian.” MacArthur writes of “the principle of His divine life.” He says, “Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.” God would not give birth to children He will not keep; He neither has bastards nor rejects. If we are born of God, then we will endure unto the end.

The Spirit implanted the principle of life and also dwells in us. His presence means He is the “down payment” of the eternal inheritance to come. If we have Him in us, we will endure unto the end. Ridgley offers further reflections on what is implied from having the Spirit dwell in us.

We may add, that there are several fruits and effects of the Spirit’s dwelling in the soul, which afford an additional proof of this doctrine. Thus believers are said to have ‘the first-fruits of the Spirit;’ [Rom. 8:23] that is, they have those graces wrought in them which are the beginning of salvation; and as the first-fruits are a part of the harvest which will follow, these are the foretastes of the heavenly blessedness which God would never have bestowed upon them had he not designed to preserve them from apostasy. Moreover, believers are said to be ‘sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of their inheritance.’ [Eph. 1:13, 14] The earnest, as given by men, is generally deemed a part of payment; and upon any receiving it, they are satisfied that they shall, at last, receive the full reward. And shall believers miss of the heavenly blessedness, who have such a glorious pledge and earnest of it? Again, if we consider ‘the Spirit’ as ‘bearing witness with their spirits, that they are the children of God; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;’ and that ‘they shall be glorified together’ with him; [Rom. 8:16, 17] is this testimony invalid, or not to be depended on? Yet it could not be depended on were it possible for them to fall from a state of grace.[9]

 

Neither Totally nor Finally

The last part of the answer states, “can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” Why do the divines state “totally and finally”? Why not one or the other? Believers can fall partially but not totally. They can go away for a time (or temporarily) but they will not finally fall away. Johannes Geerhardus Vos said,  “These words imply that true believers may partially and temporarily fall away from the state of grace. As a matter of fact, this partial and temporary falling away is taught in the Bible as a possibility,
and it can be observed among Christian people in our own day.”

John Dick says that these two phrases counter the Arminian scheme: “but they are intended to oppose the doctrine of Arminians, who affirm, that although a saint may fall totally from grace, he may be restored by repentance; but that since this is uncertain, and does not always take place, he may also fall finally, and die in his sins.”[10] Whether the divines had this in mind or not, we cannot be certain but the two words are required to explain the final preservation of the saints.

God’s everlasting covenant ensures that we cannot totally and finally fall away — “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.  And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jer. 32:40) The verse first teaches us not that we won’t turn away but rather, God will not turn away from us. And in turn, as God does us good, God Himself will enable us not to turn from Him. Jesus’ statement irrefutably teaches us that believers will never perish: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (Jn. 10:28) We are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1:5).

The LC answer emphasizes God’s role in preserving us. We should be comforted and encouraged by these truths. If this truth produces laziness and carnal ease and security, then we can be assured that we have not rightly understood this doctrine. We may be in danger of indicating that we are not true believers. “Let us endeavour not only to persevere, but to grow in grace. These two blessings are joined together; as it is said, ‘The righteous shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.’[Job 17:9]” (Ridgley, 2:193-4)



[1] Limborch, Theol. Lib. v. cap. lxxx, cited in Dick’s Lectures on Theology, 2:283.

[2] Confession of Remonstrants, as quoted in Brandt’s History of the Reformation in the Low Countries, vol. iii. p. 89, cited in Dick’s Lectures on Theology, 2:283.

[3] See F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 314ff.

[4] Patrick Fairbairn, The Pastoral Epistles: The Translation With Introduction, Expository Notes, and Dissertations (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1874), 348.

[5] Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 531.

[6] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 172.

[7] William L. Lane, Hebrews 1–8 (WBC 47A; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 190.

[8] John MacArthur, Hebrews (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Accordance electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 201.

[9] Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, Volume 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 174.

[10] John Dick, Lectures on Theology, 2:284.

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