Why are we here?

I am starting a catechism class for the young people in our church, and I am using the Larger Catechism to do so. So here are some of the notes I have gleaned from the three commentaries on the Larger Catechism (Ridgeley, Vos, and Morecraft), as well as the commentaries on the Shorter Catechism that I own (Whyte, Watson, Whitecross, Williamson, Vincent, Fisher, Flavel, and Boston). Page numbers are to the most recent editions of these works. Question 1 of the WLC addresses the question, “Why are we here?” That is not all it says, of course, as the quotes below will well illustrate. Hopefully I will be able to keep on posting my findings as I go along.

The whole question: Ridgeley says that the first part is the means that leads us to the second part. Morecraft says that this is the most important question we can ever ask ourselves (115). He says “Happiness is a by-product, not a goal” (116). To begin with this question puts us on the highest possible plane (116). If we begin with “how do we become saved,” then we are in danger of believing that God exists for our benefit (116). Morecraft notices that this question presupposes the revelation of the Bible (118), since only God can reveal to us our ultimate purpose in life. Morecraft also says that “Our ultimate purpose with reference to God is to glorify Him. Our ultimate purpose with reference to ourselves is to enjoy God” (130). Vos notes that no evolutionist could possibly agree with this question (3). Evolution results in there being no meaning in life whatsoever, except what we make for ourselves. Whyte notes that if there is a chief end, then there are subordinate ends (14). Of course, all the lesser ends should serve the great end. Vincent says “And when God shall be most fully enjoyed by the saints in heaven, he will be most highly glorified” (15). Flavel asks the question, “what then is to be thought of those men, who being wholly intent upon inferior things, forget and neglect their principal end? A. they are dead whilst they live” (141). Boston says much the same: “There is an inseparable connexion betwixt the two, as between the end and the means; so that no person who does not glorify God here, shall ever enjoy him hereafter” (15).

The first part of the answer: Ridgeley says, “That there is a great difference between God’s glorifying himself and our glorifying him” (4). The difference is expressed: “God glorifies himself by furnishing us with matter for praise; we glorify him when we offer praise, or give unto him the glory due to him name” (4). Ridgeley also notes that we glorify God when we confess our sins, when we believe and trust in him, when we have a fervent zeal for his honor, when we improve our talents, when we walk humbly, thankfully, and cheerfully before God, when we are heavenly-minded, and when we submit fully to His will (5). We cannot always think about the glory of God in every second. Ridgeley notices this, and has a great analogy: “As every step the traveller takes is towards his journey’s end, though this may not be every moment in his thoughts, so the less important actions of life should be subservient to those which are of greater consequence, and in which the honour of God and religion is most intimately concerned” (6). Flavel says, “[I]t is the duty and wisdom of every Christian to renounce, deny, and forsake all inferior interests and enjoyments, when they come in competition with the glory of God, and our enjoyment of him” (142). Morecraft adds witnessing to the list of how we specifically honor God (121). He says, “When we truly honor God, we receive the greatest happiness from God a human being can experience: we are honored and glorified by God himself” (121). Watson adds to the list “by standing up for his truths” (15); “suffering for God” (16). Charles Spurgeon once said, “God can honour you, even though nobody else sees that he does it, in such a way that you will be more contented with that honor than if your name and fame were blazoned forth before the whole world” (Morecraft, 123). An illustration: “Lady Glenorchy, in her diary, relates how she was seized with a fever which threatened her life, ‘during the course of which,’ she says, ‘the first question of the Assembly’s Catechism was brought to my mind—“What is the chief end of man?” as if some one had asked it. When I considered the answer to it—“To glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever”—I was struck with shame and confusion. I found I had never sought to glorify God in my life, nor had I any idea of what was meant by enjoying him for ever. Death and judgment were set before me; my past sins came to my remembrance; I saw no way to escape the punishment due unto them, nor had I the least glimmering hope of obtaining the pardon of them through the righteousness of another.’ From this unhappy state she was shortly after delivered, by believing on the Lord Jesus as the only Saviour of guilty” (Whitecross, p. 7).

Why must we glorify God? Watson answers: 1. God gave us our being; 2. God made all things for his own glory (Proverbs 16:4); 3. The glory of God has intrinsic value and excellence; 4. Creatures below us give glory to God, “and do we think to sit rent free”? (9); 5. all our hopes hang upon him.

The second part of the answer: Ridgeley notes that in order to enjoy him, we must belong to him in covenant (6). It is imperfect in this life, perfect in heaven (6-7). However, a world of comfort is in that word “forever.” Some people, however, think of God as the great cosmic kill-joy, bent on preventing us from having any fun. God invented fun. The enjoyment consists in union and communion with God (Boston, 14).

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The OPC Report on Republication, Part 13

This post will address chapter 4, sections II-IV of the report. Section II outlines some thoughts on the typology of merit. The main point appears to be that typology is inexact. They use the phrase “incomplete correspondence” between type and antitype. The other main point they make is that the WS are reluctant to spell out a lot of issues. Caution is needed, then, when making claims that the WS either offer a republication view, or banish all forms of republication from consideration.

The second section deals with two main issues: the “core commonality” that the various administrations of the covenant of grace have with each other, as well as the fact that the Mosaic covenant is not given preferential treatment in the WS.

This leads to the third section, in which 7 preliminary conclusions are stated. The material point is stated in conclusion 6: “the stated doctrinal system of the confession is not a natural host to the idea of a works principle in substance, rather than administration.” The encouragement is present to qualify one’s terms if a substantial republication is advocated.

In evaluating these sections, it does not seem like much comment is needed. There is nothing muddy about these sections, nor is there much that has not already been said in the earlier parts of the report. The upshot is that substantial republication is seen as inconsistent with the system of doctrine, though even this statement is made very cautiously.

Limited Time Offer on One of the Most Important Sabbath Books Ever Published

My friend Chris Coldwell is offering a tremendous, limited time offer deal on Nicholas Bownd’s Puritan work on the Sabbath. There are two main Puritan works on the Sabbath, of which this is one (the other is Cawdrey/Palmer). It is a fine, critical edition, well-bound (as are all of Naphtali Press works). $16 for this edition is a steal. Take advantage of the offer. Chris is also offering a two-book deal with the second edition of Gillespie’s English Popish Ceremonies for only $35 (another steal!). The Gillespie work is THE work refuting Roman Catholic additions to worship, and defending the regulative principle of worship. Both of these deals are for US shipping only.

The most witty remark about this reprint has to be James Dennison’s quip: “After four centures of rest, Nicholas Bownd’s famous book on the Sabbath has re-Bownded.”

Joel Beeke says: “It is astonishing that the Puritan Nicholas Bownd’s famous work on the Sabbath, which greatly influenced later Puritanism and the Westminster Assembly, and by extension, Western Christendom for centuries, has not been printed in a critical edition with modern typeface long ago. Not reprinted since 1606, this classic work emphasizes the fourth commandment’s morally binding character, the divine institution of the entire Sabbath as the Lord’s Day set apart to worship God, and the cessation of non-religious activities that distract from worship and acts of mercy. I am so grateful that it is back in print, and pray that it will do much good to restore the value and enhance the joy of the Lord’s Day for many believers around the world.”

Self-Esteem

The problem of self-esteem seems to be evergreen. There are those on the left who, like a broken record, will claim that almost all our problems are due to a low self-esteem. The solution seems to be that everyone should find a way to raise their own self-esteem, feel good about themselves, such that they will no longer feel depressed.

On the other hand, there are those who are in favor of such inward self-loathing that the image of God seems to disappear. There don’t appear to be very many of these kinds of people around today, but I have no doubt that there are some, especially among the more suicidal types.

As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. However, in order to see the truth about self-esteem, we need to nuance the discussion. It is not a matter of whether we should have high or low self-esteem. Instead, it is a question of which way (or concerning what) we should have self-esteem, and which way we should not.

One reason for having a proper and relatively high self-esteem is that the image of God resides in us. Any view of self-esteem that refuses to recognize this runs the risk of degrading God Himself. Some conservative reactions to the whole self-esteem movement seem to have fallen into this over-reaction. I was one of these once upon a time. A right estimation of ourselves cannot leave the image of God out of the picture. The image of God requires respect, both in ourselves and in others. We must not let the opposite extremes of the self-esteem movement blind us to the fact that many people loathe the image of God that is in themselves, and wrongly so.

The more common mistake, of course, is to press self-esteem so far upon us all that no problems are even to be mentioned. Sin is ignored. The distortion of the image of God that is here by way of the Fall is ignored. This is the main failure of the self-esteem crowd. Are we to esteem that which is not estimable? Are we to esteem that which the Bible calls despicable?

The Bible commends self-loathing if it is connected to the rightly loathsome thing (namely, our sin). See Ezekiel 6:9, for instance. The right balance here is to esteem highly the image of God in us, and to loathe the distortion that sin brings.

Against the Documentary Hypothesis

It is not perhaps as well-known as it should be that Geerhardus Vos published a treatise called The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. In this volume, he has some wise words about the supposed criteria used to “prove” disparate sources:

What the critics in reality do by this method, is just by a dexterous but suspicious movement to turn in their favor what is in fact against them. That an Elohistic phrase all at once makes its appearance in the midst of a purely Jehovistic environment, is a most perplexing difficulty, which cannot be relieved by declaring it the result of a variety of hands which have been at work upon the composition of the Pentateuch. For it is a sound critical axiom, that diversity of style and diction can only be verified by a comparison of lengthy passages, whose usus loquendi is exclusive. Isolated exceptional cases turn back upon the theory, and prove exactly the opposite; viz., that the criteria intermingle, which is tantamount to saying that they are no criteria at all (p. 29).

Warnings Against Presumption

A very incisive warning against false security is found in Eichrodt’s commentary on Ezekiel 5:5-17:

In both passages (he means Ezekiel 16:48ff in addition to 5:5-17, LK) we see the special danger which overhangs the God-given gift of grace. It is that false security, which prides itself upon its privileged position, making it into a pillow for human sloth and selfishness to slumber on. God’s free gift ought to be regarded as a call to service; it does not at all satisfy man’s lustful desires, but it does open to the human will a new possibility of union with God’s saving will. But man instead soothes himself with irrevocable assurances of the divine good pleasure, so as to save himself from having to make any efforts, and to make him the proprietor of a divine domain specially reserved for him alone to enjoy. This refusal to make the right response to the question which lies in God’s gift can have no other outcome but disregard for the ‘statutes and ordinances'” (Eichrodt, Ezekiel, p. 91).

A Nerdy Complaint

This is probably not something that very many (any?) of my readers would care about, but I felt like complaining about it, because it’s just irritating. One expects to find continuity among the classifications of Hebrew vocabulary among the dictionaries and lexicons, especially in terms of classifying homonyms. This, however, is not consistent at all. The word I found this morning that was inconsistently classified was חָלַק. This is a homonym, meaning that there are two completely different meanings of the word for the exact same spelling, much like the word “lie,” which can mean “recline” or “falsehood.” According to the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, חָלַק I means “smooth” while חָלַק II means “divide.” The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis agrees with this classification. However, the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew reverses the classification, and makes חָלַק I “divide” and חָלַק II “smooth.” Why the alteration? No reason is given. This kind of confusion does not make it helpful when commentaries simply reference the one or the other Roman-Numeraled definition, as if everyone is supposed to know the classification. It would be nice if at least the classification was the same, even though advances in linguistics will ensure that the definitions will not always be the same. Ok, nerdy rant is over. I can’t believe you actually read to the end.

An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?

A Father’s Day Reflection

by reed depace

Possibly the best defense for fathers is the Fatherhood of God over His children in Christ. God didn’t create fatherhood as an accident, and then think to himself, “Hey, what a great picture of me!” No, the fatherhood of God to all who submit to him in Christ has been from eternity past; God’s status as father is an essential characteristic of his being.

Thus, fatherhood shares a sanctified status. That is, it is set apart for God’s own holy usage. That so many men refuse to rejoice in their calling to reflect God’s glory in this role is yet another slap of rebellion in his face.

How grateful I am for Jesus then. In him I find forgiveness and cleansing for all the times I refused to act toward my children in a manner that reflects God’s glory. In Jesus I find that his life of perfect obedience to our Father grants me growing obedience, expressed in all areas of life, and especially toward my children.

To them, on the eve of the day when our culture “honors” fathers while ignoring the One to whom all fathers point, let me say to my children (and their mom) how sad and grateful I am. I am sad at all the mean, unkind, selfish, and downright evil things I’ve done to you. I am grateful for both Jesus’ forgiveness and yours. Let not my failures dissuade you of your Heavenly Father’s perfection. Instead, let that sense that your dad is wrong, often, lead you to consider the perfection of God’s fatherly love for you.

I know I haven’t “failed” you, as in utterly. But I know I’ve given you more to forgive than to thank me for. Praise God our Father, He is nevertheless perfect. With you, I rely on him, alone.

“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Luke 11:11-13

I love you. Happy Father’s Day.

by reed depace, te,
the church at chantilly
(historic first pres gumptown)
http://www.firspresschantilly.com

Some Thoughts on the PCA Study Committee Report on Women in Office

I really want to comment mostly on the recommendations. Recommendations 2-9 passed, with 4 and 6 being amended. The full report is here. I wanted to get a feel for how things went in the debate before venturing any opinions. One thing which irritated me rather a lot was how much the question was called in the debate. Why is it that the PCA wants to rush everything? On an issue of this level of importance, I would think all opinions should be heard, and a desire to debate the matter fully should have been the rule. Of course, the old wags will always say “Everything has been said, just not everyone has said it.” Perhaps. The trend, however (seen a bit more clearly now that I am in the OPC) is towards less deliberation at the PCA GA.

Secondly, the basic stance of the committee seems to be the status quo of what is currently the practice of the PCA (especially recommendation 2), with certain exceptions. There are some very good points that have been made in the committee report, and I want to make sure that these get full attention. For instance, the offices remain closed to women. That will, no doubt, anger the progressives in the PCA no end. It is quite possible that this study committee report will hinder the “progress” of the progressives for some time to come.

Conservatives will also point out that some of the recommendations condemn the ways in which the progressives have tried to get around the letter of the law. For instance, one way that progressives have tried to do this is to have a fully non-ordained diaconate in which men and women participate equally. The report is pretty clear that this is not correct polity.

Furthermore, the way in which recommendation 6 was amended (thanks, Scott Cook!) removed a potential source of contention by removing language that could be considered inflammatory.

However, there are some troubling aspects of the report, as well. Some have already been noted by others. That there were voting members on the committee who were women seems especially problematic, since the committee report itself was to exercise a teaching function in a court of the church, regardless of how much other authority it exercised. This would make the report have a different function entirely from women exercising their gifts in writing books (which I have no problem with).

The issue of worship in recommendation 5 will be one that many conservatives will feel deeply uneasy about. While the rationale makes careful distinctions between preaching/teaching, on the one hand, and other functions, on the other hand, the rationale is not what was voted on. I fear that the recommendation will be taken by the progressives as a carte blanche for their dictum that a woman can do anything in the worship that a non-ordained man can do (which means they can preach), a dictum which is thoroughly non-biblical. A non-ordained man can preach in the church. This slippage is probably not the intention of the committee, many members for which I have the highest possible respect (particularly Ligon Duncan and Harry Reeder). It can even be argued that they are seeking to guard against such an interpretation. However, I think such a (mis)-interpretation will arise, all the same.

I resonated with Bob Mattes’s arguments on recommendation 7, that the PCA was, in effect, creating another office of “commissioned church worker,” that is not ordained. If the PCA already has the ability to have assistants to the deacons (which language is in the BCO), then why the need to create this new category that has “commissioned” in it? What is the material difference between “commissioned” and “ordained?” Again, the rationale makes careful distinctions, even emphasizing the need to distinguish sharply between commissioning and ordaining, but how many progressives will take that to heart?

I did especially appreciate Daniel Jarstfer’s impassioned speech in favor of recommendation 8, which is surely something on which all can agree.

So, the report will not please anyone fully, I am guessing. Conservatives like the Bayly brothers have already critiqued it rather severely (many of which critiques I have sympathy with). But I cannot imagine the progressives are too happy with certain aspects of it either. However, progressives will be less likely to hate it than the die-hard conservatives, because the liberals are always more patient than the conservatives. Any “progress” towards their agenda will be welcomed. It will be interesting to see how the progressives respond to the report and its recommendations.

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