“What you see is what you get!”–Geraldine

Why are confessions of faith so important? Why can’t we just say that the Bible is our creed? Isn’t that sufficient? One would think that saying, “I just believe the Bible,” would answer all of the questions about what is believed by that particular person or group. The problem is that I have several friends who would ALL say, “I just believe the Bible,” but they have very different theologies. I have Presbyterian friends, Baptist friends (I think they are still my friends), Church of Christ friends, charismatic friends, and other friends of various backgrounds (and the “beat goes on” [a little Sonny and Cher lingo there]), who claim to believe the written Word of God, yet have very different views about what the Bible says.

It is good to be able to point to a piece of paper and say, “This is what we believe the Bible says,” and these doctrines will be preached and taught in this particular church. For example, we have people who are members of our church, who we love and minister to, who don’t believe every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession of Faith (We only require a credible profession of faith to become a member of RPC), yet they know what they will hear from the pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out.

Of course, we know our theology is not perfect, but as R. C. Sproul once said, “Our problem is that we don’t know where we are wrong. If we did, we would repent and change.” (Loose paraphrase from memory of his statement) But, this is what we sincerely believe is the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. That is why we have a confession, catechisms, and a Book of Church Order (BOCO) to follow. As it says in our BOCO:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.

Sadly, people are not always honest when they vow to uphold standards. At Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, professors once joked about “crossing their fingers” when they were asked to sign the Abstract of Principles (I am glad those days are over, I think), but it is the best that we can do in this fallen world in which we live. Therefore, I have no qualms whatsoever vowing to teach the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, because I believe that they contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture.”

So, as people who love, serve, and have been redeemed by a God “who cannot lie,” we should concur with what Geraldine once said (Google “Flip Wilson” if you are younger than 40), “What you see is what you get!”

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Doctrine Matters

Why is doctrine so important? I believe Stephen Charnock, a seventeenth century English Presbyterian answered that question well when he wrote, “It is impossible to honor God as we ought, unless we know Him as He is.” It is true that “the heavens declare the glory of God” and shout to us that God is wise, powerful, and good; but it is in God’s written word, the Bible, that we can see God as He is. The Scriptures are there to teach us “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 3)

Be sure that the God that you worship is not a figment of your own (or another’s) imagination, but the God who revealed Himself to us through His Holy Scriptures. As the prophet Micah has written:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20) And, He accomplishes all of that through the perfect life, and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Worship the God of the Scriptures lest you end up like King James I of England of whom it was said, “When the temple of a man’s heart is empty, he becomes unconsciously a worshiper of himself.”

Tuesday Hymns: “God’s Sufficient Word”

James Montgomery Boice was the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for 32 years, from 1968 until his death in 2000. He blessed many through his Bible commentaries (which actually were collections of his sermons), his work with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and his radio ministry, The Bible Study Hour. He also wrote twelve hymns which were published shortly after his death in Hymns for a Modern Reformation with Paul S. Jones composing the tunes. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week is one of the hymns from that collection, God’s Sufficient Word.

In Boice’s, Foundations of the Christian Faith, he illustrates the importance of Christ’s Church to rest not only in the authority of Scripture, but in its sufficiency also:

“In Martin Luther’s day, sola Scriptura had to do with the Bible being the sole ultimate authority for Christians over against challenges to it from the traditions of the medieval church, church councils and the Pope. The reformers wanted Scripture to stand alone as the church’s true authority. Today, at least in the evangelical church, that is not our chief problem—we assert biblical authority—but rather, whether the Bible is sufficient for the church’s life and work. We confess its authority, but we discount its ability to do what is necessary to draw unbelievers to Christ, enable us to grow in godliness, provide direction for our lives and transform and revitalize society…in other words, in the sixteenth century the battle was against those who wanted to add church traditions to Scripture, but in our day the battle is against those who would have us use worldly means to do God’s work.”

I am sorry that I was not able to find audio of the tune on the internet, but the lyrics of this hymn, to me, make the posting of this hymn worthwhile.

When God from heaven gave His Word,
His Word was all sufficient;
It need no words I may have heard
To add to or be in it.

Sufficient for God’s work in me:
My soul’s regeneration,
A life in which good works will be
The fruit of my salvation.

Sufficient too in daily strife,
Providing clear directions
For how to live a godly life,
Creating right affections.

Sufficient! If I stoop to sin,
God’s Word will soon correct me,
And if I wander from God’s way,
His Word will redirect me.

So I will take God’s Book and read,
To learn what God desires;
The Bible gives the strength I need
To do what God requires.

Thank you, again, Charles Hodge!

I came across a great description by Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology of spiritual mysticism which dove-tailed into a statement about the sufficiency of the Scripture in our lives as Christians:

“Evangelical Christians admit that the children of God are led by the Spirit of God, that their convictions as to truth and duty, their inward character and outward conduct, are moulded by His influence. They are children unable to guide themselves, who are led by an ever-present Father of infinite wisdom and love. This guidance is partly providential, ordering their external circumstances; partly through the Word, which is a lamp to their feet: and partly by the inward influence of the Spirit on the mind. This last, however, is also through the Word, making it intelligible and effectual, bringing it suitably to remembrance. God leads His people by the cords of a man, i.e., in accordance with the laws of his nature. This is very different from the doctrine that the soul, by yielding itself passively to God, is filled with all truth and goodness, or that in special emergencies it is controlled by blind, irrational impulses.” [italics mine]

Thank you, Charles Hodge, for reminding us that we need not seek for “holy” hunches, feelings, premonitions, or intuitions, but, as an alternative, rest in the sufficiency of Scripture for guidance in our daily lives.

“Follow your heart.”

You just need to follow your heart” is the worst advice that anyone could ever tender to another. Countless lives have been ruined by people “following their heart.” Men have left their wives for their secretaries (excuse me, administrative assistants), others have abandoned their children, while some have abandoned the truth of the Gospel to chase after false teachers who have promised them what Francis Schaeffer considered the idol of our present age: “personal peace and affluence.”

Why is “following your own heart” such a bad idea? Because of what the prophet Jeremiah said some 2500 years ago, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Our hearts will lie to us. Our hearts will not allow us to think about the future consequences of our present actions. Our hearts will always convince us that we have a “good” reason to do a “sinful” thing. Our hearts will shout loud and long that we “deserve” happiness, contentment, peace, etc., while hiding the irreparable harm our self-centered actions might bring to others.

If following our heart is not the answer then to whom do we turn? I would offer the words of the Christ of the Scriptures as a consideration, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) In resting in Christ one can find the forgiveness of not only our outward sins, but also our inward “heart sins” (remember, it is deceitful and desperately wicked), and His Word provides us with the guidance we need as we live out our lives to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” It is only by His grace that we can be victorious over our deceitful and desperately wicked hearts.

Tuesday Hymns: “For Ever Settled in the Heavens”

Many of the hymns in The Trinity Hymnal were first found in The Psalter, 1912. “For Ever Settled in the Heavens” is one such hymn and it is our Tuesday Hymn for this week. It is based on Psalms 119:89-97 and speaks of the sovereignty of our Lord, the inerrancy and infallibility of His Holy Word, and the surety of His promises to us, His children. Although it has been sung to several tunes down through the years, the tune most closely connected to it is DUKE STREET.

For ever settled in the heavens
Thy Word, O Lord, shall firmly stand;
Thy faithfulness shall never fail;
The earth abides at thy command.

Thy word and works unmoved remain,
Thine every purpose to fulfil;
All things are thine and thee obey,
And all as servants wait thy will.

I should have perished in my woe
Had not I loved thy law divine;
That law I never can forget;
O save me, Lord, for I am thine.

The wicked would destroy my soul,
But in thy truth is refuge sure;
Exceeding broad is thy command,
And in perfection shall endure.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”

I have been reading The Genesis Debate which discusses three different interpretations of the creation account in the Book of Genesis (24 hour day, framework hypothesis, and day-age). The concluding paragraph by David Hall and Ligon Duncan on the 24 hour view states very cogently my own view of the creation account:

We side with what the Scriptures teach about the days of creation. We side with the Law and the Prophets. We side with the apostles. We side with the consensus of the Church fathers. We side with the Reformation and Puritan divines. We side with the uniform testimony of the Church until recently. We can do no other. Future generations may scoff at the once-prevailing Darwinian paradigm of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and realize that the interpretations of Witsius, Ussher, and the cloud of witnesses we have cited will long outlast the short half-life of interpretations held hostage to Darwinism’s fling. Indeed, the heavens and the earth as we know them will eventually perish, but God’s word will last forever.

Plus, it takes much more faith to believe the view of Richard Dawkins that our life came from alien life forms (And he claims to speak for science?) rather than from an omnipotent God.

The Law: God’s True Standard of Evaluation

In an excellent article on the dangers of monocovenantalism, Wes White, PCA pastor in South Dakota, wrote two sentences which jumped off the page at me: “The natural man tends to measure God’s requirement by his own actions. God gives the law to show us the true standard of God’s evaluation.” (To read all of the article, go to the Johannes Weslianus Blog).

I thought to myself, “How true. How true.” Man always has a good reason for his sin. The present Governor of South Carolina can commit adultery with a woman in Argentina because he has convinced himself that she is his soul mate. A businessman can lie about the details in a deal he is trying to close because that is just the way business is conducted in the good old USA. A man can convince himself that he does not need to worship God with God’s people on the Lord’s Day, because he can worship just as well at home or on the lake (and that “Sunday stuff” is just legalism, anyway). And the list goes on and on and on…

However, if one compares his thoughts, words, and deeds to God’s Law, he discovers very quickly that he is a vile sinner at the very core of his being, and desperately needs God’s amazing grace in his life. The Law is actually his friend. It can be used by God’s Spirit to drive him to the cross, in order that he can rest his hope in what Christ has done for him through His perfect life and sacrificial death.

Our hope is not to be found in our own righteousness (for the Bible says that they are nothing but “filthy rags”), but in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. His is the only righteousness that is sufficient, so I say a hearty, “Amen,” to the words of J. Gresham Machen, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: Question Three.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

The Bible was never meant to teach us everything. It doesn’t teach us when Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of Great Britain, it doesn’t teach us that light moves at the speed of 186,000 miles a second, it doesn’t teach us about the principles of electricity, or the fact that a country can not borrow its way out of a financial recession. However, the Bible does teach us everything that we need to know about life and godliness. Moreover, Question #3 of the Catechism tells us that the Bible principally teaches us two truths that are the foundation of our knowledge of everything else: (1) What man is to believe concerning God, and (2) what duty God requires of man.

G. I. Williamson explains in his The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Study Classes that “this Catechism question introduces the basic outline of the rest of the Catechism. For in Question 4-38 we have a summary of what the Bible teaches us to believe concerning God. And in Questions 39-107 (the law, the means of grace, and prayer) we have a summary of the duty which God requires of man.” (p. 13)

Thus, the Bible teaches us who God is, what are His attributes, how He relates to His creation, how He has chosen to reveal Himself to man, along with who man is, how has sin effected his standing with God, and what is his ultimate end through Christ, and what would be his ultimate end apart from Christ. It is paramount that we believe what the Bible says since it “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The Scriptures also teach us about how we should live. Since God “formed [our] inward parts;” and “knitted us together” in our mother’s wombs, He has the authority to determine how we should live. (Psa. 139) Thus, the Bible tells us in Deuteronomy 10:12-13:And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” If we desire to know right from wrong, and sin from righteousness, we must look not to our culture, not to our government, and not even to our own inklings, but to the Scriptures that God has so graciously given to us.

Yes, the Bible may not tell us which car to buy, or when to put our house on the market, but it does tell us what to believe, and what our Creator requires of us.

Tuesday Hymns: “God, in the Gospel of His Son”

Man can learn much by looking at God’s Creation. The heavens truly do declare the glory of God and show us that God is a God of order and great power, yet, as the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us, nature is “not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.” (WCF I.i.) God has chosen to reveal Himself to man through His written Word, the Holy Scriptures. Our Tuesday Hymn for this week, God, in the Gospel of His Son, reminds us that it is through the Bible that man discovers what is right and wrong, the truth that he is a sinner, the need that he has for a Saviour, and that God has provided that salvation through the perfect life and the sacrificial death of His only Son. Benjamin Beddome, an eighteenth century Baptist pastor, for a long period of time actually wrote a hymn every week to be sung by the congregation after he preached God’s message. This is one of those hymns. It is sung to the tune of GERMANY.

God, in the gospel of his Son,
Makes his eternal counsels known;
Where love in all its glory shines,
And truth is drawn in fairest lines.

Here sinners of a humble frame
May taste his grace, and learn his Name;
May read, in characters of blood,
The wisdom, pow’r, and grace of God.

The pris’ner here may break his chains;
The weary rest from all his pains;
The captive feel his bondage cease;
The mourner find the way of peace.

Here faith reveals to mortal eyes
A brighter world beyond the skies;
Here shines the light which guides our way
From earth to realms of endless day.

O grant us grace, Almighty Lord,
To read and mark thy holy Word;
Its truths with meekness to receive,
And by its holy precepts live.

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