Monday, March 1, 2010

Westminster Catechsm, Question 3

Question and answer:

Q: What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A: The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God,[1] and what duty God requires of man.[2]

Reference Scriptures (taken from the New Revised Standard Version):


Genesis 1:1:

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth

John 5:39: 

39‘You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.

John 20:31:

31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Romans 10:17:

17So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

2 Timothy 3:15:

15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.


Deuteronomy 10:12-13:

12So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 

Joshua 1:8:

8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.
Psalm 119:105:

105Your word is a lamp to my feet
   and a light to my path.

Micah 6:8:

8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

2 Timothy 3:16-17:

16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.


In our previous discussion, we acknowledged the Bible as our sole resource for determining how to glorify God and how to enjoy him. Here, our question and answer seek to make more clear the purpose behind God's Word for us.

The Anglican divine, Ezekiel Hopkins, had perhaps the most succinct statement on this topic:

"The Bible is the statute-book of God's Kingdom, wherein is comprised the whole body of the heavenly law, the perfect rules of a holy life, and the sure promises of a glorious one."

Upon meditating on the reference Scripture for this sections answer, I could find no flaw with Hopkins' statement, nor could I have stated it more truly. "Bible" is, after a fashion B.I.B.L.E.: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. As our answer is in two parts, so too shall we discuss these instructions.

First, we ponder what the Scriptures teach us concerning God himself. The reference Scripture is by no means exhaustive. To be true, as the Bible is God's special self-revelation, there is no word contained therein that does not speak to us from God's own heart. This was revealed to us that we may come to know God, and enter into the personal relationship he intends for us. We know from the outset that we are entering into a relationship with the God of creation, with "the very spark that birthed the stars". The Bible reveals to us God's works, power, and majesty, and also, key to the Christian life, his love, mercy, and grace. These last three points are accomplished fully in the life, death, resurrection, and purpose of Jesus Christ. God's word, being self-explanatory, reveals to us that it is a testament to Jesus Christ. It is given that we may know, and upon hearing and reading this word, come to faith and relationship with God to accomplish his purpose for us: to love and be loved, and in so doing, be saved from ourselves. The greatest story ever told is in fact a rich and personal love story. It was written once, but written to and for each of us individually.

The preceding part of our answer dealt with what God extends to us, in terms of self-revelation. Our second part informs us of our duty to God. As evidenced from the Scriptures above (and from many others), it is our utmost duty to live in accordance with the revealed truths of the Bible. Being made in the image of God, we must again, image God. God holds no obligation to do as he has done for us out of his love, mercy, and grace. The same is true for us, in our own way. It is not out of obligation that we serve, nor is it any longer out of fear of punishment that we serve, but out of gratitude for that love, mercy, and grace, which were freely given, though wholly undeserved. With grateful hearts, we are to allow the Scriptures to illumine us, and guide us in our walk with God in a manner which places God at the center of our lives, bringing glory to God and sharing in his love. Our duty is to be a living sacrifice to God. To let go of all of our preconceptions and futile personal striving, and make the often difficult leap to paying homage to God in all that we do.

The words of Psalm 19:14 ring continuously in my ears as I ponder my walk with God daily:

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable to you,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

In this Scripture I believe we find the proper mindset with which to approach our lives and bring them into conformity with Scripture, so that we may share more fully in our purpose and in the loving covenant God has so graciously called us to out of his own abounding love. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 2

Question and answer:

Q: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A: The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,[1] is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.[2]

Reference Scriptures (taken from the New Revised Standard Version):


Matthew 19:4-5:

4He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, 5and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?

Genesis 2:24:

24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 

Luke 24:27, 44:

27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 
44Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 

1 Corinthians 2:13:

13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

1 Corinthians 14:37:

37Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.

2 Peter 1:20-21:

20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

2 Peter 3:2, 15-16:

2that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour spoken through your apostles. 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given to him, 16speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.


Deuteronomy 4:2:

2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you.

Psalm 19:7-11:

7The law of the Lord is perfect,
   reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
   making wise the simple;
8the precepts of the Lord are right,
   rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
   enlightening the eyes;
9the fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
   and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover by them is your servant warned;
   in keeping them there is great reward.

Isaiah 8:19-20:

19Now if people say to you, ‘Consult the ghosts and the familiar spirits that chirp and mutter; should not a people consult their gods, the dead on behalf of the living, 20for teaching and for instruction?’ surely, those who speak like this will have no dawn!

John 15:11:

11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

John 20:30-31:

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 

Acts 17:11:

11These Jews were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so.

2 Timothy 3:15-17:

15and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

1 John 1:4:

4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.


We ask here a question which is of paramount importance to the Christian life and mind. Knowing that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1), we must, of necessity, the method or rule by which we can accomplish this. Our rule is found solely in the Bible, which is God's special self-revelation to us. We find this idea at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, and as such, at the heart of Reformed Theology. It is best summed up by the first of the "five solas" of the Protestant Reformation: sola scriptura.

Sola scriptura holds that the Bible alone is the authoritative word of God, is accessible to all, and is, after a fashion, self-interpreting. This idea stands in opposition to the stance that the Bible must be interpreted externally by an "authoritative" teacher.

Thomas Watson (1620-1686), a Puritan preacher, said the following, regarding the sola scriptura stance, which, in light of the cited reference Scripture above, can be held as accurate:

The Scripture is the library of the Holy Ghost; it is a pandect of
divine knowledge, an exact model and platform of religion. The Scripture
contains in it the credenda , "the things which we are to believe," and
the agenda , "the things which we are to practice."

Watson delivered a method for Biblical interpretation, which can be found here, for those who are interested: How to Get the Most From Reading Your Bible 

The Presbyterian tradition to which I adhere holds a view of Biblical interpretation which I will sum up in the following points:

1: The Bible accurately delivers God's truth and is authoritative in doing so.

2: The entirety of the Bible should be read and interpreted in a Christ-centric manner.

3: Every attempt should be made, and every tool employed to extract the intended truth, from a cultural-historical perspective (hermeneutics) and from an original language perspective (exegesis). 

4: Traditional interpretation held by the church should be given weight, as it has endured over time and has been subject to much healthy debate and scholarly scrutiny.

5: Rule of Love -- If any passage is read that seems to stand in violation of the Rule of Love (Love God above all else, love your neighbor as yourself), then the passage should be subjected to further scrutiny until the seeming conflict is resolved.

6: Interpret from the large to the small. Overall meaning and theme contained in a passage, in a book, or in the Bible as a whole should be weighed heavier than an individual passage. God's truth does not contradict itself, but individual passages taken out of context may seem to make this so.

7: Pray always for illumination from the Holy Spirit when reading. It is this same Spirit which divinely inspired the Bible, and that Spirit is a key component for proper interpretation.

All too often, we find ourselves deferring to the "authoritative" interpretation of another. We say to ourselves "My friend/my mentor/my teacher/my minister/this author knows God far more than I. I should listen to them and accept what they say." Many times, this may be true, but only insofar as the person you are deferring to has sought their view in a diligent manner and it is rooted firmly in well-sought Scriptural truth. At times, this may seem to be the case, but is not so. If we are to be certain, we ourselves must seek the same truth in an unbiased fashion from Scripture itself. This is one of the facets of fostering a personal relationship with God, which is essential to the Christian life. Through this, we may hope to accomplish our chief end.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1

Question and answer:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God[1], and to enjoy him forever.[2]

Reference Scriptures (taken from New Revised Standard Version):


Psalm 86:
1Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
   for I am poor and needy.
2Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
   save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; 3be gracious to me, O Lord,
   for to you do I cry all day long.
4Gladden the soul of your servant,
   for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
   abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
6Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
   listen to my cry of supplication.
7In the day of my trouble I call on you,
   for you will answer me.

8There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
   nor are there any works like yours.
9All the nations you have made shall come
   and bow down before you, O Lord,
   and shall glorify your name.
10For you are great and do wondrous things;
   you alone are God.
11Teach me your way, O Lord,
   that I may walk in your truth;
   give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
12I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
   and I will glorify your name for ever.
13For great is your steadfast love towards me;
   you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14O God, the insolent rise up against me;
   a band of ruffians seeks my life,
   and they do not set you before them.
15But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16Turn to me and be gracious to me;
   give your strength to your servant;
   save the child of your serving-maid.
17Show me a sign of your favor,
   so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame,
   because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Isaiah 60:21:
21Your people shall all be righteous;
   they shall possess the land for ever.
They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands,
   so that I might be glorified.

Romans 11:36:
36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 6:20:
20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 10:31:
31So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

Revelation 4:11:
11‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they existed and were created.’


Psalm 16:5-11:
5The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
   you hold my lot.
6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
   I have a goodly heritage.

7I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
   in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the Lord always before me;
   because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
   my body also rests secure.
10For you do not give me up to Sheol,
   or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11You show me the path of life.
   In your presence there is fullness of joy;
   in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Psalm 144:15:
15Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall;
   happy are the people whose God is the Lord.

Isaiah 12:2:

2Surely God is my salvation;
   I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation.

Luke 2:10:
10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

Philippians 4:4:
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Revelation 21:3-4:
3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’ 


The question deals with the chief end of man. What exactly do we mean by this question? The question deals with the very purpose of man. We are asking a question that should shape the foundations of our very lives. Our answer is what we are created for, our one, pure purpose. It is the essence of all we should aim for, it is what all of our designs should be laid upon, it is to be the root of all of our desires, our seeking, our passions. It gives us direction for all that we should obtain in life, and the method by which our happiness is obtained. We are asking "What principle should shape every meditation of our heart and lie at the root of every thought?"

Our answer takes two parts. Part one states that our chief end is to glorify God. In order to do so, we must, first and foremost, have this as the root of all of our desires, making all further things subordinate to this. Though it is true that God will obtain glory from all things, it is the purpose of man, so created, to seek, in all of the meditations of his heart, the words of his mouth, and the works of his hands to bring glory to God. We do this by putting God in his proper place: first. This should be reflected in our thoughts, our conduct, our relationships with others. It has been said that "Who we are is God's gift to us. What we make of ourselves is our gift to God." All things which we do should be done to the glory of, and in praise of, God. The hymnist Brian Wren gives us the elegant line, with proper prioritization "We'll live and speak his praise". Saint Francis poignantly states "Preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words." As we are made in the image of God, so too should we seek to image God.

Part two states that the chief end of man is also to enjoy God forever. It truly is a pleasure to be in service to God and to act in concert with the intention of our creator. Finding enjoyment in God does not mean merely enjoying God when blessings are readily apparent, but in taking joy in God as he is, for what he is. All too often, we confuse happiness with joy. Happiness is purely circumstantial and is dependent on what happens to us at the time. God, however, is not circumstantial, but ever present, and unchanging. Rather, we, as Christians, should seek to rejoice in God for who and what God is. We should seek to serve not on the promise of reward at a later time. The reward comes now, from serving with a heart of gratitude for all that God has done, and for the grace we so freely receive yet do not deserve. The reward has already been given. All that remains is to take active joy in it now, and experience the joy it is to serve God because he is just, righteous, and loving.

In dedicating ourselves to these principles, we can find a life of continuous joy, and take further joy in the reward which is to come. Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, with the grace and mercy that stem from it, God's chosen sacrifice from us is praise alone. In itself, that is a gracious choice and a testament to the love of God. It is not in itself alone enough to give praise to God. Rather, we should, as Christians seek always to be praise to God.