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The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards


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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 19: Of the Law of God - Commentary

...y good” (Gen. 1:31), he did not have to put effort into obedience as that was the “very good” state in which he was. Obedience came naturally to him as a very good creature. While after the Fall, obedience does not come naturally, but rather disobedience comes naturally. The moral law within man is part of what it means to be a rational creature and a human being in the image of God. What separates us from the brute beast is that we act according to choice and not by instinct. We can think through our choices and their consequences. We can know the difference between good and evil. Such knowledge animals don’t have and I believe it is in this sense that man is in the Imago Dei. We reflect (or better said, we were supposed to perfectly reflect) the person of God, His rationality, His goodness, His love and represent Him in the world (see chapter 4:2).

It is part of the Moral Argument for God to claim that for objective moral standards there must be a Lawgiver. Man, by virtue of him being a creature of God, has in him an innate knowledge of good and evil. We know what is good and what is not good even if we had never heard of the Ten Commandments. But, before some protest, knowing the law of God, or knowing what is good and what is evil, does not mean that we are willing to follow that lead. Our depraved nature is averse to the law of God and we often go against our conscience (e.g., Rom. 8:7-8). I believe that the conscience and the moral sense that all people have is proof for the assertion that this law, which was written in Adam’s heart, was not destroyed but is written in every person’s heart which enables them to know good and evil.

Romans 2:12-16

All people know that God exists by virtue of them being creatures of Him. They have the moral law upon their hearts. They know good from evil, whether they do that which is pleasing in God’s sight is another story. They have knowledge of God’s Law. The text chiefly cited in support of this is Romans 2. I would like to make a few comments on this passage.

Romans 2:12-16 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 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. 15 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 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

1. Paul has just concluded a section on the fact that God is impartial with regards to Jew or Gentile in His judgment. He will judge both according to the light they had. For “those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”, but for those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:7-8). God makes no distinction between Jew and Greek in that He will judge the one, but pardon the other. In fact, it is much more severe to the Jew than to the Gentile because of the light and knowledge which the Jew has over the heathen.

2. The word “law” is used in v. 12 four times and it is used in two senses: 1) the natural law and 2) the revealed moral law. In the case...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 22: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day - Commentary

...ssional position that the Sabbath is essentially moral in nature, not essentially a ceremonial law as non-Sabbatarians contend. But it is also described as a positive command, what does that mean? What is the connection that the Confession makes with the law of nature? Are there any civil or ceremonial aspects of the Sabbath? To these questions, we turn our attention.

Law Of Nature

By the Law of Nature, the Confession refers to the moral law common to all men, which, chapter 19 asserts was summarized in the Ten Commandments on Sinai. By virtue of man being in the Imago Dei, he knows that he has certain moral obligations which God has laid on him, without the help of special revelation. One such obligation is worship. Man is a religious creature. The Confession claims that it is common to religious man to want to worship God and do that as a community. There should be a time specially set apart for the public worship of God. The truth of this statement is seen by the various religions around the world and their feast days. The Confession is not claiming here that the Law of Nature reveals that one day out of seven should be dedicated to God, nor does it claim that we can know, without the Bible, that the seventh day was sanctified as the Sabbath from the Creation to the resurrection. But, the Confessional claim is that “a proportion of time” is to “be set apart for the worship of God”. No day is known via General Revelation, but what is known is that man ought to worship God. Ezekiel Hopkins writes:

Certain it is that a convenient portion, of our time is due to the service and worship of God by natural and moral right.[64]

The day is not evident from nature, but must be known via Special Revelation. Hopkins adds that “there is no evident natural reason why this day more than that; why every seventh day rather than every sixth, or fifth, or fourth.”[60] The Sabbath was known and instituted from the beginning of creation (as it was argued above), but we must not forget the Fall. Through the Fall all kinds of corruption entered into our human experience, not the least was the neglect of the Sabbath, which man would have perfectly kept in his unfallen state. Which brings us to our next point.

Positive Command

A positive command is one which God, as Sovereign Lord, commands His people to observe. The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are described as positive commands in chapter 28. The Confession has already asserted that in the Law of Nature it is evident that man is to worship God, yet the day is not known through the Law of Nature but must be revealed by God through Special Revelation. That is the positive aspect of the Sabbath. The day, whether the seventh or the first, is a positive and express command of God, which does not have its basis in the moral law. The specific day, in and of itself, is neither evident from nature nor is it essentially moral. Whether the seventh, first or fifth day, no day is of the essence for the Sabbath. The specific day has to be specified by Divine Revelation. Dr. Waldron explains:

The term ‘positive’ used here in the Confession means something in addition to the law of nature and general revelation…It is a positive commandment revealed only by special revelation.[65]

Dr. Joseph Pipa describes positive law as “a commandment of God that is not morally necessary (i.e., is not inherently right or wrong)…Such laws are binding only on the person or nation to whom they were given.” Natural (non-pos...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures - Commentary

...ened in light of the fact that 1) they are under the wrath of God and without an excuse, and 2) the only way of salvation is through calling upon the name of the Lord. Thereby the necessity of special revelation, which is the Scripture in our hands today, is established. We must preach the gospel, which is revealed in Scripture, for people to be saved. That is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Moving beyond the subject of the necessity of special revelation, the Scripture is necessary for our spiritual growth. We need special revelation to know the will of God more certainly and more clearly. Certainly, we know the law of God by virtue of us being made in the Imago Dei, and therefore, we know some things concerning the will of God and right and wrong. But as we noted above, just like general revelation has been corrupted through the Fall, so likewise our perception of the moral law is corrupted and not clear. Therefore, it pleased God to reveal His perfect law to us in the Bible with words, so that His people would more clearly know what He said and what He meant (see chapter 19). The Scripture is necessary for us as Christians because it is our spiritual food. Our Master, as the God-Man, repeatedly appealed and relied on Scripture, how much more should we? When tempted by Satan, the Lord famously said:

Matt. 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Notice that even in upholding the necessity and authority of Scripture, the Lord Christ appeals to Scripture (Deut. 8:3). We do not truly live by physical bread and food alone, but we are to live by every word of God. Notice how the Scripture is here described. It is said to be “word[s] that comes from the mouth of God.” It has its origin with the God of the world and it is Him speaking by His mouth to us. We are to feed and live on this Word. The Lord does not say that we should feast on the Word, implying that we read and study it occasionally. But the Word ought to be like bread to us—every day’s food. We are to read and study Scripture daily so as to grow in our faith and in our relationship with God.

In 1 Peter 1:23-2:2, the apostle Peter speaks about the “imperishable…[and]…the living and abiding word of God” (v. 23), which “remains forever” (v. 25; cf. Isa. 40:8) and which is “the good news that was preached to you” (v. 25). He goes on in chapter 2 to speak of us as “newborn infants” who “long for the pure spiritual milk” (2:2), which is the word of the Lord about which he is writing. Just like newborns cannot survive without the milk of their mothers, in the same way, Christians are dependent upon the Word of God.

The subject of mediation and delight of the Psalmist is “the law of the LORD” (Ps. 1:2). He does not occasionally think about the Word of God, rather, “he meditates day and night” on the Word of God. It is an essential part of his life. It is the light in which he walks (Ps. 119:105). He stores up God’s Word in his heart and has the desire to learn more from God (Ps. 119:11-12, 18, 20). His delight is in God’s Word (Ps. 119:16) and on it he meditates (Ps. 119:15, 23, 27, 48, 78, 148). And so goes the 119th Psalm praising God for giving us His Law and His Word as a guide and self-revelation. A Christian cannot be spiritually healthy without the Word of God.

Although general revelation reveals that there is a God, yet it is not enough to save us. General revelatio...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 4: Of Creation - Commentary

Chapter 4: Of Creation

Did God create for His glory? How did God create? Why did God create? How long did God take to create? What did God create?

Creation: there are a few topics like this which generate heat between believer and unbeliever, and even among believers. But it is essential. Here is the foundation of everything. If there was no creation, there would obviously be nothing. Whom can we trust to tell us how it happened? The only Witness has been pleased to reveal to us the way He created this world. The question is: Was everything that He revealed accurate and true? Can we gain any knowledge from outside the special revelation of God that can supply or actually radically change our view of Genesis? Which is primary, the exegesis of Scripture or the findings of modern (secular) science?

There was a time when my interest in this topic was immense, but that is for some reason no longer the case. Therefore, my comments will be short.

§1 In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to make the world

  1. In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six daysand all very good. 5
    1. Heb. 1:2; John 1:2-3; Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4[1]
    2. Rom. 1:20; Jer. 10:12; Ps. 104:24; 33:5-6; Prov. 3:19; Acts 14:15-16
    3. Gen. 1:1; John 1:2; Col. 1:16
    4. Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11
    5. Gen. 1:31; Ecc. 7:29; Rom. 5:12

All things were created in the beginning. This is the beginning of time, space and matter. The universe was is not eternal, but had a definite beginning when God started to create out of nothing. This Creator God is specifically said to be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:1-2; John 1:2-3). The Confession does not speak about a generic God or Creator, but about the true God revealed in Scripture. The God of Scripture began to create for the manifestation of his glory (Rom. 1:20; 11:36). God did not create because He lacked anything, but created to manifest His glory. He created the world and all things in the world, whether visible or invisible (Col. 1:16). He created the earth, the stars, the atoms, spirits, angels, humans, animals, rocks, trees and things invisible to the naked eye. Everything that “exists” was created or is created by the will of God (Rev. 4:11). Everything that was created, was created in the space of six days (Ex. 20:11). I think it is indisputable as to what these words meant for the writers of the Confession. When reading old authors from the 17th century, it is not unusual to read them dating events from the creation of Adam. The six days of creation had the same span as normal six days as they experienced them. They have no knowledge of the mess that theologians have made about the simple reading of Genesis 1 in our modern time. It is not that there was absolutely nothing said about the days, but it was not such a mess as it is now (Augustine, for example, believed that everything was created in a moment). All these things were created very good (Gen. 1:31). Nothing was created as evil or sinful, but they were all good and sinless.

For His Glory

The Lord God King of the Universe is the Creator God Who created the world ex-nihilo (out of nothing) in the space of six days. The Creator did this not because He lacked something, but was pleased to m...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant - Commentary

...p;not come to the people to come upon the Mountain lest they perish. What follows then in chapter 20 are the Ten Commandments, which are the summary of the moral law written upon every heart (see chapter 19 more on the Law of God and an exposition of the Ten Commandments). But now it is spoken by God to His covenant people as the summary of this covenant which He is making with them and the heart of it.

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are common to man. They are the basic moral law, which we know by virtue of the fact that we are created in the Imago Dei (in the image of God, see here on the image of God). Paul argues in Romans 2:12-15 and 1:18-32 that the basic things of the law concerning our duty to God, for example, are known both to Jews in the written Scriptures and also known to the Gentiles from their consciences and hearts. The Ten Commandments are divided into two groups. Commandments 1 through 4 concern our duty to God. We must worship God, the only true God. We must not seek to devise the way with which He is to be worshiped, but we should obey Him. We should likewise keep the seventh day, after six days designed for work, holy as a day of rest and worship (see for the Christian Sabbath here). Commandments 5 through 10 concern our duty to man. We are to love our neighbor, we are not to murder, bear false witness, steal or covet.

I find especially helpful Calvin’s observation on the commandments that when we read, for example, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” it not only applies to our parents, but also to other elders. But more than that, it also means the negative, i.e., you shall not dishonor and shame your elders. “Thou shalt not murder”, for example, also means the negative, meaning: it teaches us to persevere life, to love life, to cherish life and to celebrate life, etc.

These Ten Commandments are summarized in two commandments by our Lord and Master:

Matt. 22:36-40 “Teachwaer, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 

Love for God and love for our neighbor, which comes as a result of loving God, is the summary of the Ten Commandments and the Bible. For more on the law, see chapter 19.

The Covenant Established in Blood

After giving various laws in chapters 21-23, then the Lord confirms and establishes His covenant with Israel. 

Exod. 24:3-8 Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6 And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will - Commentary

...span style="color: #ee82ee;"only from instinct, and are not capable of being influenced by moral inducements, their actions are not properly sinful or virtuous, nor are they properly the subjects of any such moral treatment for what they do, as moral Agents are for their faults or good deeds.[25]

The difference is between the thinking and the meditating upon the actions. The desire, the understanding of good and evil, etc. They do not have an understanding as us humans, created in the Imago Dei, do and act upon that. They do things simply by their nature and instinct, not by premeditated understanding and desires as humans. Edwards notes a difference between us and the Supreme Being. The difference lies in the moral inducements which arise from the difference of circumstance. He differentiates between the moral agency of a ruler and a subject. God is not capable of being influenced by the moral law, its sanctions and threatenings as we the subjects are, though both moral agents and the Supreme Being are influenced by a knowledge of the law. The law of God is simply a reflection of His own nature. It is not something outside of Him, constraining Him or hindering Him from some actions or choices. 

And therefore the moral Agency of the Supreme Being, who acts only in the capacity of a ruler towards his creatures, and never as a subject, differs in that respect from the moral Agency of created intelligent beings. God’s actions, and particularly those which he exerts as a moral governor, have moral qualifications, and are morally good in the highest degree. They are most perfectly holy and righteous; and we must conceive of Him as influenced, in the highest degree, by that which, above all others, is properly a moral inducement; viz. the moral good which He sees in such and such things: and therefore He is, in the most proper sense, a moral Agent, the source of all moral ability and Agency, the fountain and rule of all virtue and moral good; though by reason of his being supreme over all, it is not possible He should be under the influence of law or command, promises or threatenings, rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings. The essential qualities of a moral Agent are in God, in the greatest possible perfection; such as understanding to perceive the difference between moral good and evil; a capacity of discerning that moral worthiness and demerit, by which some things are praiseworthy, others deserving of blame and punishment; and also a capacity of choice, and choice guided by understanding, and a power of acting according to his choice or pleasure, and being capable of doing those things which are in the highest sense praiseworthy. And herein does very much consist that image of God wherein he made man, (which we read of, Gen 1:26-27, and Gen 9:6) by which God distinguished man from the beasts, viz. in those faculties and principles of nature, whereby He is capable of moral Agency. Herein very much consists the natural image of God; whereas the spiritual and moral image, wherein man was made at first, consisted in that moral excellency with which he was endowed.[26]

God is not under the moral law as men are under the law, as He is the Supreme Being and the Lawgiver, which is a reflection of His nature. God is not able to do that which is contrary to His nature and we praise Him for that. The Psalmist sings,  “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Ps. 119:68). God’s good actions spring from the fact that He ...