Quest. 22: What are the attributes of God?
Ans: The attributes of God are those perfections inherent in the Divine nature which the Bible reveals concerning God.
Ex. 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
Rom. 11:36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
See also: Lev. 11:43–45; 1 Kgs. 8:27; 1 Chron. 29:11–12; Psa. 31:5; 90:2; 139:1–17; 145:3, 17; 147:5; Isa. 6:1–3; 57:15; Jer. 23:24; Mal. 3:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Jn. 4:16.
The word “attributes” refers to those characteristics or qualities that are inherent in the Divine essence and thus attributed to [revealed about, assigned to or descriptive of] God in Scripture. We know or comprehend God in our finiteness through these attributes or characteristics. These are all perfections, i.e., God is necessarily perfect in every one of these qualities or characteristics.
The Divine attributes are coherent in God. The term “coherence” when used logically, philosophically or theologically, denotes consistency or to be without contradiction or conflict. If a system has any inconsistencies or contradictions, it is said to be “incoherent.” When used of the Divine attributes or perfections, it means that these Divine characteristics do not contradict or come into conflict with one another. There is no incoherence within the Divine Personality.
We can only know God as he has been pleased to reveal himself to us. Yet we can seek to understand God from the Scriptures and make our knowledge orderly and systematic. We can attempt to categorize or arrange the Divine perfections to help us think properly about God “as spirit, infinite and perfect, the source, support and end of all things” (Rom. 11:36). While our knowledge of God is only partial and inadequate due to our finiteness, fallen state and the noetic effects of sin, yet it is a true knowledge through our God–given capacity as the image–bearers of God, the context of Divine revelation and the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
Various attempts have been made to classify the Divine attributes. Most would classify these Divine attributes as: the Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes, i.e., those which belong to God alone (e.g., omnipresence, omnipotence, immensity, eternity, etc.) and those which to some extent are communicable to his moral creatures (e.g., love, mercy, wisdom, etc.). Others would classify them as Absolute (those belonging to God alone) and Relative (those expressed to some extent in man). Some would attempt to classify them as Immanent or Intransitive and Eminent or Transitive Attributes. All such attempts must ultimately prove insufficient, as God is simply transcendent in all his perfections.
God Considered as Spirit, Infinite
God is spirit, i.e., God is neither visible nor material; he is incorporeal (Jn. 4:24). He may be perceived through the created universe (Psa. 19:1–6; Rom. 1:19–20), in the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:18; Col. 2:9), and personally and spiritually by faith (Heb. 11:6, 27). Because God is spirit, we cannot see him with our physical eyes. We “see” him through the “eye” of faith, i.e., by or through faith (Heb. 11:6).
When the Bible speaks of God as having “eyes,” “hands,” “feet,” or “ears,” etc., it is using human terms [anthropomorphisms] to help us understand that God sees, works, moves and hears, etc. Pure spiritual beings such as angels or demons are far superior to physical beings, and God is absolutely superior and ultimate—there is no one or thing above or beyond him. He is ultimate and infinite, the Creator, Governor and Sustainer of all things.
As a Spirit, God has life in himself and gives life to everything (Acts 17:25, 28; Heb. 1:3, 10:31). He is a personality, not merely an influence (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 3:14; Rom. 11:33–36).
God is absolutely perfect in everything and in every way. If there were any imperfection in God, he simply would not and could not be the God of Scripture. He is perfect truth. Because God is both true and truth, he can be trusted—believed in without fail (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 146:5–6; Titus 1:2; 1 Jn. 5:10). He is also perfect love. God’s love cannot be separated from his other perfections. His love is holy, righteous, just, gracious and merciful (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:8–10, 16). He is perfectly holy (Psa. 145:17; Isa. 57:15; 1 Pet. 1:15–16), righteous (Gen. 18:25; 2 Chron. 12:6; Psa. 11:7) and perfectly wise (Rom. 11:33–36; 1 Tim. 1:17).
God Considered as the Source, Support
and End of All Things
This means that God is the Creator or Originator and Definer of all things, the one who sustains all things in the universe, and that all things exist and are being brought to final consummation [their final ordained end or conclusion] in him (Acts 17:24–28; Rom. 11:33–36; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:1–3).
In relation to time and space, God is transcendent, i.e., he far exceeds all the limitations of the universe he has created. He is above and beyond all time and space. There is nothing that exists above or beyond God. There is no law, person or thing to which he must answer; he is absolute, and all created reality is relative to him. He is moved only from within himself and his own moral self–consistency (Psa. 90:4; 113:5–6). God is also eternal or supra–temporal, i.e., he exists above and beyond time (Gen. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:17). He is immense and imminent, i.e., fully and personally present throughout the universe (1 Kgs. 8:27; Heb. 4:12–13).
In relation to creation, God is omnipresent (Psa. 139:7–10), omniscient (Psa. 139:1–5; Jer. 17:9–10; 23:24; Acts 1:24; 15:8) and omnipotent (Gen. 1:1, 3; Psa. 115:3; Isa. 46:9–11).
In relation to moral beings, God is faithful and truthful (Deut. 7:9–10; Jn. 17:17; 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:13–18; 1 Jn. 5:10), gracious, merciful and good (Psa. 103:1–2, 8–14, 17; Rom. 2:4; 8:28–39), loving and kind (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:5; Eph. 2:4–10; 1 Jn. 4:8, 16), righteous, just and holy (Psa. 145:17; Isa. 6:1–4; Hos. 1:1–11; Rom. 3:21–26; 11:33–36).
Quest. 21: What are the names of God?
Ans: The names of God are those titles or designations by which God has revealed himself to man.
Ex. 20:7. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Matt. 6:9. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
See also: Gen. 22:14; 32:27; Ex. 3:13–15; 6:3; 9:16; 15:3; 17:15; 34:14; 2 Sam. 6:18; Psa. 20:1; 83:18; Isa. 9:6; 57:15; Jn. 10:25; Phil. 2:5–11.
In modern, Western society, names may mean very little, but God revealed himself in another era, in other languages, and to a culture in which names carried great significance. It is in this very important context that the names of God must be understood. A name was not only for personal identification, but also for personal revelation.
The names of God are very significant as an essential part of his self–revelation to men, so they, despite their finiteness, can sufficiently comprehend the incomprehensible and infinite God. These are the primary means of both his identification and his self–revelation as a distinct person (Gen. 17:1; Ex. 6:3). They reveal various aspects or characteristics of his Divine character, e.g., self–existence (Ex. 3:14–15), majesty (Gen. 14:18; 21:33; 24:3), power, strength or might (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 4:8), omniscience (Gen. 16:13; Acts 1:24), sufficiency (Gen. 17:1), provision (Gen. 22), holiness (Isa. 57:15), righteousness (Jer. 23:6), jealousy (Ex. 34:14), a God who is to be feared (Gen. 31:42, 53), etc. The names of God reveal his faithfulness in promises, power, judgment, covenant relationship and redemption (Gen. 24:12; Ex. 6:3).
The names of God in the Old Testament may be categorized as those which are generally used of God, and those which more specifically denote some aspect of his character. The general names are: “God” [El, Elohim, “strong, powerful, mighty”], “LORD” [Yahweh, “Jehovah,” the self–existent, covenant–keeping God”] and “Lord” [Adonai, “Sovereign Master”]. The more specific titles denote some aspect or attribute of the Divine character, such as “The Name” (Lev. 24:11), “The Rock” (Deut. 32:4), “God Almighty” (Gen. 17:1), “The Most High” (Gen. 14:19), “Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 1:9), “The Holy One” (Isa. 40:25), “Jealous” (Ex. 34:14), etc.
The names of God in the New Testament are also both general and more specific. The general titles are: “God” [Theos, equivalent to the Old Testament “El” and “Elohim”] and “Lord” [Kurios], used for Jehovah, for the Lord Jesus Christ and also in a mere human context for “Sir” (Acts 9:5; Jn. 4:11). Despotēs for Adonai, [“Sovereign Master”]. The more specific titles include: “The Almighty” [Ho Pantokratōr, or “All Powerful”], “The Blessed” [One to receive praise and honor] and “Father” (Matt. 6:9–13; Rom. 8:14–16; 1 Cor. 1:3; 8:5–6; 2 Cor. 1:2–3; 6:17–18; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 1:3ff).
It is significant that the titles of Deity are used of our Lord Jesus Christ in Old Testament (Isa. 9:6; Mal. 3:1) and the New: “God” (1 Tim. 3:16; Titus 2:13), “Lord” (Jn. 20:28; Acts 9:5–6; 22:6–10; Heb. 1:10; Jude 4; Rev. 19:16), “The Word” (Jn. 1:1) and “Son,” implying an equality and a unique relation to and intimacy with God the Father (Jn. 1:18; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:8). The term “Son of Man” may not refer merely to his humanity; it is a messianic title, deriving from the Old Testament (Dan. 7:13–14).
Quest. 20: What may we know about God from his Word?
Ans: We may know everything we need to know about God to be reconciled to him, properly worship him and live in obedience to his revealed will.
Deut. 6:4–5. 4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Matt. 22:37–39. 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Jn. 4:23–24. 23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
See also: Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:1–17; 1 Sam. 15:22–23; Isa. 57:15; 64:6; Acts 4:12; 16:30–32; Rom. 3:19–26; 5:1–3; 8:7–8; Eph. 2:4–5, 8–10; 1 Tim. 6:15–16; Rev. 4:11.
God is unknowable, except as he has been pleased to reveal himself, and he has revealed himself in both creation [natural revelation] and in his Word [special revelation]. He is our Creator; we are his creatures. He is infinite; we are finite. He is eternal or supra–temporal; we are temporal. He is spirit; we are corporeal. He is omnipresent; we are physically localized. He is immutable; we are mutable. He is omnipotent and omniscient; we are relatively impotent and ignorant. He is infallible; we are fallible. He is absolutely sovereign in every sphere; we are utterly dependent upon him for life and breath and all things (Acts 17:24–25, 28). When we leave the objective, metaphysical realm and enter the moral realm, the contrast remains: God is absolutely holy; we are unholy. He is absolutely righteous; we are unrighteous. He is sinless or impeccable; we are sinful and depraved.
The moral attributes, however, coincide with our fallen, sinful state in the context of his eternal redemptive purpose: God is gracious and demonstrates his grace in redeeming the utterly undeserving. He is merciful and extends his mercy to those who suffer under the ravages of sin. He is righteous and imputes righteousness to us through faith in Jesus Christ. He is love, and believers are the objects of this love. He reveals himself redemptively as our “Heavenly Father,” and we by grace and faith become his “sons” or “children.” (Matt. 6:9; Rom. 8:14–18; Gal. 4:5–7; 1 Jn. 3:1–3). In the reality of redeeming grace, believers, though imperfectly, reflect God’s moral attributes to a given degree (Matt. 5:7; Lk. 6:36; Jn. 13:34–35; 15:12; Rom. 5:21; 8:4; 13:8; Gal. 5:22–23; Col. 3:12–14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:7, 10). See Question 94.
Natural revelation points us to the greatness, power and majesty of God, but special revelation also points us to his moral attributes in the context of either redemption or judgment. Natural revelation is so great and inclusive that its witness leaves man inexcusable as to the power and Divine nature of God (Rom. 1:18–20). Special revelation satisfies the mind and heart as it reveals the fullness of God in his redemptive purpose and saving work.
God is absolutely holy [absolutely pure and separate from all his creation], and cannot be approached by anyone unholy or sinful. He is also morally self–consistent or absolutely righteous [right and incapable of wrong or inconsistency]. He demands, as is his sovereign right, that human beings, made in his image and likeness, also be holy and righteous (1 Pet. 1:15–16). In the scheme of redemption, God’s love, grace and mercy rise to answer the demands of his moral self–consistency without any contradiction or inconsistency, providing deliverance and reconciliation through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:21–26).
Man, created originally righteous, apostatized from God in an empirical attempt to become autonomous from God and his Law–Word (Gen. 3:1–19). In Adam, who was Representative Man [federal head of the human race] man became a sinner by imputation, nature and tendency and by personal transgression (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12–19). By this, he became wholly alienated from God and brought himself under Divine condemnation.
The reality and need of redemption ultimately rest in the holy, righteous, moral self–consistency of God. A righteous, just and holy God cannot arbitrarily set aside sin without becoming morally inconsistent or self–contradictory (Rom. 3:21–31). This is why the eternal Son of God entered the human race through the incarnation (Matt. 1:21; Rom. 8:2–3; Phil. 2:5–9; 1 Tim. 3:16). The Lord Jesus Christ was and is God in the flesh, the God–man, the “Second Man,” the “Last Adam,” the Redeemer to save sinners, the Mediator to reconcile God and men (1 Tim. 2:5). In his infinite, eternal, redemptive love, God sent his Son to be the great propitiation [one through whom the absolute righteous demands of God can be satisfied. Through his active obedience he met the demands of the Divine Law and through his passive obedience, he paid its awful penalty], so believing sinners can be reconciled to him (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 3:24–26). Only in this way—through faith in the Lord Jesus––could God be “both just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
Because we are sinners by imputation, as well as by nature and personal transgressions, whatever we think, say or do is inherently tainted with sin. We cannot escape this. What righteousness we inherently have is a self–righteousness (Isa. 64:6). This is why salvation cannot be by works or self–effort. This is why God cannot accept our efforts to please him. If we are to be saved from sin, it must be by grace [unmerited favor—wholly and utterly undeserved—in the place or stead of merited wrath] alone. There can be no mixture of grace and works. Any addition of works [human ability] would destroy the very principle and reality of Divine grace (Rom. 11:5–6). Free grace and free will are utterly opposed to one another.
How are we to be saved from our sin? How are we to be reconciled to God? How can we receive the grace of God? By faith. Faith is belief, trust, commitment, reliance on someone or thing [“faith” is the noun; “believe” is the verb]. Saving faith trusts, believes in and relies on God, his Word, and specifically his Son as both Lord and Savior. Saving faith lays hold of the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in total commitment and appropriates it. This is what it means to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and be saved (Acts 16:31). See Question 89. Have you savingly come to terms with God’s truth?
Quest. 19: What does God require in his Word of every believer?
Ans: God in his Word requires that every believer is to live in loving obedience and humble submission to his revealed will.
1 Jn. 2:3–5. 3And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
2 Tim. 3:16–17. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
See also: Rom. 12:1–2; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:9; 7:15; Phil. 2:8; Plm. 21; Heb. 12:2–13; 1 Pet. 1:13–16; 2 Pet. 3:18; 1 Jn. 1:8–10; 2:1.
There is a principle of obedience and humble submission to God and his Word that is to characterize true believers. In the context of God’s truth and revealed will, human beings are divided into those who are described as unbelievers, or “the children of disobedience” and believers, or “obedient children” (Eph. 2:2; 1 Pet. 1:14). But believers still sin and act out of character as Christians when they neglect or disobey the revealed will of God. There is a direct correlation between one’s faith and one’s obedience to the Word of God. Loving, willful obedience betokens a relatively healthy faith; disobedience betrays a given amount of unbelief. The degree of loving, willful obedience and submission to God’s Word in the life is in direct correlation to one’s spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:10–14). A lack of obedience and submission means Divine chastening, which, though corrective and done in love, may be very grievous (Heb. 12:1–14).
The ultimate purpose of God in the life and experience of the believer is to conform him to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; 1 Jn. 3:1–3). This is found in the path of obedience to the revealed will or Word of God. Disobedience, or acting out of character as a believer, necessarily calls forth Divine chastening and various trials and adversities which are designed to bring one back into the path of obedience, blessing and maturity. See Question 125.
Why do Christians––the very redeemed of Christ Jesus––disobey the Word of God? The reasons may vary. Sin is a sad reality, a failure, a terrible contradiction in the experience of every believer. Sadly, almost every believer at times simply neglects the Scriptures, and so thinks or acts contrary to God’s truth because it is not as fixed or refreshed in his mind as it ought to be. He thus thinks or acts without the holy restraint of God’s truth. We can all be blind to at least some of our sins through our ignorance or neglect of God’s Word, because of our own inherent self–righteousness, or the alleged right of some cause, controversy or contention. It may often be all too easy to defend ourselves at the expense of Divine truth. Every one of us must deal with the reality of indwelling sin and remaining corruption, of which every sin is a sad manifestation (Rom. 7:13–25).
Unbelief masquerades behind every sin, and unbelief is inherent to our natures. At times, spiritual pride and self–righteousness may dull our minds and deceive our hearts. We may even excuse the very sins in ourselves which we condemn in others because our consciences are neither convicted by the Scriptures nor exercised regularly in prayer. A neglect of prayer grieves the Spirit of God who uses the Word to convict us of sin. Such are some of the more common reasons why Christians disobey God’s Word. The only hopeful cure, apart from the severe discipline of Divine chastisement, is to make the study of the Scriptures, coupled with private prayer, our primary daily spiritual exercise. Do you pray? Do you obey?
Quest. 18: Why is it vital for every believer to study the Scriptures?
Ans: The Scriptures are the only and all–sufficient rule of both faith and practice. The Holy Spirit never leads the believer apart from or contrary to this inscripturated Word.
Matt. 4:4. …It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
2 Tim. 2:15. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Tim. 3:16–17. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
See also: Psa. 11:3; 19:7–14; 119; 138:2; Amos 8:11; Matt. 5:17–18; 1 Jn. 2:3–5.
The Scriptures are the very Word of God inscripturated. The vital importance of possessing the very Word of God in exact and written form cannot be overestimated. This is at once a great blessing, privilege and responsibility. It is the believer’s only objective rule and guide. Everything else is relative and subject to change. Subjective religious experience can easily be misunderstood and misinterpreted. Religious feelings or impressions may and can deceive. Religious fervency, zeal or subjective experience can never become a substitute for an intelligent, humble obedience to the Word of God.
Believers need to study the Word of God for their spiritual health, doctrinal purity and practical consistency. The life of the church as the pillar and ground of the truth necessitates a biblical faithfulness. Evangelism and defending the faith presuppose a biblically–based content and impetus.
In a day characterized by doctrinal disinterestedness and looseness in both believing and living, an emphasis on subjective experience, and a lack of careful Bible study, the very foundations of Christianity continue to be shaken. Almost every biblical doctrine has either been modified or come under attack. The thrice holy God of Scripture is largely unknown. Multitudes of professing Christians are wholly ignorant of his Divine attributes. The salvation of sinners, biblically a spiritual work of God, is often reduced to the mere psychological level. What faithful, godly service God requires in his Word has often been cast aside for a pragmatic, innovative approach which is neither biblical nor godly. The regulative principle of worship, which seeks to be wholly scriptural and glorifying to God, is often set aside for contemporary expressions which are man–centered and characterized by entertainment.
Indeed, even within the ranks of Evangelical Christianity, the authority of Scripture is often little valued. Many no longer look at modern religious innovations from a scriptural perspective, but tend to pragmatically view Scripture from the perspective of such modern innovations! The Scriptures are then twisted to conform to this modern, religious pragmatism. The only preventive against this current myriad of ills is to faithfully return to the knowledge, worship and service of God through his Word. May such a scriptural reformation lead to the blessing of revival! Both Scripture and history witness to such. See Questions 143–145.
It must be carefully noted that God honors his Word above all else, and so must we (Psa. 138:2; Matt. 5:17–18). Further, it is incontrovertible that the Holy Spirit never leads the believer contrary to or apart from the inscripturated Word of God. If we are to know the revealed will of God and walk obediently before him, then we need to have a thorough knowledge of his Word. Such is not always an easy matter. One must become a serious and spiritual student of Scripture, given to prayer for guidance and understanding, becoming acquainted with the proper principles of interpretation, making the necessary distinction between interpretation and application and coming to terms with biblical doctrine. All such study must then be consistently applied in practice. The true Christian may have to stand alone in his biblical convictions. Blessed is the believer who finds the fellowship of those who are like–minded in their reverence of and obedience to the Word of God! Do you live daily under the practical authority of God’s Word?
Quest. 17: What is the central message of the Bible?
Ans: The central message of the Bible is the redemption of sinners through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the glory of God.
2 Cor. 5:21. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Gal. 3:13. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.
See also: Gen. 3:15; Isa. 9:6; Matt. 1:21–23; Lk. 24:25–27, 44–47; Rom.3:21–26; 8:28–39; 1 Cor. 15:20–26; Gal. 4:4–5; Eph. 1:3–14; 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:16; Heb. 1:1–4; 7:23–25; 9:12; 10:10–14; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 Jn. 2:1; Rev. 4:11.
The Bible is not a book about history, although it comes to us in an historical format. The Bible is not a book about ethics or morality, although the moral self–consistency [righteousness] of God is predominant and the Christian ethic is a necessary element. The Bible is not a book about science, although it speaks concerning creation, the universe, the earth, the heavens, plants, animals, man and spirit–beings. The Bible is not a book about philosophy, although it deals with (1) epistemology [the science of knowledge and meaning], (2) metaphysics [ultimate questions concerning God, reality, meaning, life, death, etc.], (3) a distinct world–and–life view and (4) Ethics [a standard of conduct and moral judgment]. It also speaks about and gives operative principles concerning such diverse issues as civil government, the environment, monetary inflation, sanitation and public welfare. The Bible is essentially about salvation—the history of the eternal, redemptive purpose of the triune God to save sinners from the curse, the reigning power of sin and its ultimate consequences.
The doctrine of salvation or redemption in the Scriptures is a true and complete salvation, not merely something potential or theoretical awaiting the ability of the sinner to make it effectual. The scriptural doctrine or message of salvation must be entirely of free and sovereign grace alone because of the awful sinful state and spiritual condition of man. If salvation derives from God, then it necessarily comes to man wholly by grace [undeserved and wholly unmerited favor].
The scriptural message of salvation must deal fully and finally with sin and its effects and consequences—the guilt, penalty, pollution, power and the very presence of sin. Salvation is from sin with all its effects, consequences and potential. Because the salvation revealed in Scripture derives from God in content and effectiveness, it is a complete and effectual salvation. See Question 36.
The doctrine of salvation in the Scripture must necessarily redeem the sinner from the reigning power of sin and truly and actually reconcile him to God, restore him to a right standing [imputed and imparted righteousness], and transform his soul, mind and body. See Questions 92 and 94. The scriptural truth of salvation is not fragmented, but rather a unified whole, which is necessarily complete.
God cannot arbitrarily set aside sin (Cf. Rom. 3:21–26). His moral self–consistency [absolute and perfect righteousness] forbids it. Sin must be fully and finally dealt with either in the person of the sinner or in the person of an innocent substitute. All Scripture points to the Lord Jesus Christ: the Old Testament by type and prophecy; the New Testament by realization and fulfillment. In his Person and work the Lord Jesus meets every requirement as Mediator, Redeemer, Lord and Advocate [Great High Priest]. See Questions 72 and 92.
This message of salvation––redemption and forgiveness of sin through the Lord Jesus Christ and reconciliation to God––is to be declared throughout the world. The God–ordained means is through the preaching of the gospel. See Questions 138–139. Has this message of salvation from the reigning power and ultimate consequences of sin become your hope and rejoicing?
Quest. 16: In what form did God give us his Word?
Ans: God has given us his Word in the form of redemptive history [the story or record of salvation].
Gal. 4:4–5. 4But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Lk. 24:44–47. 44And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. 45Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, 46And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
See also: Gen. 3:15; Lk. 24:25–27; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1–3.
The self–revelation of the triune God to man has been inscripturated. This revelation is termed “The Holy Scriptures” or “The Bible.” This Divine revelation is progressive in nature. God did not communicate his truth completely in Genesis [both creation (Rom. 1:18–20) and redemption (Jn. 3:14–16; Gal. 4:4–5) are revelations of and from God.], the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Psalms or even the Gospels. There is a progressive principle which extends throughout all Divine revelation—God began his self–revelation in Genesis, then continued this revelation through patriarchal history, the Law, the history of Israel as a nation set apart for this express purpose, the incarnation of our Lord and his earthly ministry, and finally, through the inspired Apostles who brought this revelation to a close. In other words, the Scriptures have not come from God as a Systematic Theology, but as redemptive revelation in an historical format, i.e., in the form of redemptive history which is progressively revealed and developed from the creation (Gen. 1) to the consummation (2 Pet. 3; Rev. 19–22). Doctrine is not fully and finally set forth in Scripture at the very outset, but is first revealed in germ or essence, then progressively revealed to its fullness and finality. The guiding principle of Divine revelation is thus progressively historical, personal, chronological and doctrinal.
The Scriptures historically contain two Testaments. The first, or Old Testament [containing the Old Covenant], is preparatory and anticipatory. The second, or New Testament [containing the New or Gospel Covenant], is characterized by finality and fulfillment. Mark the following lines:
The New is in the Old contained,
The Old is by the New explained.
The Old Testament is largely personal (patriarchal history—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph), then national (the Mosaic legislation, the history of national Israel under the Unified Kingdom, Divided Kingdom and Isolated Kingdom) and prophetical. The New Testament is largely personal, ecclesiastical, universal (the earthly life and ministry of our Lord, the various epistles to churches and the gospel to sinful humanity without racial, national or cultural distinction) and prophetical.
All redemptive truth organically and doctrinally culminates in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Cf. Jn. 14:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:12–17; Heb. 1:1–3). It practically culminates in a consistent, godly life by the grace of God (Cf. the believer’s union with Christ in both his death and resurrection–life and its necessary and practical results in the experience, Rom. 6:1–14; Eph. 1:3–14; 4:1; Cf. 4:22–6:9, and the practical Christian ethic that is to be demonstrated in the life. Cf. also Titus 2:11–14). See Question 77. This union will eschatalogically culminate in the future resurrection to glory and the new creation (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Rom. 8:11–23; Eph. 1:10; 2 Pet. 3; Rev. 19–22). See Part X.
Quest. 15: What is meant by “illumination”?
Ans: Illumination is the spiritual insight into the Scriptures given to the believer by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
1 Jn. 2:20, 27. 20But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things....27But 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.
1 Cor. 2:9–10. 9But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
See also: Matt. 4:4; Lk. 24:13–32, 44–47; Jn. 17:17; 1 Cor. 2:9–16; Eph. 1:15–21; Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 5:10–14; 2 Pet. 3:18.
The Spirit of God, who especially indwells every true believer, gives spiritual insight into the Scriptures, and through the Scriptures, into spiritual or doctrinal truth. Illumination, therefore, not only concerns the mind; it also includes the life in a two–fold sense: first, the end of all Bible study is the arrival at propositional or doctrinal truth. Every Christian in this sense is to be a theologian. Second, doctrinal truth is to have a profound effect upon the believer’s life, i.e., “theology determines one’s morality,” or, “everything in life is ultimately disciplined by one’s theology.” There is a necessary relationship between Scripture rightly learned and held, and the personal character, i.e., a person’s life is necessarily the reflection of his theology.
This anointing or illumination is distinct, a mark of grace, and utterly necessary for the Christian’s experience and growth (Rom. 1:18–22; 1 Cor. 2:9–16; Eph. 4:17–19). This spiritual insight or perception enables true Christians to study the Scriptures, feed upon the Bible as their spiritual food, receive instruction, become doctrinally consistent and astute, be completely outfitted for their spiritual lives, and grow toward spiritual maturity.
Although there are not degrees of inspiration, there are degrees of illumination, depending upon one’s faith, godliness, study of the Scriptures and spiritual maturity (1 Cor. 2:9–13; Eph. 1:15–19; 2 Pet. 3:18).
It must be carefully noted that spiritual illumination is not static, but may even decrease due to unconfessed sin, grieving the Spirit of truth, unbelief, spiritual sloth, or from turning away in fear or unbelief from any aspect of Divine truth (Eph. 4:30; Heb. 5:10–14). To come to terms with any aspect of scriptural truth and then reject it, for whatever reason, necessarily results to the same degree in the inability to discern truth from error. Do we pray for understanding and illumination (Psa. 119:18)? Do we seriously seek to live up to the standard of what truth we know?
Quest. 14: What is meant by the “canonicity” of Scripture?
Ans: The “canonicity” of Scripture has reference to the various books that together make up the Bible [the scriptural canon] and the process by which they alone are recognized as Scripture [canonization].
2 Pet. 3:15–16. 15And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; 16As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
See also: 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Pet. 1:20–21.
All of the Holy Scriptures together form a book—the Bible. But the Bible is itself comprised of sixty–six books. It is a Divine library of various books—thirty–nine in the Old Testament [Genesis—Malachi in our English Bible] and twenty–seven in the New Testament [Matthew—Revelation in our English Bible]—that together form the canon of Scripture.
The word canon is derived from the Greek canōn, and originally signified a measuring staff or straight rod. It was probably a derivative of the Hebrew kaneh, or reed, an Old Testament term for a measuring rod [a reed used as a measuring instrument]. By the time of Athanasius (c. 350), the term “canon” was applied to the Bible, both as the rule of faith and practice, and as the body of inspired and authoritative truth.
The existence and validity of a scriptural canon [a certain number of books or writings that are truly from God and are unique in that sense] necessarily presupposes Christian Theism [the belief in the triune, self–disclosing God of Christianity as revealed in the Scriptures]. Only if it is presupposed that the triune, self–revealing God of Scripture has spoken, and that this revelation has been inscripturated [written down] under Divine superintendence [inspiration], can the issues of canonicity [which books are truly God–given] be settled in a positive manner. See Question 9.
Early Christianity did not canonize the Scriptures by its own [the church’s] authority, i.e., select which writings were to be included, but rather recognized those writings that were and are canonical. The differences between the canonical and non–canonical writings were and are immediately discernable. How did the early Christians recognize certain books as Scripture and reject others? The answer lies in the application of various principles gathered from early Christian writings which detail the process used by the early Christians and churches: first, is the book authoritative? Does it possess Divine authority? Second, is the book authentic, i.e., was it written by one of the Apostles or the stated author? Third, does it agree with the rest of Divine revelation and with the rule or “analogy of faith?” [This refers to the inclusive, non–contradictory or coherent nature of the Scripture as the very Word of God inscripturated. This also refers to the self–consistent teaching of Scripture as it touches on any given point]. Fourth, is the book dynamic, i.e., does it possess the power of God to evangelize and edify? This refers to the witness of the Spirit in the power of his Word. Fifth, is the book recognized by the early Church Fathers? Sixth, Is the book received by the people of God? Thus, the Scriptures formed the churches, and not the reverse. Scripture stands upon Divine authority, not upon any ecclesiastical authority. The Scriptures, then, are self–attesting or self–authenticating. The Holy Spirit witnesses to the veracity of Scripture to the believer. See Question 10.
Some deny the finalization of the canon of Scripture, holding to a continuing inspiration, i.e., that God still speaks directly to and through men through visions, “tongues” [ecstatic utterances] or inspired “prophesying.” Such leaves the Word of God in an incomplete and ultimately, in a non–authoritative state. See Question 84. Do we revere the Scriptures and love their Author as we ought?
Quest. 13: What is meant by the “sufficiency” of Scripture?
Ans: The “sufficiency” of Scripture means that the Bible alone is sufficient to rule or regulate our lives and teach us concerning God and our relation to him.
Matt. 4:4. ...It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
See also: Jn. 17:17; Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 3:18.
Man, as the image–bearer of God was created as a creature of faith because, first, every fact is a created fact, and, second, because the source of truth and knowledge was external to himself, i.e., his faith was to be placed in the Word of God. Only fallen man seeks to find the source of truth within himself, independent of God, i.e., fallen, sinful man considers himself to be autonomous [a law unto himself, i.e., self–determining and completely independent of God] (Gen. 3:1–7).
Christians are to have a “revelational epistemology” [Epistemology is the science of knowledge and truth–claims], i.e., the Scriptures are to form our authoritative, non–contradictory source for truth and knowledge. This holds true for our lives, worship, morality, corporate church life, evangelism and defending the faith.
Although the Scriptures do not reveal everything (Deut. 29:29), their revelation is sufficient for our knowledge, obedience and expectation. To go beyond Scripture in matters undisclosed to us is speculation. To reason from the Scriptures and draw “good and necessary consequences” is legitimate, as it is by this means that we apply the Scriptures consistently to our lives, remain consistent with preaching on aspects of doctrinal truth or to situations which may confront us—but only if such consequences or reasoning are both good and necessary. We must never base any doctrine on such reasoning. Good and necessary consequences are concerned with application, not interpretation. Our Lord used this means of reasoning from the spiritual nature of God to true spiritual worship (Jn. 4:23–24). He reasoned from the Scriptures to justify his healing, doing good on the Sabbath Day, and reasoned that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Matt. 12:10–12; Mk. 2:23–28; 3:1–5). He also reasoned from God’s care of creation to comfort and provision (Matt. 6:28–32; 10:28–31; Lk. 12:22–31).
Historically, in the organized or state church [Roman Catholic], authority and sufficiency derived from Scripture, tradition [writings of the Church Fathers, ecclesiastical traditions, etc.] and Papal edict. At the Protestant Reformation, the cry became, sola scriptura [by Scripture alone], sola fide [by faith alone], sola gratia [by grace alone] and solo Christo [by Christ alone], as opposed to the Church of Rome with its traditions, Papal decrees, prayers to Mary and the saints, and its sacerdotal and sacramental doctrine of salvation. The Protestant Reformers held that the Scripture alone was sufficient and authoritative to guide both the church and the individual life.
Baptists, as true New Testament Christians and the inheritors of primitive Christianity, have always held to the sufficiency of Scripture as our primary distinctive or characteristic. Every other distinctive derives from this. See Question 156. Do we approach the Scriptures in such a consistent and practical way?
By Dr. W.R. Downing