If you haven’t thought through this issue before, I want to encourage you to consider studying it. It shouldn’t scare us to think through the wisdom of our Confessional heritage. Rather, it should–at the very least–cause us to ponder the rationale and explanation for Westminster’s interpretation of the second commandment. Wherever you land on this issue, this much we can agree upon: We should all strive to understand the Second Commandment more faithfully, to reaffirm the sufficiency of Scripture in all of life, to avail ourselves to the ordinary means of grace and to strive for undivided worship.
No, the Westminster divines weren’t intentionally attacking The Jesus Storybook Bible; but they probably would have taken issue with the pictures of Jesus.
I serve on the Theological Examination Committee for the Presbytery in which I minister–which means, among other things, that I help examine candidates who sense a call to the ministry. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of candidates taking an “exception” to the Westminster Standards’ interpretation of the Second Commandment, mainly due to the interpretation of the use of “images” in worship.
A good place to start when considering this issue is to look at what the Second Commandment actually says? In Exodus 20, we read,
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (v. 3-6; cf. Deut. 5:8-10).
The Westminster Divines interpreted this by affirming, “The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his Word” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 51). The Westminster Larger Catechism similarly teaches:
“The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instated by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them, all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever, simony, sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed” (Q. 109).
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By Maurice Roberts — 9 months ago
A common reason why we cease to pray effectually or fervently is because we fall into a rut. When this happens we pray more by habit than in the Spirit. We do indeed go through a routine of words and lists but the fire is just not there in the soul. This is one reason why we must be careful not to be dictated to by our prayer-lists. They may have their place but they must never become our masters. At times–perhaps at frequent times–we must leave our prayer-lists aside and turn from our conventional patterns of prayer. There are times when the mould of our intercession is to be discarded entirely and we are to devote our whole minds and souls to the great task of calling on God for nothing less than revival.
It is a question worth pondering as to whether there is much serious prayer being offered up in our busy age. There is undoubtedly a welter of other things being attempted: files of paper are prepared on a host of topics; memoranda by the score are recorded; statistics are noted; committees are formed and then disbanded; agendas are drawn up and discussed; ideas are floated and debated; proposals are offered and turned this way and then that. But in the face of the massive onslaught of secular and spiritual forces hostile to the gospel of Christ there appears to be little agonising prayer. Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves if this is why nothing seems to get any better.
Behind this lack of real prayer–if the above observations are just–there would appear to lie just one basic explanation: prayer is extraordinarily difficult. At least prayer which involves wrestling is so. There is a common style of praying found in many places today which makes but little demand upon those who offer it up. We do not set ourselves up to be the judges of other men’s spirituality. But if our eyes and ears do not deceive us it would seem that a style of prayer is widespread which consists very much of saying thank you to God for a large number of things, yet never goes on to lay hold of the Almighty or to make massive demands upon his promises.
It is time to ask ourselves whether such praying is worthy of being called scriptural or evangelical. The prayers of the Bible concentrate on the great emergency and crisis of the times. Examples of this abound. The prayers of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel may be taken as notable examples. They grapple with the main issue of the day, which is that God should pardon his people and restore to them the power of his grace. No doubt these holy men were grateful to God for the mercies of life and thanked him no less than we do today. But their chief energies in prayer were spent, not in reference to the common mercies of life, but on those themes and subjects which most concerned Christ’s kingdom at that hour. So they contain the element of striving with God. They are hot and passionate. They amount to a spiritual wrestling and to a laying hold of God in downright earnest.
If anyone thinks that we go too far in so speaking of prayer in Bible times, let him recall the marvellous earnestness recorded for us concerning the prayers of our Lord in the garden. How deeply did he experience agony! There was immense conflict in his mind and soul. This was registered in his tears and in his sweat which dripped from his brow like clots of blood. Such intensity of prayer may perhaps be unique to our blessed Redeemer. But there are expressions elsewhere in the Bible to show that prayer is hard and demanding to man.
The Psalmist speaks of an experience which must be exceeding rare in our times. His knees were weak through fasting (Ps. 109:24). Intercessory prayer requires us to ‘afflict our souls’ (Lev. 16), to ‘watch’ and not to sleep (Matt. 26:38), to ‘labour fervently’ (Col. 4:12), to persevere (Eph. 6:18) and to engage in an exercise which is intensely spiritual (Rom. 8:26).
When we study the practice of Old Testament saints we find not a little to humble and inspire us. Elijah’s prayers stopped heaven and brought a drought on the land. Again, his prayers opened heaven and poured forth rain on the parched earth. What prayers these biblical men and women offered up and with what effect upon the world! They stormed Zion in their fervour to be heard. They petitioned the throne of heaven and laid siege to its walls. They would scarcely take No for an answer. In so praying they stopped the sun in its course; they called down fire from above; they opened prisons; they overturned the schemes of armies; they raised the dead; they toppled thrones; they wrought mighty deeds of victory.
It cannot escape our attention that such wrestlers with God seem to be few today. We are grateful for those who serve Christ in whatever capacity. We value highly all who walk with God and are true to his Word and sound in their faith. But it would be good for our land and for our churches if there were a larger army of wrestlers, all taking God at his Word and pleading relentlessly the promises which he has made to his people in a dark day. In a word, we need an army of men and women who are so devoted to praying for the Spirit to come down that they give God no rest (Isa. 62:7).
Too many prayers lack steam. Too many prayers are predictable. Too many prayers are marked by sameness and tameness. But prayers which are ordinary are not sufficient to turn the tide of evil in these days. What is called for in such a dark day is for men and women of exceptional dedication to God who will plead for a mighty change in the state of things. Perhaps this is the main reason why there has been a recovery of much truth but little public manifestation of it. We are all guilty in that we have not waited with sufficient seriousness on God to give the church the power of preaching and the unction of spiritual energy.
It is a fault to treat prayer as the Cinderella of our spiritual duties. To read and to preach is essential. But the oil of divine blessing must needs be poured on the means of grace if they are to be effectual. Too many of our services to Christ are performed with little water on the mill. It is the way of God that he will have us beg for our blessings. Little prayer usually means little unction. There are exceptions but we must not take advantage of God’s kindness. At times we get unusual help in our work with but little intercession beforehand. But it is presumptuous of us to take this as our rule of action.
A common reason why we cease to pray effectually or fervently is because we fall into a rut. When this happens we pray more by habit than in the Spirit. We do indeed go through a routine of words and lists but the fire is just not there in the soul. This is one reason why we must be careful not to be dictated to by our prayer-lists. They may have their place but they must never become our masters. At times–perhaps at frequent times–we must leave our prayer-lists aside and turn from our conventional patterns of prayer. There are times when the mould of our intercession is to be discarded entirely and we are to devote our whole minds and souls to the great task of calling on God for nothing less than revival. Let the soul pour itself out to its Maker in anguished groans. Let the heart within us feel free to roam up and down the land in its search for a way to give vent to our burden and to our grief that Christ’s cause is so low.
We shall probably seldom if ever pray in the manner of the saints of the Bible if we are not full of the knowledge of the Scriptures. This is clear from a perusal of the great prayers of the Bible itself. The Bible-characters whom we referred to as great in prayer were themselves men who were full of Scripture. Their prayers are often a tissue of biblical language. They quote not only the ideas of the Bible but also its very text. Of course there is a danger even in this. It is possible to use the Bible as mere padding in our prayers. It is sometimes the case that men who have little to say in prayer fill out their prayers by reciting texts of Scripture which may be only partially what they are trying to say. We have all been guilty, no doubt. This is an abuse. Real prayer shoots upwards, being impelled by the inward fire and animation of the soul. No one needs to be told when we have offered up a real prayer. It is something which all feel who have any spiritual life in them.
By Anthony Burgess — 5 months ago
In verses 8 and 9 of 1 Timothy 1, Paul joins together two things which seem to be contradictory. Augustine put the conundrum like this. “If the law is good when used lawfully, and none but the righteous can use it lawfully, how then is it not made for the righteous?” According to Augustine, when Paul writes like this, he is provoking the reader to find out the answer to this puzzle. Using these words, “we know” and “knowing,” Paul implies what understanding all Christians ought to have in the nature of the law.
What law does he here speak of? Some have understood it as the ceremonial law. Because of Christ’s death the ceremonial law was to be abolished, and all the ceremonies of the law were convictions of sins, and hand-writings against those who used them. But this cannot be what Paul intends, for circumcision was commanded to Abraham, a righteous man (and likewise to all the godly under the Old Testament), and the persons who are contrasted with the righteous are those who transgress the moral law. Instead we may understand it of the moral law generally.
What Kind of Person Is “Righteous”?
We must not interpret the “righteous man” as someone who is absolutely righteous, but one who is righteous as to effort and as to desire. The people of God are called righteous because of the righteousness that is in them, although they are not justified by it.
Even secular writers say this much of the righteous man – he does what is righteous for love of righteousness, not for fear of punishment. Aristotle says that a righteous man would be good even supposing there was no law. Seneca and Plato said similar things. Their sayings are not altogether true, yet they have some kind of truth in them. Some of the Church Fathers said similar things. Chrysostom speaking in hyperbole said, “A righteous man does not need the law, no, not teaching or admonishing …” It is like a musician, who has his art within him – he scorns to go to look at the rules. But of course this is a hyperbolic way of speaking. What godly man does not need the Word as a light? Who does not need it as a goad? Of course in heaven the godly will not need the law, but then again they will not need the gospel, or the whole Word of God.
How Do the Righteous Relate to the Law?
There are three interpretations which come very near one another, and all help to make clear what the apostle means.
1. The Law Is Not a Burden to the Righteous
Some learned men lay an emphasis on the word “made.” They take Paul’s words to mean, “The law is not made to the godly as a burden, they have a love and a delight in it; it’s not like a whip to them.” The wicked wish there was no law. They say, “I wish this was not a sin!” The righteous man is more in the law then under it.
Of course this is to be understood as far as he is righteous, for in another sense the things of God are many times a burden to a godly man. Yet let us not think the works of the law [done by the godly] are in conflict with the works of the Spirit, grace and gospel. The same actions are the works of the law in respect of the object, and the works of the Spirit in respect of the efficient.
By Cole Newton — 1 year ago
We are indeed able to boldly approach God’s throne, laying our burdens, cries, and groans before Him with the steadfast hope that He will hear, He will see, and He will know. And this hope is rooted, not in God’s remembrance of any good that we have done, for as Jonathan Edwards (I believe) rightly noted that we contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary. Instead, we know God looks favorably upon us as His children through His remembrance of Christ and the covenant that He made through His blood.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis set the scene for the remainder of the book of Genesis as well as the Bible as a whole. Chapter 2 establishes how the world was created to be, the garden paradise that we still yearn for. Chapter 3, however, purposely mirrors chapter 2 because it reveals how paradise was lost to humanity. These first two chapters of Exodus form a similar, though reverse, picture. In chapter 1, we saw the enslavement of God’s people under the wicked hand of Pharaoh, yet when enslavement failed to sufficiently beat down the Israelites, Pharaoh resorted to infanticide. Chapter 2 mirrors chapter 1, giving us a glimpse of how God will rescue His people from their oppression through how God rescues Moses as their future leader. Just as chapter 1 ended with Pharaoh’s attempted infanticide, chapter 2 begins with God’s preservation of Moses in the midst of that slaughter. The account of Israel’s enslavement in chapter 1 then contrasts with Moses’ exodus from Egypt in chapter 2. Finally, just as chapter 1 began with the names of the patriarchs to remind us of God’s providence in bringing them into Egypt, chapter 2 ends with God preparing to deliver His people from their slavery.
Moses & the Ark //Verses 1-9
These first nine verses continue the battle between the Serpent and the woman that was being waged in Egypt. Just as the plans of Pharaoh were undone by the faithfulness of two Hebrew midwives in chapter 1, so too are they thwarted again by three women here.
First, we see the faithfulness of Moses’ mother, later identified as Jochebed (6:20). She begins by seeing that her child was a fine child, which might literally be translated as “she saw that he was good.” There certainly seems to be an echo of God’s pronouncement of the goodness of His creation in these words. If so, this clues us into the fact that Moses’ mother had a godly vision of the value of her child, in contrast to the Satanic anti-natal vision of Pharaoh.
But, of course, it is not enough to simply see the value in what God has made, we must also act in a godly manner. And Moses’ mother did just that. She hid her child for three months, which, given how much newborns cry, must have been an utterly terrifying experience. Nevertheless, she was faithful to protect her child as long as she could, and when she could hide him no longer, she cast him into the Nile. Of course, she did not do so in the manner that Pharaoh had commanded. Instead, she built a basket, although the Hebrew word is the same word used for Noah’s ark and surrendered him into the hand of God. And just as God kept Noah safe from the waters within the ark, so too did he keep Moses safe from the waters of the Nile within his own ark.
Second, we see the faithfulness of Moses’ sister, Miriam, who followed her little brother from the riverbank and then was bold enough to speak of Pharaoh’s daughter. Stuart writes of her bravery, saying that “Miriam’s oversight of Moses as he floated among the rushes of the Nile and her quick thinking in proposing an Israelite nurse for the baby (knowing full well she would “recruit” his own mother) helped preserve Moses for her family and for Israel’s salvation.”
Finally, we see the faithfulness of Pharaoh’s daughter, which is surprising because she was almost certainly not a believer in the LORD. She was, nevertheless, faithful to God’s creational design for women to be givers and nourishers of life, especially toward children. Moses’ crying stirred up pity within her heart that led to her blatant rejection of her father’s command, since she knew immediately that the baby was one of the Hebrews’ children.
Thus, through three women, one of whom was still a child, Pharaoh’s plan was undone, and the future savior of the Israelites was saved from death. And he was saved by being brought into Pharaoh’s own house and educated on his dime. It is also significant that these women defeated the most powerful man in the world by simply doing what they were naturally designed to do. Moses’ mother took care of her child. His sister looked after her younger brother. Pharaoh’s daughter rescued a crying baby. These were three women who faithfully continued to be women, even as the Serpent hissed his threats their way.
First, this is a glorious example of God overturning the strong through the weak. Not only were these three women physically weaker than Pharaoh; they also had radically less authority. God, however, chose to work through their lack of strength and lack of authority, giving us a foretaste of how utterly powerless Pharaoh is before the Almighty. Let us not grow weary of doing good nor of being faithful in the ordinary course of life. God very often uses such ordinary faithfulness to overthrow the grandest schemes of the devil.
Second, I pointed out last week that our society has taken up the satanic attack on children via abortion, yet we need to also broaden out our focus to see how we have largely taken the wrong side in the war between the Serpent and the woman. You see, for all the rants against the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, our culture does not respect women; it abhors them. Conservative commentator Matt Walsh recently got suspended from Twitter for making this very point. He tweeted:
The greatest female Jeopardy champion of all time is a man. The top female college swimmer is a man. The first female four star admiral in the Public Health Service is a man. Men have dominated female high school track and the female MMA circuit. The patriarchy wins in the end.
Apparently since the ‘future is female,’ the patriarchy just decided to become female, and in our Gnostic age where the body is nothing more than a machine to be molded as we see fit, why not become female? Feminists bear a significant amount of the blame because rather than fighting for society to place more value upon femininity, they fought for the right to act like and be treated like men (and often the worst kind of men). They ushered in a world where a woman is lauded for doing anything as long as it is not the one thing that only women can do: bearing children. The coming population bust is a direct result of our devaluing of motherhood.
In Eden, God gave Adam the task of working the garden and Eve the task of bearing children. Together, they would fulfill the Creation Mandate of being fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth, and subduing it (Genesis 1:28), which itself is a reflection of how God created the world by forming (masculine) and then filling (feminine). Yet notice that three words are used for the same action of bearing children (fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth), while only one word is given for Adam’s task of working the ground (subdue it). Just as God formed the earth on days 1-3 in order to fill the earth on days 4-6, so too are men called to subdue the earth to make ready to be filled by women and the children that they bear.
Now do not hear what I am not saying. A woman that never gives birth is not a lesser woman. Especially under the New Covenant, we now have an even greater mandate to make disciples of all nations. I am speaking, instead, on a societal level, and a society that has rejected the value of the uniquely feminine work of motherhood is a society that has abandoned the Creation Mandate and has taken the Serpent’s side. May God grant us repentance rather than the judgment that we so rightly deserve!
Moses in the Wilderness // Verses 10-22
Verse 11 jumps to Moses as an adult.
One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.