Westminster Larger Catechism (Q 11-13)

Dear Church Family,

Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered questions 11-13. Here is a brief overview.

WLC 11  How doth it appear that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father?
A. The scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.

The previous three questions established from Scripture that there is only one living and true God (WLC 8), that there are three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (WLC 9), and describes the special relationship that exists between the Persons of the Godhead (WLC 10). This question (WLC 11) now sets forth to establish from Scripture that the Son and the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) are equal with the Father.

The evidence from Scripture which proves that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father falls into at least four categories: the Scriptures ascribe to the Son and the Holy Spirit such (1) names, (2) attributes, (3) works, and (4) worship, as are proper only to God. For example, God’s Son Jesus Christ is called “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20); likewise, when confronting Ananias in his deception, the Apostle Peter declares that Ananias has lied to the Holy Spirit – he has not lied to men but to God (Acts 5:3-4).

Additionally, both the Son and the Holy Spirit are spoken of in Scripture as being involved in the work of creation, something that only God can do. The Apostle Paul declares that “by Him [the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God] all things were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). And, from the opening verses of the Scriptures, “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). These are just a few of the examples of how the Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father.

The next two questions of the WLC have to do with the decrees of God.

WLC 12  What are the decrees of God?
God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

The decrees of God are those things which He has determined (unchangeably foreordained) by Divine edict outside of time (from all eternity). The Scriptures speak of God’s decrees being established before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:8).

The catechism employs three adjectives to describe God’s decrees. First, God’s decrees are wise, they use the right means to attain the right ends; He is a Wonder of a Counselor (Isaiah 9:6; Romans 11:33). Second, God’s decrees are free, not constrained or influenced by anything other than Himself; He shows mercy to some and hardens others according to His own desire (Romans 9:18). Third, God’s decrees are holy, righteous and free from sin; God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

While some may balk at the idea that God is sovereign over His creation and that “He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” the Scriptures are very clear that there is nothing which falls outside of God’s rule; He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). For the one who has placed His faith and trust in Christ and is an adopted child of God, the doctrine of God’s decrees is a great comfort. Our loving Father is the sovereign God of the universe who cares for the sparrows and numbers the very hairs of our heads; therefore, we need not fear any created thing (Matthew 10:28).

And with the Psalmist, we may declare, “The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

WLC 13  What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favour as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonour and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.

While God’s decrees include whatsoever comes to pass, this question and answer seeks to explain what the Scriptures teach concerning the particular decree of election: He has elected some angels to glory and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life. Later questions of the catechism explain God’s creation of the angels (WLC 16) and God’s providence towards the angels (WLC 19). For now, it enough to simply point out that while not much is said about God’s decree of election and angels, at one point the Apostle Paul speaks of the election of some angels when he describes them as God’s “chosen angels” (1 Timothy 5:21).

With regard to God’s decree of election and mankind, the Scriptures say much more. For instance, in Romans, chapter 8, God’s Word describes the effectual call of God to justification and glorification as being rooted in God’s predestinating those whom He foreknew: For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Romans 8:29-30).

Later in Romans, the Apostle Paul draws upon well-established prophetic imagery (Isaiah 29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-11) to describe the relationship between God and humanity in terms of the relationship between a potter and his clay. God “has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:18). The clay has no right to question the work of the potter (Romans 9:19-20). Indeed, the potter has a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use (Romans 9:21).

God’s predestination and election of some men to salvation displays the glory of His justice, but it also displays the glory of His grace. God’s grace in election is highlighted in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus: “He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:4-6).

This passage clearly teaches the truth that God chose those who would come to believe in Christ before the foundation of the world, He predestined us. And, this predestination was to the praise of the glory of His grace, to magnify God’s lovingkindness and mercy.

One other clear teaching from these verses bears highlighting. God’s predestination and election of some men for salvation is rooted in His love and kind intention of His will. It is of the utmost importance that we keep the love of God and the predestination of God in the proper order. If we put these things in the wrong order, it will affect our view of God’s character, and not in a good way. God does not love us because He elected us, because He is beholden to His covenant promises. Rather, God elected us and makes covenant promises to His people because He first loved us.

Finally, we should note the different language that the catechism uses to describe election to eternal life (God’s choosing some to salvation) and reprobation (God’s condemning others to eternal punishment in hell). Some hold to a view known as double-predestination. The idea of double-predestination is that God is the cause of both salvation and reprobation in the same way (by the same kind of positive decree); however, the language of the catechism helps to see the biblical teaching that God’s acts of salvation and reprobation are asymmetrical. God’s choosing of some men for salvation is described as His having “chosen some men to eternal life.,’ God’s condemning others to eternal punishment in hell is described as His having “passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath.”

While some people dally in the logical out-workings double-predestination, it is important and helpful to understand the doctrine of predestination according to the language and teaching of Scripture. Thus, we must begin with the disposition of man since the Fall: sinful, cut off from God, deserving of His wrath. All men are conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), born abiding under the wrath of God (John 3:36), and by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).

Therefore, since man’s natural condition since the Fall is sinful, depraved, and dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), in order for anyone to be delivered from the punishment of his sins, God must first regenerate and make us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). By His grace, He must save us through giving us the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, all those whom God has not elected, He passes by and leaves them to the consequences and punishment which is due to their own sin (Romans 9:13-16).

Conclusion & Application

God’s decree of election can be difficult to understand, and sometimes difficult to swallow. Indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith explains that “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” (WCF 3.8). So, we must be careful, humble, and biblical in our handling of this doctrine. That same paragraph in the confession speaks of the purpose and benefits of rightly understanding this doctrine.

The right understanding and application of the decree of election and predestination teaches us that God is the One who saves. This is the foundation of our hope in evangelism, and in our own salvation, sanctification, and perseverance. The doctrine of election is also the foundation of our assurance of salvation; God not only determines the end of our salvation in glorification, but He also makes sure that the means are put in place to see us through to that end.

Finally, a proper and reverential understanding of the doctrine of election causes us to be diligent in making our calling and election sure by adding to our faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:1-11).

The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch