Dear Church Family,
Continuing in our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), this past Sunday, we covered questions 14-17. Here is a brief overview.
WLC 14 How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.
This question and answer concludes the section dealing with God’s decrees (WLC 12-14); and, it also introduces the next section regarding how God executes His decrees in the works of creation (WLC 15-17) and in the works of providence (WLC 18-20). God created all things, and rules over all things by His providence, according to the “counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).
WLC 15 What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.
The doctrine of creation has been the subject of many different controversies over the years, particularly with the rise of the predominance of the theory of evolution in the 19th century. Bible-believing Christians, however, take God’s Word at face value, understanding the creation account in the opening chapters of Genesis to be an accurate historical account. Thus, God created the world within the space of six days and declared it all “very good” (Genesis 1:1-2:2).
There are two other phrases from the answer to the question that bear emphasizing. Many people have sought to speculate as to the exact date of creation. For example, James Ussher (1581-1656), an archbishop in the Church of Ireland meticulously analyzed the genealogies of Scripture to arrive at October 23, 4004 B.C. as the date of creation. Yes, the WLC simply avoids speculation by declaring that God created the world “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1).
The other phrase that is of interest is the reference to how God made “of nothing the world.” This doctrine is often referred to by way of the Latin phrase: creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). That is to say that God is eternal, but matter is not. “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
WLC 16 How did God create angels?
A. God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.
We may deduce from the fact that God created all things (Colossians 1:16), that He created the angels. Yet, we told very little in Scripture about how or when God created the angels. Still, by their descriptions in the Bible, we learn that the angels differ from human beings in some significant ways. While man is a composite being of body and soul, angels are spirits without bodies (Psalm 104:4). Also, unlike man, angels are not organically created and descended from one another as humans are.
We do know the purpose, however, for which God created the angels: to execute His commands and to praise His name (Psalm 103:20-21; Isaiah 6:2-3). And, because the angels were created holy (Matthew 25:31) but some of the angels sinned and fall under the judgment of God (2 Peter 2:4), we know that God created the angels “subject to change.” A later catechism question (WLC 19) explores what we learn from Scripture regarding the fall and judgement of those angels that sin against God.
WLC 17 How did God create man?
A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.
On the sixth day of creation, God created mankind as the pinnacle and crown of all that He had made and declared His creation to be “very good” (Genesis 1:24-31). Regarding the God’s creation of man in the Garden of Eden, we may summarize the teaching of this question under four main headings:
(1) The Givenness of Man’s Nature
In a confused and confusing world, understanding the inherent objective givenness of human nature is of the utmost importance. The Bible teaches us God created man with one of two genders: male or female (Genesis 1:27). This is not something that we can modify or change according to our own proclivities or imagination. Gender is not determined by the opinion or state of one’s mine; it is a God-given objective reality.
(2) The Composite Nature of Man
Regarding the composite nature of mankind, there is some confusion in this area today as well. Man is not merely a body without an eternal soul like the animals. Nor is man a soul who has a body. Man is unique among God’s creation (different from animals and different from the angels) in that he is a composite being of body and soul (Genesis 2:7, 22).
(3) The Image of God in Man
Thus, distinct from the animals, man is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This image of God includes knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). Since the fall, though it is marred and corrupted by sin, man still retains this image of God (Genesis 5:3; Romans 5:19). The fact that man retains the image of God is the basis of the answer of many ethical and moral questions of our day that encroach upon human dignity.
(4) The Mutable Status of Man
Finally, man’s original status in the Garden of Eden was one of being in a state of innocence. The law of God was written upon his heart (Romans 2:14-15), the same moral law that was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai in the ten commandments (WCF 19.1-2). In his state of innocence, man had the power to fulfill this law (Ecclesiastes 7:29). As His vice-regent in this world, God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply in order to fill the earth and subdue, and to rule over all the animals of the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Yet, because our first parents did not keep the law of God, but rather sinned and rebelled against God (Genesis 3:6), we recognize that mankind was subject to fall (it was possible for their state of innocence to change). Thus, since the fall and due to the curse of God, woman’s pain in childbirth has been greatly multiplied (Genesis 3:16), man’s work in creation is made more difficult (Genesis 3:17-19), and all those descended from Adam are born under a sentence of death (Genesis 3:19; John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3).
The Biblical doctrine of creation, particularly with regard to the special creation of man in God’s image, is under attack from many quarters today. Whether it be the theory of evolution, the homosexual agenda, or the transgender movement, a proper understanding of the uniqueness and givenness of human nature is sorely needed. That’s why it is important for us to revisit these topics as we study the Westminster Larger Catechism and look to the Scriptures to understand who we are as created in God’s image.
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch