After a brief break we return to our weekly reflections here at Gospel Convergence on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
Something is Broken
The Confession begins this chapter by once again asserting a truth that we are all too familiar with in this world: something is broken (also see part 6). We cannot and do not pursue a righteousness which justifies us before God, and in our brokenness we need an outside force to make it right. Therefore, it was necessary for God to act and not only did he act but he proclaimed and declared that action. The Confession puts it like this:
The covenant of works being broken by sin and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual, for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (pg. 86)
This giving forth of the promise is the thrust of this chapter.
The World is not Enough
My brother can be a little cheesy from time to time, and ‘The World is not Enough’ is one of his cheesy sermon titles! However, it captures excellently the big idea of Psalm 19 (the text on which he was preaching). This is exactly the point that the Confession now makes about the gospel – the world is not enough, but the word is…
This promise of Christ, and salvation by him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by Him, so much as in a general or obscure way (pg. 86).
Psalm 19 begins with the announcement that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’ (v. 1). The world lets people know that there is a greater and higher power than mere human beings. Paul makes the same argument in Romans: ‘what can be known about God is plain…God has shown it…For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.’ (vv. 19-20).
Yet there is a limit to what can be understood without ‘words’, and indeed the ‘Word’. Psalm 19 explains that God’s Word is ‘perfect’, ‘sure’ (v. 7), ‘right’, ‘pure’ (v. 8), ‘clean’, ‘enduring’, ‘true’, ‘righteous’ (v. 9), ‘desired’, ‘sweeter’ (v. 10). It takes the Word for the gospel to be understood and accepted. Again, Paul in Romans 10:17 states it explicitly: ‘faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’
Promise & Precept
The Confession proceeds to note that the proclamation comes with both ‘promises and precepts’ (pg. 87). There are the great promises of salvation, forgiveness, hope, assurance, joy, and there are precepts which we must heed – there is an ‘obedience required therein’ (pg. 87). This is perhaps helpfully captured by the beginning of Titus 3:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarrelling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy towards all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (vv. 1-8)
Visible & Invisible
Another pairing that the Confession notes with regard to the preaching of the gospel is that there is a visible aspect (the Word) and an invisible aspect (the Spirit). Visibly the Word is proclaimed, spoken, preached, and declared. A message is audibly communicated and visibly written. However, as Scripture testifies, this message only brings life in conjunction with the work of the Holy Spirit. The Confession words this truth as follows:
Although the gospel be the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such, abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, there is moreover necessary an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God. (pg. 87-88)
This is indeed the good news of the gospel!