Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 25 ~ Marriage

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Introduction

The Confession’s chapter on marriage is a very practical one.  There is not so much about the institution of marriage; nor the theological basis for marriage.  To read a little about the institution or theological basis for marriage see my marriage sermon or marriage prayer.

One Spouse; Many Purposes

The first two sections in this chapter assert that there should be one spouse, but that there 1689 - Finalare many purposes.  It is stated bluntly and plainly: ‘Marriage is to be between one man and one woman; neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time’ (pg. 101).  Although there are numerous examples of characters in Scripture going against this ‘one spouse’ policy, the Scriptural exhortations certainly uphold it.  In the account of the first marriage ever to happen it is in the singular.  Genesis tells us ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.’ (2:24).  Malachi laments those in Israel who moved on to other wives, ‘Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.’ (2:15).  Jesus himself proclaims:

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matt. 19:5-6)

This union with a single spouse, though, achieves many different purposes.  Only three are specified in the Confession:

  • Mutual Help: According to Genesis 2:18, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  One purpose in marriage is the mutual help offered between spouses.
  • Procreation: Earlier in Genesis (1:28) we read that God commanded Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.  Marriage is the relationship within which to have children and to see them grow and develop.
  • Aid holiness: Another purpose is to aid holiness in those who struggle with sexual temptation.  Paul unashamedly speaks to this in 1 Corinthians 7.  He writes ‘But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband… if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.’ (vv. 2, 9)

One Pool; Many Exceptions

The Confession then continues to explain that there is only one pool to pick a spouse from, but that there are many exceptions from this pool.  While it is lawful for all sorts of people to marry (Muslims, atheists, Buddhists, etc) ‘it is the duty of Christians to marry in the Lord’ (pg. 101).  This is the one pool which a Christian may choose from, Christians.  Again, it is Paul who gives this counsel in Scripture – Christians are free to marry, only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39).  However, there are a number of exceptions to this one pool.  There are two stated explicitly in the Confession

  • Ensure they are a true Christian: Paul gives this counsel in 1 Cor. 7:39 as noted above, and again in 2 Cor. 6:14ff. As the Confession states it, marry only ‘such as profess the true religion, should not marry with infidels, or idolaters; neither should such as are godly, be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresy.’ (pg. 101)
  • Ensure they are not too closely related: This has become almost a social norm now, and there are few cultures who promote incest, but still it must be stated. ‘Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity, forbidden in the Word; nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful, by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.’ (pg. 102).  Leviticus 18 sets out the degrees of consanguinity or affinity that are forbidden.

For further reading on marriage see My Top Five Books on Marriage…

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Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 24 ~ Civil Magistrates

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

Is Government a gift?

If there is one thing that almost everyone is good at it is complaining.  No matter who you are, where you live or what you do – you probably complain about something every single day.  One of the prime targets for our criticism is often the government.  However, as a Christian there is good cause for us to pause and consider who the government are, and what they do…because they are actually a gift from God!

Paul is unmistakeable in his letter to the Romans.  He writes to them:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (13:1-7)

What Paul says is unmistakeable.  The government are put in place by God, for the good of the people.  Naturally, no government will be perfect and there will be policies and decision with which we disagree (both on a personal level and from a biblical point of view).  However, the theological principle has been stated explicitly: government is a gift from God.  The Confession words it like this:

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers. (pg. 99)

Implications

There are many implications in light of this, but the Confession mentions only three.

First, the Confession asserts ‘[i]t is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of magistrate when called thereunto’ (pg. 99).  If the government has been instituted by God, and Scripture is clear on this point as we noted above, then there is no good reason for Christians to be excluded from working in government.  Indeed, it is quite the opposite – Christians should flood the government working for the good and peace of all who live in the country.

Second, Christians must obey the government.  As is evident from the passage quoted from Romans above, Christians are called to obey the government.  Paul writes to a church living under a relatively hostile government, ‘one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience’ (13:5).  Due to the theological principle which underpins the presence of the government we must offer our obedience.  Of course there is the exception of a directly unbiblical command, and this is captured in the wording of the Confession:

Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord (pg. 100).

Third, we must offer prayer for them.  Paul writing to an individual makes this clear:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim. 2:1-2)

As Christians there is a duty on us to pray for our leaders and governments in order to aid us in living a peaceful and quiet life under their watch.

Bringing it Home

July is often a period of red-hot rhetoric, dubious decisions and a pessimistic public in Northern Ireland.  Perhaps, as we listen to politicians, councillors and other figureheads in the community speak on radio and TV we should pause and pray for them.  Perhaps, when decisions we disagree with are finalised we submit to them peaceably.  Perhaps, it may even be the time for us to step into politics and offer the calm, level-headed, people loving leadership that a mature Christian can offer.  Government is indeed a gift because it is from God, but that brings with it certain implications for the Christian community.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 23 ~ Oaths and Vows

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Oaths

The Confession is in no doubt as to the lawfulness of swearing oaths:

A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein the person swearing in truth, righteousness and judgement solemnly calleth God to witness what he swearth, and to judge him according to the truth or falseness thereof. (pg. 97)

However, it seems that there is clear evidence to warrant this attitude in Scripture:

You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. (Deut. 10:20)

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return.  If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.” (Jer. 4:1-2)

If a man sins against his neighbour and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, then hear from heaven and act and judge your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness. (2 Chron. 6:22-23)

For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. (Heb. 6:16)

But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. (2 Cor. 1:23)

With respect to the motivation of taking such an oath as is described in the passages quoted above, the Confession suggests that it should only be to confirm the truth and to end all strife (pg. 97).  In other words Scripture only warrants those oaths which reveal the truth and heal all division.  Yet, these oaths cannot be made by swearing on anything.  Rather, ‘[t]he name of God only is that by which men ought to swear’ (pg. 97).  The Confession claims that Scripture supports this by calling its readers not to swear on anything less:

But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matt. 5:34-37)

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (Jas. 5:12)

The reason for that is so that oaths are appreciated for the very serious thing which they are.  As the Confession makes clear:

Whosoever taketh an oath warranted by the Word of God, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he knoweth to be truth (pg. 98).

In other words, ensure that you do not swear deceitfully (Ps. 24:4), because the name on which you give your oath is no less that the LORD GOD of heaven.

Therefore, the conclusion regarding oaths is that ‘a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken’ (pg. 97).  I am not compelled to think otherwise.

Vows

However, I must query in some respects the Confessions statements on vows!  The Confession proposes:

A vow, which is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone, is to be made and performed with all religious care and faithfulness; but popish monastical vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself. (pg. 98)

Primarily I take issue with the opening line which commands vows to be made to none other than God.  Surely vows are made to others apart from God – one example would be marriage vows.  We vow or promise certain things to our spouse.  While there may appear to be some wisdom in the warning against vows to religious bodies and organizations, surely there are other times when we must make vows of this nature – one example would be the vows that a Pastor/Minister makes to a congregation as he agrees to shepherd them.

Moreover, the Scriptures proffered by the Confession fail to convince that their statement is correct on this point:

Make your vows to the Lord your God and perform them; let all round him bring gifts to him who is to be feared (Ps. 76:11)

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Gen. 28:20-22)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Cor. 7:2-9)

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Eph 4:18)

But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. (Mt. 19:11)

It would be great to hear what your thoughts are on oaths and vows – comment below or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 22 ~ Worship and the Sabbath

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.

Worship on God’s terms

This rather lengthy chapter of the Confession (comparatively speaking) begins with the firm statement that God demands that he be worshipped on his own terms:

The light of nature shows that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. (pg. 92)

This is of course something which is explicitly stated in Scripture.  For example, Moses reiterates this to the nation of Israel on the border of the Promised Land.  He commands:

When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not enquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.  Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (Deut. 12:29-32)

There are then four ‘terms’ of worship which are asserted.

God alone is to be worshipped

The Confession forbids the worship of angels, saints, or any other creatures.  It also denies the praying to others, and praying for the dead.  It is God alone who is to be worshipped; and the triune God at that ‘God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ (pg. 92).  Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy, makes the very same point during his temptation by Satan.  Satan 1689 - Finalencourages Jesus to fall down and worship him, to which Jesus responds ‘Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’ (Mt. 4:9-10).  Therefore, for God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that he alone be worshipped.

Prayer through Jesus

The Confession also offers some practical and pastoral counsel on prayer and its exercise.  According to the Confession it is one part of natural worship which is to be made in the name of the Son and with the aid of the Spirit (the Confession points to Jn. 14:13-14 and Rom. 8:26 in defence of these statements).  It then very helpfully urges us to pray ‘with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love and perseverance’ (pg. 93).  Somewhat controversially it adds ‘and when with others, in a known tongue’, and yet this seems to me to be in complete agreement with Paul when he writes to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 14:13-19).  Again, for God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that prayer be offered through Jesus.

Corporate Gatherings

The Confession does not state in so many words that it is speaking of corporate gatherings of God’s people at this point and yet in what it describes it can hardly be speaking of anything other!

The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord’s supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear (pg. 93-94).

It would appear that this is exactly what the early church partook in as they also met (Acts 2:42).  For God to be worshipped on his own terms demands that his people meet together for corporate worship.

No Longer tied to one place

The final term that the Confession is keen to note is that the worship of God is no longer tied to one particular place.  This is of course based on Jesus’ words in John 4; neither on this or that mountain will we worship God, but rather we will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (vv. 21-24).  The Confession then applies this beneficially to the joy of worshipping God with one’s family in private, or indeed by one’s self.  Yet it also warns that this is not a replacement for the corporate gathering which we mentioned above.  To worship God on his own terms means he can be worshipped anywhere at anytime.

The Sabbath

Within the Confession the worship of God is also tied tightly to the institution of the Sabbath.  It is noted that until Christ’s resurrection the holy day onto the Lord was the Sabbath, and that from the resurrection of Christ it is now the Lord’s Day (or Sunday).  It proceeds to argue:

The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (pg. 95-96)

While I am still in the midst of developing my own understanding of the institution of the Sabbath, its development into the Lord’s Day and the biblical theological concept of Sabbath rest, it seems to me slightly erroneous to demand a day on which particular Old Covenant rules are to be observed in New Covenant worship.  In particular I think of Jesus’ statements about the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8), and the author of the Hebrews arguing that our new covenant Sabbath rest is future (Heb. 3:7-4:13).  Even so, this does not negate that there should be a day set aside to worship with God’s people – and what better day of the week than the one on which Jesus rose again from the dead!