Summary of Saving Knowledge
1. While we can deduce some things about God using our minds and considering the universe, this knowledge is not sufficient to enable any person to perfectly worship God, which is his due honour, nor to achieve salvation. God has provided the scriptures in which he has revealed himself at different times and places in order to tell of the salvation that he has worked for all of humanity. The Bible is authoritative being the words of God himself and is thus the rule for faith and life. Scripture is not to be added to nor any part subtracted from it. All that is necessary for mankind to know for glorifying God and the salvation of men and women is set down clearly in scripture or may be deduced from scripture. Even so, the full understanding of scripture, any part of it or any doctrine deduced from it is only possible with the illumining of our minds by the Holy Spirit. Some doctrines are clearer than others, but the central doctrines, the doctrines necessary to salvation, are clearly set forth somewhere in scripture so that people do not have to be biblical scholars and specialists to take hold of the full salvation which is their free gift from God. Where there is a question about the meaning of any part of scripture the question must be resolved by searching scripture. The author of scripture is God who cannot lie and therefore scripture cannot be made to contradict itself.
2. There is one God who is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchanging in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice and truth. God is all-sufficient within himself and needs nothing from any creature that he has made. Within the unity of the Godhead, there are three persons who are the same in substance, power and eternity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God from all eternity has ordained all that has happened or that will come to pass within a framework of cause and effect, yet he has done this in a way in which we cannot fully understand that allows mankind the dignity of choice and responsibility and also does not make God responsible for any sin. God predetermining of all that happens includes the choosing of men and women to be his people. We know that this choice is not based on foreknowledge of who they are or what they will do but only upon God’s free choice. We know that some people are not chosen. We know that all who seek will find. We know that God does no unjust action. We know the one in whom we have believed and are confident that he will keep us safe. No person alive on the earth can fully explain these things. We see as though through a misty glass.
3. God created everything from nothing by command. He created angels. He created plants and animals to live upon the earth and lastly he created man and woman in his own image, with reason and with immortal souls. God gave humanity the responsibility and ability to tend the earth and care for it, he gave them instructions to obey and they lived in daily relationship with God. They were created with free choice and the dignity that their choices would be honoured. At the completion of the work of creation, God pronounced that it was very good. God was not bound to reward their service until he entered into a covenant with them. This he did promising to give eternal life to them and their descendants upon a condition of their perpetual and perfect obedience. The curse of this covenant was death. This is the covenant of works. The first man, Adam, was a federal head for himself and all his descendants.
4. Some of the angels chose to disobey God and fell becoming devils; Satan is the chief of these. Satan tempted our first parents to become disobedient to God’s commands and thus become subject to the curse of the covenant of works. As a result, all of humanity fell under the curse of death. This historic event is called ‘The Fall’. However, God demonstrated his grace in that, even in the day of their rebellion, he commuted the immediacy of the death sentence and promised salvation. The dignity of Adam was upheld in that his choice had eternal effects. Adam and Eve and all their descendants became liable to bodily death but more seriously, became liable to eternal death, lost all ability to please God, in fact, became in nature enemies of God inclined to do evil rather than good. This tendency to always sin is called ‘Original Sin’.
5. Men and women find themselves in this condition of being both unable to help themselves or each other and unwilling to accept God’s free offer of salvation, in fact, of preferring to perish. Yet, God out of his own free grace, for the demonstration of his glory has revealed in his word a way to save sinners. That way is through Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God by means of a Covenant of Redemption made within the Triune Godhead before the world began. The Covenant of Redemption is this: That God having freely chosen into life lost sinners gave them to God the Son as their appointed Redeemer upon condition that he, the Son, would humble himself and assume the human nature of a soul and body in personal union with his divine nature. That he would obey the law of God for them, satisfying its demands by taking the penalty for their disobediences even to suffering death upon the cursed cross. He would thus ransom and redeem them from all sin and death and purchase for them righteousness and eternal life. He would administer this grace to each of them in the time appropriate to each one of them.
6. This God the Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. He accepted the conditions before the world began and in the proper time came into the world being born of the virgin, Mary, subjected himself to the Law and died upon the cross completely paying the ransom for his people. It was necessary that he be human in that he died for the sins of a human. It was necessary that he was God so that the sacrifice could be sufficient for the sins of all mankind. Some of the people that he purchased lived in the times before he came to earth. Some will live in times after today. All those saved are saved in the same way: In all ages Jesus Christ applies his saving Work to those who are saved. This he does by a Covenant of Grace wherein he freely offers to those who are his people all the benefits of salvation. To be their God and to enable them to be his people. He also promises to live with them for all eternity. In the Old Testament, the Covenant of Grace is declared as promise; (as in a will or testament) “This is what will happen.” In the New Testament, the Covenant of Grace is declared as effective. The testator having died, the people of God inherit the provisions of the will.
7. For the administering of the Covenant of Redemption Christ Jesus is invested with the offices of Prophet, Priest and King. Made a Prophet to reveal all saving knowledge to his people and to persuade them to believe and obey. Made a Priest to offer himself as a sacrifice once and for always and for them all. As a Priest he also intercedes continuously for us with the Father making their persons and services acceptable to God. Made a King to subdue them to himself, to feed them and rule them by his own appointed commands and to defend them from their enemies.
8. Those who are His people are blessed with his name and are called Christians. The provided means of grace are so effective and wisely applied that Christians are infallibly converted and saved by them. Those who will not be saved are the more condemned in that they have seen and heard the good news yet have denied it. The means of grace are these four
a. The Word of God: This is proclaimed by messengers sent by Jesus. The Lord makes free offer of grace to all sinners upon condition of faith in Jesus Christ. Those who hear, humbly confess their sins, accept the free offer and submit themselves to his commands are both themselves and their children received into the rich provisions of the Covenant of Grace.
b. The Sacraments: God seals and confirms the bargain made with his people by means of the sacraments. In the times of the Old Testament the sacraments of the Covenant of Grace were circumcision and the sacrifices of the Passover lamb. Such bloody sacrifices set forth and displayed Christ’s death to come. In later times, there are two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These clearly set forth that Christ has now come and he is crucified before our very eyes, victorious over death and the grave and now ruling for the good of his own people. Baptism is to be applied once only to any person who seeks entry into the Covenant. The time and mode of Baptism are capable of different understandings. For some, the children of a believer may also be baptised. For others, baptism is only for believing adults. Both understandings accept that the children of a believer may be included in the covenant family of God. The Lord’s Supper is a meal in which Jesus invites the believer to share in order to strengthen and confirm faith. Neither sacrament works in and of itself but has to be appropriated in the heart of the believing person by faith. Thus, neither sacrament guarantees salvation. In fact, scripture warns that misappropriation can lead to condemnation.
c. The Church: God uses the church: To remind the believer to follow Christ by the teaching of the word of God. To correct the believer by applying the strictures of the commands of God. To comfort the believer with the gospel of God’s grace when failure to the commands happens and to provide mutual encouragement by means of the fellowship of other believers in prayer and material acts of love and sacrifice one to another.
d. Prayer: By prayer God causes the believer to declare to God the glorious grace of God available in the covenant, to seek God’s help and direction in the life of the believer and to be utterly dependent upon God asking for all the daily requirements of his or her life.
9. By the various outward ordinances God applies to his chosen people all the saving graces purchased for them by Jesus Christ in the Covenant of Redemption thus making changes in them.
a. He converts them and makes them to be born as new giving them a spiritual life, renewing their wills, desires and abilities to enable them to be obedient to his commands.
b. He gives them saving faith in the sense that; knowing that they deserve condemnation, they may accept the Covenant of Grace and enables them to embrace Jesus Christ without doubt or fear.
c. He gives them repentance by making them, with godly sorrow, in the hatred of sin and love of doing what is right to turn from all wrongdoing to try to serve God with their whole personality.
d. He gives them the ability to persevere in their faith and to continue in spiritual obedience to the commands of God giving increasing fruitfulness and victories over sin as they mature in the faith. However, while there should be significant victories, no one achieves complete and perfect righteousness in this life but rather continues to fail the perfect will of God.
10. In addition to this inward change of their hearts and minds, God changes also their standing before him.
a. He makes them righteous before Him by accepting the penalty that Christ paid upon the cross as applying to them, thus God’s justice is not compromised but rather satisfied.
b. He makes them righteous before Him by crediting to them that perfect obedience that Christ gave in his obedience to the law.
c. He reconciles them to himself and makes them friends to God whereas they were enemies to God before this.
d. He adopts them so that they are no longer lost and alone, without hope, but rather children of God enriched with all the spiritual privileges of his sons and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
e. After their lives on this earth are ended, he makes them completely perfect and perfectly blessed. Initially their souls at death go to be with the Lord. When Jesus comes again to judge all mankind he will condemn Satan and all the wicked to eternal condemnation; the souls and bodies of believers will be rejoined in the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life when they will be ever with the Lord and perfect forever. All praise to God and to the Lamb.
Prepared by John Barrs, Feb 2001 from the Document of the same name prepared by the Westminster Divines meeting in the 17th Century