What Rule Hath God Given to Direct Us How We May Glorify and Enjoy Him? (WSC Q. 2)

FPCNorwayAll Life for God's Glory, Lessons

If you want to know how to glorify God and enjoy him forever, you need to go to the Bible. There is no way that you can know how to glorify God and enjoy him forever, if you do not know how God defines a God-glorifying life.

What Rule Hath God Given to Direct Us How We May Glorify and Enjoy Him?

Rev. Matthew J. Stanghelle
February 2, 2020

Last week, we established the biblical case for the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We saw that God has created us for his glory, and that it is by living for his glory that we find our greatest joy. As the psalmist says, in God’s presence there is fulness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

Now that we have unpacked question one, we need to answer the follow up question. How do we know if we are living for God’s glory? Many people, from ancient philosophers to talk show hosts, have given their opinions about what it is to live the good life, and in many cases, they have also given their so-called spiritual advice on how it’s achieved. Sadly, many people go astray by them.

So, what is the rule for God’s people? Has God given us a rule to direct us in how we may glorify and enjoy him? Yes! The answer is the same rule that we used to weigh the first question of the catechism. The answer is the Word of God. 

Q. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 2

We will look at this answer in two parts.

The Bible Is the Rule

The catechism clearly states that the Word of God is the rule that directs us how to glorify and enjoy God. If you want to know how to glorify and enjoy him, you need to know what he says about it. You need God’s Word.

Where Is the Word of God Found?

However, we have to clarify what we mean by the Word of God. Why is that? The reason is that many people have claimed to speak for God. Israel was plagued by false prophets who claimed to speak for God. The nations surrounding Israel all had prophets who claimed to speak for God.

The same is true today. You have Muhammad who claimed to speak for God. You have cult figures like the Mormon leader Joseph Smith who claimed to speak for God. You have false teachers like the pope who claims to speak for God. You have super-apostles like Bill Johnson and Mike Bickel who claim to speak for God. 

These false teachers will all give you different answers on what the word of God is and where to find it. For Muhammad, it is in the Quran. For Joseph Smith, the full revelation of God is found in the Book of Mormon. For the pope, the full revelation of God’s Word is found in the tradition of the church, meaning, the full revelation is Scripture and Tradition. 

Then there are the “super-apostles” of what is called the New Apostolic Reformation. As an example, false teachers like Bill Johnson teach that the full revelation of God’s Word is found in external signs and wonders and extra-biblical prophecies. I have seen him mock Christians and churches that gather around a pulpit to hear a sermon from the Bible.[1]

The Catechism’s Definition of the Word of God

The catechism safeguards the definition of the Word of God. It defines the Word of God as that which is “contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” In other words, the Word of God is the Bible. It is the 66 books that are found in the Old and New Testaments, which are also referenced in chapter one of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The Westminster theologians give us two Scriptural proofs for this proposition.[2] The first is 2 Timothy 3:16,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. —2 Timothy 3:16

We will not unpack all that this verse has to say. Here, we will simply highlight what the Bible says about itself—and for you philosophers out there, yes, this is circular reasoning. But all reasoning is circular. Every proposition is founded on core beliefs that cannot be proved. In other words, all propositions are founded on a belief system whether it be theistic, atheistic or anything in between.

Now back to 2 Timothy 3:16—Here we see that the Bible teaches that all of Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness. The emphasis is on the word “all,” and the “all Scripture” that is in view here is the Old Testament. Remember that, at the time of Paul’s writing, the New Testament would not have been collected yet as a formal book. But the point here is that all of Scripture is the source and location of God-breathed revelation.

That God-breathed revelation also includes the New Testament, though this lecture is not intended to be a full-throated defense of the inspiration of the New Testament. We can say however that Peter already gives recognition to Paul’s writings as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:2, 15-16. This is also fitting with Jesus’ words when he says that the Holy Spirit would guide his disciples into all truth (John 16:13).

In reference to the New Testament, the catechism draws our attention to Ephesians 2:20. Here the apostle Paul says that:

[the Church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. —Ephesians 2:20

The point of Ephesians 2:20 is that the church is built on the foundational teachings of Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. Paul consistently draws from the Old Testament prophets, which would also include in a broad sense, the books of Moses, the Psalms and so forth. But Paul also sees the apostles as foundational, unique spokesmen for God (e.g. Gal. 1:1, 6-10; Jude 1:3). He is crystal clear that the church is specifically built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles.

Therefore, what the catechism is teaching us, as the Bible clearly attests, is that the source and location of the Word of God is the Bible. If you want to know how to glorify God and enjoy him forever, you need to go to the Bible. There is no way that you can know how to glorify God and enjoy him forever, if you do not know how God defines a God-glorifying life.

What does it mean that the Word of God is “Contained in” the Bible?

Before we move onto the second part of the catechism answer, we need to address one more historical issue. What does the catechism mean by “contained in”? There are three basic views: the historic Christian view, the neo-orthodox view and the liberal view. We will take these in reverse order. G. I. Williamson gives us some helpful pointers here and I will draw on his work.[3]

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, German higher critics started toying with the nature of the Bible. Their teachings spread throughout the western scholastic world. We can call this the “liberal” or “old modern” view of Scripture. Liberals look at the Bible and they say that some parts are the word of God and some parts are the words of man, and it is up to us to decide which is which. So, if you look at the Bible on the shelf, it is partly the word of God and partly the word of man.

A second modern position developed through the teachings of a man named Karl Barth. His teachings about the nature of Scripture is known as “neo-orthodoxy” or “Barthianism” or “new modernism”. This position teaches that the whole Bible is the fallible word of man, but when you read the Bible, God somehow uses those fallible words to communicate with the reader, in their own minds, what is the true word of God. So, in this case, if you look at the Bible on the shelf, it is not the word of God until you open it up and somehow receive true revelation through it.

Finally, we come to the historic Christian position. This is not only the “Reformed” position of the catechism, but it is also the historical position of all Christian traditions up until the dawn of modernism. This historic Christian position, which is the Reformed position of this church and this catechism as well as the broader evangelical church, is that every word of the Bible is the literal Word of God. That means that the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts are the actual Words of God that he breathed out by the Holy Spirit through human authors. Therefore, to continue our illustration, from the historic Christian position, if you look at your Bible on the shelf, it is the very word of God.

Of this word, Jesus says that not an iota and not even a dot will pass away from the Scriptures until all of it has been accomplished (Matt. 5:18). Not an iota. Not even a dot! If you want to find everlasting joy and pleasure in the presence of God, if you want to know how to glorify God and enjoy him forever, you will find the answer in the Bible. 

But is the Bible the only place to find God’s word? Is it the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? That brings us to the second half of the answer.

The Bible Is the Only Rule

The catechism is clear to remind us that the Bible is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God. But if it is true that the Bible is the only rule, then that means that Muhammad and Joseph Smith and the Pope and Bill Johnson and so many others who claim to claim to speak for God are dead wrong. But are we arrogant for saying that?

Is the Exclusive View of the Bible as God’s Word an Arrogant Position?

In the post-modern world, any claim to an exclusive view of the truth is immediately shot down as naïve and arrogant. My New Testament professor, D. A. Carson, penned an incisive critique of the post-modern view of tolerance. In his book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, Carson notes that a subtle but substantial shift has taken place in recent years regarding the shift from the acknowledgement that different truth claims exist, to the demand that all truth claims be acknowledged as equally true. He writes,

This shift from “accepting the existence of different views” to “acceptance of different views,” from recognizing other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices to accepting the differing views of other people, is subtle in form, but massive in substance. To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own. —D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance[4]

Carson’s point is that current culture’s view of tolerance is actually incredibly intolerant. Any exclusive truth claim threatens the entire post-modern worldview. Yet, ironically, the post-modern worldview has become itself one of the most intolerant views ever to exist. Nevertheless, the Bible and the historic Christian church will not yield to the claim that the Bible is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.

But the claim of the Bible and the claim of historic Christianity is that God has condescended to reveal himself to man. And that revelation is contained in a book. The Word of God, as found in the Bible, is not from man, but from God. The reason modern man hates that notion, is that it places God as the supreme authority over them. The reason modern man hates that notion is that if God’s Word is in a book, then it clearly tells man how he ought to live. And modern man hates to be told what to do, because it recognizes no authority higher than itself, not even God.

What the Bible Says About It Being the Only Rule to Direct Us

To substantiate the Shorter Catechism’s claims, the Westminster theologians direct us to a surprising proof text in 1 John 1:3-4:

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. —1 John 1:3-4

The catechism draws our attention to the unique role that apostles shared in their gospel ministry. It was in the gospel message of the apostles, and only in their message, that believers had fellowship with God. And when they had fellowship with God, their joy was complete. This includes the apostles’ joy and the community’s joy.

The point is that only in the foundational teaching of the apostles and prophets does the church find fellowship with God and the means by which they can glorify God and enjoy him forever. The whole apostolic ministry that flows from Christ was for the glory of God (e.g. Eph. 1:12; Phil. 4:20; Col. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Tim. 1:11; Heb. 13:21; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 25) and the joy of God’s people (e.g. John 17:3; Acts 15:3; Rom. 15:13; Phil. 1:25; Heb. 12:1-2; Jas. 1:2; 2 John 12; Jude 24).

John goes on in his first letter to say that anyone else who claims to speak for God is a false teacher. He makes the very unpopular claim, that only the apostles, building on the foundation of the OT prophets, have the right to speak for God. He says in chapter 4:

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. —1 John 4:5-6

The apostles had the only rightful claim to speak for God. It was as Paul said earlier, the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). But if that doesn’t satisfy you, let me give you a few additional proofs.

Deuteronomy 4:2

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you. —Deuteronomy 4:2

Deuteronomy 12:32

Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. —Deuteronomy 12:32

2 Timothy 3:15-17

From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15-17

Galatians 1:6-9

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. —Galatians 1:6-9

Revelation 22:18-19

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. —Revelation 22:18-19

Do Historic Creeds and Reformed Confessions and Catechisms Violate the Bible’s Claim?

The historic Christian position, that goes all the way back to God’s Old Testament people, is that the Scriptures are the only infallible, clear and all-sufficient Word of God. They are able to make us wise for salvation and they equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17). There is no need for another rule. But if that is the case, what about historic creeds and Reformed Confessions and Catechisms? Do they violate this exclusive claim?

Historic creeds and Reformed Confessions and catechisms fall far below the Word of God. For example, in our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, it clearly states in the preface to our Book of Church Order that the Westminster Standards are subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible is the supreme standard over all creeds and confessions, and those creeds and confessions are only true and helpful to the degree that they accurately reflect the teachings of Scripture. Why do we have them then?

First, they help us as a teaching tool. They summarize biblical theology in a clear and concise way that would also take some of us a lifetime or more to work out for ourselves. 

Second, they help us safeguard orthodoxy. They keep us rooted in historic orthodox theology that is less prone to the tossing of the wind and waves of current cultural influences. 

Third, they give us unity in our teaching and mission today. But in this way, we also experience communion with saints of ages past, as we are reminded of what these saints of old have written from their studies of the Scriptures. 

Fourth, they also protect us from the dangers of an individual or a single church inventing their own interpretations. Yes, we are all free to determine what the Bible teaches. But if you can’t find unity with any other believers or churches, that is a clear sign of problems with the accuracy of those interpretations.

Finally, they remind us, as well as a lost and dark world, that our faith was not invented yesterday. We worship the ancient of days! He has revealed himself to us in his Holy Word, and if we follow what it says, he will lead us to his own glory for our everlasting joy, through faith in his Son. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Word of God, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. But I am so thankful for the saints of old that have directed me to those truths in their own Confession and Catechisms that I call my own. 

These old saints call us to examine the Scriptures in a way that few challenge us today. They beckon us to walk the ancient paths where life and peace are found. It is as if they call out to us, after words of the Lord, in Jeremiah.

Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. —Jeremiah 6:16


[1] Bethel TV, “Glory Cloud at Bethel,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvJMPccZR2Y. Accessed January 30, 2020.

[2] The historical designation for the men of the Westminster Assembly is the “Westminster divines.” “Divine” is 17th century word for theologian.

[3] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Shorter Catechism: for Study Classes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 8.

[4] D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 3.