"Do Not Worry About Your Life"
(Delivered Sunday, February 27, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning's passage gives us very good news. In it, we have a command from the highest authority possible - and therefore, permission from the almighty God of the universe - to, from this day forward and forever more, cease from all worry.
Jesus, our Lord and Master, has said,
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25-34).
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There's a wonderful teaching about God our Father that stands behind our Savior's words in this passage. Theologians refer to it as the biblical doctrine of God's 'providence'. The Bible tells us that God is our great "Provider". It teaches us that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17). God, in His providence, 'provides' all that is needed for His creation.
Expressed formally, the doctrine of "providence" describes God's act of continual involvement with all aspects of His creation in such a way that He does three things: (1) He keeps all things that He created in existence and maintains them in the properties with which He created them; (2) He cooperates with all aspects of His creation in such a way as to sovereignly direct their actions and properties; and (3) He so directs all aspects of His creation that they combine to fulfill His good purpose.1 To put it another way, God's providence is demonstrated in the past by His having 'created' all aspects of Creation, in the present by His continually 'maintaining' all aspects of Creation, and in the future when He will have demonstrated that all aspects of Creation fulfilled His sovereign purpose perfectly. Like the great hymn says,
Hast thou not seen
The Westminster Confession has defined God's providence very well as that by which, "God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least . . ."; and all "according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy."2 As the Bible says of our Savior, ". . . By Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist" or "hold together" (Col. 1:16-17).
This is a glorious truth that the Bible calls us to believe whole-heartedly. And our belief in this truth is meant to be a very practical matter to us - touching on every area of our lives. God's providence is not meant to be an abstract idea that is kept locked away in a theological text book somewhere, but rather a truth that we are to take with us personally into daily life.
Let me speak of you personally, dear believer in Christ; and show you how the doctrine of God's providence is meant to impact you. Consider the "creation" aspect of God's providence. The Bible teaches us, in breath-taking terms, that God acted providentially even in your own creation. King David prayed to God in a way that you can confidently claim to be true of you. Consider how you can rightly pray this prayer yourself! He said:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:13-16).
Do you hear those words? They are meant to be understood as true of you, dear brother or sister in Christ. God's own eyes truly beheld your substance long before you were even physically formed in your mother's womb. You existed fully in His mind before you existed physically, because He planned you and purposed you before time - and whatever He purposes is as real as if it already was, because it will surely come to be. And not only that, but He also planned every single one of your days for you in advance, and fashioned them before you lived in them - and all that was to occur in them - long before any of them were realized on a calendar. All your yesterdays were in His plan. All your tomorrows are in His plan even now. And today - even this very moment - was in His divine plan for you from eternity; brought about just as He sovereignly intended for you. How precious you must be to Him! How immeasurably valuable you are to Him!
God was not only involved in planning you from eternity past; but now that you exist in creation as His beloved created being, He remains presently involved in every aspect of your life by maintaining that which He has so lovingly created. He Himself serves as the basis of your own continued existence; because as the Bible tells us. ". . . In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
God your Father constantly watches over you, and sustains you in every way. He cares for you continually as His own handiwork. The Bible says that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). In the course of life, we may often be confused about which steps to take; and that's because of our falleness as Jeremiah has described it: "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). But the Bible also assures us, that "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand" (Psalm 37:23).
There are even times when someone may seek to do you great harm. They in fact may even succeed in doing evil to you. But God's providential hand prevails even then - and in such a way to overcome all the evil intended against you. At such times, you can truthfully say to those who sought to harm you, ". . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good . . ." (Gen. 50:20). Even during the times when you are tempted, you still remain in His providential hand; because, "No temptation has taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God's providence was extended toward you in your creation. It continues to be extended to you in His work to maintain that which He has created. And would you like to know how far His providence will extend to you, dear brother or sister? It will extend all the way to the resurrection of your body from the dead, and to your complete glorification in Christ. The Bible points us to God, ". . . who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy . . ." (Jude 24). The Bible promises us that ". . . He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ . . ." (Phil. 1:6). And on that great day when He presents us to His Son as a glorious and spotless Bride, you will see that everything that has ever happened to you was graciously and sovereignly ordered by God to bring you to that point - to the end that you would be made perfect in heavenly glory in Christ. The Bible tells us,
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).
This, dear brother or sister in Christ, is the doctrine of the providence of God as it applies to you personally; and it is to be your perspective of things in every-day life. This is to be your daily 'world-view'. You are to understand that God is providentially and sovereignly 'for' you. And as the Bible teaches us, if God is 'for' us, then nothing can ever be 'against' us (Rom. 8:31). You are to confidently trust that this very same God who is so wonderfully for you "shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
And I suggest to you that one of the most practical ways you are to put this great doctrine into practice in your daily life - and to live consistently with it - is summed up in Jesus' words: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life . . ." (Matthew 6:25). If all these other things are true of your heavenly Father's constant care for you, why should you ever worry? What sense would it be to do so? To worry is to deny, in practice, the precious doctrine of God's providence. What a contradictory thing that would be to do!
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Now, our Savior and Lord is giving us a command in this morning's passage. Let's look at His words a little closer. And let's begin by considering . . .
1. THE COMMAND: DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR LIFE.
The Greek word that is here translated "worry" (merimna§) is actually a word that can mean more than the negative idea of anxiety. It means "to be concerned" or "careful" for something in a broad sense; and it is often used for "care" in a perfectly good way.
Paul once used this word when he wrote instructions about marriage. He spoke to believers who lived in a certain culture, and at a certain time in history, in which he advised them not to marry; telling them, ". . . I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord - how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world - how he may please his wife" (1 Cor. 7:32-33). He meant that each situation had it's own legitimate "concerns". He wasn't saying that those concerns were bad - but just simply that they 'were'. Another time in which Paul used this word was in Philippians 2:20. He was writing to the Philippians about his co-worker Timothy; saying, "For I have no one like-minded who will sincerely care for your state." And here again, the word is being used to describe something good - concern for the condition of a specific local church.
This is important, because we mustn't think that Jesus is forbidding us from ever having legitimate concern about things. We obviously need to have a measure of care for the needs of those around us, or to be legitimately concerned for things that fall under our sphere of responsibility, or even to give a reasonable measure of thought to and planning for our needs in the future. We're certainly to be concerned about the things our Father is concerned about! Rather, Jesus is commanding us to cease from being "concerned" in a way that is sinful. He is commanding us to cease from worry or anxiety.
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Let me suggest to you a way that you can tell when normal "concern" has turned into a sinful state of "worry". It becomes sinful whenever it is a product of taking God's providence out of the equation. Instead of trusting in God's providential care, we doubt Him and shift our trust over to our own sense of control instead. We believe that it's all up to us to provide what God Himself has promised to provide to those who trust Him. We become our own "provider".
And whenever we remove our sovereign Father from His proper place on the throne of our lives and try to exercise our own control over things instead, worry is the eventual result - because we are horribly poor substitutes for our Provider-God. Worry, in other words, is the result of ignoring God's providence. Idolatry is when we take God off the throne and put ourselves there instead - and "worry" is prayer to our new "god".
Worry is an act of blasphemy. It says to God that we don't trust Him. It says that we don't believe He will really take care of us. It says that we don't believe He will keep His word, or that He will do what He says He will do. It says that we know more than He does about our situation. As my wife is fond of saying, "Worry slanders every promise in God's word."
Worry also places us in a state of spiritual vulnerability. The devil capitalizes on our worry; and just as he sought to make Eve doubt God's goodness, he does the same to us. He tells us that we have a right to be worried. He plants doubts in our minds about God's promises to care for us. And He tempts us to act on our doubts by turning further away from trust in God's providential care and on to other things that we think will be more effective.
And what's more, worry is a terrible witness to our faith as followers of Jesus. Those around us who hear us profess a faith Jesus Christ and a trust in the providential care of God - and yet see us worry - know that we say one thing and practice another. They see that, when it comes right down to it, we really don't believe what we say we believe. And why would they be persuaded to trust in a God that our worrying proves we ourselves don't trust either?
Can you see, dear brother or sister, how important it is that we not worry?
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Let me make three observations about Jesus' opening words, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life . . ." First, Jesus' words here are in the form of a command. He isn't giving a suggestion. He's giving a command. If you look carefully, you'll see that He issues this command three times in this passage: once in verse 25, another time in verse 31, and another time in verse 34. He repeats this command in different ways, and gives us several illustrations and applications between those different expressions of this command. Perhaps the reason He repeats this point to us so much is because we need to hear it so often!
Second, it's a command that's issued to those who are His followers. The Sermon on the Mount is not addressed to all people everywhere. It's addressed to a very specific group of people - His disciples; those who place a faith in Him as Savior and Lord, and who then follow Him in obedience. At the very beginning, we read that "seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain , and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them . . ." (Matthew 5:1-2). If we are followers of Jesus Christ, if we are truly among His disciples, then one characteristic of our lives will be that we obey His command - and cease from worrying.
And third, it's a command that has to do something very fundamental and basic. We are not to worry about our lives - what we eat or drink; or about our bodies - what we will wear. You'll notice that Jesus begins by saying, "Therefore I say to you . . ."; indicating that what He said in the verses prior to this section serve as the basis of what He's saying now. And what He taught us in those verses was the danger of trying to lay up our treasures on earth instead of laying up our treasures in heaven. His command has to do with the basic, everyday "stuff" of daily life - the things we concern ourselves with to keep body and soul together.
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We're not to worry about the basics consumables of life - such as food, and drink, and clothing. And if we are not to worry about even such basic things, then we're clearly not to worry about anything else in life either. We're to simply cease from worry altogether. And isn't it good news that our Lord commands us to stop such a destructive thing as worry? What a happy command this is to keep!
This leads us, next, to consider . . .
2. THE REASONS WHY WE ARE NOT TO WORRY.
Our Lord gives us three basic reasons why we are not to worry. All of them have their basis in the great biblical truth of God's loving providential care for us.
And again, let me personalize this to you, dear brother or sister in Christ. The first reason you don't have to worry about your life is because you are of great value to the Father. You will never have to persuade the almighty God of the universe to care for you; because you are already so valuable to Him that He cares for you infinitely.
Look at how Jesus teaches this to us. He says, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?" (v. 25). As a follower of Jesus, you know this already, don't you? Life isn't just a matter of keeping yourself alive with food, and keeping yourself warm with clothing. Physical life certainly involves such things; but the pursuit of such things are not life's purpose.
Many people who have no relationship with God think that life isn't anymore than the pursuit of such things. They have reduced life to what we might call 'the animal level'. Life, to them, is all about staying alive; and it means nothing more than that. But Jesus has taught us what life is all about in His great prayer to the Father. In John 17, He prayed, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Life for you and me in Christ isn't just the 'animal life' defined by 'staying alive' until we die. Life for us is something "eternal". And eternal life isn't all about what we eat or what we drink, or about what we put on our bodies. Eternal life is about "relationship" - a relationship of knowing the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. For you and me in Christ, life means much more than something reduced to mere food, drink and clothing. It means - above all else - a relationship in which we are infinitely and eternally valued by the God of providence!
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And to help us grasp this in a down-to-earth way, Jesus calls us to look at the created world - where God's providence is placed on display for us every day. He says, first, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (v. 26).
I believe Jesus had a great sense of humor, don't you? Perhaps I've watched too many cartoons in my life; but I can't read those words without imagining birds working on a farm. It's a silly thought, I admit. It's silly because, of course, birds can't sow seed, or reap a harvest of grain, or store the grain up in barns. Birds don't worry about the things they can't do. But they don't need to, because - as Jesus says - "your heavenly Father feeds them." As David prays in Psalm 145:15-16, "The eyes of all look expectantly to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing."
You are a part of the "every living thing" group mentioned in that verse. Jesus calls us to look intently at the birds. He urges us to look at them until the truth of God's providential care for them sinks into our hearts. And then, He asks us, "Are you not of more value than they?" You know that you are, don't you? And if the gracious God of providence, who is also something to you that He is not to the birds; that is, your "Father in heaven" - if such a God so cares for the birds, then why should we worry that He won't take care of us who are far greater in value to Him?
And by the way; I believe that this helps us understand the meaning behind Jesus' next question: "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?" Some of your translations may say something like this: "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" The original language allows for the idea of adding to one's life-span; and it is certainly true that no amount of worry - even a great amount - will extend your life. If anything, it would shorten it! But the word that Jesus uses literally means a "cubit", that is, a unit of measurement; and this suggest to me that the idea is that of adding to one's "stature" in the sense of height.
I believe that Jesus is using this as a metaphor of our value in the eyes of God. You and I, dear brother or sister, are of far greater value to the Father than the birds are to Him, and yet He cares for them very faithfully. When it comes to "importance", we have greater "stature" in His eyes than the other things He cares for. And our worrying will never make us more valuable to Him than we already are. It will not increase our stature one tiny bit. So there's really no point in worrying at all!
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Jesus speaks there of worrying about our life, "what you will eat or what you will drink . . ." And then, He goes on to speak of worrying about our bodies, "what you will put on." And again, He draws our attention to the created world. He says, "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (vv. 28-29). It paints another funny picture in our minds; doesn't it? Can you imagine lilies slaving away at sewing machines? They don't because, of course, they can't. And yet, they don't need to; because your Father in heaven clothes them with a detailed beauty that - on closer examination - exceeds the beauty of the most glorious and wealthiest of all earthly kings.
And once again, Jesus calls us to "consider" this; and think about it carefully and intently until the truth of God's providential care sinks into our hearts. He says, "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" (v. 30). If God so cares for the grass of the field - grass which only lasts for a day; and which is of so little value that it gets thrown into the furnace afterwards - then won't He show even greater care for you and me, who are of immeasurably greater value to Him than the grass of the field?
Twice in these different comparisons, Jesus calls us to think carefully about what we see of God's providential care toward those things that are of far lesser value to Him than we are. He calls us to think about these things until we come to trust in the fact that He will certainly provide for our basic needs as well. And so, dear brother or sister in Christ; you can confidently keep Jesus' command, and put away all worry.
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Another reason why you don't have to worry is because - in Christ - you are a citizen of the Father's kingdom. Jesus says, "Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (vv. 31-32).
When Jesus speaks of the "Gentiles", He is using another figure of speech for unbelieving people - that is, people who do not have a relationship with Him by faith and are outside of the sphere of His favor. Such people make it their main purpose in life to seek after what they shall eat, or what they shall drink, or what they shall wear - and all because they do not have hope in the providence of God.
All of us where in the same condition as they at one time. We were all separated from the covenant relationship enjoyed by God's people. We were all once 'outsiders, looking in'. The apostle Paul described our horrible condition when he wrote, "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). Think of that! "Strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world"! No wonder such people worry about what to eat and drink and wear! They have no cause to hope in the providence of God.
And we were in that same condition. But when we trusted Jesus Christ, we came to be in that condition no longer! We entered into the commonwealth of Israel by entering into a relationship with the Messiah! We now may partake of the covenants of promise that God made with Israel, and claim them as our own! We now have hope; and we live in the world as those who can say, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" And so, we are not to live as those who have no hope. We are not to seek after the things that the Gentiles seek; because, as Jesus says, "Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." Literally, He knows with a perfect knowledge about all that we need - and not just some of the things, nor just the things that we know that we need; but all of the things - even the things that we don't yet know we need!
We are citizens of God's kingdom. Our citizenship is, right now, "in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). And as citizens of the kingdom of our heavenly Father, we live under a different set of priorities than the people of this world live under. They search with a desperate kind of seeking for the things which they have no confidence that God - in His providential care - would give to them. But we are told to seek after something else. Jesus says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (v. 33).
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Dear brother or sister in Christ; you don't have to worry because you are of great value to the Father. And you also don't have to worry because you are a citizen of the Father's heavenly kingdom. And there's one more reason Jesus gives for why you don't have to worry about your life: it's because you have not been designed by God to do so. It's because you are limited by the Father to living one day at a time. Our Lord says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (v. 34).
Earlier in His sermon, Jesus taught us that we should pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6;11). Jesus taught us to limit our concern to only one day at a time - "this day". This isn't to say that it's wrong to plan ahead for ourselves and set up provision for the future if we can. In fact, the Bible tells us, "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways, and be wise, which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest" (Prov. 6:6-8). It's not wrong to prepare for tomorrow. But given the fact that tomorrow is in the hand of our great God of providence, it's a sin for us to step out from under God's providential care and "worry" about tomorrow.
You and I should not worry about tomorrow for several reasons. First, we can't do anything about tomorrow today. Today is the only day we can do anything about; which is why today is when we do our "worrying" about tomorrow. Jesus says, ". . . Tomorrow will worry about its own things"; and in saying this, He almost personifies tomorrow as something that can worry about itself without our help. He's speaking in this way to express to us that every day will have its own things to deal with; but we cannot deal with tomorrow's things today. We can only deal with today's things today; because today is the only day we can deal with. God has limited us to one day at a time; and this day is all that we can handle. So, Jesus teaches us not to worry about tomorrow's "evil" today. When tomorrow comes - with all of its own concerns - God will provide fresh grace for that day, just as He has for this one.
Another reason we should not worry about tomorrow is because we don't know what tomorrow's concerns will be even if we could do anything about them. We can't see into the future. In fact, we don't really even know whether tomorrow will be a concern for us at all; because we may be in heaven before tomorrow even comes. James wrote, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." And then, listen how he turns our attention to the God of providence: "Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15).
Tomorrow is in the hand of God. And today is the only day we can do anything about. So once again, dear brother or sister, there's no reason for you or me to worry.
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The prophet Isaiah wrote, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). And there - in a nutshell - is the secret to defeating worry in our lives. We must keep our mind stayed on our faithful Provider-Father. We must keep our trust in the almighty God of providence. And as we do, He Himself will keep us in perfect peace. Looking to Him, and trusting in Him, displaces worry from our hearts. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
Jesus invites us to trust in our heavenly Father's provisional care for us. And thus, He commands us - and also gives us permission - to cease from worrying about anything. And so, it all boils down to this: Do you trust in the providence of God or not? If you do not, you will worry. If you do trust in the providence of God - and prove it by bringing your requests to Him in prayer - He will empower you to cease from all worry and fill your heart with peace.
1Adapted from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p. 315.
2Chpt. 5.1; from Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994), p. 33.
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