Westminster Standards Bibliography

This is a list of resources on the Westminster Standards.

It is what I studied to prepare for teaching the Westminster Standards.

They are not necessarily in order of quality. Links are included so you can go directly to them. An asterisk (*) indicates a free resource.

I have also written a small review of several. Hopefully, this bibliography is helpful.

Books:

The Westminster Standards (Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms)*

The best creeds ever written.

Reformed Confessions Harmonized edited by Joel Beeke & Sinclair Ferguson

A really helpful resource. The introductory material is excellent. I highly recommend having this on hand.

The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms by Francis R. Beattie*

Textbook #1. To my knowledge, this is the only book currently available that expounds the Standards in harmony. It’s an excellent book, and one reason is because it is the only one. I have to say, it is my opinion that the fact this book has gone out of print and isn’t being published today is evidence that Presbyterians are unwilling (for myriad reasons, no doubt) to do the very thing Beattie does: expound the all the Standards. That’s a shame. Many of the seminary classes out there only study the Confession of Faith. At worst, the Shorter Catechism. But the simple fact is that we don’t have just one document, we have three, and they compliment each other. Beattie shows us how.

Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith by David Dickson

The second textbook. This book is a gem. This is the first commentary on the Confession of Faith, written just three years after the Confession itself. It’s a confessional apologetic. And all those heresies and errors? We are still fighting them today. This book will never get old. I’m glad it’s recognized, still being published by Banner of Truth in a very nice edition. Chapters 1-22 can be read here.

The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes (2nd Edition) by G.I. Williamson

A wonderful commentary. If you love his study guide on the Shorter Catechism, you’ll love this. Great applications, all over. Easy read. Definitely a first resource for the Confession.

The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by Johannes Geerhardus Vos (ed. G.I. Williamson)

I loved this so much. I love the Larger Catechism, and it is truly a neglected treasure of a neglected part of Presbyterian heritage. However old Vos is, his brief commentary still packs relevance. A new edition of this would certainly be of great benefit to the church. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, about anything. Read a sample.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes by G.I. Williamson

The classic! This was my introduction to the Westminster Standards. Our community group used it, and now I use it for high school and Sunday school. The sections on the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer are especially good. The illustrations (figures) could use updating, though. I also think they should update the cover art to match his commentary on the Confession and Vos’ commentary on the Larger Catechism.

The Westminster Confession: A Commentary by A.A. Hodge*

A classic commentary on the Confession. I enjoyed this one.

The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw*

I think I enjoyed this more than Hodge. Much more of this was helpful.

A Body of DivinityThe Ten Commandments, and The Lord’s Prayer by Thomas Watson*

This trilogy is all of Thomas Watson’s sermons following the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Has has such a way with words. The first offers an excellent introduction to the Christian faith. The second volume is my favorite of the three. However, as Puritans had a tendency to do, his further extending and dividing could drag on. There’s definitely more here than was needed.

The Westminster Assembly and Its Work, and The Making of the Westminster Confession by B.B. Warfield*

Both good background on the Westminster Standards. It will probably give you a greater appreciation of the Divines.

The Creedal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

A must read in this anti-creedal time. Evangelicals tend to be hostile to history and creeds in general, and correction is needed. While this book doesn’t exclusively focus on the Standards themselves, it all still applies. This helps you know the opposition to creeds and confessions.

By Good and Necessary Consequence by Ryan McGraw

An extremely important exposition of one part of the Confession of Faith. This is vital to understand, in order to interpret Scripture correctly, and to understand the doctrines we believe. This part of the Confession of Faith happens to be one of the places that the particular Baptists revised for their London Confession of Faith, by the way.

Know the Creeds and Councils and Know the Heretics by Justin Holcomb

Broader than just the Westminster Standards. More helpful historical context to understand what has been passed down to us throughout church history.

A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke & Mark Jones

The Puritans wrote the Westminster Standards. This work is helpful in understanding the doctrine, ethics, and practice that is contained in the Standards, from Calvin to the Westminster Assembly. This work is a true treasure, and belongs on the shelf (or in the cloud) of any serious Reformed student.

Courses: *

The English Puritans (16 lectures), Dr. J.I. Packer and History & Theology of the Puritans (26 lectures), Dr. Douglas Kelly, Reformed Theological Seminary

These two classes are background and context for the Standards.

The Westminster Standards (14 lectures), Sinclair Ferguson, Westminster Theological Seminary

I was disappointed with this one, simply because the title of the class does not reflect the content. I saw this and thought it would be what I wanted to teach: the Westminster Standards. So I was excited. After giving an excellent overview of the historical context, Ferguson then provides a very good “gloss” of the Confession of Faith only. Not as advertised! This class should be titled “The Westminster Confession.” Besides that, his gloss of the Confession was very helpful.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (22 lectures), Dr. David Calhoun, Covenant Theological Seminary

My least favorite of these classes, easily. The pace was painfully slow. I literally listened to it at 3x speed. Because of that, the commentary on the Confession was really disproportioned. Dragging the beginning of the Confession, and rushing the rest. That latter parts of the Confession had to be swept over really quickly because time had run out. Yet, there were some helpful tidbits. Much ado about “exceptions” that would need to be figured out, prior to ordination. Ordination and subscription to the Confession were always in view, which I appreciated.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (24 lectures), Dr. John Gerstner, Ligonier

The best teaching on the Confession on this list. He’s the best teacher, no doubt. This was immediately my favorite class on the Westminster Confession, before I had even finished it. He was such a great teacher, and it was obvious that he loved what he was teaching, and that was contagious. His way of explaining was so clear. This class was a delight. I wish I had watched it years ago when I first got it.

The Westminster Confession for Today Conference from 2006 and 2007 at Reformed Theological Seminary (12 addresses each)

These two conferences were excellent. Scholarly level addresses on aspects of the Westminster Standards, reminding everyone that they are not out of date, but applicable as ever. Truly helpful for a closer analysis of particulars in the Standards. I have listed the lectures that I found to be most helpful, with some explanation, here.

Biblical Doctrine Series: Westminster Confession (60 hours!), Francis Schaeffer, L’Abri Fellowship

Podcast:

The Jerusalem Chamber

This podcast is easily as helpful as any course I’ve listened to on the Westminster Confession of Faith. More than most of them, to be honest. Notes are hit in this podcast that none of the commentaries touch. It is extremely helpful and practical. Anyone who wants to study the Confession, go here first. It’s the easiest way to learn so much.

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The Standards on Liberty of Conscience

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

Westminster Confession of Faith 20.2

Because God alone is the Lord of the conscience (in accordance with his Word), the Christian’s conscience is free from the doctrines and commandments of men, if they are at all contrary to the Word, or beside it, in matters of faith and worship. The conscience is not trustworthy by itself. It is not infallible, but must be guided. Therefore, Scripture as the only infallible rule for faith and life, must bind the conscience. No conscience has “liberty” from Scripture. Rather, liberty is within the parameters of God’s Word.

No person on earth can have authority to dictate to conscience; for this would be to assume a prerogative which belongs to none but the supreme Lord and Legislator. “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.”–James 4:12. Such a power was prohibited by Jesus Christ among his followers: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, but ye shall not be so.”–Luke 22:25. It was disclaimed by the inspired apostles: “Not that we have dominion over your faith,” said the Apostle of the Gentiles, “but are helpers of your joy.”–2 Cor. 1:24.

—Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith pg. 170

Perhaps the defining idea in the Westminster Standards is liberty of conscience, according to Derek Thomas, who also says that chapter 20 is the most important chapter of the Confession. Listen to his address: Overly Regulated? Westminster’s View of Worship, or read here: The Regulative Principle of Worship, where he says:

What is sometimes forgotten in these discussions is the important role of conscience. Without the regulative principle, we are at the mercy of “worship leaders” and bullying pastors who charge noncompliant worshipers with displeasing God unless they participate according to a certain pattern and manner. To the victims of such bullies, the sweetest sentences ever penned by men are, [WCF 20:2]. To obey when it is a matter of God’s express prescription is true liberty; anything else is bondage and legalism.

I remember hearing something to the effect of, “if you don’t attend the midweek service at church, you’re not a dedicated Christian.” “Bondage and legalism” are exactly the proper charge against those who invent their own religious ceremonies, superstitious practices, and require that you participate. Or, create initiatives in the church that are good, if done voluntarily, but then make them mandatory. Notice the scope of what the Confession says. Any and all extra-biblical (or anti-biblical) religious ceremony, practice, service, ritual is what’s being talked about. Likewise, any and all teaching that contradicts Scripture or is added to Scripture. That’s huge, and will require much reflection.

Despite WCF 20.2 being true, this principle is frequently violated. It’s not only possible to betray conscience by those overlording, but by those who submit to such. Notice what the Confession said: “to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience.” It is clear that responsibility is on both sides. Not only are people not to bind the believer’s conscience with human doctrines and commandments, but they are also not to submit to them. If you believe the doctrines or obey commands that are contrary to or beside Scripture (regarding faith and worship), then you have betrayed true freedom of conscience. Rather, Scripture alone binds the conscience.

The only Lord of the conscience is God, and he guides by his Word. Our conscience cannot be bound by anything not in the Scriptures. This is directly against the binding of the conscience in Roman Catholicism.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who contradict this, both in doctrine (because they teach, that the Pope of Rome, and Bishops in their own Diocesses, may by their own authority, praeter Scripturam, beside the Word, make Laws, which oblige and bind the Conscience, under the pain of everlasting death) and in practise (because, they have obtruded, and do obtrude, many Ecclesiastical Rites and Ceremonies, as necessary in worship, without any foundation in Scripture.) Yes. . . Because ceremonies are superstitious, being a vice opposite to religion in the excess, commanding more in the worship of God than he requires in his worship.

Well then, do not the Papists err, who require, an Implicit Faith, to all the Decrees and Ordinances of their Church and Pope: and a blind obedience to their commands without a previous judgement of discretion? Yes.

—David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error pg. 128-129, 130

“Implicit faith” even includes anything Rome will teach in the future. And so you are doubly unable to think and consider what you are commanded to believe, and unable entirely to judge it according to Scripture.

Not only does the Church of Rome do this, but all the rest of the cults bind the conscience as well with their doctrines and commands. Far be it from a true church to do such a thing!

Contrary to the Word

But, lest we think we are better, or immune from this, Protestants also are guilty of betraying liberty of conscience. Evangelical churches have been guilty of making up commands that are contrary to Scripture, and disciplining those who will not obey. Believe it or not, even churches who claim to subscribe to this very Westminster Confession of Faith violate it at this very point! Here’s a real-life example: a favorite commandment of men is forbidding alcohol consumption, while the Bible allows (and even encourages!) the use of it. This is often (but not necessarily) based on the doctrine of men that even a drop of alcohol will defile you. Unbiblical! Indeed, churches telling people what not to eat, drink, wear, etc. should sound familiar. Paul talked about that in the Bible: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch” (Colossians 2:20-23). And he says those commands and doctrines of men are of no value.

Examples of rules which are contrary to the Word of God are prohibitions requiring total abstinence from the use of certain material things. The Mormon religion forbids the use of coffee. Other sects forbid the use of meat. And truly, time would fail to mention all such forbidden things for the number is legion. However, in not one case is it possible to show that such abstinence is required by God. This is impossible because “there is nothing unclean of itself” (Rom. 14: 14). “All things indeed are pure” (14: 20). If nothing is unclean, then no such rule forbidding the use of something can be legitimate. If all things indeed are pure, then all things may indeed be used by men without fear of conscience.

—G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes pg. 195-196

Another commandment of men, contrary to the Word of God, is regarding marriage. Some pastors have presumed to tell people whom they may and may not marry. The effectively forbid marriage that is in fact lawful, according to the Word of God. The Bible says to marry in the Lord. It is in fact a duty to marry, if you cannot remain single (hence, WCF 22.7 denounces vows of celibacy). The Confession 24.3 says “It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent.” And yet, the leadership of some churches presume to forbid marriage, when God does not. Are both the man and woman Christians? Yes, but not enough. If one of them doesn’t meet the church’s preferences, they will attempt to forbid the marriage. That is also sinful, forbidding what God in his Word says is lawful. Interestingly enough, Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 139 says “prohibiting of lawful marriages” and “undue delay of marriage” are violations of the seventh commandment.

They raise their particular preferences to the level of Scripture, and if you don’t get in line, your whole salvation will be questioned. And if you ever decide to leave, because of conscience, they won’t let you go quietly. Cult-like, indeed. Protestants love to have their “popes”, too.

So what should you do, when the church, denomination, or the pastor, put their doctrines and practices on the same level of Scripture? Well, to believe or obey them would be sin, denying God as the only Lord of your conscience. So, clearly, you must refuse their doctrines and commands. Obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29). No church can forbid what Scripture allows, nor command what Scripture does not. You must not submit to that violation of conscience, and consequent violation of God’s lordship.

But even if a person faithfully obeys his conscience and scrupulously observes a rule forbidding the use of a material thing, he is still guilty of sin. He is guilty of the sin of allowing someone other than God to impose a rule upon his conscience.

—Williamson, Westminster Confession pg. 196

Now, I realize that’s easier said than done. Emotionally, it’s difficult. But that doesn’t change anything. Perhaps it’s the church that you’ve invested years in. Or the minister that has invested so much in you. Or the denomination that gave you your position (and could take it away!). Even though that may be the situation, if any of them place their teaching or practices, which contradict or add to Scripture regarding faith and worship, you must reject them. The question it comes down to is this: who is your Lord?

“I will not be obedient to you, the denomination, to Caesar, but only to my Lord Jesus.”

John Gerstner

“But it will be utter chaos and debauchery!” cries the legalist. “If we don’t make rules, then people will do whatever they want!” It’s typical, if conscience-binding is already going on, that those leaders believe that unless they control their people, all hell will break loose in that church. Sin will abound. Everyone will descend into licentiousness. Therefore, they must create and enforce all kinds of regulations to keep everyone behaving. That’s the justification.

We shall say here only that it is extremely dishonoring to the Holy Spirit of God to maintain such an objection. For this objection is tantamount to saying that a man-made rule will keep a Christian from sin better than will the Holy Spirit who dwells in him. To say that the Holy Spirit cannot guide the Christian in the free use of material things which he has not forbidden is to charge God foolishly.

—Williamson, Confession of Faith pg. 196-197

Beside the Word

Williamson observes the second class of rules mentioned by the Confession: “commandments of men, which are . . . beside it.” Meaning, rules that are additional to the Bible. A quick example from the Church of Rome is their commanding everyone to receive Holy Communion on “Easter” Sunday. Now, is it right to receive the Lord’s Supper on Sunday, the Lord’s Day? Yes, provided it is rightly administered, of course. That the Church of Rome has decided to call a particular Sunday “Easter” doesn’t change that. However, what is wrong is letting your conscience be bound by Rome’s authority and receiving communion when and how Rome says.

Let us cite another example: the Baptist churches insist upon immersion as the form of baptism. It is not contrary to the Word of God to baptize by immersion [WCF 28.3]. But it is an addition to the Word of God to require that baptism be by immersion only. And to permit the conscience to be bound by such a rule is wrong even though immersion itself is not.

—Williamson, Westminster Confession pg. 197

Notice the distinction: it may be right and proper to do voluntarily. But what is wrong is allowing your conscience to be bound by a manmade rule. Examples abound. Churches attempting to legislate “spiritual disciplines” would certainly fall under this category. “Pray every day,” the pastor says. Certainly that’s biblical. “Pray on your knees!” Really? “Pray on your knees, every morning, at 4 AM!” We must pray [WCF 21.3] because God in the Scriptures has commanded it. But we will not pray how and when any man (or church) attempts to command. It’s not wrong for any believer to voluntarily pray on their knees at 4 AM. But it is absolutely sin to do it because a man/church has commanded it. You have allowed your conscience to bow to a command of men beside the Word of God.

That evangelical ritual known as the “altar call” is also a commandment of men added to the Word of God. Think about it: Scripture says repent and believe. Believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth. That’s all! But what happens at an “altar call”? Some man, or church, tells people to get up from their seat and come to the front of the room to do the believing and confessing in that way. That’s as clear an addition to the condition of faith as there can be. How is it often announced? “If you want to accept Jesus, come down to the front.” Woah! Scripture nowhere says that is a condition to receiving and resting on Christ.

Truly Reformed

A true church simply declares the Word of God. It is not a legislative body. It does not make laws which bind the consciences of the subjects of Jesus Christ the king. It merely states the king’s laws so clearly that they who fail to heed will be without excuse. (But the Roman Church claims precisely this legislative power to make laws for the subjects of Christ.)

—Williamson, Confession of Faith pg. 26-27

The worst thing is when churches who subscribe to the Westminster Standards violate the conscience. It’s still sin, but understandable for churches without creeds (or very narrow ones) to do this. They haven’t written down exactly what they believe Scripture teaches (doctrines and commands) or exactly what they will require you to believe and do. Especially, they don’t have a chapter in their “statement of faith” regarding liberty of the conscience. So at least we can see the violation of conscience coming.

But for those who claim to be Reformed and Presbyterian? No excuse. It is written and public, right here in our Westminster Confession of Faith, and even substantiated by the Larger Catechism. And this idea didn’t come out nowhere, either. It was a defining principle of the Reformation and of Puritanism which followed.

 

When, as an alternative to God’s law, an elaborate man-made code is developed for believers to follow, covering every conceivable problem and tension in moral living, no freedom is left for believers to make personal decisions based on the principles of Scripture. In such a context, man-made law smothers the divine gospel, and legalistic sanctification swallows up gracious justification. The Christian is brought back into bondage akin to that of medieval Roman Catholic monasticism. . . when God’s law imposes no such limits, the Christian may enjoy freedom of conscience from the doctrines and commandments of men.

—Joel Beeke & Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology loc. 21485-21507

It’s our heritage, because it’s biblical. God alone is Lord of the conscience. So, the conscience of the Christian is free from the doctrines and commandments of men that are either contrary or in addition to God’s Word, particularly in matters of faith and worship. A truly Reformed church will not even try to bind the conscience to anything other than the Word of God.

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The Danger of an Inferiority Complex

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A’s on the 2nd Commandment:

Q. 49. Which is the second commandment?
A. The second commandment is, Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.

This requires simplicity in worship. We don’t practice innovations, or inventions, in worship. That’s why worship in Reformed churches is not ornate, like the Church of Rome. Neither is it flashy, like evangelical “worship experiences.” It’s simple, because what is permitted in worship is restricted to what God has commanded. Nothing more, nothing less. This is what the 2nd Commandment implies. The first commandment tells us Who we worship, and the second tells us how.

That’s why Presbyterian worship services are simple. Worship is to be kept pure. Nothing commanded is to be left out. And, nothing not commanded is to be added. It’s limited to what God has appointed in his word.

This makes Reformed churches stand out. Or seem peculiar. Other churches do not limit their worship to what God has appointed. They see no problem with adding things. The result? Other worship services have more going on. More extravagant. More experiential. More attractive. More exciting. More “spiritual,” or “anointed.” More entertaining. The form that they take doesn’t matter. Whether they have extra sacraments, ceremonies, and special religious clothing, or have added dramas, movies, and pictures of Jesus everywhere. They may look very different, but they are the same, in principle. They have gone beyond what God has appointed for worship.

And what does Reformed worship look like, in comparison? Boring. Plain. Uneventful. Nothing special. Maybe even spiritually dead, or “without the Spirit.”

At least that can be the impression of those who are looking for all those innovations and additions, to those who are about the visual and what is pleasing to the eyes. That happens to be what the 2nd Commandment targets, by the way. As John Gerstner has said, worship is about what is pleasing to God, not what is pleasing to us.

So in contrast to innovations and additions in worship, we have a mandate to keep it simple and limited to what God has appointed. And this can make us look lacking, in comparison.

G.I. Williamson, with his usual practical wisdom, drives this home. He draws an application from these catechism questions, entitling it “The Danger of an Inferiority Complex.” He writes:

Reformed Christians sometimes (and quite wrongly) have an inferior feeling. Because of the simplicity of their worship—or in other words, because they do not have some of the things that are common in other churches, things that are attractive to human nature—they almost apologize for not having those things that are not commanded. What Reformed Christians should realize is that adherence to this principle does not make them the poorer. To the contrary, it is their true riches. For what could be more wonderful than to receive from the Lord himself a sure knowledge of the way that He would be worshipped? And what could be a higher privilege than to observe—and to keep pure and entire—all such religious worship?

—G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Shorter Catechism: For Study Classes pg. 208

I appreciate Williamson’s application so much because I have personally seen what he’s warning against. I have witnessed this inferiority complex. I have heard with my own ears what sounds very much like an apology for not having that more extravagant worship that is so common in all the evangelical churches.

And I feel like saying, “Please, do not apologize for adhering to Scripture!” As if you answer to human beings, instead of the Lord Jesus! Remember that Christ is head of the church.

Who do you want to please, anyway? We have certain knowledge about the worship that God desires, and the privilege of pleasing God with it! Why would we feel sorry for that? Perhaps we desire the approval of men, more?

This inferiority complex can even be followed by little moves of compromise. Even the tiniest efforts to be more contemporary, because that’s obviously what appeals to people now. All the other churches are doing it. And they have more people than we do.

Yet, we must recall the reason given to enforce the 2nd Commandment: God is a jealous God. God is zealous for his worship, that is be pure and acceptable, that it be according to what he has said, and not as the other peoples do. Remember the historical context of the Ten Commandments: God’s people were just delivered from an idolatrous nation (Egypt), and was moving into the midst of idolatrous nations! God in effect was saying, “don’t worship like that!” God’s people still need to hear that, today.

So stand unapologetically on his word. By all means, explain why Reformed worship is simple, and not like other churches. And by “explain,” I mean give the Scriptural basis, give the biblical reasons. I certainly do not mean explain it away. Just say it, explain it, but don’t kill it with qualifications (like don’t want to offend anyone).

But never, ever feel sorry for sticking to what Christ has appointed. Do not love the praise of men more than the praise of God. Following from that, never, ever actually say sorry for keeping it simple. In effect, you would be saying, “I’m sorry that we don’t compromise worship.” Really? Think of the Lord Jesus, head of the church, whom you worship, looking at you as you tell other people sorry for your worship being the way he has commanded! What a scandal! Personally, I would detect the implication that if it was up to you, the worship would be like everywhere else. That you would personally do it differently. Secretly, we wish that we could be like them: more attractive, more fun, more popular, because we offer what everyone likes.

Are you actually sorry for obeying Christ? Are you actually sorry for trying to keep the worship of God pure?

If we are sorry for that, what are our priorities? In our heart, what do we truly value? These are important questions that we must ask ourselves.

The Lord is jealous for his pure worship. We should be, as well.

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