Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Magnificat

"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with His arm; He scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spake unto our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever." - Luke 1:46-55.

Greater joy filled the heart of Mary because of the fact that as a mother she might take her place among Israel's women, who in bringing forth their children labored in the blessed hope of the realization of the promise made to the fathers in times of yore. In the midst of sorrow the eye of these covenant women, believing the promise and looking for a heavenly country with faithful Abraham, looked hopefully far beyond the present and the things of this world, toward the blessed and everlasting reign of David's mighty Son. In this hope shared Mary. She looked forward to the realization of Israel's hope. But even this, though distinguishing her from so many thousands of women that labored in vain because they were laboring merely for the world, was not the cause of Mary's supreme joy and blessedness.

For even among these covenant women and believing Israelitish mothers, Mary occupied a place of unique distinction. Had not the angel that is standing before God mysteriously dropped the message from heaven that she would be mother though still a virgin? And had he not explained upon her anxious query how these things might be, that the power of the Most High would overshadow her and that He who was to be her Son forever would be called the Son of God and sit on David's throne forever? Were they, by heavenly injunction, not to call the name of her Son Jesus, because He would save His people from their sin? Mother of Israel's Savior, Mary was to be; the King of Kings was to assume her own flesh and blood! This was her unique privilege from the Lord.

And this glad hope was to be realized that very night!

But there was no place for them, not even in the inn. And because there was no place for them, there was no room for Him to Whom she was to give birth.

And it happened that even at the very moment of His birth, Jesus was crowded out to the very edge of the world. Born in a stable, laid in a manger!

Because there was no room for Him in the inn!
- "The Mystery of Bethlehem" by Herman Hoeksema, pp. 75-76.

One thing that I have learnt this year is that covenant mothers are greatly blessed (Prov. 31:28-31). Still today, they are blessed in bearing covenant children for they are the Lord's heritage (Psa. 127:3-5; Gen. 24:60), and now the mystery has been revealed that His church includes every tongue, tribe, and nation (Psa. 87:4-6; Eph. 3:3-6; Rev. 5:9). I've learnt that this is still one of the main ways that God uses to build up His church and gather His elect (Rom. 9:6-8; Acts 2:39; Isa. 59:21). It is one of the ways in which God accomplishes our salvation, since the Lord will not return to save us through the final judgment of this present evil age, until every last one of His elect has been brought to repentance (II Pet. 3:7-13). Not only are covenant mothers saved through child-bearing which is also the Lord's work in them (Psalm 127:1; I Tim. 2:15), but our salvation too in this way is brought in the way of their bearing of covenant children.

What an inestimable blessing the children of believing parents are (Psa. 128:3-6; Prov. 17:6; Mal. 2:15)! How important is our faithfulness in rearing them, and instructing them in the way of righteousness and holiness (Isa. 54:13; Matt. 28:20; Eph. 6:4; Psa. 78:1-8) - to trust only in our Saviour, being clothed in His righteousness only, and to be sanctified by the Spirit, consecrated to God in His loving service. And in this way too, covenant children are hated and despised by the world as Christ was. The world rejects us, because we are not of the world (John 15:18-19), even though for a short time we must labour and suffer in it (II Cor. 4:17; Phil. 1:29). For the elect covenant children too, there is no room in the inn.

But though we cannot find an earthly tabernacle in this present evil world ruled by Satan and his minions (Eph. 2:2; I John 2:15-16; Heb. 13:12-14), our fellowship is with our Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (I John 1:3; I Cor. 6:19-20). Our tabernacle is with Him, and is heavenly (Rev. 21:2-4; Heb. 12:22-24). And so, when once more God will shake the world to remove all the reprobate chaff and all that may be shaken, our unshakeable tabernacle will remain (Heb. 12:26-29), and we will be with the Lord our Saviour forever. Let us not labour for what perishes, but for what will endure in the world to come (John 6:27; Matt. 6:19-21)!

How blessed covenant mothers are, to be used of God in such a marvellous way to build up His church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt. 16:18). And what hope we have still, when children of the church are born, children of Abraham (Gal. 3:29; Gen. 15:5) who must be innumerable as the stars of heaven and the sand of the shores! And when all have been gathered to His tabernacle, despite all the raging of the heathen (Psa. 2:1-8), as we see the signs of the times, our salvation will finally come.

"O turn unto me, and have mercy upon me; give thy strength unto thy servant, and save the son of thine handmaid. Show me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast helped me, and comforted me." - Psalm 86:16-17.

Happy Christmas to all the saints who love the Lord and the brethren unfeignedly!

Sam W.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Spurgeon on Musical Instruments

CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON (1834-1892) English Baptist:

"We should like to see all the pipes of the organs in our Nonconformist places of worship either ripped open or compactly filled with concrete. The human voice is so transcendently superior to all that wind or strings can accomplish, that it is a shame to degrade its harmonies by association with blowing and scraping. It is not better music which we can get from organs and viols, but inferior sounds, which unsophisticated ears judge to be harsh and meaningless when compared with a melodious human voice. That the great Lord cares to be praised by bellows we very gravely question; we cannot see any connection between the glory of God and sounds produced by machinery. One broken note from a grateful heart must have more acceptable praise in it than all the wind which swept through whistling pipes. Instrumental music, with its flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of noise makers, was no doubt well suited to the worship of the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar, the king, had set up, and harps and trumpets served well the infant estate of the Church under the law, but in the Gospel's spiritual domain these may well be let go with all the other beggarly elements.
"What a degradation to supplant the intelligent song of the whole congregation by the theatrical prettiness of a quartette, the refined niceties of a choir, or the blowing of wind from inanimate bellows and pipes. We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it."

Quoted from this booklet:

Monday, December 07, 2009

What does God require in our public worship services?

A good friend recently invited me to special musical performance and I thought it might be helpful to share my full response in a broader context:

I am inviting you to the Children's Christmas Programme - Sunday 13th December - 11am ServiceOur children's church will be performing a special musical event during our Sunday Worship Service. You will be blessed by their talent as they present - "Glory to God in the Highest". Invite your family and friends to attend -... all welcome. The Cafe will be serving Free mince pies after the service - be sure to have a cuppa and make new friends!

I responded initially: "I'd come over for a cuppa afterwards and say hello (since I don't think that this performance is appropriate for a Lord's Day worship service), but I have commitments at my own fellowship which is from 12 to about 1 or so, so I probably won't even be able to come for that." To which my friend replied:

How is this performance not appropriate for Lord's Day worship service

Good question! While I'm absolutely sure that this will be a wonderful performance and very worthwhile in many other contexts, I have a very high view of how we have been called to set apart the Lord's Day for public and private worship with the saints. And it is the historic position of God's people in faithful churches throughout the past too, and one of the most important issues that led to the Reformation in the 16th century.

I believe that God requires of us that we worship "in spirit and in truth", and this includes only worshipping Him in the way He has specifically commanded and no other way. If the second commandment teaches us not to make any graven image with which to worship God, then this shows us that we ought not worship with anything of our own invention/imagination, but only with the means that God has prescribed for us to worship Him. In the Old Testament, this was veiled by the earthly shadows of the temple and the sacrifices, but now the veil has been torn, the temple destroyed and the sacrifices nullified - because Christ has come - and we approach the Father only through Him, and no other way. Our worship is pleasing to God only as we are accepted as forgiven in Christ through faith in His sacrifice once for all. See also Psa. 51:15-19.

Since then we are seek salvation only in Christ, and worship only through Him, and by His Spirit of Truth at work in us, it must be that we only search the Scriptures to learn of how we must rightly worship the one true and infinitely glorious God. Certain elements of the worship service are clearly commanded in Scripture by apostolic example, such as public congregational prayer, biblical, expository and exegetical preaching by ordained ministers of the Word (and biblical listening and obeying too!), congregational singing of the spiritual Word of Christ found in the book of songs/hymns (i.e. The Psalms; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19), reading of Scripture, and congregational offerings for the work of the Gospel and mercies for those in need.

In prayer we pray to God through Christ, and the Spirit prays without utterance with our uttered prayers (since our prayers are so frail and often ignorant; Rom. 8:26-28) and so Christ intercedes Himself for us and works out all things for our good, since He has purchased us by His blood. In preaching, Christ speaks to us by His lawfully called and ordained ministers of the Gospel as they faithfully explain and apply His Word in the Scriptures, the Spirit giving us all understanding and applying the Word to our hearts to change us by God's grace. In singing, which is much like prayer, we all together (not only a certain group) offer up the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to Him (Heb. 13:15-16) by the power of the Spirit which fills us to work true spiritual devotion in us toward God, as we teach and admonish one another by the words of Christ in the inspired Psalms. And in offerings, we give as we have prospered freely and cheerfully as worship to God, for the support of the ministers of the Gospel who must have their living from this work, and for good Christian schools for the godly teaching of our covenant children, and for all those of the household of faith who are in need - all for the mutual edification of God's people.

By these means, we live in covenant fellowship not only with the other saints who are our brethren in the household of God, but also with our Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (I John 1:3), we speak and live with Him, and He speaks and lives with us as we are the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. If then, this additional special musical performance takes the place of one or more of these vital elements of the worship service, I strongly disapprove (Col. 2:20-23). And even this performance is merely additional, it still does not have a right to be in the worship service. For example, it is not the whole congregation singing, but only the children, which in the public worship is not fitting and is in fact schism and not covenantal. Also, they are not singing the God-breathed Psalms which God Himself has granted to us graciously that we might have songs worthy to bring before Him in worship, songs which are those of Jesus Christ Himself. And this should therefore not be considered as appropriate worship for the public worship service.

If it was held afterward or before, then that is certainly permissible, and even beneficial for others as they use their talents to sing about such wonderful topics as God's glory. These truths about acceptable worship being regulated by the Word of God, while once generally widely known and understood, have sadly fallen into obscurity in these times, which is why I gave such a long explanation here. God is seeking those that worship Him in spirit and in truth, and so may He graciously gather us and teach us, if it be His will, so that He would praised as He ought to be in the splendour of holiness.

God bless,

Sam W.

P.S. I have not dealt here with many other crucial issues in proper worship, but I would recommend the many good resources found here:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The End of Discussion: My Arrogance

The Bible tells me that I am an arrogant and proud person. Indeed, that in me there is no humility whatsoever, but only a pride which knows no bounds. But the Gospel tells me that Christ has ascended up on high, and has poured out His Spirit into my cold dead heart of stone, and made it soft toward Him, and by which I now cry, “Abba, Father”, in the certain knowledge and full assurance that I have everlastingly been united to Him. This is the faith that the Spirit of Christ works in all those in which He dwells; He is the Spirit of adoption so that where once we were children of wrath, we are now called sons of the living God in Christ who is the well-beloved Son of God.

Only by this same Spirit, can I believe the Bible which tells me of the enormity of my pride. Only by this Spirit, who works the fruit of humility, can I believe the doctrines of sovereign unconditional and particular grace which demolishes all the grounds on which the pride of my flesh rests. By these mighty truths of Scripture, delivered to me by the One who is the Truth, my soul is set free to praise the glory of the Almighty God instead of the shame and dust of who I am. By this sword of the Spirit, sovereignly given to me, with Christ upholding and strengthening me, I am made willing in the day of His power to strike mercilessly at the root of pride in my own old self.

This true spiritual warfare rages within me; there is the new me, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, who is wholly enthralled only with the glory of God, and there is the old child of Satan, who was created for eternal destruction, and who has eyes only to despise God and all His works, and to proudly vomit up my own shame in putrid self-glorification. This is who I am apart from my Saviour Jesus Christ; all my being at enmity against God in bitter and violent hatred. But in Christ, I am redeemed, and renewed. I am a new creature, made to declare to wondrous praises of the Lord who has called me out of darkness into His marvellous light. For when I dwelt in darkness, I could only boast of myself, but when the light of Christ shone in my heart, I could see Him that dwells in unapproachable light, in the face of Christ, the image of the invisible God.

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” - Job. 42:5-6.

And now that I see who I am, as I see the perfection and splendour and beauty of the One to whom all praise is due, I live to put myself to death, seeing that I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And it cannot be possible for me to extol this wondrous grace enough, though I had all eternity in the state of perfection to declare it. But now, I travel through this pilgrimage of affliction and hardship – for I see the sure hope that I have, and I have not yet obtained it. The light of revelation fills my consciousness, awakens me, brings me to life from the dead, and yet while I tarry yet here in this present evil age, I have only the small beginnings of that new life in Christ. I have only the earnest and seal of the Spirit, and I await with deep groanings, the full inheritance that I have as a child of God in Christ.

When I look at myself, what do I see? Only sin. Do I even see a faint glimmering of that miraculous grace that I have received by the power of the Holy Spirit? I can only see small beginnings of obedience, that I could easily convince myself are merely manifestations of hypocritical self-righteousness and wishful thinking. But when I look to Christ, and see the glory and splendour of His death and resurrection for my sins, I am justified. I know He has borne my sins on the tree, for my iniquities it pleased the LORD to crush Him, for my transgressions He was wounded, and the chastisement that brought me peace was laid upon Him. By His stripes, I am healed. The LORD has laid on Him all my iniquity.

What do others see when they look at me? Much the same, I imagine. But many look at me more graciously than I deserve. But how ought we look at another Christian? Surely if the confession of his life is a credible confession that he belongs to Christ, we ought to afford him the judgment of charity, and treat him as a beloved brother in Christ, elect and justified by God. Unless he lives in some gross public sin, or denies the doctrine of Christ, surely we have no grounds to reject him, even though his faith may be weak and confused. Surely we ought to see him as a fellow-pilgrim, burdened and heavy-laden, battling with sin, and only standing by the omnipotent power of God which He exercised in raising Christ from the dead, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

We may say to ourselves, oh, does he not seem greatly prideful and arrogant? But do we so quickly lose sight of ourselves and the fierce battle that we too have against our own totally depraved nature? And how can we run so quickly to judge by appearances when if we were to do likewise with ourselves, we could only ever conclude that we were wholly forsaken and cursed by God? But we ought instead to have the faith of our father Abraham:

“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was also able to perform.” - Rom. 4:16-21.

After all, what is it that this precious faith that we have obtained consists of?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” - Heb. 11:1.

What then is the conclusion of this? That faith is the victory that overcomes the world!

“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” - Heb. 12:12-14.

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have [been led, Greek: prosagoge] by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” - Rom. 5:2.

The role of true humility in actively seeking to manifest the unity which all believers have together in Christ cannot be over-stated. But this is wholly absent when the judgment of charity is not also made. The only way in which the unity that all believers have in Christ (who is the Truth, and in whom we are united by the Spirit of Truth) can be manifested is by common confession of the Truth. We are commanded not to be silent but instead to all speak the same thing, without the truth, the only unity present is hypocritical carnality.

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment.” - I Cor. 1:10.

“If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” - Phil. 2:1-2.

It is obvious to me, seeing with all the differences dividing churches and believers today, that to obey this apostolic command to all speak the same thing must require us to openly, frequently, continually, tenaciously, perseveringly and stubbornly discuss all these points of disagreement until we come to agreement in the truth. We ought to do this believing that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and the unchangeable One who cannot lie, will keep His promise that His Spirit will lead us into all truth,and that Scripture is sufficient and self-interpreting to make known to us the truth and keep us from error. We ought also to do this trusting that whatever our inadquacies, weaknesses, failures, sins, and errors are, that He can overcome them by His boundless grace.

But the attitude today of so many modern Irish Evangelicals tortures my soul. These simple principles are turned entirely upside-down and violently corrupted. Instead of pursuing discussion with such patience and charity, people so often end any attempt at discussion by accusing the others of pride and arrogance. I say to myself, yes, of course – that is who the Bible tells me I am, but why are you reacting like this? But seeing the inseparable connection between true active humility and graciously bearing with the sins of other in the judgment of charity, it is quite apparent that those with the most pride are those who end all discussion in this way. Implicit in their accusation against others of arrogance, is the idea that they are better.

Clothed in garments of hypocrisy, while they accuse others of pride, it is those with this attitude who are the schismatics, because by this cruel philosophy they burn the bridges of discussion, and refuse to speak about the things that divide us, so that then we can never come to a common understanding of Scripture. In the face of these eyes who say to the feet, “I have no need of you,” it becomes a difficult thing to continue to afford them that judgment of charity, to say that we ought to seek unity with them, seeing that they openly manifest themselves as schismatics actively opposing unity, despite their proud boasts and excuses. But knowing our own sinfulness, we ought to continue to invite these to discussion in the hopes that God will melt their hearts.

This is not judging hidden motives, but judging words and deeds. When a person consistently refuses to discuss any differences, and gives only the shallow and lame excuse that the others are too prideful, this is nothing less than schism in word and deed (not simply a hidden motive), and ought to be judged as such, so that this person may be called to repentance. But when this person presumes to judge the hidden motives of others as proud, this is only judging by mere appearances, which our Lord expressly condemns! How things have been reversed and confused by such hypocrites!

Against this, we ought instead to bear with one another, even if it seems overwhelmingly to us like the others are swallowed up in pride. Too often this is our own prideful perception, and ungraciousness toward our brother. Instead, in lowliness of mind we ought to consider the others better than ourselves, against all appearances; i.e. even if it appears to us that they are not affording us the same grace. And does the fact that the Bible tells us that we are all full of pride mean that all theological discussion ought to be abandoned or at least avoided? God forbid! For then how could we ever confess our Lord and Saviour who has called us to be His witnesses – ought we to sin for fear of sinning?

No, even though we know that all our "righteous" acts are as filthy rags before the Lord, to use this as an excuse for idleness, sloth, schism, silence, and inactivity is to mock the Lord who sanctifies our works. We may say, “If I do such and such, it will only be done with mixed motives and be therefore unacceptable to the Lord.” But this is the reasoning of our natural selves and Satan. We know by faith that the Lord will strengthen us because we are His workmanship, prepared unto good works, and so He will sanctify our works for His glory – and so instead of sinful unbelief, we ought to hope in our Saviour and press on to travel the narrow path that He has laid out for us. We ought therefore not to despair of reaping any good fruit from theological discussions simply because of our arrogance and other sins, but instead look to the mighty power of God who does as He pleases in the heavens and the earth.

Read the urgency and weight of the apostle's plea in Phil. 2:1. Why is this? There is one body, one Lord, one God, one Spirit, one Truth – and we together, as the body of Christ ought to be confessing a monotheistic religion to the world. Our testimony ought to be that there is only one Lord whom we obey, and that there is only Spirit who dwells and works in us all, and that we are only one body working in unison with all our different roles and functions. This issue weighs so heavily upon the apostle's heart because of his great and overwhelming desire that God's people would show forth God's glory. It is for this purpose that we were saved, and without this passion for the proclamation of God's glory to all creation, there is little passion for true church unity in which we confess the same thing. This is the root of modern Irish Evangelicalism's schismatic attitudes – it is the lack of a genuine desire for God's name alone to be glorified, and an ignorance that this is the purpose for which people are saved.

Finally, there is a great need, not only for the eager and dedicated pursuit of discussion, but also for that discussion to be wholly objective, strictly logical, decently ordered, and based solely upon the testimony of Scripture as the absolute authority in all matters of controversy. Without these, there is good grounds for refusing to enter discussion. For how can we argue with a man who tries to prove his doctrine simply by emotional pleading? And how can we come to agreement with a man who claims that directly contradictory statements can both be true? And in the midst of confusion and disorder, how could we even begin to discuss? And without God's Word in Scripture being the only authority, surely we have nothing to discuss.

May God graciously gather His people together, out of hypocritical, false, and apostatising churches, and into that which a true pillar and ground of the truth, which has not lost its first love.

Sam W.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tales of the Visit of a Reformed Pastor to Limerick: Part IV

On Saturday, amidst widespread flooding, the like of which Ireland has not seen in recorded history, we drove to Kilkee with the Stewarts. The weather was thoroughly filthy as we drove (though the roads were empty, and not flooded), but when we arrived, the sky was blue and clear - even sunny. We walked up to one headland across the rocks at the shore (only slipping occasionally, and amidst a half-hearted ecological commentary by myself), and as we reached there, the wind suddenly grew very strong and cold, and thick black clouds were encroaching and rolling in with relentless speed. We walked somewhat briskly back to the cars in the bay, as the sky light up with lightning and was rocked with mighty thunder. As soon as we arrived at the cars, the heavens opened with torrents of massive hailstones.

So, in that atmosphere we studied the song of Deborah and Barak in Judges - which was peculiarly fitting. As hailstones gathered on the back window, Rev. Stewart was drawing maps of Israel with the condensation on the windscreen. This is an amazing piece of Scripture, which details how God destroyed Israel's enemies, and killed the enemy by the hand of a woman, and how some tribes helped, and others did not but just had great meditations of heart about it (i.e. appointed a study committee to delay long enough so that they are too late to be of any help whatsoever), and how some were cursed for their unwillingness to assist, while others were blessed who gave their very lives in the effort. I couldn't help thinking about all kinds of things this applies to. It was a great personal warning to me too.

As we finished another section introducing Gideon, the weather cleared up and we walked along the opposite headland, and eventually returned to a great meal. I'm not sure but, I think it was possibly that day (or the previous week) in which we spoke at length about our various past adventures in various Christian groups and how things had panned out according to God's gracious providence, and how God gathered us into a true church and delivered us from all that.

The final Lord's Day that the Stewarts were here involved two worship services again, and this time both on Romans 11 (7-8 about the hardening of the largest part of Israel and 9-10, the prayer of David against the reprobate, that their table [which some have mistakenly argued is "common grace"!] would be a snare to them, etc). In the morning we met another friend who came to the morning service and afterward told us all about his home country. We also were able to have some more Bible studies together in Judges. After the evening worship service, we had a discussion about the meaning of the word "world" with another friend who came along (see this article!), and afterwards the Stewarts left, with our plan to visit Ballymena briefly the next weekend to see Prof. Hanko and his wife. An extra bonus was getting to catch up with Francesco De Lucia, a Italian translator of Reformed literature.

So, this has been an eventful time, and what amazes me most is how sinful I can be even when God is so gracious, and even when I can see this so clearly. But I am persuaded that Christ who began a good work, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

Sam W.

FIN :)

Tales of the Visit of a Reformed Pastor to Limerick: Part III

On the first Saturday of their visit we braved the cold weather and went on a trip to the Clare Glens with the Stewarts. But we were walking for a couple of hours, and I don't have the time now to relate all we spoke about there. Afterwards we visited a brother who had an operation recently (who was in top form!) and we finished the day with some excellent cooking and more Bible study and devotions on the book of Judges.

That Lord's Day began with a worship service in which we listened to a sermon on Romans 11:6, which I would agree is one of the clearest statements in Scripture that our election is entirely gracious and nothing at all of ourselves (cf. Eph. 2:8; I Cor. 4:7). We are much in need of such humbling doctrine - precisely because we are so very sinful. In the evening the sermon was about Stephen the Martyr which was a great encouragement to spur us on, especially considering how God used this very evil hatred of the false church to promote the Gospel even further and gather even more of His people from the Gentiles. Of course all things work for our good, as the curses David received from Shimei were so many showers of blessings upon his head. We had been going through a sermon series from Numbers 22-25 about God's "uncursable" church, and so this fitted in very well.

I think that day Rev. Stewart made a suggestion about whether there was any possibility of me helping to put the Calvin Conference DVDs on Youtube. So, after some experimenting and figuring out on Monday, I finished putting them all online by Saturday. We had another Bible study on Wednesday and on I Peter 3:7-12, although we barely finished the first verse! Again it was a very enriching time, everyone present loved it. It was very sad, because some were asking me about the possibility of future Bible studies, but it will be rare that Rev. Stewart will be in Limerick to lead them. However, we are praying and hoping to have a full-time missionary working here with us soon.

After the study we were about to leave and someone remembered the match against France (which we had to win one-nil to qualify - I think) and wondered aloud about the score - and lo and behold, it was fifteen minutes into extra time and Henri had just performed his now notorious unchecked double-handball goal after Ireland having been in the lead for most of the match (and after a brief but valiant attack for the last fifteen minutes we lost). So the guys at our house were pretty distraught and upset (almost weeping, I could say) when we arrived back at our house.

Anyway, that week the lecture was on Thursday which in the unsearchable (yet good and perfect) providence of God, meant that many people couldn't make it. It was on “The Glory of God”, and though the attendance was much lower (think seven less or so), we remember that God's word does not go out in vain - it was a weighty and meaty lecture, for which I am very thankful. One application of the passage (Exo. 33:18-34:7) was made to popular Revival meetings (in which people pray for God to show His glory, yet reject those who preach sovereign election and reprobation) and was very apt - since if God shows Moses His glory by the saying, "I will show mercy on whom I show mercy", then these same fervent (yet hypocritical) "prayer-warriors" are actually commonly engaged in burying God's glory.

More soon...

Tales of the Visit of a Reformed Pastor to Limerick: Part II

I was also talking to Rev. Stewart a little about Erik Guichelaar's essay (related to evolutionism) in connection with the recent speech on Calvin vs. Darwin given in a Christian High School in the US. Angus suggested the great idea of putting it on our website, so I contacted Erik and did that the same week.

On Wednesday, we had a Bible study on I Peter 3:1-7. This was a very blessed time, as we discussed the Holy Scripture and meditated on it together and how it applies to us in so many ways. Of course there was much discussion about how the teachings here oppose the ungodly philosophy of the "feminist" movement. We also spoke about the dichotomy in verse 4 between the two different kinds of adornment (especially as it is important for a woman desiring to be sought by a godly man and a man desiring to seek a godly woman, but also in its intended context - that of a witness to an unbelieving husband for his salvation). It was a well-mixed group, and much profitable time was spent discussing the implications of the doctrine in verse 7 that husband ought to dwell with their wifes with understanding. One man who attended texted me early the next morning to say how much they had enjoyed this study. That week Ireland also lost one-nil to France at home, but fortunately we able to take that blow after such an uplifting Bible study.

On Friday then, we had our first lecture on “The Last Days,” and I had written a blogpost about this previously - making some comments about the bizarre philosophies of modern (or should I say modernist?) Irish Evangelicalism, insofar as they related. The lecture was a superb Scriptural explanation of sober eschatology - especially focused on a right exegesis of Acts 2. It showed absolutely conclusively that the last days reaches from the coming of our Immanuel, to the second coming, which in one event shall include the final resurrection, and the final judgment, and the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth, etc - the consummation of all things and the end of days. It was argued that the last days are called the last days because there are no days after them (i.e. no earthly millenial kingdom!), and they finish with the last day (singular) which is also so-called because it is the final day with no more days after it.

One man commented at the end in astonishment, "You never used Revelation [the book]!" I think this is the source of a lot of confusion regarding eschatology - people immediately turn to the book in the Bible which perhaps requires the most intepretation using a comprehensive and thorough-going understanding of all the previous books, and so then they try to interpret it with little reference to the massive ground of revelation from which it draws its language, images, and ideas. No wonder with such a headstrong and ignorant approach to Scripture that the wild ideas from over-fertile imaginations of sinful men are so numerous. No, in contrast to this, if we speak of eschatology, the place to start is not the book of Revelation - the place to start is the simplest passages which speak most plainly.

No-one tries to work out a mathematics problem involving complex trigonometry and integration, without first having a thorough understanding of the basic algebra required, and even that is fruitless without the basics of arithmetic. But it is exactly our nature to turn things upside down and backwards in spiritual pride and ignorance. I remember Prof. Dykstra (of the PRTS) speaking about how many heresies come directly from ungodly hermeneutics. One friend enjoyed the lecture so much he felt like clapping afterwards. Another friend felt similarly, and they both bought some books I think - thankfully there were two copies of "Doctrine According to Godliness" by Ron Hanko, which is an absolute treasure, worth far more than the RFPA charge for it, and worth far more than its own weight in gold too.

More soon...

Tales of the Visit of a Reformed Pastor to Limerick: Part I

We had a great time with Rev. Stewart and his wife recently. They were here in Limerick for two weeks and three Lord's Day services. If I were to tell everything we did, it would probably take a book, so I'll constrain myself to highlights.

The first thing I should note is that they brought with them copies of Prof. Engelsma's recent pamphlet on the gift of assurance. It is an excellent work, and one that needs broadcasted loud and clear. This area of pneumatology is one without which the Good News is entirely obscured. It's the central reason that the Reformation had to happen - it's the only reason we are not left as orphans - without it we have no earnest of our salvation and we would be of all men most miserable.

"The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light: they that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." - Isa. 9:2.

Manuel and I were listening to one of the CDs from the BRF conference about the Holy Spirit, to a lecture that demonstrated the huge significance of the "filioque" in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Wow.

"But ye have an unction from the Holy One [Christ], and ye know all things... But the anointing which ye have received of Him [Christ] abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it [He] hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him." - I John 2:20, 27.

So, the first Lord's Day we heard two excellent sermons, one on Romans 11:1-5 about God's purposes with Israel in the NT age, and one on Stephen the Apologist (Acts 7). On that day as well as the others we heard the voice of Jesus Christ through in faithful and biblical preaching - and I can speak for everyone, by God's grace, when I say that we did not receive it as the words of a man, but as it truly was, the word of God.

"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." - I Thess. 2:13.

Of course, the reason we thank only God for this miracle, not only of the true preaching, but also the true receiving of it, is that it is entirely the mysterious work of His Spirit of truth which gives us the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:16).

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth; but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." - I Cor. 2:12-14.

I think that is one of clearest passages teaching sovereign grace. This is very humbling and makes me very thankful to God that He has not given to us a spirit of stupor like others; this was explained in the morning sermon on Romans 11:7-8 on the last day Rev. Stewart was with us.

More soon...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A prayer for elders

Also we pray Thee,
True Father and Saviour,
For all those whom Thou hast ordained
By Thy believers
And to whom Thou hast committed
The care of souls
And the dispensing of Thy sacred gospel,
That Thou mayest lead them
And conduct them
By Thy Holy Spirit,
In order that they may be found
Faithful and loyal ministers
Of Thy glory,
Having always this end,
That all the poor wandering and lost sheep,
Being gathered and led back
To the Lord Jesus Christ,
Chief pastor and prince of bishops;
In order that, from day to day,
They may profit and grow in Him
Unto all righteousness and holiness.

Moreover, pray deliver all churches
From the clutches of ravening wolves
And from all hirelings who seek
Their own ambition and profit,
And not the exaltation
Of Thy holy name alone
And the well-being of Thy flock.

- John Calvin.
(quoted from "The Piety of John Calvin", Ford Lewis Battles, trans., ed., New Jersey: P&R Publishing.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's so important about the Last Days?

It is common in modern Irish Evangelicalism to speak of primary and secondary issues, whether they be of doctrine or practice. Often the primary issues are defined as those issues in which all Evangelicals are agreed. Naturally as more and more groups are accepted into Evangelicalism, with more and more erroneous and heretical views, these primary issues are being continually bombarded and slowly diminished from within. This arises out of necessity, for the inclusion of others who are automatically seen as genuine believers, because of another attitude within Irish Evangelicalism that shirks at any criticism (especially public) of any other religious group (including Rome, preferring to silently disagree). I would be inclined to call this "spinelessness" or "cowardice", and definitely being ashamed of Christ and His words (Mark 8:38), and definitely unloving.

Secondary issues are likewise, often defined as divisive issues - the issues which cause division between Christians. The prevailing attitude is not that these issues ought to be discussed so that agreement can be found, but rather in the hope of greater unity, that they ought not to be discussed and should be set aside as unimportant. The result of this, is that if a church, for example, strongly preaches a certain view of the Last Days, they are seen as needlessly divisive, and since their view is not universally agreed, they ought not to preach on the subject at all.

This view of doctrine is almost unquestioned, and even promoted as the true doctrine of the catholicity of the church. This is as if to say that if a church claims that her distinctive doctrines are true (and therefore the contrary views are wrong), that she is denying the catholicity of the church. She is guilty of being schismatic. Instead she ought to say we are all right (despite contradictions), or that we will never know on this side of eternity who is right. And since we do not know, or cannot know, we ought to preach only on the primary issues (which are continually being diminished). This view twists the old motto, “unity in diversity”, to define diversity as doctrinal diversity. And not surprisingly, this philosophy in practice usually does not result in silence on “secondary issues”, but rather it silences protests against all kinds of heresies; those of Romanists, other Arminians, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals, whose unchecked poisons then prevail in accelerating apostasy.

This is an ecclesiological heresy. The catholicity of the church is not that we must accept all doctrines as being equally true or valid. Indeed the catholicity of the church is not about diversity of doctrine at all (because there is one God, and therefore one Truth [John 14:6]), it is about believers from all tongues, tribes, and nations being equal in Christ, co-heirs with us all in all the promises of salvation - and this includes believers who are ethnically Jews. As our own Heidelberg Catechism explains this term found in the ancient Apostles' Creed:

Q. 54. What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ?
A. That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world (John 10:11; Gen. 26:4), gathers (Rom. 9:24; Eph 1:10), defends, and preserves to Himself (John 10:16) by His Spirit and Word (Isa. 59:21), out of the whole human race (Deut. 10:14, 15), a church chosen to everlasting life (Acts 13:48), agreeing in true faith; and that I am, and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof (I Cor. 1:8, 9; Rom. 8:35ff).

Immediately this is the condemnation of all Jewish premillennial dispensationalism. All doctrines which teach a future earthly kingdom of the Jews are heretical - a gangrene which must be cut off because they inherently divide the body of Christ (Eph. 2:14-15; 3:6; 4:4), and hinder the true mission of the church - that of preaching the Gospel to every creature, and teaching them to observe all things commanded by God and baptising all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; Isa. 52:6-15).

Furthermore, this ecclesiological heresy proudly claims for itself special knowledge of what doctrines are important and what are not, and therefore what doctrines that ministers are allowed to preach, and what they must not preach. This is a dynamic, mystical, man-centred, and therefore unbiblical view of doctrine. Any preacher humbly devoted to God in his calling to preach, prayerfully studies the Bible as God's Word, which he must preach indiscriminately and uncompromisingly to be innocent of men's blood.

He understands that all the Bible is God's Word, and that the whole counsel of God must be preached (Acts 20:26-32), and that God's people are frail and weak spiritually, and full of sin, and need instructed, exhorted, reproved, and rebuked in every way to encourage them and build them up in unity, including doctrinal unity (Eph. 4:1-16; I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:1ff). He knows that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” And he knows that he must keep nothing back from them which is profitable (Acts 20:20). He has only one qualification for what he must preach – is it in the Bible? If it is, it must be preached!

That champion of the true biblical doctrine of justification through faith alone by grace alone, Martin Luther, says this far better than I could, speaking about what is perceived by Irish Evangelicalism as the most divisive (and therefore most forbidden) doctrine of all (though as much as it is crucial in cultivating true humility, the necessary prerequisite of unity, it is actually one of the most unifying doctrines of all):

“If, my Erasmus, you consider these paradoxes (as you term them) to be no more than the inventions of men, why are you so extravagantly heated on the occasion? In that case, your arguments affect not me, for there is no person now living in the world who is a more avowed enemy to the doctrines of men than myself. But if you believe the doctrines in debate between us to be (as indeed they are) the doctrines of God, you must have bid adieu [goodbye] to all sense of shame and decency thus to oppose them. I will not ask, 'Whither is the modesty of Erasmus fled?' but, which is much more important, 'Where, alas! are your fear and reverence of the Deity when you roundly declare that this branch of truth which He has revealed from heaven, is, at best, useless and unnecessary to be known?' What! shall the glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached and what is to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence as not to know till you instruct Him what would be useful and what pernicious? Or could not He, whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequences of His revealing it until those consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot, you dare not say this. If, then, it was the Divine pleasure to make known these things in His Word, and to bid His messengers to publish them abroad, and leave the consequences of their so doing to the wisdom and providence of Him in whose name they speak, and whose message they declare, who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldest reply against God and say to the Almighty, 'What doest Thou?'

“St. Paul, discoursing of God, declares peremptorily, 'Whom He will He hardeneth,' and again, 'God willing to show His wrath,' etc. And the apostle did not write this to have it stifled among a few persons and buried in a corner, but wrote it to the Christians at Rome, which was in effect, bringing this doctrine upon the stage of the whole world, stamping an universal imprimatur [official approval for publication] upon it, and publishing it to believers at large throughout the earth. What can sound harsher in the uncircumcised ears of carnal men than those words of Christ, 'Many are called, but few chosen'? And elsewhere, 'I know whom I have chosen.' Now, these and similar assertions of Christ and His apostles are the very positions which you, O Erasmus, brand as useless and hurtful.”
- Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”, sect. 23, as quoted in Jerome Zanchius, “Absolute Predestination”, pp. 96-97, Sovereign Grace Publishers.

Luther's testimony ought to sufficiently remove from all the godly, this heresy which teaches that man has the authority over what must be preached and what must not.

In this context many say that what we believe about the Last Days is simply unimportant. It is certain that not every detail about this time and the future is important (insofar as not every detail is given to us in Holy Scripture), but the general idea and our one blessed hope is. Wrong literalistic views of the millennium have this problem (aside from an over-emphasis on a very small portion of Scripture) – they predict a coming magnificent earthly kingdom of Christ as the great final triumph of the church. From this they say that we must be especially busy in politics, in the media, in economics, etc. to go about trying to carnally establish this carnal kingdom.

In this the supreme importance of Gospel-preaching is side-lined and neglected. The energy and resources of the church are spent on promoting the national Israel of 1948, or the institution of “Christian laws”, not on promiscuously proclaiming the Gospel to every creature. False eschatology (doctrine of last things) destroys the true mission of the church, and in fact plays into the hands of the great kingdom of anti-Christ that we know is even now developing. For this reason, all true preachers of the Gospel ought to denounce these errors wherever they are found.

The good news tells us that the kingdom of Christ is not an earthly one wherein dwelleth unrighteousness – it is spiritual and that this world is becoming ripe for judgment, so that through great tribulation we must enter the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14:22). This is good news, because even now we know that Christ is reigning in heaven and that in this way His glory and grace is most glorified through history and the salvation of His church from this present evil age. Our blessed hope, is in the personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness – and that alone. As Prof. David J. Engelsma puts it:

“As deaf to the testimony of history as it is to the witness of Scripture, theological modernism still stubbornly entertains the hope of a “golden age” for mankind by means of evolutionary development and the efforts especially of preachers, politicians, scientists, and teachers in the state schools. Rome has its French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, liberation theologians, and, as his recent encyclical, 'Charity in Truth', indicates, the present pope.

“Protestantism has its Paul Tillich and hosts of pastors whose message every Sunday morning is love for mankind (referred to as humankind), tolerance of everyone and everything (except uncompromising confession of the truth and unswerving obedience to the law of God), and the uniting of all the nations and peoples of the world (excluding the holy nation, which is the true church).

“Natural men and women are moved by this hope of an earthly paradise – a carnal 'kingdom of God'. American politicians seek votes with the vision of 'a new world order'. Lenin and Stalin won the hearts of millions, including liberals in the United States, by their announcement of the coming of the millennium in the form of Communism, regardless of Communism's avowed godlessness, mass murders, and dictatorial cruelties. Hitler bewitched virtually all of Germany, including multitudes of German Christians, with the prospect of the 'thousand-year Reich' – the millennial kingdom of the messianic Fuhrer – reared up though it was by war, bloodshed, and terror.

“With his millennium, Antichrist will seduce the world, including many nominal Christians, who do not have their heart set on the spiritual kingdom of Christ, revealed in the sound doctrine of the Gospel (II Thess. 2). The seduction of will be the arrival, at long last, of the millennial kingdom of God and Christ (as Antichrist's prophet, the beast out of the earth [Rev. 13:11ff.] will describe it) in its full, carnal, bedazzling, beguiling splendour and beneficence.

“From this conception of the millennium, the Reformed post-millenialists are anxious to distance themselves. Understandably. Well may they be anxious also that their conception of a carnal kingdom not play into the program of the 'king of fierce countenance', who 'by peace shall destroy many' (Dan. 8:23-25).”

- Standard Bearer, 86(2), October 15, 2009, p.36.

The final objection may be, that while this may a serious problem for many elsewhere, it is certainly not an issue here in Limerick. Anyone who knows what is preached in Irish Methodist and Presbyterian churches today (especially in Presbyterianism), and the popular notions in Mallow Street hall (Brethren-style dispensationalism), and the local Assemblies of God institution, Abundant Life, knows that heretical eschatology is a deep and spreading poison among “Evangelical” Christians in Limerick.

Against this, and in promotion of the positive biblical Gospel, the true testimony of Scripture about the Last Days will be proclaimed this Friday evening by Rev. Angus Stewart. If it is God's truth, no God-fearing saint ought to dare to call it divisive. God's truth always builds unity, and gathers the saints together – because Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26-31).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Salvation belongs to our God: not unto us, O Lord, not unto us!

Why do I hate "salvation by free will" (Arminianism) so much? Because I love God my Saviour who saved me even though my will was totally enslaved to sin and I deserved only hell even by my very nature since the moment I was conceived (Psalm 51; Rom. 3:9-28; 8:5-11).

The Gospel of Arminianism is the Gospel of hopelessness, and can do nothing except leave us all to damnation, since its only power is the powerlessness of the sinful will.

The Gospel of Christ however, is the power of God unto salvation!! Why? Because it relies nothing on us, but only upon what cannot change - God's eternal counsel in predestination (Rom. 8:28-9:29; Heb. 6:17-20; Eph 1:3-12). Except the Lord had predestinated us unconditionally to salvation we could only be as Sodom and Gomorrah. Of that, I have no doubt in my own conscience. What about you?

Here's the difference, the one rests upon the will of a totally depraved sinner - it cannot be more powerless. The other rests wholly upon the immutability of God. "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." (Mal. 3:6).

Wherever the light of this truth is extinguished, the Gospel has been utterly lost, the blood of Christ has been trampled underfoot, the Spirit of holiness has been thoroughly despised, and the glory of God has been replaced with the shame of the wicked. Where this truth has fallen to the streets, there it is that Satan rules.

But Christ will come, and all his enemies will be under His feet, for the Sovereign Lord is always victorious, and never fails to triumph. Not a drop of His precious blood can ever go to waste, and not sinner for whom He paid the ransom could ever be condemned to hell. Only this Gospel cleanses our consciences and assures us of eternal life in fellowship with our Creator, Saviour and Lord. Believe it, and join a church that preaches it without compromise!

Sam W.

Please take some time to study this important subject:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Good works in the sight of God?

Many boast today about their philanthropy, and all the wondrous things they think to do for humanity. Many Christians also praise these things as "good works", even though they may be done by the vilest atheist, and ungodly heathen. What is this preposterous notion they have that the unregenerate can do "good works"? That these carnal and wholly unspiritual people, enemies of God, and totally depraved in nature, can truly love their neighbour by all these deeds (Rom. 8:7-8)?

What measure are they using? It is certain that these people are not using God's measure - the only measure that counts (Rom. 3:9-18). Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, and the praise of men, but does he have the praise of God? If not, then what does he have at all (Rom. 2:29)?

It is nothing but a proud insanity and most of all an impossibility to attempt to keep second table of the law while discarding the first table. For all of God's commandments are inseparably joined, such that if we are not keeping all of them, we have kept none of them (Jas. 2:10). If we have not loved God in our supposed "love" for our neighbour, we are nothing but hypocrites (Matt. 23:23). Such is our vast need for the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4:5-8). By grace alone this is imputed to us, through the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9).

The only sacrifice which God regards from us is that sacrifice sanctified by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:10), and which proceeds from the new heart (upon which is written the two tables of the law - to love God and our neighbour - II Cor. 3:3; Ezek. 26-27; Jer. 31:33), and which in profound humility and brokenness cries, "UNWORTHY!" Those who by grace alone (and not of themselves at all) make this their offering, "God, be merciful unto me, a sinner," are those who are freely pardoned and fully justified by the blood of Christ (Luke 18:13-14).

If any of this hits home with you, please take time to read and study this article by Herman Hoeksema: "The Curse-Reward of the Wicked Well-Doer".

Sam W.

Monday, October 05, 2009

How Do I Know God's Will For My Life?

On Thursday, 24th of September, Rev. Angus Stewart gave a lecture entitled, “Guidance: How Do I Know God's Will For My Life”. This included a robust and comprehensive defense of sola Scriptura over against all the insane notions of various kinds of fanatics, charismatics, pentecostals, Arminians, etc. It began by examining all the wild, wacky, and wonderful ideas about guidance that abound today, and which are utterly false and lead people into all kinds of difficulties. I remember as a young Christian in the Methodist church hearing all these ideas about guidance and seriously desiring to be led by God – especially as regards what career to pursue (I had heard no small voice in my head as a call such as the Methodists seemed to speak of, and thought it very easy to fall into being guided by my own desire or pride). I would ask people about it and at various youth conferences I would go to the lectures/workshops on “guidance”.

I guess I heard a few useful things, like letting the Bible fall open randomly and blindly putting your finger on a verse is downright stupid, but I think I knew all those things already - the inituitive Christian hermeneutic militates against it. It all really caused me to despair about what to put on my CAO form for a college course to go to after writing my Leaving Certificate exams. Why? Because I had not heard any “voice” telling me what to do – I did not have the kind of subjective, supernatural, experiential “calling” like the Methodists so often spoke of, and so I assumed that either they were just talking trash or God was determined not to guide me. In the end I made a decision, hoping that I would receive some special supernatural revelation later eventually. This of course seriously harmed my assurance too. If I do not receive such guidance in such a manner, does God really love me? Of course, biblically speaking, to receive a direct revelation from God is to be a prophet, and the prophets, along with the apostles, are laid in the foundation of the church with Christ (Eph. 2:20).

Once the coffin had been nailed firmly shut (and a few more planks hammered on top) on all these unclean spirits of “guidance”, the meat of the lecture was expounded. The all-sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work is the answer to how we are to know God's will for us. A careful distinction was made between God's commands and God's purposes (since these can both be referred to ambiguously as His "will"), and it was highlighted in view of this, that while we can certainly be outside God's will of command by walking in disobedience (in which case we ought to repent), we cannot be outside God's good and perfect purposes. Rev. Stewart proved a number of crucial principles from Scripture, and how God guides us as we apply these wise biblical principles to our circumstances:
  • How does God guide Himself? First of all, is His own glory, and His own glory in Christ, and His own glory in Christ in the salvation of His elect church (Col. 1:16ff).
  • This model is given in the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), so we are admonished to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:31-34).
  • We are aided by the Psalms by which we teach and admonish one another to be guided rightly (e.g. Psalm 23, 25, 37, 73, 119, 143).
  • It is hypocrisy to claim to seek God's guidance if we are not obeying His commandments – of which the ten commandments are a summary, and include the 4th commandment (Exo.20).
  • We are guided by many biblical examples, both positive and negative; the patience of Job; the longsuffering of Joseph; and the folly of Jonah.
  • Luther famously contended that the Spirit guides us by the Word and prayed that he may be content with this alone – and prayer cannot be a substitute for diligent study of Scripture and thinking biblically, but rather, in prayer we ask that we may be given the ability and willingness to do these things.
  • Advice from others is also not a substitute for the above, but ought to be sought in order that we may benefit from the experience and knowledge of others to make more informed biblical decisions (Prov. 11:14; 24:3-7).
The lecture was finished with a few concrete examples of how to apply biblical principles to various key areas of decision-making; dating, church, and employment. See here also concerning work (I Cor. 7:17-24). Finally, Rev. Stewart mentioned decisions in which we cannot clearly see which is better either way, sometimes it is needless to devote much thought to it, such as what brand of beans to purchase, and in others, at least if the more difficult option is taken, it will work for our sanctification (Jas. 1:3). In all these things of course, we must trust that God works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28), even when we make foolish decisions (as sadly we often do - Prov. 24:9). Thank God for another fabulous lecture, soon to be available on Youtube!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Transmogrification of the Worm

Through dirt and dust, burrows deep my frame,
Cleaving unto the dung, I writhe.
A worm by nature, a worm by name;
Who am I to have seen thy light?

The stench of my offence piles above
Up and up and higher to the sky.
Repaying corruption to Thy love;
Why wouldest Thou look down to me?

In mud of ignorance, yet with pride
I cannot meet Thy gracious gaze.
Born wallowing in depravity;
I died before that filthy birth.

Thy boundless grace and mercy reached down
Through the vile excrement of me,
Granting me righteousness as a crown,
Giving me wings upon which to fly.

What solid hope has filled my frailty?
What great strength is in my new bones?
What beauty clothes my heart within me?
The glory of Thy light of life.

My eyes can see, and my ears can hear
My mind begins to understand
The sweetest sound of Thy voice so clear,
And the words by which I live.

- Sam W.

Friday, September 25, 2009

John Calvin: Man or Monster?

Perhaps one of the most controversial, ubiquitously hated and slandered characters in history is the great Reformer John Calvin. Mention his name in many circles, and the response of cold and bitter contempt will be unparalleled (often the same circles of such as who try to hide their worship of men like Rob Bell, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, John Wesley, etc, depending on their particular tastes and the demands of the worldly culture or philosophy in their particular situation). Suggest that you have read a book by this man, and measure how rapidly the accusation will arise that you are following a man instead of Christ!

But I prefer to leave such bigotry and Anabaptistic fanaticism (by which they would cut themselves adrift from all the saints in Christ who came before them - just as they cut off their children) with the attention it deserves. I recognise John Calvin, and many others like him as my spiritual fore-fathers in the faith once delivered unto the saints. And what is he but a minister by whom God brought many to believe in Christ at the time of the Protestant Reformation? The Holy Spirit attributes similar descriptions both the Apostle Paul and to Apollos, who were mere men, yet they were used by God in the ministry of the Gospel of Christ (I Cor. 3:4-9).

Usually Calvin is portrayed as the "Protestant Pope of Geneva", a cruel tyrant, the evil executor of Michel Servet, a prideful polemicist, and many other horrid depictions besides, such as know no end. Few others have been smitten with so many manifestly rotten and vile slanders, but what is the truth about this Reformer? Have those who take so great a delight, along with so little care in calumniating him ever endeavoured to explore this enigma? That is very doubtful in my experience. More often than not they hold merely to hearsay about twisted representations of his doctrine and life. This book dispels such misrepresentations, and demonstrates unequivocally from his actual correspondences, reviewed by an excellent student of his history, how deeply filled this man of God was with great compassion, zealous love, moving sympathy, and fierce devotion to God, the church, and his dear fellow saints, friends, wife, and family.

Since I finished the lengthy introduction, I've been craving an opportunity to write a review of this book. Now, a shock for everyone - it is neither doctrinal, not polemical. It is simply biographical. Last Saturday evening I read "The Humanness of John Calvin: The Reformer as Husband, Father, Pastor, and Friend" written by Richard Stauffer, and translated from the French by George Shriver. You will not find a study of Calvin's theology here, though a new book by Engelsma which I am persuaded by many, deals with this subject superbly (I hope to review this in due course too, though I've a heavy weight of other books to get through first).

The author portrays the Christian man Calvin, as a man deeply connected with both the greatest of joys and griefs of his friends. As I have read a number of Calvin's works this year (since it is after all the 500th anniversary of his birth), I have for the most part read a lot of his polemical works on various issues of quite practical importance for myself. I find much encouragement in his godly argumentation, lofty respect for Holy Scripture, powerful logic, and uncompromising detestation of all manner of blasphemies, idolatries, superstitions and heresies. Yet, I perhaps have greater joy in seeing the sweet love for God and the church from which his fierce polemics flow. From this he derives his steadfast tenacious commitment to the truth of Scripture, the grace of God by which his heart was bound to the lives of the saints.

Read this book, and see how deeply Calvin shared in the trials and troubles of his many friends. See how hard he worked in maintained these friendships over great distances, and great differences, and in great hardships. And perhaps then, you may see a glimpse of the fruit of that true theology which God had granted to him in a great measure of clarity. And then perhaps, see how difficult it would be to come close to emulating such an great example of genuine Christianity. May many think twice before blasting him with all the criticisms they can muster. May we first take the planks out of our own eyes, and remember that there is none that doeth good, and it is God that justifieth - and that, not by works, lest we should all perish everlastingly.

I thank God for faithful ministers and godly examples like John Calvin that He has granted graciously to His church, because I know that it pleases God to place such treasures in jars of clay (II Cor. 4:6-7). This book definitely wins my approval. I don't know where the best place to purchase the book is, but a simple web search should find it no problem.

Sam W.

P.S. I felt that a few quotes would also be appropriate, first one that cannot be found in this book, but found in Calvin's famous reply to Sadoleto's attempt to win over the Genevans:
"For then only do pastors edify the Church, when, besides leading docile souls to Christ placidly, as with the hand, they are also armed to repel the machinations of those who strive to impede the work of God."
And from the book itself, as a hint of its contents, wherein Calvin is writing to Guillaume Farel concerning the plague that had swept through Strasbourg, including his own household:
"To the cruelty of the sorrow has been violently added an anxious fear for those who survive. Night and day my wife is in my thoughts, deprived of advice since she is denied her husband's presence. Bereavement over my excellent Charles [that is, de Richebourg] torments me in a particular way - he, who in four days had been deprived of his only brother and of his teacher whom he loved as a father. These events bring me such sadness that they completely overwhelm my soul and break my spirit."
Try to call him "monster" after reading this little book.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit to the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan!

It's just been about a week since I've been back in Ireland - and I have been hard at work! I recently visited the United States of America for the first time, and for two weeks. We spent two wonderful weeks with the saints in the Protestant Reformed churches in Michigan! There are so many aspects of this time that bring me great delight when I consider their memory. I'd like to record a few here - what I love about the Protestant Reformed churches and what in particular I loved in the time that we spent there. We met a lot of people, but I won't go into all those details.

"After 500 Years: John Calvin for Reformed Churches Today" - how much did I enjoy this conference? In many ways. First, of course, the speeches and lectures themselves, all of which will be available on the conference DVD which can be ordered now from the website. Each lecture was superb - but I admit that I enjoyed Prof. Engelsma's on "Calvin's Doctrine of the Covenant" the most. I hear that a lot of the speakers had much more material than they were able to squeeze into the time frame - so I hope that if a written format is released, this material will be available.

Rev. Chris Connors spoke with great insight on "Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination", exhorting us over and over - "thus far, and no further!" Should we draw back from the confession and proclamation of God's glory in unconditional election and reprobation, we are guilty of unbelief - yet should we attempt to go beyond what has been revealed to us in God's counsel by vain speculation - we are guilty of idolatry, crafting a false god of our own making. I had an opportunity to speak with Rev. Connors on a few occasions also, for which I am very thankful.

Rev. Stewart, endearingly referred to as "the Irish Bulldog", spoke of "Calvin's Doctrine of Justification", how any justification with which we cannot consider the Judgment Day "with singular delight" is not the justification revealed in the Gospel of Christ. We are greatly indebted to God's work through the frail, sickly, compassionate Reformer. Prof. Gritters reminded us at length of the example set for Reformed ministers in John Calvin, on how rarely God grants such gifts to His church, and what difference it would make if any today could come close to emulating the life and work of Calvin.

The other masterful lectures dealt with Calvin's struggle for church discipline by Prof. Cammenga, as church reformer by Prof. Dykstra, and as expositor and preacher by Rev. Keys. There was a lot that could be learnt from each of these. I was inspired to purchase a number of books while I was there - though I'll leave that discussion for more specific book reviews.

I greatly appreciated all the Protestant Reformed people that I was given the privilege of meeting at the conference too. They are certainly a "peculiar people"! Peculiar especially for their great kindness and love for the truth. Time would fail me to tell of all the wonderful virtues and treasures of God's glory I found among these people. Sure, they have their sins too, and certainly we only have the small beginnings of obedience, but those glimmers of pure light are enough to blind such people as myself who live amongst such deep darkness. These delightful and beautiful virtues are the fruit of true Spirit-filled preaching of the whole counsel of God in the lives of God's people. Of this I have no doubt.

Oh, and they were yet so quick to point to their faults! How often we heard the lament, "We are so ungrateful for what God has given us!" And how often they would tell us how we had encouraged them! What a glorious God we have that such earthen vessels as ourselves could yet be employed by the hand of our gracious Father for our mutual edification. Yet I am still quite certain that we were the more encouraged party.

Needless to say, we were so loaded with invitations to dinner, that our friend Martyn was soon to be employed as a full-time secretary to organise our busy social calendar. For two weeks we learnt the rules of "Dutch bingo", and experienced exquisite culinary delights (some more so than others, I am constrained to concede). But all this faded into nothing compared to the precious fellowship we were constantly greeted with. I miss everyone terribly, and I hope that God may grant to us that we could meet again soon. We made sure to give plenty of invitations to the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Wales next year.

Perhaps the most shocking was how in the homes of these Reformed believers we could see a glorious manifestation of God's covenant with us and our children, maintained from generation to generation of them that fear Him. Seeing the beauty of this doctrine put in practice by the grace of God, serves to demonstrate how much we must detest the error of the Anabaptists for the sake of God's glory and love for His church for which Christ died, lambs as well as sheep.

There is much more that I could write – we were granted many more precious memories that could be shared. But for now I'll leave this here, and perhaps I relate more at another time. Hold your breath for episode two of our American escapades! Coming soon, with accounts of highly lauded seminary classes, and much more!

Sam W.

UPDATE: I've been informed by a certain PR gentleman that I have portrayed the PR folk in too favourable a light. This is quite possible, since he knows them far more intimately than I. But speaking of my experiences, and those particular people I met, I consider my representation faithful and accurate. I could have chosen to be more critical and tried to highlight their sins, but I am quite confident that they already have plenty of people around them to do this for them everyday. I feel the efforts of my criticism would be better employed elsewhere first - and of course first of all at myself.

Friday, August 28, 2009

God works in a mysterious way - His wonders to perform!

I have just finished reading one of the most outrageous, shocking, man-humbling, God-exalting, books ever compiled:

Calvin's Calvinism - including God's Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence, A Brief Reply, and Reply to the Slanderous Reports, written by that inescapably biblical Reformer, John Calvin, of unparalleled significance in that glorious work of God, the Protestation Reformation, and translated from the Latin by Henry Cole, first published in 1856, and now published again by the RFPA with absolutely essential and hugely helpful historical introductions by Prof. Russell J. Dykstra of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary.

Anyone who has quarrel with Calvinism can turn here to read the man's own words as he demonstrates with candid language and compelling truth-power how thoroughly biblical and apostolic, not his doctrine, but God's doctrine of absolute, all-encompassing, unconditional, glorious, good, and perfect predestination is. Opponents of this doctrine need to take up their bitter argument with God Himself, and read His own Holy Word to be soundly refuted and silenced. Calvin, perhaps more capably and more clearly than others who have endeavoured to write on this subject defending the glory and majesty of the eternal and immutable God who works all things after His own good pleasure, wields the Sword of Spirit mightily, by God's grace to rend asunder all the calumnies and insane ravings given birth by the unbridled, astonishing pride, and bestial reasoning of heretics. Need I say, read it!

In this masterpiece of exegesis and apologetics, Calvin almost preempts the theodicy of the final judgment on the last day, so far does he see through this dark glass into that unapproachable light. Brandishing the revealed things of God as a mighty hammer, he crushes the unimaginable arrogance of those mere mortals of clay who presume to pontificate upon the supposed unrighteousness in God's secret things: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom. 9:20).

Calvin says memorably that their purpose is nothing more than, " fabricate monsters of [their] own brain and to slaughter them in [their] own imagination, glorying to [themselves] in a mighty triumph..." He expresses the futility of their audacity and profanity very clearly, "Now, then, dog as you are, bark as loud as you will. You will no more obscure the glory of God by your revilings than you can obscure the brightness of the sun by spitting in his blazing face."

But this is not a subject for mere talk - it is massively practical. It changes everything in how we view everything that ever happens, or has happened, or will happen everywhere, without exception. And it changes how we live in that assured confidence - the confidence that God works all things for the good of them that love Him, who are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Calvin calls it one of the "first principles" of godliness.

Take for example, the recent atrocity committed by Mark Driscoll, reviewed perhaps as graciously as possible here:

To put things in perspective, you can read an interview between Michael Horton and Robert Schuller here:

There's no question, Schuller is a wolf, teaching people to be lovers of themselves - that the ultimate condition of sin is not loving yourself - i.e. being proud of yourself. Now Mark Driscoll himself has some very objectionable views (some very dangerous!) - but I am still hoping that he will grow out of them. Maybe not - and for sure I would not recommend his preaching to anyone, even though he is a breath of fresh air compared to most. My own comments, were these:

Pragmatism is a heinous and evil sin – especially for a Calvinist. I’m trying to be gracious with Driscoll, because he’s come from terrible stuff, and improved a lot in many areas. I think he’s still got a lot to learn. But this is one lesson which I think he should have learnt before, and I hope that he will see this and not do likewise again.

It’s always difficult for onlookers I think – because we know people need to hear the Gospel – it’s always difficult for us to say that no matter what our ideas are or what we think would work, that He requires that we worship Him according to His commandments and no other way. Pragmatism is a [sic] evil philosophy – one for which Saul lost his kingship. This should be a warning for us.

But the other side of it is this. As Calvinists, while we ought to be confident in God’s unhindered purposes when we refuse to fall into pragmatism – however enticing it may be, we also can see that just as God uses all things for good – he can use even the sin of pragmatism for good. It may be that God used Driscoll’s sin here to bring life and light to members of that congregation.

Who are we to reply against God? Did not God cause David to count the number of the children of Israel? Did not God use the Babylonians to chastise His people? Did not God use the Jews and Gentiles and Pilate and the Sanhedrin to crucify Christ? God performed righteous acts in all these things – carrying out His good and perfect purposes – but there is still a warning.

Calvinism is the sworn enemy of antinomianism! Shall we sin that grace may increase? GOD FORBID! But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? GOD FORBID! And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil that good may come? Whose damnation is just. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

In love for Driscoll, we ought to have more than a raised eyebrow for him ("open rebuke is better than hidden love") – even though we worship God for having brought the Gospel to that congregation (even through such an instrument), and while we certainly do not foolishly charge God with Driscoll’s sin of pragmatism.

I just finished reading this book by Calvin – amazing how it deals with this:

“O the depth…!”

The point is this - that God works everything for good does nothing to justify the evil sins of the instruments He uses - including Mark Driscoll, as much as their sins do nothing to mar the supreme righteousness of God, and the guilt can only be ascribed to the sinner, not to the one who is just and true in all His works. Anyone who would try to deny this need only study the prophet Habbakkuk.

I have said it before that Arminianism is at base, Romanism, and atheism. Nothing could be more evident when we look at the doctrine of God's providence. Theodicy is not a concern of Arminianism, because in this hellish system, there is no God of providence. This is their insane and heretical "apologetic". I recently heard a man reasoning from the supposed free will of man, who went so far as to say that not God, but people are in control. One cannot argue with the validity of his argument - only with his premise. I am glad that the Bible denies this so strongly. So, I conclude this review of Calvin's best treatment of predestination with a memorable comment from Prof. David J. Engelsma:

"Always the gospel of salvation by grace alone provokes the response that this gospel denies the responsibility of man and makes God the author of sin (see Romans 3:5-8, 31; Romans 6:1; Romans 9:19). If the message of the church does not elicit this response, the church may well ask whether it is preaching the gospel of grace."

Do you believe the Gospel of grace? Is the defense of God's glory in all providence a concern for you? It certainly was for Calvin.

- Sam W.

P.S. This book has many other commendable merits, which at this point I'll only briefly mention. In it, Calvin's absolutely repudiates any notion of a "free offer" calling it a "puerile dream". He repeatedly, and emphatically, and logically, argues that God does not will that all are saved, and that it is a denial of the oneness, and immutability of God's will to teach such a thing. He touches on the subject of infant baptism - in denying the "absurdities" of Pighius, he also denies the imaginations of those who now currently teach a conditional covenant - proving unequivocably that the sacraments profit only the elect, just as the PRCA hold and teach.

Clarkians would appreciate also how Calvin never allows an inconsistency or contradiction. He often exclaims on how we can only see so far into those depths of God's wisdom, and frequently warns us of presumption and pride in trying to peer beyond the limits of our own feeble minds, but at the same time, he utterly denies any form of Van Tilianism - indeed defending God's providence by showing how it is logically consistent, and refuting his opponents by showing how their positions is logically inconsistent. Finally, in Reply to the Slanderous Reports, he also underscores, and exposes the profound idiocy of building upon human imaginations, instead of upon Scripture alone. At this point, I have to quote at length:
"As to your description of the nature of the true God, let readers judge how appropriately you argue concerning his divine being from the absurd fact that you make the beginning of all true knowledge of him to proceed from common sense. That there is a God is a truth received by the one consent of all nations and all ages, because the seed and principle of this knowledge is imparted by nature in every human mind. But how shall reason define what God is, when by its own power of sight, it can do nothing but turn the truth into a lie and adulterate whatever of light and understanding true religion and faith possess. The Holy Spirit commands us to become fools, if we would be the true learners of heavenly doctrine, because the natural man himself can neither receive nor taste anything of divine wisdom. On the contrary, you would have human reason and common sense to form a judgment of the great and adorable God. And you would not only set up reason, which by its blindness ever extinguishes God's glory as a leader and guide, but you would exalt that blind reason above Scripture itself. What marvel is it, then, if you should permit, without hesitation, religions of all kinds to be confounded together and should consider the Turk - who is enveloped in the deliriums of Mohammed and who adores as his deity no one knows what - as much a worshiper of God as he who calls upon the Father of Christ our redeemer, instructed by the sure word and faith of the everlasting gospel? Although you do not patronise infidels seriously is a fact proclaimed aloud by those sarcastic grins of yours, which show your teeth gnashing at every plainest and holiest article of our faith while the excuses that you make for the superstitions of all nations prove your malicious purpose to be to root out of the earth every doctrine of that holy religion that the sacred oracles of God reveal and teach."
Then Calvin places his finger on the vital point:
"Out of that very human reason that is the mother of all errors, you form that God of yours, who wills, without any election or predestination of his own, that all men should be saved. Has, then, the word election, which occurs so frequently in Scripture, no meaning whatever? Is it altogether a vain and empty term? Have the law, the prophets, and the gospel no meaning whatever when they everywhere proclaim aloud that all those chosen by the eternal counsel of God before the foundation of the world are called and illuminated unto salvation? We repeat, is the united and harmonious testimony of the law, the prophets, and the gospel an utter vanity when they pronounce, free from all ambiguity, that the source and cause of eternal life is the free love of God by which He has loved and embraced not all mankind, but those out of mankind whom He pleased? What will you gain after all, I ask you, by thus roaring against this truth a hundred times over? You dazzle the sight of the ignorant and the inexperienced by setting before their eyes as a shining cloud your doctrine that God will have all men to be saved."
Modern moderate "Calvinists", who everywhere boast the same doctrines as these heretics that Calvin is refuting, are manifestly not proper Calvinists at all. More importantly, they are not biblical - which is exactly what Calvin here exposes.