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.

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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.

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