Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Singing like a Pharisee

The Pharisees did not simply follow God's commandments at all. They were hypocrites; shiny on the outside, rotten on the inside. To them the law was not spiritual, and their hearts were far from the Law-Giver.

They added to this wicked hypocrisy by not only making up new commandments not found in God's Word, but also condemning others for not keeping those things in order to puff themselves up. And the worst of all, which was no doubt the root of their pride and hypocrisy, was that they taught that righteousness was obtained by means of keeping the law. But only those who have graciously been given the perfect righteousness of Christ are justified in God's sight. The just shall live by faith in Christ's righteousness, not their own.

In contrast, those who believe that they have obtained righteousness by means of their own will, naturally will produce the proud fruit of hypocrisy, rather than the humble fruit of sincerity. Because they believe that their own will makes the difference between them and another, it is natural for them to puff themselves up against others, and insist on burdensome commandments to trip others up, so that they are considered better. So, they love the praise of men rather than the praise of God, because being unjustified, they have not experienced the praise of God in their consciences as righteous in Christ alone, which testimony makes the praise of men worthless and undesirable.

If you want an example of Pharisaic worship today, look no further than the Roman liturgy, or the charismatics (which are actually worse). Some charismatics even think that a person who does not raise his hands and shake and babble and do whatever other ridiculous fad, is totally unspiritual, and probably not even a Christian, or at least a far less spiritual Christian. And woe betide the church which refuses to sing their super-spiritual hymns and choruses!

After all, they say, isn't God always doing a "new thing", and bringing "new revelations", and "new waves" and "movements of the Spirit" (a spirit of confusion and pride, you understand, not the Holy Spirit of God who brings the righteous fruit of self-control, patience, and love which covers a multitude of sins, and by which we humble ourselves and bear with the failings and weaknesses of our brethren). And "sing a new song" they insist means that we must sing their sensational, carnal, and emotive doggerel, while discarding and abolishing the inspired Psalms as deadweight. So, they puff themselves up against those who are content with singing the songs actually inspired by God, the 150 Psalms. It is after all, one of the Psalms speaking of itself (not some other song) which says, "sing a new song".

Who here is the Pharisee? He who sings the songs which God has given to His church, or he who condemns us for refusing to sing songs which have not been appointed by God for worship? And since God is the only one worthy to determine how He must be worshipped, we must not worship in any way other than what He has commanded, and so we ignore the unscriptural commandments of the Pharisaic charismatics, and maintain that their worship is vain because it is not what God has required. By means of their pride, they lay aside the good things which God has commanded. And is this not Pharisaism?

"Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." - Matt. 15:6b-9.
"For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men...Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" - Mark 7:8,13.

Finally, consider the objection to only singing Psalms, which tries to compare our Scriptural practice to the wickedness, pride, and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, because we don't condemn the singing of all other songs outside the worship service as inherently sinful. To bring other songs before God as worship would be sinful - unless one meant in the sense that we must worship God with everything we think, say or do, and with all the gifts and talents that have been given to us. But is it not plain that there are a great many songs and many other activities that are not sinful to sing or do most of the time, but would be completely inappropriate for the worship service? I may fix teeth all week as a dentist, but I won't do it in the worship service. Similarly a poet, or a musician, or a singer may do a great many lawful things during the week, which would be inappropriate for the worship service. Is it is not placing an unnecessary and even grievous burden on such people to restrict their singing to only the Psalms all the time outside the worship service?

Now, the reason I've written a short article on the subject was to answer these objections, because they were laid against the Scriptural practice and teachings of my church, and they were made publicly, and I felt it would be worthwhile and helpful to defend our practice and teaching, because it is Scriptural, and I want others to see that, and grow in understanding, and for God to be worshipped rightly and given the praise and honour He deserves from His people, and I want to see the errors which oppose this thrown down and exposed, and His people blessed in singing the 150 Psalms in worship, and not burdened with the traditions of men, and the proud craftiness of Pharisaic philosophies.

But I can't help wondering what one hopes to achieve with these objections, if one is not really bothered after all with whether or not we sing the Psalms. Is it all just an academic exercise, or is there a genuine care about how God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth? And for those who treated the issues of God's commandments as mere academia, Christ had words too: "Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." - Luke 11:46.

Of course, God's law is not burdensome (I John 5:3; James 1:25), but men try to present it as such when they do not desire to keep it, or wish to excuse themselves. There is no fault with God's commandments, the fault is with us whose hearts are sinful and rebel against God's authority in His Word.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Acceptable Worship in Christ Alone

The only thing acceptable in God's sight is what proceeds from Him alone. God is holy, and the highest good and only source of all goodness. The human heart is always filled with pride, and all kinds of malice, idolatry, wickedness, and envy. There is such evil in the human heart by nature that we cannot fathom it. Nothing good can possibly come from the heart of those fallen in Adam. And though the life of Jesus Christ is present in every Christian, there is only a small beginning, and the totally depraved, vile, and abominable sinful nature remains.

It is entirely evident to me now, as despite myself God has graciously taught me by His glorious law of light and liberty, more of how deceitfully wicked we really are at heart, that for a man to get the insane notion into his head that he can write a song that is worthy to be brought into the presence of Holy God in the congregation of the saints as pure, true, and spiritual worship to the Holy One, is nothing but rotten, foul, and stinking pride of the worst sort - spiritual pride.

David, and the others inspired writers of the Psalms were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to pen the 150 Psalms, and God has not added to them, nor ever will, because His Word is sufficient, and perfect. Some say that this is a lack of diversity and is unworthy of the God who created millions of species of insect, but He eternally decreed 66 books of the Bible, and every word of it, and all the history recorded therein, all the commandments, who should write them, all the prophecy, and the lives of all those mentioned in the Bible, and of those who penned the books. And He decreed 150 Psalms to be perfectly inspired by His Spirit, to proclaim the praises of the redemption of His elect church by the promised Messiah, for His glory and honour. And He is worthy, not of the lame and blemished to be brought to Him (Mal. 1:6-14), but only for that which is perfect, as He is perfect, to be offered as praise before Him.

First of all, this tells us that Christian worship can only ever be acceptable, by being sanctified in Jesus Christ. The beloved Son of God covers the filthy rags of our pathetic worship to make it acceptable in the sight of God. He atoned for all the impurity, weakness, and carnality of our worship. But does such grace give us license to be proud before the Holy One, and lift up our hearts as if we were acceptable of ourselves? That is what we say (whether we realise it or not) to God, when we offer up the ridiculous writings of mere men as worship. Even the holy Psalms become filthy rags as we try to offer them as worship, so how much more the products of proud hymn-writers, no matter how much derived (or distorted) from Scripture (which God did not appoint to be sung, but to be preached). Such hymns may indeed be edifying, and helpful in their place, but that place is not in worship. It is not a matter of greater and lesser, but of appointed for worship, and not at all.

Shall we sin that grace may increase? By no means. Rather we must, in holy reverence granted by the Spirit of God, repent of our spiritual pride, and seek to worship with what God Himself has given approval, and to do so in spirit and in truth more and more as He causes us to grow by the powerful preaching of the Gospel. Considering our depravity, it is utter foolishness to expect that our own carnal imaginations and reasoning about what God desires in worship should ever be anything other than completely wrong and even abominable in His sight. Instead, we must humbly seek His wisdom, and ask of God in His Word revealed to us, how we ought to worship, just as we must learn from Him how we must pray. Naturally, all our own ideas about spiritual things are nonsense, and worse than folly; even directly opposed to what is godly and righteous.

Furthermore, since Christian worship can only be acceptable in Jesus Christ, knowing that there is one Mediator between God and man, and that He is the only way to the Father, we should know that anything not appointed as worship in His Word is as vain and idolatrous as seeking God outside of Christ. Again, it is idolatry to worship God according to our own ideas about what is acceptable. The Lord Jesus alone appoints how we must worship, just as He alone directs and governs all things in His church. And the church that refuses to submit to His rule, is not His bride, but a whore with which the world commits fornication. To offer anything other than the Psalms of Holy Scripture as worship is nothing less than disobedience to Christ, and seeking to have fellowship with God apart from the Mediator, Jesus Christ, by whom we were given the Psalms.

The starting principle of the godly is that he humbles himself before God, and forsakes his own thoughts, and inquires carefully of God how it is that He must be worshipped. Those who come to the Scriptures with this Christian attitude of humility, and this question, cannot escape the conclusion that there is nothing else apart from the Psalms of Scripture that God ever appoints for us to sing in worship to Him. And so all other notions and objections, no matter how persuasive must be utterly rejected as deceitful and devious lies and temptations of the devil who always seeks to corrupt the worship of God, and whose greatest ally in the church is the sinful heart of man, with all its proud natural reasoning.

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh cannot please God." - Rom. 8:7-8. 

The most blind argument that can ever be made against singing the Psalms only, is that it is proud. The idolatry of offering worship that has not been appointed by God is proud. And it is natural that a church which loses the doctrine of the depravity of man, and the holiness of God, and of Christ the Mediator, and in short where Christ is no longer heard in its preaching, and the sacraments are carelessly profaned, and there is no spiritual discipline to remove the leaven of adulterers (for example), that such a lump becomes more and more leavened, so that the worship too is utterly corrupted, in that proud man-made worship is proudly offered, and the sincerity, holiness, purity, richness, and worthiness of the Psalms are no longer heard at all. The voice of the Bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, are no longer heard in such false churches. Where you hear the voice of the Bridegroom however, there you will also hear the voice of His bride, singing joyfully to her Saviour, with the words given to her by God Himself.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: "Whosoever Will"

In this book, the author expounds the glorious truth that "every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." The subject is introduced by means of the words of hymn, which like many such hymns, is technically orthodox, yet usually sung and explained to promote heretical ideas.

In explaining the biblical way to understand, "whosoever will may come," the author first asks to whom is it that the willing may come. The ultimate answer given is God. And the author develops the significance of this answer by speaking about who the true God is in relation to sinful man. The undeniable conclusion for the reader who believes the plain teaching of Scripture is that God Himself must make man willing to come to Him through Christ. The author continually brings the reader back to consider the motivations and desires of the heart behind all our willing and doing, which especially demonstrates the impotence of the sinner, and begging hawkers of a false impotent Christ.

Hoeksema continues on this theme by presenting in great detail and majesty the identity of Christ as the Rest-giver, the Fountain of Living Waters, the Bread of Life, the Liberator, the Light and the Resurrection. In all of these, and especially in the last, it is seen incontrovertibly that the sinner cannot even will to bring himself to this Christ of the Scriptures, but rather Christ is the one who powerfully works in the sinner to bring him to life and make him willing.

"The will to come to Him, therefore, must be motivated by the desire to come to God, the longing for rest, a hunger and thirst after righteousness, a yearning after true freedom, love of the light, and the earnest desire to be delivered from death and to be quickened unto a new life."

This marvel of how God makes the sinner willing and draws him to Christ is explored with simplicity, clarity and precision. Man coming to Christ is shown to be an entirely spiritual act, consisting of "contrition, recognition, aspiration, and appropriation." These four are shown to necessary rely upon the monergistic work of God in drawing the sinner; conviction, illumination, allurement, and sealing. These meaningful terms are biblical explained, always in such a way that these truths are applied to the believing reader, both to comfort, and exhort.

Three important subjects in connection with this are dealt with in the concluding chapters. The author shows that the preaching of the true Gospel by faithful ordained ministers is the means which God uses to draw His elect. Particular emphasis is placed on the need for God's people to hear the word of God in the preaching, because the word of man has no power. Next, the common objection that the doctrine of God's sovereignty in salvation leaves no room for man's responsibility is shown to be the same objection laid against Paul in Romans 9, and not only erroneous, but proud and ungodly.

Finally as Hoeksema speaks of the need to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, the importance of the ministry of the Word and of membership in the true church is underscored. This teaching about the church is sorely needed. This excellent book is easy to read, written in an engaging style, and deals very helpfully with very important doctrines.

Available from the RFPA bookstore.

Grace in Christ Alone

"We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." - 1 John 5:19. The world does not lie in 'common grace', but in 'wickedness'.

Grace for sinners can only be found in Christ. And therefore, it is only ever particular to those who are elect in Him. Grace is only ever Almighty, because it is an attribute of God, and therefore all who receive the grace of God are certainly saved, as surely as God is God.

If the reprobate receive grace, from whence does this grace proceed? God Himself can only be righteously gracious to sinners because Christ has clothed us in His own spotless righteousness and atoned for our unrighteousness by His substitutionary atonement on the cross. And if Christ died as our fully atoning substitute, how can it be that His cross could do anything less than fully save all those for whom He died, and so how could His cross be extended to any other than the elect alone? The proponents of common grace end up therefore with only two alternatives; to say that there is grace for sinners outside Christ and God is unrighteous, or to say that there is some sort of universal atonement, and in so doing, they fall into the Arminian error, and are in great danger of making the cross of Christ of none effect.

Instead of such nonsense, hear Christ's words in the 69th Psalm:
"They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.
Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake.
Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them.
Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.
Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous."

This teaches that the good gifts which the wicked recieve are given in God's wrath and hatred, not in His love or favour. At least twelve times the NT applies the words of this Psalm to Christ (John 19:28; 15:25; 7:5; 2:17; II Cor. 6:2; John 19:29; Matt. 27:34; 27:48; Mark 15:23; 15:36; Luke 23:36; Matt. 23:38) and there are many more implicit references too. In Romans 11:9, the Holy Spirit also says that the inspired human writer was David, and quotes the Psalm to prove that God's attitude towards the reprobate wicked is not one of love or favour, but of hatred, especially in that David righteously prayed for their table (i.e. the good gifts, such as food and drink and earthly companionship at the table) to be a trap, a snare, a stumblingblock, and a recompense to them.

Now consider the example of the quails given in the wilderness, about which Psalm 106:15 says; "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."

He gave them the good gift of quails, but it was given in His furious anger, and brought them only destruction. So it is with all the good things the wicked receive. It is not that when we see the rich of this world that we should conclude that they have received more common grace or blessing from God (in this, the doctrine of "common grace" is as reprehensible as the "prosperity gospel"). In Psalm 73, Asaph was troubled by this when he said;
"Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of thy children."

We must learn from Asaph also to go into the sanctuary of God, to humble ourselves and see their end;
"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image. Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee."

Let us put brutish thinking away, as Psalm 92:6-7 also instruct; "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this. When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:" Here we see that the purpose of God in giving prosperity to the wicked is to harden them in their wickedness, "that they shall be destroyed for ever".

Psalm 37 gives us the same warnings. It is not the blessing of God upon the house of the wicked, but rather, it is His curse (Prov. 3:33). Only the righteous in Christ know the blessing and grace of God. And this blessing and grace is not without effect, because it is God's blessing, and God's grace, and therefore we are saved to the uttermost.

I'll add yet another argument - if good gifts are supposed to be given in God's grace and blessing, and from an attitude of favour, surely the greatest good gift is for us to hear the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Yet God knows and indeed has appointed beforehand who will believe it and who will reject it. And regardless God brings this Gospel to many who will not believe, knowing that in the way of their rejection, it will bring them greater condemnation on the day of judgment. If God sends this greatest good gift to those who will not believe it in order to bring them into greater condemnation, how can we deny this regarding all the lesser good gifts like food and drink? All these things can only bring greater condemnation because the reprobate employ them in the service of sin, and are unthankful. If He did not will to bring them into greater condemnation, surely He would not preach to them this Gospel! Yet Christ thanks His Father for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to babes while hiding them from the wise and prudent, though the Gospel is preached openly to both:

Matthew 11:20-27
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him."

It seemed good in God's sight, and Christ says "Even so." And we ought agree also with Christ. And if this truth still remains hidden from you also, I will assent with God, "Even so."