Covenant Reformed News - March 2024

Covenant Reformed News
March 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 23


The Truth Is According to Godliness (2)

Why is the truth—and why must the truth be—according to godliness? Because the Scriptures are the Word of the holy Triune God! Is not Jehovah the Father of truth and the Father who sanctifies us (Jude 1)? Is not the only begotten and incarnate Son “the truth” (John 14:6)? Is He not “the mystery of godliness” as “God ... manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16)? Is not the Third Person of the Godhead “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13) and the Spirit of sanctification (II Thess. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2)?

What does the Bible say about itself in II Timothy 3:16-17? Here we have the inspiration of Holy Writ: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Here we have the benefit of the Bible for us, since it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Here we have the goal of Scripture in us: “that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Clearly, “the truth ... is after godliness” (Titus 1:1)!

Is not the written Word of God the divinely appointed means of sanctification? “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). This was Jesus Christ’s prayer just hours before His atoning cross. The truth is according to godliness!

Does not the Word bring spiritual life to God’s people? Our Saviour declared, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). If our Lord’s words bring spiritual life to believers, then the truth must be according to godliness.

A similar argument is based on words found repeatedly in the pastoral epistles of I & II Timothy and Titus: “sound doctrine,” literally “health-giving doctrine” (I Tim. 1:10; II Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1). For divine teaching to give spiritual health to believers, the doctrine must be according to godliness. If the truth itself does not accord with, befit and so lead to godliness, what else can or does?

This “truth” (Titus 1:1) is also called “the common faith” (4), common to Paul and Titus, as well as the catholic or universal church that is predestinated by God the Father, redeemed by God the Son and regenerated by God the Spirit. The “truth” is also called “the faith of God’s elect” (1), that which all Jehovah’s chosen ones believe, which He uses to save and sanctify His people, for “the truth ... is after godliness” (1). God gives us His truth to read, to hear preached, to study, to pray over, to meditate upon and to embody. The more we feed upon the Word, the more we will believe and experience that it is according to godliness! Rev. Stewart


Matthew Henry on Titus 1:1: “Divine faith rests not on fallible reasonings and probable opinions, but on the infallible word, the truth itself, which is after godliness, of a godly nature and tendency, pure, and purifying the heart of the believer ... All gospel truth is after godliness, teaching and nourishing reverence and fear of God, and obedience to him; it is truth not only to be known, but acknowledged; it must be held forth in word and practice (Phil. 2:15-16) ... To bring to this knowledge and faith, and to the acknowledging and professing of the truth which is after godliness, is the great end of the gospel ministry ...”


Four Rules for the Gentiles

We have another interesting and important question for this issue of the News. “Why did the leadership (James, etc.) of the church require the four ‘essentials’ that are listed in each of these three verses: Acts 15:20, 29 and 21:25?”

Acts 13-14 tells the story of Paul’s first missionary trip. He and Barnabas had been gone about a year preaching in different cities of Cyprus and in central Asia Minor or Turkey. Finished, they returned to Antioch in Syria, their home church, and “there they abode long time with the disciples” (14:28).

Some Judaizers from Judea headed north and began to teach in Antioch that circumcision was necessary for salvation (15:1). Paul and Barnabas opposed them and their teaching, and were sent to Jerusalem with others to report to the church there (2-4). The same dispute about circumcision also arose in Jerusalem about that time, and the matter was submitted to the judgment of a council of apostles and elders (5), as well as prophets, such as James, our Lord’s half-brother and the author of a canonical epistle, Judas and Silas (32), and Agabus (11:27-28).

After considerable debate, the counsel of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James was followed, so it was decided that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised. The debate over this issue did not end with the council. It continued to trouble the churches and is the subject of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he says, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (5:2-5). The debate about circumcision was not over non-essentials but over the gospel itself.

Having established at the council the truth that circumcision is not necessary and the gospel that justification is by faith alone without works, the council decided on four rules, and it commissioned Paul and Barnabas to report these decisions and rules to the Gentile churches (Acts 15:22-26). The rules they set are the four “essentials” to which our reader refers.

The four essentials or rules are “that they [i.e., the Gentiles] abstain [1] from pollutions of idols, and [2] from fornication, and [3] from things strangled, and [4] from blood” (20) or, in a different order, “[1] from meats offered to idols, and [2] from blood, and [3] from things strangled, and [4] from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well” (29). These four things, as our reader notes, were mentioned again when Paul returned to Jerusalem from his third and last missionary trip (21:25).

Pollutions of idols in Acts 15:20 is the same as “meats offered to idols” in verse 29. Fornication refers to any sexual sin but probably refers here to the immorality that was part of the worship of idols. Things strangled would be meat of birds or animals that had been killed by strangling and in which the blood was still present. Blood refers to the eating of blood as in blood sausage and such like.

Fornication is always wrong, a violation of the seventh commandment, but the other things are not in themselves evil, though an argument can be made against the eating of blood, since that prohibition was given along with the death penalty to Noah after the flood. Certainly the eating of meats sacrificed to idols was not in itself wrong but forbidden only if it was an offense to others. Paul makes the point in I Corinthians 8 that, even if offered to idols, meat is only meat and has no power to save or damn anyone, an important principle of Christian liberty. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth to avoid offense but also tells them to ask no questions about the meat they purchased in the “shambles,” the meat markets of the day, much of which came from the pagan temples.

Though fornication is listed among the things the Gentiles were to avoid, the decision of the Jerusalem Council emphasized avoiding fornication and the other things because they were especially offensive to the Jews. The Jews regarded the eating of meat from beasts that had been strangled, meat with the blood, as a violation not only of the laws of Moses (Lev. 17:13) but of the precepts God had given Noah after the flood (Gen. 9:4). They also regarded the eating of blood as abhorrent, following the teaching of Leviticus 17:10-14. It was the life of the beast eaten or sacrificed and belonged to God as an atonement for sin. Idolatry and its associated practices were hated by them as well.

The history of the Maccabees, though not inspired or part of sacred history, is important background that illustrates the importance of these rules of the Jerusalem Council in the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile Christians. The four hundred years between Malachi and Christ include the subjugation of the Israelites by the Syrian Seleucid kings, with Antiochus Epiphanes IV being the worst of them. During their dominion, they defiled that which was to the Jews the holiest place of all.

The Seleucid army had set up an idol, probably a bust of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, in the temple, offered swine’s flesh on the altar of burnt offering, forcing the Jews to participate in these heathen rites and to eat the flesh of those idol sacrifices (168 BC). They had introduced temple prostitution into the courts of the temple as well and the temple became a place for drunken orgies dedicated to the worst of the Greek gods. It was no wonder that the things forbidden by the Jerusalem Council would have been particularly offensive to the Jews. The history of Antiochus Epiphanes IV was not long past.

During that same period, the apostasy of many Jews, under the influence of Greek culture and philosophy, would have been remembered by the Christian Jews of Paul’s day with detestation. History speaks of those apostate Jews sporting naked in the gymnasiums, and associating with the Greeks in the sacrifices and pagan worship that often accompanied the Hellenistic infatuation with sports and games. The two apocryphal books of I and II Maccabees, and Daniel 11:31-39 tell some of this history.

This is the best explanation of the rather unusual set of injunctions established by the Jerusalem elders and apostles. The main thing was avoiding giving offense to the Jewish community and that fits the context as well. Paul and Silas had just returned from establishing new churches of largely Gentiles converts. The controversy with the Judaizers over circumcision was raging. It had to be established that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, but it was also needful that the Jews be shown that the rumours about Paul and the Gentile churches were not true. Those rumours are mentioned in Acts 21:20-21: “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” The prohibitions of the Jerusalem Council are then mentioned in Acts 21:25.

All of this is a reminder to us of the important principle, that we must avoid offense, not only in matters of sin but even in things indifferent, things that are not in themselves right or wrong. This principle is established in I Corinthians 8 not only but also in Romans 14. Even in things indifferent, we can cause another to sin, and must be very careful not to do that out of love for a brother. As Paul puts it in I Corinthians 8:13, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”

Avoiding offense: that was the issue in Acts 15:20. That may seem like a small thing, but is part of manifesting the love of our heavenly Father to others and showing that we have that love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Offense cannot sometimes be avoided but it should then be what Paul calls the offense of the cross (Gal. 5:11), the offense that sinful hearts take at the Word of God. It should not be anything that can be avoided, anything personal. Rev. Ron Hanko


John Calvin: “In sum, if love be the bond of perfection and end of the law; if God command that we study to preserve mutual unity among ourselves, and that every man serve his neighbour to edify, no man is so ignorant which doth not see that that is contained in the word of God which the apostles command in this place, only they apply a general rule to their time. Furthermore, let us remember that which I said before, that it was a politic law which could not ensnare the conscience, neither bring in any feigned worship of God; which two vices the Scripture condemneth everywhere in men’s traditions” (Comm. on Acts 15:29).

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Reformed Witness Hour - April 2024 Newsletter

 RWH Logo 2019

News from the Reformed Witness Hour

April 2024

 Seminary Kuiper 2023

Women of the Bible Series

This month we have four messages to share. We will complete Prof. Kuiper’s series on the Ten Commandments. If you missed the beginning of the series, aired earlier this year, be sure to listen to them on Sermon Audio or; the first message is titled Overview of the Law.

W Bruinsma RWH

We will then hear the first two installments of Rev. Bruinsma’s series on Women of the Bible. In a brief interview in 2019, when this series first aired, Rev. Bruinsma had the following to say about the series:

Why did you decide to do a series on women in the Bible?

My goal in this series is to point out that faithful, God-fearing women are also a part of sacred history. Often attention is drawn in preaching to the men of faith in scripture. I can understand this emphasis…since the Bible calls our attention to these men. But with a little study we find that the women of the church, too, are strong in faith.

 Can you list some of the women you will be speaking on and what spiritual themes you will be examining in each woman’s life?

In [May] we will be examining the sin of Miriam in her rebellion against Moses in the wilderness. Yes, godly women have their weaknesses too. In [June] we will consider Abigail and the faith she revealed in serving David, when her wicked husband refused food to David and his men. In [July] we will consider Jedidah, the godly mother of good king Josiah.

Who is this series for?

I hope to reach a whole range of people. The series will speak to believers, however. This series should be heard by men but will be of special encouragement to believing women.

April 7

The 9th Commandment: The Right Use of Our Tongues 

John 8:12-47

Prof. Douglas Kuiper

April 14

The 10th Commandment: The Righteousness that God Requires

Matthew 5:20

Prof. Douglas Kuiper

April 21

The Woman Eve
Genesis 2:23-24

Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma

April 28

The Faith of Sarah
Hebrews 1:11-12

Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma


Christ’s Inseparable Love

If you missed it, take time to listen to Rev. Haak’s message, Christ’s Inseparable Love. This message was the most downloaded message so far this year and for good reason! It is a comforting message of Christ’s unbreakable love for His people.  

… This question is perhaps the most serious question that the apostle has asked... Can something cause God to stop loving us?  And the answer is…  No, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Could it be that, perhaps, there is something about me that nobody else knows about, and if it becomes public, this horrible thing about me, it can take me from the arms of Christ?  Or is there some event, some deep darkness, some death or trial, something so heavy and so dark that, while God may want to love me in this trial, His love will not be able to break through the darkness and the enemy will succeed in cutting me off from the love of God?  Can I be estranged from God’s love to me—so that either God decides to stop loving me, or there is shown to be a power, an event, a circumstance, a tragedy that will succeed in interrupting and blocking God from doing what He wants?  And the answer is:  No, that cannot happen! …

Listen to the full message at Search for Christ’s Inseparable Love.


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Covenant Reformed News - February 2024

Covenant Reformed News
February 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 22


The Truth Is According to Godliness (1)

Believer, there are many ways in which the devil attacks your adherence to the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps he seeks to fill you with anger or covetousness or worry, for example, or he tries to suck you into one of the world’s moral (or immoral) crusades.

Another, more subtle, satanic ploy is the notion that all that matters is how you live, and that knowing and believing the truth of God’s Word makes little or no difference to the quality of one’s spiritual life, either your own or anyone else’s.

It is easy to understand how this appeals to our sinful flesh. According to this seductive lie, a catechumen or Sunday school student may conclude, “I do not need to study or memorize biblical material for the next class. It doesn’t do me much good.”

Others think like this: “I’m always tired. Why should I spend time and energy on reading good Reformed books and praying? It seems to make no difference to my life.”

So how is the truth of God’s Word related to practical godliness? Do the doctrines of Scripture oppose or hinder obedience to the Lord? Is biblical teaching utterly irrelevant as regards a holy life, so that there is no correlation between them? Perhaps the faith of the Reformation is of minimal help or limited worth with respect to genuine spirituality? Maybe Scripture’s teaching is merely fairly useful in promoting piety?

But what does the Word of God itself proclaim? Biblical “doctrine … is according to godliness” (I Tim. 6:3) and “the truth … is after godliness” (Titus 1:1)!

What is this saying? Scriptural doctrine accords with, is in keeping with, fits with and corresponds to godliness. Biblical teaching is conducive towards and leads to piety, for this is its natural tendency in God’s believing people by the power of the Spirit.

Not only do all the doctrines of God’s Word fit together harmoniously and reinforce each other. It is also the case that scriptural doctrine fits with and leads to practical piety, for the truth is according to godliness.

Here we need to make an important distinction between God’s truth and those who profess to believe it. Some might object, But what about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5? They lied about the amount they had gotten for the sale of their land because they sought glory of man. So how was the truth according to godliness for them? The answer is that they were hypocrites and not genuine believers!

What then, some might say, about Peter? He was a true believer, yet he denied Christ three times with oaths and cursings. Yes, but this was a temporary lapse. Later, he repented with bitter tears (Matt. 26:75) and was used by the Lord to “strengthen” the other disciples (Luke 22:32). Thus the truth is still after godliness!

What about times of church divisions? Here the blame lies with false doctrines (not the truth) and sinful behaviour by some people. The lesson to be drawn is not that the truth does not help God’s saints, but that He sovereignly uses heresies to make manifest those who are approved by Him and those who are not (I Cor. 11:19). Thus, no matter how professing Christians or professing churches may behave at certain times, the Holy Spirit declares that “the truth … is after godliness” (Titus 1:1)! Rev. Angus Stewart


Total Depravity and Manichaeism

Our question for this issue of the News is very interesting: “Folk who oppose the Reformed faith often claim that total depravity is nothing but a resurrection of the old heresy of Manichaeism. (Interestingly, this was also the charge of the Remonstrants against the doctrines laid out in the Canons of Dordt—see the ‘Conclusion.’) Augustine (354-430) was a Manichaean in his early years, and they claim that his views of the ‘total depravity of man’ are just remnants of Manichaeism that remained in his theology and these eventually became incorporated into the Reformed churches. What exactly is Manichaeism? And what are the clear differences between the Reformed view and that of the former?”

What was Manichaeism? Manichaeism was an ancient heresy, named after its founder, the Persian false prophet, Mani. It flourished from the third to the seventh centuries in the Roman Empire and Augustine was a Manichaean for nine years. Manichaeism was an attempt to combine the world’s religions into one system, incorporating elements of an old Persian religion called Zoroastrianism with Christianity, Gnosticism and Buddhism, with Mani being the great self-proclaimed prophet of this new religion.

Manichaeism was dualistic and fatalistic. It viewed spiritual things as good and material things as evil, but saw the outcome of the struggle between them as uncertain. This was its dualism, good and evil, the material and the spiritual, two independent and equal powers. Its fatalism lay in the teaching that ordinarily the soul of man, which is spiritual and good, is dominated by the body, which is material and evil, leaving a person helpless in the struggle against evil. It was this latter aspect of Manichaeism that attracted the early pre-Christian Augustine, since it meant that he was not responsible for the sins in which he was living.

Those who claim that the doctrine of total depravity is a carry-over from Manichaeism point to that doctrine’s view that man is evil by nature. They say that it is the same as Manichaeism’s view that the body is evil. Such critics also see the doctrine of total depravity as fatalistic, claiming that it destroys all responsibility for sin, just as did the Manichaean view of the evil body as dominant over the good soul in the personal struggle between good and evil. Total depravity leaves a person unable to do good and, therefore, they claim, without responsibility for sin.

Our questioner is right in claiming that the Remonstrants (Arminians) charged the Reformed churches with Manichaeism at the time of the Synod of Dordt. This charge is addressed in the conclusion to the Canons. The Remonstrants said, “That the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil, and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all, and from which he wounds multitudes and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and, therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes; and that, if the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation …”

“Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism” are all different forms of fatalism, the wicked notion that our actions are predetermined either by some imaginary deity or by our evil nature, so that it makes no difference how we live or act and that we cannot be held responsible for what we do. “Interpolated … Manicheism” is Manichaeism reintroduced in a new guise, the charge levelled by the Arminians against the five points of Calvinism as taught in the Canons of Dordt.

Our focus is on the doctrine of total depravity and the charge that it destroys human responsibility, encourages carnal security and lets men live as they please. These charges are false and the doctrine of total depravity is not interpolated Manichaeism. We, with other Calvinists, hold the doctrine of total depravity because it is biblical, not as some hold-over from Manichaeism.

The scriptural doctrine of total depravity is found in such passages as Genesis 6:5, Psalm 14:2-3, Jeremiah 13:23, John 3:5-6, Romans 3:9-19 and Ephesians 2:1-3. It teaches that “all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation” (Canons III/IV:3). This spiritual death and depravity came on all men “for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The passages show that there is a world of difference between Manichaean dualism and fatalism, and the biblical doctrine of total depravity.

The differences are especially these five.

(1) Manichaeism is dualistic, teaching that evil exists independently and is equally powerful with good, so that the struggle against evil is always uncertain or hopeless. The Bible teaches that, though God is not the author of sin, sin and evil are decreed by Him, as are all things, and are entirely under His sovereign direction and control (Eph. 1:11). In the struggle against evil, therefore, God and His grace will certainly triumph, for He rules it and uses it for His own holy purposes.

(2) Manichaeism has nothing akin to the Bible’s doctrine of man’s fall through disobedience to a divine command (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21). Scripture teaches that man’s depravity, though a matter of his nature, is not part of his original creation, for God created man good and after His own image (Gen. 1:26-27; Ecc. 7:29), with man’s depravity being divine punishment for his disobedience, the death threatened in Genesis 2:16-17 (cf. Eph. 2:1). Man’s depravity, too, is under God’s control.

(3) Manichaeism denies man’s responsibility. God’s Word is clear: Man’s depravity is the result of his own disobedience and for it he is responsible, as he is for his actual sins. His spiritual inability is his own fault. In Psalm 51:1-5, David confesses not only his actual sin, but the fact that he was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin. Our depravity, then, is not an excuse for sin or an encouragement to live as we please, as the Manichaeans suggested, but something for which we are accountable, and something from which we must be delivered, and can be delivered, only by the grace of God.

(4) According to Manichaeism, its good god took no part in the creation of matter, and so the world and the human body are possessed of evil/darkness. Contra Manichaeism, it is not just man’s physical body that is evil but the whole of man’s nature: soul, spirit, mind, will and body. Nor is the body evil because it is material. Man’s body was created good by God, and in body and soul he is redeemed and delivered when God saves him. The problem is not that man has a body which is inherently bad, but that man, with body and soul, has fallen into sin and needs to be saved. This is the reason why the Son of God assumed our complete human nature, including a body (Heb. 10:5; 2:16-17), that He might deliver us, body and soul, from the dominion of sin.

(5) Given Manichaeism’s dualism, and its false views of man’s creation, body, fall and responsibility, it is not surprising that its doctrine of human deliverance and salvation is totally different from, and opposed to, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Manichaeism teaches that man needs to be delivered from his body and only in that way will he be saved from evil. That has no relation to the teaching of Scripture, but is a pagan and heathen notion. Death is all that is needed for salvation from evil in Manichaeism and there is no need of God or His grace. The Bible teaches that God delivers us from evil through the cross and exaltation of Jesus, and that by grace we experience and receive a complete transformation of our nature, both body and soul, a spiritual rebirth and transformation that is a miraculous work of God known only by faith. We are new creatures in Christ (II Cor. 5:17) and even our lowly bodies will be changed into the likeness of His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

My depravity is not, therefore, something to which I may appeal as an excuse for my sins, but something which must be confessed as the source of all my evil-doing and my own fault, and against which I must struggle all my life long. Nor is the struggle against evil, as I experience it, hopeless but, turning to the Lord Jesus in faith, I go on unto perfection (Heb. 6:1), trusting that the good work God has begun in me will be finished in the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6). Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • •

Reformed Witness Hour Newsletter - February 2024

RWH Logo 2019

News from the Reformed Witness Hour

February 2024


Help Us Get the Word Out!

This month we have four Christ-centered, gospel-themed messages to share. We are excited to announce messages from a new radio minister for the month of February! Professor Douglas Kuiper, a professor in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary will be delivering four messages from a series on the Ten Commandments. The first message from the series, An Overview of the Law, was delivered on January 28; if you missed it, be sure to listen to it on Sermon Audio or; search for key words Overview of the Law.

Seminary Kuiper 2023

February 4
The 1st Commandment:

Worshiping the Only Good God 
Matthew 19:16-21

February 11
The 2nd Commandment:

Worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth

John 4:21-24

February 18
The 3rd Commandment:

Using God’s Holy Name Reverently
John 5:19-47

February 25
The 4th Commandment:

Keeping a Day of Rest on God’s Holy Day
Luke 13:14-16

I Am Your God

If you missed it, take time to listen to Rev. Spriensma’s message, I am Your God. This message was the most downloaded message of all of 2023 with 432 downloads during the year. In this message, Rev Spriensma expounds on Genesis 17:7 “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” This message is part of a series of messages on God’s Covenant of Grace.  

… the covenant is the goal of all of God’s work… Abram was saved in order to enjoy a covenant relationship with God. God in His covenant is saying, “You are Mine and I am yours.” It is an everlasting covenant. We are saved in order that there may be this relationship with God for ever and ever. Here on earth already and, finally, in the new heavens and the new earth…

Listen to the full message at Search for key word: I Am Your God.

2023 in Statistics Review

We continue to see exponential growth in the number of digital downloads each year. We are grateful for this opportunity to expand past the geographical reach of radio broadcasting. In 2023 we had over 3,000 more downloads than in 2022; in 2021 we had about 1,000 more downloads compared to 2020.

In 2023, 12,845 messages were played in the United States and 8,169 were played in other countries. Other than the U.S., the most plays occurred in Cambodia where messages were listened to 3,466 times. Singapore was the next highest with 816 downloads for the year.

Each month, we feature a message on the Sermon Audio Homepage. This places an advertisement of and link to one of our messages on the front page of the Sermon Audio website and app for one full day.

On average, these messages have had 310 downloads in 2023. On average, we had about 1,746 downloads each month this year.

The top 5 featured sermons in 2023:

  1. I Am Your God, Rev. Spriensma
  2. The Voice of All Creation, Rev. Bruinsma
  3. Craving Knowledge - Christian School Education, Rev. Bruinsma
  4. Nation Against Nation, Rev. Bruinsma
  5. Desiring a Better Country, Rev. Bruinsma

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Covenant Reformed News - January 2024

Covenant Reformed News
January 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 21


The Answer to Nehemiah’s Ejaculatory Prayer

After the question of Artaxerxes, “For what dost thou make request?” Nehemiah famously makes his ejaculatory prayer in the royal palace: “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4).

Then, and only then, does the cupbearer present his humble request to the Medo-Persian emperor: “If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it” (5).

Clearly, Nehemiah is not one of those people who sit around cleverly planning projects so that other people do the work and they do nothing. Nehemiah believed in hard work and costly sacrifice first of all for himself. The man who was soon to be appointed as the governor of Judah was certainly not an “armchair general”! This is crucial for all leadership, especially for leadership in the church of Jesus Christ.

Being an office-bearer in a faithful church is not merely or even chiefly about telling other people what they should do. It requires sacrificing one’s own time, increasing one’s own efforts and denying oneself in the advancement of the kingdom of God.

But it is a supremely worthy cause! Remember the labours and hardships of the head of the universal church. Merely thinking of the willing obedience and agonizing sufferings of our Lord Jesus, laying down His life for the salvation of His elect sheep (John 10:11, 15), means that pastors, elders and deacons can hardly think of their service to Him in terms of bossing others around or putting their feet up.

After the emperor approves of Nehemiah’s request, with the queen also being in attendance (Neh. 2:6), the two men begin to work out the details. First, they arrange the length of Nehemiah’s leave of absence (6). His first governorship ended up lasting 12 years (5:14; 13:6) but maybe, in this scene in the royal palace, Nehemiah was given a year or two to build the wall, with Artaxerxes only later granting him an extension or extensions. (Nehemiah also had a second stint as ruler in Jerusalem; 13:6ff.)

Second, letters were written, both for safe conduct and for the main building material that was not available on site in Jerusalem. We note that Nehemiah’s appeal mentions the name of the imperial forester and as many as three projects needing wood: “If it please the king, [1] let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; and [2] a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber [a] to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and [b] for the wall of the city, and [c] for the house that I shall enter into” (2:7-8).

Here we learn that Nehemiah had formulated a plan. He had not only been praying—closet prayer (1:4-11) and ejaculatory prayer (2:4)—but he had also been preparing. He had thought it all through and he knew what he was about. Thus Nehemiah was not only a man who sought the welfare of the children of Israel at God’s throne of grace, but he was also a godly and capable leader.

Our heavenly Father always had a plan! He answered Nehemiah’s prayers by moving Artaxerxes heart, out of His favour to His faithful servant and church in Jesus Christ, so that “the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me” (8). All of this was the realization of His determinate counsel and gracious will for the salvation of His beloved people (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11).

Not only was there a man among the Jews who sought “the welfare of the children of Israel” (Neh. 2:10), but there is a God in heaven who seeks, and always obtains, the welfare of all His regenerated and adopted children in Jesus Christ. Behold the Saviour in His state of humiliation obtaining our redemption on the cross 2,000 years ago, and behold Him now in His state of exaltation ruling over all things at God’s right hand in heaven. This is all to the glory of the Triune God, and for the wonderful benefit of the catholic or universal church and each faithful local church.

The wonder is, beloved, that He also includes us and our prayers, even our short, silent and spontaneous ejaculatory prayers, in His eternal and gracious purpose in Christ! Rev. Angus Stewart

C. H. Spurgeon on Nehemiah 2:4: “It was a prayer of a remarkable kind. I know it was so, because Nehemiah never forgot that he did pray it. I have prayed hundreds of times, and thousands of times, and not recollected any minute particular afterwards either as to the occasion that prompted or the emotions that excited me; but there are one or two prayers in my life that I never can forget. I have not jotted them down in a diary, but I remember when I prayed, because the time was so special and the prayer was so intense, and the answer to it was so remarkable. Now, Nehemiah’s prayer was never, never erased from his memory; and when these words of history were written down he wrote that down, ‘So I prayed to the God of heaven’ — a little bit of a prayer pushed in edgeways between a question and an answer— a mere fragment of devotion, as it seemed, and yet so important that it is put down in an historical document as a part of the history of the restitution and rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, and a link in the circumstances which led up to that event of the most important character. Nehemiah felt it to be so, and therefore he makes the record — ‘So I prayed to the God of heaven.’”

Matthew Henry on Nehemiah 2:1-8: “Those that would find favour with kings must secure the favour of the King of kings. He prayed to the God of heaven as infinitely above even this mighty monarch … Wherever we are we have a way open heaven-ward. This will not hinder any business, but further it rather; therefore let no business hinder this, but give rise to it rather.”


The Sword: Advice for Christians Today

I wish to encourage members, ministers, elders and deacons in the churches to hold fast to “the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) in a day of compromise and lack of love for the truth. I will bring out some spiritual comparisons and parallels from a striking incident in nineteenth-century military history.

During the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which the United Kingdom, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia-Piedmont fought against the Russian Empire, there was an epic cavalry attack in the Battle of Balaclava immortalized in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1854). The poem records a stirring exhibition of valour and daring. Yet I will not focus on the battle itself but rather on an incident that took place within it.

At the end of the attack, a British lancer was found dead, killed in the battle. This was not unusual, for the British cavalry suffered very heavy casualties in this charge. Nevertheless, there was something unique about this lancer and his circumstances.

He was found alone with no fellow lancers with him, though his corpse was surrounded by dozens of enemy dead whom he had slain. He had evidently lost his horse, which had probably been shot from under him, and had charged at the nearest enemy position to engage them with his sword.

Now what was it that enabled this lancer to slay so many of the enemy? Was it his greater strength and longer reach than the Russians? Was it that he was armed with a sword and they were not? No, this lancer was as were all in the light brigade: light. He was not tall or muscular. Instead, it was the Russian artillery troops who were big and strong. They had to be in order to lug the heavy artillery pieces around the battlefield. They would have had the longer reach and they too were armed with swords.

On investigation, those who found the dead lancer discovered that on his body were over fifty strike marks made by Russian swords, twenty of which were on his head. Yet they had failed in most cases to draw blood. He was more bruised than cut. In contrast, the enemies had life-ending wounds inflicted upon them. Thus it became apparent that the lancer’s main advantage was that, whereas the enemies’ swords were blunt and ineffective, his sabre was sharp and clinically efficient.

Many times the lancer was told during training, “Your sword is the means of your staying alive and you must let it do its work. Keep your sword sharp and do not rely on your own strength. If you rely on your own strength, your weakness will let you down. Trust your sword!” He would have been taught to sharpen the sword using a whetstone, a leather strop and chamois leather until it was honed to perfection. The scabbard was to protect the sword’s edge, not to protect the user from cutting himself, as it is commonly thought today.

The lancer’s second advantage was the experience of his predecessors written down in a manual detailing how to use the sword skilfully. A sharp sword without the necessary skill to use it is of little use. Our lancer would have been warned not to lean on his own understanding but rather to follow what had been handed down in the manual, reinforced by practice, practice, practice!

We read in Hebrews 4:12 that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword.” The comparison here is highly significant. Unlike a physical sword, Scripture is already sharp, as well as being powerful and even living! Let the Word of God do its work! Put your trust in it as Jehovah’s own mighty weapon. However, if you lack the skills to use it, it will be wielded as if it were blunt and ineffective.

Over the years, through assiduous study, tough experience, doctrinal controversies, much prayer and faithful councils, assemblies and synods, something akin to spiritual swordsmanship manuals has been written: the great catechisms, creeds and confessions of the churches! Here the theological professor, pastor, elder, deacon, seminarian and church member learn how to use the sword skilfully.

Those churches which have ignored and forsaken the creeds have forgotten how to wield the sword, so that for them it is now rusty and blunt. In the day of battle, they will be ineffective and will be defeated easily.

I humbly urge all God’s people to remain steadfast, when a great falling away is blatantly obvious in the vast majority of churches in the British Isles and across the world. Do not try to make the blade of “the sword of the Spirit” “smooth” (Eph. 6:17; Isa. 30:10). Maintain the ecumenical and Reformed creeds faithfully. Do not weaken the teaching and training of Christian adults, covenant children or future ministers, but rather be diligent to be even sharper than ever before. Let the sword do its work!

After the charge of the light brigade was over, the surviving Protestants from the island of Ireland held a worship service in a cave to praise their sovereign God. They also recalled a Dutchman, William of Orange, who brought them the liberty to worship free from Roman Catholic tyranny at the Glorious Revolution (1688) and through the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in their homeland.

As Christians, we recall with honour the worthies in Old Testament (cf. Heb. 11) and New Testament days, as well as the great saints whom God has raised up since, like Athanasius, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Francis Turretin and Herman Hoeksema, to teach and defend the beloved truth of which we witness.

Most importantly, we remember and worship our glorious Saviour who brought spiritual freedom to His beloved people through His atoning sacrifice, the Christ from whose mouth proceeds “a sharp twoedged sword” (Rev. 1:16; cf. Isa. 49:2; Rev. 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21). Remember, “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (II Tim. 2:19). Elder Brian Crossett

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - December 2023

Covenant Reformed News
December 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 20


The Background of Nehemiah’s Ejaculatory Prayer

We are not to think that Nehemiah’s ejaculatory prayer in the palace (Neh. 2:4) had no background or that it came completely out of the blue. It was preceded by four months (1:1; 2:1) of prayer with fasting (1:4) “day and night” (6). Before his spontaneous, short and silent ejaculatory prayer (2:4), Nehemiah engaged in closet prayers that were deliberate, lengthy and (probably) vocal (1:4-11). These closet prayers were also fervent and persevering—for four months!

In fact, Nehemiah’s conversation with Artaxerxes had even been prayed for earlier that very day! “O Lord, I beseech thee,” the cupbearer cried, “let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man [i.e., the Medo-Persian emperor]” (11).

In other words, Nehemiah did not “wing it,” as the saying is, thinking that an ejaculatory prayer in the palace would do and that he did not need closet prayer. Nor did Nehemiah reckon, “I have already prayed for four months so I do not need ejaculatory prayer.” For Nehemiah, it was both closet prayer (1:4-11) and ejaculatory prayer (2:4). In this too, beloved, Nehemiah shows himself as a man who sought the welfare of God’s people (10) and our worthy example.

The background of Nehemiah’s ejaculatory prayer in the imperial palace, however, goes back even further than the previous four months of prayers. Remember that he asked the men of Judah who had recently returned from Jerusalem about the situation of the Jews there (1:2-3). Why? Because Nehemiah loved God’s church. He was a man who trusted in the covenant God through the coming Messiah, and so knew the forgiveness of sins. As a thankful saint, he was leading a new and upright life.

All of this, of course, was vital as regards his testimony before Artaxerxes. Nehemiah informs us, “Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence” (2:1). This prompted the Medo-Persian emperor’s response: “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (2).

Nehemiah was a man who rejoiced in his Saviour (Ps. 33:1; Phil. 4:4) and realized that “the joy of the Lord [was his] strength” (Neh. 8:10). He manifested “the fruit of the Spirit” namely, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

Artaxerxes recognized Nehemiah’s qualities. Otherwise, he would never have asked his cupbearer why his heart was sorrowful (Neh. 2:2). This gave Nehemiah the opportunity to explain: “why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lieth waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire?” (3). Whereupon the emperor asked, “For what dost thou make request?” (4). This led to Nehemiah’s ejaculatory prayer: “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (4), which set up the conversation that resulted in his being commissioned to rebuild Jerusalem’s perimeter walls (5-8), the work with which he is forever associated! Rev. Stewart


Jesus’  Weeping

This month’s questions is: “Why did Jesus weep at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35)? Some say that His tears here teach us not only His humanity, but also that there was a human desire in Jesus for something that was contrary or different to the Father’s will of decree. His Father in heaven had eternally determined this event—and Jesus, being God, would have known this. But He wept. Could not this indicate that He nevertheless compassionately willed, wished or desired that these things be not so? That things would have been otherwise? The humanity or human heart of Christ desiring, willing or wishing something different to the divine determination? Even if it is small? If so, why could this not also imply that He could have elsewhere a different or contrary wish regarding the destiny of the non-elect? A desire or wish that they would be saved?”

Before I answer this question, let me thank all the readers who continue to submit their questions. I am amazed at the number of questions, at their variety and at their quality. I have not had a question that was not worth answering, though I have not yet gotten to all of them.

“Jesus wept.” This is the shortest verse in the Bible, but one of the most profound and heart-breaking. That my Saviour wept at the tomb of Lazarus makes me weep for my sins and for all that He endured on my behalf, unworthy sinner that I am, for death has come into the world as the punishment of sin.

The question is, Why did He weep? Was He weeping for a friend? Weeping over death as the punishment of sin? Was He wishing that Lazarus had not died, though He knew it to be the will of God? Was He weeping for all those who die in unbelief, wishing they could be saved?

There are important theological arguments against the view of Jesus’ weeping presented by our questioner. If His weeping reveals a will or desire contrary to the will of God regarding the death of Lazarus or the destiny of the non-elect, then Christ’s will is not in harmony with the will of God. If He did not mean what He said, “I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9), then we can never be sure that what He did do was all the necessary will of God for our salvation.

If weeping Jesus desires the salvation of all and somehow that is also God’s desire, then the God of election is not in harmony with Himself, is not one in His will and desires. Then, in relation to God’s love, we are like a little girl pulling the petals off a daisy and saying, “He loves me … He loves me not.”

Some say that this desire of Jesus is only His humanity showing through. If as God He willed the death of Lazarus, as well as the damnation of the non-elect, while as man He willed otherwise, then the two natures of Christ are not in harmony with each other. Then He is not God come in the flesh, God and man in one divine Person. Then we have two Christs, the old error of Nestorianism. As one Person in two natures, He cannot want one thing as man and something else as God.

Thus the view presented by our questioner either compromises the doctrine of election (one will of God in election and another in God’s revelation of Himself in Christ) or it compromises the doctrine of God’s simplicity, that He is one in all His works and ways, always in perfect harmony with Himself, or it compromises the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ’s two natures, that He is God and man united in one Person. These are the devastating theological consequences of that erroneous view.

Those who see in Jesus’ weeping a compassion for all men, perhaps especially for those who are unsaved, claim to magnify His mercy and pity, but they end up doing the opposite. If Christ’s weeping was for those who go lost, then His pity and mercy are no different from, and no more useful than, my own. I need a Saviour whose pity saves, whose mercy lifts me out of my misery, whose compassion delivers, whose tears were shed for my redemption. A saviour whose pity and compassion are helpless is of no more use to me than any other person who sympathizes with me. How shallow and unsatisfactory, then, to see in Jesus’ weeping an unfulfilled desire for the salvation of those whom the Father had not given Him or a helpless pity for the lost.

I need a Saviour who, in perfect harmony with the will of God, not only knows the hour of my death but brings it about in His sovereign government of all things, a Saviour who is ready to come for me in order to receive me to Himself at death (John 14:3). I need a Saviour who is waiting till precisely the divinely appointed moment of my death, just as I am waiting for Him.

There is, however, another side to Jesus’ weeping. His weeping is not just an emotional response to suffering and death, like our weeping at the graveside of a family member. It is not only sorrow over the breaking of earthly bonds and relationships. It is that but not only that. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend, and the thought of Lazarus rotting and stinking in his tomb must have moved Him deeply. Christ knew that He would raise Lazarus, just as we know a departed believer is in heavenly glory waiting the final resurrection, but that does not make death any less horrible.

Also He must have wept at the knowledge that death was the consequence of sin. Who would have realized that more than the Son of God? We are so inured to sin and its horrors that we seldom think of sin at the graveside, but Jesus, the holy Son of God, would have seen that in a way that we can not.

Certainly Christ also wept because the death of Lazarus reminded Him of His own impending death at Calvary. Just as He groaned and sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane, with knowledge of what His own death would be under the just wrath of God against sin, so He must have wept at the tomb of Lazarus.

Nevertheless, the most important things about Jesus’ tears at the tomb of Lazarus is that they are part of His atoning suffering, every tear more precious than diamonds. Hebrews 5:7-9 tells us this, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

Weeping at the tomb of Lazarus, Christ was learning obedience in suffering, the obedience that would bring Him to the horrors of His own death on the cross. That same obedience would bring Him through death to the perfection promised. Thus He brought salvation. His tears, therefore, are described as “strong” or powerful. They accomplished what no other tears would do. “Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”

Instead of the theological speculation and wishful thinking involved in this month’s question, all should understand that, as Christians, we must think biblically (Isa. 8:20). John 11 states three times that Jesus loved Lazarus (3, 5, 36), as both his two sisters (3) and the Jews recognized (36). Out of His love for Lazarus, Christ prayed for him (11:41-42; 17:9) and died for his sins (and those of all His elect) just a few days later (John 13:1; Rom. 5:8; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25).

John 11 states that Lazarus was Jesus’ “friend” (11). On the night of His arrest, our Lord averred, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” before adding, “Ye are my friends” (John 15:13-14), a term of endearment which includes not only the eleven disciples but also Lazarus, as well as all God’s true children.

In the chapter before the account of Christ’s weeping at the tomb of His beloved friend Lazarus—a sheep if ever there was one!—Jesus declared, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). Later He added, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (27-30). These words are true not only regarding Christ’s beloved friend Lazarus but also for all who trust in Him alone as the mighty Redeemer.

A saviour who wept helplessly at the tomb of Lazarus is not the Saviour I need. I need One whose tears are strong to save and of atoning value, for nothing else can pay for my sins. Unable even to weep for my sins apart from His saving grace, I find in my Saviour’s tears the power to weep for my sins, the hope of eternal joy and the reason why all my tears will be wiped away in the future. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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