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Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Website

83 Clarence Street,

Ballymena BT43 5DR, Northern Ireland

Services: 11:00 A.M. & 6:00 P.M.

RevAStewart

Pastor: Rev. Angus Stewart

7 Lislunnan Rd.

Kells, Ballymena, Co. Antrim

Northern Ireland BT42 3NR

Phone: (from U.S.A.) 011 (44) 28 25 891 851

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Covenant Reformed News - August 2021

Covenant Reformed News


August 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 16



Catholicity Reflected in Sacraments and Corrupted by Errors

The sacraments of the New Testament church reflect its possession of a greater catholicity than the Old Testament church. Baptism is administered to people speaking different languages all around the world in many countries. One does not have to join the nation of Israel or move to the land of Canaan to become a member of Christ’s kingdom. Females are baptized, whereas in the Old Testament they were not circumcised, with circumcision being the older equivalent of baptism (Col. 2:11-13).

The New Testament initiatory sacrament is not less catholic regarding the seed of believers than Old Testament circumcision. The children of at least one godly parent are recipients of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 59:20-21) and holy (I Cor. 7:14), for they are included in Christ’s church (Eph. 1:1-2; 6:1-4), embraced in God’s covenant promise (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39) and enrolled in the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:13-16), though there are reprobate Esaus among our offspring, as well as elect Jacobs (Rom. 9:13).

Those promised spiritual baptism and salvation as members of Christ’s catholic church ought to receive its physical sign (Acts 10:47). “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many” (I Cor. 12:12-14).

The element of the sacrament of baptism also reflects the church’s catholicity. Water is relatively accessible all around the globe, even in a wilderness (Acts 8:26, 36), and not much is needed for sprinkling or pouring.

The Lord’s Supper also reflects the greater catholicity of the New Testament church. As with baptism, the second Christian sacrament is administered to females. From this perspective too, it is greater than the Passover, its Old Testament equivalent (I Cor. 5:7), for women were not required to go up to the temple for the pilgrimage feasts.

The Passover involved the sacrificing of lambs by Levitical priests upon the altar in Jerusalem. In comparison, the two elements of the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine, are much easier to administer in local churches around the world.

The Passover and the Lord’s Supper are alike in that neither is to be administered to children, for I Corinthians 11 requires that those who partake of the sacrament are able to examine themselves and discern how the Lord’s body is (spiritually) present (27-32).

The church’s catholicity also provides us with a useful perspective from which to critique and reject the alleged five additional sacraments of Rome (confirmation, penance, matrimony, holy orders and extreme unction). Fatally, Scripture does not teach that these things are sacraments. Moreover, they are not even historically catholic since it took many centuries of apostasy for Rome to declare some of these rites sacraments.

Let us now turn to four errors or perversions involving the doctrine of catholicity. First, regarding soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, many teach a universal love and desire of God to save absolutely everybody, including the Antichrist and all his predecessors (I John 2:18), rather than the truth of God’s effectual love and desire for the salvation of His elect and catholic church alone. Others go further by teaching a universal atonement, claiming that Jesus shed His blood for everyone head for head, the goats as well as the “sheep” (John 10:15, 26), and the reprobate “world” for whom He did not pray as well as those His Father gave Him (17:9). Some argue from a universal divine love and a universal atonement to sheer universalism: every man, woman and child will finally be saved as members of the triumphant catholic church (contra Matt. 25:31-46)!

The second error concerns eschatology, the doctrine of the last things. Postmillennialism foolishly dreams of a future golden age with almost everyone on earth being a true Christian prior to the Lord’s bodily return. Here catholicity is twisted to further the notion that the church is to become the vast numerical majority toward the end of this age (contra Matt. 7:13-14; II Thess. 2; II Tim. 3; Rev. 13:6-8).

Third, we come to ecclesiology. Catholicity in the hands of modernist Protestants and Roman Catholics becomes sheer inclusivism. False ecumenism accepts all or almost all churches and even the cults as if they were truly Christian, irrespective of the heterodoxy of their creeds, theology, preaching, office-bearers and membership.

This wicked disregard for God’s truth leads to syncretism. Those who belong to the so-called “Abrahamic religions” (Judaism and Islam) are also the people of God, as are those who belong to the other pagan religions (Hinduism, Shintoism, etc.). In fact, the ancient philosophers (like Socrates and Plato), atheists, evolutionists, humanists and agnostics are all God’s children in His image, as if Jesus Christ were not the only “name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)!

Fourth, this perversion of catholicity is even used to promote the idea that there are contradictory and competing theologies in the Bible. Many claim that the Old Testament teaches a different religion from the New Testament (contra John 5:39), that Peter disagrees with Paul (contra II Pet. 3:16), that Paul deviates from Christ (contra Gal. 1:11-12) and that Paul even contradicts himself (contra II Tim. 4:7)!

Thus catholicity is abused so as to create disagreements and conflicts within Scripture, and to cover up massive and irreconcilable contradictions in doctrine, and between churches and religions. This is a false catholicity with no true unity for the many has eaten up the one! Rev. Angus Stewart

 

 

God's Restraint of Sin

The lengthy question for this issue of the News arises from a number of passages that speak of God’s restraining sin. “(1) In Exodus 34:23, God commanded the men of Israel to leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him three times a year. To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, He promised that ‘neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year’ (24). How is God’s protection of the land of Israel from being invaded by the pagan nations on their border by His restraining their wicked hearts explained apart from a gracious influence of the Spirit upon them?

(2) God restrained David from taking revenge on Nabal for scorning the messengers that David sent to greet Nabal (I Sam. 25:14). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, recognized God’s grace when she pleaded with David not to seek vengeance against her husband, ‘seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand’ (26). David acknowledged this truth: ‘as the Lord God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee …’ (34).

(3) In Genesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife: ‘I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her’ (6).

(4) In God’s punishment of Israel for its rebellion, we read that He ‘gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust’ with the effect that ‘they walked in their own counsels’ (Ps. 81:12). (5) Similarly, in Romans 1, where Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness, God ‘gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient’ (28). Does not this ‘giving someone over’ imply that there was previously a gracious restraint or influence of the Spirit upon them that was removed?”

(2) David and (3) Abimelech were both godly men, and there can be no question that God’s restraint of sin in both cases was gracious. He kept David from vengeful murder and Abimelech, King of Gerar, from unwitting adultery. That Abimelech was a godly man is clear from his knowledge of God, his confession that he and his nation were righteous, his understanding that adultery was sin and God’s Word concerning him: “Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (Gen. 20:6), David was, as we know, a man after God’s own heart and a picture of Christ. That God restrains His people from sin is one of the great blessings of grace, for we are so foolish that we would go headlong into sin, were it not for His restraining hand and Spirit.

The other examples have to do with God’s restraint of sin in those who are unsaved. (1) He restrained the wickedness of the nations that surrounded Israel in order to protect His people and the promise of Christ. Our Belgic Confession says, “He so restrains the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us” (13). (4) In giving up the men of Israel to their own hearts’ lust and (5) in giving up the ungodly to a reprobate mind, He most certainly did remove a previous restraint. We see such things happening in our societies. God, in His just judgment, removes the restraints that once kept homosexuality, murder of infants and other gross sins in check, as Romans 1 teaches. He does it because they hold the truth of God under in unrighteousness and do not like to retain God in their knowledge. So He takes even the knowledge that they are destroying themselves away from them. He does so that they may reach a certain measure of wickedness and become ready for judgment (cf. Gen. 15:16).

God does this by His Holy Spirit, just as He does all things by the Spirit, first restraining their sin and then removing His restraints through the sovereign operations of the Spirit. He does this for the sake of His beloved church and to bring to pass all that He has decreed, but this restraint is not grace to the reprobate. Its purpose in the salvation of His redeemed people is gracious but there is no grace of God in the restraint itself, no grace shown to those whose wickedness He restrains. His restraint is like putting a muzzle on a rabid dog. The dog is restrained from biting and others are protected from it, but its nature is not changed nor its disease cured. God even restrains Satan (Job 1:12; 2:6; Rev. 20:1-3) and that most certainly is not a gracious restraint. Indeed, it is proof that God is able to restrain wickedness by His almighty power without showing grace to those whose sin is restrained.

God uses many different means to restrain man’s wickedness: the fear of punishment; the desire for the praise of others; the social shame and disgrace that wickedness brings at times, even among the ungodly; the fear of revenge; the evil consequences of sin to one’s health, family or career. Even then, these restraints only just keep sin in check. When they are removed, it becomes evident that man’s heart was not changed by these restraints, for he is still just as depraved and prone to all evil as before.

God, in His justice, uses these wicked men themselves to remove those restraints. He uses their courts to legalize homosexuality, abortion and drug abuse. He puts the medical, financial and legal means in their hands to descend into lawlessness and gross wickedness. He gives them the knowledge to invent and create, and then turn it all to the service of sin and Satan. What a testimony to His justice and righteousness that is!

Our denial of common grace, therefore, is not a denial of God’s restraint of sin, nor of the fact that this restraint is the work of His Spirit, nor of His gracious purpose in restraining sin. It is simply that there is no grace except in the cross and shed blood of our Saviour, and no grace for those who are without Christ. Proverbs 3:33 reminds us that “the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked,” not His grace. It would be strange grace, anyway, that first restrained their wickedness and then withdrew.

To return to God’s gracious restraint of sin in His people, as in the case of David and Abimelech, we should remember that He also, in His justice, sometimes removes those restraints so that we fall into sin. This happens when we are hard-hearted and stubborn, and when we neglect prayer and watching. We must, therefore, be warned and be constant, lest we fall into temptation and into the snares of Satan. This matter of the restraint of sin should teach us, therefore, to look to Him always in the great battle we fight against Satan’s wiles and our own sinfulness. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - July 2021

Covenant Reformed News


July 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 15



The Basis and Unity of Christ’s Catholic Church

What is the deepest theological basis for the catholicity of the church? God in the plurality of His Persons and the riches of His attributes! Thus the revelation of the mystery of the full equality of Jews and Gentiles in the catholic church to both angels (Eph. 3:10) and men (9) speaks frequently of God (2, 7, 9, 10, 19), the Father (14), Christ (1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, 17, 19, 21) and the Spirit (5, 16), as well as His “manifold wisdom” (10), grace (2, 7, 8), love (19) and power (7, 20), yea, “all the fulness of God” (19).

In His eternal counsel, the infinitely perfect Triune God decreed the diversity of creation and the multifariousness of providence. Is the church’s geographical, anthropological and historical catholicity not what rich Trinitarian decretal theology would lead us to expect?

The Jews or any other nation could never be the number one idea or dominant party in God’s eternal plan and historic work of saving His people. He is the God of three Persons and unsearchable virtues! Could one nation (out of hundreds) really be His special goal? How could he display His manifold riches in them alone or chiefly?

Jehovah is the Lord of all creation and providence, of time and space! How could one earthly land or country be uppermost in the mind of the Creator? How could one earthly people be central in the purposes of the Governor of all the nations? Dispensationalism and Jewish premillennialism do not fit with the three Persons, infinite perfections and eternal purpose of God with His one catholic church in Jesus Christ.

Creedal Trinitarian Christianity places great emphasis upon, and is the only solid basis for, catholicity. This stands over against all unitarian religions, such as Judaism, Islam (with its ummah) and Sikhism (about 90% of all Sikhs live in India and some 76% of all Sikhs live in the one north Indian state of Punjab).

Now let us consider two of the church’s attributes together: unity and catholicity, the one and the many. The God who is one in nature and three in Persons saves a church that is one and catholic. The Bible, which is one book consisting of 66 books, teaches one truth richly presented, including the unity and catholicity of the church. Protology (first things) and eschatology (last things) proclaim that both this creation and the new creation include the one and the many, with both creations as the realms of God’s one catholic church, one for the church now and the other for the church in the future.

Jesus Christ is one Person (the Son of God). He possesses two natures as God and man, uniting eternity and time (as the pre-existent and incarnate One), and heaven and earth (cf. Eph. 1:10). The inscription on His cross “was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin” (John 19:20). Thus in God’s one catholic church, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

There is one Holy Spirit who is presented as the seven spirits of God (Rev. 1:4; 4:5) to indicate the many covenant graces, blessings and gifts that He communicates to the one catholic church saved by the Lord Jesus (Acts 2; I Cor. 12-14).

Scripture uses many images of the church to bring out the fact that it is both one and many (in different senses): one flock consisting of many sheep (John 10:16), one temple made of many living stones (I Pet. 2:5), one (spiritual) kingdom or nation or city with many citizens, one army of many soldiers (Num. 1:3), etc. There is one image and one chapter that especially speak of its unity and multiplicity: the church is one body consisting of many members in I Corinthians 12 (cf. Rom. 12:4-5).

By way of comparison, in the Old Testament the unity of God’s Being and the unity of His church have a greater prominence, whereas the New Testament places more emphasis on the threeness of God’s Persons and the catholicity of His church.

Yet, even in Old Testament days, the church included believers of different nations and peoples (geographical and ethnic catholicity). Rahab was from the Canaanite city of Jericho (Josh. 2), the widow of Zarephath from the territory of Tyre and Sidon (I Kings 17), Naaman from Syria (II Kings 5), and Moses’ wife and Ebedmelech from Ethiopia (Num. 12:1; Jer. 38-39). Ruth was a Moabitess, Uriah was a Hittite, Ittai the Gittite was a Philistine and Ornan was a Jebusite. Space forbids listing the many Psalms and Old Testament prophecies that predict the catholicity of the church in the last times.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) states it well, “These all are citizens of one and the same city, living under one Lord, under the same laws, and in the same fellowship of all good things; for the apostle calls them ‘fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God’ (Eph. 2:19); terming the faithful upon the earth saints, who are sanctified by the blood of the Son of God. Of these is that article of our Creed wholly to be understood, ‘I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints.’ And, seeing that there is always but ‘one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ’ (I Tim. 2:5); also, one Shepherd of the whole flock, one Head of this body, and, to conclude, one Spirit, one salvation, one faith, one Testament, or Covenant—it follows necessarily that there is but one Church, which we therefore call Catholic because it is universal, spread abroad through all the parts and quarters of the world, and reaches unto all times, and is not limited within the compass either of time or place. Here, therefore, we must condemn the Donatists, who pinned up the Church within the corners of Africa; neither do we assent to the Roman clergy, who vaunt that the Church of Rome alone is in a manner Catholic” (17). Rev. Angus Stewart

 

 

Is Hell Fire Literal?

This article is a follow-up of a previous article. One of our readers has disagreed with what I wrote about hell. He says, “I refer to the CR News of March 2021 in which Ron Hanko does not believe in hell fire. To my understanding of Scripture, this is a reality. Jesus quotes this as a fact in Mark 9:43-48, as well as Revelation 19:20 and other references. I feel Ron is using human logic to explain divine truth by not accepting the ungodly being in the fire without being consumed. I have no difficulty in accepting this, believing that with God it is possible. It is what the rich man in Luke 16:24 experienced, the flame of fire. I would rather believe Jesus than Ron Hanko. Is it just his opinion or the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC)? If God can cause a bush to remain unconsumed as in Exodus 3:2, He can also enable the wicked to experience eternal fire in hell without being consumed. Ron needs to reflect on this.”

It is really not correct to say that I do “not believe in hell fire.” It would be more correct to say that I do not believe in literal hell fire. God’s wrath is often described as fire in Scripture (e.g., Ps. 11:6; 18:8, 12-13; 21:9; 78:21; 89:46; Isa. 5:24-25; 10:16-18; 30:33; 66:16, 24). Sometimes His wrath is revealed in literal fire as in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in the destruction of the universe at the end of time, but not always.

God’s wrath was kindled again Job’s three friends, but that does not mean that they were actually and literally burned with fire (Job 42:7). The kindling of God’s wrath against Israel in Deuteronomy 31:17 was not in fire, but in other troubles and judgments. Wrath, especially God’s wrath, is like fire in its consuming power and destructiveness. It is even worse than fire! God Himself, as a God of wrath and judgment, is described as a “consuming fire” in Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29, but that cannot be literally true. He is not something but someone, three Persons in one God, yet the descriptions of His wrath and even of His nature as fire ought to cause us to tremble.

The other argument for a metaphorical or non-literal understanding is that Scripture uses many different descriptions of hell and its suffering, and it is difficult to see how they can all be taken literally. Is hell literally being consumed by worms (Mark 9:44, 46, 48) or a moth (Isa. 51:8)? Is it also literally darkness (Jude 13)? Do those in hell physically drink the cup of the wine of God’s wrath (Rev. 14:10)? Is the punishment of hell literally all these things at the same time?

What needs to be emphasized is that coming under the judgment and wrath of God in time or for eternity is the worst thing that can happen to anyone. I have no doubt that God is able to burn the wicked with literal fire for all eternity without them being consumed, but the point is, even then, that the horror of hell is eternal suffering under the terrible wrath and hot displeasure of God.

In any case, it is not something I would argue long about or insist that my interpretation is correct. Much more important than believing or not believing in literal fire is believing that hell is a real place of eternal punishment where the ungodly and unbelieving suffer forever. That is a doctrine under attack. The doctrine of hell and of eternal punishment is denied by many leading evangelicals, such as John Stott, and some of the modern versions like the NIV have all but eliminated hell from the Bible. That important doctrine is also denied by many cults.

As to the members or leaders of the PRC, I do not know what they believe, nor is it a matter of debate in those churches. There are and have been different views among respected leaders and theologians. John Calvin indicates that he believed that the references to hell fire were metaphorical in his commentary on Matthew 3:12. Martin Luther did not think it necessary to believe in literal fire. Charles Hodge said, “There seems to be no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm” (Systematic Theology, 3:868).

On the other hand, Louis Berkhof leaned to the view that the fire is literal: “Some deny that there will be a literal fire, because this could not affect spirits like Satan and his demons. But how do we know this? Our body certainly works on our soul in some mysterious way. There will be some positive punishment corresponding to our bodies.” Yet he then adds, “It is undoubtedly true, however, that a great deal of the language concerning heaven and hell must be understood figuratively” (Systematic Theology, p. 736).

There are, however, several important points here about interpreting Scripture. First, not everything in Scripture can be or must be taken literally. In Revelation 20:1-3, it is impossible to take everything, including key, chain, bottomless pit and dragon, literally. Nor is it necessary to take everything literally in order to maintain the truth that Scripture is the inspired and infallible Word of God. That must be taken into account when dealing with the Bible’s descriptions of hell. It is not necessary to believe that hell is literally darkness, a moth, a worm, a cup, and fire to maintain what the Bible does teach about eternal punishment.

Second, the principle for interpreting any passage of Scripture is that Scripture interprets itself. That is true of the references to hell. If the brother who has submitted the disagreement above is convinced on the basis of Scripture itself that the fire of hell is literal, then I am satisfied and ask him to make the same charitable judgment. It is not what he thinks or what I think that matters but what Scripture itself says, and I am convinced, as John Calvin was, that a study of Scripture shows that the references to fire are metaphorical. I am also convinced, however, that the punishment of the ungodly and unbelieving is terrible and forever.

One other thing we should remember is that the biblical doctrine of hell is not just a matter of theology and of theological debate, but a testimony to the righteousness and justice of God, the necessity of believing in Jesus Christ, and the evil of rejecting and despising Him. The sad thing is, however, that no one will ever be scared into heaven by the Bible’s teaching on hell and hell fire. The only way anyone sees his great peril and turns to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith is by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, implanting and giving the gift of faith, and opening one’s ears and heart to the sweet call and good news of the gospel of God’s free grace. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
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. • www.youtube.com/cprcni • www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Covenant Reformed News - June 2021

Covenant Reformed News


June 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 14



The Church’s Catholicity: Perspectives and Scripture

Last time, we spoke of Christ’s church in terms of its geographical, anthropological and historical catholicity. This fits with the beautiful idea of the word “catholicity”: Christ’s church is “according to the whole.” God saves the elect world in our Lord Jesus and not merely people from special nations or particular races or some languages or certain centuries or specific economic classes. The Triune God redeems and gathers as living members of His church all kinds of people (anthropological catholicity) in space (geographical catholicity) and time (historical catholicity).

To these three aspects or perspectives of the church’s catholicity, Roman Catholicism would (erroneously) add another: the catholicity of numbers (one could refer to this as mathematical catholicity!). This especially arose as part of Rome’s polemics against the Reformation. The Roman church argued that it was the true catholic church of Christ because its membership was larger than that of the Protestant churches. It is worth pointing out that, since the sixteenth century, the numerical gap between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism has narrowed.

More significantly, greater numbers are no guarantee of truth. Just ask Noah and the other seven people in the ark! Even if an error is very popular, the Word of God forbids our compliance: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Ex. 23:2). The Northern Kingdom consisted of 10 of the 12 tribes, yet it was a false church. Belgic Confession 27 on “The Catholic Christian Church” observes that, out of the many hundreds of thousands in Israel, there were only 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (I Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:4). The true church is always a remnant (e.g., Rom. 9:27; 11:5). The way to heaven is through a narrow gate and along a narrow way, with few ever finding it; whereas the gate and way to hell is wide, and many are headed there (Matt. 7:13-14).

In their polemics against Rome, some Protestants have included the catholicity of the faith under the catholicity of the church (one could call this theological catholicity!). The Athanasian Creed speaks repeatedly of the “catholic faith” (1, 3, 44) and the “catholic religion” (20). In answer to the question, “What is then necessary for a Christian to believe?” the Heidelberg Catechism answers, “All things promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us” (Q. & A. 22), before going on to quote (A. 23) and expound the truth of the Apostles’ Creed (Lord’s Days 8-24).

It is, indeed, true that people and churches must embrace the biblical and catholic faith to be part of the catholic church. However, belief of the catholic faith is not part of the definition of the catholicity of the church, for the catholicity of the church expresses the fact that the elect, ransomed and regenerated church is “according to the whole” of mankind in space and time. It is more accurate and helpful to refer believing the true faith to the church’s attribute of apostolicity rather than catholicity.

It is beneficial here to present some evidence for the powerful witness in God’s Word to the catholicity of the church. There are two whole Old Testament narrative books which treat catholicity as a theme from beginning to end. One is named after a woman, Ruth (from the land of Moab); the other is named after a man, Jonah (whose preaching God used to convert many in pagan Nineveh). The Old Testament poetic or wisdom book with most to say regarding catholicity is the Psalms. Among the four Major Prophets, Isaiah especially comes to mind. He wrote so much about Christ and His work that he necessarily spoke often of God’s church being gathered out of the nations through His sacrifice and power. Among the Minor Prophets, it is Zechariah that contains most predictions of the calling of the Gentiles.

Of the five historical books at the beginning of the New Testament Scriptures, it is Acts that speaks most of the church’s catholicity. The resurrected Christ’s statement to His apostles in Acts 1:8 is programmatic: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Acts 2:9-11 lists people from many countries and cities who heard the apostles preach the gospel in their own languages. Some 3,000 of them were converted and baptized on the day of Pentecost (41). In Acts 10-11, we read of the conversion of Gentile Cornelius to the faith of Jesus Christ, without his having to be circumcised or become a Jew or keep the law of Moses. These crucial issues pertaining to the catholicity of the church were treated decisively by the Jerusalem council (Acts 15).

Paul’s missionary journeys illustrate the church’s geographical catholicity. In his first missionary journey, the apostle and Barnabas are sent by the Holy Spirit and the church of Antioch in Syria (Acts 13:1-4) to Cyprus and southern parts of (what is now) Turkey, where they preach the gospel and labour to establish congregations (Acts 13-14). Paul’s second and third missionary journeys include Greece, and so see him travel from the continent of Asia to Europe in the service of the Word of Christ. After his arrest in Jerusalem and over two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (cf. Acts 24:27), the apostle is conveyed by ship across the eastern Mediterranean to Rome, the capital of the Empire.

Thus, amongst the penmen of the inspired New Testament epistles, it is Paul (rather than Peter, James, Jude or John) who writes most about the church’s catholicity, particularly in connection with the inclusion of the Gentiles. In this regard, we would point especially to his letters to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians. Rev. A. Stewart

 

The Differences Between the Two Versions of the Decalogue

This month’s question is: “How do you explain the differences between the two versions of the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21?”

The main differences are five, here presented in order:

(1) The Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 do not begin with the words, “And God spake all these words saying ...”

(2) The fourth commandment in Exodus starts with the words, “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy,” but in Deuteronomy it begins, “Keep the sabbath day, to sanctify it”—not a major difference of wording.

(3) In Deuteronomy 5, there is a long addition to the fourth commandment: “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.”

(4) In Deuteronomy, the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth commandments begin with the words “Neither shalt thou ...” instead of “Thou shalt not ...” as in Exodus.

(5) In the version of the Ten Commandments recorded in Deuteronomy, the words, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife ...” are switched around, so that the neighbour’s wife is mentioned first and his house second.

Besides these, there are only some very minor variations in wording. Difference (4), regarding the opening words of commandments 6-10, is relatively insignificant.

Difference (5) is of some importance in our polemic against Roman Catholicism. In defence of its practice of image worship, Rome combines the first two commandments (it sees no difference between idolatry and image worship). In order still to have ten commandments it takes “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house” as the ninth commandment and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” as the beginning of the tenth commandment. The fact that these phrases are switched around in Deuteronomy shows that they belong to the same commandment and are not two separate commandments as Rome teaches. Nor are idolatry and image worship the same thing. In spite of what Rome says and does, image worship is wicked and forbidden by God.

Difference (1) is the result of the fact that in Exodus God Himself is reciting the Ten Commandments from the top of Sinai out of the smoke and fire upon the mount, one of the very few times that Jehovah spoke directly to His people. In Deuteronomy, God is not speaking directly but Moses is retelling the story of the giving of the law. The emphasis in Exodus is significant, though. That God spoke the words of the Ten Commandments and spoke them in the hearing of the people underlines their importance, and the fact that they are the unchangeable Word of God. Usually God spoke to Israel through Moses or others but in this case He Himself spoke. No wonder, then, that Jesus said of the law, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18).

Differences (2) and (3) concern the fourth commandment regarding the sabbath. They are the most important of all. The additions and changes in Deuteronomy’s version of the Ten Commandments reflect the fact that the nation of Israel was then at the borders of the land of Canaan and ready to enter the land in fulfilment of God’s promise. That land was for them the sabbath land, the land of rest (sabbath means “rest”), a picture of the rest which still remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9), a land in which their whole life would be controlled and ordered by the weekly and yearly sabbaths.

In preparation for their entry into that land, God speaks through Moses more fully of the sabbath in Deuteronomy than He does in Exodus, a reminder to them of the important place that the sabbath would have in Israel’s life and, therefore, of the important place that He would have in their lives. It is no different for us. The sabbath, now celebrated on the “Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:10), reminds us both of the rest that still remains for us in heaven and of the place that God has in our lives as the One in whom we find rest for our souls. Israel heard the fourth commandment repeated by Moses, and we too are on the borders of the land that God has promised us and will soon be entering it.

The difference in the opening words of the fourth commandment is not especially important. Sanctifying the sabbath and keeping it holy are the same thing, and we remember the sabbath by keeping it holy. If anything at all stands out in the different versions of this commandment, it is the word “keep” in Deuteronomy. That word means both that the Sabbath must be guarded and that it must be observed. Few, then or now, are interested in keeping the day as a special day or in behaving differently on the day. Of all the commandments, it is the least valued and many, sadly, do not even believe it is in force for New Testament Christians.

The addition to the fourth commandment in Deuteronomy is important. One might think that the words, “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day,” consign the commandment and its observance to the Old Testament, but the opposite is true.

The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was a foreshadowing of our deliverance from the bondage of sin and Satan, and God is speaking to us as well as to them when He says, “therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.” This is taught in Belgic Confession 34, which speaks of the saving power of baptism (not the sign but the reality): “Not that this is effected by the external water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land of Canaan.”

In Jesus Christ and by His atoning sacrifice, God has brought us out of the bondage of sin and we are on our way to the heavenly Sabbath land, the rest that still remains for the people of God. Both in thankfulness for what God has done in delivering us and in hope of that better rest, we keep the New Testament sabbath, the sabbath of the first day of the week on which our Saviour rose from the dead. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - April 2021

Covenant Reformed News


April 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 12



Introducing the Catholicity of the Church

The church of Jesus Christ possesses four (central) attributes: unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity. Unlike the other three attributes, some raise an objection against the word “catholicity” or “catholic.” The (readily understandable) problem that they see with the word “catholic” is its association with the word “Roman,” so that, when the word “catholic” is used, some think, “Roman Catholic.” Even though the Roman Catholic Church is a false church, we should not jettison the venerable and, rightly understood, precise and profound theological word “catholic.”

The Apostles’ Creed states, “I believe an holy catholic church.” The Nicene Creed’s formulation is a little longer and more developed: “I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church.” The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What believest thou concerning the ‘holy catholic church’ of Christ?” (Q. 54). The Canons of Dordt appeal to “the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church” (II:R:1). Belgic Confession 27 is even headed “The Catholic Christian Church” and begins, “We believe and profess one catholic ... church.” The creeds reflect almost 2,000 years of the use of the word “catholic” and indicate that orthodox Protestantism in the last half a millennium has retained it, even in its confessions.

Our English word “catholic” comes from Greek via Latin and means “according to the whole.” It is a richer idea than “universal” and it more fully captures the profundity of the biblical teaching, being just the right word.

Our approach to the word “catholic” includes two elements. First, where misunderstandings might arise, we explain that it means “universal.” This is what the fifteenth-century pre-Reformer and martyr, Jan Hus, does at the start of his great work De Ecclesia (1413): “But the holy catholic—that is, universal—church is the totality of the predestinate or all the predestinate, past, present and future.” Likewise John Calvin explains, “The church is called ‘catholic,’ or ‘universal’” (Institutes 4.1.2).

Similarly, Belgic Confession 27 states, “We believe and profess one catholic or universal church.” Westminster Confession 25 opens with these words: “The catholick or universal church” (25:1), and later refers to the “visible church, which is also catholick or universal under the gospel” (25:2). Then it speaks of the “catholick visible church” (25:3) and the “catholick church” (25:4), without needing again to add “or universal.”

Second, we bring out the rich idea of the word “catholic,” for “according to the whole” is wider and more profound than “universal.” Thus the Heidelberg Catechism explains the church’s catholicity in terms of its being gathered “out of the whole human race” (A. 54). Lord willing, this and subsequent articles will develop the many blessed aspects of this beautiful truth.

Let us now turn to what we may refer to as the church’s geographical catholicity. God elects, redeems, gathers and preserves a church in the Lord Jesus Christ that consists of people from every country or nation in every continent.

This element of the catholicity of the church has been used polemically in church history, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. The Donatists were a schismatic group in North Africa that existed from the fourth to the seventh centuries. Their theological opponents, like Augustine, criticized them for confining the church to lands south of the Mediterranean. This was a valid point against the Donatists but, it should also be added, catholicity considered alone or abstractly is not sufficient to determine which ecclesiastical group or groups are approved of God.

In his polemic against the false doctrines of the Papacy, Jan Hus pointed out that there are various parts to the church: part under the Bishop of Rome, part in Eastern Orthodoxy, part in Bohemia (where Hus laboured), etc. There was some value in the pre-Reformer’s arguments in his day, though Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are far worse today than they were in the fifteenth century, for both have officially and creedally condemned the Christian gospel of the Reformation, and apostatized.

In the sixteenth century, Rome used (or, rather, abused) the catholicity of the church against the Reformation. “The Protestants,” they claimed, “are mostly holed up in northern Europe, whereas we are strong in southern Europe, we possess the far-flung Portuguese and Spanish empires, and we have a considerable presence in northern Europe too.” The persecution and flight of southern European Protestants is, of course, part of the explanation for this. Moreover, in the last few centuries, the biblical truths of the Reformation have spread through Protestant colonies and missionary work in all continents and all (or almost all) countries and islands.

Belgic Confession 27 explains that Christ’s catholic church is “not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place.” One “place” to which the creed is alluding is Rome, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. “Roman Catholic” is even a contradiction in terms, for the first word refers to a city and the last word means universal. Besides, from 1309 to 1377, seven popes reigned in Avignon in southern France.

Jerusalem is a second “place” on earth to which Jesus’ catholic church is not “bound.” Here the truth stands over against Judaism, as well as (Judaizing) premillennialism and dispensationalism. These eschatological systems falsely teach that, during a literal 1,000 years, the Lord will reign on earth from a throne on Mount Zion, and the land of Israel and its cities will be especially holy. However, Christ’s catholic church neither has nor will have any earthly headquarters or homeland in this age (Phil. 3:20). Rev. Stewart

 

What Happened to the Ark?

In connection with Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon and the fact that the second temple did not contain the ark of the covenant, someone has asked, “What happened to the ark?” Very simply, the answer to this question is that we do not know what happened to the ark. However, there is more that can be said.

The last time the ark is mentioned in Scripture is in the days of Josiah, Judah’s last good king. He had the ark put back in the temple: “[Josiah] said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the Lord, Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David king of Israel did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel” (II Chron. 35:3). Apparently, the ark was not where it belonged when he became king, but those Levites who were still faithful had been carrying it around from place to place.

This passage indicates that the ark was around until the time of Jerusalem’s destruction and then was lost when the Babylonians took the city. Perhaps the Babylonians destroyed it as a symbol of Israel’s God and to gain all the gold of which it was made. Tradition, however, says that the ark was hidden in caves or tunnels under the temple mountain or elsewhere, and various groups have looked for it there and in other places, even as far away as Ireland. All we know is that the ark was not in the most holy place of the temple at the time of Jesus.

The Apocryphal book of II Maccabees says that Jeremiah hid the ark before Jerusalem was destroyed: “It was also contained in the same writing, how the prophet, being warned by God, commanded that the tabernacle and the ark should accompany him, till he came forth to the mountain where Moses went up, and saw the inheritance of God. And when Jeremias came thither he found a hollow cave: and he carried in thither the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and so stopped the door. Then some of them that followed him, came up to mark the place: but they could not find it. And when Jeremias perceived it, he blamed them, saying: The place shall be unknown, till God gather together the congregation of the people, and receive them to mercy. And then the Lord will shew these things, and the majesty of the Lord shall appear, and there shall be a cloud as it was also shewed to Moses, and he shewed it when Solomon prayed that the place might be sanctified to the great God” (2:4-8). II Maccabees, however, is not inspired and is very untrustworthy. Its account is not to be believed.

British Israelitism, which believes that the Anglo-Saxon races are the lost ten tribes, also holds that the ark will someday be rediscovered. British Israelites are among those who have looked for the ark in Ireland under the Hill of Tara and elsewhere. Appeal is made to II Chronicles 36:18 and Ezra 1:7-11, which do not specifically mention the ark’s being taken to Babylon or returned, though II Chronicles 36:18 does speak of temple treasures being removed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Dispensationalism, with its belief in an earthly future for Israel, including the rebuilding of the temple, also looks for the ark to be rediscovered. One advocate wrote, “The Bible does seem to indicate that the Ark of the Covenant will be rediscovered in the end times. Revelation 11:19, ‘Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.’”

Various movies and books have popularized the idea that the ark still exists and is hidden somewhere, but this is very unlikely. God saw to it that the Old Testament types, including the temple itself, were destroyed, so that His people would look away from those things to Christ who is the fulfilment of them all.

Indeed, even if the ark were found, it would only be an object of historical curiosity and of no more spiritual value than offering animal sacrifices in our day or the discovery of the physical tables of the law—which are now written in “fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). That is not to say, of course, that there would not be those who would superstitiously worship the ark, but their veneration would be as foolish as that of the Jews who continued to eat the lamb of the Passover while not believing in Christ, the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Even in the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant had no power or value in itself. When brought to the battlefield in the days of Eli (I Sam. 4:1-11), it did not guarantee Israel’s success in battle but was captured by the Philistines. When, however, the Philistines assumed that they had prevailed over and captured Israel’s God, He sent plagues wherever they moved the ark until they were forced to send it back.

It must be remembered that the ark in the Old Testament was only a symbol of the covenant God’s promise to live among His people. His presence was not limited to the ark, nor was He always present where the ark resided. When Israel was on its way to Canaan and the tabernacle was moved, the cloud of glory that ordinarily resided in the tabernacle left the ark and the tabernacle to guide the nation to its next encampment.

Even before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah foretold a time when the ark would no longer be around or necessary: “And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more” (3:16). That day has come and it no longer matters what became of the ark that Moses made.

The truth is that Christ is the true ark of the covenant and the One who must be worshipped. As God lived among His people through the ark in the Old Testament, so He now lives among us through Christ, for in Him “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). As God then revealed Himself to His people from the ark, so He now reveals Himself in Christ. He is the fulfilment of the ark in that in Him mercy and justice meet, just as they did in the Old Testament when the mercy seat, the covering of the ark, was placed over the law. When John sees the ark of the covenant in heaven (Rev. 11:19), therefore, he sees not the old ark of wood and gold, but Christ Himself.

What good, in any case, would a wooden box be to us, though covered with gold? In Christ, we have everything and lack nothing. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - March 2021

Covenant Reformed News


March 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 11



The Source and Purpose of Apostolic Authority

Two articles in the previous two issues of the News took their cue from II Corinthians 10:8, “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed.” These instalments explained the right of the apostles to serve God in three spheres: teaching, ruling and showing mercy. Now, finally, we shall treat the source and purpose of the authority exercised by the twelve apostles and the apostle Paul, drawing out vital lessons for the church in our day.

Jesus Christ is the origin or source of apostolic authority: “our authority, which the Lord hath given us” (8). The Triune God has granted to His incarnate, obedient and glorified Son the right to reign over the entire universe, and He exercises His authority in the church in part through the apostles. Thus our risen Saviour declared to the Eleven, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ Jesus is “the Apostle and High Priest of our profession” (Heb. 3:1); the supreme One whom God sent later commissioned His apostles.

For the sake of completeness, we should add from Ephesians 4:11 that our ascended Head also gave and gives others to instruct His church: “prophets” and “evangelists” (extraordinary and temporary office-bearers), and “pastors” who are “teachers” (ordinary and permanent office-bearers). Christ also equips and appoints elders and deacons to serve His congregations (I Tim. 3).

Since the Lord Jesus is the origin of apostolic authority, Paul and the Twelve possessed a derived authority, a ministerial authority and a circumscribed authority. Likewise, the authority of all the lower office-bearers in the New Testament church (prophets, evangelists, teaching pastors, ruling elders and deacons) is derived and ministerial, and circumscribed or limited to their respective spheres.

Christ told the twelve disciples, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). If this is true regarding the awesome authority of apostles, how much more regarding pastors, elders and deacons, the church’s ordinary and permanent office-bearers? Thus Chapter 18 of the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) describes the authority of ministers as “more like a service than a dominion.”

Having seen that the Lord Jesus is the source of apostolic authority and that, therefore, the authority of the apostles (and all church office-bearers) is circumscribed and ministerial, we now turn to the purpose of apostolic authority. Paul states that it is “for edification, and not for your destruction” (II Cor. 10:8).

The goal or purpose of the apostolic authority, office and labours is to build up the church and certainly not to destroy the people of God. Jehovah’s punishment of the reprobate on the legal basis of their sin is subservient to the apostles’ glorious primary desire and purpose: the salvation of the elect by the cross and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

It is in this context that Paul speaks of the power and efficacy of preaching and church discipline to bring God’s true people to repentance and faith: “the weapons of our warfare are … mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds [by] casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (4-5).

The apostle explains that his armaments are not fleshly, carnal or worldly, appealing to earthly or base motives. His arsenal of the preaching of the Word and church discipline—exercised prayerfully and to the glory of God—is spiritual, addressing man’s mind or soul or conscience: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal … bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (3-4, 5).

A heartfelt understanding of the source of apostolic authority guides the church and its office-bearers to an exercise of ecclesiastical authority that is ministerial not lordly (I Pet. 5:3) and circumscribed by God’s Word. Likewise, a true appreciation of the purpose of apostolic authority (the salvation of the elect, not their destruction) commits a faithful church to the prayerful use of the spiritual means appointed by God (preaching, sacraments and discipline), trusting that His grace alone will make them effectual for the calling and sanctification of those eternally chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4).

The crucial importance of really believing and rightly exercising ecclesiastical authority is underscored by Belgic Confession 29’s description of its sinful abuse: “As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does she administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them as she thinks proper; she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry.” Rev. Angus Stewart

 

Satan’s Everlasting Punishment

We will now answer a second question about the devil: “Since Satan and demons are pure spirits, how can we conceive of their suffering eternal punishment in the lake of fire without bodies? Presumably it will reflect the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath?” I believe the questioner has answered his own question in speaking of “the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath,” but I would like to elaborate in this article.

It is impossible to believe that the suffering of hell, whether of Satan or of the ungodly and unbelieving, is in a literal lake of fire so the question raises one of the difficulties with that kind of literalism. Even though unbelievers are resurrected (John 5:28-29) before being cast into eternal suffering, it is difficult to imagine that they could endure eternal fire without being consumed, i.e., it is hard to understand how any kind of body could endure that kind of suffering. As spirits, Satan and his demons are not at all subject to the torments of fire.

The clearest argument against a literal lake of fire, however, is the fact that Scripture does not always describe hell in those terms. It is described as the pit (Isa. 14:15), as the worm that never dies (Mark 9:43-48), as weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42), as a furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50), as outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), as chains of darkness (II Pet. 2:4) and as drinking the wine of the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10).

Hell cannot literally be all of these things and the obvious conclusion, therefore, is that they are figures of speech used to emphasize its horrible torments. Anyone who has suffered severe burns knows that agony and why it is used as a description of hell. The torment of being eaten by worms, as Herod was (Acts 12:23), may be even worse. Darkness, the kind of darkness one experiences in a deep cave or the kind of darkness that came on Egypt as the ninth plague (Ex. 10:21-23), is horrifying as well. All of these only hint at the far greater terror and torment of hell.

What, then, is the horror of hell, the “spiritual suffering” referred to by the questioner? It is the horror and torment of being forever separated from God. II Thessalonians 1:9 describes this: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” This was the first punishment for sin and will be sin’s final punishment. God is the source of all blessing, life, peace, light and hope, and to be cut off from Him is to be forever separated from all that is good (James 1:17). This is the reason, too, why hell is described as darkness in Scripture and as death. Those who do not believe cannot have fellowship with God who is light (I John 1:5-6) and “to live apart from God is death.”

Eternal punishment in hell is a matter of exquisite justice. Those who separated themselves from God, and rejected and despised Him, will be given by God Himself what they themselves have wanted and chosen, and they will be given it for eternity.

Heaven is the opposite. The glory of heaven is not literal harps and streets of gold. It is not only the blessedness of no more tears and suffering, but also the glory and blessedness of being with the living God forever. Revelation 21 and 22 teach this repeatedly. “They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (21:3). “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (22-23). “And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads” (22:4).

Heaven is enjoying the love and favour of God forever, while hell is suffering the wrath of God for eternity. As with God’s love, His wrath is not an empty emotion, but something powerful and effective that forever burns against sinners, driving them from His gracious and loving presence. He is a “consuming fire” against those who turn away from Him. For this reason, too, hell is death, not dissolution but the eternal dying of those who will never see life (John 3:36). This is God’s curse, the powerful and effective Word of His anger, that drives someone forever from His presence. This is why hell is no different for Satan and his minions than for unbelieving men and women.

This is what Christ suffered on behalf of those whom the Father had given Him. He experienced that separation from God and His divine wrath when, during the three hours of darkness on the cross, He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This is His descent into hell. There was no need for Him to go to the actual place of eternal torment, because He suffered the “inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies” of being under the wrath of God against sin (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 44).

Our Lord’s Supper form states, “that He assumed our flesh and blood; that He bore for us the wrath of God (under which we should have perished everlastingly) from the beginning of His incarnation to the end of His life upon earth; and that He hath fulfilled for us all obedience to the divine law and righteousness; especially when the weight of our sins and the wrath of God pressed out of Him the bloody sweat in the garden, where He was bound that we might be freed from our sins; that He afterwards suffered innumerable reproaches, that we might never be confounded; that He was innocently condemned to death, that we might be acquitted at the judgment-seat of God; yea, that He suffered His blessed body to be nailed on the cross, that He might fix thereon the handwriting of our sins; and hath also taken upon Himself the curse due to us, that He might fill us with His blessings; and hath humbled Himself unto the deepest reproach and pains of hell, both in body and soul, on the tree of the cross, when He cried out with a loud voice, My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34) that we might be accepted of God and never be forsaken of Him; and finally confirmed with His death and shedding of His blood the new and eternal testament, that covenant of grace and reconciliation, when He said: It is finished (John 19:30).”

That He suffered the wrath of God and separation from God is a mystery too deep to fathom. He who took on Himself the curse due to us was God’s beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. Nor is it necessary for us to comprehend what He endured. It is ours to believe that He did, and so to be saved from the wrath to come and to have the hope of seeing God face to face in Jesus Christ. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
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.www.youtube.com/cprcniwww.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Covenant Reformed News - February 2021

Covenant Reformed News


February 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 10



The Apostles’ Authority to Rule and Show Mercy

Besides teaching authority, as we saw in the last installment of the News, the apostles also possessed ruling authority under Christ and in His church.

The apostles included in their office the authority of elders. Thus Cephas wrote, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” (I Pet. 5:1). Unlike elders, however, the apostles did not only serve one church; they itinerated.

The apostles had the authority to discipline church offenders and excommunicate them. This is a fearful authority: to exclude an impenitent church member from the kingdom of heaven! Paul excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:20). In connection with the Corinthian church, he excommunicated the incestuous man (I Cor. 5:3-5). Ananias and Sapphira, two wicked members of the church at Jerusalem, were slain by God before the apostle Peter (Acts 5). Are there any so-called apostles today with the might and right to do this? No!

The apostles had the power to ordain office-bearers. The Twelve appointed deacons in Acts 6. Paul (with Barnabas) ordained elders on the return leg of his first missionary journey (Acts 14:23). Along with a body of elders, Paul ordained Timothy (I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6). The former Pharisee gave instructions regarding training “faithful men” in order to maintain a godly succession of ecclesiastical office-bearers (2:2).

The ruling authority of apostles is evident in their founding and establishing congregations, and their subsequent oversight of them. The apostles had authority to hear and decide controversies among Christians and in the churches. Time and time again we read of this in the inspired epistles of Paul. The apostle John denounced Diotrephes (III John 9-10). The apostles officiated at the Jerusalem assembly in Acts 15, though they did not adjudicate on their own; they served with the elders (15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4).

They also directed and supervised the New Testament evangelists, who were special apostolic helpers. Paul appointed the field of service for evangelists Timothy and Titus, whom he left at Ephesus and Crete, respectively (I Tim. 1:3; Titus 1:5). The apostle instructed both evangelists in what especially they should do: Timothy was to refute false teachers (I Tim. 1:3ff.) and Titus was to “ordain elders in every city” (Titus 1:5ff.). In short, Paul wrote to Timothy that he might know how he ought to behave himself “in the house of God, which is … the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15).

In some sense, apostolic authority even carries over to the judgment day. The Lord Jesus declared to His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

As well as teaching and ruling authority, the apostles possessed the right to show mercy in God’s church by helping the needy. Obviously, all Christians ought to and do assist the poor. But not all believers have the authority to show mercy in an official capacity. Only deacons, elected by the church and acting on her behalf, provide help to the needy as the designated representatives of the congregation and of Christ.

In the very earliest days of the New Testament church after Pentecost, there were no deacons. Thus, in Acts 4 and 5, we see the apostles doing (what would later become) diaconal work. People brought money, laying it at the apostles’ feet, with the Twelve then distributing it to the poor. When the number of believers multiplied, the apostles ordained the seven deacons whom the people elected (Acts 6:1-6). Similarly, we see Paul’s role in the official demonstration of mercy in the collection of money from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia for the needy saints in Jerusalem (II Cor. 8-9).

Having considered apostolic authority in teaching, ruling and showing mercy—a much higher authority than that of pastors, elders and deacons today!—we ought also consider the scope of their authority.

The authority of an elder or deacon is limited to his own congregation, though sometimes, for the duration of broader assemblies, elders have a wider sphere, and deacons from different churches may cooperate when need arises. Though the authority of preachers to teach is, hypothetically, universal—that is, if all the churches agreed in doctrine, a minister could preach in any congregation—yet his authority is especially in the church that called him.

However, all these congregations were equally under the authority of all the apostles. Thus Paul speaks of his “care of all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28), not only the ones he planted but even congregations he had not been able to visit. Peter’s first canonical epistle was written to, among others, the Galatians (I Pet. 1:1), though these churches were founded by Paul. In the book of Revelation, John writes to the Ephesians (Rev. 2:1-7), a congregation in which Paul had earlier laboured.

Let us take Paul as an example of this universal authority in all three spheres. As regards his right to instruct, he speaks of his “ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church” (I Cor. 4:17). His authority to rule in God’s church is seen in Acts 15, and in his advising, disciplining and even excommunicating members of various congregations. Paul demonstrated his right to administer mercy through his labours in Macedonia, Achaia and Jerusalem.

How this exposes the pseudo-apostles of our generation! These men (and women!) know full well that God has not given them this awesome authority, in its various spheres and vast scope. Therefore, they usually do not even claim it and over 99% of the church world gives 0% obedience to a charismatic who claims to be an apostle!

The universal scope of apostolic authority is also evident in the three—and only three!—extensions—not repetitions!—of Pentecost. The extensions of this once-for-all event show that Christ’s catholic church embraces, and full New Testament salvation is given to, not only Jews (Acts 2) but also Samaritans (Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 10-11) and Old Testament believers who had not yet heard that the Messiah had already come (Acts 19). Notice, in these three extensions, the role of the apostles: Peter and John, Peter and Paul, respectively. In the light of all this, it is no wonder that one of these extraordinary and temporary church officers wrote, “though I should boast somewhat more of our authority … I should not be ashamed” (II Cor. 10:8)! Rev. Stewart

 

 

Satan’s Knowledge of Biblical Prophecy

One of our readers has submitted two questions about Satan. The first will be answered in this instalment of the News, with the second being treated in next month’s issue, Lord willing.

The brother writes, “I have two queries arising from reading Behold He Cometh by Herman Hoeksema about our arch enemy. 1) Since Satan is well aware of God’s Word, how come he did not know that Christ would rise from the dead from Psalm 16 and Isaiah 53? Did he know these Scriptures but not believe them or is it the case that, just as he knows that his time his short, he chooses to fight on regardless of his certain defeat, because that is his perverse nature? 2) Since the devil and the demons are pure spirits, how can we conceive of their suffering eternal punishment in the lake of fire without bodies? Presumably it will reflect the spiritual suffering of all the damned, a real sense of confinement, misery and God’s wrath?”

There can be little doubt that Satan knows the Scriptures since he quoted them so readily to Christ during the wilderness temptations (Matt. 4:6). Nor can there be much doubt that he knows what is going on in our world. The story of Job makes that clear (e.g., Job 1:7; 2:2), as do our own temptations. We can conclude, then, that the devil is and was aware of the teaching of God’s Word, and he knew of Christ’s coming, His death and resurrection, and what would be accomplished by our Lord in His work. Most certainly, he was behind the efforts of the Jewish leaders to seal and guard Christ’s tomb, in order to deny His resurrection once He had risen from the dead.

The passage alluded to in the question, Revelation 12:12, says that Satan knows that his time is short. This not only confirms his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability to interpret them, but answers the question about his past and present opposition to Christ and His saving work. The devil, as the question itself suggests, continues his enmity and revolt, because he is the great rebel and unbeliever, though he knows his efforts are in vain. He is like those Nazis in the last days of World War II, who continued to believe in Hitler and the Third Reich and their ultimate victory, even when complete ruin loomed. Satan will not and cannot cease his war against the kingdom of God until he is thrown into the lake of fire.

This is characteristic of unbelief. Unbelief is willing ignorance (II Pet. 3:5). It knows and yet refuses to acknowledge God and His Word, and desperately seeks to deny its own wickedness and impending doom. Atheism is a good example. It carries on an endless crusade against the Most High exactly because it cannot escape the knowledge of God which is written into the conscience and mind of every man. It “doth protest too much” and shows, by continually opposing the truth of God, its own knowledge of the Almighty.

Romans 1 teaches these things: “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (19). Unbelievers have some knowledge of the truth but hold it under in unrighteousness (18), turning the truth into the lie (25). They know that God rules, but do not glorify Him and are not thankful (21). Despite knowing that He is Lord, they turn to idolatry, worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator (25). (Idolatry does not prove ignorance of God but knowledge of Him!) They do this because “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (28) but it is also God’s judgment on them for their unbelief. So they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (21).

That this is true of demons, as well as unbelieving men and women, is proved by James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” They know how great God is. They tremble at the very thought of Him. Yet they continue their opposition to Him. That is the folly of unbelief.

There is a warning for us in their unbelief, the warning of Hebrews 3:12: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” We must not close our ears to the Word of God. We must not harden our hearts through the deceitfulness of sin, when the Scriptures get in our sinful way. We must not only be hearers of the Word but also doers of it (James 1:22). The inspired words of Hebrews 2:1-3 must be our guide: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.”

Satan’s unbelief and rebellion will continue to the end, when he will be thrown into the lake of fire. However, it is wonderfully true that our unbelief and rebellion have not continued, for God has brought them to an end, conquering our wicked hearts by the power of His irresistible grace, forgiving our sins through the obedience and sacrifice of our Saviour. He has softened our hardened hearts, delivered us from the folly and darkness of unbelief, and caused the light of His glory to shine in us. He has given us true faith in Christ and so the obedience of faith, by planting in our hearts the resurrection life of Christ. When His work in us in this life is finished, then we, who now see through a glass darkly, will see Him face to face in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord (I Cor. 13:12). Thanks be to Him! Rev. Ron Hanko
 

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