Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland


83 Clarence Street,

Ballymena BT43 5DR, Northern Ireland

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


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

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Covenant Reformed News - October 2023

Covenant Reformed News
October 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 18


Nehemiah’s Covenant Prayer

After considering Nehemiah’s godly enquiry concerning Jerusalem (Neh. 1:1-3) in the last issue of the News, we now focus on his response to the bad news about the people of God, their capital and its perimeter wall (4-11).

Though deeply troubled, Nehemiah did not keel over, as some do when they hear terrible tidings. He did not need anyone to put a chair behind him lest he collapse but that godly man did realize that he needed to sit, so at once he lowered himself to the ground or into a chair for he was heartbroken: “it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept” (4).

Nehemiah’s reaction is all the more remarkable given that he was a grown man, not a child. He was not an emotional wreck or a fifth-century BC snowflake, in modern language. Nehemiah was a responsible person, even the emperor’s cupbearer.

Even though he was personally affluent and working in Shushan the palace (the citadel of Susa) some 1,000 miles from Jerusalem, her distress was his distress. Nehemiah’s tears were genuine, for God had put into his heart a love for the church and so he suffered with Israel’s suffering.

Nehemiah was not only deeply grieved immediately after hearing the sad report concerning Jerusalem. Afterwards, he continued to do three things: he “mourned … and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven” (4). You could say that he prayed with lamentations and fasting.

For how long? Scripture says on “certain days” (4). During how long a period? For the four months from Chisleu (1), the ninth month of the year, to Nisan (2:1), the first month of the year. At what times? Nehemiah tells us: “day and night” (1:6).

Nehemiah is seeking the Lord for the welfare of His church deliberately, and with resolution and perseverance, for a period of about 120 days. These are the actions of a man who sought the welfare of Israel for a long time even before he oversaw the laying of a single stone on Jerusalem’s defensive walls. The genuine and deep distress that he manifests for the people of God over 2,400 years ago puts us to shame and stirs us up to pray for the body of Christ in our day!

Nehemiah 1:5-11 contains a summary of his covenantal praying for four months in Mesopotamia. It begins with the covenant address: “I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments” (5). Here, as elsewhere, the Lord’s “covenant and mercy” refer not to two separate things but to His one covenant mercy.

If we approach Jehovah as the God of the covenant in Jesus Christ, we have access to Him and confidence that He will answer our prayers for His people: “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants” (6).

Next Nehemiah laments Israel’s covenant breaking. I “confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses” (6-7). Notice that Nehemiah includes in this confession of sin both himself and his family, and that he makes no excuses: “We have dealt very corruptly against thee” (7). This is the way that we too must confess our sins to God: with shame and without cover up.

Nehemiah acknowledges God’s covenant judgment upon Israel’s covenant breaking. This is the explanation for the Jews’ fall to, and exile by, the Babylonians, as God had warned repeatedly in the Pentateuch (e.g., Lev. 26:33; Deut. 4:27): “the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations” (Neh. 1:8).

Then Nehemiah recalls God’s covenant promises (e.g., Lev. 26:40-45; Deut. 4:29-31; 30:1-5): “But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there [i.e., Jerusalem with its temple]” (Neh. 1:9).

Nehemiah reminds Jehovah of Israel’s identity and His deliverance of her from Egypt: “Now these are thy servants and thy people, whom thou hast redeemed by thy great power, and by thy strong hand” (10). Specifically, Nehemiah requests the answer to the prayers of two parties, not only himself but all of God’s covenant people: “O Lord, I beseech thee, 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” (11). Even more particularly, he asks, “prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man [i.e., Medo-Persian Emperor Artaxerxes]” (11).

Beloved, we live some 2 ½ millennia after this profound prayer in Nehemiah 1. Our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, whom Nehemiah’s contemporary, Malachi, called “the messenger of the covenant” (3:1). He bore our covenant judgment on the cross of Calvary because of our covenant breaking of the law of God. In Him, we have all the covenant promises: the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of God, a new heart and a new life, and the new heavens and the new earth! Let us seek the welfare of Christ’s church—often troubled by false doctrine, worldly members, divisions and persecution—by seeking God’s face in covenant prayer for her! Rev. Stewart


The Covenant of Redemption (2)

We continue our discussion of the covenant of redemption. That covenant is sometimes seen as an agreement between the Persons of the Trinity, between the Father and the Son or between God and Christ. We have seen that the covenant in Scripture is not an agreement but a relationship. That is not to deny, however, that there is a covenant between the Persons of the Trinity, and between God and Christ.

The covenant in the highest and most important sense is not the relationship that God establishes with His people in Christ. It is first of all and most importantly the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity, a relationship hinted at in Proverbs 8:22-31: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.”

I Corinthians 2:9-11 is another passage that hints at this relationship, though that relationship must be blessed and wonderful beyond anything we can imagine: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

That is the covenant as an eternal reality in the Trinity. There is no other covenant. For that reason God, more often than not, speaks of the covenant as one: “my covenant.” The covenant with Christ and the covenant in Christ with the elect are not different and separate covenants. Nor was the covenant with Adam in paradise.

When God establishes His covenant with us, He takes us into that blessed relationship, becoming our Father, taking us as His sons and daughters, and, having provided His own dwelling place as our home, taking us to live with Him forever. In other words, He establishes His covenant with us, so that we become part of that family in which He is Father and Christ is His only-begotten Son through the Holy Spirit. That relationship between the Persons of the Trinity is THE COVENANT and into it we are taken when God establishes His covenant with us.

In order to reveal and establish that covenant with us, God first establishes it with Christ, not by some kind of transaction or agreement but by making Christ His Son through the incarnation: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him” (Ps. 89:26-28). Through the incarnation and human nature of Christ, He takes us to be His people, with Christ, as God and man, becoming the personal link that joins God and His people forever in the blessed relationship that we call the covenant. That relationship between God and Christ is the covenant of redemption, if we are to use such terminology.

In Christ, God sovereignly and powerfully redeems and sanctifies those whom He has chosen, that they, sinners in themselves, may be His people and may live with Him in eternal bliss to praise Him and glorify Him forever. That is what we call the covenant of grace. It too is not a different covenant, but the glorious revelation of the one everlasting covenant and of the great God of the covenant.

The eternal covenant, the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace are not different covenants, but one covenant, revealed in Christ and through Him established with all the elect, who are brought into that covenant as God’s friends and children. That covenant God established with different people throughout the Old Testament: Adam, Noah, Abraham, David and Israel. Each covenant was not a new and separate relationship, but a new revelation of the wonders of God’s covenant.

With Noah, for example, Jehovah revealed the wideness of His covenant mercy by showing that His covenant includes not only men and women but all creatures. With Abraham, He showed Himself to be the faithful God of the covenant, who is pleased to be the Friend and Father not only of believers but of their children. With Israel at Sinai, God showed that the way of the covenant is obedience to Him and love for Him. The law was never meant to be the condition of the covenant but the way in which God’s covenant people show their thankfulness for His covenant mercies (Ps. 89:1-2).

With David, Jehovah showed the unbreakableness of His covenant—how He would keep covenant with a sinful people, maintaining that relationship through the suffering of Christ with a people who would forsake His law, refuse to walk in His judgments, break His statutes and fail a thousand times over to keep His commandments (30-34). He would find someone like David but much greater, whom He would make His “firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (19-28).

Through the suffering of that David-like Prince, God would see to it that His covenant was not broken by the sins of His chosen people (30-34), for He would cause the rod of His judgment and all His wrath to fall on the One whom He had chosen (38-45). What response is possible but that with which Psalm 89 concludes: “Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen” (52)?

God fulfilled His covenant in Christ. That covenant, fulfilled, is the new covenant of Hebrews 8. Not a different covenant but the realization of all the covenant promises made for four thousand years previously, as the covenant formula in Hebrews 8:10 so clearly shows: “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.”  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. • •

Covenant Reformed News - September 2023

Covenant Reformed News
September 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 17


Nehemiah’s Godly Enquiry Concerning Jerusalem

The Bible itself often identifies the spiritual significance of its major characters and it is also instructive who makes these identifications. Abraham is called “the father of all them that believe” by Paul, the great proponent of justification by faith alone (Rom. 4:11). David is spoken of as “the man after God’s own heart” by no less than Jehovah Himself, who saw and moulded David’s heart (Acts 13:22). John the Baptist is the one who would “make ready a people for the Lord,” as stated by the angel Gabriel, who was preparing Zacharias and Elizabeth for the birth of their son (Luke 1:17).

Nehemiah is a man who sought the welfare of Israel. This is what God’s enemies thought regarding him. This is a good testimony to have from the ungodly, and their fears regarding Nehemiah were accurate! “When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel” (Neh. 2:10).

Here are three well-known roles or works of Nehemiah. First, he was the cupbearer of Artaxerxes, the Medo-Persian Emperor. Second, he became the governor of Judah. Third, in this office, he was the moving force in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s perimeter wall. In all these roles, whether as cupbearer, governor or wall builder, he was a man who sought the welfare of Israel. The church needs more men and women like him!

Two members of Nehemiah’s family are named. His father was called Hachaliah (1:1; 10:1) and he had a brother named Hanani (1:2; 7:2), as well as at least one other brother (1:2). If Nehemiah had sisters, they are not mentioned in this book.

Here are two good reasons to think that Hachaliah and his wife had a godly home. First, they had Nehemiah for a son. Second, they had Hanani for a son, whom faithful Nehemiah appointed one of the leaders in Jerusalem, the holy city (7:2).

The Lord especially uses homes like that of Mr. and Mrs. Hachaliah to produce men and women who seek the welfare of Israel, the elect, redeemed and gathered church of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are the sort of homes we need in our congregations!

What does Nehemiah ask at the very start of his book? He makes a double-barrelled enquiry about the people back in Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem (1:2).

The people about whom Nehemiah asks are those who had returned to Judah out of the Babylonian captivity in two main groups. First, there was the group under Zerubbabel the governor. They numbered about 50,000, including Jeshua the high priest, and they rebuilt the temple (Ezra 1-6). These people arrived in Judah over 80 years before the events of Nehemiah 1. Second, there was the much smaller group under Ezra the scribe. Ezra 7-10 deals with the arrival of this great priest and focuses on his leadership in promoting spiritual edification (rather than physical construction). Ezra and his group arrived just 13 years before Nehemiah 1.

How are these two groups doing? Are they amalgamating and uniting in the Lord’s service? Why did Nehemiah enquire about them? Because he cared about their welfare!

Why did he ask about the place, Jerusalem? Because he knew that there was rebuilding work that needed to be done. He hoped to hear that the city wall was progressing. After all, Ezra’s party was there to inject new energy into the people of God in Judah.

To whom did Nehemiah make these enquiries? Nehemiah asked Hanani, because his godly brother knew the issues and understood the importance of people’s spiritual morale. Nehemiah asked the “men of Judah” who were with Hanani because they had recently been there and so they had first-hand knowledge.

Do you see the significance of this? In general, you need to ask the right people in order to get accurate and helpful answers. This is perhaps especially true as regards the church. Ask people at the heart of the church, people who are spiritually attuned.

When did Nehemiah ask Hanani and these men of Judah these questions? When, after journeying from Jerusalem, they had arrived in Shushan the palace, also known as Susa the citadel, one of the places where the Medo-Persian emperor resided and where Nehemiah worked. In other words, these people had up-to-date information on the situation on the ground or, at least, information as current as possible in those days.

Let us follow the text in Nehemiah 1:1-2, which summarizes our exposition so far. “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah” (1)—here is the book’s heading. Next the scene is set: “And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace” (1). Then comes the arrival of the party from the west: “Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah” (2), followed by Nehemiah’s enquiry about the people and the place, “I asked them [1] concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and [2] concerning Jerusalem” (2).

What was their reply? “And they said unto me, [1] The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: [2] the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire” (3).

How did Nehemiah respond? Not merely with pleasantries: “And how was the weather during your long journey?” Was he a little bit saddened or fairly upset? No! He was deeply troubled and you know why, reader! Because Nehemiah was a man who loved God’s church, her distress was his distress. Doubtless Nehemiah had sung Psalm 137 in the captivity many times and he had meant it! “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (5-6)! Rev. Angus Stewart


The Covenant of Redemption (1)

A reader writes, “I would like Rev. Hanko to discuss the traditional ‘covenant of redemption’ theory in a future News, particularly the various versions of it:

1) an agreement between the Father and the Son;
2) an agreement between the three divine Persons;
3) an agreement between the Triune God, as represented by the Father, and Christ.

Some say that the covenant of grace in time is a mirror image of this eternal contract; others say it is something separate and different. Various texts are used for this theory.”

The idea of a covenant of redemption (Latin: pactum salutis) or “counsel of peace” (Zech. 6:13) dates back to the seventeenth century, with the term “covenant of redemption” first appearing in 1638 in a speech by the Scottish theologian David Dickson. Men such as Herman Witsius, Patrick Gillespie and James Durham developed the idea in detail. Though many consider the notion of such a covenant as speculative and unbiblical, it continues to have its defenders.

There are different ideas about the parties in this covenant, nicely enumerated above by the friend who sent in the question. Most often, the covenant of redemption is considered to be an agreement between the Father and the Son, to bring about the redemption of the elect through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Louis Berkhof, for example, defines the covenant of redemption as “the agreement between the Father, giving the Son as Head and Redeemer of the elect, and the Son, voluntarily taking the place of those whom the Father had given Him” (Systematic Theology, p. 271). 

Biblical basis for such a covenant of redemption is sought in the many scriptural passages that describe the salvation of the elect in terms of a purchase, implying, so it is said, a previous agreement, either between the Father and the Son or between the Triune God and Christ. Likewise, the word “propitiation” in Romans 3:25 and I John 2:2 is assumed to imply a transaction of some kind between the Father and Christ. All the references to Christ’s coming in obedience to the Father, fulfilling God’s will, doing His Father’s business and saving those whom the Father gave Him, are cited as proof of such an agreement or transaction between God and Christ.

An important text to those who teach a covenant of redemption is Zechariah 6:13, which speaks of “the counsel of peace” which “shall be between them both.” This passage, however, has nothing to do with any kind of pre-temporal inter-Trinitarian covenant or a covenant between God and Christ. It refers to the union of the priestly and kingly offices in Jesus who is “a priest upon his throne.” In other words, the text speaks of the reconciliation of justice and mercy in Christ who is both King and Priest, not a covenant of redemption.

We are among those who find the theology of a covenant of redemption to be speculative and unbiblical. Our objections to such a covenant, however, have to do not only with the interpretation of various passages but also with the fact that those who hold to a covenant of redemption begin with an unscriptural view of the nature of a covenant. They all define a covenant in terms of an agreement, a contract or a transaction, whether it be a covenant between all the Persons of the Trinity, between God and Christ, between God and Adam or between God and His elect people. This agreement, so it is said, has promises, conditions and stipulations, as any agreement would. After starting with that wrong idea that the covenant is an agreement, those who hold to a covenant of redemption find proof for such a notion in the passages mentioned above.

We have three objections to such a presentation of the covenant. First, such a view of the divine covenant is not to be found in the Bible. Scripture always presents the divine covenant as a relationship, not an agreement. The formula for the covenant between God and His people reveals the covenant to be a relationship. That formula, though expressed in different ways, is essentially, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12). We will write more of the covenant as a relationship in another article.

Second, if the covenant is an agreement, then God and man, whether Adam, the elect or Christ as man, act on equal terms. That is a denial of God’s sovereignty. In His works and ways with man, God never acts as equal but as sovereign. Even in the incarnation, Christ as man is subject to the Father, sovereignly chosen, equipped, sent into the world and assigned the work of redemption (Act. 2:36). As the Servant of God (Isa. 49:6), His work was subject always to God’s judgment and approval (Matt. 3:17).

The covenant relationship between God and the elect never depends on the elect agreeing to be God’s people or even on Christ agreeing on their behalf. It is not a transaction or agreement. That would make God’s covenant dependent and conditional. God sovereignly chooses the elect to be His people, effectually redeems them in Christ and powerfully converts them by the Spirit. Thus the covenant between God and His people is never described in the Bible as an agreement, something dependent on the will and cooperation of the sinner, but as a relationship established and kept by God Himself. We call this a “unilateral” covenant, a covenant established and maintained by God alone. The covenant between God and His people, then, is not bilateral or two-sided but one-sided. It is, most emphatically, God’s covenant.

Third, if the covenant is an agreement, it is not “everlasting” (Gen. 17:7). An agreement is always temporary, ending when its terms and conditions have been met. God’s covenant does not cease when the redemption of His elect people has been accomplished, but reaches its highest glory and splendour in eternity. 

If we are going to speak, therefore, of a covenant of redemption, it is not an agreement between God and Christ, but the relationship between them, established through the incarnation, in which Christ, as God’s Son, becomes the One through whom and in whom God establishes His covenant with us. It is the relationship described in Psalm 89:26-28: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.”

More must be said, however, and we will continue this discussion in another article, Lord willing. Rev. Ronald 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. • •

Covenant Reformed News - August 2023

Covenant Reformed News
August 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 16


Clothed With Christ (3)

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” declares Galatians 3:27. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, high Anglicanism and other groups claim this text refers to the ritual or ceremony of baptism: Everyone baptized with water has personally and truly “put on Christ.” According to this view, Galatians 3:27 teaches the baptismal regeneration of all who receive the first sacrament: “For as many of you as have been baptized [with water] into Christ have put on Christ.”

The biblical doctrines of grace are radically opposed to baptismal regeneration. This soul-destroying dogma does not fit with the eternal, unconditional election of some in Christ and the sovereign reprobation of others in the way of their sins (Rom. 9:22-24; I Thess. 5:9). Dying only for His elect sheep and church (John 10:11, 15, 26; Eph. 5:25), the Lord Jesus gives His abundant life to them alone. The new birth is infallibly granted only to those whom the Holy Spirit desires to save (John 3:8). All those who are born again (I Pet. 1:3) are kept by the divine omnipotence (5) and so they assuredly receive their eternal inheritance (4). As Romans 8:30 declares, “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Contrary to Romish baptismal regeneration, those to whom the Saviour gives “eternal life” will “never perish” (John 10:28).

Over against the heresy of baptismal regeneration, the truth is that Galatians 3:27, like many other passages (e.g., Rom. 6:3-4; I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; I Pet. 3:21), refers to the spiritual, inner baptism of God’s elect and redeemed people (which is signified and sealed by water baptism). Let us marvel at this: The Holy Spirit has baptized us into Christ Himself! This is what water baptism points to and symbolizes.

Many Baptists appeal to Galatians 3:27 in order to make a different point from that made by the advocates of baptismal regeneration. These Baptists believe that baptism equals (total) immersion (followed by rapid emersion). They claim that this text provides support for the mode that they use in the ceremony of water baptism. Galatians 3:27’s reference to our putting on or being clothed with Christ, they say, is an allusion to someone being enveloped in a robe after he or she has been (totally) immersed (and then swiftly emersed) in the ritual of baptism.

According to the immersionist theory, Jesus is pictured in not just one but two ways in the ceremony of baptism! First, Christ is represented by the sinner, for his going under the water portrays Jesus’ burial (though His body was laid in a cave tomb and not put underground) and his coming up of the water the Redeemer’s resurrection (though He did not arise out of soil). Second, Christ is represented by the robe with which the baptized sinner is clothed.

But what is the element in the sacrament of baptism? It is not the baptized sinner, nor any garment that he or she may put on after the ceremony. The cleansing water is the sacramental element and sign! The water symbolizes and seals the washing away of our sins by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5).

In many sports, like football or snooker or golf or tennis or rugby, it is a big mistake to take one’s eyes off the ball. In the sacraments, one’s spiritual focus is to be on the elements, whether water in baptism or bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. The elements point to and signify Christ’s cleansing us by His blood and Spirit (baptism), and feeding us by His broken body and shed blood (Lord’s Supper).

There is an additional problem with the immersionist reading of Galatians 3:27. What is the function of the (postulated) robe? To get rid of the water (which pictures the washing away of sins) by drying it up! In other words, Christ the robe dries up His cleansing blood and Spirit!

So what is Galatians 3:27 teaching? As we said earlier, its subject is real baptism, not ritual baptism by water (though the latter symbolizes and seals the former). The doctrine of our text is neither baptismal regeneration nor the immersionist mode of baptism. It is union with Jesus Christ! By inner, spiritual baptism, we come under the blessed influence of our Saviour, so as to be changed and transformed by Him or, to use the language of Galatians 3:27, we are clothed with Him!

We are often spiritually timid and in need of encouragement. “I believe that I am saved by God’s grace and baptized into Jesus,” we think, “but am I really clothed with Him? Could someone as weak and foolish as I am actually have put on Christ as my imputed righteousness and infused holiness? Could it be true that I, all over and permanently, am enveloped by the Lord Jesus in His threefold office and adorned with His image, so that He alone covers my nakedness, protects my vulnerability and makes me beautiful in God’s sight?”

Galatians 3:27 states, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Therefore, a person is either both “baptized into Christ” and clothed with Him or neither. This text proclaims that you, believer, are both: “For as many of you as [1] have been baptized into Christ [2] have put on Christ.” Rev. Angus Stewart


For more on the Bible’s teaching on the mode, meaning and subjects of baptism, read this excellent work, which is now on-line for the first time: “Sprinkling, Infant Baptism and the Bible” by Rev. Ron Hanko.


Why Baptize All the Infants of Believers?

Here is our question for this issue of the News: “Seeing that baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant and the covenant promise, if only the elect are in the covenant, if they only and only they are embraced in the promise of God, and the reprobate are not, why does God still will all the children of believers to be baptized?”

The reader of the News is correct that only the elect are in the covenant. Galatians 3:29 is clear: “if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The seed of Abraham is a spiritual seed, defined not by physical descent from Abraham but by faith in Abraham’s God. All who believe are the spiritual children of Abraham (7) and the children of God (26). Only these spiritual children of Abraham are the heirs according to the promise. The promise is the covenant promise, I will be your God and you shall be my people (Lev. 26:12; Jer. 30:22). That promise was made to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-7 and through him to all his spiritual descendants. They are those who belong to Christ by election and by the blood of atonement. They alone are in the covenant and they alone are heirs according to the promise.

The reader who submitted this question is also correct that the promise of God, the promise of the covenant, is also only for the elect. Like the covenant itself, the promise is not made to all baptized children conditionally but only to the elect. It is not, as some have said, a cheque presented by God to all baptized children, a cheque which they must endorse before it becomes valid and payable to the bearer. Acts 2:39 teaches that the promise is only for the elect and not for all baptized children conditionally: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The promise is to those whom God calls, and they are always called irresistibly and effectually. They are the elect, therefore.

The heresy of the Federal Vision denies any connection between the covenant and election, and many Reformed theologians also hesitate to affirm such a connection. The Federal Vision teaches that baptized children may be elect but still go hell on account of their covenant unfaithfulness; they may be elect and end up out of the covenant. Others want a covenant that is in some sense with all baptized children, not just with those baptized children who are elect. Thus they teach a covenant that is conditional, that is, with all baptized children, but conditioned on their faith and obedience.

Romans 9:6 addresses this issue: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” The Word of God in the context includes the promises, and the Israel to whom the promises belong is defined not by physical descent from Abraham but by election. Only true Israel, elect Israel, has the promises. This is Paul’s conclusion: “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7).

That raises the question: “Why does God still will all the children of believers to be baptized,” if “baptism is a sign and seal of the covenant and the covenant promise”?

The answer to this insightful question is that just as the gospel must be preached to the non-elect, so also must the sacraments, in the purpose and will of God, be administered to many non-elect. It is, of course, impossible to administer the sacraments only to the elect, just as it is impossible to preach the gospel and its call to the elect only. Only God perfectly knows those who are His own (II Tim. 2:19). Some try to limit the preaching of the gospel and/or the administration of baptism to the elect by requiring a profession of faith in Christ of all those who are baptized, but the latter does not guarantee that the sacrament is administered to the elect only.

It is the error of hyper-Calvinism to attempt to limit the preaching of the gospel and its call to the elect, and the error of credo-baptism to attempt to limit the sacrament of baptism to the elect only. Both are impossible. Not only that, but God has His sovereign purpose in willing children who are not elect to be baptized and it is the same purpose He has in sending the gospel call to many who are not elect.

The sacraments, we should remember, are a visible and tangible gospel which declare Christ crucified as the only way of salvation. When the gospel is preached, God wills that many hear who are not elect and who do not believe. He wants them to hear for their hardening and condemnation. Hardened in their unbelief and disobedience, they also serve God’s purpose, just as Pharaoh did (Rom. 9:17-18). By their disobedience, they bring Jehovah’s just wrath upon themselves and they are the means He sovereignly uses to chastise His people, to deliver them from the wicked world in which they live and to make them ready for eternal glory.

The same is true of baptism. Many who are baptized, instead of “improving their baptism” (Westminster Larger Catechism, A. 167), reject all that baptism signifies, are hardened in their faithlessness and unbelief, and bring the judgment of God upon themselves. This does not happen only for their destruction, however, since they are sovereignly used by God within the church for the final salvation of the elect. Their hatred of the gospel is often the beginning of persecution, an important, though distressing, part of God’s deliverance of His church. Introducing heresies and godless living into the church, they are used by God in the church to separate wheat from chaff, to waken His people out of spiritual indifference and sloth, and to occasion the development of the truth.

I Corinthians 11:19 says, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” So it is with the gospel and so it is with the sacraments. In God’s purpose to save His people and His church, He does all things in perfect wisdom to realize His purpose and to bring all things to their appointed end. Those who do not believe, even under the gospel and the sacraments, who fit the description of Jude 4, are part of that all-wise plan. They are the chaff without which the wheat cannot grow and ripen.

So let us not hesitate to apply the sacrament of baptism to all the children of believers, knowing that some who receive it are not among God’s elect people. Likewise, let us not baulk at preaching the gospel wherever and whenever God gives us opportunity, never hesitating because we preach to a “mixed” audience but trusting that it will be the power of God unto salvation to all whom He has chosen. 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

Covenant Reformed News - July 2023

Covenant Reformed News

July 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 15


Clothed With Christ (2)

The wonderful truth is that we are clothed with the Lord Jesus, as we saw in the last issue of the News, for all of God’s elect, redeemed and regenerated people “have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Here is John Calvin commenting on this text: “The greater and loftier the privilege is of being the children of God, the farther is it removed from our senses, and the more difficult to obtain belief. He [i.e., Paul] therefore explains, in a few words, what is implied in our being united, or rather, made one with the Son of God; so as to remove all doubt, that what belongs to him is communicated to us. He employs the metaphor of a garment, when he says that the Galatians have put on Christ; but he means that they are so closely united to him, that, in the presence of God, they bear the name and character of Christ, and are viewed in him rather than in themselves.”

In this article, we shall consider three things: (1) the various purposes of our spiritual clothing, (2) how our Lord Jesus became our clothing and (3) our response regarding this clothing.

We begin with why human beings wear clothes. First, and most basically, our clothing covers our nakedness. Since the fall, men and women are to wear clothes. Stripping off for showering or undergoing a hospital operation are simply exceptions that prove the rule. Nakedness in most situations is sinful and shameful, the foolish claims and practice of nudists notwithstanding (Gen. 3:7, 10-11, 21).

Since the disobedience our first parents, there are two main parties who have sought to provide spiritual clothing. One of the two parties is man. Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves to make coverings for themselves (7). The ungodly try to fashion their “good works” into garments, despite the fact that they are actually “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Like all legalists before or since, the Judaizers in Galatia in the days of the apostles misused God’s law, as if it were a sort of sewing machine, in order to produce clothes to cover the spiritual nakedness of their sins. The other party is the Triune God who has graciously fashioned and given our Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect garment for all His beloved people!

Second, clothing not only covers our nakedness but it is also used for protection. Thus, for example, construction workers wear steel-toed boots and soldiers put on armour. Jesus Christ, our clothing, protects us from the fiery darts of the devil, and defends us from the attacks of the wicked world and the false church.

Third, clothing expresses allegiance or belonging. This is especially evident as regards uniforms. A particular type of school uniform identifies the educational establishment that a student attends. The colour and style of a military uniform indicate the nationality, branch and rank of a member of the armed forces. Since our clothing is Jesus Christ, we belong to the blessed Trinity and do not belong to ourselves.

Fourth, clothing is also for beauty. Think of a gorgeous dress or an attractive jacket. Clothed with Jesus Christ, we wear clean clothes that are never dirty; we wear beautiful clothes all of the time; we wear glorious clothes that are never shameful.

In short, Jesus Christ is our multi-purpose clothing. Such a wonderful garment covers our nakedness, protects our weakness, makes us beautiful and expresses our allegiance: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 1).

How did Christ become our clothing? He was wrapped in swaddling bands as a baby. Here we are recalling His amazing incarnation and lowly birth for us! A royal robe of purple was put upon Him by the Roman soldiers. Their mockery was part of His humiliation for us! He was stripped of most of His clothing on the cross to fulfil the prophecy of Psalm 22:18. Behold His degradation, suffering at the hands of wicked men and at the hands of the holy God in our place! He was tenderly wrapped in grave clothes, for He really died. Three days later, on the first day of the week, He passed through these same grave clothes or vanished out of them. This is another testimony to His resurrection from the dead!

What ought to be, and is, our response to this, as children of God? First, thanksgiving and worship are due to the Triune God for our wonderful clothing, and in light of the cost to Him who wrought and bought it. Let us be clothed with “the garments of praise” (Isa. 61:3)!

Second, let us keep putting on this clothing. There are two types of text in the New Testament that concern the believer’s spiritual adornment. Some verses speak of the Christian’s clothing as a once-and-for-all gift granted to him at his regeneration, as here in Galatians 3:27: we “have put on Christ.” Other texts, like Romans 13:14, contain an exhortation: “put ye on [i.e., be clothed with] the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

How is this calling fulfilled? By believing, for true faith appropriates Jesus Christ, day by day and moment by moment. Thus we are continually and consciously clothed with Him, His graces and His salvation!

It will get even better, beloved. At the general resurrection, even in our bodies, we will “put on” “incorruption” and “immortality” in Christ (I Cor. 15:53-54). On the last day, we shall be clothed perfectly and joyfully with our Lord Jesus!   Rev. Stewart


Israel’s Animals in the Wilderness

One of our readers has submitted a very interesting question: “We know that the Israelites in their millions were sustained by manna for 40 years but what about their many animals? From what I know, there is little grass in the wilderness of Sinai.”

Scripture gives no specific answer to this question but there are some things we know. We know that well over a million people left the land of Egypt, as the questioner points out (Ex. 12:37). We know that they left with their “flocks and herds,” described in Exodus 12:38 as “very much cattle.” Moses had insisted on this (10:26), and God spared the cattle of the Israelites when He destroyed the flocks and herds of the Egyptians (9:6-7). We also know that they still had their cattle with them when they came to the land of Canaan after forty years in the wilderness and that the number of animals was enormous (Num. 32:1).

Our questioner is correct in his assumption that there was not enough grass in the wilderness for so many cattle. The desert is described in the Bible as a “waste howling wilderness” (Deut. 32:10), and as a “great and terrible wilderness” where there was neither sufficient water or food (8:15). There were specific encampments where there was insufficient food and water for the people and for their animals (Ex. 17:1-3; Num. 20:2-4; 21:5). They stayed in some of their encampments for many months, including almost a year at Mount Sinai, and what grass there was in these places must quickly have been devoured. It is impossible to imagine the amount of fodder needed over such a long time and for so many beasts.

The answer to the question about their animals is that they were kept alive miraculously, just as the Israelites themselves were. We know about the manna and the gushing water from the rock (Ps. 78:15-16, 20; 105:41)—which also must have caused grass to grow—and how God provided for the Israelites by these miracles, but we sometimes forget that their whole existence was under the miraculous care of God. They were miraculously fed and given drink, miraculously protected from their enemies, miraculously guided, and miraculously brought to the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 8:4 tells us that even their clothing and health were miraculously preserved by God: “Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.” He must, therefore, have miraculously provided for their animals as well.

Referring to Deuteronomy 8:4, the Levites in the days of Nehemiah confessed in prayer, “Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not” (Neh. 9:21). They lacked nothing, the Word of God says, not even food and water for their animals. How exactly God provided for their animals we do not know and it is useless to speculate, but that He did so and did so miraculously we may be sure. Nor is it necessary for us to know. No more than we always know how He will provide for us, is it necessary to know how He provided for Israel’s animals. He provides and we must trust in Him.

We may be sure that God provided for their animals, just as He provided for them, not only because of verses like Nehemiah 9:21 but also because God cares even for the beasts (Ps. 147:9; I Cor. 9:9). They too are the work of His hands and are included in His covenant (Gen. 9:15; Jer. 33:20-21). These beasts belonged to His people and must have been for that reason especially under His care.

There is a lesson in all this, a lesson grounded in the truth that the things that happened to Israel happened as examples (types) for us (I Cor. 10:6). God provides for His people now and in every way, just as He did then. He does so miraculously, just as He did then. We do not mean, of course, that our bread falls from heaven and lies on the ground for us to pick up each morning. We do not mean that we do not suffer from swollen feet as we make our pilgrimage to the heavenly land of Canaan, or from any hurt or harm.

God’s provision for His people is miraculous in that He makes all things work together for their good (Rom. 8:28) and that for Christ’s sake. Never does He give them stones for bread or fail to give them His Spirit (Luke 11:9-13). They may have empty stomachs but He never fails even in that to feed their souls unto life everlasting. They may suffer and be ill, but it is all part of that great healing which will bring them to the land they have not seen but love. They may suffer physically, but God keeps them in spiritual health and strength until that day when “the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them” (Rev. 21:3).

Nor does God always tell His people how He will provide, no more than He tells us how He provided for Israel’s beasts. But that makes no difference. It drives us to trust in Him, and to believe that He will never leave or forsake His own. How foolish we are when we, like the Israelites, living out of the hand of God Himself, say by our murmuring and complaining, by our lack of trust, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:7).

In riches and poverty, in health and sickness, in fruitful and barren years, God provides. He is Jehovah Jireh (Gen. 22:14), Jehovah Provider. He provides salvation and eternal life, fellowship with Himself and such blesssedness that it has not entered our hearts to imagine. All else pales in comparison. What does it matter if we have insufficient to eat or are in poor health, when He has given us His only-begotten Son, making sure in all the circumstances of life that nothing will ever separate us from His love in Christ Jesus our Lord. What do a few days of poor health mean when we remember that before long “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Rev. 21:4).

Let us trust in Him and say, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Hab. 3:17-19).

He who cares for the little sparrow will certainly care for His own eternally loved, blood-bought and Spirit in-dwelt people.   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

Covenant Reformed News - June 2023

Covenant Reformed News

June 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 14


Clothed With Christ (1)

Galatians 3:27 states that all of God’s people “have put on Christ.” To be clothed with Christ is to be covered with the robe of His righteousness (Isa. 61:10), the “best robe” (cf. Luke 15:22). This garment was fashioned by the Lord Jesus Himself through His perfect obedience to His Father during all of His life on earth and it is reckoned to us by faith alone. But this is not all that is meant by Galatians 3:27, for the verse says not that we “have put on righteousness” but that we “have put on Christ.”

We are also adorned with our Saviour’s holiness. We are not here thinking of Christ’s holiness imputed to us in justification, but of His holiness imparted to us in sanctification through the Holy Spirit and by faith. Thus we are clothed with the garments of all His salvation (cf. Isa. 61:10).

The word “Christ” means anointed, for Jesus was called and equipped by the Holy Spirit for His threefold office. Therefore, to put on Christ is to share in His anointing as Christians. We are dressed in the rough garments of camel’s hair as prophets (II Kings 1:8; Zech. 13:4; Mark 1:6). Thus we call men to repent before the Most High God who is the judge of all men. We are attired in the white linen of priests, because we are consecrated to God to offer up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. We are arrayed in the royal robes of true and godly kings or queens. These are far more splendid than the regal garments of Ahab seated on his throne in Samaria (II Chron. 18:9).

Jesus Christ is the express image of God (II Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) so those clothed with Him are in the divine likeness. In Christ, we are adorned with the knowledge of God (not merely human traditions), we are attired with righteousness and we are arrayed in holiness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

Let us, first, consider the extent of this wonderful garment. The Lord Jesus is certainly not a patch or two over the old man. In terms of an item of clothing in our culture, we are not speaking here of something akin to trousers or socks or a coat. Our spiritual garment is more like an overall or a boiler suit or a onesie that covers us all over. He is our all-encompassing clothing that leaves no bare skin (as it were) for all is covered.

Notice too that Christ is our one-and-only clothing and not merely one of several garments. We are not attired with Jesus and Adam. We are not arrayed with Christ and the law. We are adorned with Christ alone!

Second, let us contemplate the permanence of this garment. Like Israel’s raiment in the wilderness which did not wax old (Deut. 8:4; 29:5; Neh. 9:21), this is clothing that never wears out. It is extremely hard wearing, even incorruptible, and no moth or worm will ever eat it up or even nibble part of it (cf. Isa. 50:9; 51:8).

This spiritual clothing is never taken off, unlike the attire of Joseph in Genesis. He was stripped of his beautiful coat of many colours by his brothers, he wriggled out of his garment to escape the clutches of Potiphar’s wife and he discarded his prison clothes before entering Pharaoh’s presence.

Christ our clothing is not taken off by our backsliding, though, by such wicked disobedience, we defile our conscience and bring reproach upon His name. We are not even stripped of Jesus our garment at death, for this is the only clothing that is taken with us into the next life!

Third, let us turn to the possession of this garment. We are truly covered by real spiritual clothing that belongs to us personally by God’s grace. We are not wearing the emperor’s new clothes, for we are not naked, as those possessed only of a foolish notion.

The Christian is not an impostor, putting on a garment that does not belong to him, like Jacob, who dressed up as Esau in Genesis 27. In claiming this clothing, the child of God is not merely trying to deceive others or even himself.

The Christian must not suffer from impostor’s syndrome, wracked with an awful insecurity: “I’m not really clothed with Christ, am I? One day I will be found out!” Trust in Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners! By faith, you have lawfully and rightly acquired this divine clothing through God’s abounding mercy!

Christ is your personal clothing, child of God! This is not a false claim. It is a divinely given covenant possession, for all true believers “have put on Christ.”

The most astounding feature of our spiritual garment, and probably the hardest thing about it to grasp, is that our clothing is a Person! Our attire is not an external ethical code: the law of Moses, as was the position of the Judaizers in Galatia. Our raiment is not even our Redeemer’s blessings or benefits, or His offices, though these things are included in our clothing and have been mentioned earlier. Galatians 3:27 asserts that we “have put on Christ” Himself—a Person, even the Second Person of the blessed Trinity in our flesh, who died for our sins and is now seated in heaven.

Since we are clothed with Him, we even look like Christ spiritually. As those re­created in the image of God and of Jesus, we bear an ethical resemblance to Christ to some degree in the eyes of other people, whether believers or unbelievers, though they can only see the outside of us and their understanding is imperfect. We look like Christ to God, for He sees us “in” His beloved Son and we are clothed with Christ. As John Chrysostom put it, “He who is clothed appears to be that with which he is clothed.”

Clothed with Jesus, we have His standing and we are the objects of God’s favour. We are clothed with Christ’s character, clothed with His mind and will, and clothed with His graces, sentiments, virtues and life—for we are clothed with Him! Rev. Angus Stewart


The Days of Noah (2)

We continue here our answer to a number of questions about Noah and the ark. Since the questions we are answering are not only three in number but rather lengthy, instead of quoting them again, we will summarize the two matters that still need to be addressed:

1. The Spirit’s “striving” in Genesis 6:3: “Was the Spirit’s ‘striving’ an attempt of God to save all?”

2. The size of the ark: “Although the ark wasn’t big enough to accommodate the entire world, nevertheless, the very fact that it could have held many more people than just Noah’s family testifies that the well-meant offer of salvation is real—that there is room for more to be saved than just the elect; that Christ and His atonement, which are pictured by the ark, are sufficient enough to save anyone—whosoever—if only they desire to go in.”

We begin with the first question. The striving of the Spirit was through the preaching of Enoch (Jude 14-15), Noah (II Pet. 2:5) and others. Sadly, some present this as if it were a gracious, though non-saving, work of the Spirit of God, even an inward work of the Spirit in the heart that restrains man’s wickedness and makes him partly good.

Certainly that was not the Spirit’s striving in Genesis 6:3. The word translated “striving” does not mean “restraining” or “trying to save.” It has the meaning the English word “striving” has. It means “fighting with” (II Sam. 19:9; Ecc. 6:10) or, more often, “judging” (Gen. 15:14; Ps. 7:8; Jer. 21:12). Nor does the striving in any way restrain or improve wicked man, for Jehovah still finds man totally depraved: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Thus, the question needs to be asked, “According to this view, does the Spirit of God strive in vain?” If this striving was gracious and by way of waiting for the repentance of the unbelieving world, then it was in vain, and that is no credit to the Holy Spirit but a denial of God’s sovereignty in salvation.

Those who believe the 120 years Noah spent building the ark were a period of grace and lovingkindness, and who insist that the striving is evidence of God’s grace to all, ignore the fact that Genesis 6:3 says the opposite. God’s striving, whatever it may be, gives man only another 120 years before God destroys the world for its wickedness.

That this striving was through the preaching of Enoch and Noah is also to the point, for, as we have seen, Noah was not preaching God’s love for all men without exception or His supposed desire to save everyone, but “righteousness” (II Pet. 2:5) in the case of the unbelieving world, the righteousness of God as Judge. Enoch is also described as prophesying judgment: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14-15). That is God’s striving, the striving of One who is the sovereign judge of mankind, and not someone who wants to, but cannot, save everyone and who is helpless in the face of man’s rebellion and unbelief, who waits for a while, but finally, in frustration, gives up and destroys mankind.

The second question, that of the matter of the ark’s size, is simply answered. The ark was so large, not to show “that there is room for more to be saved than just the elect; that Christ and His atonement, which are pictured by the ark, are sufficient enough to save anyone.” Rather the ark was built so large because it had to accommodate the thousands of creatures that went with Noah in the ark and their food. How anyone could turn that into a picture of a supposed desire of God to save all men, is beyond me.

I find it rather humorous, in fact, that whoever is being quoted by our reader, admits that the ark was not large enough to save the whole world. Is the ark, then, a picture of a desire on God’s part to save more than the elect but not everybody, and of His inability to save these extra people? Such fanciful interpretations of the Word of God only involve one in contradictions and nonsense.

Worse, such aberrant theology makes God dependent on the will of man: “that there is room for more to be saved than just the elect; that Christ and His atonement, which are pictured by the ark, are sufficient enough to save anyone—whosoever—if only they desire to go in.” That denies the divine sovereignty, for “our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3), especially His sovereignty in His gracious salvation, for it “is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).

Nevertheless, the size of the ark does suggest an important biblical truth about God’s saving purpose and the wideness of His mercy. His saving purpose is universal, not in the sense that it somehow or other embraces all men without exception, but in that it embraces the rest of the creation (even then not every single creature), which God gathered into the ark with Noah. It shows that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

Magnifying Christ and His work, Colossians 1:19-21 declares that, “it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you ... hath he reconciled ...” The blessings of Christ’s finished work extend not to all men without exception, but to all things in heaven and earth, as well as to us.

The size of the ark shows the greatness of God’s saving work and of the work of Christ, the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God, not to all men without exception but to all things He has created, to the world in that sense. He shows us that to humble us. Though God, in His unspeakable love and wonderful mercy, has chosen to save us, we are not everything in the purpose of God. He will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Eph. 1:10-12). 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. • •

Covenant Reformed News - May 2023

Covenant Reformed News

May 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 13


The Days of Noah (1)

We have a number of different though related questions from the same reader and, since they all concern Noah and the building of the ark, we will treat them together in this article and the next, DV. The brother first quotes from Genesis 7: “And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark … For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth … And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth” (1, 4, 10). He then summarizes three arguments used by advocates of various forms of universal grace:

1. The “Seven More Days” Argument. God tells Noah to go into the ark but does He then immediately bring the flood? No. He waits seven more days. Why is that? Isn’t this a gracious act of kindness and benevolence on God’s part? For He was, essentially, delaying His judgment upon the earth, even if only for seven more days. From the perspective of election, all the elect were in the ark. It seems that the door of the ark was only shut and sealed by God after those seven days. Do we not see here God giving one more chance for anyone outside the ark to be saved? What else does this seven-day delay mean?

2. The “Size of the Ark” Argument. The sheer size of the ark that God instructed Noah to build was immense and testifies to the availableness of salvation. Although the ark wasn’t big enough to accommodate the entire world, nevertheless, the very fact that it could have held many more people than just Noah’s family testifies that the well-meant offer of salvation is real—that there is room for more to be saved than just the elect; that Christ and His atonement, which are pictured by the ark, are sufficient to save anyone—whosoever—if only they desire to go in. If, as it is claimed, there is no such benevolence, offer or desire of God for anyone other than the elect to be saved, surely God would have had an ark built that would have only enough room for Noah’s family and no one else—indisputably implying that there would be no de facto allowance for other persons to come into the ark, even if they desired to, and that the atonement would not be sufficient for such individuals.

3. The “120 Years of Preaching” Argument. If you want to kill another bird with the same stone, I have an additional point that’s related to the two Noah questions I have presented above. It’s the notion that the 120 years of Noah’s preaching to the world (Gen. 6:3; II Pet. 2:5) is another example or proof for the well-meant offer. For example, why would God postpone the judgment for 120 years unless He was giving the world a chance to repent? Was Noah preaching a well-meant offer gospel to all men? Wasn’t God gracious to all men in allowing them 120 years more? Aren’t these 120 years a sort of divine patience toward all of the predeluvian world? Especially as, in those days, only Noah and his family were of the elect. Was the Spirit’s “striving” an attempt of God to save all?

In answer to the first question (#1) about the seven days between God’s command and the coming of the flood, my understanding is that the divine command to Noah came seven days before Noah finished the business of getting all the animals, as well as his family, into the ark (Gen. 7:7-9), at which time the ark was closed up by the hand of God and the rain began to fall. The main reason for the “delay,” therefore, was the work that Noah still had to do.

Some commentators erroneously view the seven days as a period of longsuffering or grace shown by God toward the unbelieving and reprobate world. The same view is held of the 120 years it took to build the ark (cf. #3 above). Lutheran theologians, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, in their commentary on the Pentateuch, call the 120 years “the period of grace,” though even they admit that it had passed when God told Noah to enter the ark.

That the seven days (#1) or the 120 years (#3) are God’s grace to the unbelieving and wicked world is very difficult to see, to put it mildly. Scripture tells us that the Lord beheld their great wickedness (Gen. 6:5), repented of His creation of man (6), and announced His intention to destroy humanity, the animals and the birds (7). How then is any “delay,” whether 7 days or 120 years, gracious when God does not grant repentance to any of those who remained unbelieving when Noah and his family entered the ark? How is it mercy, when the “delay” only serves their continuing in unbelief and wickedness? Does grace serve that purpose? With the passage of time, men increase in wickedness and folly, and fill up the cup of their iniquity (Gen. 15:16; I Thess. 2:16), but that is not because God is loving and gracious to them.

The answer of many would be that God was giving them a chance to repent and believe, but repentance and faith are never a mere chance. Repentance and faith are certain, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God to those whom He has eternally chosen in Christ: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10; cf. Acts 11:18). Grace, because it is the grace of God, is powerful and saving. It never fails and is never wasted or in vain.

Our reader’s third question has to do with the 120 years (Gen. 6:3) it took to build the ark. These 120 years are alleged to reflect God’s supposed common grace, universal mercy and general lovingkindness towards all those who perished. But the only mention of grace in this passage of Scripture is towards Noah: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (8)! He alone, and he in contrast to the rest of the world, was shown grace. Nor is “delay” grace, unless one believes that salvation is a mere chance, available to all, and that God was giving men the chance to be saved by the right exercise of their alleged free will. In that case, however, why did God wait only 120 years? Why not longer? Is His supposed common grace or mercy really so limited?

One reason for this “delay” is simply that Noah had work to do, the work of building the ark. It was a huge project and would be even today. Another reason for the 120 years is that in the purpose of God only Noah and his family were to be saved in the ark (Gen. 6:18), but others in the line of the covenant were still living. Methuselah died during the year of the flood and Noah’s father, Lamech, departed only a year or two before.

God had His purpose in letting them live so long. The writing of the Bible had not yet begun so the truth had to be transmitted orally. The long lives of the prediluvian patriarchs served that purpose. Methuselah and Lamech would both have heard the story of creation and the fall from Adam himself, and they would have been able to pass it on to Noah. Not only was there merely one link between Adam and Noah, but Noah would have been able to pass it on first-hand to Abraham! But only Noah and his immediate family were to be saved in the ark, and so the others died during the 120 years.

As to Noah’s preaching during the 120 years (II Pet. 2:5), the Word of God does not say that he preached a failing divine love for all without exception or a common grace of God or that he “offered” salvation to those who witnessed the building of the ark. Scripture instructs us that he preached “righteousness,” that is, the righteousness of God which is the condemnation of the world, but which the Messiah merited and revealed, and is given through faith alone in Him. No doubt Noah preached the necessity of repentance towards God and faith in the coming seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), but that is not common grace. It is simply the call of the blessed gospel.

Hebrews 11:7 bears this out: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” The building of the ark was the condemnation of the world and only Noah was heir of the righteousness which he preached. I Peter 3:20 says that “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing,” but the question is, for what was it waiting? Was it waiting for the possible salvation of everyone to whom Noah preached? Romans 9:22-23 is a loud “No” to that idea for the longsuffering of God only endures or puts up with “the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” while it waits to “make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” At that time, Noah and those of his family were those “vessels of mercy.”

There are a number of matters that we have not covered in this article, particularly the “size of the ark” argument (#2) and the Spirit’s “striving” (Gen. 6:3), an aspect of argument #3. Thus we will continue our discussion of Noah, the ark and an alleged common or general grace in the next issue, DV. Rev. Ron Hanko


Vessels of Wrath Fitted to Destruction

“What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction …?” (Rom. 9:22). A reader asks, “Are ‘the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’ by themselves (as many advocates of a divine desire to save the reprobate claim) or by God?”

Of course, it is true that humans who perish eternally do fit themselves for their destruction by their unbelief and other sins. They themselves are morally responsible for their damnation; God is not to blame. Belgic Confession 13 declares, in the context of God’s almighty providential government even over evil, that He is not “the author of … sins.” But this ethical responsibility of lost sinners is not the teaching of Romans 9:22.

The text clearly teaches that Almighty God fits the vessels of wrath to destruction. First, the verb form is passive: they are fitted. Romans 9:22 does not state that the vessels fit themselves, actively, for destruction but that they are fitted by Another. As the first part of verse 22 indicates, this Other is “God,” who is “willing” (i.e., desiring) to show His wrath upon the vessels of wrath and to make His power known upon them.

Second, the thought of all of Romans 9 is the sovereignty of God in damnation, as well as in salvation. God hardens whom He wills or wishes or wants or desires (18). God is the omnipotent Potter who (actively) makes vessels “unto dishonour” (21). The thought of verse 22, in its close relation with verse 23, is that just as God prepares some humans unto glory so He fits others unto destruction.

How does God fit some to destruction? The fitting of verse 22 is not the eternal decree of reprobation itself, but an activity of God upon and within some humans that carries out the decree of reprobation. God has sovereignly reprobated some in the same predestinating decree in which He has elected others unto eternal life. This damnation is in the way of God’s fitting the reprobate for their destruction. This fitting consists of their condemnation and total depravity in the fall of Adam, God’s hardening of them by the preaching of the gospel and His giving them over to all their other sins.

Some who claim that Romans 9:22 teaches that the vessels of wrath fit themselves for destruction and who oppose the doctrine that God fits them profess to be Calvinists. I confront them, therefore, with Calvin’s own explanation of “the vessels of wrath” in Romans 9:22: “That they were ‘fitted to destruction’ by their own wickedness is an idea so silly that it needs no notice. It is indeed true that the reprobate procure to themselves the wrath of God and that they daily hasten the falling of its weight upon their own heads, but it must be confessed by all that the apostle is here treating of that difference made between the elect and the reprobate that proceeds from the secret will and purpose of God alone” (Calvin’s Calvinism [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009], p. 66).

Who are the genuine Calvinists? Those who reject and twist the apostle’s confession of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:22, and outrightly contradict Calvin’s explanation of the text and hold a view which he calls “so silly,” or all those who faithfully confess Jehovah’s sovereignty and stand with Calvin on Romans 9:22? Prof. David J. Engelsma


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. • •
Subscribe to this RSS feed

Contact Details


  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Reading Sermon Library
  • Taped Sermon Library

Synodical Officers

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Interim)
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Synodical Committees

  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classical Officers

Classis East
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Classis West
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.