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 2021


Covenant Reformed News

October 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 18

God’s Chariot Departs From the Temple

In the last issue of the News, we saw that the four cherubs or living creatures or angels of Ezekiel 10 each possess four faces and four wings. Now we note that every one of them has hands (1:8; 10:21). Probably these cherubs had two hands each since angels in Scripture are presented as having a largely human form: “the hands of a man” (21). Next month, we will say more about the important use to which one angel’s hand is put, DV. Here we merely observe that horses that pull earthly chariots are excellent beasts but, given that they have no hands, there are a lot of things that they cannot do!

These four living creatures with four faces, four wings and (two) hands are also full of eyes (12), like the four wheels. Their amazing vision enables the cherubs to avoid any collisions and escape all attacks.

Having concluded our consideration of the wheels and steeds of the divine chariot in Ezekiel 10, we now turn to its platform. In earthly chariots in biblical times, the platform was made of wood or metal. Thus we read of Sisera’s 900 “chariots of iron” (Judg. 4:3). This is Ezekiel’s description of the platform above the angels: “the likeness of the firmament [i.e., expanse] upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above” (1:22). Whatever it was, the platform had a crystalline sparkle that induced awe!

There were no seats in the chariots of Old Testament days. Depending on the size and function of the vehicle, one or two or three men stood in the chariot, which must have been tiring over long distances. So what was above the platform of the divine chariot? Ezekiel “looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne” (10:1). The word rendered “sapphire” is lapis lazuli. Resting upon the platform of God’s chariot is a brilliant deep blue throne made of one gorgeous stone!

A chariot in the ancient world was a sign of wealth, power and prestige, but what about God’s chariot in Ezekiel? It moves on four gigantic, omnidirectional wheels full of eyes; it is pulled by four cherubs with four faces, four wings and (two) hands; it has a platform of brilliant crystal, on which rests a throne of sparkling blue lapis lazuli!

Now that we have explained the nature of Jehovah’s magnificent chariot, we turn to its movement in connection with God’s glory. In the Old Testament, as is well known, God’s glory cloud was over the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, the most sacred part of Solomon’s temple.

Jehovah’s chariot (with its wheels, living creatures, platform and throne) moves to the south of the door of the temple building: “Now the cherubims [conveying God’s chariot] stood on the right side [i.e., south] of the house” (3). The divine conveyance has taxied into position.

God’s glory cloud now leaves the ark in the holy of holies and moves to the temple entrance or the threshold of this mighty edifice: “Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub [in the inner sanctum], and stood over the threshold of the house [i.e., temple]; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory” (4).

Thus God’s glory cloud is at the temple threshold and His chariot is just to the south in the inner court. The four living creatures are, as it were, raring to go: “And the sound of the cherubims’ wings was heard even to the outer court, as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaketh” (5). Like motorbikes revving loudly on the grid of a grand prix, the angels are eager to get started. Once God’s glory cloud mounts the throne of His chariot, they will be off!

Indeed, this is what happens, for Jehovah enters His magnificent chariot and sits on His throne: “Then the glory of the Lord departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims” (18). Next, God’s glory leaves the temple building and its precincts: “And the cherubims lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight: when they went out, the wheels also were beside them, and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord’s house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above” (19). Almighty God has departed from His temple!

So what is the lesson in all this for us? Ezekiel 10 teaches that a congregation or denomination can (and often does) apostatize, like Judah, so that the Triune God leaves it. This stands over against the Church of Rome’s claim that it is indefectible, that it cannot depart from God’s Word so that He departs from it. Rome states that, whereas individuals within her communion may apostatize, it is impossible for the church or institute of Roman Catholicism ever to do so.

The truth is that it is not only possible for Rome to apostatize and for God to leave it, but that this happened a long time ago! Rome is committed to evolutionism and higher criticism of sacred Scripture. It denies God’s all-encompassing providence and the infallibility of the Bible. The papacy’s seven sacraments are unbiblical, including baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, masses for the dead, the worship of the wafer and the last rites. Rome’s doctrines of Mariolatry, free will, salvation by works, purgatory, indulgences, etc., are an attack on God’s sovereign grace and Christ’s cross (Gal. 2:20).

Moreover, any church or denomination can fall way and many have. In the history of Protestantism, some churches are now false and others no longer exist in any form. But this will have to wait until the next issue of the News, DV. Rev. Angus Stewart


The Advantage of the Jews

One of our readers writes, “In Romans 3, Paul says that the Jews, as a people, had an ‘advantage’ compared to the Gentiles in that ‘unto them were committed the oracles of God’ (1-2). Were not the Jews, therefore, externally blessed in this regard? They had tremendous access to the Word of God, not only in written form, but they also heard it directly from the prophets themselves—whereas the rest of the world were not given this (Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:2). The Jews also had the rite of circumcision and the privilege of being the covenant people of God. Paul writes in Romans 9 that to them, as a people, also pertained ‘the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises’ and even the privilege of being the very people ‘of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came’ (4-5). Were they not therefore blessed in this regard, having been given so many advantages, privileges and benefits? Similarly, surely a child born into a believing household can be said to be advantaged. He has the Scriptures read to him by his parents, he hears the gospel preached in church, and is even baptized and included as a member of a church, whereas children born outside the church to unbelieving parents are not given such an advantage; they’re not blessed in this way …”

The brother who submitted the question is correct in using the word “tremendous” to describe the privileges the Jews enjoyed in the Old Testament and still enjoy in some ways in the New Testament age. Romans 9:4-5 describes many of those privileges and so do other passages, such as Deuteronomy 4:7-8: “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” and Deuteronomy 4:20: “But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day” (cf. 4:32-36). Romans 11:23-27 speaks of the privilege they still enjoy.

The brother is also right in suggesting that these privileges are the “advantage” to which the Word of God refers in Romans 3:1-2. Their advantage was not that they were able to save themselves by their own works, that is, by the works of the law, but simply that they were given privileges which the heathen nations were not given. As Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22) or was in Old Testament days, before our Lord’s atoning death and His pouring out the Holy Spirit.

As the brother points out, these privileges are similar to those enjoyed by a child born into a covenant home, whose parents are believers. It is not only a covenant child, however, who enjoys such privileges but anyone who is a member of a faithful Christian church, whose friends and family are fellow believers, who has the Word of God (the “oracles” of Romans 3:1-2) at hand, who hears the preaching of the gospel regularly and who, in times of need, has others who will help and pray for him. Some even enjoy the privilege of working for a Christian employer or with believers.

These privileges or advantages are not to be taken lightly. They are means God uses for the salvation of elect covenant children, and for our growth in grace and knowledge. He shows us that He is pleased to use such means when they work for our own spiritual profit and the profit of others, but He also reminds us that He is sovereign and depends on no one and nothing when these privileges bear no good fruit, as among many of the Jews. When a child goes astray in spite of the instruction and example he received, and when our efforts to help and admonish a brother are in vain, then God especially shows that salvation is of the Lord.

Nevertheless, when God does use them for good, they are inestimable blessings. They work, as do all things, for the salvation and good of those who love God and who are the called according to His purpose. But the crucial question is, Are they also blessings to those who do not profit from them, like the unbelieving Jews? Does God bestow mercy, grace, lovingkindness upon those who ultimately perish in unbelief?

That God does not show grace, mercy, lovingkindness to those who perish is the teaching of the CPRC and the PRC, the churches to which I belong. If some of our readers are interested in further reading on that point there is material in the CPRC bookstore and on the CPRC website (

Several things must be remembered as far as the good things received by the reprobate are concerned: (1) they are temporal and temporary only; (2) they have nothing to do with any saving grace of God in Jesus Christ for them.

It is not wrong to say that God gives good things to those who never believe and who perish in their unbelief, but that does not mean He loves them or shows favour to them. In fact, such things are cursed by God and work for the ruin of the reprobate who receive them (Ps. 73:18-20). They leave their recipients under greater condemnation.

Jesus makes that clear in His words of judgment against Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum (Matt. 11:21-24): “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (cf. Matt. 12:41-42).

It all comes down to this: “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). We, who profess to follow Jesus Christ, have many privileges and blessings, and we must be thankful to the living God for them, treasure them, profit from them and use them well or we stand where the unbelieving Jews stood, who had everything taken away from them for their hardness of heart, unthankfulness and disobedience. 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 2021

Covenant Reformed News

September 2021 • Volume XVIII, Issue 17

The Wheels and Steeds of God’s Chariot

Ezekiel 10 contains an amazing theophany or appearance of Almighty God. We behold His glory cloud and throne, as well as four huge wheels and four cherubs, with eyes filling both the four wheels and the four cherubs.

But what is going on in Ezekiel 10? What unifies the various elements of the theophany or vision of God? The divine chariot! And what a chariot it is!

What is the idea of the chariot in Ezekiel 10? In a nutshell, Jehovah in His awesome chariot is leaving His temple in Jerusalem because of Judah’s grievous sins. Then, and only then, will the city fall and the house of God be destroyed.

Chariots were the most expensive and impressive means of conveyance in the biblical world. Wealthy and powerful King Solomon was the first in Israel to acquire chariots on a national scale and station them in strategic cities (I Kings 4:26; 9:19; 10:26). Chariots indicated regal splendour and military might.

Pharaoh’s Egyptian army was not the only force with chariots at the Red Sea. There Jehovah rode upon His “horses” and “chariots of salvation” (Hab. 3:8). Psalm 104:3-4 proclaims that God “maketh the clouds his chariot,” “walketh upon the wings of the wind” and “maketh his angels spirits,” “his ministers a flaming fire.” According to Psalm 18:10, the Lord “rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.” This psalm goes on to speak of His majestic presence in terms of “darkness,” “thick clouds,” “brightness,” “hail stones,” “coals of fire” and “lightnings” (11-14).

What about chariot wheels? In the ancient world, man-made chariots had either two or four wheels, with the four-wheeled chariots being larger, more costly and more powerful. Jehovah’s chariot has four identical wheels in Ezekiel 1 and 10.

The wheels of earthly chariots were a few feet in diameter but those of the divine chariot are “so high that they were dreadful” (1:18). Imagine, for a moment, four wheels that are each, say, 45 yards or 50 metres high!

In Ezekiel’s visions, God’s chariot has wheels within wheels (1:16; 10:10). In English literature and language, “wheels within wheels” is a metaphor for that which is highly complicated, often involving secret scheming and machinations.

However, when Ezekiel describes the four wheels of God’s chariot “as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel” (10), he is stating that these wheels are omnidirectional. Jehovah has no trouble in manoeuvring His chariot, unlike the difficulty a human charioteer has in turning a man-made chariot with its wheels.

Whereas earthly chariot wheels contained nails or other means of attachment, God’s chariot wheels are filled with eyes (1:18; 10:12). This imagery strikes us as surreal and unnerving. In Ezekiel’s vision, the point is that even God’s wheels have eyes to see and can see everything, bespeaking the divine omniscience.

One of the major dangers for those in earthly chariots in a battle was that they could not see everything that was going on in the melee. They did not have eyes in the back of their heads, as we often put it. How different for the all-seeing and all-knowing Triune God when He rides forth in His chariot!

Have you grasped it? Four gigantic omnidirectional wheels filled with eyes! These are the amazing wheels of the stupendous chariot of the omniscient divine rider!

In Old Testament times, chariots were pulled by two or three or four horses, but who or what pulls God’s chariot? Ezekiel 1 refers to them as four “living creatures” (5, 13-15, 19-22), bursting with vitality and vigour, unlike the beasts of burden that grow tired.

Ezekiel 10 identifies the four living creatures as cherubs (15, 20) who protect and guard the divine presence (cf. Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:20). That these living creatures or cherubs are angels is evident from the Psalms, for a cherub pulls the divine chariot in one place (18:10) but angels perform this task in another text (104:3-4). Pharaoh, Solomon and Nebuchadnezzar doubtless chose their most powerful horses to pull their chariots, but, unlike the Most High God, they did not have mighty angels to perform this work!

Each of the four angels has four faces: the faces of a man, an ox (a domestic animal), a lion (a wild animal) and an eagle (a bird). These four angelic steeds far excel horses that pull an earthly chariot, for each possesses and vastly surpasses the intelligence of a man, the strength of an ox, the royalty of a lion and the flight of an eagle.

Each of the four cherubs not only has four faces but also four wings. With their wings, the living creatures can move the chariot up (the angels are under the chariot, not in front of it) and down, as well as backward and forward. Thus God’s chariot not only has four omnidirectional wheels but four heavenly steeds that can move in any direction.

With their wings, the living creatures can speed the chariot very fast, much quicker than any prize stallions. Yet this rapid, omnidirectional conveyance of the divine chariot by the cherubs is effortless. To rise, they simply lift up their wings (Eze. 10:16, 19; 11:22); no flapping is needed (1:9). To stand still, they merely let down their wings (24-25). Unlike horses, their legs and feet always stay straight (7).

The living creatures move the wheels and the chariot fast, yet effortlessly, and omnidirectionally, yet perfectly smoothly. No lengthy turning manoeuvres are needed. God’s chariot never lists to one side or gets stuck in a rut. There is a perfect correspondence between the movement of the four angels and that of the chariot’s four wheels, “for the spirit of the living creature was in them” (10:17; 1:20, 21). Imagine the smooth conveyance of an earthly chariot if the spirit of the horse were also in the wheels! Rev. Stewart


A Shipwrecked Faith

The question I’ve chosen to answer in this issue of the News is this: “In I Timothy 1:19 we read, ‘Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.’ Arminians argue that a man who is said to have ‘shipwrecked’ his faith is someone who once had true saving faith but who, through his sinful way of life, is now lost and will perish everlastingly. How else are we to understand what Paul is talking about here?”

Before answering the question, it should be noted that Paul is speaking to Timothy as a minister of the gospel and through him to every minister of the gospel. Those who preach the gospel of grace must themselves be examples of what they preach. They must themselves believe the gospel, holding fast to the Word of God, and they must live a life of moral purity. The exhortation of the apostle Paul, therefore, is timely especially today when we hear so often of the lamentable falls of those who bring the gospel and of other preachers who seem to believe nothing.

Most commentators take “faith” to refer to the (objective) faith, the doctrines and teaching of the Word of God, but that is not the way the word is used in the context. In every other reference in I Timothy 1 (2, 4, 5, 14), the reference is to the grace of believing. That, however, makes the question we are answering even more urgent. Those of whom Paul speaks did not just put away the (objective) faith but faith itself. Did they first have true saving faith and then put it away?

Since we believe the great biblical doctrine of the preservation and perseverance of the saints, we know that saving faith and a good conscience cannot be lost, nor can those who really have them go shipwreck. Jesus says in John 6:37-40, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Faith and a good conscience once received as a gift of God cannot be lost (Phil. 1:6; I Pet. 1:5). Faith and a good conscience were purchased for God’s own at the cross and given to us by the Spirit, and neither the work of the Son nor the work of the Spirit can be in vain.

But what does the Word of God in I Timothy 1:19 mean, then?

Some explain the passage by focusing on the word shipwreck and suggesting that shipwreck does not necessarily mean that those who are shipwrecked perish everlastingly. They may only suffer loss. In other words, Paul is describing those who wander from the right way and suffer spiritually as a result, but repent and return, and so are saved. That explanation might work except that Paul is talking about Hymenaeus and Alexander (20), who were blasphemers and heretics (cf. II Tim. 2:17-18), and whom Paul had committed to Satan (I Tim. 1:20), and who, as far as we know, never repented of their evil deeds and doctrines.

Paul uses a word translated “put away,” but this does not imply that these wicked men ever had true faith and a good conscience. The same word is used of the unbelieving Jews in Acts 13:46 and the translation there gives a better sense of what the word means: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” The Jews to whom Paul spoke never had saving faith and a good conscience, but, when those things were preached to them, they “pushed them away” and “rejected” them.

That is what the evildoers of I Timothy 1:19-20 did, especially Hymenaeus and Alexander. Though they had been in the church for a time, they had in word and deed rejected faith and a good conscience—they never believed and never lived the kind of life that gives a good conscience before God. One can put away and reject what one never had in one’s heart.

In II Timothy 2:17-18, Hymanaeus is mentioned again, along with another man named Philetus. They denied the future bodily resurrection and so overthrew “the faith of some.” Some believed their lies and not the truths of Scripture, and that troubled others in the church, suggesting to them that it is possible to have faith and a good conscience, but then lose everything. Paul tells those worriers in II Timothy 2 that God’s people cannot be lost: “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (19).

It should also be noted that in I Timothy 1:19 the Word of God does not say that they put away faith. It states that “some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” In rejecting crucial teachings of Scripture, they also rejected faith in Christ as the only way of salvation, and the necessity of a holy and God-glorifying life. They did not really believe and in their unbelief they made shipwreck concerning faith.

The reference to shipwreck does not mean either that they were shipwrecked but managed to salvage something in the end. It refers to the complete destruction of the “ship” in which they sailed and of themselves. To make shipwreck concerning faith and a good conscience does not leave any hope of salvage.

It is understandable, though, that the apostasy of some distresses the people of God, for men like Hymenaeus and Alexander are often very knowledgeable and prominent in the church, have a reputation for piety and are looked up to by many. They may even be ministers of the gospel whose falls Satan uses to attack the assurance of some.

It is important in such cases to remember what the Word says in II Timothy 2:19. God knows who are His own, and His knowledge of them is eternal, unchangeable, almighty and saving. They cannot be lost and cannot lose what God has given them. Also believers, by departing from iniquity, show that they are different from those who make shipwreck concerning faith and a good conscience. 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 - 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: • Live broadcast:
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: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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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: • Live broadcast:
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
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Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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