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Covenant PRC, N. Ireland Newsletter - June 2020

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Dear saints,

Attached is the latest letter from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena, N. Ireland.

It contains 5 sections:

  • End of Our Mission Field
  • Coronavirus Lockdown
  • Redirected Labours
  • Main Website Developments
  • Slowly Returning to Normality

Some highlights:

Regarding the number of translations in our top languages, we have 1 in the 500s (552 Italian), 1 in the 400s (483 Portuguese), 1 in the 300s (301 Hun-garian), 1 in the 200s (222 Spanish) and 4 in the 100s (169 German, 161 Burmese, 150 Indonesian and 138 Afrikaans). Especially to help new transla-tors, we created this webpage, “Translating for the CPRC Website: Questions and Answers” (https://cprc.co.uk/articles/translatingforwebsite). This would be a good link to send to anyone you think might be both willing and able to assist us with this project.

We designed, printed, collated and stapled 1,000 copies of a new CPRC Book catalogue (https://cprc. co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Book-Catalogue-2020.pdf).

After a lot of time because of red tape, we man-aged to prove to PayPal that the CPRC is indeed a charity, so that we could qualify for lower charges for using their services on our website. First, Mary enabled people in the UK to pay for our books and box sets of CDs or DVDs on-line by PayPal or bank transfer, and it has been working well (https://cprc.co.uk/bookstore). Second, she set up a donation page, both for people in the UK (who can also contribute Gift Aid) and all the nations of the world by PayPal or bank transfer (https://cprc. co.uk/product/donations). Over the years, many people have asked us to set up such a webpage and several have used this service already. Third, saints from any country outside the UK (except America and Canada, for we do not want to “compete” with the RFPA) can now buy the products in our bookstore through PayPal or bank transfer, with the former being most convenient and least expensive for most people (https://cprc.co.uk/ordering-information). Our first international customer who used PayPal was a brother from France.

May the Lord be with you all,

Pastor Angus Stewart

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"I Am for Peace"

 This special meditation has been prepared by PRC home missionary, Rev. Aud Spriensma.

Meditation on Psalm 120: 2,6,7

 "I Am for Peace"

Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue…My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

Psalms 120- 134 are titled, “Song of Degrees” or “Song of Ascents”. The fifteen psalms are called the “Pilgrimage Songs”, sung as God’s people would travel to Jerusalem for the three great feasts of the old covenant religious calendar. How fitting they are for all believers in this world. We journey through the week, looking forward to Sunday when we can go to church to hear the gospel of peace. All of our life is a pilgrimage, with eager expectation to the time when God delivers us from this vale of tears to the Jerusalem which is above. In this pilgrimage, we sing songs of pilgrimage.

When we stand for God and His kingdom, we can expect to be slandered by a world that is opposed to God and his Word. But how sad it is when the slander and hatred come from those of our own household. If this psalm was written by David, he knew the slander of those from whom he should not expect it. Having fought battles for King Saul, David was forced to flee as King Saul sought to kill him as a troubler of Israel. Later in his life, David fled from the wrath of his own son, Absalom. Absalom presented himself to the people as one who would judge them and give them justice over against his father who was getting too old or careless. In this way, Absolom stole the hearts of the men of Israel ( I Sam. 15:4-6). Absalom lied to his father, telling him that he wanted to fulfil a vow made in Hebron to serve the Lord. But instead he gathered a strong conspiracy against his father.

Slander and lies bring disharmony, hostility, and opposition. Over against this, the Psalmist said, “I am for peace.” He desired peace with God, peace with his brethren, and even with his enemies. How is this possible? It is only as we are justified by faith alone that there can be peace with God and peace with our neighbor. By nature, as the Heidelberg Catechism instructs us, we hate God and hate our neighbors. When the psalmist stated that he was for peace, he implied his hatred for lies, strife, war, deceit, and slander.

What anguish the psalmist endured in his soul because of slander and lies. He cried, “Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.” The psalmist had confidence. He cried unto the LORD, and he heard me (vs.1).” God hates slander. What will be given to the liar and false tongue is “sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper” (vs. 4). God will shoot His hot arrows at those who slander and tell lies. This is true both now in time, and unless repented of, eternally.

This psalm is correctly the first psalm of ascent, because it is the desire of the child of God to be delivered, brought up to Jerusalem, which means, “city of peace”. The Psalmist felt as if he wa in the midst of the wicked nation of Japheth, north of Israel, or a ruthless nation from Ishmael, southeast of Israel. Both nations are used figuratively in vs. 5 to represent the psalmist’s feeling of isolation even though he resided in Israel. In Jerusalem was the temple where the peace offering was made. Jehovah spoke peace to His own through the offering.

Ultimately, this psalm finds its highest realization in Jesus Christ. “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” Jesus lives in perfect harmony with His Father in heaven. He came to make the peace offering, taking away the sins of His people. He makes the church a place of peace. How His soul was distressed when He was slandered during the duration of His ministry. He was slandered by the leaders in Jerusalem. They said He cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub, a troubler of Israel, and guilty of blasphemy because He made himself equal with God. His disciples were called liars when they said that Jesus rose from the dead. God delivered Jesus from lying lips and deceitful tongues when He raised Him from the dead and Jesus ascended into heaven.

There is a sense in which all Christians live in Meshech and Kedar; the world is no friend to grace or to God. It is easy for us to feel out of place in a world where values are the opposite of truth. God, the gift of salvation, the hope of eternal life, and our obedience to God’s laws receive mockery. When we stand for the unbreakable marriage between a man and a woman, when we oppose abortion, when we say that there is only one way to the Father, and when we hold the truth of a six-day creation, we are slandered as those that are narrow-minded, bigoted, and mean spirited. It is to be expected. Although we are in the world, we are not of it. “My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.”

But when it is fellow Christians who charge us with being hyper-Calvinists, unscientific, narrow when it comes to Sabbath observance, etc., we feel it and we feel isolated. When the devil stirs up disharmony and bitterness even in our own churches, how sad and distressed we are. Who can bring harmony and peace back? We must look and go, as the psalmist did, to the only one who can help. “In my distress I cried unto the LORD, and he heard me.” We look to Jesus, the Prince of peace, who by His offering for our sin brings peace with God and peace between fellow believers. We need to go the cross of Calvary and confess our sins of bitterness, hostility, false accusations and slander. With Him there is plenteous forgiveness and deliverance from the power of sin. By His grace we have peace with God, who hates slander, as well as peace with our fellow believers. May we, by the work of the Holy Spirit, be able to say on our pilgrimage to the city of peace, “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.” May we strive to live in harmony and love in righteousness.

Near the end of the Songs of Ascent, we have Psalm 133:

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” “...for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”

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Covenant Reformed News - June 2020

Covenant Reformed News


June 2020 • Volume XVIII, Issue 2



Faith Alone and Imputation

In three previous issues of the News, we have been considering Romans 4:2: “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.” Let us now see how the argument of this Scripture applies to various groups.

Judaism teaches that obedience to the Torah merits before God. Roman Catholicism claims that man’s own good works, performed by cooperating with divine grace, are a crucial component in his righteousness before Jehovah. According to the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision, one’s personal obedience to the Most High in this life is part of the basis of one’s justification on the last day. In Islam, keeping sharia law in the service of Allah obtains righteousness before him. The liberal Protestant looks to his churchgoing, saying of prayers, etc., as grounds for his acceptance with God. The “man in the street” thinks that, since he is a “good person” who has (supposedly) “never hurt anyone,” God would never cast him into hell.

All such foolish claims constitute boasting—people boasting to themselves and boasting about themselves to others. But such boasting is of no value before the holy God of heaven. He beholds sin in all that we do (Rom. 3:9-20; Isa. 64:6). His standard is not human or religious opinion but His own perfect moral law (Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). He is the One who sees the heart, which is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), with all its evil intentions and motives (Heb. 4:12). As the infinitely majestic One, He demands that He always be glorified as the supreme goal of all our thinking, speaking and doing. The Psalmist was right: “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Ps. 130:3).

Thus justification cannot be by man’s works, even in the tiniest little part. This shuts us up to the grand gospel truth that father Abraham was justified by faith alone, which is developed in the three clauses of Romans 4:3.

This verse begins, “For what saith the scripture?” Literally, it refers to “the scripture,” namely, Genesis 15:6, which is quoted in the rest of Romans 4:3. This verse from the first book of the Bible is the locus classicus for justification by faith alone in the Old Testament, being cited in Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23, and explained in Romans 4.

“For what saith the scripture?” Romans 4:3 continues, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” The text does not say, “Abraham worked, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” or even “Abraham believed and worked, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” The Scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

Romans 4:2 rules out in toto man’s works in his justification, while verse 3 mentions faith as the only means of justification. To echo the apostle’s earlier statement, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (3:28).

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (4:3). There are three key words or phrases in the last clause. First, “it” refers back to “believed” and so speaks of faith. Second, “counted” means imputed or reckoned to one’s account. Third, “counted … for righteousness” is equivalent to God’s gracious justification, His declaration that we are righteous or just in His sight.

Here again we oppose not only Rome, but also the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision. In their corruption of the gospel, all of these heretical movements attack gracious imputation. Yet father Abraham’s being counted or imputed righteous occurs in Genesis 15:6, the foundational Old Testament Scripture, which is quoted in Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23, and developed in Romans 4 as the equivalent of justification.

Regarding the truth of imputation, the Canons of Dordt reject the classic Arminian heresy which states, “God, having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of the law, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace” (II:R:4).

Of course, “faith itself” is not “perfect obedience” to Jehovah’s holy law and it is absurd to reckon that He would regard or impute it as such. Nor can the infinitely just God reckon man’s imperfect obedience as if it were a full and complete keeping of His pure moral standards. The Canons are correct: “these [Arminians] proclaim, as did the wicked Socinus, a new and strange justification of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church” (II:R:4).

The Scriptures do not teach that the Triune God regards faith “as if it were” righteousness or accepts faith “instead of” righteousness, as some sort of substitute for perfect obedience to Jehovah’s law. This would be ascribing to man’s faith the place and role of Christ Himself. He is the true substitute of all elect believers, for the Lord Jesus is the One who died on the cross under the wrath of God instead of us, and the One who kept the law of God in our place and for us.

The Bible says that we believe “unto” righteousness (Rom. 10:10) or that faith is reckoned to us “for” righteousness (e.g., Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3, 5, 9, 22; Gal. 3:6), not that faith is imputed to us “instead of” righteousness or “as if it were” righteousness.

Faith’s unique role in justification is that of the means or instrument that lays hold of the righteousness of God in Christ. Faith looks outside itself and away from itself to the righteousness of another, even the Lord Jesus, whose righteousness it appropriates. Faith is counted to us for righteousness as the only means by which we receive Christ’s obedience reckoned to our account! Rev. Angus Stewart

 

The Well-Meant Offer and Organic Unity (1)

I wish to apologize to readers of the News for not answering their questions sooner. One reason was the volume of questions; the other reason was my determination to complete my treatment of God’s organic dealings with His creation over several issues.

This is a fundamental difference between the Reformed faith and the Arminianism that includes the notion of a gracious offer of the gospel in which God supposedly expresses His affection for absolutely all men and, in that love, passionately desires to save the reprobate. This is rank heresy and a denial of God’s purpose in the preaching (Isa. 6:9-10; II Cor. 2:15-17). I have received a number of questions concerning this error and the teaching of Scripture. I will now respond to one of them, Romans 11:28, though briefly, in the light of what I have written earlier.

There is one warning, however. The defence of the gracious offer of the gospel to absolutely everybody is usually done by a very random and sometimes arbitrary choice of texts. Advocates of this view jump rapidly from verse to verse without carefully considering them in the light of the whole of God’s Word.

I follow Martin Luther’s view of Scripture. Heretics, he said, can always find a text that is supposed to prove their point. If one makes this his way of using Scripture, he can make Scripture teach anything he wants to prove. Luther believed that the Scriptures are an organic whole. I believe that too. The whole of Scripture is a portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ, the revelation of the God of our salvation. If one is painting a portrait, one cannot present the subject’s eyes without taking into account the whole portrait.

My Bible teacher in high school, himself belonging to a domination other than the one to which I belong, warned us of taking a verse out of its immediate context and the context of the whole of Scripture. He told us, in an unforgettable illustration, that he could prove from Scripture that we ought soon to commit suicide, quoting the following texts: “[Judas] went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5); “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37); “That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27).

While that may seem far-fetched, it is like what Arminians do. They quote John 3:16, for example, without considering the following verses or John 17:9 or Romans 9 or our Lord’s prayer in Matthew 11:25-27, where He thanks His heavenly Father that He has revealed the truth to some and hidden it from others.

It is somewhat wearisome to run after these Arminians as they, like bumble bees, flit from text to text without carefully studying any of them. Nor do the defenders of this position do their homework before coming up with question after question. Let them read Reformed literature, such as, Arthur Pink’s The Sovereignty of God or my recent book, Corrupting the Word of God, on the history of the doctrine of the well-meant offer of the gospel. (Both books are available from the CPRC Bookstore for £8 and £15, respectively, plus 10% P&P.)

Now to the Scripture: “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Rom. 11:28).

This verse is a clear illustration of the principle that a text’s interpretation must be considered in the light of its context. The context in Romans 9–11 clearly indicates that Paul is answering the question, If the gospel is being preached to the Gentiles, has God forgotten His people, the Jews? Paul answers, first of all, by saying that election and reprobation were worked out by God throughout the physical descendants of Abraham: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (9:13). Not all Israelites were saved; just read Romans 9:6-8! It is, therefore, a violation of Scripture to interpret “they” in Romans 11:28, as meaning all men head for head. It refers only to the nation of Israel and that as organically conceived.

Because of their unique place in history, the Jews as a nation are not considered as Jews head for head but as a nation that occupies a special place in God’s working out of His purpose of salvation in Christ. The nation of Israel’s special place is defined in Romans 9:4-5. Therefore, as Paul discusses the gospel preached also to the Gentiles, he uses the figure of an olive tree: Israel is the natural olive tree; the Gentiles are of the wild olive tree (11:16-24). Each branch is a generation as it grows. Once a branch of a wild olive tree is cut off, that branch (those who believe not the gospel) is lost forever.

But this is not true of the Jews. Because they are the “beloved,” the nation, organically considered, was cut down but individual Jews can yet be saved, a privilege denied the nations of the Gentiles. This privilege is granted only to the Jews. Election determines who among the Jews is saved. Therefore, the reprobate Jews are “enemies” for the sake of the Gentiles, to make room for these Gentiles in the olive tree (11:11ff.).

The questioner asks for a book that deals specifically with Romans 11:28. Let him order Herman Hoeksema’s commentary on Romans, Righteous By Faith Alone (£20 plus 10% P&P), where he will find a detailed explanation of this matter. Prof. Herman Hanko



Rev. Stewart will be interviewed by phone on Iron Sharpens Iron Radio on “Regeneration: God’s Gift of a New Heart” on Thursday, 25 June, from 4-6 PM (Eastern Time in the US) or 9-11 PM (UK time), DV. Listen live on-line (www.ironsharpensironradio.com). The audio of the previous interview on the new birth, “Supernatural and Infallible Regeneration: Most Delightful, Astonishing, Mysterious and Ineffable” (cf. Canons III/IV:12), is on a special webpage containing sermons, articles, and box sets of CDs and DVDs on this beautiful subject (www.cprc.co.uk/resources-on-regeneration).


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

This special meditation has been prepared by PRC home missionary, Rev. Aud Spriensma.

Desiring Jerusalem's Peace

Meditation on Psalm 122: 1, 8

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD...for my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee”

 

I used these verses this past Sunday as a call to worship when I led the worship service at Peace PRC. It was the first worship service that I have led where the whole congregation was again present. What a joy to be with fellow believers in worship of our God. We love to go to church!

But we need to pray for the peace of the church. Our Synod meets this week with various protests and appeals before them. The peace of Jerusalem is threatened. What a damper on our joy when there is division, disunity, fighting, and schism in Jerusalem, the city of peace. There is disunity because of sin and our sinful natures. Notice, the Psalmist is not praying for a peace from those outside the church who hate her. The Psalmist prays, “I will now say, peace be within thee.” It is a peace that is desired within the walls, within the gates, and within the palaces of the city of God (vs. 7).

God, a God of peace, has broken down the wall of hostility between himself and his justified people through the giving of his only begotten Son for our salvation. Jesus is the prince of peace. Christ by His Spirit gathers God’s people together in corporate worship, as various members of a body. That body is threatened and does not function well when it fights itself. I know that from my own autoimmune disease. There must be real covenant unity and harmony in the church.

This means that we love one another, pray for one another, worship the one true God in spirit and in truth. How terrible when there is disruption of that unity by snide remarks, gossip and slander against others, or the fighting over which ministers we follow. The Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthian Church deals with the matter of disharmony and fighting: “contentions among you” (I Cor. 1:11) . One said that he was of Paul; another that he was of Apollos; one of Cephas; and still another dared to say that he was of Christ! “Is Christ divided” (I Cor. 1:13)? The elders of the church must guard against and if necessary, discipline those who bring disunity, slander, and schism in Christ’s body, the church.

Now that we are finally able to worship together in our churches, may we have a desire and fervent prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. “I will now say, Peace be within thee.” While it is a desire expressed to the church, it is a prayer to God. Lord, reign over my mind, my heart, and the words that I speak. It is a personal prayer. The Psalmist says, “I will now say…” May it not only be the pastors in their private and congregational prayers. May it not only be the prayers of the elders as they guard the faith and life of the church. It must be the prayer of every believing child of God. “I will now say, Peace be within thee.” Each true believer needs to pray, knowing the sin within him or herself, how easily words tumble off from our lips, and how sharp and slanderous can be the written page. “God forgive me and help me to be an instrument of peace.”

And of course, as Christ Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures, the words of our text are in reality the word of Jesus Himself. “I will now say, peace be within thee.” We have the confidence that God will hear us for Jesus’ sake. This humbles us, knowing that it is not our work that creates peace, but it is the grace of God and the Spirit of Christ working in the hearts and minds of believers.

Why is it that we pray for the peace of the church? We love the church. The Psalmist says, “For my brethren and companions’ sake, I will now say, Peace be within thee.” We desire and pray for peace because of the glory of God is at stake. God hates division, strife, and fighting in His church. God is glorified when God’s saints love and labor together in the gospel because it is all possible by His Word and Spirit.

We desire and pray for Jerusalem’s peace because we care for one another as saints. There is an unbreakable bond between brothers and sisters in the church family. We do not just care about our own interests, but we uphold one another in our thoughts and prayers. As brothers and sisters in faith, we prosper (vs. 7) when there is peace. When there is fighting, suspicion of one another, and even avoidance of one another, the joy of worshipping together is seriously hurt.

We desire and pray for peace in the church for our witness before the world. How our enemies are filled with derision when they hear or see fighting, slander, and disunity among God’s people. Why would anyone want to attach themselves with that kind of body? Why would even our children desire to remain in that kind of body? Those who trouble the church do not show a love for God, a love for Jesus Christ, or love for their fellow saints. There will always be conflicts in the church because we are sinners who have to daily fight against our sinful natures. We forgive one another for our sinful attitudes, words, and actions. Redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and indwelt with his Spirit and Word, we strive for, desire, labor, and pray for the peace of house of God.

“How good and pleasant is the sight when brethren make it their delight to dwell in blest accord;

Such love in peace and joy distils, As o’er the slopes of Hermon’s hills refreshing dew descends:

The Lord command his blessing there, And they that walk in love shall share, In life that never ends” (Psalm 133).

 

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Seize the Little Foxes That Spoil the Vines!

This special meditation has been prepared by PRC home missionary, Rev. Aud Spriensma.

Meditation - "Seize the Little Foxes That Spoil the Vines!"

Song of Solomon 2:15 - “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”

 

It is springtime; not only now in Michigan, but also in this passage of God’s Word. “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over, and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of the birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (vs. 11,12). I love Spring! Sitting the other morning on my front lawn, I saw a fox walk out of the woods with its prey in its mouth. A beautiful, sly creature, it crept across the lawn, looked around, and then continued on its way.

Why is God’s Word warning us to “take up the fox that spoil the vines”? What does that have to do with the love poem of the Song of Songs? Solomon is comparing his love and devotion for the Shulamite woman to his love and care of his vineyard. A lot of planning, work, and tender care is expended in the marriage relationship, and so also in the care of a vineyard. These both are earthly things that God has created to be a picture of his relationship to his church in Jesus Christ.

Often the church is compared to a vineyard. Just a couple of examples from the Old and New Testament are Isaiah 5:1-7 and Matt. 21:33ff. God expects the fruit of judgment, righteousness, and thankfulness from his church. In Old Testament Israel, instead of grapes there were only wild grapes. In the Matthew 21 passage, the Old Testament prophets as husbandmen did not bring to God the fruit of the land. And when he sends his own son, the Pharisees kill him.

Now in our text, the bridegroom says, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vine.” The vine is the church. Little foxes spoil the vines, especially the vines that are blossoming with buds. What are these foxes? Most commentators see these foxes as false teachers who undermine the fruitfulness of the church. We read in Ezekiel 13:4, “O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the desert.” This most likely refers to jackals, scavengers; the simile stresses the selfish, greedy, and callous nature of the false prophets. Yes, false teachers and doctrines are indeed a tool of Satan to bring destruction and disarray in God’s vineyard. But the text speaks of “little foxes.” It is springtime, and there are these cute young little foxes. How fun to watch them dart around and roll in the grass. Surely, little foxes cannot be so dangerous. Little foxes are symbolic, representing all that would spoil and damage the church, so that they do not bring forth the fruit that is expected. The power of darkness wants to destroy the work of God in his vineyard. While the church will not be destroyed, it can be damaged by the little foxes.

Do you see in the church how pride could be such a little fox? How can you put your finger on it? It is not a censurable sin. How about a critical attitude, is that so bad? Let us go on to see and recognize other little foxes: covetous thoughts, slander, bitterness, envy, wrath, a combative attitude, too high an opinion of self or one’s own thoughts, condemning others, self-love, personal agendas, or anything that disrupts the unity of the church. How the devil delights to take these sins to bring saint against saint, church against church. Is sabbath desecration or the entertainment that you watch or listen to leading you to distance your self from the fellowship of the church? While in our homes in the past months, one could listen to a sermon with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cinnamon roll in the other. How easy it was. Now that we can finally return to worship in church, will it seem to some that the leeks and garlic of Egypt are preferable?

The calling of Christ to us is to seize those foxes in our lives and in our families. Maybe it is friends that are leading us astray. We must cast out of our homes, lives, and churches whatever hinders the fruit that we are to bear.

What do we do to one another in the church, and especially to the blossoming vines, the young children? Do we speak evil of other church members or voice church disagreements that we might have in front of our impressionable children? How little foxes can damage the roots of the vines or knock the blossoms off from the vine! What a terrible witness we can be at a time when we are trying to evangelize and bring others to Christ!

The words, “Take us” in our passage is one word in the Hebrew which means to seize, to catch, to take up, trap those little foxes and remove them from the vineyard. Around the outside edge of the vineyard would be hedges to keep others from intruding or harming the vineyard. In the center of the vineyard would be a tower with a watchman inside to guard the vineyard. Are we being watchful? What things are bringing ruin and being destructive for Christ’s vineyard? As the husbandman must care for the vineyard lest the weeds take over, so we also need to weed out, seize, grab, and catch these little foxes that spoil the vineyard. These little foxes can be so elusive and so stubborn, not easy to catch and remove. May the elders in the church be diligent watchmen in removing the little foxes that disrupt the life of the church.

Diligent prayer, a searching of the Word of God, and a searching of our own hearts and lives are necessary. Cast out whatever hinders us from being a well-tended vineyard that produces the abundant fruit of thanksgiving. There will be grapes to harvest in the way of repentance and God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of one another. Oh, that is easy to say, but it is so hard to do! How we need to fly to Jesus Christ our Savior! How we need to mortify our flesh, putting off all these: “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” How desperately we need humility and the denying of self. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col. 2 12-15).

 

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His Banner Over Me Was Love

This special meditation has been prepared by PRC home missionary, Rev. Aud Spriensma.

His Banner Over Me Was Love

Song of Solomon 2:4 - “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”

 

Many of us have been cooped up in our homes, unable to socialize or worse, not able to enjoy the fellowship of the saints worshiping together in God’s house. Oh, how good it is now that we can once again go to church twice on Sundays.

This book is a song sung between King Solomon and the Shulamite. As they sing together of their great love for each other, they are a picture of the love between Jesus Christ and His church. It is an intimate love, longing for each other and delighting in one another. The bridegroom’s left hand is under her head, and with his right hand he caresses her. He whispers his love to his bride, and the bride expresses her love to him. We have a celebration of Christ’s love for His church and every individual believer personally. “His banner over me is love.”

Can we know this love, not only intellectually but also experientially? Do you know it? We can! He tells us of His love. That is what make worship so joyful. At the beginning of the worship service, He says to his bride, “Beloved.” The gospel is preached, and He tells us that though we are black, we are comely (Chap. 1:5). We are black or dark with sin. We are black with suffering persecution, as one forced to work long under the hot sun; compared to the dwellings of nomadic Arabians in the desert. Outwardly, the true church is not glorious but suffers in this world, especially from hypocrites; yet she has true, inward beauty. She is washed from her sins, delivered from the power of sin, clothed with the righteousness of Christ Jesus.

The relationship between Christ and His people is not merely one of faith or service, important as these are. Believers are loved by Christ , and they in turn, love their Lord. We know that love because the gospel reveals it. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9,10). We know it through the preaching of the gospel. We know it when we celebrate the sacraments. Oh, how we love coming back again to worship in church!

“He brought me into the banqueting house.” How did he bring us? He chose us in eternity to be the bride of Christ. Christ Jesus suffered and died to purchase us as His bride. By His Spirit and by His Word He draws us to Himself in faith and love. The literal wording in Hebrew for “banqueting house” is “house of wine.” Wine is the symbol of joy, happiness, fullness, and exuberance. The wife of Solomon says, “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love” (Chap. 2:5). This expression means ‘love sick’—being full of and satisfied with His love. This must be the song of Christ’s bride, the church, and every individual believer within her.

God reveals in His Word and sacraments His great love to us. By faith, we know that love. Faith is a sure knowledge of all that God reveals in His Word, and a hearty confidence, that not only for others, but for me also is by His grace forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and the hope of eternal life. There is certainty because it is Christ that brought me to the banqueting house. It is not I who with a fickle love chose Him. It is not I who by my own beauty allured Him. It is not by my works performed that drew His attention. No, He, by His grace and mercy, sought me and bought me and brought me to His house of wine. By faith, I experience this love and break forth in singing! There is no doubt or fear in the child of God regarding Christ’s love for us. It is certain!

But we do not always walk on that high plain, do we? There are times that we wonder and even question His love. The Shulamite woke up in the night and did not find Solomon in bed with her. She stated “I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.” So also, the Church and individual believers at times question, “Where is my beloved?” It seems that He is gone from us, gone from the bed of intimacy. When we walk in the way of sin, we will not experience God’s favor or love. He will seem far from us, just as we do not feel the sun’s light and warmth when a cloud covers it.

David surely experienced this when he was walking in sin. By withdrawing from us, Christ causes us to seek Him, to seek Him diligently.

How delightful is knowledge of Christ’s love for His bride, the church: more lovely than the earthly love of a husband for his wife. We read in vs. 5 and 6, “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” The result of knowing Christ’s love is comfort, satisfaction, joy, and peace. Completely satisfied, more so that any other comfort can bring. We go up to God’s house feasting, feasting on Christ Jesus in the word preached and the sacraments portrayed and enjoyed. May you and I be overwhelmed as we worship and live before Him.

Read The Song of Solomon. The expressions used in this wonderful book speak of physical love and describe the gestures and attitudes that are familiar to us in our human understanding of marital love. God has seen fit to represent His love for His people in the institution of marriage (Eph. 5:22-33). Yet the love of God in Christ Jesus transcends all earthly relationships. His love is eternal, infinite, and unchanging.

Experiencing Christ’s love for us, my we sing:

Thy love to me, O Christ, Thy love to me,

Not mine to Thee I plead, Not mine to Thee.

This is my comfort strong, this is my joyful song,

Thy love to me, thy love to me.

 

Thy record I believe, Thy word to me;

Thy love I now receive, full, changeless, free-

Love from the sinless Son, Love to the sinful one,

Thy love to me, Thy love to me.

 

 

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