Missions of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America

Sister and Other Church Relationships

In harmony with the principles of holy Scripture and our Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt), the PRC through its Committee for Contact with Other Churches maintain full sister church relationships with three foreign churches and a corresponding relationship with one other foreign denomination.

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland (158)


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


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Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore (114)

Covenant ERCS 2022


11, Jalan Mesin #04-00

Standard Industrial Building

Singapore 368813

Worship Services: 9:30 A.M. & 2:00 P.M.

Pastors: Josiah Tan (2021) and Marcus Wee (2022)

Ptr Josiah Tan 2023Pastor J. Tan

Ptr Marcus Wee 2023Pastor M. Wee

148 Bishan Street 11 #06-113 

Singapore  570148


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Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC) (2)

For information on this small Presbyterian denomination in Australia with whom the PRCA have a "corresponding relationship", visit their website.

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Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (11)

PRCP Organization Banner 4 9 2014

Berean PRC, Antipolo City - Pastors: Rev. V. Ibe; Rev. L. Trinidad (emeritus)
Provident PRC - Pastor:
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Covenant Reformed News - April 2024

Covenant Reformed News
April 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 24


The Truth Is According to Godliness (3)

One way of underscoring the fact that “the truth ... is after godliness” (Titus 1:1) is to show that false teaching is according to ungodliness. According to the unbelieving theory of evolutionism, what is abortion or the murder of unborn babies? Simply the killing of the helpless by stronger, smarter adults—an instance of “the survival of the fittest”! If humans have evolved from lower life forms, then why are there not superior races and inferior races, as the Nazis evilly claimed? If we are merely animals, as per evolutionism, what is wrong with euthanasia, the deliberate ending of someone’s life in order to relieve him or her of suffering? After all, we do this with dogs and horses.

Denying that the living God made only two genders, male and female (Gen. 1:27; 5:2; Mark 10:6), some people suffer from the inner confusion, expensive surgeries, terrible pain and unavoidable conflicts of transgenderism.

Many hold that marriage is only a man-made institution of convenience, and not a lifelong union between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:3-12; I Cor. 7). This has led to divorce for practically any reason (Matt. 5:32), remarriage while one’s spouse is living (Luke 16:18), “homosexual marriage” (Rom. 1:26-27), etc.

The body is unimportant and only the mind counts, according to various forms of Greek philosophy and other ideologies. Therefore, fornication is harmless, as some carnally thought in the first century (I Cor. 6:9-20) and as many reckon in our own day.

According to the secular mind, civil government is not ordained by God (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-17; Titus 3:1-2) but only a human construct. So, if you do not like the state, why not rebel against it?

Psalm 10 describes the wicked behaviour of a murderer: “He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net” (9). What is such a man’s view of God? He denies Jehovah’s omniscience and justice: “He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it ... Thou wilt not require it” (11, 13).

“My lord delayeth his coming,” thinks the “evil servant” (Matt. 24:48). So what does he do? He starts “to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken” (49). His loose eschatological ideas lead to his vicious behaviour and eternal destruction, for “The lord of that servant ... shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (50-51).

I recall a professing Christian who foolishly believed the weak arguments against the Bible made by an unbelieving university lecturer. What effect did it have on that young man? Soon he was partying and getting drunk like most of the other students.

The apostle to the Gentiles argues that, if there is no future bodily resurrection, there is little point in enduring persecution for Jesus Christ: “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?” (I Cor. 15:32). Why not be a hedonist: “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (32)? Paul warns against fellowship with unbelievers and following their corrupt notions, for false teaching is according to ungodliness: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (33).

One can cite many examples demonstrating, on the other hand, that orthodox doctrine is according to godliness. Jesus’ resurrection on the first day of the week leads us to rest from our physical labours and enjoy the public worship of Almighty God in a faithful congregation on the Lord’s day. Since Scripture teaches that the church is the bride of Christ chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and destined for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9), we must seek her welfare.

Regarding the final assize, II Corinthians 5 states, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (10). Belief of this truth issues in faithful witnessing: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (11).

Just think of our Saviour: His lowliness, unsearchable wisdom, amazing teaching, perfect obedience and substitutionary sufferings. What a payment He made to the justice of God for our sins! What wonders He achieves, including our redemption, justification, sanctification and glorification! This evokes thankfulness, good works and prayer, as the Heidelberg Catechism explains. True doctrine is according to godliness!

It is a mark of the false gospel and false churches that they accuse the biblical gospel of the grace of God, preached by the true church, of leading to ungodliness. Roman Catholicism attacks the truth of justification (and assurance of salvation) by faith alone in Christ alone as engendering loose living and decadence. In ungodly Rome’s anti-Christian reasoning, man must work to earn his own righteousness before God and the certainty of salvation is not possible (apart from direct, divine revelation) or desirable.

Like Romanism, Arminianism slanders total depravity, unconditional election and reprobation, particular atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints, as if they were an “opiate” to put people asleep or render men “carnally secure,” to quote the “Conclusion” of the Canons of Dordt. Arminianism claims that only the (false) doctrine of man’s free will can deliver him from spiritual sloth! Yet the apostle Paul exclaimed, “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10)! Rev. Stewart


David, Amasa and Joab

One of our readers writes, “It seems strange that David should make Amasa, recently head of the rebel army of Absalom, his commander in chief (II Sam. 19-20).”

David, Amasa, Joab and Absalom were all related. Amasa, Joab and Absalom, David’s son, were cousins; Amasa and Joab were sons of David’s sisters (II Sam. 17:25; I Chron. 2:16-17). Amasa and Joab, therefore, were both nephews of King David. Amasa had supported Absalom and was the commander of his forces in his rebellion against David (II Sam. 17:25). Joab was one of David’s commanders in the battle against Absalom and the one who saw to it that Absalom was killed (18:1-17). David, who had told Joab to spare Absalom, was angry with him for having Absalom killed. So he fired Joab, making Amasa commander in his place (19:13).

David’s appointment of Amasa does seem strange. Some believe that David was attempting to reunite the people by appointing Amasa, the commander of the rebel army, but, because this happened immediately after the battle in which Absalom was killed, it is more likely that Amasa was appointed to spite Joab (19:13). Joab, always jealous for his own prestige and position, soon murdered Amasa, using as his excuse Amasa’s sluggishness in mustering the army against another rebel, Sheba the son of Bichri (20:1-13).

Of Amasa we know little. David seems to have appointed him not only to spite Joab but also because he was his nephew (17:25). Though captain, first under Absalom and then under David, he does not seem to have been very competent as a military leader. Not only did he lose the battle as Absalom’s commander, but he was tardy in mustering the men of Judah against Sheba (20:4-5) and naively did not take heed to the murderous sword of crafty Joab (8-10). At that point, David had, in effect, reappointed Joab and Joab’s brother, Abishai, but Joab murdered Amasa anyway (6-10).

Joab, though fiercely loyal to David and unafraid of telling him when he was wrong (e.g., 19:1-8), seems to have been an evil man. He not only murdered Amasa but had previously murdered Abner, who had commanded the armies of the other tribes against David, before David became king of all Israel. Abner, Saul’s cousin (I Sam. 14:50), had been Saul’s general and, when Saul died, he had supported Saul’s son, Ishbosheth (II Sam. 2). Abner abandoned Ishbosheth after a dispute about one of Saul’s concubines and came over to David, but Joab, to avenge his brother, Asahel, who had been killed in a fair fight by Abner, and perhaps out distrust, murdered Abner (II Sam. 3).

David seemed unable to handle Joab but, before he died, he gave instructions to Solomon to deal with Joab (I Kings 2:5-6). Benaiah, under Solomon’s orders, dispatched Joab (28-34), after he supported Solomon’s rival and half-brother, Adonijah.

However, it is not Amasa or Joab but David who is the main character in this history. David, born around 1040 BC, would have been in his 60s at the time of Absalom’s rebellion and Amasa’s murder, with only a few years left before his death at 70 years of age.

The disorder of David’s latter reign included not only Absalom’s rebellion and death, and the rebellion under Sheba the son of Bichri, but near civil war between Judah and the rest of Israel (II Sam. 19:40-43). Just before David died, another son, Adonijah, tried to take the throne, and was supported by Joab and Abiathar the priest (I Kings 1). This was partly David’s own fault for not making it sufficiently clear that Solomon was his heir. It was obvious at this time that David was failing. He was nearly killed in a battle with the Philistines (II Sam. 21:15-17) and needed a concubine to keep him warm (I Kings 1:1-4). It may also have been during this time that David took a census of the people, angering God who then slew 70,000 men with a plague (II Sam. 24).

This disorder was not only the result of David’s age and weakness, but was God’s judgment on him and his house for his sin with Bathsheba, whose husband he had murdered (II Sam. 11). God had forgiven David (II Sam. 12:13; Ps. 32; 51), but David and his family suffered the consequences of his sin. God said to David through Nathan the prophet, “I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I ... gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house” (II Sam. 12:7-11).

David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, was a man after God’s heart (I Sam. 13:14) and a picture of Christ as the Captain of our salvation who delivers us from our enemies. The two are so closely identified in the Psalms that it is often difficult to say, “This is David” or “This is Christ.” Psalm 45 is an example of the intimate relationship between David and Christ as warrior kings. David the shepherd speaks of Christ the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23. In Psalms 41:9 and 55:12-14, David complains of Ahithophel’s betrayal (II Sam. 15-17), but one can hear Christ speaking through David of Judas and his betrayal.

Nevertheless, David was only a shadow of Christ and, though in some ways he pictured the might and victories of Christ as king, his failures pointed to the need for a better king than himself. The disorder in which his reign ended showed that no mere man could bring the deliverance Jesus brings by His great victory over sin, that is, everlasting righteousness and peace. Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11 speak of Christ as that greatest of all kings, who alone has the victory over our greatest enemies, and who establishes a kingdom that will endure when sun and moon have ceased to shine.

Unlike David, Jesus needed no Joab or Amasa to fight His battles. He needed no swords or spears, like the weapon with which Joab killed Amasa. He fought His battle alone, and fought it by surrendering Himself to His enemies and letting them do their worst, until they destroyed themselves in crucifying Him. He brought life out of death and eternal blessedness out of the misery of sin. That is the gospel of David’s failures as king, a message that David himself acknowledged, when he wrote, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand” (Ps. 110:1). Rev. Ron Hanko

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

Covenant Reformed News - March 2024

Covenant Reformed News
March 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 23


The Truth Is According to Godliness (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Four Rules for the Gentiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Covenant Reformed News - February 2024

Covenant Reformed News
February 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 22


The Truth Is According to Godliness (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Total Depravity and Manichaeism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The differences are especially these five.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - January 2024

Covenant Reformed News
January 2024  •  Volume XIX, Issue 21


The Answer to Nehemiah’s Ejaculatory Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Sword: Advice for Christians Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covenant Reformed News
December 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 20


The Background of Nehemiah’s Ejaculatory Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jesus’  Weeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covenant Reformed News - November 2023

Covenant Reformed News
November 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 19


Nehemiah’s Ejaculatory Prayer in the Palace

There are various types of prayer, including public prayer, private prayer and fervent prayer (James 5:16-17). In persevering prayer, the believer does not give up, even if, after some time, he or she has not received an answer. Instead, the saint keeps on asking, seeking and knocking. Our Saviour commends this sort of praying many times (e.g., Luke 18:1-8), so let us not give up!

Ejaculatory prayer has especially three features, all of which begin with the letter “s.” First, ejaculatory prayer is spontaneous. This is praying that is informal, unplanned, on the spot. It does not involve bowing one’s head or closing one’s eyes or folding one’s hands or falling to one’s knees. Ejaculatory prayer is offered not at specific times of the day in the closet (Matt. 6:6) but at any time anywhere. Second, ejaculatory prayer is silent. It is not spoken out loud, usually because there are other people around so it would be inappropriate. Third, ejaculatory prayer is short. It is a prayer quickly darted to heaven, a brief petition hurled upwards like a javelin. In fact, the Latin word for a dart or javelin is the source of our English word “ejaculatory.”

The prayer of Nehemiah 2:4 is clearly ejaculatory. First, it is spontaneous. After Artaxerxes asks, “For what dost thou make request?” Nehemiah tells us, “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (4). Second, it is silent. The Medo-Persian emperor did not hear Nehemiah say anything out loud to God (for that would have been weird). Nor did he see any movement of his cupbearer’s lips, unlike Eli who saw Hannah’s lips move in silent prayer (I Sam. 1:12-13). Third, Nehemiah’s prayer was short. Evidently King Artaxerxes did not even notice any pause before Nehemiah responded to his question.

I take it that you, beloved, are not strangers to ejaculatory prayer, that you too speed off brief darts of prayers to your heavenly Father amidst your many daily activities and that you do it often!

Let us consider some very basic points regarding this ejaculatory prayer of Nehemiah, including, first, when he made it. Nehemiah was working, engaged in his gainful employment as an imperial cupbearer. Ejaculatory prayer, unlike closet prayer, is possible while at our jobs, whether we are teaching a class or driving a car, serving customers or trading shares, engaged in computer programming or metalworking, etc.

Second, where was Nehemiah when he offered this ejaculatory prayer? In an imperial palace! If he can dart a prayer to Jehovah from there, so can we, by God’s grace, whether we are at school, in a hospital, at the office, in an aeroplane or at home.

Third, before whom did Nehemiah make this ejaculatory prayer? In the presence of an idolater who was probably the most powerful man on the planet! Yet, even then, who was this earthly monarch compared to the sovereign ruler over all! “Then the king said unto me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 2:4). We too can shoot our prayers to our covenant God in Jesus Christ our Redeemer before our bank manager, teacher, mother-in-law, employer or persecutor.

Notice that, by God’s grace, Nehemiah did not let his emotions stop him from making an ejaculatory prayer. First, he was “very sore afraid” (2) yet he prayed. David declared, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee” (Ps. 56:3). Similarly, we could say, “What time I am afraid, I will pray to Thee, even in ejaculatory prayers, in situations where it is impossible to pray out loud or at length.” We must not panic or get flustered or alarmed such that we give way to terror and forget to trust or pray.

Second, Nehemiah’s eagerness did not keep him from ejaculatory prayer. He earnestly wanted to go to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. But when Artaxerxes asks, “For what dost thou make request?” (Neh. 2:4), Nehemiah does not blurt out, “Please send me to Judah to repair its capital’s perimeter defences.” Instead, we read, “So I prayed to the God of heaven” (4) and then he petitions the emperor (5). Neither fear nor eagerness should keep us back from making our ejaculatory prayers!

Nehemiah 2:4 is striking in that, first, it contains the most famous ejaculatory prayer in all of Scripture, though it occurs in a relatively obscure biblical book. Second, surprisingly, the content of this ejaculatory prayer is not given. Though it is the most famous ejaculatory prayer in God’s Word, its words are not recorded! From its context, however, we can deduce that it was a petition along these lines: “Lord, help me to speak to Artaxerxes so that he sends me to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls!” Third, Nehemiah remembered this ejaculatory prayer years later. He must have darted many thousands of requests to God, but it is this key one that he has recorded here in inspired Scripture.

Brethren, none of our ejaculatory prayers are likely to be famous. We ourselves remember few of them, never mind their precise words. But let Nehemiah 2:4 encourage us to dart more prayers to the Lord of heaven, especially in times of temptation or trial, or when contending with enemies or difficulties, even if it is even merely, “Father, give me patience,” when our children are acting up, or “Lord, help me,” when we are weak and distressed. Remember that ejaculatory prayers are the most versatile of all prayers, and can be made at any time, anywhere and in any situation.

Beloved, “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,” whether in public prayer or closet prayer or ejaculatory prayer, “that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16)! Rev. Stewart


The Covenant of Redemption (3)

In our discussion of the covenant of redemption, we have emphasized the truth that God’s covenant is never an agreement but a relationship. It is first and foremost the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. God is, in and with Himself, a covenant God. This truth is very humbling since it means that He does not need us to be a covenant God. He is all-sufficient to Himself.

It is also a wonderful truth in that His covenant with us, established first of all with Christ, is His taking us into that relationship in which He is the eternal Father and Christ His Son through the Spirit. That relationship is sovereignly realized and maintained. God makes us His covenant people and, when we show ourselves unfaithful and disobedient, sovereignly maintains that covenant in Christ. He does not cast off His people whom He eternally loved (Rom. 11:2), whether elect Jew or elect Gentile. He even promises to take the children of believers into that relationship, as the God not only of His people but of their seed (Mark 10:13-16; Acts 2:39). How great are His mercies!

That He establishes His covenant first with Christ, making Christ His “firstborn” (Ps. 89:27), in order to maintain and keep His covenant with His people, is God’s wonderful way of revealing the faithfulness and the graciousness of His covenant with His people. In the last News, we looked especially at Psalm 89 in that connection, for few other passages so wonderfully show what the covenant of redemption is.

We now focus on God’s covenant relationship with us, what we call the covenant of grace, especially in Genesis 15-17. We do this because God’s covenant with Abraham shows beyond doubt that His covenant is not merely an agreement but a sovereignly established relationship. These three chapters are beautifully instructive.

Genesis 15 begins with God’s affirming to Abraham His love and friendship in the face of Lot’s departure: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (1). In light of Genesis 17:7, this can only be taken as an affirmation of God’s covenant with Abraham. It is really the great promise of the covenant, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

Having spoken to Abraham of His everlasting covenant, Jehovah predicts the coming of Christ as the One through whom He would be forever the God of Abraham and Abraham’s innumerable seed. Galatians 3:16, a passage mutilated by many modern Bible translations, shows that the singular “seed” is a reference to Christ as the One in whom God would fulfil His promises and not merely to Isaac.

To show His covenant faithfulness and to assure Abraham of it, God tells him to prepare for an unusual ceremony, unusual to us, that is, though not to Abraham. Abraham had to cut several animals and birds in pieces, and lay the pieces of the animals and the birds in two rows, with a walk-way between the rows.

That ceremony was used in those days to confirm a covenant, so that the usual description of covenant making (also in Scripture) was “cutting a covenant.” When used by two men, it was a covenant in the form of an agreement, the two walking together between the pieces of the animals, consenting in some important purpose and showing that they would rather be cut in pieces than break their agreement.

In establishing His covenant with Abraham, God did not make an agreement with Abraham. Instead, Jehovah established His covenant by passing alone through the cut-up pieces of the animals and the birds, while Abraham was fast asleep (Gen. 15:12). Thus God took upon Himself all the penalties and punishments of covenant breaking. This was not, therefore, an agreement or transaction between God and Abraham, but God’s way of sovereignly taking Abraham to be His friend and sovereignly promising to remain Abraham’s friend forever.

Genesis 16 serves as a reminder of the impossibility, humanly speaking, of the establishment and keeping of the covenant by Abraham or by anyone, for Sarah was barren and Abraham’s efforts to see to the covenant by marrying Hagar were in vain. Only when Abraham’s own flesh was “dead” (Rom. 4:19) did God, by a miracle, see to the coming of the promised Seed and the fulfilment of His covenant promises. All this proves that the covenant cannot ever depend on man. It is God’s covenant and He alone is able to keep covenant with His people. The covenant cannot be an agreement.

Finally, in Genesis 17:1-8, before the birth of Isaac, God revealed to Abraham the fact that His covenant would be an everlasting relationship in which He would be Abraham’s God and the God of His seed. He speaks to Abraham of a seed that would include not only physical descendants of Abraham but people of all nations, and also hints of an everlasting inheritance of which the land where Abraham then lived was only a shadow. That seed, however, was Christ above all (Gal. 3:16)

Did Abraham understand these things? Indeed, he did. Jesus told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). This is what Abraham believed and hoped: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).

The sad thing is that many today do not see what Abraham saw. They see God’s covenant with Abraham as a temporal and temporary arrangement. They are so focused on the earthly land, which was only ever a picture of the heavenlies, that they still look for an earthly fulfilment of the promises, whether to the Jews or to both Jews and Gentiles. They think that the salvation of Abraham and his descendants was a matter of law-works. They do not understand that Abraham had the gospel of our Lord Jesus preached to him and that he was God’s covenant friend not by works but by faith in Christ.

Worst of all, many still think that God’s covenant is an agreement, not a sovereignly and graciously established relationship. Not only does this make the covenant a cold transaction, destroying the beauty of the covenant as a relationship with the Triune God Himself through Christ, but it also introduces into the doctrine of God’s covenant something that does not belong to any aspect of our salvation.  Rev. Ron Hanko


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

Covenant Reformed News - October 2023

Covenant Reformed News
October 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 18


Nehemiah’s Covenant Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Covenant of Redemption (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Covenant Reformed News - September 2023

Covenant Reformed News
September 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 17


Nehemiah’s Godly Enquiry Concerning Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Covenant of Redemption (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Covenant Reformed News
August 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 16


Clothed With Christ (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Why Baptize All the Infants of Believers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Covenant Reformed News - July 2023

Covenant Reformed News

July 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 15


Clothed With Christ (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Israel’s Animals in the Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: 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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