Vol. 77; No. 17; June 1, 2001
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Table of Contents:
Meditation - Rev. Rodney Miersma
Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church of Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6In preceding articles we have seen the first three characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom of God. They are poor in spirit, mourners, and meek, indicating that they are in themselves nothing. All these are essential characteristics of the child of God. Each citizen must see and confess his own nothingness. When this is properly recognized, then one can enjoy the fullness of God's blessings upon him.
Whereas the first three show our emptiness, this beatitude shows how we are filled. It is with righteousness that we are filled, and for it we hunger and thirst. This then should be the proper concern of each child of God, for there is much hungering and thirsting today for all sorts of things, all things but righteousness. So it is with natural man. We all too often follow their lead. We must be exhorted to hunger and thirst after righteousness, for only then will we be filled.
Righteousness suggests to us a certain standard of judgment. God is good and has been pleased to reveal His own goodness outside of Himself in the law. The law demands that one must love God with all of his being, and his neighbor for God's sake. This love must be perfect, for the law will allow for no deviation. Whatever is not out of the love of God is condemned and deserves the eternal wrath of God. Furthermore, God Himself is the Judge as to what is righteous or not.
To be righteous, one's walk must correspond to all that which the Word and the law of God require. You and I, then, must know what God demands of us and seek to observe all that is expected of us. We seek to be righteous, for we know that no unrighteous person shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
No man can obtain this righteousness by his own efforts. There is no way that he can pay for his transgressions and deliver himself from the punishment which he deserves of God. To the contrary, he can only add to his debt. Nor is it within his ability to walk in that sort of goodness which God requires. The Pharisee in the day of Christ strived for this outward obedience, but Christ quickly set the record straight, comparing him to a whitewashed sepulcher filled with dead men's bones. It is no different today. No man can fulfill the requirements of God's Word and law, for he is totally dead in sin.
Our righteousness is fully merited through Jesus Christ our Savior. In eternity God determined to save for Himself a people. In the fullness of time He sent His only begotten Son into our flesh to accomplish that. By His suffering and death on the cross under God's wrath, Christ fully satisfied what God's justice demanded for His elect people. What Christ merited for us God applies to us by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. After the Spirit regenerates our hearts He applies the infallible Scriptures to our hearts and directs us to serve God so that we love to obey the law of God from our hearts.
For this righteousness we hunger and thirst. The figure suggests a great want or desire. It brings to mind a man stranded in the desert without food or water. Deprived of these essentials he cries out in deep need for sustenance. In such a condition he is not the least concerned about his home far away, or his car, or his business, or any such thing. No, his one concern is food and water, for which he has a great hunger and thirst.
That figure points to the reality of our deep awareness of our own spiritual need. The believer realizes and confesses his own sin and misery, understanding that there must be deliverance or there will be certain eternal damnation. He recognizes that, in order to escape this terrible bind in which he is, there must be applied to him righteousness. He must be righteous before God or he will be condemned to hell forever.
He further recognizes that he cannot provide for himself that which will satisfy the justice of God. However, he sees the oasis, the source of supply for him in his need. In the light of God's Word he sees that God provides spiritual righteousness for the elect through Jesus Christ His Son in our flesh. He further understands that in Christ is righteousness and that this Savior confers it on all those who belong to Him. Thus, he hungers and thirsts after this righteousness, which is in his Lord, and in doing so is fully satisfied.
Now, when does this take place? Certainly one cannot hunger and thirst before his salvation. There are many today who believe that everyone hungers and thirsts and that all must simply be directed to the proper goal. However, the figure which Christ uses will not allow that interpretation, for to hunger and thirst one must be alive already. Physically a dead person, even though he is in the desert, does not hunger and thirst. There may be a lack of water and food, but a dead person neither expresses a desire for them nor does he seek them.
The same thing is true spiritually. The dead sinner does not seek righteousness, but continues to seek the corruption of this world. One must be alive to hunger and thirst and to seek the righteousness of the kingdom of God. Christ made that clear to Nicodemus in John 3:3: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." As a newborn baby immediately seeks his mother's milk, so the born-again child of God hungers and thirsts after righteousness. And, oh, how richly the Lord provides! He gives us His Word and applies it by His Spirit, He forms us in His image, and He provides us with all good spiritual gifts. Therefore we continually seek spiritual sustenance from the source of all blessings. Just as one good meal is not sufficient for our entire life, so also we do not receive just one spiritual feast. Constantly we are seeking and feeding upon the riches which God provides for us through Jesus Christ.
We must take this to heart, for so often we hunger for the wrong things. We long for entertainment and pleasure, and for earthly things such as jobs, possessions, and riches. In seeking a husband or wife we sometimes sacrifice the Word of God upon the altar of that which pleases the flesh. This only points out the fact that there is much of the flesh in us and that our hungering and thirsting is often blunted by spiritual maladies.
A true hunger and thirst is manifested in our faithfully hearing the preaching of God's Word each Sabbath, as we desire to use the means which God has provided to call His people to conversion and to strengthen them in the faith. We want to hear Jesus Christ crucified and raised again. We simply will not be content with a social gospel, which proclaims man's ideas on the issues of the day. Satisfaction is attained only in hearing that payment for sins has been made.
One who so hungers and thirsts will be looking for the new heavens and earth in which righteousness shall dwell. It will be seen also in his daily walk, for he will speak, think, and act like a citizen of the kingdom. Loving the law and God's Word he applies himself to a godly walk, speaking and singing of the glorious truth of the gospel. Fervently he will pray, "Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus," knowing that when He comes, then he shall be filled with all the riches which God has promised him in Christ.
The blessedness of it all is that he shall be filled. The child of God is assured that he will receive what he is seeking. You and I never have to seek or ask in vain. He who truly hungers and thirsts, and shows that in his life and walk, shall be filled abundantly. God guarantees this on the basis of what Christ has done for us on the cross. All of this shall be fulfilled when Christ returns again, when the sought righteousness shall be revealed in all its perfection. Then there shall be no more sin nor the temptation to sin, but only the praising and glorifying of the Lord our God eternally.
Even though it shall be fulfilled in the future, already now we experience the righteousness which we seek. This is experienced when we come to God in prayer and have blessed fellowship with Him. When we are in the fellowship and communion of the saints, this same righteousness is enjoyed. And most important of all, we have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ.
In this way we are most blessed or happy. Happiness is not an end in itself. Often we hear of the basic rights, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Man goes about pursuing happiness in seeking to obtain wealth, glory, and power. Yet he never attains to true happiness but becomes more and more unhappy. There is a warning in this for all of us, for we also can have mistaken ideas of happiness. We tend to complain that the church deprives us of the fun-things of life, for it condemns movie attendance and insists on proper regulation of TV, computer use, books, etc., as well as modesty in dress. It is always the kingdom first. Such complaints show a misunderstanding of true happiness.
True happiness or blessedness comes by way of seeking righteousness. The child of God who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is not, first of all, thinking of happiness. He does not regard his calling as boring, limiting, or old-fashioned. No, he simply seeks righteousness and is filled. In this way, he at the same time experiences a happiness which the world can never have. He is happy with his fellowship with God and with the saints of God, especially as that is experienced each Sabbath day under the preaching of God's Word. Indeed, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Synod meets this year at First Church in Grand Rapids, convening on Tuesday morning, June 12. The pre-synodical worship service will be held at First Church on Monday evening, June 11, at 7:30 P.M. Rev. Barry Gritters, president of last year's synod, will preach the sermon.
The Foreign Mission Committee has weighty proposals. One is that synod approve the calling of a second missionary to the Ghana field. The proposal with its grounds is as follows:
Synod approve the proposal that Hull PRC begin calling a second missionary to the Ghanaian field. Grounds: a. The workload, indicated by the missionary's monthly reports and regular newsletters, shows that a second missionary is necessary. b. When Rev. Moore decides to become emeritus, the second missionary will make the future transition on the field more orderly. The second missionary will by that time know the needs of the field much better than if he would come a few months before Rev. Moore left the field. c. The presence of a second missionary is supported by the principle of Scripture in sending missionaries two by two.The other weighty proposal is that "synod approve that a missionary be sent to labor in the Philippines. Grounds: a. This is the urgent request of the various groups among whom we labor in the Philippines. b. The groups that are requesting a missionary have developed in their understanding of the Reformed faith to the point where they specifically desire a missionary from the Protestant Reformed Churches, and not from another denomination. c. The labors of the FMC in the Philippines have developed to the point that a missionary is necessary. d. The amount as well as the type of work that is needed to further the cause of the gospel in the Philippines is of such a nature that it requires the presence of a missionary." The FMC recommends that a missionary to the Philippines be stationed in Manila.
Reports of the work in Ghana inform synod that the PRC have built a new building for the preaching services conducted by the missionary on property that they have purchased.
The Domestic Mission Committee reports on PRC missions in the British Isles; Spokane, WA; and Pittsburgh, PA.
The Committee for Contact with Other Churches (CC) has been active this past year. It reports on a meeting with a committee of the United Reformed Churches (URC) at which the committees discussed the doctrine of the covenant, "as well as the confessional status of the doctrines of the covenant and common grace." The CC asks synod's approval of another conference with the URC, to discuss "the scope of the covenant and the relation between election and the covenant."
A meeting of the CC with a committee of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was held in April 2001. The subject was the well-meant offer of the gospel. The CC presented proposals setting forth the position of the PRC that the theory of the well-meant offer of the gospel is Arminian and contrary to our Reformed confessions.
The CC asks synod's approval of a conference of the CC and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia in 2002 in Australia. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia has expressed its appreciation for the support by the PRC of the training of their students in the seminary of the PRC.
The CC maintains contact for the PRC with the sister churches of the PRC in Singapore, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). With the Hope, Walker, MI Council, the CC also supervises the work in Singapore of Rev. Jay Kortering, minister-on-loan to the ERCS. The CC recommends that synod express to Rev. and Mrs. Kortering our gratitude to God for their forty years of faithful labor on behalf of the gospel in our PRC and in our sister churches, the ERCS.
The CC asks synod's approval of a response by the CC to an "overture/position paper" that the First Evangelical Church in Singapore presented to the classis of the ERCS. The response of the CC of the PRC to this "overture/position paper" was expressed to the Contact Committee of the ERCS. The response reads, in part:
We are … greatly concerned about and disappointed in the position taken by First ERCS. Extensive effort was put forth to reflect the Westminster position that divorce may be for more grounds than adultery and that divorce brings the marriage bond to an end. But we found very little space devoted to the treatment of the position taken by the PRCA [Protestant Reformed Churches in America] that the only ground for divorce is adultery and that divorce does not sever the marriage bond, a bond severed only by death. In light of the sister-church relationship we would think that there would have been greater effort put forth answering the position of the PRCA on the matter of divorce and remarriage…. The ERCS must be aware that if they should adopt the position taken in the position paper of First ERCS, this would jeopardize their sister-church relationship with the PRCA.Concerning relations between the PRC and the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, the CC reports that it concurred with the decision of the consistory of Covenant to terminate missionary Ron Hanko's pastoral labors in the Covenant congregation. The Domestic Mission Committee of the PRC reported on this matter in the May 15, 2001 issue of the Standard Bearer.
The CC proposes that the Northern Ireland seminarian, Mr. Angus Stewart, be examined before synod, as the Covenant Church requests. In a letter to synod, the council of Covenant requests that synod "conduct a special examination of Mr. Angus Stewart…. We request that this be done much the same way that you have examined your own students in past years. Further, should the young brother successfully sustain this examination, we request that you assure our congregation and your own churches of his ability by declaring him qualified to be called as minister of the Word and Sacraments. It is our desire that the examination be comparable to the rigor of your synodical examination and the weight of your decisive classical examination so that not only are we confident of his capabilities and qualification but also that your churches will consider him to be a fit candidate for the ministry should the need ever arise that he labour in your denomination."
The report of the Theological School Committee (TSC) includes several matters that will be of interest to the readers of the SB. One seminarian graduates, Mr. Angus Stewart, member of the sister church in Northern Ireland. At the request of the church in Northern Ireland, as mentioned above, Mr. Stewart will be examined before the synod. Third-year seminarian Mr. Rodney Kleyn will do his six-month internship in the Faith PRC in Jenison, MI. Third-year seminarian Mr. David Overway will do his six-month internship in the Hull, IA PRC. These internships begin this summer. During the second semester of the 2000/2001 school year, Rev. Lau Chin Kwee, pastor of the First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore, completed his studies at the seminary for his diploma. Subject to the approval of synod, three students will begin their studies in the seminary this fall, two from the PRC and one from the ERCS. Prof. Robert D. Decker will have a partial sabbatical the 2001/2002 school year. He is to develop a course in world religions. The seminary was the beneficiary recently of a bequest in the amount of more than $70,000 from a supporter who was not a member of the PRC.
The special study committee concerning revision of Article 69 of the Church Order of the PRC presents its report. Article 69 regulates the songs in public worship. The study committee recommends that Article 69 be changed to read: "In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, along with the Lord's Prayer, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, and the doxologies." Essentially, this recommendation retains the present article, which is the article on singing at worship that was adopted at Dordt in 1618, 1619. The recommendation would make two changes. First, it elides a few unfamiliar hymns from the specified exceptions to the Psalms, for example, "the morning and evening hymns." Second, it adds the doxologies to the list of hymns that may be sung, presumably the two that are currently in use in the PRC, "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" and, in one or two churches, "May the Grace of Christ the Savior."
There is a feature of the report of the committee on the revision of Article 69 that is puzzling. In connection with a possible revision of Article 69, synod 2000 instructed the study committee to "spell out the biblical principles regarding singing in worship [and] the historical intent of Article 69." Instead, the study committee appeals approvingly to a report presented to the synod of 1960. This report included a treatment of biblical principles regarding singing in worship. Such is the reliance on this 1960 report by the study committee that reports to the synod of 2001 that it includes the entire report in its own report to synod 2001.
But the committee that reported to the synod of 1960 drew from its own report the conclusion that the PRC could and should open up the public worship services to the singing of hymns, although it wanted to restrict the hymns to faithful versifications of Scripture. This was their advice to synod, on the basis of the report that our present study committee virtually makes its own: "Synod change Article 69 of the Church Order to read: 'In the churches only the 150 Psalms of David shall be sung, as also such Hymns which are faithful versifications of the Holy Scriptures, in each case the General Synod being the judge'" ("Acts of Synod 1960," pp. 115, 116; emphasis added).
Our present study committee does not draw this conclusion from the report. In fact, it draws a radically different conclusion, namely, that the PRC continue to sing virtually only the Psalms in public worship. But it does not tell us why it comes to an entirely different conclusion from that of the committee of 1960 on the basis of the same report.
There is a danger about this puzzling feature of the report of the study committee to the synod of 2001. The danger is that synod 2001 approves, tacitly or explicitly, a report that does, in fact, lead to the conclusion that the committee that prepared it drew from it, or that allows for the conclusion that the committee drew from it, namely, that the PRC should or may open up its worship to the singing of many hymns. It is not unrealistic to envision future proponents of hymns in worship appealing to the report, approved by the synod of 2001, as a ground for opening up the worship to hymns, since the authors of the report themselves saw the report as the basis for the introduction of hymns.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that the quotation of the 1960 report in the report of the study committee on Article 69 to the synod of 2001 omits at the very end the advice that the authors of the 1960 report gave to synod on the basis of the report. The 1960 report did not end with "our conclusions." It ended with the advice quoted above. In fairness to the present study committee, they do quote this advice, but at the very beginning of their report. And even as regards the conclusions of the 1960 committee, the last conclusion was: "Faithful versifications of Scripture, other than the Psalms, may be sung in the churches."
One member of the study committee on Article 69 presents a minority report. The minority report proposes that Article 69 be changed to read: "In the churches only versifications of the 150 Psalms be sung."
Missionary Thomas Miersma overtures synod concerning certain aspects of the work of the missionary. He asks that missionaries be permitted to administer both sacraments, "but specifically the Lord's Supper," in instituted churches which are the regular objects of our preaching and mission work and which are laboring with us and our missionaries toward denominational federation. He also asks that missionaries be allowed to pronounce the votum, salutation, and benediction on the mission field. The adoption of this overture would involve overturning previous decisions of synod.
Synod will also have to judge two appeals by members against decisions of the minor assemblies.
May Christ, the king of His church, so rule the deliberations and decisions of the synod of the PRC that righteousness prevails, for the welfare of the churches and for the honor of His name.
Let the members of the churches pray for this.
In dealing with Thomas à Kempis and medieval mysticism, I discussed in the last article what mysticism really is. I described it as most fundamentally a doctrine that teaches the desirability and possibility of direct and immediate union with God, which union with God is the epitome of the godly and pious life.
How to Attain Fellowship with God
We are back now to what we described earlier as being the essence of mysticism: "a deep sense of union with God in the inmost depths of the soul."
The Middle Ages developed a lengthy process through which one had to pass in the attainment of that deep sense of union with God. It is worth our while to go through these steps to try to see what the mystics were talking about. The process had five distinct steps, although two things must be remembered about these five steps: one is that all five were not always necessary, nor did all agree on exactly these five which I shall mention. The other is that the order might differ from one mystic to another. But this is generally the ladder one had to climb to reach union with God.
The first step was called "awakening." A man or a woman would come to the awareness that, while he or she had been "religious" in an external and ultimately meaningless way, this was far from genuine religion. More was required. Study, reading devotional materials, looking into what others had said would show one how he or she was missing the very heart and core of true religion and what had to be done about it. It was like a lifelong attendee at church suddenly realizing that the outward worship of God is not enough. Something more had to be there. This was surely true if, in addition to such an outward form of religion, one lived an essentially worldly life. To acquire what was missing and how to attain what was missing was part of the "awakening."
The second step was called "purgation." I guess we would be inclined to call this "conversion," although it was often carried beyond the boundaries of what we consider conversion to be. Purgation involved freeing oneself from one's former way of life. If one was a soldier, one ought to leave the army. If he was worldly, one ought to abandon his worldliness. If one's interest in spiritual things was minimal and peripheral, he ought to rid himself of all that formerly distracted him and concentrate solely on spiritual things. This step, in the Middle Ages, often included selling all one's possessions and living a life of poverty. It included renouncing marriage to live a celibate life. It included entering a monastery where the external world could not intrude and where all one's life could be devoted to spiritual things. It was a "purgation" of one's former life. It was often radical, extreme, but absolutely necessary on the ladder to union with God.
The third step was "illumination." Different ideas were meant by this term. Sometimes it referred to a period in which one gradually came to the awareness of what was involved in coming to true union with God. It was a sort of study of the devotional life. It could be a study of something extremely complicated, as all aspects of a genuinely devotional and pious life were explored, understood, and put into practice. At other times, by illumination was meant brief and occasional glimpses of the transcendent glory of a true union with the divine. It was not that union itself; it was a fleeting glimpse of the ineffable blessedness that awaited one who attained to it. It was intended to prepare one for the next step, the most difficult and agonizing of all.
That next or fourth step was usually called "the dark night of the soul." This is an interesting step. It was considered absolutely essential, and without it no union with God was possible. It was somewhat patterned after the Scripture's emphasis on the believer's personal knowledge of his sin, which is expressed in a broken spirit and a contrite heart. It had the overtones of a genuine part of the believer's life. But it was also taken over by revivalism (much of which is sheer mysticism anyway). It was a period of intense suffering of soul in which the darkness of sin, guilt, and hell dragged one lower and lower into depths of despair, hopelessness, and utter awareness of one's unworthiness and damnworthiness. The deeper and more intense that it was, the better and more likely to lead to God. The Puritans made a great deal of this aspect of the Christian's life and they were followed by others. But oftentimes this period was such a "dark night" that it manifested itself in convulsions, long periods of rigidity of the body, unconsciousness, and screaming and hollering in terror because of visions of demons and the fires of hell. Of all the steps it was the most difficult.
The final step was the union with God Himself. As I mentioned in describing mysticism, this step is really indescribable. It is totally a matter of feeling. The mind does not function in any sense of hearing, reading, studying, mastering intellectual propositions. This step is beyond thought. It is beyond, far beyond, all knowing, all understanding, all thinking. It is transcendent, unreal (when by "real" is meant anything pertaining to this world). It is beyond the five senses because it is direct, immediate (without means), intense, all-absorbing union with God Himself. It is to be swallowed up in and engulfed by the brilliant light of the infinite ocean of the divine being. It is pure and unalloyed joy. It is to be oblivious to anything and everything except God's engulfing and consuming love. It is the apex of the Christian life. It is the ultimate of all that is right and good and genuinely pious.
This union with God could be so complete that, because some mystics emphasized union with God via union with Christ, the very marks of the nail holes in Christ's hands came into the hands of the mystic. Such a one was so closely absorbed into Christ that the hole in Christ's side made by the soldier's spear came into the side of the mystic. The blood which Christ spilled in the dust of Gethsemane now rolled off the brow of one who had been completely absorbed by Christ, and thus by God. These were called the "stigmata" of union with Christ, which many mystics claimed to bear.
It is not difficult to see that such mysticism could become an outright pantheism. And it often did. Pantheism is that terrible heresy, the ultimate expression of the devil's lie, "Ye shall become like God." Pantheism identifies God and the creation and speaks of man as the highest expression of the divine essence. The whole notion of union with God is only a small jump from such pantheism.
The Attraction of Mysticism
The attraction of mysticism is great and not easy to resist. Especially when the church of which one is a member falls into dead orthodoxy or confessional carelessness, the spiritual lack of a fervent and heartfelt religion weighs heavily on the soul of a believer. When worldliness lays an icy grip on the lives of the people in church (there is a close relation between dead orthodoxy and worldliness), then those who are concerned for themselves and others to walk a life of obedience to Christ search about for an alternative to the spirituality of their own church home.
There is a fervency in religious matters, a zeal for holiness, a delight in walking in covenant fellowship with God that characterizes mystics, which makes one lacking these things envious of what mystics possess.
One who understands that the deepest reality of the godly life is walking with God, as Enoch and Noah walked with Him, can easily be enchanted by the claim of a mystic that he has attained this goal.
And when mysticism tends to put all the emphasis of religion on emotions and feelings, few of us would deny that there is an attractiveness to this which tugs at our souls. To think about theological problems is often hard work and, so it seems, spiritually dry toil. To master doctrinal propositions may be intellectually stimulating, but it does little or nothing to experiencing what true religion is all about. Heavy tomes on Reformed dogmatics are far less able to nourish our spiritual life than devotional writings or biographies of unusual people who have had moving spiritual experiences. "It doesn't do anything for me!" is the plaintive cry of one who has just listened to a doctrinal sermon. And what is meant is that the preacher has not moved us emotionally either to weeping or to hallelujahs. A "feel good" religion is the thing of the day, in which all the emphasis falls on the word "feel."
How wonderful it is if we can expect in our lives to be guided by special revelations, dreams to direct us in our problems, visions to solve our difficulties, and a voice of God heard in our inner souls to tell us of His love.
These things and more drove the mystics in whatever age they appeared.
That there is an emotional aspect to true religion can never be denied. We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts - and love is intensely emotional. We are to be sorry for our sins - and sorrow is heavily emotional. We are to rejoice in the Lord always - and rejoicing is an emotional thrill.
To put it a little differently, religion is experiential. Of that there is no question at all. The Lord has ordained that the eternal life which He defines as the knowledge of the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is an experiential knowledge. It is not the knowledge of a textbook on solid geometry. It is not even the knowledge of Abraham Lincoln which one gleans from Catton's biography. It is an experiential knowledge, very similar to the knowledge a man has of his wife when he has lived with her in love for thirty years.
God gives us the gift of salvation so that we experience the rich blessedness of salvation, and experience it over against the horror and hopelessness of our own personal hells. The Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God.
It is this experiential aspect of religion which the mystic wishes to retain or recover, but goes about recovering it in a wicked and unbiblical way.
It has been some time now since we wrote concerning the subject of dating or courtship within the church. We have considered such subjects as: the goal of dating, who must take the lead in dating, whom we may date, parental authority over dating, and where to go on a date. All of these are very practical questions for both parents and young people in the church who need a sanctified, godly answer. We may not simply follow after the godless and unbelieving trends that are set for us by society.
There is one more question concerning courtship that is of utmost practical significance: when ought I allow my child to begin dating? This question may not be left up to our children to answer. God holds covenant parents responsible for an answer to this question. Neither ought the parent to allow society to determine the answer to that question, or, what is perhaps a greater temptation, peer pressure in the church. Oh yes, parents are under peer pressure too! The greatest temptation for a parent in this regard is simply to "follow the crowd." If everyone else in the church is doing it, it must be right! Besides, if I do not allow my child to begin dating when everyone else does, my child will be left behind! Ah, the unnecessary pressures parents place on their children, all because they are afraid their children are going to be left behind without a life's mate! Sometimes one cannot help but wonder whether it is the parent more than the child who insists that the child start dating at too early an age.
Before answering the question of when to begin dating, let's take a close look at a trend of our modern society that seems to be exerting much influence on the church. Society is pressing the responsibilities of adulthood upon children at an increasingly younger age. This is partially due to the fact that children are exposed to certain adult matters that should wait until they are mature enough to evaluate them correctly. I read in a monthly periodical recently of a father deciding to teach his child about the facts of life at the age of six! Scholastically, children from preschool on are often placed under tremendous pressure by schools and parents to absorb the immense quantity of knowledge that is being discovered. Children are forced to face adult issues because parents divorce or are gone so much that the children are left to fend for themselves, taking on responsibilities that belong to parents. Television, movies, and music confront the smallest of children with issues that they do not even yet comprehend, but which they nevertheless absorb as a part of their consciousness.
This trend has indeed spilled over into the whole area of dating. Children of junior high age are encouraged by parents to go with this guy or that girl. Parents think it is cute. Either that, or parents are so self-absorbed that they do not even notice that their children are following after what they have watched for countless hours on the television set. The statistics are true: the earlier that a child begins dating, the more likely that child is to become involved in premarital sex. Such is the trend in our modern society. Is that the trend that covenant parents want to follow with the precious seed God has given them to raise? Is that what believing parents who desire to see their children enter into a solid, happy marriage want for their children? It is important for every parent within the sphere of the church to answer the question knowledgeably: when ought I to allow my children to begin dating?
In a certain sense it would make things much easier if we were to pass a law at this point. A parent may not allow his child to date before the age of sixteen, or before the age of eighteen, or what have you! The Bible does not lay down such a law. God leaves this question up to the Christian liberty in which we live as believers. But that does not mean that we are not able to come up with an answer to our dilemma. There are a number of givens that parents must consider in attempting to answer this question.
The first is an understanding of the physical, psychological, and even spiritual development of our children. It is a foolish parent that does not understand the difference between adolescence and childhood. When our children reach puberty they reach that intermediate stage in their lives during which they develop from a child dependent on mother and father to maturity, able to make decisions independently of parents. Adolescence is a period of time through which every child must go in order eventually to become a mature adult. A covenant parent must treat his child accordingly. Many parents have a hard time with this age because, on the one hand, they still must deal with their children as children. Yet, on the other hand, they must begin to deal with their children as those who will soon be adults. Spanking a child when the child does wrong is a necessity and will assist that child in learning right from wrong. Spanking a teen when he does wrong will only bring rebellion and perhaps even mockery.
This does not mean that, though a parent now reasons with his child, the child is given freedom to do what he wants to do. This is where many parents fail when it comes to raising a teenage child. Because the child now seems to have a "mind of his own," parents when met with resistance simply give in to their child. And they reason to themselves, "Well, he is older now, and I have to let him make these decisions for himself." That is a serious mistake. My thirteen or fourteen year old is not old enough to make decisions for himself or herself. Why not? Because, as much as they want to think they are, children of this age are not yet adults! They have not yet reached the age of maturity. They are only just beginning to learn discernment for themselves. Mother and father may not simply let go and allow the child to do what he wants to do. Mother and father may not simply allow their children to run free because at the age of sixteen they now have the keys to the car. Parents still have to make decisions for their children. A wise parent will hold his adolescent in check - a pretty tight rein at first. Slowly (and with some children very slowly), as the child grows older, the reins will be let loose. As the parent sees the child maturing, making decisions that show wisdom, the parent will give the child more freedom. There will come a time, and that soon enough, when the parents are able to drop the reins completely and let their children run at their own pace. This understanding of our children is necessary as we determine when they may date.
There are several other determinations we also must make before we allow our children to date. These all deal with what we have written in previous articles. Is my child mature enough to understand that dating is not a game, that dating is not to be used as a form of recreation? Does my child understand that dating is courtship and must be used seriously to find a life's mate? If my child cannot understand this, he or she is not old enough to date. Perhaps it even starts before this, with the parents themselves. Parents must understand the purpose and goal of dating. It is usually the parents who do not understand this who have no problem permitting children who are too young to date. Once parents understand that dating is courtship, they must make sure that their children do too, before allowing them to date.
A second determination we must make is this: Is my son or daughter spiritually mature enough to date someone? Can they carefully discern between a believer and an unbeliever? Do they know it is a sin to date an unbeliever? Are they spiritually mature enough to detect who is a true believer even within the sphere of the church? Do they know that they are not all Israel that are of Israel? Once again, parents themselves must first of all be sensitive to these things in order that they might be sure their children are. In this connection too, we must detect in our children a certain amount of spiritual responsibility. Has my son shown that when I allow him to go out on his own with a young woman of the church, he will go to places that will help build up his relationship with her rather than ruin it? Does he know that life is not made up entirely of recreation? Does he know what forms of recreation are acceptable for a child of God? Is my son or daughter spiritually mature enough to date?
These are questions that we need to ask ourselves as parents before allowing our children to date. Will there be loud protests from our children? Probably! Especially in light of the pressure that society is placing upon them. Our children will think themselves old enough to date just as soon as they find physical and emotional attraction toward the opposite sex. But as parents we ought to know our children well enough. And we ought to sit down with them and reason with them carefully, explaining to them that their time to date will come. In the meantime, they must simply enjoy the friendships they have developed in the church with their peers.
Children need this kind of guidance, parents! They may not realize it, but we must be wise enough to know it. By exerting our authority over our children and saying "no" to premature dating we are doing our children a great service. It removes from them the pressure that if they do not find a girlfriend or boyfriend early on in high school they are going to be left behind! Our children do not need that pressure! When we see our youth beginning to make other mature decisions in their lives, such as a life's vocation and making confession of faith in the church, finding a godly mate will come together with these things.
Let the unbelieving world do what it wants to do. Our goal is that our children form solid marriages through which the covenant of God might be carried on in our generations. We must teach our children to strive for that goal too. May we as parents be given wisdom to lead our children into marriages that are rooted in Christ!
So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. Nehemiah 8:8This Word of God brings to mind, first of all, our weekly Sabbath worship. Everything throughout the entire worship service centers in the preaching of the Word, which God has entrusted to us as the chief means whereby He bestows His grace upon His people.
The minister is charged of God with the mandate to "preach the Word." He must not "talk about his text," as one minister said when he spoke of his sermon. But he must, after he has clearly and distinctly read the Scripture passage, "give the sense" and thus help the congregation to understand that Word of God.
The minister is an ambassador of Jesus Christ. He has vowed before God and His church to devote his life to that task. In his daily walk of life he is ever aware that it is his calling in life to be a pastor, an undershepherd of Jesus Christ. Of that he is constantly aware. He is not "John" or "Pete" to his parishioners, but out of respect for the office he prefers to be called pastor, or at least addressed by his last name.
An ambassador represents the King. An ambassador of Jesus Christ is called by God through the church, for "how shall they (the church) call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?" (Rom. 10:14, 15 a). He is told what to say and is expected to say that exactly according to his mandate. For that calling he is taught and trained by men who are called of God to that very task, and who also know nothing else but "Jesus Christ and him crucified," the heart of the gospel message. It follows that it is the minister's life-task to study and to be well founded in the Scriptures, that in all his ministry he may speak the Word of God, be it "in season or out of season."
From this naturally follows that when we attend our public worship service on Sunday we must prepare ourselves to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us through His ambassador. Our humble prayer must be: "Speak, Lord, according to my personal need, for Thy servant heareth." That makes the worship service unique. Something very wonderful is taking place, the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in the whole world. Christ speaks through His Word and by His Spirit, causing that Word that is preached to be a "savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death." He applies the Word to each of us individually according to our personal need.
Two other services deserve our consideration. They are the services in which the holy sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are administered and celebrated as signs and seals of the Word that is preached.
The sacrament of baptism is not only for the parents and the child that is baptized, as if the rest of the congregation were merely observers, but this sacrament is administered to and celebrated by all of us.
This is evident from the Form for the Administration of Baptism, in which we as congregation confess along with the parents that we are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot enter into the kingdom of God except we be born again. Moreover, we confess that God has established an eternal covenant of friendship with us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, and by Christ's Spirit, who dwells in us and abides with us until we appear without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal. Thereby we are admonished of and obliged unto a new obedience, devoted to God in love.
We cannot fail to note that, although the outward sign is witnessed by all who are present, the inner seal is experienced only by the believers and their spiritual seed.
When the vows are made, promising to bring up the baptized child in the fear of the Lord, it naturally follows that these vows are made mainly by the parents. Yet that does not exclude the congregation. That child is also our child, a member of our flock, and therefore also our responsibility. As we confess with the inspired poet of Psalm 78: "I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done."
In the prayer of thanksgiving we thank and praise God that He has forgiven us and our elect children all our sins and made us members of the body of Christ, the church. We also pray for the baptized child or children.
There is, of course, no doubt about the congregational participation in the administration and celebration of the Lord's Supper.
Baptism is a sign and seal of our entering into intimate covenant fellowship with the living God, while the Lord's Supper is a sign and seal of our feasting upon the bounties of grace within that covenant fellowship. But again, even as the preaching of the Word is a savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death, so also the sacraments are a blessing to those who with a true and living faith embrace God's promises and walk in a new and holy life, while they are testimonies against all those who despise that which is holy, even as Esau did.
In the form for the administration and celebration of the Lord's Supper, we again are reminded of the three things that are necessary to enjoy our only comfort in life and death. In the preparatory section, which is very properly read on the Sunday in advance to prepare us for a week of anticipation, the emphasis falls upon our sins and misery. Thereupon follows the reminder of how we are delivered from our sins and misery, and the form concludes with an admonition toward walking in thankfulness.
The Lord's Supper is, on the one hand, a remembrance feast. Even as Israel was reminded of their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt by the mighty hand of the Lord, so also we are reminded of our deliverance from the bondage of sin and death by the broken body and shed blood of our Lord upon the cross.
On the other hand, even as Israel looked forward to the fulfillment of all God's promises in the coming of the Christ, so we also at the Lord's table look forward to sharing in the wedding feast of the Lamb in eternal glory.
Closely related to our Sunday worship are our daily devotions. It has always been a good practice in Reformed homes to ask for a blessing at the beginning of a meal, to read a portion of Scripture, and to conclude the meal with a prayer of thanksgiving.
How readily these become a mere ritual. At the close of a meal a father once asked his three sons: "Do you want to read the Bible?" Looking up in surprise they answered: "Well, of course." The father insisted: "No, do you feel the need for reading the Bible?" To that they had to admit that they did not. So for a few days the Bible was not read. The boys soon realized that they did need to read God's Word, and they listened with greater interest.
The trouble is that, especially in our day, we are "too busy" to spend much time at daily devotions. I sometimes wonder how many homes have the entire family together at the three meals, or even at two meals every day. I was brought up in a home where the entire family of eight children was expected to be present at the breakfast table every morning, even those mornings when my father left for work by seven o'clock. At noon, that part of the family that was at home had devotions with my mother, and as many as possible were present again for the evening meal.
Even when the entire family is present and a portion of Scripture is read, this is done often in haste, the Bible is closed, and nothing more is said.
How important it is to be sure that the children understand what is read and also realize the importance of reading the Scriptures. When, as we read a passage, questions are put to the small children, we sometimes receive answers that show that their minds are far away or that they understand little of what is being read. Even as with adults, their minds can wander off or be occupied with the affairs of the day.
There are various methods that can be used to improve and make more interesting our family devotions. In some homes, especially among the Presbyterians, the family is gathered in the living room after the meal, at which time the catechism questions are brought up, but also Scripture is read, remarks are made, and discussion often follows.
It is a good practice, especially when couples have reached the years of retirement, to have a Bible dictionary and an atlas handy to check up on facts and names that appear in the section that is read. My daughter and I find it very enlightening to take a glance at the Bible dictionary or Bible atlas while reading especially certain passages of Scripture.
I made a family visitation call at one home where the children had been told to write down the questions that came up during the family devotions to be answered by the pastor. Each child was eagerly awaiting his or her turn to bring up his or her questions. It proved to be a very interesting evening with the children participating.
In any case, whatever practice we may follow, our daily devotions should have a very prominent and important place in our family life.
Finally, a word yet about personal devotions. There is nothing more important and possibly more neglected than this.
That is where a minister may have a big advantage. I remember that when we were students in the seminary, Professor Herman Hoeksema said to us, "You cannot make a sermon until the text has spoken to you." After some time one of the students remarked, "Reverend, I listen, but I hear nothing." With a big smile he answered that we must also learn to listen. How important it is in our daily devotions that we prayerfully listen while God speaks to us from His Word.
Daily devotions include just that: reading a portion of Scripture and prayerfully listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us and teaches us from that passage. It need not be a long section. A few verses that remain in our memory are far more valuable than ten chapters read hastily and thoughtlessly. The important thing is that we daily spend time in prayer with our Lord, whenever and however that may be.
As to the idea and meaning of the covenant of which the Lord speaks to Noah, we must notice, in the first place, that the Lord here refers to something very definite and to something which Noah knew and understood. This is plain from this entire revelation. This means that this covenant and its establishment were not something new and hitherto unknown. This is simply assumed when God speaks to Noah concerning it.Moreover, the Lord does not say that He will establish a covenant with Noah, but very definitely "my covenant." That is definite language. When the Scriptures here speak of "my covenant," therefore, that means not that there are all kinds of covenants, or all kinds of possible covenants, but that there is only one covenant (already known to Noah), that that one covenant is God's, and that it is this one covenant which God will establish with Noah.
This is important for two reasons. In the first place, it means that we must not understand that there are all sorts of different, separate covenants - one with Adam, another with Noah, yet another with Abraham, a different one with Israel, and another in Christ. There is not a covenant of works, a covenant with nature, a covenant of Sinai, etc. There is but one covenant of God. All the distinct dealings which are mentioned in the Scriptures are so many historical phases, revelations, realizations, of the one covenant which the Lord establishes and perfects throughout history, the covenant which shall have its final and full realization when the tabernacle of God shall be with men in the new heavens and the new earth.
In the second place, this is important specifically with respect to the history immediately after the Flood. In that connection we read again of God's covenant with Noah (Gen. 9:8-17). There the same language is used, referring to the same covenant. We shall have occasion to consider this matter in detail in connection with that postdiluvian history, and to show that this was no covenant of "common grace." But even now we must point out: 1) That the covenant in Genesis 6 (which is obviously particular, not general) and the covenant in Genesis 9 are one and the same covenant. 2) That this covenant, identified here and in many other places in the Scriptures as "my covenant" (for example, Genesis 17:7), is one and the same throughout the ages. It is God's everlasting covenant. It is altogether distinct and particular. Thus here, while God brings a flood of waters upon the whole earth and destroys all mankind in His wrath, He singles out Noah, who finds grace in His eyes, and says to him, "But with thee will I establish my covenant."
This is a key idea in the Scriptures.
God's covenant, first of all, means that Jehovah is a covenant God in Himself. The Triune God, even apart from any relation to the creature, lives a covenant life. That life is based on absolute unity of being, of nature, and of life, on the one hand, and on threeness of persons, on the other hand. God is one in being, one in heart and mind and will, one in His divine thoughts and purposes and desires, all characterized by infinite goodness and perfection. Yet He is three persons, so that there is distinction and interaction of persons, fellowship and communion in God. The covenant of God is that most intimate fellowship of love and friendship of the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit. That is, in the deepest sense, God's covenant.
Now it pleased God, according to His everlasting counsel and purpose, to reveal this covenant life to the creature outside of Himself by imparting it to His people in Christ Jesus, so that they might be taken up into the current of His own covenant life, might dwell with Him and enter into His fellowship of friendship. This eternal will of the triune God to realize this covenant through Christ, God's Son in the flesh, who as Immanuel (God with us) is the Head of His elect people - that is the decree of God's eternal covenant of grace. The essence of that covenant relation is that it is the relation of friendship between God and His people in Christ Jesus, according to which they partake of His own life, dwell with Him, are members of His family, walk with Him and talk with Him, enjoy His favor and His blessings, and serve and glorify Him freely as their Friend-Sovereign.
To this must be added that for the greater manifestation of His glory and of the beauty of His covenant, God the Lord chose to reveal light in darkness, and to realize His covenant along the antithetical line of sin and grace, election and reprobation. This is the deepest reason why God's people stand in the midst of the wicked world, why they are of His party over against the world, why they are called to fight the Lord's battle in that world, and why, finally, the church, God's covenant people, is always redeemed through judgment! All must serve for the greater manifestation of the glory of the covenant God.
Now that covenant had a history, a history which began in Paradise the First and which shall end in the heavenly Paradise of God in the new creation. In fact, the covenant and its realization is the meaning of all of history!
Adam stood originally as God's friend-servant over against the devil in the state of righteousness. He was God's covenant friend-servant, and God was his Friend-Sovereign. Yet in all that is found in the first Paradise there is only an earthly picture of the better things to come. Adam falls, and, from the viewpoint of God's purpose, Adam must fall, in order to make room for Christ.For God purposed to realize His covenant in Christ and along the lines of sin and grace. Immediately after that fall of Adam God announces this, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed," etc. That announcement of enmity between the two seeds was at the same time the announcement of the covenant of friendship between God and the seed of the woman. For even as the friendship of the world is enmity with God, so the enmity of the world is friendship with the living God (James 4:4).
Here it is that same covenant that is announced to Noah. The Lord God had continued that covenant in the seed of the woman - in Abel, in Seth, in Enoch, in Methuselah, in Lamech the righteous, Noah's father. Now the end of all flesh is come before God. The whole world is wicked and is to be destroyed. It is the time of judgment. It would seem, therefore, that God's covenant must fail, and that, after all, the seed of the serpent succeeds not merely in bruising the heel of the seed of the woman but in crushing its head. But God's purpose stands, and His promise cannot fail. Noah is God's covenant friend, by sovereign grace. Thus, singularly blessed, he hears God's saving word amid the threatening clouds of the judgment of the Flood: "But with thee I will establish my covenant."
The Divine Establishment of the Covenant
In these words the Lord speaks to Noah of the confirmation of that covenant between Himself and Noah. The word "establish" means literally "to cause to rise up, to make something stand, and thus, to make firm." Hence, the meaning is: I will cause the relation of friendship between Me and thee to be. And I will cause that relation of friendship to be firm and to abide. Notice that in this particular connection the meaning is, therefore: I will cause that relation of friendship to remain firm even when all the world perishes! For this is the emphasis in the context (Gen. 6:17, 18): "And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant." There is a sharp contrast here. Even when all the world perishes under God's consuming anger, with Noah the Lord will maintain His covenant, His relation of friendship. In fact, it is in and through that destruction of the world that God reveals and maintains that covenant of friendship with Noah.
These words also look to the future. They speak of the continuation and realization of that covenant in the future. God's covenant is not yet realized. That shall take place only in and through the final, the Great Seed of the woman, our Lord Jesus Christ. Of that Seed and of the victory of that Seed the Lord had spoken to His people immediately after the Fall. Now it seemed as though that promise were about to fail. The Lord was about to destroy the earth and every living creature; and the victory of the Seed of the woman had not been attained. It certainly appeared as though the devil and his seed were victorious, and that the cause of the Seed of the woman was a lost cause. The whole world was about to perish, and all the works of God's hands seemed to be for nought. But the Lord singles out Noah, Noah who found grace in His eyes, and assures him: "With thee will I make firm, with thee will I continue my covenant."
It is important that this establishment of the covenant with Noah is strictly a work of God. The Lord says, "But with thee will I establish my covenant." So often the presentation is that this covenant is a matter of cooperation between God and man in one degree or another. The covenant is an agreement, or an alliance, entered into by God and man together. In that agreement, or pact, or alliance, there are mutual pledges of friendship and faithfulness on the part of man and God, and mutual obligations and benefits as well.
But such a presentation of the covenant is impossible. How can man ever be a contracting party in relation to the living God? God is God! He is the infinite, eternal, Self-existent One, the Lord, the absolute Sovereign. Man is the creature, who owes all that he is and all that he has to his Lord and Creator. There is no obligation which man can assume, apart from that which is incumbent upon him by reason of his very creation. There is nothing that he can bring to the Most High. There is nothing that he can do for God, who is perfectly Self-sufficient. Even if that man may love and serve his Creator, that is itself a gift of divine goodness for which man owes God thanks! How, then, can the relation of the creature to his Creator ever be or become an agreement or pact of any kind? How can a mere man be a contracting party with the Most High God? How shall God's covenant and promise ever be dependent upon or limited by anything that man, a mere speck of dust, may do or fail to do? This is altogether impossible.
Nor do we ever read in the Scriptures any other language with respect to that covenant than the language which you find in this passage. You never read in the Scriptures of a mutual transaction between God and man in which God stipulates certain conditions which man accepts and by fulfilling which man may make himself worthy of eternal life. You do not find such a transaction in Paradise, before the fall. Nor is the covenant ever presented in the Scriptures anywhere as any kind of pact or agreement.
Uniformly in the Scriptures you find the language which you find here, according to which God establishes His covenant freely and absolutely. Thus it was immediately after the fall: "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed…." Thus it is now to Noah, "I will establish my covenant…." Thus it is throughout the Scriptures. This is altogether God's work. That covenant is not dependent upon Noah's choice, nor upon Noah's work, nor upon Noah's doing anything whatsoever. The Lord does not ask Noah, "Shall we enter into an agreement together? Shall we agree to be friends?" He does not say to him, "I am willing to be your God and to be your Friend, provided you are also willing and will obey and serve Me." Not at all! The Lord simply comes to Noah, His covenant-friend, with His own Word, "But with thee will I establish my covenant." All is of God; nothing is of Noah.
Moreover, we must notice that when the Lord God establishes His covenant, He works organically, not individualistically. Not merely with Noah as an individual does the Lord establish His covenant. God's work is indeed personal; but it is never individualistic. When God created Adam, He did not create merely an individual, but an entire race in him and an entire creation with him. When Adam fell, he did not fall as a mere individual; but the whole race and the entire creation fell with him. When God works His work of salvation, the realization of His everlasting covenant, He also does not work individualistically. He saves an entire church, the glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only so, but He saves a whole world: His church together with the whole creation.
Hence, in the first place, not only Noah is included in that covenant and must enter the ark. For then God's covenant could not be established but would surely come to an end. But Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him must enter the ark. They constitute the church of that day in the organic sense of the word. To be sure, this does not mean, as also becomes clear in later history, that all who are of Noah's generations are children of God; but it means that in the line of the generations of Noah God will establish His covenant, and that the seed of the woman, the covenant people, will be gathered from and in the line of Noah's family.
In the second place, all creation is included in that covenant. The Lord does not merely save a church; for where, then, would He put that church, and what purpose would they serve, and what kind of life would they enjoy? No, indeed; He saves an entire creation. For His covenant people are to be the heirs of the world. Hence, God's covenant is ultimately all embracing. It involves the whole creation. For this reason, when the Lord is about to send the flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh, Noah must take into the ark with him a remnant of every living thing: of fowls, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing. The immediate reason lies, of course, in the fact that after the Flood there is continuity, and the earth must be inhabited again.
The Flood is not the final end of this present creation, but only a stage in the realization of God's purpose. Therefore, life must go on again after the Flood; and the present creation, as well as the seed of the woman, must be preserved. The ultimate reason lies in the fact that God's covenant is all embracing. When the final end of all things shall come, then, too, God will save not only His people, but also the whole creation, which, as Paul tells us, is waiting with earnest expectation for the manifestation of the sons of God and shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Then there shall be not only a glorified and perfect church, but a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness shall dwell. All things shall be united in Christ as the glorious Head over all, and the perfection of God's covenant shall be attained. The tabernacle of God shall be everywhere and over all forever!
Noah's Part in the Covenant
When God establishes His covenant with Noah, the result is not that Noah becomes what we would call an antinomian, or a passive stock and block. He does not assume the attitude, "If God does it all, then I can sit down and I have nothing to do but wait until the flood comes."
On the contrary, Noah becomes of God's party. Through this very work of God whereby He takes up Noah into His covenant of friendship, Noah becomes God's friend-servant. Through the grace of the covenant God, Noah and his family are God's people; they are of God's party in the midst of the world. They have a calling which follows from the very fact that they are God's covenant people, a calling which they can fulfill only as His covenant people: the calling to manifest themselves as the friend-servants of God in the midst of the world that lies in darkness.
Thus it was with Noah. He must be busy in the work of the Lord, the work of faith. He must manifest himself over against the world that lies in darkness as believing and obeying and serving the Lord. Thus we read, too, that the Lord instructs Noah to build an ark: "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. This is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it." In Hebrews 11 we are informed that this was the work of faith (Heb. 11:7).
As to the ark, we may remark, in the first place, that its exact form is not known, although its main lines were in the shape of a box. We must bear in mind - although there have been all kinds of speculations on such questions as to whether the ark had a keel, whether it was a flat-bottomed vessel or a round-bottomed vessel - that the ark was not built for sailing purposes, but simply to be lifted up on the waters of the Flood and to float as a shelter for its inhabitants. Parenthetically, we may note that whatever form the ark had, it was no mean construction project. This again gives the lie to the notion that the civilization of that early date was a primitive and undeveloped one.
In the second place, also the dimensions of the ark are not certain, since they depend upon the size of the cubit. But let us take the minimum size which is usually ascribed to the cubit, a cubit of one and one-half feet. Then the ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and forty-five feet high. There have also been other estimates which make the ark as large as some 560 feet long, over 90 feet wide, and over 55 feet high. Whichever figures are approximately correct - in fact, even if the minimum figures are accepted - the ark was evidently a large vessel, with a rather large capacity. It was a vessel comparable in size to many a modern ocean liner. In the third place, it was apparently constructed with three stories and with a series of windows placed, perhaps, one cubit below the roof. Again, we are not able to determine the precise design. We may remark, however, that the construction of the ark was according to the instructions which Noah received from the Lord. The purpose of the ark was to be the means - contrary to the contentions of all criticism - for the salvation of the church and of the living creatures in the midst of the judgment of a universal flood.
This work of Noah was of great significance. It was exactly in connection with the building of the ark that Noah became manifest as God's covenant friend. In the first place, the building of the ark was an act of faith, of faith that is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. For there was no water as yet. There was nothing to be seen of a coming Flood. No one in all the world, apart from Noah, believed that judgment was coming. It even appeared that the Lord delayed His coming. And there was Noah, building an ark on dry land, the laughingstock of the world! Unconditionally Noah obeyed the Word of the Lord and built the ark according to the instructions which God Himself had given him. That was faith, faith in the Word of the covenant God.
In the second place, this work of Noah was an act of condemnation of the world. Noah became manifest in this work as God's covenant friend antithetically. He condemned the world both in deed and in word. The building of the ark was itself a testimony against the wicked world. But in connection with it, Noah was also a preacher of righteousness, according to the Scriptures. When the world mockingly questioned Noah, "Why are you building that ark, Noah?" he preached righteousness. He told them the Word of God, "I am building this ark because a flood is going to destroy all of you, and that justly, because of your wickedness. For you are wicked, and God is righteous." Thus Noah manifested his faith, manifested that he was of the part of the living God, through the grace of the everlasting covenant.
* Taken from The Art of Prophesying by William Perkins. Used with permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. See the review elsewhere in this issue.
We have discussed the preparation of the substance of the sermon. Now we must think about the actual preaching itself. Here two things are essential: (i) the hiding of human wisdom, and (ii) the demonstration or manifestation of the Spirit. Human wisdom must be concealed, both in the content of the sermon and in the language we use. The preaching of the Word is the testimony of God and the profession of the knowledge of Christ, not of human skill. Furthermore, the hearers ought not to ascribe their faith to the gifts of men, but to the power of God's Word (1 Cor. 2:1, 2, 5). But this does not mean that pulpits will be marked by a lack of knowledge and education. The minister may, and in fact must, privately make free use of the general arts and of philosophy as well as employ a wide variety of reading while he is preparing his sermon. But in public exposition these should be hidden from the congregation, not ostentatiously paraded before them. As the Latin proverb says, Artis etiam celare artem - it is also a point of art to conceal art.
The 'demonstration of the Spirit' (1 Cor. 2:4) becomes a reality when, in preaching, the minister of the Word conducts himself in such a way that everyone - even those who are ignorant of the gospel and are unbelievers - recognise that it is not so much the preacher who is speaking, but the Spirit of God in him and by him (Mic. 3:8; 1 Cor. 2:4; 14:24, 25; 4:19, 20). This is what makes his ministry living and powerful (Luke 11:27).
Such a 'demonstration' will come to expression either in speech or in gesture. The speech must be spiritual and gracious. Spiritual speech is speech which the Holy Spirit teaches (1 Cor. 2:13). It is both simple and clear, tailored to the understanding of the hearers and appropriate for expressing the majesty of the Spirit (Acts 17:2, 3; 2 Cor. 4:2-4; Gal. 3:1). For this reason none of the specialised vocabulary of the arts, nor Greek and Latin phrases, nor odd turns of phrase should be used in the sermon. These distract the minds of those listeners who cannot see the connection between what has been said and what follows. In addition, unusual words hinder rather than help people in their efforts to understand what is being said. And they also tend to draw their minds away from the subject in hand to other things. In this connection, too, mere story-telling as well as vulgar or foolish statements must be avoided.
Gracious speech expresses the grace of the heart ( Luke 4; 22; John 7:46). Such grace is either of the person, or of the ministry.
The grace of the person is the holiness of the heart and of an unblameable life. While these do not in themselves qualify anyone to be a minister, no one can do the work of the ministry without them, for several reasons.
1. Because the doctrine of the Word is hard to understand and to practise. Consequently the minister ought to express what he teaches by his example, as a kind of model or type of his own message (Phil. 4:8; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).
2. A person is not godly, however much he may understand the Scriptures, if he does not possess an inward sense and experience of the Word in his heart (Gen. 18:17-19; Psa. 25:8, 9; Amos 3:7).
3. God abhors godly speech which is not joined with a godly life (Psa. 50:16, 17). As Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329-c.389) said, it is as strange to see someone who is supposed to guide others on the way wandering out of the way himself, as it is to see a physician with signs of disease in his own body.
4. It is one of the secrets of ministry that the minister ought to cover his infirmities, so that they are not obvious. Ordinary people do not distinguish between the ministry and the minister. They are not able to see the importance of the ministry without first assessing the person of the minister. Herod heard John Baptist willingly, not because he was a good minister, but because he was a good man (Mark 6:20). Gregory of Nazianzus strikes the right note again when he says: 'He that teaches sound doctrine, and lives wickedly, reaches with one hand what he knocks away with the other.' John Chrysostom (347-407), commenting on Matthew 20, says: 'The doctor of the church by teaching well and by living well instructs the people how they ought to live well; but by living ill he instructs God how to condemn him.' And again: 'It is an easy matter to show wisdom in words; teach me to live by your life, this is the best teaching.' Words do not make as great an impression on the soul as works do!
5. A minister who is wicked, either openly or secretly, is not worthy to stand before the face of the most holy and almighty God (Lev. 10:3; Isa. 6:6-8; Jer. 15:19). That is why the judgments of God remain for wicked ministers to tremble at (1 Sam. 2:17, 25).
Holiness involves the following elements as far as the preacher is concerned:
1. A good conscience (Acts 24:16; 2 Cor. 1:12; 1 Tim. 1:19). Without this, the mouth of the preacher will be closed (Isa. 56:10).
2. An inward sense of the doctrine we are to preach. Wood that is capable of burning is not set alight unless fire is put to it. Similarly anyone who would encourage godly affections and desires in others must first have godly affections himself. Thus, whatever responses a particular sermon requires should first be stirred up privately in our own minds, so that we can kindle the same flame in our hearers.
3. The fear of God, so that, filled with a reverent sense of the majesty of God, we will speak soberly and with moderation.
4. A love for the people (1 Thess. 2:7). To encourage this affection, the minister must pray seriously and fervently for the people of God (1 Sam. 12:23).
5. The minister must also be worthy of respect for his constancy, integrity, seriousness, and truthfulness. He must know how to respect others in private or in public, in keeping with the character of his congregation.
6. He must be temperate, inwardly restraining any strong feelings. Both his outward style of behaviour and his gestures ought to be moderate and straightforward. In this way he will be marked by dignity and authority. Consequently he must be neither covetous, nor a heavy drinker, nor litigious, nor a pugnacious character, nor given to bursts of anger. Those who are younger men must devote themselves to godliness, and reject the lusts of youth (1 Tim. 4:7).
The grace of the minister consists of the following qualities:
1. He must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Paul does not simply mean that it is highly desirable for this gift to be present; it is so essential that it may not be absent. This is the reason Gregory of Nazianzus refused a bishopric. Theophylact comments on this passage that 'this duty of teaching is above all others essential in those who are bishops.' Indeed, in the Councils of Nicea and Miletus, this was imposed instead of punishment, to hold the name of a minister, but not be allowed to preach the gospel.
2. Authority, by which the preacher speaks as the ambassador of the great Jehovah (Titus 2:15; 1 Pet. 4:11).
3. Zeal, so that, in his longing for God's glory he will seek through his ministry to fulfil and effect the decree of God's election of men and women to salvation (Job 32:18, 19; Col. 1:28, 29; 2 Tim. 2:25).
Gesture involves the action of either the voice or the body.
The voice ought to be loud enough for all to hear (Isa. 58:1; John 7:37; Acts 2:14). In the exposition of the doctrine in a sermon we ought to be more moderate, but in the exhortation more fervent and vehement. There should be a gravity about the gestures of the body which will in their own way grace the messenger of God. It is appropriate therefore, that the preacher keep the trunk of his body erect and still, while the other parts like the arm, the hand, the face and eyes may express and (as it were) speak the spiritual affections of his heart.
Scripture provides illustrations of the communicative power of physical actions. The lifting up of the eye and the hand signifies confidence (2 Chron. 6:13, 14; Acts 7:55). The casting down of the eyes indicates sorrow and heaviness (Luke 18:13). As for gestures, we cannot lay down further principles; but here the example of widely respected godly ministers will serve as a guide.
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. Isaiah 43:12 b.God is God. You say, perhaps, that this statement is a truism. But if it is, it is one that may well be emphatically repeated and loudly proclaimed by the church of Jesus Christ in the world, especially in the world of today.
We speak and hear a good deal of Man, of Man's power and ingenuity, of his mighty achievements in practically every department of life, of his development and progress in subjecting the world unto himself, of his evident success in making of this world a proper and pleasant place to live in. We speak of man's inherent goodness, and we laud his humanitarianism and philanthropy. We do, indeed, also hear of Man's salvation, but even then it is emphatically Man's salvation that is the subject of discussion, a salvation after his own heart, conceived by his own imagination. We speak of Christ, but it is Man's Christ, not the Christ of God and of the Scriptures. And finally, we do frequently speak of God, for we are, indeed, religious, but it is of Man's God, a god that is the product of Man's invention, who really has a place among us by the grace of Man, upon whom we occasionally bestow the privilege of calling upon Him, especially when we are in trouble. He is a god that is not God at all. As a well-known contemporary theologian expressed it, "we imagine that we can say God, by loudly shouting Man!" All the more urgent becomes the calling of the church to proclaim: God is God!
The supreme and, in a sense, the only task of the church in the world is to preach the Word of God. But if there is a Word of God to be proclaimed by the church, it must needs be a Word which God Himself speaks, and which He speaks concerning Himself. And if God speaks concerning Himself, the basic and all-pervading note of that speech must inevitably be: I am God!
God is God! Unless the church proclaims this truth in all its implications, in all its purity, and without compromise, she cannot preach, she has nothing to say. Unless she proclaims this truth, not as one of the tenets of her faith but as the truth of all truths, not occasionally but always, she forfeits the right and lacks the power to say anything at all about man, the world, Christ, salvation, life and death, sin and grace. It is to this supreme calling of the church that the Lord Himself calls the attention of His people and which He enjoins upon them in Isaiah 43:12: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God."
The Lord willing, we hope to make this theme the keynote of our radio broadcasts, whatever may be the particular subject of our discussion, whether we speak of Him directly or of man, of Christ and salvation, of the church and of the world, of sin and grace, of life and death. God is God!
Do not object that we express a mere truism, or that we make ourselves guilty of uttering a tautology, a vain repetition, when we say that God is God - as if a man were asked to give a definition of a horse, and he would say, "A horse is a horse"; or if he were asked to describe a tree and he would answer, "A tree is a tree"; or if he were asked, "What is a triangle?" and he would reply, "A triangle is a triangle." In these cases you would rightly judge that the man said exactly nothing, that he made himself guilty of vain repetitions, because he did not give us any further knowledge of the horse, of the tree, or of the triangle. He utterly failed to give a definition. As long as you inquire after any created or man-made object, you may rightly expect a definition. But this cannot be applied to God. Him you cannot define. The creature belongs to our world, God does not belong to our world. He is God! The creature is the object of our perception and investigation; God is not the object of our perception or investigation. He is the Invisible, the Infinite, the Eternal, who dwelleth in an inaccessible light. The creature is one of many; God is One. The creature may be compared, classified, defined; God is the incomparable One, he can never be defined.
Of the creature you and I may either affirm or deny that it exists; we can describe it and say what it is; we can trace its origin, perhaps, and say whence it is; but of God, who shall say anything at all? Man, mere man, cannot affirm that He is, nor deny His existence. Whatever we say of ourselves about God is surely a lie! Only when we hear His Word as He speaks concerning Himself can we know Him and speak about Him. It is this truth which we try to express first of all in the proposition: God is God. By it we not only admit, but emphatically express that we cannot define him, that of ourselves we can neither know nor say anything about Him; that we cannot even say "God" unless He first speaks to us concerning Himself. God is God!
The church is witness. She testifies that God is God. That is her calling. For this very purpose she was chosen and called out of the world. That she is witness implies, first of all, that she hears and believes the Word of God. She is the recipient of revelation. When she proclaims that God is God, she does not speak of herself, but through revelation. A so-called church that denies revelation cannot be God's witness. A church that puts reason, philosophy, experience, or anything else instead of revelation has no message, cannot preach that God is God. The true church does not pretend to know anything of herself. She lives by and draws all her knowledge of God from revelation. By this she means that God has spoken to us in times past, that in the last days He has spoken to us through the Son, "whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds," who is "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person" (Heb. 1:2, 3). By this Word of God the church lives, for she possesses this Word in the Holy Scriptures, and through these Scriptures God still speaks to His church by the Holy Spirit He has given unto her. The church, therefore, does indeed hear the Word of God.
And by this Word, God clearly announces that He is God, infinitely different from and transcendent above all that is called creature, wonderful in power and wisdom, out of whom, through whom, and unto whom are all things. He is not like us; He is God! For He reveals Himself as the Creator of all things. He calls the things that are not as if they were (Rom. 4:17). Only God who is God is able to create. No idol has this power. Man can only call the things that are. God calls the things that are not. "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Ps. 33:6). When God says, "Let there be light," there is light. "He spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast" (Ps. 33:9). Hence, by faith the church knows and insists that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear.
Through this revelation of Himself as Creator, God gives testimony to the church, not only that He is, but that He is God! He calls to her through His Word and Spirit: "To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their hosts by number; he calleth them all by name by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth" (Is. 40:25, 26). "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." It is above all for this reason that the church cannot possibly accept or even compromise with the theory of evolution. She hears the Word of God through the things that are made, clearly witnessing to her that God is God.
But there is another element in revelation still more clearly and gloriously proclaiming that God is God. For He not only calleth the things that are not as if they were, but He also quickeneth the dead! He is not only Creator, but also Redeemer. His name is Wonderful, indeed! For man fell, and we lie in the midst of death. The wrath of God kills us. There is no way out. Not all the ingenuity and wisdom and power of man can show us the way out of death. But God is God! In the fullness of time He sent His only begotten Son into the world. The Word of God that is with God and is God, by whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that is made - that Word became flesh and dwelled among us. He entered into our death, into the deepest darkness of our woe, for He was delivered for our transgressions. By His death He redeemed His own, whom God gave Him before the foundation of the world, and obtained for them righteousness and eternal life and glory. God raised Him from the dead. And in that resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, He revealed Himself as the one who quickeneth the dead!
We shall have more to say of this resurrection in other broadcasts, the Lord willing. This time it is merely our purpose to show that through this resurrection of Christ from the dead God speaks to the church that He is God! For the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, gives unto His church the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, enlightens the eyes of her understanding, that she may know "what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in heavenly places" (Eph. 1:17-20). Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead God speaks to the church that He is God!
But to be witnesses implies more. It signifies not only that the church hears the Word of God and professes to know nothing of herself, it also means that the church speaks, and that her speech is strictly a testimony. The church speaks. She is called to speak. She is under authority to speak. She has no choice in the matter. Never does she stand before the alternative: to speak or not to speak. For God has chosen and ordained her for this very purpose. Nor is it left to her choice what shall be the content of her speech in the world. Always she must say: God is God. Nor can she refrain from speaking. For the divine calling is irresistible. When God directs His omnipotent Word to her, saying, "Ye are my witnesses," that Word becomes a fire in her bones, an overwhelming power that impels the church to speak. That is the reason why, wherever the church comes to manifestation in the world, she institutes the ministry of the Word. She must needs proclaim that God is God. The character and form of her speech is that of a testimony. For she witnesses of the Word of God which she hears. She does not philosophize about God. She does not pretend to prove that God is, nor that He is God.
Often the church in the world has been tempted by the powers of opposition to forsake her character of a witness. Over against those who deny that God is, and that He is God, she attempted to demonstrate the existence of God rationally. She argued that the world must have a cause, and that this cause is God. Or she pointed out that there must be a Being corresponding to the universal idea of God among men. Or again she pointed to the design which undeniably is manifest in all things, and she attempted to draw the conclusion that there must be a designer, and this designer is God.
But however well intended all these attempts may be, they are quite devoid of power to prove that God is God. By making these attempts the church forsook her character of witness and stepped over into the domain of philosophy. Philosophy can never find God who is God. Human reason can never find Him who lies beyond the scope of reason. The finite cannot prove the existence of the Infinite. And, therefore, when the church speaks, her speech must always assume the form of a testimony. She must preach. And to preach is to witness.
This does not mean that the testimony of the church is irrational. Irrational it is indeed, to say that God is not, or to deny that He is God. Irrational it is even to pretend that we of ourselves can say anything about God. What God says concerning Himself, that is, the Word of God which the church hears, is rational in the highest sense of the Word. But it does mean that the church speaks only through revelation, she testifies of what she has heard of the Word of God. She is witness. Only as a witness can she possibly proclaim that God is God.
It is this most fundamental of all truths, this testimony of the church, that is and must needs be gainsaid in and by the world, by natural man. This contradiction of the testimony that God is God is not to be explained as a mere intellectual error or fallacy of reason. Rather its cause must be found in sin. The contradiction is ethical. There is one who speaks of himself, and speaking of himself speaks the lie. That lie is: "Ye shall be like God." It is tantamount to saying: God is not God. This lie, man preferred to the Word of God. And he still prefers it. He is in darkness. The carnal mind is enmity against God who is God. Hence, this fundamental truth the sinner, the carnal man, always contradicts.
This contradiction assumes different forms and expresses itself in various ways. The heathen, even those of the Graeco-Roman world, celebrated for its culture, expressed this by representing God by the image of man or beast. Paul writes of this horror in Romans 1:21-23: "Because when they knew God they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things."
But one does not have to make an image of silver or gold or stone or wood in order to express this fundamental contradiction. All philosophy that refuses to live by revelation always does the same thing, commits the same corruption. Sometimes it directly denies that God is, proudly calling itself Atheism, thus making the most irrational statement in the name of reason. "The fool saith in his heart, There is no god" (Ps. 14:1). At other times philosophy identifies God with the world. Pantheism denies the transcendence of God, and thereby contradicts the truth that God is God. For if God is the world and the world is God, he belongs to the world in time and space, and cannot be God, the Infinite, the Eternal, the Immutable and Incomprehensible One. Again, philosophy has called its god the First Cause, the Cause of all causes. But even so He is not God, for it must be granted that the cause belongs to the effect. If God is the First Cause of the world, He belongs to the world and is not God at all. Man, who refuses to hear the Word of God, who stands in enmity against God, and speaks of himself about God, always contradicts the testimony of the church that God is God.
Nor is this contradiction a harmless error. No one can deny that God is God with impunity. For God will have His honor, and He will be glorified as God. He is filled with holy wrath against all that trample His glory and honor in the dust. His wrath is revealed in the fact that the world that denies that God is God is led to and actually seeks its own destruction. Also of this the apostle speaks in that memorable first chapter of the epistle to the Romans, in language which may be hard for us to hear, but the truth of which one may see realized in every department of life in the modern world, wherever it is denied that God is God. The apostle writes that because men refused to glorify God as God and to be thankful, and because they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things; because they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, therefore "God also gave them over to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves" (v. 24). Therefore "God gave them over unto vile affections" (v. 26). And again, therefore "God gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient" (v. 28). Thus men became revealed as "being filled with all unrigh-teousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful" (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28-31).
Perhaps, you say, as did the people of Galilee to Jesus in Capernaum, "This is a hard speech, who can hear it?" Do not imagine, however, that these terrible indictments are brought against uncivilized hordes or tribes in the wilds of Africa, for the apostle wrote about the Graeco-Roman world, proud of its progress in art and science and culture of all kinds, boasting of its power and knowledge of human justice. And remember, too, that all these corruptions are due, not to any lack of culture, but to the denial of the fundamental truth that God is God. The contradiction of the testimony of the church is lived out, is realized, in man's whole life, the life of his body and the life of his soul, the life of his mind and the life of his will; and in every domain of life this contradiction bears its fruit - in the home and in society, in national and international relationships. The result is destruction. And, therefore, the testimony of the church must be proclaimed emphatically, over against all that oppose the truth and change it into a lie: God is God!
Blessed, indeed, is the people that know this God who is God blessed forever! True, God is God, and therefore He cannot be comprehended. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite; time cannot compass Eternity. But there is a difference between knowledge and comprehension, and the latter is not necessary unto the former. Although in the very testimony that God is God the church confesses that God cannot be comprehended, yet she also proclaims that He is knowable, and He is known. He is known because He has revealed Himself. He revealed Himself, not merely as God, but as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved His church with an eternal and unfathomable love; who reconciled us to Himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us; who delivers us from the power of sin and death, and giveth us life eternal in the knowledge of Him! We know Him in Christ Jesus our Lord, not merely with our head, intellectually, as theology knows Him; but we know Him with our heart, spiritually, so that we taste that He is good and the overflowing Fount of all good. We know Him and have fellowship with Him, and hear Him tell us that we are His friends, His sons and daughters. We know Him, and in this knowledge have eternal life. "For this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). Let, therefore, the church of Jesus Christ in the world clearly understand her calling, and emphatically proclaim always and everywhere: God is God!
The Art of Prophesying, by William Perkins. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996. Pp. xv + 191. $6.99 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]Both the prophet and those to whom he prophesies will benefit from this warm, practical book on the ministry. "Prophesying" in the title refers to the preaching of the gospel. The "prophet" is the preacher, and his audience is the congregation of believers and their children. The late sixteenth century English Reformed pastor William Perkins gives wise counsel to the preacher concerning his office, task, and life. Along the way, he instructs the people of God to honor the preaching and to receive their godly preacher, to the saving of their souls.
The book brings together two related but different works by Perkins. The first is "The Art of Prophesying," which concerns the proper preparation and delivery of sermons. Perkins is convinced that "it is doubtful if there is a more difficult challenge in the theological disciplines than that of homiletics" (p. 3). Basic to the construction of good sermons are a sound doctrine of Scripture and a grasp of the principles of the interpretation of Scripture. Perkins gives solid, if brief, instruction in both.
All good preaching includes practical application of the doctrine of the text. The reproof "must always be accompanied by an obvious love for the person who has sinned." Also, "the minister should include himself in his reproofs. In this way the preaching, teaching and counseling will be expressed in a mild and gentle spirit" (p. 65).
In his enthusiasm for effective application, Perkins divides the congregation up into all kinds of dubious categories, as became characteristic of Puritanism.
With regard to the delivery of the sermon, preaching is not reading a manuscript, but speaking "directly from the heart." This requires that a carefully prepared manuscript be learned, which is not the same as "memorising a sermon manuscript word for word." Perkins has helpful advice here (pp. 69, 70).
The second work that makes up this volume is "The Calling of the Ministry." Expounding Job 32 and 33 and Isaiah 6, Perkins comments on the worth of the office of the ministry, as well as the actual call of a man to the office. He observes that ministers are scarce. In his day, able young men tended to avoid the ministry because "the ministry, generally speaking, yields nothing but a clear road to poverty" (p. 95). But God "will pay their wages: an eternal weight of comfort here and of glory in heaven" (p. 191).
Throughout, Perkins insists on the godliness of the minister's life. This comes out clearly in the chapter that is reprinted elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer.
Perkins has the highest view of the office of preaching. Preaching is "the voice of God" (p. 7). Particularly in forgiving sins to the penitent or holding sins against the impenitent, "the power ministers of the gospel have comes directly from God." This carries its own sharp warning to preachers (p. 111).
Saturday, April 28, was a very special day for friends of Adams Christian School in Wyoming, MI. That afternoon Adams marked her 50th anniversary as a PR Christian School. This celebration was marked with a program featuring, in part, two different speakers. First, Mr. Ed Ophoff, Sr., a parent who over the years has sent five of his children to Adams, spoke about the blessed privilege of being able to send children to our own Christian schools. Some would say we sacrifice to do so, but Mr. Ophoff saw it as anything but a sacrifice. Really, what greater calling could we as parents have? This short word of encouragement was followed by Prof. R. Decker (class of '55) speaking on the theme found in II Thessalonians 2:15, "Therefore brethren, stand fast, and hold the tradition which ye have been taught." The students of Adams also provided a special number when they sang, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and Psalter #247. Mr. Don Doezema, a former teacher and principal at Adams, along with vocal help from his wife Judi, also a former teacher at Adams, presented pictures of Adams from the past to the present. Mr. Pete Hoekstra, current principal at Adams, concluded the program by asking various classes and teachers from past years to stand. The celebration continued with an open house and a chance to greet old classmates around coffee and various picture displays of the past 50 years at Adams. For you parents who are now paying school tuition, you might be interested to know that Adams' first tuition schedule back in 1950 was set at $2.25/week for one child either in kindergarten or grades, $3.50/week for two, or $4.00 for three or more. One more item of interest. On June 10, 1998, the first two third-generation students graduated from Adams. Indeed, we can only humbly pray that God will grant us grace to be faithful to that calling that we all share in, to train our children, not only in Adams, but in all our schools. God has wonderfully blessed us.
On April 6 the students and teachers of Hope Christian School in Redlands, CA presented their annual spring program. They presented various recitations and songs with the accompaniment of different instruments, including piano, organ, four flutes, and trumpet. They developed a theme appropriate for spring, "All Nature Praises God."
Supporters of our two Christian schools in Iowa were invited on April 27 to a concert performed by the 6-9th grades of the Hull and Doon PR Christian Schools. There were numbers sung by each choir, some band numbers, and some combined choir numbers.
Young People's Activities
On Sunday afternoon, April 22, the Young People's Societies of our churches in the west Michigan area were invited to an Easter Mass Meeting hosted by the two young people's societies of the Hudsonville, MI PRC. Mr. Angus Stewart, a fourth-year student in our seminary, who also attends Hudsonville, spoke to the good-sized gathering from Ephesians 4:7-16 on the theme, "Spiritual Maturity for Young People."
We can be thankful that the Lord continues to give us open doors in the Eastern U.S.A. On Friday and Saturday, April 20 & 21, Revs. Jai Mahtani and Ron Cammenga were the featured speakers at a Mission Conference in Lanham, MD, sponsored by the Grace Presbyterian Church, entitled "Turn to the Living God," a conference on Reformed Evangelism that is biblical, confessional, covenantal, and personal. This conference was attended by almost 50 people. Five messages were presented and there were five question and answer sessions. At the conclusion of the conference Rev. Cammenga went to Pittsburgh to preach to the saints there. Rev. Mahtani remained in Lanham to preach at the Grace Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Marty VanderWal, pastor of the Covenant PRC in Wyckoff, N.J., who also attended the conference, flew on Saturday to Fayetteville, NC to take his turn spending two Lord's days there.
The Ladies' Guild of the Immanuel PRC in Lacombe, Alberta, CN invited all the women of their church, along with all the women of neighboring First PRC in Edmonton, for a day of fellowship together on May 3. Rev. Michael DeVries, pastor at First, was asked to give a meditation, which was followed by a noon luncheon.
The Martha Society of the Hull, IA PRC invited all the ladies from their church, as well as surrounding congregations, to join them on April 24 to hear Rev. Steven Key, their pastor, speak to them on "The Fruit of the Spirit."
The Hope PRC in Walker, MI formed a new trio of Revs. J. Slopsema, R. VanOverloop, and M. VanderWal, from which to call a man to be minister-on-loan in the E.R.C.S. At a congregational meeting held on May 6, Rev. VanderWal was elected to receive that call. (He declined this call-GVB).
The Lynden, WA PRC extended a call to Rev. Kleyn to serve as their pastor. (He declined this call-GVB)
"This coming to know Christ is what makes Christian truth redemptive truth, the truth that transforms not just the truth that informs."
Last modified: 14-Jun-2001