Covenant Reformed News - February 2023

Covenant Reformed News

February 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 10


Was Ishmael Saved?

Was Ishmael, the son of Hagar, saved? There are differences of opinion among orthodox Christians on this question, with some claiming that he was not a believer and others reckoning that he was a child of God.

In this article, I will give no less than five biblical arguments in support of the position that Ishmael was saved by God’s sovereign grace in Jesus Christ. I shall present the points in the order in which they arise in the first book of the Bible, from Ishmael’s thirteenth year (Gen. 17), to his expulsion from Abraham’s camp (Gen. 21) and to his death over a century later (Gen. 25).

(1) Ishmael lived before God. In answer to Abraham’s prayer, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (17:18), the Lord responded, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee” (20). Was Abraham merely asking God for the continuation of Ishmael’s physical life? There is no indication in the inspired narrative that Ishmael was sick or in danger of expiring. Instead, Abraham here prayed for Ishmael’s spiritual life. After all, the grand subject of Genesis 17 is the covenant of grace! Father Abraham was concerned here with Ishmael’s covenant life, that is, everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Jehovah answered this prayer for Ishmael lived before God as His covenant friend. This is the prayer of all godly parents, themselves the spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham, regarding their children: “O that our sons and daughters might live before thee in Christ!”

(2) Ishmael was blessed by God. Jehovah’s response to Abraham’s prayer for his son is not only, “as for Ishmael, I have heard thee,” but also, “Behold, I have blessed him” (20). Surely, Ishmael is blessed by God (20) with the divine favour, as was blessed believing Sarah (16). Remember too that the blessings of Genesis 17 are covenant blessings in the coming Messiah!

This second point regarding Ishmael’s salvation reinforces the first. (1) Ishmael lived before God as (2) one blessed by God. In answer to Abraham’s prayer, “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (17:18), the Lord responded, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him” (20).

(3) God answered Ishmael’s prayers. Genesis 21:17 states this twice and unambiguously regarding Ishmael: “God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad.” Here is the teaching of Scripture regarding whose prayers Jehovah answers: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9); “Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth” (John 9:31).

The connection between these three points is obvious. Ishmael (1) lived before God and (2) was blessed by God, and (3) God heard and answered his prayers.

(4) God was with Ishmael. “God was with the lad,” Ishmael (Gen. 21:20), as He was, for example, “with” Abraham (22), Jacob (28:15) and Joseph (39:2, 3, 21, 23), just as Jehovah is “with” all of His elect and believing people. The word “with” is the preposition of God’s covenant fellowship with His saints in Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

Let us restate the four points made so far, emphasizing the prepositions. Ishmael (1) lived before God, (2) was blessed by God and (4) was with God. No wonder that we read twice that (3) God answered his prayers!

(5) Ishmael was gathered unto his people at his death. After his 137 years in this life, Ishmael “gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people” (25:17). The statements that, at death, an individual was “gathered to/unto his people” or a group were “gathered unto their fathers” are significant references in the early books of the Old Testament to the blessed life of God’s people beyond their deaths.

This terminology is first used of father Abraham. Dying at the age of 175, he was “gathered to his people” (25:8). Some 90 or more years before, the Lord had promised Abraham, “thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace” (15:15). The godly “people” and “fathers” to whom Abraham went at death include Terah, Shem, Noah, Methuselah, Enoch, Seth, Adam and Eve. Also like Ishmael, “Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people” (35:29), as did Jacob (49:29, 33).

Besides these three great patriarchs in Genesis, Ishmael was gathered unto his people like the two sons of Amram and Jochebed: Aaron (Num. 20:24, 26; 27:13; Deut. 32:50) and Moses (Num. 27:13; 31:2; Deut. 32:50). The faithful generation that conquered the promised land under Joshua was also “gathered unto their fathers” (Judg. 2:10).

Thus in Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Judges we have 13 occurrences of the phrase “gathered to/unto his people/their fathers.” These references include six believing individuals—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron and Moses, as well as Ishmael (who marks the second use of this terminology)—and one godly generation, that of Joshua.

At the death of God’s people, they are buried as to their bodies. As to their souls, believers are gathered unto their spiritual fathers and people by Jehovah in His infinite mercy through the crucified and risen Christ.

To sum up this article, we have looked at five key testimonies: two from Genesis 17, two from Genesis 21 and one from Genesis 25. Their united testimony is that Ishmael was saved. After all, in this world, (1) Ishmael lived before God; (4) God was with him, (2) blessed him and (3) answered his prayers. When he left this world, (5) God in love gathered Ishmael unto his people. What more could one want? Rev. Angus Stewart


Felix’s Trembling

Our question for this issue of the News is: “In Acts 24:25, when Paul ‘reasoned’ with Felix of ‘righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,’ Felix ‘trembled.’ This man is viewed by many to be an unbeliever for, instead of believing the gospel that Paul shared with him, he sent the apostle away: ‘Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.’ How do we explain the trembling of this (apparently) unregenerate man apart from a gracious work of the Spirit, convicting him of his sins and bringing him to an acknowledgment that what he heard is the truth, though he rejected it? Surely unbelievers wouldn’t have any concern for these things, for there is ‘no fear of God before their eyes’ (Rom. 3:18)?”

It would seem from Scripture that trembling before God and His Word is a mark of God’s people, an evidence of repentance, of the true knowledge of God and even of humble gratitude for what God has done as Saviour (Ezra 9:4; Isa. 32:11; 66:2, 5; Jer. 33:9; Hab. 3:16; Mark 16:8; Acts 7:32). The wicked in Israel are commanded to repent and tremble before God in Jeremiah 5:21-22: “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not: Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence?”

Surely it is true that God’s redeemed people tremble at the knowledge of their own sinfulness and of how near they were to eternal punishment in hell. Especially they tremble at the fact that they have sinned against God. They tremble when they see something of His glory and majesty, and when they behold the greatness of His salvation. Trembling is, for the believer, a mark of grace and of God’s work of salvation in Christ.

However, it is also true that the ungodly can and do tremble before God. In Deuteronomy 2:25, God promised that the heathen Canaanite nations would tremble when they heard of Israel’s victories east of the Jordan (and of their passage across that river into the land of Canaan). Jeremiah 10:10, looking ahead to the end, says that the nations will tremble at God’s wrath: “But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” This is of the same nature as the trembling of Felix.

Many think that such trembling is an evidence of a common or preparatory grace of God, shown to those who are not yet regenerated or who may never be saved. This is wrong. Trembling before God is either an evidence of saving grace or only an evidence of unbelieving terror.

There is nothing in Scripture that suggests any change of heart or repentance on the part of Felix. That he knew something of the true God is likely for he was married to a Jewess (Acts 24:24) but this was no saving knowledge. That he knew something of the gospel is stated in Acts 24:22 and is no surprise, since he ruled the area where Christianity had its roots. His dealings with Paul show him to be wicked and unbelieving. He was interested merely in a bribe and in doing the Jews a favour (26-27). He trembled because Paul talked to him about righteousness, temperance and judgment, for he was unrighteous, intemperate and under the judgment of God.

Was this the work of the Spirit? Was it a gracious work of the Spirit? Did it show some knowledge of, and conviction for, sin? That it was the work of the Spirit is without doubt, for all things are of the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. This is not to say, however, that it is a gracious operation of the Spirit in the heart of Felix. How could there be any grace in it when it produced nothing of value and only made the suffering of Paul longer and greater? How could Felix’s trembling be anything but terror before God, entirely lacking saving knowledge, for all he cared for was money and the opinions of men? There is nothing of a gracious operation of the Spirit in that. Indeed, the word translated “trembled” is a word that simply means “frightened.” Felix was frightened, as the ungodly often are when God shakes them out of their complacency.

The most important passage that reflects on Felix’s trembling is James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” The word translated “tremble” describes not the feeling of terror, so much as the shuddering and shaking that results from extreme fear. The devils shake at the thought of God but their shaking is neither a gracious work of the Spirit, nor evidence of conviction for sin.

The fear that unbelievers sometimes show and the knowledge (non-saving and not gracious) that they have of God is explained in Romans 1:18-32. God manifests Himself to them in their consciences and in the things that are made, the creation: “that which may be known of God is manifest in them” (19). The knowledge of God that they have does not have anything gracious in it. It only leaves them “without excuse” (20).

Thus this knowledge of God bears no good fruit in them. They do not glorify Him or show thankfulness to Him (21). They turn the truth of God into a lie, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator (25). Their idolatry is not evidence of some felt need for God, that they all have a “God-shaped hole in their hearts,” but is instead proof that they do not want to serve Him. What is more, turning from God, they fall into the vile affections which are so much a part of our society. Their unsaving and ungracious knowledge of God produces in them the sin of homosexuality (26-27).

Do they know God? Yes, they do. At least, they know His eternal power and divinity (20). Does that knowledge of God have any saving value? It does not. It only produces, in the righteous judgment of God, more wickedness. Is there any grace in that knowledge of God? There is not, for grace does not lead to the unnatural affections mentioned in Romans 1. Does God have His purpose in making Himself known to them? Yes, He does. He leaves them “without excuse” now and forever (20).

Romans 1 explains Felix’s trembling, as does the Word of God in James 2:19. God did what Ezekiel 32:10 describes: He brandished His sword before Felix through Paul’s testimony and Felix trembled for his life. What a difference between the trembling of Felix and that of Habakkuk, who said, “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble” (3:16). That is trembling by grace and with profit, trembling that finds rest in Jesus Christ. Rev. Ron Hanko


Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Reformed Witness Hour Newsletter - February 2023

News from the Reformed Witness Hour

February 2023


Help Us Get the Word Out!

This month we have four Christ-centered, Gospel-themed messages to share!

CGriess 2019

In February, we will hear four messages from Prof. Cory Griess. Prof. Griess is a Professor at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary

February 5
Religion Defended (1) 
Isaiah 48:11

February 12
Religion Defended (2)
Isaiah 48:11

February 19
Unconditional Election (1)
John 6:37-40

February 26
Unconditional Election (2)
John 6:37-40


In Case You Missed It!

If you missed it, take the time to listen to Rev. Bruinsma’s New Year’s Day message called Making a Stand. As we start this new year, this sermon gives a wonderful reminder about taking a stand and having confidence in our faith. Rev. Bruinsma expounds on the story of David and Golliath and we are reminded to be steadfast and unmovable in our faith, always abounding in the work of the Lord. We are exhorted to do this in four ways:

  1. Do not join the world in its unbelief.
  2. Do not lay down your weapons and surrender to the wicked.
  3. Do not cower before the wicked even when they slander or abuse us.
  4. Do make a stand! Be steadfast and unmovable, God will give us the victory, we can be assured!

Believe! Victory is ours! We can go forth this year with boldness and confidence that God will give us what is necessary to stand in this world, in faith. Listen to this message on by searching key words: Making a Stand.

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Reformed Witness Hour Messages - March 2023

News from the Reformed Witness Hour

March 2023

CGriess 2019

In March, we will continue with messages from Prof. Cory Griess’ Calvinism series. Prof. Griess is a professor at the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary.

March 5
Limited Atonement (1) 
John 10:15

March 12
Limited Atonement (2)
1 John 4:10; Gal.3:13; Rom.5:10

March 19
Total depravity (1)
John 6:44, 65-66

March 26
Total Depravity (2)
John 6:44, 65-66


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Covenant Reformed News - January 2023

Covenant Reformed News

January 2023  •  Volume XIX, Issue 9


The Blessings of the Messianic Era

New Testament believers, Galatians 3:26 asserts, “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The word “children” here is literally “sons.” According to its context, God’s (human) “sons” are contrasted with unbelievers (e.g., Heb. 12:5-8) or the contrast is between the New Testament church as a mature son—and in which believers are “sons” (Gal. 4:5-6)—over against the Old Testament church as an immature child.

The latter is the idea here (1-7). The New Testament church is a grown-up, mature, adult son, whereas the Old Testament church, was an immature child who was placed under the Mosaic law as a “schoolmaster” to guard, discipline and supervise him (3:24, 25; cf. 4:2). Thus Galatians 3:26 begins with the word “For,” indicating that it gives the reason for verse 25: “after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children [i.e., sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (25-26).

Consider a man who wants a babysitter or a childminder to look after himself! He desires to get back into the playpen and start playing with a rattle again. He longs for someone to walk him by the hand to kindergarten or primary school. Everybody would rightly think, “That guy has a massive psychological problem!”

Likewise, what are we to make of groups in the New Testament age who want to go back to keeping the Mosaic law, including the ceremonial and/or civil laws? The Hebrew Roots movement seeks to bring back the system of laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy! The Christian Reconstructionists desire to restore the civil laws in the Pentateuch! The dispensationalists look forward to the return of the ceremonial and civil laws of Moses in their future, earthly, literal millennium!

Don’t any of these groups understand the glorious privileges and dignity of the New Testament church? The full and profound faith concerning the incarnation and cross of the eternal Son of God has come (Gal. 3:25)! Don’t you get it? The days of the Mosaic pedagogue are over for “we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (25)! Don’t you see? The New Testament church is now grown-up and mature, “For ye are all the children [i.e., sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (26)!

Paul explains, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (27). This refers to our real, inward, spiritual baptism into the Lord Jesus, which is signified and sealed by the sacrament of water baptism in the name of the Triune God.

Our baptism is far better than circumcision. First, unlike the rite of circumcision, baptism is not bloody or painful. Second, unlike the Old Testament ceremony of circumcision, water baptism is catholic or universal, for females as well as males.

By God’s grace, we “have put on,” and so are clothed with, “Christ” Himself (27). In Him alone, we have both imputed righteousness and imparted sanctification, and all the blessings of salvation. We do not physically wear the rough garment of a prophet, the white linen of a priest or the royal robe of a king. We are clothed with Christ Himself. Thus we appear before God clothed in Him, with His standing, character, graces and life.

What a garment! Consider its extent: it covers us completely. Consider its permanence: it never wears out and it is never taken off. Consider its possession: it is really and truly ours by faith alone in Jesus! This heavenly clothing covers my nakedness, protects my weakness, expresses my allegiance and makes me beautiful.

One could argue that the “For” at the beginning of Galatians 3:27 gives a reason why New Testament believers are God’s sons: “ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (26-27). It is also true that the “For” at the beginning of Galatians 3:27 gives a reason why New Testament believers are not required to keep the Mosaic civil and ceremonial laws: “But after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster … For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (25, 27).

The apostle adds, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (28). This is one of the most foolishly and wickedly perverted texts in Scripture. It is often appealed to as if it supported unbelieving feminism’s usurpation of church office by women (cf. I Tim. 2:12).

Galatians 3:28 has been abused in this way for many decades by extremely liberal churches and theologians, like Krister Stendhal, a Swedish Lutheran. But this text is not dealing with church office; deacons, ruling elders and teaching elders are treated in I Timothy 3, Titus 1, etc. The subject in Galatians 3:28 is salvation in Jesus Christ in the New Testament age for the catholic or universal church! It is dealing not with the special offices of pastor, elder or deacon but with the office of believer!

In its context, Galatians 3:28 speaks of the development of the history of redemption from the age of the Mosaic law to that of the New Testament gospel. The salvation which we have in our incarnate, crucified and risen Lord Jesus is far richer and deeper than that presented by Mosaism!

“There is neither Jew nor Greek” (28) for, in the Christian era, there is no national or ethnic distinction in salvation. Hence all the Old Testament laws regarding unclean foods (Lev. 11; Deut. 14), the land of Canaan, worship at a physical tabernacle or temple, etc., are abrogated. There is now full equality of salvation in Christ irrespective of all nationality!

Moreover, “there is neither bond nor free” (Gal. 3:28). This declares the end of the Mosaic laws regarding the children, wounding, goring and releasing of slaves (e.g., Ex. 21). There is full equality in Jesus in the New Testament church, for we are all Christ’s slaves and the Lord’s free men (I Cor. 7:22).

Also “there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). The days in which females do not partake of the initiatory sacrament (i.e., circumcision) are over, for now both genders are baptized. The Mosaic legislation concerning men and women as regards purification after childbirth (Lev. 12), bodily discharges (Lev. 15), pilgrimage to an earthly holy place, inheritance, military service, etc., is rescinded.

Why? “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)! The full equality in salvation of all believers in the New Testament age and the unity of the catholic or universal church rest upon our spiritual union with Christ! Rev. Angus Stewart


Relics and Elisha’s Bones (2)

We continue with this question, submitted by one of our readers: “If God forbids us to have relics or to venerate the dead, why was the soldier resurrected from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones in II Kings 13:20-21?”

We have seen that the veneration of relics is both foolish and sinful. Though spittle and clay, handkerchiefs, garments, Peter’s shadow and Elisha’s bones were used in healing the sick and raising the dead, there is no power in them and they may not be worshipped. They were only means used by God and by those He sent. He alone, in Christ, may be worshipped, as the first two commandments require.

It is worth noting that God does not work such miracles or any miracles through men any more, miracles such as were done by Elisha’s bones, by Peter’s shadow or by handkerchiefs and aprons from the hand of Paul. In the New Testament, such miracles were signs of an apostle: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12). Though there are those who claim to be apostles today, their claims are bogus, for one of the qualifications of an apostle was that a man be an eyewitness of the risen Christ (I Cor. 9:1).

Do we not believe in miracles, then? We do. All God’s works are miraculous. He works every day in the sea what Jesus did by the Sea of Galilee when He multiplied fish. God performs every year in the fields what Christ did when He fed the 5,000 and the 4,000 with miraculous multiplications of bread. God also does things in our lives for which there is no “natural” explanation. Some are healed by God’s hand when the doctors have given up and all available medicines have failed. Some are rescued from death when there is no human power that could have rescued them. God still works miracles, but not now by men and never by relics.

What, then, is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13 and what is its purpose in God’s Word? A correct answer to this question will help us see that the story of the man raised by Elisha’s bones has nothing to do with the veneration of relics.

II Kings 13:20-21 reads, “Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” That is one of only ten such miracles in the Bible (counting the resurrection of Jesus) and of three in the Old Testament.

The miracles of the prophet Elisha are unique in the Old Testament. More than any of the other miracles of the Old Testament, they pointed ahead to Christ’s miracles. No one in the Old Testament except Elijah and Elisha raised the dead; only Elisha multiplied food (II Kings 4:42-44); he alone healed a leper (5:1-14); only he paid someone’s debt by a miracle (4:1-7). The correspondence is not perfect but many of Elisha’s miracles are similar to those of Jesus. Also, apart from Moses, Israel’s great lawgiver, the miracles of Elisha are more numerous than those of any other Old Testament figure.

Is there, then, a correspondence between the miracle recorded in II Kings 13 and the work of Jesus? We believe there is: that what happened when that man was raised by Elisha’s bones is similar to what happened at the death of Jesus: “And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matt. 27:50-53).

In both cases, we see the victory over death that Jesus brings and the power of God in Jesus to bring life out of death. His death is the death of death and the beginning of our new life. This is the point of the story of Elisha’s bones. It is not an encouragement to look for and keep relics or to put our trust in things, but a reminder that death is swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, a reminder that “if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (II Tim. 2:11). Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). That is the good news of the gospel, not the fact that handkerchiefs and aprons, clay and spittle, and old bones were once used by God to heal or to bring people back to this life.

Raised from the dead by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we begin already in this life to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven and to experience a severing of the ties that bound us to this fallen world: “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For our conversation [i.e., citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

When we die, it is the death of Jesus that makes the burial of our bodies only a “sleep” until He comes again. It is Christ’s death that ensures our presence in Paradise at the moment of death and that guarantees the resurrection of our bodies at the end of this age. This is the point of the narrative in II Kings 13. Having begun already in this life the life of heaven, we “go on unto perfection” and to that glory which no eye has seen or ear heard—all by the power of Jesus’ death and His resurrection!  Rev. Ron Hanko


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

Covenant PRC-N. Ireland Newsletter - January 2023

CPRC News Header
Ballymena, N. Ireland
5 January, 2023

Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,

At the start of this new year, we thought it would be good to update you on the Lord’s work in our midst, and to thank you for your prayers and support.  We appreciate the cards and e-mails that some of you have sent us, though we are not able to respond to all of them.  We trust that this letter to all will also serve as a satisfactory reply to those who have contacted us.


Since our last letter, two covenant children have been baptized in the CPRC:  Elsie (9 October), a daughter of David and Kristin Crossett, and Jude (11 December), a son of Joe and Lisa McCaughern.  Elsie’s grandparents, Bob and Carolyn Prins, and her uncle Andrew from Trinity PRC in W. Michigan were present, as were many of Jude’s relatives, on these respective blessed occasions.

Billy and Val McCaughern, Jude’s grandparents, were received as members on 25 December, when they were able to join the rest of the confessing congregation at the Lord’s table.  Billy had been an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.  It is lovely to have them with us.

Some of the saints pointed out that there had been times when the volume of the audio of the Sunday services pumped into the cry room was too low.  A technician fitted an amplifier control button in the room in time for the worship services on 16 October, so now those with small children in the cry room can hear well.

On 19 October, Timothy Spence left for Australia, stopping off for a few days in Singapore to enjoy fellowship and worship with the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, our sister church.  Tim is working as a doctor in Australia for a year or so and has settled in well with the saints in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Launceston, Tasmania, pastored by Rev. Mark Shand.

This year, there are 26 children in five catechism or pre-confession classes.  The mid-year tests took place last week (18 December) and the kids did well.  Last Friday, we held a games night at church, which was well attended by both adults and children (30 December).


In the late summer, we completed an 11-sermon series on Psalm 69, entitled, “The Most Avoided Messianic Psalm.”  Psalm 69 is appealed to thrice in the Gospel According to John (2:17; 15:25; 19:28-30), twice in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (11:9-10; 15:3) and once in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles (1:20) regarding Christ’s ministry and cross, and those who betrayed and reproached Him.  Why then does most of the church world avoid this inspired messianic song?  Because it includes imprecations, teaches particular atonement, and opposes both a desire of God to save the reprobate and a universal or common grace.  Moreover, Psalm 69 clearly records the sovereign will and prevailing prayers of our Lord Jesus Himself, especially from the cross ( com/playlist?list=PL2Y5Eq5r6y2EbmQYH8fHr1kU0khongBB6)

“Faith or Works” is the title of the series of 10 sermons on Galatians 3.  Over against all Judaizing, Galatians 3 contains powerful teaching on justification in Christ (13), the Seed of Abraham (16), and by faith alone without works (1-14).  It explains more clearly than any where else in Scripture the relationships between the Abrahamic covenant promise, the Mosaic law and the New Testament faith (15-29).

Our Tuesday morning classes on “Saving Faith:  A Biblical and Theological Analysis” have been progressing well.  In the last few months, we considered faith in connection with, first, authority and, second, reason.  Many err by placing the authority for their faith in the wrong place: the Roman magisterium, science, a charismatic minister, political correctness, fallible tradition, one’s own intellect, etc. (cf. I Cor. 2:5).  We looked at Scripture’s teaching on natural revelation, natural theology, natural religion and natural law, and contrasted this with Thomas Aquinas and Roman Catholicism, before turning to John Calvin’s biblical theology regarding the sensus divinitatis and the semen religionis, namely, the ineradicable sense of divinity and seed of religion in every human being, as well as man’s conscience as an essential part of his humanity under God—things that the spirit of our age is trying desperately to stamp out!

The Ballymena Times onine version carried a short article I sent in regarding our Wednesday night “Classes on the End Times” (16 September).  In our seven classes on “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9,” we presented and critiqued Dispensationalism’s literalist view of Daniel 9:24-27, considering the first 7 weeks, the middle 62 weeks, and the 70th week.  Then we explained the correct and historic teaching of this powerful passage in terms of seven key words, all of which begin with the third letter of the alphabet:  Christ, cross, covenant, chronology, coming, counsel and comfort in Daniel 9:24-27.

Then we had six classes on “The Signs of Christ’s Return,” considering them collectively or as a group.  We introduced, identified, and classified the eschatological signs spoken of in Scripture, before turning to their idea and characteristics, as well as people’s responses to them.  We also looked at the Old Testament and the signs of Christ’s second coming, and we compared and contrasted them with the signs of the end of the world in Judaism and Islam (

Prof. Engelsma’s two volumes on The Church’s Hope were published at a good time for these classes on the last things and many attendees have bought them.  Stephen Murray, our audio-visual man, has produced box sets of the two sermon series (on Psalm 69 and Galatians 3) and the two topics in eschatology (“The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9” and “The Signs of Christ’s Return”).  All the Lord’s day sermons and the Wednesday night doctrine classes are recorded and placed on our website (, but not our more informal Tuesday morning meetings.


In the 153 days since our last letter (5 August), we have added 125 translations in 11 languages (  All of The Reformed Worldview book by Profs. Hanko and Engelsma is now on-line in both Polish and Russian.  Through the fine work of Lilian from Kenya, our new translator into Swahili, the major African language in eastern parts of that vast continent, we now have 37 articles in her native tongue.  Of the 207 languages on our website, Spanish is the one that receives most hits.  In the last year or so, the Covenant Reformed News has gotten a lot of translations. Now for every English article in the News, we average more than two translations.

Lilian Kenya transl CPRC 2023

Lilian and her daughter

Here are the translations that Mary has put on our website in the last 5 months or so:  35 Polish, 23 Russian, 22 Hungarian, 21 Swahili, 12 Spanish, 5 Afrikaans, 2 Chinese (by a new translator in Malaysia), 2 Telugu (Apostles’ Creed and Heidelberg Catechism), 1 Tagalog, 1 Italian, and 1 Arabic (Canons of Dordt).

Late in the summer, Mary and I visited places in and around the historic border between England and Wales (22-26 August).  We had two major purposes: first, to meet friends and give a lecture in South Wales on “The Two Ages in Eschatology” (25 August), and, second, to check out possible venues for BRF conferences and places suitable for the day trips that would occur during such conferences.  We visited three possible conference sites, and spoke with managers and staff.  We toured abbeys, aqueducts, battlefields, bridges, canals, museums, Roman remains, interesting towns, etc., so as to make recommendations for the BRF Council.

In our last letter, we mentioned the subject and speakers that were chosen for the next BRF conference by the attendees at July’s BRF conference in Northern Ireland.  Now we can also announce the BRF Council’s decision regarding the venue and dates.  The BRF has booked Cloverley Hall in Shropshire, England, near the border with Wales ( for a week (3-10 August) in the summer of 2024.  We are looking forward to Prof. Brian Huizinga and Rev. Ronald Hanko unfolding to us wonderful truths in the area of eschatology concerning the glorious return of our Saviour!  The conference is now less than 19 months away.

Cloveryley Hall BRF 2024

Cloverley Hall

May the Lord preserve and bless you in this coming year, as we look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

In Him,
Rev. Angus & Mary Stewart


Covenant Reformed News - December 2022


Covenant Reformed News

December 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 8


The Abrogation of the Mosaic Law

Galatians 3:25 declares this good news: “after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” “The faith” is spoken of twice in verse 23 and once in verse 25 as something that “came” and was “revealed.” In the context, it is equivalent to the Christ who “came” and was “revealed” some 2,000 years ago.

Christ is especially the object of our faith as the One in whom we are called to believe, for believing in Him is believing in the Triune God (John 12:44; 14:1; I Pet. 1:21). The faith of the church is in the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord Jesus, as the One who reveals the Father and sends the Spirit, as the gospel declares.

Before the coming of “the faith” as recorded in the New Testament, the people of God were “under the law” of Moses (Gal. 3:23), including Israel’s ceremonial and civil laws, such as these four. (1) What happened if a Jew touched a dead body, either in battle or accidentally or some other way? He was ceremonially unclean for a week and needed the application of the ashes of a red heifer (Num. 19). (2) Numbers 6 records the Nazarite vow of a special consecration to God. Not only was the Nazarite forbidden to touch a dead body, but he was also divinely prohibited from cutting his hair and drinking any liquor or wine, or eating any product of the vine. (3) What if a man stole livestock in Israel and killed or sold the animals, and was caught? He had to restore 4 sheep for 1 sheep and 5 oxen for 1 ox (Ex. 22:1). (4) What had to be done if there was an unsolved murder in the Jewish countryside? Deuteronomy 21:1-9 required that a measurement be made to ascertain the nearest town or village. The elders of that place were then to behead a heifer and wash their hands over the decapitated beast’s carcass.

Should we in the New Testament church go back to this? The incarnation of the eternal Word is far greater than the civil and ceremonial codes given by Moses (John 1:14-18)! Christ and His cross is our “reconciliation” and “everlasting righteousness” (Dan. 9:24); do we really need the ashes of a red heifer (Heb. 9:13-14)? Since Jesus died and rose again, so that now we are dead to the dominion of sin and alive to God through His Spirit (Rom. 6), men do not need to grow long hair and stop eating raisins in consecration to the Lord as did the Nazarites. Since the exalted Christ has received the fulness of the Holy Spirit and rules the entire universe from His heavenly throne, does God really require us to remember the specific ratio for sheep or oxen to be restored by the cattle rustler? In a baffling rural murder, now that the church is catholic or universal, must we still identify the nearest village to the corpse and decapitate a heifer?

The “schoolmaster” that the New Testament church is “no longer under” “after that [the] faith is come” (Gal. 3:25) is the Mosaic law (17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24). The Greek word rendered “schoolmaster” (24, 25) tells us that the law of Moses was a guardian, a disciplinarian and a supervisor to look after “children,” for that is how the Old Testament church is described (4:3).

In the period from Moses to Christ, the people of God were “under the law” (3:23), that is, “under a schoolmaster” or pedagogue (25). Galatians 4 describes the Mosaic law, that pedagogue for Old Testament Israel, as elementary (3, 9), “weak” (9) and “beggarly” (9), even stating that it brings “bondage” (3, 7, 9, 21-31). Galatians 3 declares that the law of Moses was restrictive (22, 23), before adding, thankfully, that, in the history of redemption, it was merely preparatory (24) and temporary (25)!

In the last two millennia, sadly, various parties have corrupted the biblical truth regarding law and gospel, faith and works. First, some preach salvation by faith and works, e.g., Roman Catholicism and liberal Protestantism. Second, others teach (or claim to teach) salvation by faith (though they rarely, if ever, say “faith alone”) and the necessity of observing all the Mosaic law, e.g., some in the Hebrew Roots movement. Third, others maintain that salvation is conditioned on faith in Christ and works, and that the Mosaic law is still binding in the New Testament age, e.g., the Judaizers condemned in Galatians and Philippians 3.

We may also identify at least three erroneous positions regarding which parts of the Mosaic law ought to be kept. First, the Christian reconstructionists want to reimpose the civil, but not the ceremonial, laws of Moses upon all nations in their postmillennial kingdom. Second, the premillennial dispensationalists maintain that Christ Himself will bring back both the civil and ceremonial laws of Moses (modified according to a literalistic reading of Ezekiel 40-48) in their literal millennium, after their secret rapture and their literal seven-year tribulation. This disposes some dispensationalists to keep elements of the Mosaic law now and/or to get things ready for their literal millennial kingdom, e.g., by breeding red heifers. Third, the Hebrew Roots movement seeks the religious observation of the whole system of the law of Moses (including both civil and ceremonial laws) now as well as in a future earthly millennium.

But what does Galatians 3:25 proclaim? “But after that [the] faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster,” with the “schoolmaster” being “the law” (24) of Moses (17, 18, 19, 21, 23)! With the coming of Christ, the full New Testament faith and the gathering of the catholic or universal church, the Mosaic law, with all its civil and ceremonial codes, is “no longer” required by God and never again will be in the future!

Professing Christians ought not hanker after the civil and/or ceremonial laws of Moses. A massive change in the history of redemption took place in “the fulness of the time” with Christ’s incarnation, redemption and pouring out of the Holy Spirit (4:4-7), and the completion of scriptural revelation. This transformation is far better in every way! Do not follow the Hebrew Roots movement or any false doctrine concerning the Mosaic law. Instead, embrace the riches of the gospel summed in the epistle to the Hebrews: the better covenant with its better promises, better hope and better country, because of the better sacrifice of the better high priest, our Lord Jesus Christ! Rev. Angus Stewart



Relics and Elisha’s Bones (1)

One of our readers sent the following interesting question: “If God forbids us to have relics or to venerate the dead, why was the soldier resurrected from the dead after touching Elisha’s bones in II Kings 13:20-21?”

Relics are things, even body parts such as pieces of bone or teeth, that are connected with Jesus and His life or with Jesus’ family members, the apostles, martyrs or others who are deemed saints by Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Islam or other religions. They are supposed to have some spiritual value, miraculous or otherwise, and for that reason are often worshipped. In Roman Catholicism, veneration is supposedly a lesser form of worship offered to these relics, of which there are thousands.

Such things have no spiritual value at all. We see this in the example of Hezekiah who “brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan [i.e., a piece of brass]” (II Kings 18:4). One can understand why the Jews had a high regard for the brasen serpent, for it was an object from their wilderness wanderings in the days of Moses, the great lawgiver. Nevertheless, Hezekiah was right in calling it a piece of brass and destroying it, so that they could not worship it.

A piece of brass or a bone is only that, no matter to whom it belonged. A hank of hair or a fragment of wood, even if it came from the “true cross,” is hair or wood and has no spiritual value. Paul makes that point in a negative way about meat sacrificed to idols (e.g., I Cor. 8; 10:23-33). No matter where it was bought or whether it was the carcass of an animal offered to some heathen god, it was only meat. The spiritual danger, Paul says, is (1) in the conscience of the person who cannot eat it without thinking of his former idolatry or (2) in the conduct of the person who is not careful to avoid offending the weaker brother. Meat is only meat with no power to save or destroy spiritually.

God forbids having relics for the purpose of worship, as the first and second commandments teach us. God alone must be worshiped and He “neither can nor may be represented by any means. But as to creatures, though they may be represented, yet God forbids to make or have any resemblance of them either in order to worship them or to serve God by them” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 97).

Nor may we worship men or angels, not even their bones or feathers (the Spanish palace, El Escorial, claims to have a feather from the archangel Gabriel, part of its collection of over 7,000 relics). John was forbidden to worship the angel who spoke with him: “I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God” (Rev. 22:8-9). Worthy of note in this passage is the word used for “worship,” a word much the same as the word “venerate.” Only God may be venerated.

As an aside, I am appalled when I go in the local Christian bookstores by the things I see, not much different in themselves or in their use from the relics of apostate Christianity or heathenism. I see WWJD bracelets, pocket tokens, religious jewellery of various kinds that is supposed to have some spiritual significance or be of some spiritual help, bottled Jordan River water, anointing oil, pictures that are a violation of the second commandment, items of clothing with a religious message, etc. Not all of this is per se wrong but, where it becomes a “help” to one’s spirituality, an object of trust or a substitute for real spirituality, it is not much different from the veneration of relics.

II Kings 13:20-21 states, “Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” The burial party was more shocked by the man’s resurrection than by the marauding Moabites!

Graves in Israel were caves, either natural or man-made, usually sealed with a stone, as was the tomb of Jesus. II Kings does not give us many details, but the burial party either opened Elisha’s cave tomb, in their haste to get rid of the body they were carrying, or for some reason his tomb was open, so that the body of the dead man, instead of being placed in his own tomb, was thrown into Elisha’s and was raised by Elisha’s bones.

That the miracle is no encouragement to superstition is clear in several ways. There is no evidence that Elisha’s bones, either before or after this event, were objects of worship, were used to serve God or were used for other miracles. Nor is there evidence that they were kept as relics. Elisha’s bones stayed in his tomb where they belonged. Nor is it likely that his bones became an object of worship since any contact with a dead body made an Israelite ceremonially unclean (Num. 19:11).

What happened is not much different from the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ garment (Matt. 19:20-22), the blind man whom He cured with clay and water (John 9:6-7) or those who were healed by handkerchiefs brought from the apostle Paul (Acts 19:12). Some in our day sell handkerchiefs and other objects that have been “blessed” by charismatics, promising healing through them. Not only is this making merchandise of the gospel but it is utter nonsense. There is no power in these things.

The power to heal the woman with an issue of blood did not reside in Jesus’ garment but in Him, as He said, “I perceive that virtue is gone out of me” (Luke 8:46), nor was anyone else healed by touching His garment in the press of the multitude. Acts 19 tells us that these miracles were unusual and ascribes no power at all to the “handkerchiefs or aprons” (11): “God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul” (12). Likewise, the power of the cross lies not in a chunk of wood but in Him who died on the cross.

Those who trust in such things, like those who look for the ark of the covenant or Noah’s ark, make a fundamental mistake. Even if the ark of the covenant or Noah’s ark could be found, it would not change one unbelieving heart or strengthen the faith of a child of God one iota. Faith is a gift of God and rests in Jesus Christ through the Word of God. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act. 4:12)! Rev. Ron Hanko


Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
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Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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