Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland


83 Clarence Street,

Ballymena BT43 5DR, Northern Ireland

Services: 11:00 A.M. & 6:00 P.M.


Pastor: Rev. Angus Stewart

7 Lislunnan Rd.

Kells, Ballymena, Co. Antrim

Northern Ireland BT42 3NR

Phone: (from U.S.A.) 011 (44) 28 25 891 851

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Covenant Reformed News - May 2022

Covenant Reformed News

May 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 1

The Unchangeable God (1)

Change is an intrinsic part in our created and fallen world. There are changes in the weather, the economy and technology. Some changes in the nations are especially distressing and even lethal: wars, diseases and famines. We could say that the news is almost all about change.

Consider the many changes in your own life. You were once a tiny unborn baby in your mother’s womb. Some nine months after your conception, you were born. You grew from infancy through childhood and your teenage years until you became an adult. In old age, our hair begins to thin or fall out and our strength fails.

There are changes in one’s family life, such as leaving one’s parents to go to university or to start one’s first job. Human life usually involves getting married, having children and seeing them leave home. The later years of many involve grandchildren, bereavement and even widowhood. There are other changes too, such as unemployment or health problems, for you or your loved ones or both!

We also experience great changes, both up and down, in how we feel: angry, sad, unhappy, distressed or lonely at one time but calm, encouraged, uplifted or joyful at another. Even in our relationship to the God of our salvation, at times we are close to Him while at other times we seem far away.

The pen man of Psalm 102 writes a lot about change, distressing change. The heading reads, “A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” He was reproached by his “enemies” (8) and was experiencing “trouble” (2): “For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin” (3-5).

God’s heavy hand was upon him. All his grief was “because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down” (10). In various ways, Psalm 102 also indicates that the church was experiencing dark days too. The psalmist’s comfort in all this is especially one divine attribute or perfection: God’s unchangeableness or immutability. This is instructive for us too!

God’s unchangeableness is presented very starkly here, not only against unsettling changes for the psalmist and the church, but even over against the two things which seem most stable in our world. What are they? The earth beneath us and the heavens above us. Underneath us, the earth is solid and firm. The things on earth change: trees lose their leaves, animals die and houses are built on new tracts of land. But the earth itself is constant. The heavens are a model of constancy too. Yes, clouds move in the sky, while the sun, moon and planets travel in outer space, but the heavens themselves are largely unchanged.

However, even the heavens and the earth change, especially at the beginning of this age and its end. Both heaven and earth were created, brought into existence out of nothing: “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands” (25). Both heaven and earth will be radically transformed at the second coming of Jesus Christ: “They shall perish … yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed” (26). They will not be annihilated but renewed as the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

Heaven and earth were created by the Almighty out of nothing (Ps. 102:25) and will be gloriously renewed at the end of this age (26), “but thou art the same” (27) for Jehovah is the unchangeable God! The Most High is “the same” as He was or is in His eternal timelessness as the uncreated Creator. Absolutely no change has happened in Him in the past and it never will in the future. He is immutable before the creation, after the creation, in the psalmist’s day, in our day, and when He transforms the heaven and the earth at the last day, for “they shall be changed: but thou art the same” (26-27)!

James declares, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (1:17). “Variableness” has an astronomical use, referring to the heavenly bodies. Even the stars change, increasing or decreasing, but with God there is “no variableness.” “Shadow of turning” is also a phrase taken from the world of astronomy. The heavenly bodies cast shadows and there are shadows on the moon. But with God there is “no variableness” and not even a “shadow of turning.” After all, He is “the Father of lights.” This is another astronomical allusion, this time to the sun. As the infinitely blessed and perfect One, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). With the God who is light and “the Father of lights,” there can be “no variableness” or even a “shadow of turning,” for He is absolutely and infinitely unchangeable.

Malachi 3:5 speaks of Israel’s sorcery, adultery, false swearing, oppression and lack of fear of the Lord. We could add to this all the sins of the church of all ages, including our own iniquities. If ever there were a reason for God to change by stopping to love the church and starting to hate the church, here it is. Yet what do we read? “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (6). This is certain proof that the true and living God is absolutely unchangeable! Our salvation in Christ is forever sure for the God of eternal election, effectual redemption and irresistible regeneration will not and cannot change. Rev.  Angus Stewart



Mercy and Judgment Upon Israel

These passages in Numbers 14 are used by some to teach a divine mercy upon reprobate individuals: “The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word” (18-20). “Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it” (23). “I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” (35).

The argument is, “Moses prays that God would forgive Israel and not utterly destroy them after the 10 spies brought back the bad report. God forgives Israel according to the greatness of His mercy, even though they are an evil congregation (and remain evil till the whole generation dies in the wilderness). Notice (1) God’s forgiveness here to these reprobate individuals is non-salvific (though they were spared from divine judgment at that moment, they all eventually perished in the wilderness); (2) Moses pleads in his prayer that God is merciful and forgiving by His very nature even to these reprobate.”

The questioner raises a very important issue. Not only here in Numbers but also in many other passages, it appears that Lord is, at the same time, promising salvation and threatening eternal judgment to the same people. That, of course, cannot be the case. He cannot pardon men and send them to hell. If the Lord had pardoned all those who sinned at Kadesh by rejecting the report of Joshua and Caleb, and by refusing to enter Canaan, then they would not have perished in the wilderness. By the same token, if they perished in the wilderness under the judgment of God, then they were not pardoned. Pardon for sin is absolute. If God pardons someone’s sins, then He has justified that person and there is no possibility of that person perishing under His wrath.

Nor is there any such thing as a “non-salvific” forgiveness. That is the same as saying that there is a forgiveness which does not forgive and a salvation which does not save. If a judge pardons me, then I am free from all the legal consequences of whatever crime I committed and I can never be charged again with that crime. If I am sent to prison or executed for my crimes, then I have not been pardoned.

Nor is delay of judgment a kind of forgiveness but the opposite, for the impenitent sinner has more time to sin (Rom. 2:5). If delay of judgment is a kind of forgiveness, then God has spent six thousand years forgiving those whom He intends in the end to destroy. If a judge delays my punishment for a crime, setting another date for sentencing, that is not in any sense of the word a pardon but only a delay.

That God is merciful “by His very nature” is true but He is not such to the reprobate or to those who perish everlastingly. If that were true, He would be denying Himself, denying His own righteous nature, when He punishes them everlastingly.

This does not answer the question of how God, almost in the same breath, can speak of forgiveness and of judgment to those who have sinned. The answer is that God is not speaking to an individual but to a nation, to the church of the Old Testament (Acts 7:38). That nation, the church of the Old Testament, like the church of the New Testament, is always a mixed multitude. There are in the church those whose sins are forever pardoned but there are also those who perish unpardoned under the judgment of God. Because they are mixed together, the Word of God, both His promise of pardon and His threat of eternal condemnation, comes to all, though the promises are exclusively for the benefit of those who are chosen of God and redeemed by Christ’s blood.

This is the teaching of Romans 9:6-7: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Notice that Paul is insisting that God’s Word cannot fail, in this case neither His word of pardon nor His word of judgment. His Word of pardon does not fail, when He promises pardon to Israel, for those who have merely the name of Israel are not really the Israel whom God is addressing. It does not fail either because “the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (8), counted not only as true children of Abraham but as children of God, whom He in His love always pardons through the cross.

There are always those in the institute church who worship alongside believers and who cannot even be distinguished from them in many cases, but who are not really that church which is the body of Christ, “the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23), which obtains peace and pardon in Him, while those who remain hypocrites and unbelievers in the church never obtain it. “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day” (Rom. 11:7-8).

Does this mean that the word of pardon has no application at all to those who perish? It does not mean that. Those who perish must hear the word of God’s pardon to their own condemnation. God is “by His very nature” a merciful God, and the proclamation of His mercy to all makes those who hear and do not believe His mercy guilty before Him and most worthy of His just judgments.

Does this mean that God’s word of judgment has no application to those whom He pardons? No! The word of judgment must be heard by those who are pardoned, not because they will ever come under the eternal judgment of God (thanks be to Him for the gift of His Son!), but because they too have sinned, and must repent and turn from their sins, as they always do by the Spirit’s irresistible grace.

The Word of God’s pardon and His judgment of sin come to all who hear the Word, and it is the Word itself which does the sifting, hardening and bringing under God’s judgment those who have only the name of Israel or church, and bringing peace and pardon to those who, according to His eternal election, by the blood of Christ and through the work of the Spirit, are God’s own. Rev. Ron Hanko

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

Covenant Reformed News - April 2022

Covenant Reformed News

April 2022  •  Volume XVIII, Issue 24

Lessons From the Four Horsemen

After considering the four horses of Revelation 6:1-8, both individually and collectively, in the last four issues of the News, we are in a position to make several observations.

First, the four horses with their riders are similar to the signs of Christ’s return, as set forth, for example, in His Olivet discourse. Compare the white horse with Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The red horse is akin to Matthew 24’s “wars and rumours of wars … For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (6-7). The black horse: “famines … in divers places” (7). The pale horse: death by “wars and … famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (6, 7), and through persecution (9-10, 21, 29). Thus the signs, like the four horsemen, are part of the warp and woof of history, and not something merely added on.

Second, the four horses and the other two seals in Revelation 6, like the signs of our Lord’s second coming in Matthew 24, do not support postmillennialism. That is the theory that the vast majority of people in this age will become true believers and that the church will enjoy earthly peace and prosperity, for civil government, industry, art, science, etc., all around the world will be governed by Christians according to biblical principles. Yes, there is the glorious victory of the gospel in saving all of God’s chosen people (white horse) but this world will never become a Christian paradise (or anything near it) prior to our Saviour’s bodily return. After all, the remaining five seals in Revelation 6 speak of wars, economic disparities, death, martyrdom and anti-Christian injustice, and vast upheavals in creation, respectively.

Third, the six seals in Revelation 6 bring comfort to the child of God. There is the irresistible success of the gospel in calling, sanctifying and preserving each and every one of God’s elect and redeemed people out of every kindred, tribe and tongue (seal 1). We are also consoled by the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God over all things, including events which bring awful pain and grievous tears: regional conflicts, poverty, deaths by wild animals, persecution and terrifying upheavals in creation (seals 2-6, respectively). It is not the devil or merciless fate but Jesus Christ who opens the six seals, and He does so as “the Lamb” who died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins (Rev. 6:1). In executing the eternal decree of the Triune God, our Saviour is preparing all things for His second coming and caring for His sheep, for “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

On the basis of the eschatology presented by the four horsemen and, indeed, the other two seals of Revelation 6, we can even say that we have here the key elements in the Christian philosophy of history.

Notice, first, that the history of this age is linear and has an end; it is not cyclical and everlasting, as per paganism and secularism. The history of mankind and this world has a point at which it stops and towards which everything is moving: Christ’s return for the day of universal judgment (Rev. 6:16-17), which ushers in the eternal state of the new heavens and new earth.

Second, history includes various factors. It consists not only of the preaching of the gospel or church history (white horse). It is not merely war or military history (red horse). It is not just economic history (black horse) or medical history (pale horse). Human history is the interplay of all four horsemen and the various factors included in them, such as political history and social history. Each individual or family or group or nation acts and reacts with respect to all of these things. The world, the flesh and the devil attack every fallen human being, producing wickedness and misery. Not only sin but grace also works in the hearts and lives of all of God’s regenerate people.

Revelation 6 clearly fits with what has happened in the last 2,000 years—all four horsemen have been busy! This chapter of sacred Scripture also presents us with the main elements of our world’s future up to Christ’s second coming.

Third, history takes place on earth according to heaven’s rule. The Greek philosopher Aristotle was terribly wrong in his claim that God is not interested in the world and its history. In his book Approaching Hoofbeats, Billy Graham’s Arminian theology led him to the ridiculous notion that the four horsemen of Revelation 6 are conditional on man’s will! The truth is that it is our Lord Jesus, seated at the right hand of God in glory, who opens the seals and affects Jehovah’s eternal decree. History cannot be understood apart from the Triune God of the Bible for it is “His story,” written by Him in eternity and realized by Him in time.

Fourth, history is purposeful. Neither human life nor history is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing. History has a goal or purpose: the glory of the blessed Trinity in Jesus Christ through the salvation of His elect church, and His just judgment of the reprobate and impenitent wicked. This truth is only understood and loved by those who believe the inspired Scriptures.

The misinformation in the news presented by the various media outlets consists not only in their presenting factual errors and omitting important stories—typically reflecting their bias—but in their ignoring God’s almighty hand. For example, an earthquake is not merely a “natural” event; it is a harbinger of the shaking of the whole world at Christ’s return for judgment (Matt. 24:7; Heb. 12:26-27; Rev. 6:12-17)!

All of this gives Christians good reason for being interested in history. History is not “more or less bunk,” as Henry Ford claimed. History flows from God’s eternal decree as executed by the Lamb of God. Scriptural eschatology gives us a Reformed philosophy of history. These things are vital components of our biblical worldview and crucial for a Christian education. In heaven, our Lord Jesus opens the seven seals of the scroll and sends forth the horses, and by faith we hear their hoofbeats! Rev. A. Stewart




Born of Water and the Spirit

I will answer the following two related questions in this issue of the News:

  1. “What does Jesus mean by being ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ in John 3:5? Obviously, this isn’t referring to baptismal regeneration.”
  2. “What does John mean by ‘the spirit, and the water, and the blood’ in I John 5:8? If ‘the spirit’ is the Holy Spirit, what are ‘the water’ and ‘the blood’ referring to?”

1) In answering these questions, we will take John 3:5 first. Some interpret the passage to refer to physical birth and spiritual birth, physical birth being “of water” and spiritual birth “of the Spirit.” While it is certainly true that a person must ordinarily first be born physically before he can be born again, that is so obvious and so trite that it is difficult to see why Jesus would even mention it.

Others take the reference to being born of water as a proof of baptismal regeneration, i.e., that we are born again by water baptism. The questioner suggests that such an interpretation is impossible, as indeed it is, for water cannot and does not wash away sin and bring about spiritual rebirth, as so many water baptisms demonstrate. The Bible itself tells us so in I Corinthians 10:1-5, where the water baptism of Israel in the Red Sea did not regenerate many of them. They were “all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea ... But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (2, 5).

Nevertheless, the water in John 3:5 must refer to the water baptism. It cannot refer to anything else. It refers to that water, however, as a sign of the blood of Christ. One must be born of Christ’s blood and Spirit, that is the idea of the passage, but the sign, water, is mentioned instead of that which it represents, the shed blood of Christ.

That the blood of Christ is not named and the sign is named should not seem strange. In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the names of the sign and the spiritual realities they signify are often interchanged. Jesus calls the bread of the Lord’s Supper His body, even though it is only the sign, and the water of baptism, though it is not the reality, is commonly called by the name of the reality. We mean that sprinkling or pouring water on someone is not really “baptism” but, because it is so closely associated with real, spiritual baptism by the blood and Spirit of Christ, it has the same name.

Ezekiel says something very similar to John 3:5 in 36:25-27, mixing symbols, pictures and realities: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

The key to the interpretation of John 3:5 is in the passage, in verse 3. Comparing verses 3 and 5, it is evident that being “born of water and of the Spirit” (5) is the same as being “born again” (3). There is only one birth in the passage, though both the blood of Christ (symbolized by, and called by, the name of its sign) and the Spirit of Christ are involved. There is no other birth and there is no other baptism, but that.

Note that the water of baptism symbolizes both the blood and Spirit of Christ, not just the blood. While the word “water” is used in place of the word “blood,” that is the point Jesus is making. It is the Spirit who applies the blood of Christ to us for our cleansing, both the initial washing away of our sins in regeneration and the subsequent washing away of sin in the Spirit’s work of sanctification. But it is the shed blood of Christ which the Spirit applies and which alone avails for my cleansing.

Another important point is that, without this cleansing by the blood and Spirit of Christ, no one will even “see” the kingdom of God (3). We may not trust in anything but the blood and Spirit of Christ. That I was baptized with water does not guarantee my entrance into heaven. That I made a profession of faith does not mean I will see the heavenly kingdom of which Christ speaks in John 3. I must be cleansed of sin and guilt before I can stand in the presence of the God who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1:13) and of whom Psalm 5:4 says, “neither shall evil dwell with thee.”

It is regarding these truths that Jesus chides Nicodemus, “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”(John 3:10). What Jesus had said was nothing new but had been spoken long before by the prophet Ezekiel. Not only should Nicodemus have known what Jesus meant by being “born of water and of the Spirit,” but he should have known, too, that works of righteousness, keeping the law and the rites prescribed by the law, do not gain entrance to the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, we should not be too hard on Nicodemus, for even today there are many who do not know these things, though they sit in a church every Lord’s day.

2) That leaves I John 5:8 and the answer is really the same. John mentions water and blood not because they are different things—the blood is symbolized by the water—but because the water is such a beautiful and important picture of the blood as well as of the Spirit. The water, therefore, should never be neglected, though it must always be understood that the water is only a picture and symbol, and that only the blood and Spirit of Christ can open the kingdom to those who were unwashed and unclean, and who needed the spiritual heart transplant that Ezekiel 36:26 describes: a second miraculous birth.

The Spirit, the water and the blood, John says in I John 5:8, “agree in one.” There is but one Lord, one faith and one baptism, the washing away of sin by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ, symbolized by the water of baptism.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:7-10). Rev. Ron Hanko

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

Covenant Reformed News - March 2022

Covenant Reformed News

March 2022  •  Volume XVIII, Issue 23

The Four Horses Considered Together

In the last two issues of the News, we have identified and explained the four horses of Revelation 6:1-8. The white horse speaks of the gospel, the red horse brings war, the black horse deals with the selling of food and drink, and the pale horse conveys death. One could say that the white horse treats spiritual matters in the ecclesiastical sphere, the red horse concerns military matters in the national sphere, the black horse involves economic matters in the commercial sphere and the pale horse covers biological matters in the mortal sphere.

The four horses give a helpful perspective on the vital issues of man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign grace. Man’s sin issues in war (red horse), huge economic disparities (black horse) and death (pale horse), for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God’s grace comes into this fallen world by the preaching of the gospel (white horse) blessed by the Spirit of Jesus Christ to all His elect. One could sum it all up thus: the first horse deals with the progress of grace in the church and the other three horses with the misery of the curse in the world.

Clearly, the four horses cover key factors or major themes in human history. The movements of the white horse around the globe are traced in books of church history and even factor in studies on world history, though very rarely as prominently as they should. Moreover, is not the history of mankind splattered red with the blood of war, blackened with all sorts of economic woes and famines, and littered with pale corpses?

It is helpful to consider the effect of the four horses upon both those elected in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and the reprobate or “the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22). The pale horse with its rider has authority over both (Rev. 6:8) for all men are mortal since the fall. The black horse affects both believers and unbelievers, for some of both are rich and some are poor and some are in between these two extremes, with I Corinthians 1:26-28 indicating that many of God’s people are lightly esteemed and materially poor in this life. Christians too are involved in various ways in wars (red horse), including serving in the military, navy and air force. Bereavement and disabilities bring pain and grief to both the godly and the ungodly. The white horse rides into cities, towns and communities with the result that the elect are saved, whereas the reprobate are hardened and left without excuse. This occasions spiritual separation between those abiding in unbelief and those mercifully given faith.

All this is the sovereign good pleasure of the Most High, and the purpose of the Lamb who takes the book out of God’s right hand and opens the seven seals, including the first four: the white, red, black and pale horses! Rev. Angus Stewart




Was Nineveh’s Repentance Real?

The question for this article of the News is: “I have read your article on Jonah and Nineveh in the Standard Bearer (15 October, 2021), but can you prove that the people of Nineveh’s repentance was sincere and their faith was in Christ who is the only way of salvation? Did Jonah preach Christ? Nothing in the narrative proves this.”

Was the repentance of the Ninevites genuine? Was it just “the sorrow of the world,” which works death, merely a sorrow for the consequences of their sins and for their threatened destruction? Or was it a “godly sorrow” (II Cor. 7:10)? Many, such as Hugh Martin in his commentary on Jonah, do not believe that it was sincere.

There is clear evidence that Nineveh’s repentance was genuine. First, there is the testimony of Jesus in Matthew 12:41 (Luke 11:32): “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” There is no indication in the words of Christ that their repentance was false and every use of the word “repented” in the New Testament is of a real, spiritual repentance, worked by the Spirit of God.

In Matthew 12, Jesus is addressing an “evil and adulterous generation” (39) who refused, in their self-righteousness, to believe and humble themselves. They required a sign from Christ in order to repent and believe. Jesus tells them that no sign would be given but the sign of the prophet Jonah and speaks of Nineveh’s repentance as testimony against them. If Nineveh’s repentance had not been genuine, then it would have been no testimony against those unbelieving Jews.

Second, the Ninevites humbled themselves before God, cried to God and believed God (Jonah 3:5-9). The latter refers to their believing Jonah’s preaching of divine judgment especially but it is also the word that Scripture uses to describe true faith, worked by God’s Spirit. They heard Jonah’s proclamation but they “believed God” (5)! Believing God, they prayed to Him and in praying to Him they humbled themselves before Him. There can be no doubt that these Ninevites were saved as a demonstration of the great truth that “Salvation is of the Lord” (2:9). God did in Nineveh what He would not do in Israel for their hardness of heart and continued idolatry.

That this repentance lasted for only a short time, that is, for that generation, is evident. Within 100 years, the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah would speak again of Nineveh’s evil ways and would prophesy its destruction (Nah. 3:7; Zeph. 2:13). In 612 BC, Nineveh would be destroyed by the Medes.

Nineveh was not saved in its generations. God did not continue His covenant with Nineveh in the Old Testament. That would not happen among the Gentiles until New Testament times. Nevertheless, God demonstrated the sovereignty of His mercy and foretold the New Testament salvation of the Gentiles in Nineveh’s repentance.

The Ninevites, therefore, are an illustration of what the Word says in I John 1:8-9: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” May God grant us all repentance unto life (as He granted it to these Gentiles) and not take away this grace from us (as He took it from Israel)!

Nineveh’s salvation also demonstrates the importance of repentance. We cannot be saved from sin, except in the way of repentance and by faith in Christ. Salvation does not leave us in our sins, but saves us both from the guilt and power of sin. Repentance is turning from sin and is part of our conversion to God, and part of our deliverance from the presence and power of sin.

The reader poses a penetrating question, though, in asking whether Christ was preached to the Ninevites. Without the preaching of Christ, there is no possibility of genuine repentance or of faith. The important passage in answering this second question is Luke 11:30: “For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.”

Jonah cannot be a type of Christ, nor is he identified as a type in Scripture, but he was a sign, a miracle or sign that pointed ahead to the greater miracle or sign of Christ’s coming and work. That is what Christ means when He compares Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish to His own three days in the belly of the earth. The one miracle points ahead to the other and greater miracle.

That miracle of Jonah’s deliverance from the fish’s belly became part of his preaching in Nineveh, whether he intended it to be so or not. He not only preached to them but he was also a sign to them. It was that sign, as much as Jonah’s actual preaching, which God used for the salvation of the Ninevites. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that Jonah himself, as much as the Word which came from his mouth, was the sermon he preached in Nineveh. In that way, Jonah’s preaching included both the call of the gospel to repentance and the good news of the gospel, the promise that whoever repents and believes will be saved. Thus he preached Christ to them.

We should not be surprised that the gospel was preached in that way in Nineveh. God, in the Old Testament, not only sent His Word through His prophets but very often made them living examples of the Word they brought. Hosea, commanded to marry a whorish woman, was a living sermon to Israel in the days of Jeroboam II, the same king in whose days Jonah prophesied (Hos. 1). Ezekiel, lying on his side in front of an iron pan for some fourteen months, was a sign and sermon to the Jews in the Babylonian captivity in the last days of the Kingdom of Judah (Eze. 4:1-8).

There are those who speculate about Jonah’s physical appearance after being in the belly of a fish for three days. This was a miracle and the Word of God does not tell us what it was like in the belly of the fish or anything of Jonah’s condition after those three days. It was not his appearance but what happened to Jonah, first under the anger of Jehovah and then in his repentance, that was a sign to the Ninevites of God’s justice of His mercy. How the Ninevites learned his story is beside the point but it was the sign, as well as the threat of destruction, that brought them to their knees.

Perhaps the sign was more effective than an actual recitation of the promises would have been, for the Ninevites would hardly have understood a passage like Isaiah 53, had it been preached to them. Many in Israel, who knew of the promised Messiah, did not understand how He could be “as a root out of a dry ground” or like a lamb led to the slaughter (2, 7).

But the Ninevites would have understood from Jonah’s story that the God whom he served, the God of heaven and earth and sea, was different from their idols. They would have understood Jonah’s disobedience, and would have learned from his story that the God of Israel was able to punish, and did punish, sin. They would have listened fearfully, therefore, when that man who had suffered such an awful ordeal preached to them the necessity of repentance. They would have realized, too, from Jonah’s story that the God of Israel, unlike the gods they served, was a God who is not only just but merciful, a God able and willing to save. They would even have realized that there was in God’s sight no difference between Jonah, the Israelite, and themselves.

So Jonah preached in Nineveh by Word and by example. May we, learning from the story of Jonah, have a higher regard for the preaching of the gospel and humbly submit ourselves to it, believing that His Word does not return void (Isa. 55:11). May we never forget that, though it is preached by weak and sinful men, it is “the power of God unto salvation” to all who believe (Rom. 1:16). May we, vomited out of the belly of hell by God’s amazing mercy, continue to give attendance on the preaching of the Word so that, when we fall into sin, as Jonah did, we too may be set again on the path of obedience by the power of the Word. And may all glory and praise be to Him, to whom alone belongs the glory both of the means He has appointed and their good fruit (Canons of Dordt III/IV:17). Rev. Ron Hanko

Westminster Confession 15: Of Repentance Unto Life

  1. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.
  2. By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.
  3. Although repentance be not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God’s free grace in Christ; yet is it of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it.
  4. As there is no sin so small, but it deserves damnation, so there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.
Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant PRC-N.Ireland Newsletter - March 2022

CPRC News Header

March 18, 2022

Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,

Church Visitation

Due to Covid-19 and its regulations, the CPRC did not have church visitation by a delegation from the PRC for the last two years.  Thus it was especially good to welcome back Prof. Barry Gritters and Elder Sid Miedema (5-14 January).  Like all arriving in the UK in January, the two men had to quarantine on arrival until they got back a negative Covid test on day two.  We had planned to have our congregational dinner at a local restaurant while our American visitors were here but, sadly, we had to cancel it because of the hassle with Covid rules for large group dining.

BG SM CPRC Jan 2022

Prof. Gritters brought the Word of God at both the Sunday services on 9 January, led a Bible study on Exodus 19 (cf. Heb. 12:18-29) on the Tuesday morning and gave a lecture on “Being the Hand of God: Godly Parenting in an Ungodly World” on the Wednesday night.  His excellent instruction was much appreciated by the congregation.

Advertising for the speech on child-rearing included an article written by Julian Kennedy which was published in the Ballymena Guardian.  We were very pleased with the attendance, and the parents in the church found the lecture especially helpful (

Prof. Gritters and Sid Miedema visited a number of families in the congregation.  Mary and I took them for some lovely coastal walks in the north of County Antrim and forest walks in the south of County Down, where there was snow on the mountains.

Church Activities

Alfonso and Salome Mansona and their two adult sons, Chester and Dale, were gladly received as confessing members on 21 November. Jeremy Watterson, the fifth covenant child of Sam and Anga, was baptized on 23 January.

Charlotte Higgs arrived in Northern Ireland from Brisbane, Queensland in the middle of February and is staying in our province for a few months.  She is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia, and a daughter of Pastor David and Sue Higgs.  Charlotte has settled into the life of our congregation very well.

CPRC dinner 2022

We were finally able to have our church dinner at the Ross Park Hotel on Friday, 11 March.  William Graham, our organizer and quizmaster, booked the venue soon after all the Covid regulations for such events were removed.  This left us short of time to contact friends outside our own congregation and get together all the orders for the three courses.  Thus we decided simply to invite members and attendees with their spouses, etc.  It was a very enjoyable evening of fellowship.

Michelle Lou-Hing, a niece of Marie Kennedy, and her son, Liam, were able to make it to Northern Ireland for the congregational dinner, since Michelle and her husband are buying a house in Broughshane.  It is great to have them back in our midst again.

Besides the Lord’s Day preaching of the Word, the four Monday evening catechism classes, and the Tuesday morning Bible study on “Saving Faith:  A Biblical and Theological Analysis,” we have a Wednesday night doctrine class on the Belgic Confession.  We are currently on Article 37, which deals with the end times.  We have covered Scripture’s own eschatological time periods:  the two ages (“this age” and “the age to come”), “the last days,” the 1,000 years (Rev. 20), and the 1,260 days, 42 months or 3½ times (Rev. 11-13).

In our Wednesday classes, we recently concluded a series of 9 studies on “The Nearness of Christ’s Coming,” explaining the 7 major ways in which the Bible teaches that our Lord comes (3 in the past, 3 ongoing, and 1 climactic), the things which must happen before His glorious bodily return, and Scripture’s full testimony to both its “soonness” and its “delay.” All these doctrinal audios are not only available in CD box sets ( but can be listened to free on-line (

Currently, there are 3 families and 3 individuals in 3 membership classes.  During the week, I meet with Billy and Anne, Grace and Kerryann Gould in Antrim; Joe and Lisa McCaughern in Portglenone; and Ivan Ortu and Colm Ring at the manse in Kells.  We go through (the positive articles of) the Canons of Dordt, and then various distinctive Reformed doctrines and practices, so that new members join the church with a solid grasp of the truth, a good conscience, and joy.

On-Line Witness

Our main website ( is doing very well.  Around 17 November, 2021, its number of daily page hits suddenly tripled.  Things continued around this level for a few weeks before growing by 50%.  Thus we are now receiving about 4.5 times as many page hits on our main website as we were at the time of my last letter (5 November, 2021).

We recently created an “Election and Reprobation Resources” webpage, containing links to audios and/or videos of doctrine classes, sermon series and lectures, as well as articles, pamphlets, books, etc. ( election-and-reprobation-resources).  This is our 35th handy resource page (

Since my last letter about 4 ½ months ago, we have added 112 translations to our website.  Thus, we have been receiving about 6 translations per week—a good rate! Many of these are short pieces, such as Covenant Reformed News articles ( or chapters from Doctrine According to Godliness by Rev. Ron Hanko.  We now have some 3,368 articles and creeds in more than 200 foreign tongues (from Afrikaans to Zulu) on our website ( 

Thanks to Nic, a Reformed elder in S. Africa, Afrikaans has grown most, increasing by 35 to 175 translations.  Polish has seen 33 additions through the work of Marcin in Norway, Sebastian in Poland, and Robert in the Republic of Ireland.  For our Polish translations, now totalling 88, Mary has created a specific Polish webpage (, to add to the other nine individual language webpages (Afrikaans, Burmese, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish).

We also received a good number of translations in Hungarian (13 by Balint) and Russian (12 by Viktor).  The others are 6 Spanish (by Jorge in Peru), 5 Portuguese (including 2 pamphlets on drama by Revs. Dale Kuiper and Richard Smit), 4 Swahili (the last 3 of which were by Lilian, a new translator from Nairobi, Kenya), 3 Dutch (by Gerben in the Netherlands), and 1 Latin (the Belgic Confession, so that we now have all 4 of our ecumenical creeds and all 3 of our Reformed creeds in this language).

In the last month or so, Sam Watterson has been placing paid ads on Facebook on behalf of the CPRC, targeting people within 30 miles of Ballymena.  So far, he has advertised the video debate on Calvinism (www. and an article on the real healing miracles in the Bible (  We have been receiving positive feedback and intend continuing this means of advertising.

British Reformed Fellowship (BRF)

The first British Reformed Journal with Sam Watterson as editor was sent to subscribers and BRF members in January.  These are the titles of its five articles:  “New Editor!” “Editorial:  It’s Too Complicated,” “The Destructive Teaching of Hypo-Calvinism in Common Grace Scripturally Exposed,” “Two Men from Trier:  Karl Marx (and Communism) and Caspar Olevianus (and the Heidelberg Catechism)” and “Doctrinal Doublespeak.”  The cost is just £10 (or $20US) for 4 issues and new subscribers are very welcome (

Castlewellan BRF conference 2022

At this summer’s BRF Family Conference in Castlewellan Castle, County Down, Northern Ireland (9-16 July), Profs. David Engelsma and Brian Huizinga will unfold the glorious truth of our “Union with Christ” (  The booking forms for the conference (including its low prices) and the contact details for the booking secretaries are available on-line (  We hope that many of you will be able to join us for a wonderful week of Reformed teaching and fellowship!

As of today, the UK has ended its Covid travel rules.  This means that people arriving in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales no longer need to get tested or write a passenger locator form.  This is good news for people flying in for July’s BRF conference or those wanting to visit the CPRC in Ballymena!

May the Lord bless and keep you all,

Rev. & Mary Stewart


Covenant Reformed News - February 2022

Covenant Reformed News

February 2022 • Volume XVIII, Issue 22

The Black and Pale Horses

After treating the white and red horses in the last issue, we now turn to the black and pale horses (Rev. 6:5-8). The black horse speaks of food and drink in terms of subsistence, famine and luxury. The “pair of balances” or scales is used to weigh food carefully (5). A “measure” (Greek: choinix) was a dry measure of about 2 pints, an adult male’s requirement of food for a day (6). A “penny” was a working man’s daily pay (6).

In other words, this speaks of the minimum food needed for survival. If a man can work, he can feed himself for a day with bread made from wheat (“A measure of wheat for a penny”) or for three days with bread made from barley, which is cheaper (“three measures of barley for a penny”).

But what about his buying other things? What about providing for his wife and children? What if he becomes sick or is injured? Economically, such a man ekes out his existence day by day and things are even harder if he has a family. The third horse is “black” for this is the colour of scarcity and famine (cf. Jer. 14:2; Lam. 4:8; 5:10).

The above describes the way it has been for most people over the last 2,000 years. Even in our day, there are many people who do not have enough to eat and so suffer hunger, ill-health or starvation, for example, in Haiti, N. Korea, Venezuela or parts of Africa. But in previous ages it was much worse!

But this is not all, for “a voice in the midst of the four beasts” cries out, “see thou hurt not the oil and the wine” (6). Wine and olive oil suggest that others possess plenty and even enjoy luxury. “Do not damage these things,” cries the voice; this would upset the wealthy!

There are huge economic disparities around the world and even within individual countries, such as South Africa and Suriname. There are the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, and the First World and the Third World, though there are, of course, many degrees between these extremes.

Material poverty and economic disparity are also found in Christ’s blood-bought church, considered both globally and in individual congregations. Our Saviour Himself said, “For the poor always ye have with you” (John 12:8).

Christ Himself opens the third seal and sends forth the black horse! This teaches us that agriculture and trade, failed crops and inflation, empty bellies and famine relief agencies, etc., are included in God’s counsel and governed by the Lord Jesus seated at His right hand. “For promotion [or material prosperity] cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Ps. 75:6-7).

Jehovah is sovereign over the distribution and inequality of foodstuffs and wealth, determining whether we own or rent property, live in a mansion or a hovel, are employed or unemployed, have empty or full larders, etc. Even man’s sinful responses—the snobbery and condescension of the prosperous, and the envy and resentment of the poor—are not outside of the eternal decree of our heavenly Father.

The fourth and final horse in Revelation 6 is pale, the colour of a corpse, and its rider is “Death,” who is closely followed by “Hell” (8). Four terrible means of death are listed in Revelation 6:8.

First, there is the “sword,” which includes slaughter by bullet or bomb, or even through an infected wound or exhaustion in battle. This reminds us of the second seal (3-4).

Second, we read of death by “hunger,” from the scarcity of food and in times of famine. These things are covered in the third seal, as in the first part of this article (5-6).

Third, “Death” kills “with death”! To what does this refer? Death by accident or old age? It speaks of death by disease or pestilence (cf. Eze. 14:21) in all its different forms, including smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, HIV/AIDS, cancer, measles, diphtheria, etc. Diseases may be caused by bacteria, viruses or genetic disorders, and occur through poor quality water or air pollution, poor sanitation or malnutrition, etc.

Fourth, the rider on the pale horse kills “with the beasts of the earth,” such as wolves, snakes, elephants, scorpions, etc. Mosquitoes are more dangerous than any of these as “carriers, or vectors, for some of humanity’s most deadly illnesses ... Mosquito-borne diseases cause millions of deaths worldwide every year with a disproportionate effect on children and the elderly in developing countries” (National Geographic).

Authority is given to the pale horse and its rider “over the fourth part of the earth” to kill human beings in these four ways: “with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” A quarter speaks of the steady rate, the usual frequency, of human mortality, though it fluctuates somewhat at certain times.

Jesus proclaims, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:18). Thus it is entirely fitting that the Triune God has appointed our risen Lord as the ruler over death, the One who sends forth the pale horse. From His throne in heaven, Christ has governed the deaths of billions of people all around the world for two millennia. He is absolutely sovereign over diseases, epidemics, medicine, health care, funeral services and mourning.

Our Saviour’s rule over death includes all future deaths, including our own. Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, the death of each child of God is “a passage into eternal life” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 42), for Christ prepares our place in His Father’s house and “will come again” to receive us unto Himself (John 14:2-3)!  Rev. Stewart




The Faith of Old Testament Believers

One reader of the News has sent this request: “I would appreciate if Rev. Hanko could write something concerning the faith of the Old Testament saints and how/where it differs from the faith of New Testament believers (Heb. 11:13; John 8:56).”

This is a very good inquiry (as are all the questions that we receive), but I believe that in referring to Hebrews 11:13 and John 8:56 the reader has already given us the basis for the answer to his own question. There is no essential difference between the faith of God’s people in the Old Testament and in the New Testament!

Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” The only difference between their faith and ours is that we, by faith, have seen the beginning of the fulfilment of these promises in the coming and work of Jesus Christ, though we too still see the completion of those promises “afar off” but that is not an essential difference.

Jehovah’s people in the Old Testament believed, loved and embraced God and His promises, for they were all promises of Christ. For the sake of these promises, they were willing to live as strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Believing these same promises, we trust in the same God that they did, the God of Israel. Like them we, by faith, love these promises more than we love anything else and love the Christ of the promises. It is to those promises that we cling in the darkest times, as they did, and it is these promises that make us, with them, strangers and pilgrims on the earth (I Pet. 1:1; 2:11).

The whole of Hebrews 11 shows that their faith is the same as ours. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (1). Faith is its own evidence and, therefore, also its own assurance of things that eye hath not seen or ear heard or that have entered into the heart of man to understand. Faith needs no more proof than itself and needs no “scientific” proof that “the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (3). It does not need such proof today and never did. As it was both evidence and assurance for the “elders” (the saints of the Old Testament), so it is for us (2).

Faith for us is everything that it was for the Old Testament people of God. It offers “a more excellent sacrifice” to God (4), though no longer the animal sacrifices that pointed ahead to the sacrifice of Christ. Out of gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice, faith offers “the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (13:15). Faith still translates us, as it did Enoch (11:5), so that “whosoever liveth and believeth in [Jesus] shall never die” (John 11:26), whether we go to heaven in the way Enoch did or in the ordinary way.

Faith always comes to God believing “that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). The testament makes no difference in that. Faith, “being warned of God of things not seen as yet,” always finds refuge in an ark, no longer an ark of wood but an ark that was prepared on a cross of wood (7). Faith always goes out with Abraham to a place which it after receives as an inheritance and he who has faith always goes not knowing “whither he went,” but looking “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,” for he is a stranger in this world as long as life lasts and is never again satisfied with any other city (8-16).

“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets [and of John Hus and John Wycliffe and Martin and another John, of old Polycarp and of the two Margarets, of Ridley and Cranmer, and so many others]: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (32-34). Their successors, though unremembered in history, are doing the same today, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, elders and church members, who live everywhere and always by the faith of the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20).

The rather minor difference between the faith of Old and New Testament believers is mentioned again in Hebrews 11:39-40: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Their faith waited for Christ to come. Now that He has come, our faith waits for Him to come again. That is a difference but not an essential difference. There is no true faith but faith in Christ and nothing for faith but Christ. By faith, whether in the Old or the New Testament it is:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
(Prayer of St. Patrick).

John 8:56, the other passage cited by our enquirer, teaches us that the faith of Abraham (and of his true children) was in Christ just as ours is: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad,” and that is the most important thing about the faith of Old Testament saints. Their faith united them to Christ (it was in God and in Christ) and, uniting them to Christ, it was their righteousness before God, their justification (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:16-25). It was, as it always is, saving faith.

How utterly foolish to teach that the Old Testament saints were saved by law works and by obedience to the law: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us [and in them], who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).

What a testimony to the power of faith that, even in the Old Testament, faith rejoiced in Christ, saw His day and was glad, found its righteousness in Christ, obtained the victory over Satan and sin and hell, and hoped for, and was translated to, heaven! In every age, faith is in Christ and the gift of God, “Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:9-10).  Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: • Live broadcast:
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant Reformed News - January 2022


Covenant Reformed News

January 2022 • Volume XVIII, Issue 21

The White and Red Horses

The four horsemen in Revelation 6:1-8 constitute a unit within the seven seals. Unlike the other three, the first four seals deal with horses. Each horse is a certain colour: white, red, black or pale. Each horse has a rider and each horseman has a weapon or implement. The first carries a bow, the second wields a sword and the third holds a set of balances or scales. It is somewhat different regarding the fourth horse: “his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him” (8).

Unlike the other three, in the first four seals each of the four horses with their horsemen is introduced by a “beast” or living creature with the words: “Come and see” (1, 3, 5, 7). As we listen to the hoofbeats of the white, red, black and pale horses sent out by the Lamb, we are listening to four different sets of hooves.

Why horses with their horsemen? They are used in Scripture to speak of God’s mighty and mysterious providences, as in Zechariah 1 and 6. Horses are beasts with impressive strength and courage. Thus the Lord questioned Job, “Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible” (Job 39:19-20).

Why are there horsemen on the steeds of Revelation 6:1-8? Riderless horses go where they please for their power is not harnessed. But a horse with a rider is governed and directed—an appropriate image of Jehovah’s powerful and profound providence.

Let us now consider each of the four horses in turn, beginning with the white horse (1-2). There is probably the most disagreement as to the identity of this horse and its rider. Some say it speaks of the past, either a Roman general at the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 or Constantine the Great in the fourth century. For others, the first seal pictures the final terrible Antichrist in the future. We believe that the white horse refers to the progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so it speaks of the past, present and future.

“White” is symbolic of righteousness and holiness, which the gospel of grace alone brings. Revelation 6:2 is redolent of victory. The whiteness of the horse points to this, as does the “crown” or victor’s laurels given to its rider. However, this is especially emphasized by his going forth “conquering, and to conquer.” Only Christ’s gospel brings a victorious righteousness and holiness, with nothing but conquest and no defeat.

The white horse rides throughout all of the New Testament era, from Pentecost to our Lord’s glorious return (Matt. 24:14; Rom. 10:13-18). It has been, is and will be victorious in the hearts and lives of all of God’s elect, and the gospel will never be overcome (Rom. 1:16-17; I Cor. 1:17-31; II Cor. 2:14-16).

What about the “bow” in the hand of the rider on the white horse (Rev. 6:2)? Think of it as you read these words addressed to the conquering Messiah: “in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee” (Ps. 45:4-5).

The book of Acts records the riding of the white horse from Jerusalem to Judaea, Samaria, Antioch, Turkey and Greece (to use their modern names), and Rome. The first seal speaks of the spread of the gospel in the Middle East, southern Europe and North Africa in the first few centuries after Pentecost. Next the white horse turned north to the lands beyond the Alps. In the last several centuries, the white horse has galloped to all the continents, scores of countries and thousands of islands. The rider on the white horse, as Revelation 6:2 says, “went forth conquering, and to conquer.”

This has been going on now for some 2,000 years, involving preaching, catechizing and lecturing, and thus also the training of pastors. Arrows are shot from the gospel bow through Bible studies; Christian CDs, DVDs, books, pamphlets and radio broadcasts; and Reformed websites. All this, of course, is joined with the worshipping, praying, fellowshipping, giving and witnessing of all the saints. The white horse rides in instituted congregations and on mission fields, so that the elect are gathered out of the four corners of the earth as Christ’s one, holy, apostolic and catholic or universal church!

The red horse speaks of war (Rev. 6:3-4). The horseman carries a “great sword,” a weapon of war. Power was given to him “to take peace from the earth,” the result of war. The “red” colour of the horse suggests blood, the effusion of war. The slaughter is not persecution for the killing is reciprocal (of “one another”), the fatalities of war.

Just think of the various wars in the last two millennia, including the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire, such as those of Attila the Hun; the Magyar and Viking attacks in eastern and northern Europe; the Norman conquest of Britain; the Crusades against the Saracens, the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses; World Wars I and II; the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War and the Iraq War. Of course, there have been many other wars all around the globe. There are also different types of conflict: civil wars, revolutionary wars, imperial wars, etc.

The riding forth of the red horse involves military training, weaponry and uniforms; propaganda, the draft and armies; generals, spies and POWs; heroes, cowards and traitors; logistics, medals and graveyards; diplomacy, ceasefires and treaties; rumours of wars, intermittent wars and cold wars; war on land, war on sea, war in the air and total war; nationalism and internationalism; destruction and carnage; war gods and a war economy. Like the white horse, the red horse was sent forth by, and is always under the control of, the crucified and risen Lamb of God! Rev. Stewart




How Could Satan Enter Heaven?

“God summoned the ‘sons of God,’ which refer to angels in this instance, before Him and Satan also came … ‘Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them’ (Job 1:6). My question is, How can sinful Satan enter into heaven when a ‘sinner’ can’t do so? I know God is sovereign and He can do what He likes, but would this not defile heaven?”

The questioner is correct that no sinner can enter or even see heaven (John 3:3, 5; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:18-19). Yet Job 1:6 and Revelation 12:7-12 make it clear that Satan had access to heaven to bring his accusations against Job. So he appears before God among the unfallen angels (called “sons of God” in Job 38:7) to charge Job with the most mercenary of motives in serving God. Though Job’s name comes up in the conversation between God and Satan almost as an afterthought, there can be no doubt that Satan’s presence in heaven was the beginning of his evil attack against this godly man.

How was this possible? First, heaven was Satan’s home in the beginning (Isa. 14:12; Jude 6). Second, though he was cast down by sin, there is no evidence in Scripture that he was banned from heaven until the time of Christ’s ascension (Rev. 12:5-12).

That Satan had access to heaven in the Old Testament is unquestionable. Revelation 12:5-12 helps us to answer the question how Satan’s access to heaven was possible, as we shall see shortly. There Satan is called “the accuser of our brethren … which accused them before our God day and night” (10) and he most certainly appears in that role in the book of Job, as he did also with Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3:1-2.

Satan lived up to his name in the story of Job, for Satan means “slanderer” or “accuser.” He is that especially in his charge that Job served God only for what he got out of it, that is, only because God had made him wealthy. That charge must be slander because the true service of God cannot possibly be motivated by self-interest. It is always and only the fruit of God’s amazing grace.

Revelation 12:7-9 tell how all this accusing in the presence of God came to an end. Upon the exaltation of our Saviour, there was war in heaven between Michael and his angels, and Satan and his. What a war between angels and demons is like we can only imagine, but it must be, in light of Jude 9, a war of words. In that war, Michael and his host prevailed, through the power of the ascended Christ, and Satan was cast out. No doubt it is the finished work of Jesus that is Satan’s downfall for there is no longer any room for such accusations as Satan brought against Job. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33-34). Satan’s access to heaven, therefore, was possible because Christ had not yet come and provided a sacrifice for sin that would put an end to Satan’s work in heaven as the accuser of the brethren.

Satan did exactly what Romans 8:33-34 says is no longer possible. He brought charges against one of God’s elect, and that can only be because Christ had not yet come in the flesh and His atoning sacrifice for sin had not yet been offered. Job had no doubt, however, that Christ was his all-in-all and so confessed a living Saviour in Job 19:25-27. The Messiah would deliver him not only from the vicious attacks of the great deceiver but from all his sins. He would give Job life everlasting in the presence of God, that is, in the very place where Satan was then able to stand.

Satan still accuses us in our own consciences. But when he tempts us, we know that Christ’s finished work took away whatever right he had to appear before God and to bring his slanderous accusations before the Judge of all. Who indeed can now lay anything before God as a charge against one of His elect? Christ not only died for our sins and rose again for our justification, but is now in heaven as living proof that all such charges are baseless. There He prays for us to deliver us from Satan’s attacks here on earth.

It is worth noting that, even though he was still able to bring his wicked accusations against Job, he could only do so under the sovereign direction and control of Almighty God. As one writer puts it, Satan comes “to offer his homage, to receive his commissions, to render his stated account of work done and service performed … in the attitude of a servant of God, and made subservient to the discipline and training of his people … In all his blasphemous designs he is, in spite of himself, doing the work of God … In moving heaven and earth to accomplish the perdition of those whom Christ has ransomed, he is actually fitting them for glory.”

God’s sovereignty over Satan is revealed in Satan’s inability to do anything against Job without God’s permission. Jehovah strictly limited what Satan was able to do. In this first trial, Satan is forbidden to put forth his hand against Job’s person, though he was able to take everything else away from Job. Nor must the word “permission” cause us to stumble and question God’s sovereignty. The word describes what we read in the story of Job, but there is no difference between God permitting Satan to act against Job and God Himself acting, surely not when Satan is entirely in the hand of God.

This comes out especially in Job 1:11, where Satan invites God to put forth His “hand” to “touch” Job’s possessions and family. When God says to Satan, “all that he hath is in thy power” (12), He makes it clear that Satan is merely His instrument. Satan’s own words show that he himself recognized this. Job, whether aware or not of Satan’s agency, understood that it was God who afflicted him and he speaks of this often.

There is a lesson for us: Satan’s activity, even when successful, is under God’s direction and control, so we can be sure that our transgressions, though inexcusable, are nevertheless used by our sovereign God for our good. Certainly that was true in the case of Job. Though he fell prey to the roaring lion who is Satan, even his sin brought him to a better confession of God’s sovereignty and to a humble confession of his sin.

Nevertheless, we ought to tremble when we think of Satan’s power, given by God to be sure, but great indeed. God said of Job to Satan, “Behold, he is in thine hand” (2:6). He is indeed the prince of this world and an enemy to be reckoned with. Only by the grace of the risen and exalted Christ, received by faith and through prayer, is he to be resisted and overcome. 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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