Missions of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America

Sister and Other Church Relationships

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

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland

Covenant PRC Ballymena, Northern Ireland (140)

Website

83 Clarence Street,

Ballymena BT43 5DR, Northern Ireland

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

RevAStewart

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

pastor@cprc.co.uk

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Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore (114)

CERCS 30thanniv 2017 group

Website

11, Jalan Mesin #04-00

Standard Industrial Building

Singapore 368813

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

Pastor - Vacant

148 Bishan Street 11 #06-113 

Singapore  570148

pastor@cerc.org.sg

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Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia (EPC) (2)

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

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Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (11)

PRCP Organization Banner 4 9 2014

Berean PRC, Antipolo City - Pastors: Rev. V. Ibe; Rev. L. Trinidad (emeritus)
Provident PRC - Pastor:
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Covenant Reformed News - November 2022

Covenant Reformed News


November 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 7


 

Christ’s Six Comings Before His Second Coming

Holy Scripture prophesies the future glorious bodily coming of our Lord Jesus in the clouds of heaven with His holy angels (e.g., Matt. 24:30-31; Rev. 1:7). From the New Testament, we may speak of six other comings of Christ, all of which precede His return at the end of this age. In the first three instances, our Saviour predicts specific events in the first century AD, whereas the next three speak of His ongoing comings throughout the last days, the period from His first coming to His second coming.

1) Transfiguration. Jesus told His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28; cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). Immediately following these three texts, on a mountain in Galilee, our Lord’s face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light, picturing His glory at His second coming (II Pet. 1:16-18).

2) Pentecost. In the upper room, during His last week on earth, Christ promised His disciples, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18)—by means of His representative, the Holy Spirit (16-17), who was poured out in Acts 2.

3) Fall of Jerusalem (AD 70). Our Saviour prophesied the destruction of the holy city as one way in which He would come: “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come” (Matt. 10:23; cf. 23:32-38). In answer to His disciples’ question regarding His (second) “coming” (24:3), Jesus referred to local and near events, typifying cosmic and final events, and averred regarding the former, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (34).

4) Preaching. The “voice” of the good shepherd calls His “sheep” “by name” so that they “follow” Him (John 10:3-4, 16, 27). In the light of Ephesians 2:17, which teaches that He “came and preached peace to you which were afar off [i.e., Gentiles], and to them that were nigh [i.e., Jews],” Christ comes (spiritually, not bodily) in faithful preaching wherever and whenever His truth is proclaimed (Rom. 10:14; Eph. 4:21).

5) Death of believers. On the evening before the cross, Jesus promised His disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Thus the Son of man comes at the death of each and every one of His beloved saints to receive them unto Himself in heaven!

6) Signs of Christ’s return. Jesus declared, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64). His promise, “I come quickly” (Rev. 22:7), is in the present, not the future, tense. Thus theologians note that there is an important sense in which Christ comes in the signs of the times: wars, earthquakes, persecution, apostasy, etc. (Matt. 24; Rev. 6-20). Rev. Angus Stewart

 

 

The Third Use of the Law

We continue in this article to address the following request: “Maybe Rev. Hanko can write an article on the role of the law in the conviction of sin, paving the way for the knowledge of Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches in the knowledge of misery. Has it such a function, and what place has it in the regeneration of a sinner and in his growth in grace?”

We have seen that the law has an important and necessary function in showing us our depravity and sin, and our need for God’s great salvation. Now the question is: “Does the law have a place in the regeneration of a sinner and in his growth in grace, i.e., his sanctification?”

If we mean by “place” that the law has any power to regenerate or sanctify us, the answer is an unqualified “No.” Galatians 3:21 tells us plainly that the law cannot regenerate us: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” The Word of God is saying here that, if the law were able to regenerate us and give us life, it would first have to be able to justify us and that it cannot do.

Nor can the law sanctify us, as is clear from Romans 8:3-4: “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, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Having the righteousness of the law fulfilled in us and walking after the Spirit is sanctification and growth in grace, which are always and only the fruit of Christ’s work, and not something the law could do.

We do not mean, however, that the law has no connection with our regeneration and spiritual growth. When we are born again, regenerated, the Spirit of God writes the law in our hearts: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:10-11; quoting Jer. 31:33-34).

The law does not give us the new life of regeneration, but, written in our hearts, it defines the boundaries of that new life that we have through regeneration and in Christ. When God created man, His moral law was a boundary for man’s life of fellowship with Himself. Within the boundaries of God’s law was life. Outside of those boundaries was death and so the law defined the boundaries of man’s fellowship with God.

God did something like that for all of His creatures. God’s law for a fish is that it must live in the water and, if that law is broken, the fish dies. God’s law for a tree is that it must be rooted in the earth and, if that law is broken, the tree dies. So it was with man who was created to live in relationship with God. God’s law for him was much more extensive but only within the boundaries of God’s law for him can he live in fellowship with God. Outside those boundaries is only death.

That does not change with our regeneration. When we are regenerated, God gives us life out of death, and also writes the law in our hearts and brings us back within the boundaries of the law (the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us). Thus the law continues to define, like a boundary, where a life of peace, blessedness and fellowship with God is found.

The law does this because the law is rooted in the nature of God Himself. It is grounded in the truths that He is the only God (the First Commandment), that He is spirit, so glorious that no eye has seen Him or can see Him (the Second Commandment), that He is so holy that even His name may not be uttered without reverence and fear (the Third Commandment), that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all (#4), sovereign (#5), the living God (#6), faithful (#7), Lord of all (#8), a God of truth (#9) and perfect (#10).

With its precepts, therefore, the law tells us what our life in relationship to Him must be, that we must be single-eyed and single-hearted in relationship to Him, that we must worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), that we must be holy as He is holy, fear and reverence Him, find our rest in Him, submit to Him, receive our life from Him, be faithful in all our relationships as He is faithful to us, seek all things from Him, walk in the truth and be perfect as He is.

Those precepts of the law are necessary because we are still sinners and are tempted to think that life, happiness and satisfaction can be found apart from Him in sin. The law, then, continues to remind us that it is not so. We also need those precepts because we are slow of heart and ignorant of His glory, and of what it means to love and serve Him. We need to be told over and over that love is not just a feeling but that love involves obedience: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Calvin says, “The Law acts like a whip to the flesh, urging it on as men do a lazy sluggish ass. Even in the case of a spiritual man, inasmuch as he is still burdened with the weight of the flesh, the Law is a constant stimulus, pricking him forward when he would indulge in sloth” (Institutes 2.7.12).

In regeneration, therefore, we are given a new life filled with the love of God and obedience to Him, and the law is written in our hearts to show us the way of life. The law does not preserve the life of regeneration. It does nothing to strengthen and sustain that new life of Christ in us. That life does not depend on the law for anything. Christ by His Spirit is the source, the strength, the blessedness, the help and the hope of that new life. He is our life (Gal. 2:20). The law is only a reminder and a guide.

The law has a similar function in our sanctification. It has no power to make us holy, or even keep us holy, but it is an important guide for holiness, the road map which we must follow as we walk the narrow way of life. Written not only on tables of stone but in the fleshy tables of our hearts, it becomes a guide that we know well and love. It shows us where danger threatens our relationship to God and to others whom we love. It shows us the path of peace and spiritual safety in worship, in family and marriage, in our work and even in our inward life.

This is what Psalm 119:105 has in mind: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Thus also Deuteronomy 32:46-47: “And he [i.e., Moses] said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life.” Saved by grace, regenerated and renewed by the Spirit, a believer finds the law most useful and good.

Thus the law is a guide for gratitude also, for a life lived according to the precepts of the law is a life of gratitude to God, a life in which our thankfulness becomes more than just words. “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people” (Ps. 116:12-14). In other words, “I really have nothing to give; all I can do is receive. In taking the cup of salvation, I will be thankful and will, by grace, pay my vows and serve to the utmost of my ability as long as I live.”

It is a guide for gratitude because, as the Westminster Larger Catechism explains, “[The law] is of special use, to shew them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good” (A. 97). The law, written upon our hearts and in the Word of God, constantly reminds us of what Jesus said: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10).

This, according to Calvin, is the third and principal use of the law: “The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law. For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge; just as a servant who desires with all his soul to approve himself to his master, must still observe, and be careful to ascertain his master’s dispositions, that he may comport himself in accommodation to them” (Institutes 2.7.12).

In short, God’s law is a mirror of our misery and so also a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, a lamp for living, a handbook for holiness and a guide for gratitude. What other response is possible but “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). Rev. Ron Hanko

 

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • www.youtube.com/cprcni • www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Covenant Reformed News - October 2022

 
 
 

Covenant Reformed News


October 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 6


 

The Workers of Miracles

Who are the workers of miracles after Christ’s incarnation, atoning sacrifice on the cross and ascension into heaven? The biblical and Reformed answer is, “The apostles and a few others, and that only in the apostolic age.” However, Pentecostals and Charismatics would respond, “The apostles and many others in the apostolic age, and many since then.” Many renewalists claim that this includes apostles and prophets in the 1,900+ years since the deaths of the 12 apostles and Paul.

Let us look at the key New Testament book in this regard, Acts, beginning with two express statements that the 12 apostles wrought miracles. First, “many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (2:43). Second, “by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people” (5:12). These miracles were not wrought by (ordinary) believers. We do not read here of a miracle-working early church but of miracle-working apostles!

Acts records several miracles performed by the apostle Peter: the healing of the man born lame (3:1-4:22), the slaying of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11), the curing or exorcizing of multitudes in and around Jerusalem (15-16), the raising of paralysed Aeneas (9:32-35) and the resurrecting of dead Tabitha (36-42).

A number of wonders wrought by the apostle Paul are spoken of in Acts. He blinded Elymas the sorcerer in Cyprus (13:9-12). In Iconium, he performed “signs and wonders” (14:3) with Barnabas, one of “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch who was sent by the Holy Spirit (13:1-2); he healed a crippled man at Lystra (14:8-10); he exorcised the female fortune-teller at Philippi (16:16-18). In Ephesus, God wrought healings and exorcisms by the unusual means of Paul’s “handkerchiefs” (19:11-12). Paul raised Eutychus from the dead in Troas (20:9-12) and had no ill effects from the poisonous bite of a snake in Malta (28:3-6). On that island, he also healed Publius of dysentery and fever, and others with various diseases (7-10).

Did any others perform miracles apart from those already mentioned? Yes, three men. First, there was Stephen, who “did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). He was one of the first seven deacons upon whom the 12 apostles laid their hands (1-6). Moreover, Acts 7 presents Stephen not only as the first Christian martyr but also a prophet for he received a heavenly vision of the exalted Christ (55-60).

Second, Philip wrought miracles in Samaria (8:6-7, 13). Not only was he, like Stephen, ordained a deacon by the apostles (6:1-6) but he was also, like Timothy (II Tim. 4:5), an evangelist (Acts 21:8), exercising an extraordinary temporary office, in which the person worked under and assisted the first-century apostles (Eph. 4:11).

Third, after Christ appeared to Paul on the Damascus road, Ananias healed him of his blindness (Acts 9:12, 17-18). The Messiah who had earlier miraculously blinded Paul later sent Ananias to restore his sight miraculously. God did not use any of the (earlier) 12 apostles for this task, otherwise Paul’s later detractors would have claimed that he was a second-hand apostle (cf. Gal. 1-2). Instead, the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision (Acts 9:10-16), thereby also indicating to us that he was a prophet.

So whom did God use to work miracles after the exaltation of His Son? What does the book of Acts say? It was not ordinary members in the church. The Lord empowered the 12 apostles, especially Peter, and the apostle Paul. Four other men are mentioned: the prophets Stephen, Ananias and Barnabas, and the evangelist Philip. These men were vitally connected to the apostles, as those ordained by the 12 apostles (Stephen and Philip) or working a miracle upon the apostle Paul (Ananias) or accompanying the apostle Paul on his first missionary journey (Barnabas). With the deaths of the apostles, and those who were appointed by them or laboured with them or performed a miracle upon them, the days of godly miracle workers have ended.

This explains Paul’s inspired statement in II Corinthians 12:12: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” After all, if in our day all or some Christians, or some pastors or elders, can perform miracles, how are such “wonders” “the signs of an apostle”?

Miracles in the apostolic age were designed to authenticate (1) Christ’s apostles and/or (2) the gospel that they proclaimed. First, the New Testament speaks of miracles as validating the apostolic messengers of Christ, “them that heard him” (Heb. 2:3): “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will” (4). “Wonders” also had this function with regard to the Lord Himself, as Peter declared at Pentecost, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know” (Acts 2:22; cf. John 3:2; 5:36; 9:16, 30-33; 10:25, 37-38).

Second, miracles validated the message of the 12 apostles: “they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). This is also the case as regards the gospel preached by Paul the apostle and Barnabas the prophet who accompanied him: “Long time therefore abode they [in Iconium] speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3).

Let us hold fast to the New Testament apostles and the apostolic gospel that they proclaimed: salvation is in Christ alone to God’s glory alone (I Cor. 15:1-4)! Rev. Angus Stewart

 

 

The First Use of the Law

One of our readers asked, “Maybe Rev. Hanko can write an article on the role of the law in the conviction of sin, paving the way for the knowledge of Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches in the knowledge of misery. Has it such a function, and what place has it in the regeneration of a sinner and in his growth in grace?”

Identifying our misery with our sin and depravity, the Heidelberg Catechism speaks in Lord’s Day 2 of the function of the law in the conviction of sin:

Q. 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery?
A. Out of the law of God.

Q. 4. What doth the law of God require of us?
A. Christ teaches us that briefly, Matthew 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Q. 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
A. In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.”

The Catechism clearly teaches that we know not only our sin but also our sinfulness and depravity from the law, and especially from that most basic requirement of the law that we love God with everything we are and in all we do, and our neighbour also. This knowledge of sin is part of what we need to live and die happily (Q. & A. 2).

The Westminster Confession 19:6 is similar. It not only speaks of the law discovering the “sinful pollutions” of our natures, hearts and lives, but also reminds us that “conviction of” and “humiliation for” sin are not ends in themselves, but the way in which we learn our “need ... of Christ” and “the perfection of his obedience.” Following the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Confession, therefore, our answer is: “Yes, the law does have an important function in discovering our sin and sinfulness.” This, according to John Calvin, is the first use or function of the law.

That the law discovers our sin and shows us our lost condition is also the teaching of God’s Word. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet ... For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (7:7, 9). The Word of God does not find fault with the law for this but rather commends it: “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (12).

There are several things worth noting about these verses. Romans 7:7 teaches us that the law has this ability to show us our sin because it looks not only at our outward actions but also at our inward lives and hearts. The tenth commandment is especially important in that regard. It forbids a sin which, in itself, hurts no one, is not even discoverable by others and which has to do with our inward life. It serves as reminder that sin involves not only actions and words, but also motives, intentions and thoughts (Jer. 17:9-10).

This is fundamental to understanding the doctrine of total depravity. What the unbelieving do is never good in God’s eyes because, though they sometimes conform to the law in their outward actions, their hearts are never right with God. All the so-called “good” they do is an abomination to Him because their intentions are always wrong, for they do not do anything by way of “seeking God.” Psalm 14:2-3 says of them, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”

Nor, according to these verses, is true conviction of sin only a recognition that people do bad things or that I sometimes disobey, tell lies, cheat, steal, hurt others, am not faithful to my wife or that there is a little bad in all of us, etc. True conviction means that I confess with David, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (51:4-5). When truly convicted of sin, I see that I have sinned against God, that I am worthy of condemnation and that I not only do sinful things but am wicked by nature.

Conviction of sin means that I come to say with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). I stop excusing myself. I cease thinking that I am, deep down, a decent person. Rather, I acknowledge that my condition is hopeless and that there is nothing I can do for myself. This, in the grace of God, is the beginning of my deliverance for, having shown me my sinfulness and misery, the Spirit turns my eyes to Jesus, in whom I find not only the possibility of deliverance but all things necessary for my salvation.

This is the great work of the Holy Spirit. The law does not truly discover sin, convict of sin and humble for sin, without the saving work of the Holy Spirit. The law shows our sinfulness, but we cannot see our sinfulness and humble ourselves for it, unless God’s grace breaks our hearts (Jer. 31:18-19). Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, the law is powerless and useless even in showing us our sin.

Used by the Holy Spirit, the law functions as a schoolmaster or pedagogue to bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). By the grace of the Spirit, the law shows us the great Giver of the law, the God beside whom there is no other, the God who demands that we worship Him and worship Him as He commands, and not according to our own imaginations, the God whose name is so holy that may not be uttered without reverence and fear. A schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, indeed, but a schoolmaster we will not follow unless we are also taught of God’s Spirit.

By the teaching of the Spirit we say, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (Rom. 7:9-10). We add, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (12). The same grace that opens my eyes to see my lost condition brings me to the cross, where I find that the Giver of the law is not only holy and just, but also merciful and good.

The rest of this query we will answer in the next issue, DV. Rev. Ron Hanko

 

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • www.youtube.com/cprcni • www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Covenant Reformed News - September 2022

Covenant Reformed News


September 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 5



The Nature of Apostolic Miracles

In the last issue, we introduced the signs of an apostle (II Cor. 12:12) and listed various types of miracles (Matt. 10:8; Mark 16:17-18). But what about the miracles claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics in our own day? A lot of them are non-verifiable, such as the “healings” of bad backs and headaches or psychosomatic illnesses. How does one prove that a person actually had these pains, that he or she no longer has them and that this was due to a miracle performed by a charismatic? What about their performing “difficult” miracles, like raising people from the dead, cleansing lepers, causing people born lame to walk, etc.? Claims regarding these things by Pentecostals and Charismatics are rare, and few stand up to even a little investigation.

Victor Budgen relates this amusing story of a healing meeting in London: “in the middle of the Albert Hall rally the chairman announced that a person in the congregation who had been taken ill was in the St John’s ambulance room, and if there was a doctor in the house would he please go there quickly” (The Charismatics and the Word of God, p. 100). Where was the faith of the chairman and the attendees in the healing power of the charismatic leaders? Why did they need to turn to medics?

The miracles of II Corinthians 12:12 were both real and undeniable, as they had to be in order to serve Paul’s point. Clearly, while he was in Corinth for some 18 months (Acts 18:11), the apostle had performed a plurality of miracles that provoked wonder in those who beheld them and pointed to the truth of the gospel that he preached: Jesus Christ crucified and risen for sinners! Besides the references to miracles performed by Paul in the book of Acts and II Corinthians 12:12, the apostle speaks of his miracles in Galatia in central Turkey (Gal. 3:5), and even from Jerusalem all the way north and west to Illyricum, roughly the former Yugoslavia (Rom. 15:19).

Pagan opponents, unbelieving Jews and false apostles would dearly have loved to be able to deny the wonders that Paul performed. But, like the miracles of Christ (John 11:47), and of Peter and John (Acts 4:14-16), Paul’s mighty deeds could not be gainsaid.

Notice, first, that the apostles healed people totally. Paralysed Aeneas was bedridden for eight years. Peter announced to him, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,” and he arose and made his bed (Acts 9:32-35). Aeneas did not merely show improvement or make progress. Instead, he had unimpaired power in his limbs.

Second, the apostles healed people instantly, like the lame man of Acts 3. There was no need for any therapy afterwards or a process of rehabilitation.

Third, the apostles healed everyone who came to them seeking healing (e.g., Acts 5:12-16). They did not try to heal someone but fail, and then blame it on the sick person: “You didn’t have enough faith!” How unlike the supposed faith healers of our own times!

After over a century of Pentecostalism (including Charismaticism and Neo-charismaticism), where are their undeniable miracles? Lots of sick people were supposedly healed but are as ill as they ever were. Others have traipsed to many healing meetings seeking a cure but have not even claimed to have received healing. There have been multitudes of hoaxes and exposures. Christ’s name has been repeatedly discredited before the world by these charlatans and yet gullible people are still falling for it.

How different from the apostle Paul! “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (II Cor. 12:12). Paul is telling the Corinthians, in effect, “You saw God’s power in, and you marvelled at, miracles wrought by my hands. They are signs of my apostolic office—you yourselves being eyewitnesses and you cannot deny it.” On the other hand, the pretend miracles and incomplete cures (at best) are signs of an impostor, a false teacher with a false gospel, often one who is out to fleece the people.

One charismatic describes how someone knows when he or she has been “Touched for Healing.” “Usually you will feel extreme heat all over your body. Then after a few minutes, most will feel a wonderful and supernatural peace from the Lord Jesus Christ. You will know when this happens, it feels so wonderful. It’s like heaven on earth. You will know when this happens and you will have zero doubt. You will know it is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ touching you ... Sometimes you will feel a wind first. Really!!!! Just like a real wind or a lightly swirling breeze, even in a completely closed room. Sometimes you will feel like a warm blanket of energy wrapped around your entire body. When this happens, it is like supernatural clothing. It feels like a part of you perfectly. Sometimes you will smell a heavenly jasmine or other wonderful fragrances. You will know this smell is heavenly and holy when it manifests itself in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. If you ever smell these wonderful fragrances, you are having an extra special visit from the Lord Jesus. You will know without any doubt when you smell them.”

What is one to make of all this unbiblical tomfoolery? Where is there anything like this in all of sacred Scripture? Did you notice how often the writer speaks of how it usually “feels” (six times in the paragraph above)—the feeling of heat or peace or the wind or a blanket or perfectly fitting clothes—or “smells” (four times)—heavenly jasmine or another wonderful fragrance? (Roman Catholic mystics often speak of supposed divine visitations in similar language.) Remarkably, it does not even say that you know that you have been healed when you are actually healed! Beloved, a true sign of a biblical apostle is real healing without any of the mumbo-jumbo in the previous paragraph, as II Corinthians 12:12 and the New Testament teach! Rev. A. Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Church Our Mother?

Our question for this issue comes from a friend in South America: “Besides the church being the bride or wife of Christ, according to Galatians 4:26 and other verses ... is the church also the mother of believers or Christians?”

Scripture does not in so many words call the church the mother of believers. Nevertheless, the expression is, we believe, warranted by Scripture. Revelation 21:9 suggests it for, if the church is the bride of Christ, then it follows that she is also our mother.

Isaiah 66:10-11 exhorts us, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” Jerusalem was a name for the church in the Old Testament and continues to be a name for the church in the New (Heb. 12:22-24; Rev. 21:2). Isaiah certainly is describing Jerusalem as the mother of believers, therefore.

The verse mentioned by our South American friend, Galatians 4:26, is closest of all to an actual reference to the church as our mother: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” Here again, in an allegory, the name Jerusalem is a name for the church and the church is called “the mother of us all.”

The church is our mother in the sense that she gives birth to us. It is not the church which regenerates, justifies and sanctifies us, but it is through her ministry that God performs His work of grace in us. Thus Paul calls the members of the church, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19).

The Christian church has always recognized the propriety of this name. The church father Cyprian said, “No one can have God as Father who does not have the church as Mother” (The Unity of the Church, chap. 6) and Calvin wrote several times in his Institutes of the church as the mother of believers. Here are a couple of his famous quotes:

I will start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith. ‘For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder’ [Mark 10:9 p.], so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother. And this was so not only under the law but also after Christ’s coming, as Paul testifies when he teaches that we are the children of the new and heavenly Jerusalem [Gal. 4:26] (4.1.1).

But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title ‘mother’ how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matt. 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives (4.1.4).

This name “mother” has been misused, especially by Roman Catholicism which uses the name to buttress its absolute authority. Because the church is our mother, so they think, we must bow to her authority as we would bow to the authority of the Word of God: unreservedly and without question. Such abuse of the name, however, is easily answered with a reminder that no mother is a good mother who does not come with the Scriptures in hand and whose authority is not founded on that Word.

While rejecting the errors of Romanism, thinking of the church as our mother serves as a reminder of some important things about the church. It is a reminder of the unity of the church of Christ in all nations and all history. Believers have only one mother, though the visible church is fragmented and divided. We all—no matter our background, skin colour, nationality, language, etc.—not only have the same Father but also the same mother. Names such as Jerusalem and Zion are names for the church, both in the Old and the New Testaments (Gal. 4:24-27; Heb. 12:22-24), and are an example of this wonderful unity which transcends time.

The name mother reminds the church and her leaders that she must be like a mother to her members, and not like a tyrannical and over-bearing monster. It serves as a reminder to the members that the church is the place where they should expect to be fed, nourished, comforted, corrected and guided (Isa. 66:10-11). They should not leave her side, unless she in her visible manifestation becomes a whore rather than a mother. Though the name Mother is not used in Revelation 22:17, the idea of the church as our mother, the one through whom God provides for His children, is certainly to be found there: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”

In some churches, all the emphasis is on “saving souls” but what is done for those who are so saved? “Mother” church does little or nothing to nourish and care for her children. Nothing is said about church membership to the evangelized, and those who do become church members are left untaught and unguided. That same misguided emphasis on “saving souls” often leads to the neglect of those who have been long time members of the church, especially the elderly, the widows, the sick and the poor. It leads all too often to neglect of the youth as well. Though under the care of mother church, they remain untaught and it is no surprise that they go their own way in the end.

As our mother, the church deserves our respect and love and obedience. Christians ought to put ourselves under her care, “maintaining the unity of the church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them” (Belgic Confession 28).

When our mother is seriously ill, as she sometimes is, we must not immediately abandon her, but must seek her healing and well-being, through prayer, standing for the truth and, if necessary, church reformation. All too often those who would not think of abandoning their natural mother give up on mother church when she is ill and falls short of the standard for spiritual health set by the Word of God. Rev. Ron Hanko

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

Covenant Reformed News


August 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 4



Introducing the Signs of an Apostle

The twelve apostles and the apostle Paul possessed the teaching authority of pastors, plus infallible teaching authority, including (for some of them) the authority to write inspired and canonical New Testament Scripture.

These apostles also possessed the ruling authority of elders. Like them, apostles had authority to discipline, hear and decide controversies, and ordain office-bearers. Unlike elders, the apostles had the authority to direct the first-century evangelists and will have the authority to judge the twelve tribes of Israel on the last day (Matt. 19:28).

Moreover, the apostles possessed the authority of showing mercy like deacons. The twelve did the work of deacons in the days of the early New Testament church up to Acts 6. The apostle Paul was the main figure in bringing financial assistance from the Greek churches to the poor believers in Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:1-4; II Cor. 8-9).

In short, the apostles united in themselves the offices of pastor, elder and deacon, and even possessed a greater authority than the combination of these three special and permanent offices. Furthermore, they held this authority universally, for all the churches were under the authority of the apostles. No wonder the apostle Paul could write, “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (II Cor. 10:8).

This authority was derivative and ministerial. After all, the apostles were under the lordship of Jesus Christ, the sole king and head of the church, and they, like us, were subject to the truth of His Word.

In Paul’s battle with false apostles in II Corinthians 10-13, you could say that chapter 10 deals with apostolic authority, chapter 11 with apostolic sufferings, chapter 12 with apostolic revelations and chapter 13 with apostolic discipline. As well as apostolic visions, the supernaturalism of II Corinthians 12 includes apostolic miracles: “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (12). Notice the connection here between apostles and miracles!

The true apostolic office is rightly linked with Spirit-wrought miracles in the apostolic age, as recorded in the New Testament. On the other hand, various false churches link their (spurious) miracles with their (counterfeit) apostles.

Consider, first, the Roman church. The Pope is supposedly the successor of the apostle Peter and the papal church claims to be a miracle-working church—in the past, in the present and in the future.

This correlation is evident, second, in Mormonism. Here are the sixth and seventh of “The Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” of Joseph Smith: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.” “Apostles” (6) and miracles of “healing” (7) are closely connected.

We turn, third, to the Catholic Apostolic Church which is associated with, and was inspired by, Edward Irving (1792-1834) in London. The miracles they claimed led them to reinstitute the office of apostle. Like the Mormons, the Catholic Apostolic Church also settled upon twelve as the number of their apostles, the last of whom died in 1901.

Fourth, many charismatic groups claim to possess both miracles and apostles, while other parties that claim to have the power to work miracles are open to the idea of apostles today.

II Corinthians 12:12, cited earlier, uses three significant words for true miracles: “signs,” “wonders” and “mighty deeds.” As “mighty deeds,” miracles are objective works produced by extraordinary divine power. As “wonders,” miracles are marvels that evoke awe, the subjective result in human beings. As “signs,” miracles are indicators pointing to the great spiritual reality: redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ and salvation in Him alone, as infallibly taught by His special divine emissaries.

These miracles or “signs,” “wonders” and “mighty deeds” are of various types. Four are listed in Christ’s commission to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:8: “[1] Heal the sick, [2] cleanse the lepers, [3] raise the dead, [4] cast out devils.”

This is the promise of the risen Lord Jesus in Mark 16:17-18: “these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name [1] shall they cast out devils; [2] they shall speak with new tongues; [3] they shall take up serpents; and [4] if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; [5] they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

“Them that believe” (17) were the eleven disciples who, after the Lord’s ascension into heaven (19), “went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (20).

Of these five “signs,” speaking with “new tongues”—languages that were “new” to the speaker and were not learned by ordinary means—was not unique to the apostles or even the other extraordinary and temporary office-bearers: prophets and evangelists.

Two of the other “signs” are mentioned in both Matthew 10:18 and Mark 16:17-18. This leaves us with six types of miracles from these two New Testament passages: [1] healing the sick, [2] cleansing lepers, [3] raising the dead, [4] exorcising demons, [5] immunity from snake venom and [6] immunity from poison.

But more needs to be said about the nature and the workers of these signs!  Rev. Angus Stewart

 

 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Mother of God

A reader has asked, “Jesus has two natures ... We know that Mary is the mother of Jesus (being man) but is Mary also the mother of God (for Christ is divine)?”

The difficulty in answering this question revolves around the great biblical truth that Jesus, with His divine and human natures, is still one Person and that He is, personally, the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal and only begotten Son of God.

The question is whether we may ascribe things that are true of Him as a man to the divine Person. The Bible does this in Acts 20:28: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” where Scripture, in effect, calls the blood of Christ the blood of God. We know that God has no blood, no “body, parts, or passions” (Westminster Confession 2:1), yet Christ’s human blood is ascribed to Him personally and is called the blood of God. This would seem to justify calling Mary the mother of God (Greek: theotokos or God-bearer).

Mary, we all understand, is not the mother of Jesus’ divine nature, the mother of God, in that sense. According to His divine nature, He is eternal, has no earthly father or mother and no beginning. But, in the same way that His blood is referred to as the blood of God, can Mary be called the mother of God as the one who gave birth to the Person who was God, united at conception with our human nature?

In Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy, the term, mother of God, is accepted. It was in early use in the ancient church, but there were differences of opinion about it and a controversy erupted as part of the church’s battle against Nestorianism.

Nestorianism arose in the fifth century. Nestorius, Archbishop of Constantinople, separated the divine and human natures of Christ to the point that he was guilty of teaching that Christ was two persons instead of one. At the heart of his teaching was a denial of the union of Christ’s two natures from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary. His objections centred on the use of the term, mother of God, for he insisted that Mary could not be the mother of the divine nature and that God could not be a baby: “God is not a baby two or three months old!”

The Nestorians were guilty of serious error in teaching that the only begotten Son united Himself with an independent and completely human person, thus denying the reality of the incarnation. They insisted that the proper term for Mary was Christ-bearer (Greek: Christotokos). Mary was only the mother of the human person with whom the divine Son of God united Himself. There can be no doubt, therefore, that Nestorianism, a heresy that continues to plague the church, was wrong in its position regarding the union of Christ’s two natures.

Nestorianism was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Both these councils affirmed the propriety of the term, mother of God. The Creed of Chalcedon not only rejected Nestorianism by insisting that the two natures of Christ were united “without separation” but also used the name, “mother of God,” for Mary: “born of the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood.” For this reason, however, the Creed of Chalcedon has not been recognized by many. Article 9 of the Belgic Confession (1561) mentions the Apostles’Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, but not the Creed of Chalcedon.

The view of this writer is that, following the example of the Word of God in Acts 20:28, the term can be properly used, but it is not a biblical term and is often used to promote Mariolatry, so it is probably better to avoid it. Nor is it necessary to use the term to defend the truth that Christ is God and man in one Person, fully God and fully man, but still only one Person, and that the two natures of Christ were inseparably united in one Person from the moment of His conception in the womb of Mary.

Actually the Greek term, theotokos, God-bearer, is better than its usual translation, mother of God. The former makes it clear that Mary is in no sense the mother of Christ according to His divine nature and in no sense Christ’s mother from eternity.

It is better, so it seems to this writer, to stick as much as possible to the language of Scripture when speaking of the union of Christ’s two natures and to avoid language that may give offence or lead to misunderstanding. The fact is that the union of Christ’s two natures is a mystery. It lies at the heart of everything we believe but is beyond our comprehension. Any attempt to reason out the union of the two natures, the kind of attempt of which Nestorius was guilty, is bound to end in error.

We must confess that Christ is fully God and fully man. He must be God because only God can “by power of His Godhead sustain in His human nature, the burden of God’s wrath; and ... obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life” (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 17). He must be man because only man can pay for man’s sin, and only one who is like us in all things, except sin, can redeem and deliver us, body and soul, from our sins. He must be only one divine Person, for the testimony of Scripture is that there are not two Christs but one only and that one the only begotten Son of God.

How that divine Person could speak of being forsaken by God, how He, personally the Son of God, could hunger and thirst, be weary, suffer, die and rise again from the dead is the great mystery of our faith, and we must not tie ourselves in theological knots attempting to understand and explain that mystery, but must bow in wondering awe at what God has done and confess that “God was manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16).

The old Athanasian Creed sums up beautifully what we by faith are able to say, without destroying the mystery and miracle of the incarnation or by curiously inquiring into those things that are too high for us: “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe faithfully the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God, of the essence of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ.”  Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
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Covenant PRC-NI Newsletter - August 2022

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church Ballymena, NI

4 August, 2022

Dear saints in the Protestant Reformed Churches,

British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) Conference

After being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of Covid, the 16th BRF family conference on “Union With Christ” finally took place at Castlewellan Castle in Northern Ireland (9-16 July). However, as one attendee put it, “This BRF conference was so good that it made up for not having had one two years ago!”

There were 105 people who stayed at the castle for all or part of the week and another 26 who joined us as visitors once or twice or three times. Saints came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Northern Ireland, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Singapore, the United States, and Wales. Apart from a lingering uncertainty regarding the reintroduction of Covid regulations, especially those concerning international travel, more would have joined us. As it was, we were delighted with such an excellent attendance and the wonderful people who contributed to a blessed week.

I delivered the Saturday night opening presentation at the conference on “The Psalm of Union” (Psalm 56). Despite the fact that many delegates only arrived in Northern Ireland that day, and some had travelled a considerable distance and/or gotten little sleep the night before, the saints were remarkably attentive.

BH BRF Conf July 2022

Prof. Brian Huizinga’s two excellent Sunday sermons set forth the glory of the Saviour to whom we are united: “Our Changeless Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 13:8) and “The Lamb of God Come” (John 1:29). In the afternoon, I led a Bible study on “The Bond of Faith,” a topic intimately related to the mystical union.

From Monday to Friday, Professors Engelsma and Huizinga ably developed our beautiful theme of “Union With Christ” with six speeches that explained the nature of this mystical union and related it to the covenant, election, Jesus’ death, the forgiveness of sins, sanctification, our death, Christ’s resurrection, regeneration, marriage, the antithesis, abuse, etc. “‘Christ Is Made Ours:’ Calvin on Union” was my lovely subject for the BRF conference’s historical lecture on Wednesday night.

Look for the audios of all the ten speeches and sermons on the BRF website (www.british reformed.org). Lord willing, these will be reworked and published in the eighth BRF book, dealing with our union with Jesus Christ.

Among other things enjoyed by those at the Castlewellan conference were the two day-trips, ice cream in the cellars, shared meals, informal Psalm singing sessions, the arboretum, the hedgerow maze, walking around the lake, kayaking, several football matches, hiking up Northern Ireland’s highest mountain, etc. Friendships were renewed or established for the first time during a relaxing week with lovely weather and beautiful scenery in the Mourne Mountains and by the Irish Sea.

NIreland landscape BRF Conf 2022

I cannot do justice to the riches of God’s truth that was taught to us or the many wonderful aspects of the conference. I simply add here that reports by others will be carried in the Standard Bearer and the Beacon Lights, as well as in the next issue of the British Reformed Journal (BRJ) which will soon be sent to the printers. It has never been easier to subscribe to the BRJ. It can now be done online and costs just £10 for 4 issues (www.cprc.co.uk/ product/british-reformed-journal-subscription).

According to the decisions of the BRF’s Biennial General Meeting, the next conference is scheduled for the summer of 2024 in mainland Britain and its subject will be eschatology. After speaking at all of our previous conferences, Prof. Engelsma indicated that his age would rule him out in the future, sadly. Prof. Huizinga and Rev. Ron Hanko were chosen as the two main speakers for 2024.

Rev. Hanko is well-known in the BRF and the British Isles. He laboured in the United Kingdom for 7 or 8 years, speaking in various places in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. He attended several BRF conferences, wrote many articles in the BRJ (which are also on the BRF website) and was a member of the BRF Council. He has authored a good number of books and pamphlets (distributed by the CPRC Bookstore), and is writing in the monthly Covenant Reformed News again. The CPRC website contains many translations of his various works in several languages. His daughter, Jennifer, is a member of the CPRC, and Rev. Hanko has visited Northern Ireland several times in the last few years.

On the Lord’s day during the conference (10 July)—John Calvin’s birthday—Rev. Allen Brummel preached at both services in the CPRC in Ballymena for those in our congregation unable to make it to Castlewellan. On Sunday 17 July, the day after the conference’s conclusion, and with most of the conferees in attendance, the worship in the CPRC was led by Prof. Huizinga (Romans 2:4-5) and Rev. Brummel, all of whose three sermons dealt with key texts in the book of Job ( www.youtube.com/ user/CPRCNI). After this fine preaching of the Word, fellowship was enjoyed after the evening service around tea and sandwiches provided by the ladies of the congregation.

DHanko family BRF 2022

The next day, the majority of those from outside Northern Ireland flew home with accompanying sad farewells. Mary’s brother, Dave Hanko, with Joan, his wife, and Will, their son, stayed with us at the manse for a few more days, so we got to show them more of our province in the sunshine.

On the evening of the next Lord’s day (24 July), Prof. Engelsma preached a powerful sermon on “The Saviour's Assertions of His Sovereignty in Salvation” (John 13:18-19). Since this may well be the last time that he and Mrs. Engelsma will be in the CPRC, afterwards I gave a brief presentation outlining the immense service the professor has provided to our church (in its various forms) over the last 38 years. The videos of both these addresses are on-line (www.youtube.com/playlist?list= PL2Y5Eq5r6y2Fv4JNGXq935PevpTcIv1gH).

Membership

The last three months have probably seen more members added to our church than any other similar period. On 15 May, Joe and Lisa McCaughern with their three children (Jack, Maisie, and Xander) were received into the congregation. Christ’s particular atonement was a key doctrine in Joe’s coming to the CPRC.

Billy and Anne Gould, and their two adult daughters, Grace and Kerryann, joined us on 5 June. Some years ago, Kerryann married a man from Egypt and became a Muslim. After she was converted to Jesus Christ, he threatened her and they separated. Kerryann found us on the Internet, when she was seeking a church that teaches God’s sovereignty in salvation. Grace left her second husband and former church in order to join us, when she was convinced of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and remarriage.

Kerryann’s oldest daughter, Aaysha, is in a wheelchair for she has serious health issues, making it very difficult for her family to attend the worship services. Aaysha was able to attend on Sunday 12 June, when she was baptized in the name of the Triune God with her little sister, Somaya, and their brother, Yossef.

The next Sunday, Ivan Ortu from the Italian island of Sardinia and Colm Ring from Limerick in the Republic of Ireland made confession of faith together. Ivan came across us through the large Italian section on our website (www.cprc.co.uk/ languages/italian). Colm attended the Limerick Reformed Fellowship for several years.

All these additions provide greater opportunities for fellowship in the congregation. We produced a new CPRC listing because of changes to various people’s membership status, addresses, telephone numbers, and email numberaddresses (20 June).

My presentation at the CPRC Annual General Meeting (29 June) included some reflections on the Lord’s growth of our church. After doctrinal divisions in the old CPRC resulted in its disbanding in 2002, it took as many as fourteen years before the number of our confessing and baptized members reached their pre-split levels! Since 2016, the membership has further grown by over 50% and the Lord is bringing in others too. There are now 4-5 times more people attending our services than 20 years ago.

The BRF conference at Castlewellan, as well as additional contact with like-minded believers from our sister churches in North America and Singapore before and/or after the conference, was a great encouragement to both new and old members of our church.

Others

In March, thanks to a suggestion by a brother in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we started adding the words of the four Psalms that we sing to our live webcasting. Thus people watching the service online on our main website (www. cprc.co.uk/livestreaming) or on the other CPRC webpages (YouTube, Facebook or Sermon.net) can sing along with us.

Around the start of April, our four Monday night catechism classes ended for the season. In 2002, we had one catechumen (and she was 16 years old); now the Lord has given us 24.

On Easter Monday, we held a congregational picnic in Antrim Park near Lough Neagh (10 April). We had additional occasion for fellowship when we had tea after the Lord’s day evening service on 24 April, and Bob and Carolyn Prins (Trinity PRC), who were in Northern Ireland for a few weeks, were able to join us.

Our Wednesday night Belgic Confession classes concluded for the season on 27 April. We finished with seven studies dealing with “Ezekiel 40-48 in Eschatology.” Both historic premillennialism and dispensationalism claim that these chapters predict a literal Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the future. But is this really true? And, if not, what do the last nine chapters in Ezekiel actually teach? The audios are free on-line (www.cprc.co.uk/belgic-confession-class) and the CD box set is available for just £8 (inc. P&P in the UK) (www.cprc.co.uk/product/ ezekiel-40-48-in-eschatology).

With both Monday night’s catechism and Wednesday night’s doctrine class over, Mary and I were able to spend a few days in Scotland (2-6 May) in order to check out Lendrick Muir as a possible BRF conference venue for 2024. We also considered places that would work for two day-trips and had dinner with friends in St Andrews. Next we engaged in family visitation, which involved 33 visits (10 May - 27 June). This year’s Scripture passage was Philippians 4.

Lidi Cecilio from Brazil visited from 17 May to 27 July, which dates included the BRF Conference (9- 16 July). She stayed with various families in the congregation and participated vibrantly in the fellowship of the church. Mary and I first met Lidi in 2012, when she and four friends were in Dublin studying English. Since then, she has visited us several times and become dear to the CPRC.

Sunday 29 May marked the end of 37 sermons on “Solomon: Israel’s Wisest King” (I Kings 1-11; II Chronicles 1-9), the longest series I have ever preached (www.cprc.co.uk/old-testament-sermon-series). Solomon is the last monarch of the united kingdom and he represents the high point in OT Israel. After him comes division, warfare, and temple desecration. Studying Solomon helps us understand Christ’s glorious kingship, (aspects of) the OT ceremonial law, and God’s one holy church, as well as Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and (some of) the Psalms.

Mary and I were finally able to make it to South Wales for a lecture on “The Irresistible Grace of God” on 9 June. Because of Covid regulations and the press of other labours, it had been over 28 months since we were last there! We visited the homes of Brian and Sian Harris, and Richard and Judy Holt, and took the three Hutchings out for dinner beforehand. It was lovely to see all of them again and the other saints who attended the lecture.

Mary and I hosted the congregation at the manse for a barbecue (24 June). We had good fellowship and the younger ones enjoyed playing football.

Translations

In the 139 days since my last letter (18 April), we added another 79 translations in 8 different languages (www.cprc.co.uk/languages). Almost half of these new translations are Polish (39), most of which are by Marcin Kozera and Robert Jarosz, both of whom were at the BRF conference—the first time that we had met either of them! These Polish translations include two pamphlets by Herman Hoeksema (“The Antichrist” and “The Mark of the Beast”) and the first half of the BRF book, The Reformed Worldview, by Profs. Hanko and Engelsma.

This is the breakdown of the remaining 40 new translations: 14 Dutch (including 5 pamphlets by Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof, supplied by Rev. Steve Key in pdfs), 8 Hungarian, 8 Afrikaans, 4 Spanish, 3 Odia (all of the Three Forms of Unity), 2 Russian, and 1 Korean.

We now have articles from the Covenant Reformed News translated into 22 different languages spoken in various countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America: Afrikaans, Burmese, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hiligaynon, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Kirundi, Luo, Macedonian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, and Tagalog. Most articles of the News have been translated into at least one language and some up to as many as seven different tongues. Thus there are many more translations of the News on-line than there are pieces in English!

May the Lord continue to bless and keep you all by His Word and Spirit in these perilous times.

Rev. & Mary Stewart

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Covenant Reformed News July 2022

Covenant Reformed News


July 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 3


The Unchangeable God (3)

The God who is unchangeable in Himself (Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17) is also unchangeable in His eternal decree. God’s decree is His eternal plan or purpose with regard to heaven and earth, angels and men, and all creatures. It embraces every tiny detail concerning things on this planet, under this planet and above this planet, for Jehovah “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). As the Westminster Confession states, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (3:1).

Concerning God’s eternal decree, His all embracing plan and purpose, Holy Writ declares that it, like the One who eternally determined it, is unchangeable. Jehovah declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10). Thus Hebrews 6:17 refers to “the immutability of his counsel.” To use the language of James 1:17, like God Himself, there is “no variableness” nor “shadow of turning” in His eternal counsel.

God’s unchangeable decree includes His sovereign unconditional election of some to salvation in Jesus Christ and reprobation of others to destruction in the way of their sins. Speaking of our election, Ephesians 1:4 states that God “hath chosen us in him [i.e., Christ] before the foundation of the world.” As proof of reprobation, we cite the “ungodly men” of Jude 4 “who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.” The classic biblical example of election and reprobation is that of Isaac and Rebekah’s twins, Jacob and Esau. Before the two boys were “born” and so before they had “done any good or evil,” in order to fulfil the “purpose of God,” this was His eternal will: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11, 13).

Given God’s sovereign decree, the number of the elect and of the reprobate is immutable. There are a certain number of “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” and a certain number of “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (22-23). Westminster Confession 3:4 is right: “These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”

The names of the elect and the reprobate are also unchangeably fixed. The names of those predestinated to salvation are written in the Lamb’s book of life “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). On the other hand, Judas, for example, was always, in God’s eyes, “a son of perdition,” that is, a child of hell (John 17:12).

The immutability of God not only requires the unchangeability of His eternal counsel, including election and reprobation, but it also provides us with a sure proof of Christ’s Deity. Psalm 102:25-27 is quoted by Hebrews 1:10-12 with regard to our Lord Jesus: “Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.”

The eternal Son was not changed by His incarnation, when He took to Himself a real and complete human nature. Nor was God the Son changed by His cross, when He bore the terrible punishment due to His elect for their sin. In fact, the cross is the most glorious manifestation of the unchangeability of God. Jehovah’s infinite justice demands satisfaction, even if it is in the substitutionary atoning death of His own incarnate Son. God’s infinite mercy is unchangeable, including His pity for His beloved people in Jesus Christ, so unchangeable that Jehovah did not spare His only begotten Son (Rom. 8:32).

This beautiful biblical teaching of God’s immutability is for our comfort. First, Jehovah’s covenant is unchangeable: “I will immutably be thy God and thou shalt unchangeably be my people.” “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee” (Isa. 54:10).

Second, Psalm 102:27-28 teaches that Jehovah’s immutability (“But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end”) guarantees the church’s continuity (“The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee”).

Third, in His unchangeable covenant, the immutable God preserves not only His church but also each individual believer. II Timothy 2:19 assures us that Jehovah will graciously keep every one of His own (“the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his”) and, therefore, we must live holy lives out of gratitude (“Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity”).

Given the unchangeability of our God, what is our calling? First, do not trust in anything in this world, including “uncertain riches” (I Tim. 6:17) or fickle man. Trust not in princes (Ps. 146:3) for that is leaning upon a “broken reed” (Isa. 36:6). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Why? For “the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15, 17).

Instead, second, trust in the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us by the blood of the everlasting covenant. Rely on Him for all things temporal and spiritual. After all, He is Jehovah, the great “I am that I am,” who is unchangeable, and so always faithful to His Word and promises (Isa. 26:4; Heb: 6:11-20).

Third, as we meditate upon and love the unchangeable God, let us strive by His grace to be more constant and faithful ourselves: not up one minute and down the next, not gracious today and rude tomorrow, not kind in the morning but irritable in the evening. Instead, let us ever be the same: loving the Lord our God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves continuously. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). The unchangeable God promises, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).  Rev. Stewart

  

 

Friendship Evangelism

We are treating friendship evangelism in response to a request of a reader: “I’d like to ask if something can be written on the comparison and/or contrast between friendship with the world which is enmity with God and friendship with unbelievers as a bridge-building exercise for sharing the gospel (Life on Life and Word of Witness).”

Friendship evangelism or relational evangelism is making friends with unbelievers, and taking them into your home and life in order to create opportunities for sharing the gospel with them. One Life on Life website suggests that one place to start with life on life discipleship is to establish a relationship with an unbeliever.

The Bible is clear, however, that we are not to be friends with those who do not believe. The request from our reader makes reference to James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” That is strong language, including the reference to those who do not listen to what James says as “adulterers and adulteresses.” They deserve such names because friendship with the world is unfaithfulness to God.

There are other passages as well. II Corinthians 6:14-18 says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

The Old Testament sends the same message: “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28). When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, went to battle with wicked King Ahab of Israel, he was admonished by the prophet Jehu: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord” (II Chron. 19:2).

These passages present the antithesis, the spiritual separation and opposition that exists between believer and unbeliever, and which believers must maintain in their lives. We may not marry unbelievers (I Cor. 7:39), make friends with the ungodly and the world (James 4:4), or be in any relationship with an unbeliever which is an unequal yoke (II Cor. 6:14), i.e., business partnerships, friendships, and worldly causes and purposes. Why? Because we are spiritually different, not of ourselves but of grace.

The argument often is that the believer by joining the ungodly can make a difference, can be “salt and light,” and can change the world in which he lives, or the person he or she marries, or the unbelieving friends he makes. However, the danger is that, instead of changing the unbeliever or the world, the believer himself is changed. As someone once said, “One drop of poison pollutes a large quantity of water but large quantities of water do not dilute the poison sufficiently to make it less dangerous.” That is the point in Haggai 2:11-13. When what is holy comes into contact with what is unclean, the holy becomes unclean but the unclean does not become holy.

Nor does Matthew 5:13-16 justify such conduct on the part of the Christian. Their interpretation of the passage is that believers, joining with unbelievers, make them less dark and season them. Being friends of the world and joining their efforts, adopting their goals, the believer is called to change the world and make it less dark, less tasteless. That is a gross misinterpretation of the passage. That believers are the light of the world does not mean that they are called to make the darkness of this world a little less dark but refers to the fact that in this sin-darkened world they are the only light. That they are the salt of the earth does not mean that they are called to make this world less “tasteless” and to have a good effect on the culture of this world. All the salt in the world cannot cure rotten meat. Rather it means that they, by grace, are the only thing in the world that has any taste. Instead, then, of being an invitation to mingle with and make friends of the world, the passage is actually describing the antithesis, the great spiritual difference between the believer and the unbeliever, the church and the world.

As lights in the world, our calling is to let our light shine, not to make this world less dark, as a witness which God uses to save His own: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (16). That is what we call witnessing and it is the calling of every believer. The believer witnesses by giving an answer, when asked, of the hope that is in him (I Pet. 3:15), something he has opportunity to do when the unbeliever sees he is different in his work, marriage, family life, sabbath observance and attitudes toward others. The believer is a witness when he does good to others who do not believe: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44), but that is a different thing from making friends with them and taking them into one’s life. Sometimes that is the only witness he has when he has tried and failed to speak to them of the hope that he has in Christ.

That is not, however, what the Bible calls evangelism. Evangelism in Scripture is the preaching of the gospel by those whom God has sent, and who do so on behalf of, and under the oversight of, the church (Acts 13:1-3; 14:26-27; 15:1-31; 36-41; 21:17-26). There is much confusion about this also, with young men and women going out to “evangelize” without being called or sent, and without proper oversight or even financing. Such “evangelism” is disorderly, accomplishes little and often brings disgrace on the church. Every believer has the calling to be a witness of Jesus but not everyone is an evangelist. Every believer is called to be a witness of Jesus in word and life, but not by making friends of the world. At the heart of his witness is the wonderful result of God’s saving grace: the difference between him and the unbeliever, between his life, blessed by God, and the hell-bound life of those who do not believe.

Friendship evangelism is not biblical, and the organizations that promote it are doing nothing for the cause of Christ and His kingdom. Rev. Ron Hanko

Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
83 Clarence Street, Ballymena, BT43 5DR • Lord’s Day services at 11 am & 6 pm
Website: https://cprc.co.uk/ • Live broadcast: cprc.co.uk/live-streaming/
Pastor: Angus Stewart, 7 Lislunnan Road, Kells, N. Ireland, BT42 3NR • (028) 25 891851  
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. • www.youtube.com/cprcni • www.facebook.com/CovenantPRC
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Reformed News Asia - July 2022 (Issue 66)

Issue 66
Pamphlets

We print pamphlets written by our members and those from other Reformed churches of like-minded faith. They include a wide range of topics from doctrines to church history and practical Christian living. These pamphlets serve to promote knowledge of the true God as expressed in the Reformed faith.
NEWPamphlet!

Please click the picture to get the online copy of the pamphlet.
Questions in the Bible - Nahum & Hosea
By Prof Hermon Hanko

There are many questions within the Bible, 2,540 to be exact.

The Christian Literature Ministry has shortlisted and compiled a list of them based on certain criteria:

i) Can be linked to Christ
ii) Significant in history of church
iii) Spiritual lesson for us
iv) A question we may also ask

After 6 years of effort, 12 books of the bible have been completed. In addition to the 6 meditations from Rev. Lanning, the writers are: Prof. Herman Hanko, Rev. Richard Smit and Rev. Cory Griess. We are grateful for their labour of love.

May you benefit spiritually from the meditations, and pray with us that gradually we may compile more meditations from questions in other books of the Bible.


Click hereto view our catalogue of pamphlets.

Click here to make an order.

All pamphlets are free. CERC reserves some discretion regarding large orders and/or orders from those outside Singapore.
 
Featured Book
For local orders (S'pore), please contact Ms Daisy Lim at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
For international orders, click here.

Through Many Dangers

by P. M. Kuiper


From the RFPA website:

August 1862. Eighteen-year-old Harm van Wyke finds his quiet life in the Dutch Reformed community of Holland, Michigan, upended by the American Civil War. When it becomes clear the war will not be as easily won as once believed, President Lincoln calls for 300,000 volunteers to defend the Union. Harm’s minister, Rev. Albertus van Raalte, encourages the young men of his community to join the cause. Harm’s father bitterly opposes the idea. Harm hesitates to leave his home, but when his friends portray the war as a grand adventure, he gives in and joins them. Together, some eighty boys and young men from Holland join the 25th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

As Harm and his friends travel to army camps in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then Louisville, Kentucky, they face daily temptations to forget God and turn from their faith. Fellow soldiers think nothing of taking the Lord’s name in vain. They gamble, drink, and “forage” from neighboring homes and farms. Harm and his friends gather regularly to sing the old psalms and discuss the Bible, but still, on occasion, they stumble and fall.

As the war progresses, the boys from Holland battle Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in Western Kentucky, and endure an arduous march to Eastern Tennessee where they join the fighting around Knoxville. Later, they take part in General Sherman’s prolonged and bloody Atlanta campaign. Along the way, Harm and his friends face the harsh realities of war—exposure, disease, injury, and death. In the midst of such hardship, Harm’s faith is tried at every turn. His greatest conflict turns out to be spiritual. Will God give Harm the strength to stand for what is right, even if he finds himself opposed by friends?

 
Audio Recordings
Sermons in relation to the Lord's Supper preached by Rev Josiah Tan

Loathing The Light Bread (Lord’s Supper Preparatory)
The Lifting Up of the Brass Serpent (Lord’s Supper)
Singing of the Springing Well (Lord’s Supper Applicatory)
 
Upcoming Events!
 
FSM Seminar 2022
Date: 9 Aug 2022
Time: 9.45am - 1pm
More details will be released soon...
 
Past Events...
 
CERC Church Retreat 2022

The theme for 2022 Church Retreat was "Growing together in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:13)". The retreat was held over 2 days, with messages, discussions and ending off with an outdoor activity at the park. We thank God for the freedom to organise and engage in such activities and mass fellowship after a long 2 years. Lively and enriching discussions  were conducted and a great time of fellowship took place over lunch and activities. 
Catered lunch at church!
Outdoor activity
 
Notes
 
Salt Shakers

Salt Shakers is a bi-monthly magazine published by the youth in Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC). Included in each issue are writings pertaining to bothReformed doctrine and practical theology. Contributors to Salt Shakers include our pastor, youth and members of CERC, and pastors and professors from the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Salt Shakers also features articles from the Standard Bearer and other Reformed publications. Click here to access.

 
Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church
We are a Reformed Church that holds to the doctrines of the Reformation as they are expressed in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt.

Lord’s Day services on Sunday at 930 am & 2 pm • 11 Jalan Mesin, #04-00, Standard Industrial Building, Singapore 368813 • www.cerc.org.sg 
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Covenant Reformed News - June 2022

Covenant Reformed News


June 2022  •  Volume XIX, Issue 2


The Unchangeable God (2)

Besides specific Bible texts—Psalm 102:27, James 1:17 and Malachi 3:6 were cited in the last issue of the News—there is especially one divine name which teaches God’s immutability. Do you know which it is? Jehovah!

The noun Jehovah is from the Hebrew verb that means “to be.” It is the divine name that the angel of the Lord explained to Moses at the burning bush on Mount Sinai: “I Am That I Am” (Ex. 3:14). You and I could never say this about ourselves without the grossest idolatry; the angel Gabriel could not say this; no creature could ever truly say this. Only Almighty God can and does! He is ever and always Himself. Eternally, He is exactly what He was and is and shall be: the self-existent, absolute and unchangeable “I Am That I Am.”

Now let us relate this divine name to the three texts mentioned earlier. “For I am the Lord [i.e., Jehovah, the immutable I Am That I Am, therefore], I change not” (Mal. 3:6). Concerning Himself, as Jehovah, He says, “I Am That I Am,” and the church responds with worship, “thou art the same” (Ps. 102:27)! As Jehovah, the One who always and forever is exactly what He is, James 1:17 rightly calls Him, “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Besides particular verses of Scripture (especially the three that are mentioned twice above) and the divine name Jehovah, there is one image or figure used of God that especially involves His immutability: He is the rock. As David says, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Ps. 18:2)—to cite just one instance from God’s Word. Our covenant Lord is firm, constant, strong, dependable, faithful, unmovable and unchangeable, like a rock!

Our God is not a chameleon that changes with its surroundings. He is not a weathercock that moves with the wind. “He is the [immutable] Rock,” and all His “work” and “ways” are “perfect,” “just” and “right” (Deut. 32:4).

Let me give you one very simple argument that demonstrates why the Most High must be, and is, unchangeable. If something changes, it must change either for the better or for the worse. But God cannot change for the better for He already is absolutely perfect. Nor can He ever change for the worse because then He would be less than perfect.

In short, the truth of God’s immutability is an absolutely necessary truth, included in the very idea that Jehovah is infinitely glorious. Thus that which is not unchangeable is not God. So when the true God revealed Himself to Moses, He said, “my name [is] Jehovah” for “I Am That I Am” (Ex. 6:3; 3:14)!

In what is God unchangeable? He is unchangeable in Himself. This includes, first, His being unchangeable in His Persons. Jehovah is Triune, existing in three divine Persons, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are equal in power and glory, dwelling in the bliss of covenant fellowship forever.

God did not become Triune at creation or with the incarnation of the Son or at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the New Testament church of Christ. God exists in three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—eternally and immutability, as He says, “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6).

Second, God is unchangeable in his attributes or virtues. He does not change with regard to time, for He is eternal, or space, for He is omnipresent. He does not increase or decrease in knowledge for He is omniscient. He does not become stronger or weaker for He is omnipotent. He does not grow or diminish in anything for He is infinite. The Westminster Shorter Catechism sums up the truth: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” (A. 4). We repeat with awe the inspired words, “thou art the same” (Ps. 102:27)!

In our day, over against all forms of Arminianism, it especially needs to be stressed that God is immutable in His love and mercy. It is certainly not the case that God loves someone in time but then, when he dies, He hates him and casts him into hell forever!

Those whom God loves, He loves eternally and unchangeably. As Psalm 136 declares an emphatic 26 times, “his mercy endureth for ever.” Repeatedly we are called to give Jehovah thanks, for He “smote Egypt in their firstborn … [and] overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea … [and] slew famous kings … Sihon king of the Amorites … [and] Og the king of Bashan” (10, 15, 18, 19, 20). Why? “for his mercy endureth for ever”! There is no mercy for Pharaoh, Sihon, Og and their idolatrous people, whom He destroyed. Jehovah has everlasting mercy for His elect people in Jesus Christ and shows this by slaying their impenitent enemies.

Romans 8:38-39 is extremely forceful in teaching that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” After listing nine of the leading candidates for effecting such a terrible separation, including “death,” it adds, as a sort of universal catchall, “nor any other creature.” God’s love is everlasting and invincibly adhesive, for we are united to Him forever! Again, we see that our comfort lies in the truth that our covenant Lord is “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

Whom does the Most High love? He unchangeably loves Himself (as the highest good), His beloved Son incarnate and all His elect in Christ Jesus. He loves us unchangeably and He loves us “unto the end” (John 13:1)!

Just as Jehovah is unchangeable in His Persons and attributes, including His love and mercy, so He is also unchangeable in His blessedness. Never does God increase in His joy or happiness or pleasure for He is infinitely and immutably blessed in Himself. Never does the Most High become richer or more abundant in life for He is the fullness of perfection forever! Rev. Stewart

  

 

“Life on Life” and “Feel Good” Ministries

One reader of the News has sent the following request: “I’d like to ask if something can be written on the comparison and/or contrast between friendship with the world which is enmity with God and friendship with unbelievers as a bridge-building exercise for sharing the gospel (Life on Life and Word of Witness).”

The main concern here is what is called “friendship evangelism” but, first, a bit about Life on Life and Word of Witness. The former, Life on Life Ministries, is connected with Perimeter Church in Georgia in the United States. I am not sure to what the inquirer was referring by Word of Witness, since I could find no references to it. I assume it is another organization similar to Life on Life.

Life on Life and such organizations are typical of much of what goes under the name of Christianity today. The focus is on self and self-fulfilment, on feeling useful and good, on personal satisfaction and happiness. Almost nothing is said about sin and grace, and salvation through faith alone in Jesus. Life on Life’s website recommends one of its founder’s books thus: “Are you frustrated that your life lacks lasting satisfaction? We live in a time when people are searching for meaning, purpose and satisfaction, and are frustrated, disappointed and disillusioned by the counterfeits that hold out the promise but fail to deliver. This lack of satisfaction crosses all ages, ethnicities and beliefs. It is not uncommon to speak with individuals who claim to have strong, spiritual lives but yet do not know how one lives a life of satisfaction. In ‘The Answer,’ Randy Pope invites us to discover a greater purpose and more fulfilled life.” Though Christ is mentioned on the website, I could not find a single reference to sin and salvation. Life on Life is just another “feel good” ministry and gospel, which is no gospel at all.

These organizations can hardly be called Christian. They are all about personal fulfilment and self-satisfaction, and do not even make a pretence of preaching the gospel of grace. They can be criticized on many points: their lack of regard for what the Bible says about ministry and the calling of those who bring the gospel, their skewed view of satisfaction and personal happiness, their misunderstanding of our spiritual need and their emphasis on feelings, but the main problem with these “ministries” is that they have no gospel, and pay only lip-service to Christ and His saving work.

The mention of an organization such as Life on Life Ministries gives me the opportunity to write about something that has long troubled me and is a problem not only in these “feel good” ministries but also in evangelical churches. I am referring to the notion that everyone in the church, every Christian, has to have a ministry of some kind in order to feel fulfilled. A person’s ministry may be anything from passing out tracts and knocking on doors to going off to a foreign mission to evangelize (and often coming back disappointed, discouraged and questioning one’s faith). The result is that ministries multiply in the church, with ministers of music, ministers of the singles, children’s ministers, youth ministers, etc., and the members of the church are left thinking that, if they do not have some “ministry,” they are second-class members of the church.

Forgotten is the important biblical truth that the church has but one ministry, the preaching of the gospel. Paul says of himself, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). To Timothy, he says, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2).

Forgotten too is the scriptural injunction that those who preach the gospel must be sent as Paul himself was sent (Acts 13:1-3): “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15). Such sending is by God through the church and involves the laying on of hands or ordination by the church.

Also forgotten, to the detriment of marriage, home and church, is the truth that we are called to serve God first in the place He has given us, as husbands and wives, parents and children, those who are busy with our daily work, whatever that may be. Paul, who may well have been dealing with something like we see today, says, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (I Cor. 7:24). If I am married and have children, my first and greatest responsibility is to my wife and family, and I may not neglect those responsibilities for some “ministry.”

Not only that, but I must understand that it is in the place and calling God has given me that I am the best witness for Christ. Especially in a society where marriage means nothing, where family life is a disaster and where honest daily labour is a lost art, my faithfulness in those areas is a better witness than knocking on doors will ever be.

I must understand also that the Reformation view of work teaches that all the work of a believer, the work of a mother in the home, the work of a father for the support of his family, all work, no matter how unimportant and menial it may seem, is blessed by God and used by Christ for God’s glory, for the edification and salvation of others, and for our own peace and contentment. A mother need not think that washing dishes and laundering clothes is beneath her, and that she needs a “ministry” of some kind to find satisfaction and fulfilment, but she must know that Christ makes her work His own, blesses it and uses it for good beyond any expectation. That is why the Word in I Corinthians 7:24 adds, “with God,” and why Paul exhorts us, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (15:58). The work of the Lord is not only preaching and witnessing, but mowing lawns, taking out the rubbish, pounding nails, doing accounts, when it is done for Christ, with prayer and in faith.

I have strayed somewhat from friendship evangelism, but I trust our readers will excuse me and wait for more on that subject in the next issue. Rev. Ron Hanko

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