Called to Watch


Called to Watch for Christ's Return

written by Martyn McGeown

A few days before Jesus gave his life on the cross, his disciples asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). Christ responded with the Olivet Discourse, a detailed teaching on the doctrine of the last things.

We need to understand the signs of Christ’s coming for our comfort as we look for “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

 

 

 

 

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Heartily Believing Sound Doctrine (2)

That it is the calling of every member of the church to promote sound doctrine, reject false doctrine and live in holiness of life is the topic of today’s post.

That “sound doctrine” (I Tim. 1:10) or “good doctrine” (I Tim. 4:6) is important is evident from the fact that the word “doctrine” or “teaching” is used 48 times in the New Testament. Timothy was exhorted to “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:2-4).

God uses the means of “a love of the truth” (sound doctrine) to save his people (II Thess. 2:10-13) and preserve his church in this world. In our day of the great “falling away”, those without this love of sound doctrine are swept away with the lie. Rev. Thomas Miersma made this connection between sound doctrine and the well-being of the church in a Standard Bearer article many years ago:

For, you see, a love of the truth, a fervent zeal for faithfulness in doctrine according to the Word of God, for orthodoxy in doctrine and practice, is never a cause of trouble. On the contrary, we read in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Not doctrine, not a careful attention to God's Word, His law, and its meaning, destroy the church, but lack of it. Not fine distinctions concerning the truth of God and His will, the fine points of doctrine and practice, but the lack of them, a spiritual indifference to God's Word, an empty shallow, superficial treatment of God's Word and its doctrine, a forgetting of His Word, that destroys the church. That is a matter of both the head, knowledge, and the heart, remembrance, for it is a matter of the assured knowledge of faith from which the confidence of faith also springs. (Standard Bearer, 3/1/1990)

Loving the truth (sound doctrine), believing and confessing it, the child of God then lives the Christian life. There is a direct connection between what we believe and how we live. We live what we love and believe in our hearts. Prof. Ronald Cammenga wrote on this connection between sound doctrine and the Christian life:

That connection is, first of all, that sound doctrine is the foundation of the Christian life. Apart from doctrine, knowing, believing, and confessing the doctrine, there is no possibility of living the Christian life. The true doctrine must be what motivates and guides us in our everyday life in the world. This is why the first duty of the faithful minister is to preach the doctrine, I Timothy 4:16. This is why the first duty of the believer is to receive the doctrine.

We see this connection between doctrine and life today. Ignorance of some of the most fundamental doctrines of the Word of God prevails in the churches. People perish for lack of knowledge; there is a famine of the Word of God. What is the result of this? The result of this doctrinal ignorance is unbelievable wickedness in the lives of the members of the church, disobedience to the commandments of God's law, and unholy living.

But there is another connection between doctrine and life. That connection is that the Christian's walk of life is the proof and evidence of the faith that he confesses. Belief of the truth necessarily shows itself in a godly walk. The true and complete doctrine that we acknowledge must be expressed in our daily life. And if the new and godly walk does not follow, it only indicates that our confession was a fraud. (Standard Bearer, 4/1/1987)

To maintain, as some do, that one can leave a church where the truth is purely preached and join a church where false doctrine is maintained (Reformed or not) and where heresy is not disciplined, and still live in holiness of life, is an impossibility. Departure from sound doctrine is itself the unholy walking down the path of apostasy. Apostasy inevitably leads to a deterioration of the Christian life, especially in the generations of those who leave the truth. Only repentance from this departure and a return to sound doctrine will result in a reformation of life. In principle, it is impossible to believe false doctrine and live a godly life.

Therefore, it is imperative that every member of the church heartily believes and confesses the sound doctrines of the Reformed faith and exerts himself in the rejection of “all heresies repugnant thereto,” and thus live in godliness of life. Let us not disparage sound doctrine by professing to believe it, being indifferent to it, and neglecting its study and defense. I end with a quote from Prof. Herman Hanko:

Nevertheless, the defense of the truth against false doctrine is essential, now also, even as it was in the day of Nehemiah. All the officebearers within our churches are bound to this by the Formula of Subscription in which they promise, “to refute and contradict all errors and to exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors.” All the members of the church are bound to this same calling by the examples of the apostles and prophets and by the admonitions of the scriptures to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. And to this calling we are urged by the testimony of the church of all ages. When the church failed in this aspect of her calling, her failure was marked by rapid decline and by a swift drift into false doctrine and worldly-mindedness. And when the church stood firm and uncompromising for the truth, she also prospered in her calling and in faithfulness to God.

The sword of the defense of the faith must be wielded carefully. It must be wielded in the seminary, in the pulpit, and by all God's people, even from their vantage point in the pew, for we all are engaged in the battle. It must be wielded by careful study of the truth, by appeal only to the scriptures as the rule for faith and life, with courage and fearlessness, but with meekness and fear as Peter admonishes us. (Standard Bearer, 10/1/1981)

It is my intention this year, the Lord willing, to write on some of the doctrines we believe and must defend and which give the Protestant Reformed Churches the right of a separate existence within the Reformed church world.

____________________

This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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RFPA Update newsletter - Winter 2017

 Click icon to read the full pdf version.

Some of the Articles in this issue:
Justification by Faith Alone: The Heart of the Reformation
RFPA Annual Meeting
Book Review: Christianizing the World
New RPFA Staff member

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Free Standard Bearer Special Issues

For many years the Standard Bearer has published special issues that recognize significant events in the Reformation of the church (e.g. Abraham Kuyper and the Reformation of 1886, The Synod of Dordt, etc.) or important topics in the believer's life (e.g. Prayer, The Reformation and a Holy Life, etc.). The RFPA has a surplus of inventory of many of these special issues and we are offering them at no charge for evangelism purposes, discussion groups, and personal use (Shipping charges will apply). To place your order call (616-457-5970) or email (mail@rfpa.org).

     

October 15, 1995: The Reformation of 1924

 

October 15, 1996: The Reformation of 1953

 

October 15, 1997: The Synod of Dordt, 1618, 1619

 

January 15, 1998: Reformed Worship

 

October 15, 1998: Abraham Kuyper and the Reformation of 1886

 

October 15, 1999: The Reformation and the Last Things

 

August 2000: 75 Years Anniversary Celebration

 

October 15, 2000: John Knox

 

October 15, 2002: The Reformation and a Holy Life

 

October 15, 2003: John Calvin

 

October 15, 2004: The Reformation and the Doctrine of Man

 

June 2005: Prayer

 

October 15, 2005: John Wycliffe

 

October 15, 2006: Reformation in the Netherlands

 

May 1, 2007: The Lord’s Day

 

October 15, 2007: Church Reformation, 1834

 

November 1, 2009: John Calvin—500th Anniversary

 

October 15, 2010: The Ecumenical Spirit of the Reformation

 

October 15, 2011: The Belgic Confession of Faith

 

October 15, 2012: The Reformation of 1857

 

October 15, 2014: Augustine

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Heartily Believing Sound Doctrine (1)

During the past couple of Sundays most readers probably heard the Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons read during the worship service as new elders and deacons were installed. Along with this the Formula of Subscription was read, which all Protestant Reformed officebearers must sign. This year as these two forms were read, I was struck by the emphasis these forms place on believing sound doctrine and rejecting false doctrine.

In the Form for Ordination of Elders and Deacons there are five references to the maintenance of sound doctrine in the church. The first duty of elders is “diligently to look whether every one properly deports himself in his confession and conversation.” The third duty of elders is to “have regard unto the doctrine and conversation of the ministers of the Word, to the end that all things be directed to the edification of the church; and that no strange doctrine be taught.” The Ordination Form calls the elders to “watch diligently against the wolves.” Therefore, the elders are “diligently to search the Word of God, and continually be meditating on the mysteries of the faith.”

The second and third questions asked of the newly installed officebearers concern believing “the perfect doctrine of salvation” and “reject[ing] all doctrines repugnant thereto.”

After the questions are answered, the minister, using the Ordination Form, exhorts the elders to “take heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained in the church of God.” Finally, in the prayer at the end of the Ordination Form, God is beseeched that the elders may have the spiritual gifts of “wisdom, courage, and discretion” that they may take “diligent heed unto the doctrine and conversation" of those in the sheepfold, “keeping out the wolves.”

The language of the Formula of Subscription is even stronger. By subscribing to the Form, the officebearers “before the Lord declare” that they “heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-‘19, do fully agree with the Word of God.” Subscription binds the officebearers to “teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine.”

The language of the Formula of Subscription becomes very rigorous when setting forth the subscriber's promise to reject false doctrine. Again, the officebearers declare before the Lord their promise to “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine” but to “refute and contradict them.” Further, they promise “to exert themselves in keeping the church free from such errors.”

We can be thankful that this kind of language is found in our forms. It is fashionable in Reformed churches today—and the Protestant Reformed Churches are not immune from this—to minimize sound doctrine and holiness of life. Further, condemnation of false doctrine is characterized as being sectarian and uncharitable. And this attitude is fatal for the church. Too often it is heard, “It’s not so important what we believe, it’s how we live.” Or, as some will say to excuse the sin of a member who forsakes his confession of faith vow and leaves for a church that holds to false doctrine, “Well, at least he is still attending church faithfully and seems to walk a holy life.” As if it were possible for one to depart from the truth (sound doctrine), that is walk in apostasy, and still live in holiness of life. Again, this attitude is fatal for the church and completely contrary to the clear language of the Ordination Form and the Formula of Subscription.

The officebearers of the church are called to search the Word of God, to know and believe the perfect doctrine of salvation and to exert themselves in the rejection of false doctrine so that the church may be kept free from error. While the officebearers are to lead in these areas, every member of the church is responsible for the promotion of sound doctrine, the rejection of false doctrine and the leading of a holy, antithetical life.

More on this in the next post.

_______________

This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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Gender Revolution

National Geographic magazine is ushering in the new year with a special issue devoted entirely to “Gender Revolution” (link). Although this may be hard to read, it is necessary to know what is taking place in the rapidly-changing world in which we live.

One of the two “historic” covers has a picture of a boy with pink clothes and long, pink hair who identifies as a girl. He is quoted as saying “The best thing about being a girl is, now I don’t have to pretend to be a boy.” On the other cover is a group of teenagers who identify themselves as “bi-gender,” “androgynous,” “intersex nonbinary,” and other of the multitude of new categories that have been created.

As the covers indicate, the issue is especially focused on the place of children in the gender revolution. There is even a discussion guide for parents and teachers to use in working through these issues with their children (link).

Throughout the issue there are pictures and stories of transgender children—boys who want to be girls, and girls who want to be boys; children who aren’t quite sure what they want to be, and children who are quite sure they don’t want to be put into any category. Some are receiving “puberty suppressants.” Others are undergoing “sex-reassignment surgeries.” Boys are having genitalia removed. Girls are removing their breasts and doing what they can to eliminate menstrual cycles.

According to the revolutionaries, the whole “gender identity” topic is a “shifting landscape.” Happily, children are being “freed” from the oppressive “binary of boy and girl.”

National Geographic is correct in labeling this a “revolution.” By definition, a revolution is a conscious, concerted effort to overthrow an established order. The established order is the division of the sexes into male and female. The radical revolution is trying to overthrow this basic distinction.

This gender revolution follows hard on the heels of the sexual revolution, with its “victory” in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. With the sexual revolution, the revolutionaries are trying (and apparently succeeding) to overthrow the established order of marriage as one man with one woman.

The new revolution refuses to accept that our gender is defined by our physical anatomy. Gender is rather a social construct, one which in the past has been largely shaped by a bunch of misogynistic pigs. Now there is freedom from those outdated ideas. A child’s gender is based on their feelings. If their feelings tell them they are a boy, then that’s what they should be, no matter that they have the physical anatomy of a girl. In fact, they have every right to mutilate their body through pills and surgeries to match their feelings.

In the end, what this revolution seeks to overthrow is the established order of God. On the sixth day of creation, God made mankind, the pinnacle of his creation. Gen. 1:27 says, “Male and female created he them.” He made a male out of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), and he made a female out of the rib of the male (Gen. 2:20-23). They were the same in that they were both humans, but they were different in very obvious, anatomical ways. This is the basic division of the human race that God ordained for all time.

The gender revolution seeks to overthrow this most basic distinction that God has made.  This is the spirit of the Antichrist, who seeks “to change times and laws” (Dan. 7:25).

Parents who allow their children to choose what gender they would like to be based on their feelings are hardly fit to be called parents. Foolishness is bound in the heart of every child (Prov. 22:15). Every child has sinful thoughts and desires. But it is not the calling of parents to allow the child to indulge those lusts. The parent must instruct and correct the child, even when this upsets the child and brings him to tears. “Let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). But the parent who leaves his child to himself to do whatever he wants will be brought to shame (Prov. 29:15).

This is not to deny that there may be difficult situations that parents face with regard to the gender of their children. There is evidence in rare instances of chromosomal issues and ambiguous body parts among children. We live not in paradise, but in a world under the curse. In those situations parents—with the combined wisdom of a multitude of counselors—ought not be guided by personal choice but should seek to determine as best they can the God-given gender of their child.

Aside from these very rare cases, the matter is clear-cut.

Will we honor the god of self with the attitude, “I will do what I want because this is how I feel”? And in so doing will we cave to the lawless, Antichristian spirit of the age?

Or will we honor the wise Creator and his handiwork in our bodies? And in so doing oppose with might and main the “gender revolution” afoot?

__________________

This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa. If you have a question or comment for Rev. Engelsma, please do so in the comment section.

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Islam (11)

A Review of the Differences 

In our study of Islam, we have noticed that the two religions are diametrically opposed to one another.

First, Islam arose after Christianity—Mohammed was born in 570 AD, centuries after the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early church (c. 325-451 AD). In a certain sense, Islam can be called a truly anti-Christian religion, in that it developed in opposition to Christianity (although, as we have noted, Mohammed in his Qur’an was really attacking a caricature of Christianity).

Second, Islam’s Theology, or doctrine of God, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—the Islamic god Allah is a Unitarian deity, transcendent above the creation, and lacking the eternal fellowship of life and love of the triune God of sacred scripture. The cardinal doctrine of Islam is tawhid or the absolute, indivisible oneness of Allah, and the cardinal, unforgivable sin of Islam is shirk, the sin of joining or associating others with Allah. Christianity teaches God’s oneness (there is one God or one divine being or essence) and God’s eternal threeness (for He exists or subsists in three, distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those three persons are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-essential or consubstantial).

Third, Islam’s Anthropology, or doctrine of man, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as essentially good, albeit prone to evil, and rejects the doctrine of original sin or inherent depravity, whereas Reformed, biblical Christianity views man as totally depraved, needing divine grace to deliver him from sin and death. In many ways, therefore, Islam is close to Pelagianism, which also teaches the inherent goodness of mankind without the need of divine grace, a heresy rejected by the church roughly a century before Mohammed’s birth.

Fourth, Islam’s Christology, or doctrine of Christ, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views Jesus Christ as one of Allah’s greatest prophets, second only to Mohammed. The Islamic Jesus (called Isa in the Qur’an) is virgin born and he performed miracles (even as a child). The Islamic Jesus is in no sense divine, but is a creature subject to the lordship of Allah. Therefore, Islam has no concept of the Incarnation or of the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Islam repudiates any notion that Jesus is the Son of God, for Allah cannot have a son according to Islam’s understanding of God. Since Islam rejects a divine, incarnate Savior, Islam also rejects the atonement of Christ (both the need for it and the possibility of it), and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Most Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified, but a switch occurred at the last moment to spare Jesus the indignity of the cross. Christianity teaches that Jesus willingly suffered for the sins of his people in order to deliver them from sin and death, which sufferings are efficacious for the salvation of God’s church.

Fifth, Islam’s Soteriology, or doctrine of salvation, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as imperfect, but savable. Salvation in Islam is by the performance of good deeds, whether almsgiving, prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage. In Islam, salvation depends on the outcome of the “scales” on the great Day of Judgment: “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23:102-103). Christianity teaches that man is lost and undone, and that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost. Therefore, salvation is by grace alone, a concept altogether foreign to Islam. In Christianity, salvation from the beginning (regeneration) to the end (glorification) is entirely the work of God. The Christian does not trust in good works, because his best works are imperfect. Instead, he trusts in the works of Jesus (his obedience, suffering, and death on his behalf), and he performs good works out of a thankful heart, which has been renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Muslim’s Soteriology drives him to seek to accrue sufficient good works for the Day of Judgment. Nevertheless, the Muslim can never have assurance of the favor of Allah, for who can know whether his “scales” will balance on the Last Day? The Christian’s Soteriology causes him to enjoy peace with God because he knows that all of his sins have been forgiven through the shedding of Christ’s blood.

Given the stark differences between the two religions on the most basic and fundamental issues of truth (Who is God? Who is man? Who is Christ? What is salvation?), it is astounding that many teach today that Islam and Christianity are basically the same. They are not, and we do our Muslim neighbor no favors by pretending that they are. However, we also do not vilify or demonize our Muslim neighbor—he is as lost in his sin as our unbelieving atheist, Jewish, or even nominally Christian neighbor. Instead, in love, we seek gently and patiently to explain to him the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus: The Only Substitute

In our last blog post on Islam (November 28, 2016), we ended with the following “dilemma” (a dilemma for us, not a dilemma for God. God does not experience dilemmas):

The sinner cannot pay the penalty for his own sin. If he does, he perishes everlastingly.
God will not clear the guilty. If he did, he would be unjust.

Is there, then, anyone who can pay the penalty of sin for the sinner?

The answer, we said, was that God provides a substitute, his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A substitute is one who stands in the place of another and does for another what he cannot do for himself. A biblical term similar to substitute is the idea of “surety.” A surety is one who assumes the responsibilities and duties of another. If the other person fails in his obligations, the surety fulfills the obligations for him. Jesus is called the surety in Hebrews 7:22: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”

The obligation that comes to every human being is to love God with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love the neighbor as oneself. That is a summary of the whole law of God. Or, to express it differently, the obligation that comes to us as creatures is perfect, lifelong obedience. The law of God says to us, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). Elsewhere, James writes, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Therefore, our “best efforts” (whatever they are) are not good enough.

As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of perfect obedience upon myself. Where you have not obeyed God, I have obeyed God for you. Where you have not loved God with a perfect heart, I have loved Him on your behalf.” Paul explains it this way, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5).

What a wonder—the Son of God, the Lawgiver, becomes subject to the law of God (“under the law”), and willingly, and perfectly, obeys it for miserable, sinful, rebellious lawbreakers!

Since mankind has not kept the first obligation, he becomes subject to a second obligation, which is punishment. As sinners, we are liable to the wrath and curse of an offended, holy God, a God who will by no means clear the guilty. God’s wrath is perfectly just and holy, and that wrath issues in the sinner’s death. Unless God is propitiated with respect to man’s sin, the sinner’s end is eternal punishment in hell.

As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of punishment upon myself. Where you deserve in God’s just judgment to be punished for your sins, I have been punished in your place. I have taken upon myself the wrath and curse of my Father, so that you are received into my Father’s favor as his beloved sons and daughters.” Peter writes, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Paul writes, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).

What a wonder—the Son of God, who is perfectly righteous, holy, and without sin, is punished for the sins of his people, so that his people, who deserve to perish, are saved!

In order to qualify as the substitute or surety, Jesus must fulfill three requirements.

First, he must be a true man. Since human beings have sinned against God, a human being must fulfill the obligations of lifelong obedience and atoning sufferings and death. Therefore, an angel was not qualified to be the substitute or surety of God’s people. God did not send the angel Gabriel to perform the work of salvation. And we have seen, in considerable detail, that the Son of God, in the incarnation, took to Himself a real human nature, consisting of body and soul.

Second, he must be a righteous man. Any would-be substitute cannot himself be guilty of sin. Otherwise, he would be obligated to satisfy for his own sins, which he could not do. There are no specimens of humanity who are perfectly righteous and sinless—even the greatest of men, whether prophets, religious leaders, scientists, philosophers, kings, or artists, are sinners, and, therefore, guilty before God. None of them is qualified to be the Savior.

Third, he must be God. Consider the work that the Savior must perform, and you will understand that only divine omnipotence and perfect wisdom could accomplish it. The Savior must bear in his own body the sins of all his people, which is a burden that would crush a mere man. The Savior must suffer the terrible weight of the wrath and curse of God, which would destroy a mere man. And the Savior must be personally God so that his obedience, sufferings, and death have infinite value in the sight of God. None of the sufferings of men and angels can be compared with the sufferings of the Son of God in our flesh.

That is why Jesus Christ is the only Savior—he is the only one qualified to be the Savior. Others can teach us about salvation, as God’s true prophets and apostles have done. But only the Son of God, who is eternally and unchangeably God, and who, in the incarnation, became truly and completely man, and who is perfectly righteous and holy, can be the Savior.

And God, knowing our need for such a Savior, in great love for his people sent exactly that Savior whom we need. Our calling is to believe in that Savior, to trust in Him alone, and to love and to serve Him forever out of gratitude for his salvation. Listen to the good news proclaimed by the angels: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

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This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland. 

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A New Year's Prayer

Come, Lord Jesus. 

We wait upon Thee as watchers wait for the morning. 

In the meantime, our God, establish Thou the work of our hands. Preserve and defend us over against all the onslaughts of the powers of darkness. Give us Thy grace to realize that with Thee we are always the victors. 

Use us, Thy willing servants, according to the talents entrusted to us, in the midst of our families, in the midst of Thy people, in a present evil world, wherever Thou dost place us, that we may in our small way be instrumental toward the coming of Thy kingdom and the glory of our Father's name. 

Keep us close to Thee, that in Thee we may experience close communion of life with our God, resting assured at all times, that, come what may, his is the kingdom, the power, the glory forever and ever. 

Come, Lord Jesus, according to Thy promise, that when all our works are burned as straw and stubble, Thy work in and through us may be our eternal reward. Yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it. 

Yea, come quickly! Amen.

___________

This portion was taken from the latter part of the article that Cornelius Hanko wrote in the January 1, 1997 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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The Prince of Peace

The Prince of Peace!

Wonderful!

Magic name in a world of woe and turmoil!

Wonderful name, indeed, in a world torn by war, bleeding from a thousand wounds: The Prince of Peace!

Small wonder that even they who know Him not and understand nothing of the peace He came to bring are spellbound by the charm and magic of that name, and every Christmas season speak of Him and sing the praises of what they conceive to be the Prince of Peace! They catch the exquisitely soothing music of the name and they taste the heavenly gift wrapped up in that name, and the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, a world of righteousness and peace.

Seeing they see; hearing they hear.

Yet they do not perceive; still they fail to understand.

They use the name; they reject Him! Their rock is not our Rock; their Prince of Peace is not the Christ of the Scriptures.

He, the Prince of Peace, is characterized by peace in all His appearance, mission, work, and dominion. To establish peace He came into the world. To rule in peace forever He labors and toils and battles and suffers and goes down into the nethermost parts of the earth. For, peace He came to establish, peace indeed. Not the superficial peace that is created by conferences or courts of men, by treaties that are signed, by pacts that are sealed and that are broken by them that make them; but true, real, essential peace He came to create. Quite impossible it is, indeed, to bring peace in the relationships between men and nations, where there is no peace in the heart; and quite hopeless is the expectation of peace in men's hearts, as long as there is no peace with God! 

The futility of the attempt to establish peace where there is no peace the world has demonstrated in late years more clearly than ever before. For peace they longed, and war was dreaded. Of peace they spoke in speech and song and discussion around conference tables. Peace palaces were built. Peace conferences were held. Disarmament agreements were attempted. Peace treaties were signed. A league of nations was established. Yet, there was never a time in which the world was so full of greed, hatred, distrust, and war, as our own. They speak of peace, peace, where there is no peace!

Peace is a profound spiritual reality!

It is a matter of the heart. It presupposes and is rooted in love, the love of one another! The love of one another is rooted in the love of God! The love of God is love of God! And herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us!

Therefore, love is also righteousness, holiness, truth.

Without these there is no love—no love of God to us, no love of us to God, no love of one another. And without this love there is no peace—no peace with God, no peace in God toward us, no peace of us toward God, no peace between man and man, between group and group, between nation and nation. It is, and it must needs be, war!

There is no shortcut to peace!

The sole road hither is that of righteousness, truth, holiness, love, life.

That road He traveled, the Prince of Peace, the Captain of our salvation!

Peace He made, first of all, with God. Everlasting peace, on the basis of an everlasting righteousness. For, voluntarily, in the obedience of love, He placed Himself under the vials of God's wrath in the hour of judgment; obediently He descended into the deepest woe and agony of death and hell to satisfy the unchangeable justice of God, thus to open the way for peace on the basis of God's own terms: His righteousness! That peace He gives unto us. For the Prince of Peace who died to make peace was raised in peace, was glorified and exalted at the right hand of God to reign in peace and to overcome all the evil forces of war, and was given the Spirit to realize that peace in the hearts of all His own. By that Spirit He leads us into His kingdom of peace with God, assures us of our reconciliation with God through His blood, removes the enmity against God that is in our hearts by nature, pours out in us the love of God, and causes us to sing with joy: "We, therefore, being justified by faith, have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

The Prince of Peace!

Through that peace with God we have peace with one another!

By nature we are war-makers. For we live in malice and envy and covetousness. We are filled with pride and hate one another. But when the Prince of Peace reigns in our hearts by His Spirit and grace, we become makers of peace, love one another, humble ourselves, forbear one another and forgive one another, even as God for Christ's sake forgave us!

And through Him we have peace with all things!

For, having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we even now are assured that all things are ours and we are His and He is God's, and that He who reconciled us with Himself through the death of His Son will surely cause all things to work together for our good.

And we look forward to the final kingdom of peace!

Then, in the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness shall dwell, God's tabernacle shall be spread over all!

The creature shall participate in the glorious liberty of the children of God!

And there shall be nothing that shall destroy in all God's holy mountain!

Blessed Prince of Peace!

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This Christmas meditation was written by Herman Hoeksema.

You can read the full meditation in the book The Mystery of Bethlehem or on the Standard Bearer archives.

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Synod 1987 – Response to a Comment

The following was a public comment in response to my post “Synod 1987 (1)”:

I have read this decision from 1987 and think that Synod erred in taking this position. Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word "marriage" in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument. Using this reasoning, we might easily infer from Jesus' words that the "righteousness" of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20 was a true righteousness, or that the "children of the kingdom" in Matthew 8:12 were true children of the kingdom.

The fact that Jesus speaks of an adulterous marriage should clue us in to the fact that He is not speaking of a true marriage in God's sight, because it is called adulterous for the very reason that at least one of the parties is still espoused to another and is not the proper spouse of the other party in the newly-contracted civil marriage.

But these and other objections were already raised in 1987. I hope that someday this decision will be revisited and corrected, D.V.

In the words of the commenter, “Inferring that the marriage of divorced persons is a true marriage from the mere fact that Jesus uses the word ‘marriage’ in referring to it, is an exceedingly weak argument.”

In response to the commenter, I direct the reader to Mark 6:12-30, where we read the account of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod. In verse 17 we read that Herod had “married ” Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias was divorced from her uncle Philip and Herod had divorced his wife, the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. Both being divorced from their first spouses, scripture calls the relationship of Herod and Herodias a marriage (vs. 17).

It was the occasion of Herod’s marriage to Herodias that elicited John’s rebuke (see also Luke 3:19). Not only were Herod and Herodias both guilty of sinfully divorcing their spouses, but they increased their sin by marrying one another and engaging in an adulterous marriage as Matt. 5:32, 19:9, and Luke 16:18 plainly teach. And Herod knew that he was guilty of adultery of living in marriage with a woman who was another man’s wife. Because of John’s reproof of Herod for this evil and others, Herod added to his sin by “shut[ting] up John in prison (Luke 3:20).

While Herod was afraid to kill John because he “feared the multitude” (Matt. 14:5) and “feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy” (Mark 6:20), Herodias was furious at John’s condemnation of her sin and wanted him dead. And like wicked Jezebel who deviously saw to it that righteous Naboth was stoned to death for refusing to sell his inheritance (I Kings 21), Herodias cunningly used her daughter to take advantage of the perverse lusts of Herod in order to have the “just and holy” John beheaded. John the Baptist died a martyr for his testimony against the adulterous marriage of Herod and Herodias. In the adulterous generation of today, both in the world and the church, we can expect the same reaction when we witness to the biblical truth of marriage, divorce, and remarriage as it is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

It is especially during the Christmas time of year, the time of family gatherings, that pressure to silence our witness regarding marriage, divorce, remarriage, and fornication is intense. There are those who want a carnal, earthly peace, apart from Christ who, in his coming, brings a sword (Matt. 10:34). So, they are shamefully silent about Jesus’ teaching of marriage and without rebuke welcome into their fellowship those who live impenitently in the sins of adultery and fornication, among others. And as Matthew 10:33 puts it, they “deny” Christ so that they may have the favor of their sinning relatives, as if Christ never came with a sword of division (Matt. 10:34-39).

But like John the Baptist, God calls us to martyrdom; maybe not physical death—yet—but the murder of our name and reputation for Christ’s sake, because of our confession of his truth, including his truth about marriage. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you (for confessing Jesus’ teaching on marriage), and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets (John the Baptist among them) which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12).

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them…And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:5-7, 11).

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Previous articles in this blog series: 

https://rfpa.org/blogs/news/synod-1987-1

https://rfpa.org/blogs/news/synod-1987-2

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This post was written by Aaron Cleveland, a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have a question or comment for Aaron, please do so in the comment section.

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