In Review: Called to Watch for Christ's Return

Called to Watch for Christ’s Return, by Martyn McGeown. Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2016. Pp. 286. [Reviewed by Rev. Ryan Barnhill]

Called to Watch for Christ’s Return began as a series of sermons preached by the author on the Olivet Discourse, a speech in which “Jesus proclaims his second coming, an event with which history will come to a dramatic and sudden close” (ix). These sermons covered Matthew 24:1-31, dealing with the signs of Christ’s coming—deceivers, the preaching of the gospel, the great tribulation, and more. These sermons also dealt with Matthew 24:32-25:46, treating the subject of watching for Christ’s return—the unknown time of his return, Christ’s coming as in the days of Noah, parables associated with his coming, and more. These sermons comprise the content of the book. We are thankful that these fine sermons have reached a wider audience through their publication in book form.

The main strength of Called to Watch for Christ’s Return is its exegetical precision and richness. The material is always mined from the text. Concepts are carefully defined and developed, and difficult passages are lucidly explained. Especially does this clarity of exegesis become important in passages that deal with such matters as the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15-20) and the unknown time of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36). Such passages are often misinterpreted, leading to a host of errors. Thus, proper, sober interpretation is critical in these kinds of difficult passages.McGeown’s work is a needed and timely contribution to the study of eschatology (the end times), for two reasons. First, there are so many today teaching unbiblical ideas about the end of the world. Called to Watch for Christ’s Return interacts with these systems of thought, dismantles them, and plainly sets forth the biblical, Reformed, amillennial position. Second, we live in the last days, and that alone makes this book important. We must know what to expect in these last and evil days, we must be admonished to watch for the coming of our Lord, and we must be comforted.

McGeown’s work is necessarily polemical. That is, it is a work which exposes and refutes the errors. Advocates of both postmillennialism and premillennial dispensationalism seek to find evidence for their views in Matthew 24 and 25. Postmillennialism teaches that the Olivet Discourse—at least some of it, if not all of it—is a reference exclusively to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This interpretation is fundamental to the postmillennial position, lest the events of which Jesus speaks interfere with postmillennialism’s future golden age. In contrast, premillennial dispensationalists claim that the Olivet Discourse refers exclusively to the future—not to AD 70, but to a future Jerusalem and a future temple. Negatively, the author exposes these errors, and demonstrates how a sober interpretation of Jesus’ teaching pulls the rug out from under these millennial systems. Positively, McGeown sees Matthew 24 and 25 as a blending of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, on the one hand, and Jesus’ second coming, on the other hand. The destruction of Jerusalem is a type or picture of Jesus’ second coming. This view, the amillennial view, and this view alone, does justice to Jesus’ words.

In a book on watching for Christ’s return, one would expect not only polemics, but also pointed instruction and warning for believers. After all, we are all prone to spiritual slumber instead of watching for Christ’s return. The command of scripture to watch for our Lord’s coming is a weighty command, and the author conveys it well: “Watch! Christ is coming. Let us not be found sleeping when he returns, but looking for his return. Let that watchfulness begin today if it has not been our habit before, so whether he comes on the clouds or calls us in death, we will be ready to meet him” (214). Called to Watch for Christ’s Return is a stirring call to stay vigilant in these last and evil days.

The book is also comforting and warm, an approach that arises from the author’s pastoral heart for God’s people who live in the perilous days prior to Jesus’ coming. This warm tone characterizes the entirety of the book, and climaxes in the last chapter; any reader’s heart will thrill in reading this last chapter, which explains, in part, the glories of the new heavens and the new earth. Read and meditate upon this breathtaking description of heaven: “Death, sin, and the curse will be absent—forever banished from the new creation. We will enjoy spiritual joy and satisfaction in abundance, for we will enter into the fullness of our inheritance. Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit! That is life, eternal life, life that lasts forever and has no end. Life with Christ. Life in the presence of God, fellowshipping with him. That is blessedness and joy! That is worth waiting for! Do not fear the judgment day. Do not be weary with watching and waiting. But pray, even for that great day” (280).

Our Lord is coming. Watch. Watch—by reading. Called to Watch for Christ’s Return, as a faithful exposition of Jesus’ words, will instruct you, arm you against the errors, comfort you, and quicken your hope. Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly. 


If you have not yet ordered your copy of this book, do so today! 


Islam 12: Christianity Quiz

We interrupt the series of blog posts on Islam. If you have been following, and if you have comprehended the blog posts so far, you, and hopefully your Muslim contacts, should be able to answer these questions. Quiz yourselves and your families, especially your teenagers in Heidelberg/Essentials catechism class. How well do you understand the Christian faith? Could you prove these important teachings from scripture? 

Part 1: the Trinity


  1. Christians believe in three gods?
  2. Christians believe that the Son of God is a creature?
  3. Christians believe that there are three Creators?
  4. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one person?
  5. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three beings?
  6. Christians believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each one third of God?
  7. Christians believe that when Jesus was on the earth, there was no God in heaven?
  8. Christians believe that Mary is a god?
  9. Christians believe that the Father came before the Son and the Holy Spirit?
  10. Christians believe that the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies?
  11. Christians believe the Father first created the Son, who then helped him create the world?
  12. Christians believe that the Father and the Son created the Holy Spirit?
  13. Christians worship only the Father, and do not worship the Son or the Holy Spirit?
  14. Christians believe that the Father adopted the Son at his baptism in the river Jordan, at which point he became God's Son?
  15. Christians believe that Jesus became the Son of God when he was born into the world?
  16. Christians believe that to become a father, God took a wife through whom he bore a son?


Part 2: The Incarnation


  1. Christians believe that when the Son of God became a man he was no longer God’s Son?
  2. Christians believe that during his life on earth the Son possessed no divine attributes?
  3. Christians believe that the Son of God was always human, even before the incarnation?
  4. Christians believe that because Mary is the mother of Jesus, she should be worshipped?
  5. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus consists only of a human body, but not of a human soul?
  6. Christians believe that because Jesus is human and divine, he is or has two persons?
  7. Christians believe that Jesus has one nature?
  8. Christians believe that the qualities of one nature also belong to the other nature in Jesus? For example, Christians believe that the body of Jesus is omnipotent and omnipresent, like his divine nature?
  9. Christians believe that, because Jesus was hungry, thirsty and tired, he was not really God?
  10. Christians believe that, because Jesus suffered and died, he was not really God?
  11. Christians believe that, because Jesus performed miracles, understood the secret thoughts of men, and was worshipped, he was not really human?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus did not really have a human nature; he just seemed to?
  13. Christians believe that the human nature of Jesus was corrupted with sin?
  14. Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience and that he never sinned?
  15. Christians believe that, as a human being, Jesus was obligated to keep God’s Law?
  16. Christians believe that the Son of God on earth prayed to God?


Part 3: Sin and Salvation


  1. Christians believe that God tolerates sin and turns a blind eye to it?
  2. Christians believe that God only punishes “serious” sins such as murder or adultery?
  3. Christians believe that the penalty for sin is death?
  4. Christians believe in total depravity, which means that man is totally corrupt, unable to do anything good, and inclined to all evil?
  5. Christians believe that the sin which Adam committed in the Garden affected only Adam?
  6. Christians believe that all human beings are born good, but they become sinful because of their environment?
  7. Christians believe that it is possible to do enough good works in order to earn salvation?
  8. Christians believe that God accepts a work as truly “good” if it is sincere?
  9. Christians believe that a truly good work must be done out of faith to God’s glory?
  10. Christians believe that, because sinners could not save themselves, the Son came to be the Savior?
  11. Christians believe that Jesus obeyed the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not perfectly obey it themselves?
  12. Christians believe that Jesus carried the penalty of the Law of God in the place of his people because they could not carry that penalty themselves?
  13. Christians believe that the penalty that Jesus carried is the wrath (anger) and curse of God?
  14. Christians believe that the Father forced Jesus to carry that penalty against his will?
  15. Christians believe only Jesus was qualified to carry that penalty because he is God in human flesh?


For the answers to these questions, visit the Islam 11 blog post.


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. 


IN REVIEW: The Reformed Baptism Form

The Reformed Baptism Form: A Commentary, by B. Wielenga (Edited by David J. Engelsma and translated by Annemie Godbehere). Jenison, MI: RFPA 2016. 448 pages. $39.95 Hardcover. [Reviewed by Rev. Martyn McGeown]

The publication of this book will interest—and even excite—all those who love baptism, and in particular, all those who love the Form for the Administration of Baptism used in Reformed churches. Many church members and officebearers have heard the Form read, or have used the Form, hundreds of times as baptism has been administered to the covenant seed. But have we sufficiently pondered the beautiful language of the Form?

Bastiaan Wielenga (1873-1949) was a Dutch Reformed minister who not only studied the Form, but who loved the Form, and delighted in its clear, Reformed, biblical, devotional, and pastoral language. He wrote the commentary on the Form not for scholars, but for the ordinary child of God who loves the covenant and the God of the covenant. The RFPA has done the Reformed church world a great service by offering this book—the first English translation of a commentary on this priceless liturgical form—to the reading public.

Wielenga carefully explains (even exegetes) the language of the Form, dividing his material according to the divisions of the Form itself, the doctrinal section (misery, deliverance, and gratitude), a defence of infant baptism, the prayer before baptism, the questions to the parents, and the prayer of thanksgiving after baptism. However, he does not treat the section on the baptism of adults, which, although used on the mission field, is used less frequently in the established church.

Some of the outstanding features of the commentary are the following.

First, Wielenga’s writing is devotional. Wielenga is a very capable theologian and exegetes with the heart and language of a pastor, and even of a poet. The beautiful and moving passages in Wielenga’s writings are so numerous that a reviewer could not possibly do justice to them. Credit for this, of course, must also go to the translator, Mrs. Annemie Godbehere, with whom the reviewer was personally acquainted. Undoubtedly, it was her skill that helped bring Wielenga to life for an English readership. One example of Wielenga’s beautiful turns of phrase will suffice. In this quotation, Wielenga is explaining the need believers have for assurance and the richness of God’s supply in holy baptism:

Do we still need another seal? Does this confirmation need to be confirmed again? The seal sealed?
Yes, it must—because the Lord knows his people. He knows how they lack courage and how feeble they are. He knows that man, because he is in his own existence deceitful, distrusts and disbelieves others, even God.
Hence the Lord God, if he will ever see the mansions filled in his paternal home, cannot be stingy with promises, oaths, and seals. An overflowing source of assurances must let its streams of grace overflow the weak believer. Indeed, our covenantal God repeats his manifold declarations so many times that man, if he were less pathetic, with a dark purple blush of shame about his obstinacy would call out, “Lord, I do believe you; yes, Lord, it is enough, I know it already.”

Because it is exactly the opposite, and the godly constantly ask for stronger assurance, the cry of “Help thou mine unbelief!” does not grow silent before death closes their lips. Thereby God, who takes more pity on us than an earthly father, seals the covenant of grace in baptism. Even with this, he does not account the measure of his undergirding grace full, for in the Lord’s supper he has joined a second and no less royal and divine seal to the covenant (72-73).

Second, Wielenga’s doctrine of the covenant is (mostly) orthodox and mainly in line with our Protestant Reformed understanding. Although he does slip into “agreement” language on occasion, and although he does make a few statements on conditionality within the covenant with which we strongly disagree, Wielenga does view the covenant as an intimate relationship between God and his elect people. “That the Father establishes a covenant with us and adopts us as his children is intimate. That Christ makes us members of his spiritual body is even more intimate. But that the Spirit comes to dwell in us is the most intimate conceivable intimacy” (103).

But baptism, this holy baptism, is a seal and indubitable testimony that we have an eternal covenant with God. It is a covenant not entered into for a time, but rooted in an eternal election. It is a covenant not established on the proof of and dependent on the goodness of men, but anchored in the mediatorial heart of Christ who paid for all the sins of his people and accomplished all obedience.

Note, this is the power and beauty of Reformed doctrine as it shines brilliantly in our form: salvation not promised conditionally, but absolutely guaranteed! (143).

There are places where Wielenga slips into conditional language, but they do not appear so frequently as to mar the book. The astute reader will take note of them.

Third, Wielenga defends that view of covenant children which regards them as regenerate in infancy, and as partakers of a real, spiritual, and not merely external, holiness. This view does justice to God’s promises, rightly explains the language of the Form, and gives great hope to Reformed parents in the rearing of their children. “Just as the children, included in Adam, their covenantal head, are partakers of an internal depravity, so also are the children, included in Christ, partakers of an internal regeneration and holiness” (155). “The compilers of this form also did not regard the children of the congregation as spiritually dead but as spiritually alive” (220). “We are certain that any view other than that of an internal sanctification is out of place in the baptism form and is also not in keeping with the doctrine of the covenant that predominated in the church of the Reformation” (326).

If this child, shortly after baptism, came to die, the parents, if they have come to understand something of the eternal comfort in life and death, may find in this baptism a ground for the hope that their early-deceased darling entered into glory. If the child grows up, the parents may proceed with the rearing from the supposition, or if this word displeases you, from the hope, the quiet expectation, that the God of the covenant has already laid the new germ of life into the child’s heart (407-408).

Wielenga regards the opposite view as Methodism, a Methodism increasingly common in Reformed circles today:

In contrast to the Methodist, who in the rearing only focuses on conversion, making of Sunday school and Christian education a conversion institute, the Reformed parent, who has learned to live out of the covenant, prayerfully looks to the God of the covenant. He pleads the promises of the covenant for his child so that he increases and grows up in the Lord Jesus Christ (408).

Fourth, Wielenga discusses a good number of practical questions concerning the ceremony itself, and there are times when he is unsparing in his criticism of certain practices that had arisen in the churches of his day: should baptism be delayed until the mother recovers or until relatives from out of town can arrive; who should hold the baby; how many times should the water be applied, once or thrice; and should the minister say “Amen” after the baptism? Although some of these matters are historical curiosities to us, some of them are still serious issues today.

Not out of custom! May this reverberate in our ranks. Let us battle against the great enemy of all spiritual life, called custom; against this large monster, which in its cold embrace spiritually smothers thousands—and by its icy breath spiritually murders thousands (286).

Every young parent—especially the fathers, who seek baptism for their children in the consistory room—would do well to read this book. It would be worthwhile for married couples to read this book as they rear the covenant seed. And it would warm the hearts of all Reformed church members to read this book carefully and devotionally, whether they have children or not, for the doctrine of the covenant and of salvation is the joy of our souls.

Reader, may the fruit of the joint contemplation of our precious baptism form be that the word with which this prayer and thus our entire form concludes may find in all our hearts a warm echo. That is to say, on all these truths, promises, and admonitions, may your whole soul pray and worship. Amen (425).


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).





Retail: $14.95

Book Club: $9.72 USA, $10.46 International

304 pages

ebook version available


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).


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. 



ANSWERS to the Christianity Quiz:

Part 1: all the statements are false.

Part 2: all the statements, except 14-16, are false.

Part 3: all the statements, except 3, 4, 9-13, and 15, are false. 


Paganism and Christian Liberty

Every year about this time, articles and pictures appear (especially on social media) condemning the observance of "pagan" holidays such as Christmas. It is often claimed that the names of these holidays (as well as the day chosen by the early church for their observance) are pagan and correspond to pagan festivals. It is not my intention here to prove or disprove whether such allegations are true. They may well be. The connection between pagan festivals and Christian days may be exaggerated. There is, by no means, a scholarly consensus among historians on the matter.

My point is much simpler than that: the pagan origins of something do not disqualify the Christian from using it. To state the contrary is to commit a logical fallacy, the so-called “genetic fallacy.”

It might be true that "Christmas trees," "Easter eggs and Easter bunnies," and other customs have pagan roots, but that does not make trees, eggs, and rabbits inherently pagan: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" (I Cor. 10:26; see also I Timothy 4:4). Therefore, a Christian is permitted to decorate a tree in his house in December, if he so desires. He may also refrain from doing so. Jeremiah 10:2-5 does not apply here because the Christian does not worship the tree. Jeremiah warns against the practice of cutting down a tree, forming an idol from it, adorning it with silver and gold, fastening it to the ground, and then worshipping it. Similarly, the second commandment does not forbid the mere making of a likeness (sculpture, painting, and other artistic expressions per se are not forbidden). The making of an image in order to worship it or use it in worship is prohibited. Similarly, a Christian is permitted to eat an egg or a bunny made of chocolate in March/April. We are free in Christ to eat or not eat chocolate, whether a square chocolate bar or one shaped as a bunny or an egg.

Many Christians who object to such things do not fully understand their liberty in Christ, and have excessive scruples about indifferent matters. Paul deals with Christian liberty in Romans 14, I Corinthians 8, 10, and other places. Let the reader study carefully these chapters. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (I Cor. 6:12). "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not" (I Cor. 10:23).

It is difficult for us to understand the extent to which the culture of Paul's day was saturated with paganism. If Paul had had the scruples of some modern Christians, he could not have lived in that day without hiding himself away from the world (see I Cor. 5:10), for there were, almost literally, idols on every corner. Every public building or amenity was dedicated to an idol. The meat sold in the market places was ritually slaughtered and offered to idols. Even ships and other forms of transport were dedicated to idols. For example, in Acts 28:11 the ship which took Paul from Malta was dedicated to two idols, “Castor and Pollux.”

For us today, of course, idolatry is less overt. It is easy to avoid eating chocolate eggs (which is not idolatry or even close to idolatry, unless one becomes a glutton [Phil. 3:19]), but much more difficult to crucify the lusts of the flesh, and especially the idols of money, pleasure, and self. Those are the real dangers of the Christmas season, not the “snare” of the Christmas tree!

About such idolatry Paul says, first, "We know that an idol is nothing..." (I Cor. 8:4) Therefore, it makes no difference at all whether the meat you eat is offered to Zeus or some other pagan god (I Cor. 8:8; 10:25). The only exception he makes is for a Christian who is eating with a weaker brother. You must not cause a weaker brother (with an over scrupulous conscience) to sin by flaunting your liberty in front of him (see I Cor. 8:7, 9-10; I Cor. 10:28, 32, etc.). Moreover, a Christian may not eat dedicated meat in an idolatrous temple because to do so would be to partake of idolatry and even to have fellowship with devils (see I Cor. 8:10; I Cor. 10:19-21). Similarly, today, a Christian should not be partaker of the “accursed idolatry” of the Romish mass (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 30, Q&A 80).

The application is simple: something with a pagan origin is not by that very fact pagan. Let us imagine that your congregation is seeking a new building in which to worship the triune God. You are offered a building previously used by a cult or a satanic group. You do not have to burn the place down and exorcise it before it can be used to the glory of God.

We could apply this further. It is widely reported that the word “Easter” is derived from the name of a pagan goddess of fertility and that the name “Christmas” comes from Roman Catholic roots (“Christ’s mass). That might be true. I have not investigated the claim very thoroughly. Historians have differing opinions on the matter. But my question is: does that matter

The names of the week are derived from pagan gods: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are named after the gods Tyr, Woden, Thor, and Frigg respectively. The names of the months of the year could fall under a similar condemnation: January (Janus); March (Mars), etc. Indeed, we could probably find pagan origins in a great many words: Nike shoes are named after the god of victory; the Olympic games were (originally) saturated with paganism. Even some theological terms in the Greek New Testament (used by the apostles who were moved by the Holy Spirit to use them) have pagan roots.

The New Testament Christian is free. He may eat whatever he wishes (even meat offered to idols, without by that very fact worshipping idols), and he may observe whichever days he wishes, or he may refrain from observing days. This does not mean he may disregard the fourth commandment, of course—that is still binding with the other nine. And this year, when the world observes Christmas on Sunday, December 25, the Christian is obligated to worship God whether his family approves or not, and whether it “disrupts” the family celebrations or not.

We enjoy such glorious liberty in Christ because Christ has redeemed us by his blood and because as mature saints in Christ we have the Holy Spirit. However, the Christian may not flaunt his liberty in front of his weaker brethren, or use his freedom as a pretext to sin (Gal. 5:13).

A few years ago, there was controversy because of allegations that certain supermarkets in the United Kingdom were selling halal meat (meat for Muslims, dedicated to Allah). In light of I Corinthians 10, there is really no religious issue for the Christian. He may eat such meat with a good conscience.

Paul did condemn the Galatians for observing certain days, but he warned the church because the Judaizers had made the observance of certain days binding on the conscience and conditions of salvation (Gal. 4:10-11; see Col. 2:16). Elsewhere, he makes days a matter of indifference and Christian liberty.

What has this to do with Christmas or Easter? First, if a church decides to have a special sermon on "Christmas Day" on the birth of Christ, that is good and not to be condemned, as long as the worship service itself, as to its elements, is in accordance with the regulative principle of worship. And the Christian may eat whatever he wishes, because the Old Testament food restrictions no longer apply. 

If a church, in addition, decides to observe other days with special services (New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, etc.) and on those days (not demanded by scripture) meets for worship with appropriate sermons (again without violating the regulative principle as to the elements of the worship), why should any condemn the practice? Is it wrong for the church to worship her Lord more than on the fifty-two Lord's Days per year? Better to be in the Lord’s house on those occasions than elsewhere!

Consider a Christian who wants to join such a Reformed church that holds services on those days. The Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (Ballymena, N. Ireland) and Limerick Reformed Fellowship (Limerick, Republic of Ireland) have chosen not to hold special services, but this does not imply sin in our brethren in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America who have chosen, in accordance with the Church Order of Dordt, to observe them. If a Christian has certain scruples about the practice, he is not obliged to observe them, and the church does not have the right to bind any man's conscience (see Belgic Confession, Art. 32).

However, such a man should inform the consistory privately before becoming a member that he has such a difference with the congregational practice, should be willing to display a teachable spirit, and should agree not to agitate in the congregation against the practices of the majority. The weaker brother is commanded not to condemn or judge the stronger brother, which calling must also not be overlooked (Rom. 14:3-4). 

Such a man could not be an officebearer, and certainly not a minister, in that congregation, however, because an officebearer binds himself willingly to the creeds, confessions, and church order of the church which he freely chooses to join. And in that case, the minister would be required to preach sermons on the special services of Christmas, Easter, etc.

This applies only to the observance of special services, of course. The church makes no judgment on chocolate eggs or bunnies, on Christmas presents, decorations, trees, or turkey, or on other such issues. There a man is free to celebrate as he pleases or to avoid celebrating as he pleases, all to the glory of God, as long as he avoids the excesses and sins of the ungodly world with their drunkenness and covetousness. And as long as, this year in 2016, he remembers the Sabbath day to keep it holy on December 25!

"Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31).


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. If you have a question or comment for Rev. McGeown, please do so in the comment section.


Order your copy today!

This softcover book is now available for purchase and would make a great Christmas gift!

Called to Watch for Christ's Return

by new RFPA author - 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). 

Christ had two concerns. First, his disciples must know the signs of his coming, which are footsteps of his approach. But Christ is not satisfied with mere “sign-gazing,” which can lead to speculation and idle, foolish living. He did not give signs to satisfy our curiosities, but so that we will be ready for him when he returns. Therefore, Christ’s second concern was the readiness of his disciples, which is expressed in his urgent and repeated warnings to watch for his coming in light of the signs.

Watch, pray, and serve the Lord with an eye to the signs of his return!

Retail: $14.95
Book Club: $9.72 USA | $10.46 International

* This book will NOT be send automatically to Book Club members.



Preorder your copy TODAY of Called to Watch for Christ's Return


Called to Watch for Christ's Return

written by Martyn McGeown - a new RFPA author!

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).

Christ had two concerns. First, his disciples must know the signs of his coming, which are footsteps of his approach. But Christ is not satisfied with mere “sign-gazing,” which can lead to speculation and idle, foolish living. He did not give signs to satisfy our curiosities, but so that we will be ready for him when he returns. Therefore, Christ’s second concern was the readiness of his disciples, which is expressed in his urgent and repeated warnings to watch for his coming in light of the signs.

Watch, pray, and serve the Lord with an eye to the signs of his return!

Retail: $14.95
Book Club: $9.72 USA | $10.46 International

* This book will NOT be send automatically to Book Club members.





Martyn McGeown grew up in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland and is a member of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. He graduated from the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches in June 2010 and has been the missionary-pastor of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in Limerick, Ireland since July 2010.


Islam (10)

In our last blog post on this topic, we showed that the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were voluntary and necessary, necessary because God ordained them for His Son; voluntary because Jesus willingly endured them for His people.

But why would the merciful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ordain such dreadful sufferings for His beloved Son? Why would He not spare Jesus? The answer lies in another necessity, the necessity of our salvation.

The Dreadful Cup

Jesus wrestled with this necessity in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His arrest. After the Last Supper with His disciples, Jesus made His way to a garden on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In that garden, Jesus prayed. In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the soul of Jesus as He contemplated the path that He must take to the cross. Jesus describes how He felt: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 26:38). What could have so oppressed the soul of Jesus that He became “sorrowful and very heavy” (v. 37)? What could have caused Him to be “in an agony,” so that “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44)?

The answer is found in one word—the “cup.” In the Bible, a cup describes the allotted portion of something. Sometimes a cup is a cup of blessedness and salvation. The Psalmist sings, “The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup” (Ps. 16:5) and “my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:5). Elsewhere, the Psalmist vows, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:13). Often, however, a cup is a cup of punishment, cursing, and wrath: “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps. 11:6); “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them” (Ps. 75:8).

Jesus knew that God had appointed a cup for Him to drink, but when He saw the contents of the cup, He shuddered. The cup contained the wrath of God, the fullness of His Father’s fury against sin. Only by the drinking of that cup could the sins of God’s people be forgiven! Understandably, Jesus looked for another way—could, perhaps, salvation be accomplished even if He did not drink the cup? Listen to His prayer: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” and “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42).

The Father answered by His silence—there is no other way. Either Jesus drinks the cup, or we must drink the cup. If we drink the cup, we will perish, because we must drink the cup forever in hell if Jesus does not drink the cup for us.

Having understood that, Jesus willingly went forth to embrace suffering and death. The Son of God in our flesh submitted His human will to His Father’s will. The next time that Jesus mentions the cup is at His arrest. Peter attempts to save Jesus with the sword, whereupon Jesus, rebuking Peter, exclaims, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

The Necessary Cup

That leads us to another question—why is such a cup necessary? Why does anyone have to drink the cup? Could the cup not simply pass away so that no one—not Jesus, and not we—drinks it? Or to express it in different words, could not God simply forgive sins without the need for the suffering and death of His Son?

The answer to that question is the justice of God.

God’s justice is that perfection of His being according to which all of His activity is in perfect harmony with His holiness. As the holy God, He hates sin, which is rebellion against His Law; as the just God, He punishes sin. God revealed this in the Garden of Eden, where He declared, “In the day that thou eatest thereof [of the forbidden fruit] thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Throughout scripture, God has revealed that the penalty for sin is death: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20); “They that commit such things are worthy of death” (Romans 1:32); “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Every pious Jew understood this, for God has ordained a system of animal sacrifices to teach him this important truth.

Moreover, death in the Bible is not merely physical death, but spiritual death, which is the corruption and ruin of man’s nature; and eternal death, which is eternal torment in the lake of fire.

Therefore, as the righteous judge, God will punish sinners with death (physical, spiritual, and eternal death), and God must punish sinners with death (physical, spiritual, and eternal death). Not to punish sinners with death would be for God to be unjust.

The Bible, however, teaches that God forgives sins. But He will not forgive sin at the expense of His justice. God declares to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty…” (Ex. 34:6-7). The true God of the Bible is merciful—rich in mercy, abundant in mercy and truth—but He will not clear the guilty. He has always revealed that in order to forgive sins He requires satisfaction of His justice. Anything less would be injustice, or a denial of His justice.

Islam teaches forgiveness without atonement, for Islam teaches that Allah forgives sin without payment for sin. At the same time, the Qur’an claims that Allah is just: “Allah is never unjust in the least degree: if there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward” (4:40). If Allah is not unjust, how can Allah forgive sins without satisfaction of his justice? The Qur’an offers no answer to this.

Atonement is necessary.

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 is that God provides a substitute, His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

To that we turn next time, DV.


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. 


Islam (9)

In our last blog post on this topic, we examined the Qur’an’s denial of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ:

That they said (in boast). ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’—but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not—Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power. Wise” (Surah 4:157-158).

Apart from that textual stumbling block—the text of the Qur’an denies that Jesus was crucified—the Muslim stumbles over another matter: it is not fitting that God’s holy prophet should suffer such terrible shame by being crucified. What the Muslim needs to understand is that the sufferings of Jesus Christ were voluntary and necessary.

Voluntary Sufferings

The idea that Jesus was a tragically misunderstood moral leader whose life was cut off in his prime by the malice of His enemies is false. Yes, Jesus had cruel and malicious enemies, who desired His death. Certainly, many conspired against Him to destroy him, but Jesus was never a helpless victim.

Jesus makes it very clear throughout the gospels that he came to perform his Father’s will. Throughout His life, He operated according to a divine, and not a human, plan and timetable. As early as twelve years old, Jesus declares, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). Throughout the gospel according to John, reference is made to His “hour,” an hour that had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20), but which at the end of His life had finally come (John 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1). In John 5:19, Jesus declares, “The Son can do nothing of himself,” which means that the Son cannot act independently of the Father or in opposition to the Father, for they are one. In John 6:38, He explains, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” The Father’s will was for the sufferings, death, and resurrection of His Son, something Jesus clearly knew and understood.

Therefore, Jesus was not forced against His will—either by men, or by His heavenly Father—to suffer and die on the cross. He willingly embraced the cross as the way of obedience. He steadfastly resisted anyone and anything that would deflect Him from that purpose. When Peter tried to persuade Jesus not to go to the cross, Jesus sternly rebuked him: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matt. 16:23). As the time of the end drew near, Jesus “stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51), knowing full well what awaited Him there. When Peter attempted to prevent Jesus’ arrest, Jesus rebuked him again, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? (John 18:11). Even when Jesus was on the cross, He refused to come down and rescue Himself, despite His ability to do so, because He willingly gave His life.

In all of this, Jesus is unique. Only Jesus, as the Son of God, has power (authority) over His own life and death. As creatures, we cannot determine the moment of our death—and the sixth commandment forbids us to try. Listen to what Jesus declares, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross out of love—love for the Father and love for His people. “Greater love,” says Jesus, “hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “The Son of God … loved me, and gave himself for me” is the confession of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:20. “Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it,” declares Paul in Ephesians 5:25 In Titus 2:14, Paul describes the Savior this way, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Notice the constant refrain of the New Testament—He gave Himself; He offered Himself; He laid down His own life for those whom He loved. That is the Christian gospel of salvation.

Necessary Sufferings

The sufferings and death of Jesus Christ were necessary. If they were not necessary, the infinitely wise and good God would not have ordained them for His Son; and the infinitely wise and good Son of God would not have willingly submitted to them.

Jesus knew from the beginning that they were necessary. In Matthew 16:21, just after Peter made the famous confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus confessed the necessity of His sufferings: “He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” When His enemies came to arrest Him, He declared, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matt. 26:53-54). He added in verse 56, “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Later, after His resurrection, Jesus explained the necessity to His disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26) and “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (v. 46).

The sufferings and death of Christ, therefore, were necessary, first, because God decreed them as part of His eternal purpose; and, second, because the Scriptures prophesied them.

There is a third necessity. The sufferings and death of Christ were necessary for our salvation. Without the sufferings and death of Christ, we cannot be forgiven, and we must perish. But because of the sufferings and death of Christ, all those who believe in Him are saved.

To that subject we turn next time, DV.


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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