Thankfulness

This article was written by Rev. G. VandenBerg in the December 1, 1965 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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Our communion form delineates the walk of gratitude of the Christian as the laying aside unfeignedly of all enmity, hatred, and envy and a firm resolution to walk in true love and peace with the neighbor. Such conduct evidences true thankfulness to God because it is only the regenerated child of God who can and will do these things and in the practice of them he is deeply conscious that "by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:10). Human nature cannot and will not submit to God's ordinance of love for "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). All the works of the flesh are characterized by "enmity, hatred, and envy", the very things which the child of God strives by grace to put off. Thankfulness, which is the fruit of regeneration, springs to manifestation in a life of uprightness before God. 

The essence of that life is love and in the concrete manifestation of the love of God in our walk therefore lies the proof that we are born of God and are made partakers of his communion and that of his saints. In the living experience of that love lies the conscious enjoyment of all the blessings of salvation while the absence of that love creates total spiritual vacuum in the consciousness of man. 

It is not particularly striking then that the word of God in countless places emphasizes the importance of love in the conversation of the saints. Jesus tells us that it constitutes the core of the entire law of God in that well known summary: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).

The elect of God are enjoined in Colossians 3:12–14 to "put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." But this is not enough for to this large order is added "And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." Love supersedes all the rest. There can be no kindness, forbearance, forgiveness, or any spiritual practice without love. 

In this light we would also consider that classic passage on love that is found in first Corinthians 13. Though we speak with the tongue of men and of angels, have the gift of prophecy, understand all mysteries, have all knowledge and faith, give our goods to the poor and our bodies to be burned; if we lack LOVE we are nothing and all these things profit us nothing. 

This is basically because without love we do not have God. GOD IS LOVE (1 John 4:16). We note this text because in the present connection it is especially significant for there is added: "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." And although this is certainly true as applied to our entire life in the midst of the present world, it is especially true in application to the Lord's Supper. God communes at his table with his people in love and there he bestows upon them the riches of his grace as they dwell in him and he in them. That is exactly why it is so important that in our self-examination we discover within ourselves that spiritual desire and determination to walk in love with our neighbor. This love is the proper expression of our thankfulness to God for the apostle John also writes: "Beloved, if God so loved us, (so as to send his Son to be the propitiation for our sins) we ought also to love one another. . . . .If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is made perfect in us" (1 John 4:11–12).

We cannot walk in enmity and hate of the brother, refuse to seek reconciliation with the brother, bear a grudge in our soul against the brother and refuse to see him about it and expect to have fellowship with God. Love, which is the emulation of the virtue of God himself, demands another way. Love is "kind, it envieth not, it vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" (1 Cor. 13:4–6). Love admonishes and seeks to save always. It is reflected practically in the attitude of which James speaks: "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:19–20).

Do we so love? 

That is the criterion by which the genuineness of our professed gratitude is to be gauged. Without love our gratitude is carnality. Verbal expressions of thanksgiving without love are but so many empty sounds. That is love that responds to the commandments of God in the whole of life and out of the doing of his word comes forth a true expression of thanksgiving. 

The Application of the Keys of the Kingdom 

"All those, then, who are thus disposed, God will certainly receive in mercy, and count them worthy partakers of the table of his Son Jesus Christ." With this statement the communion form continues to explain how the keys of the kingdom of God are applied to the participants at the communion table. The statement itself is positive and assures the true believers that God will certainly dwell with them in the communion of his Son Jesus Christ. They will receive the benefits of this holy institution and they may eat and drink by faith in the assurance that God has given unto them eternal life. The phrase, "who are thus disposed," does not refer alone to the part of the self-examination that deals with the matter of gratitude but it includes all of the foregoing. Those who know their sin and misery, are conscious of their own worthlessness; those who believe that Christ Jesus has unconditionally merited perfect righteousness for them and who, therefore, in the experience of that salvation are truly thankful unto God, God will receive in mercy at his table. Of course he will, for it is God himself who draws such in the way of that salvation unto his table where he feeds and nourishes them unto eternal life. 

But there is more. There is an opposite side to this picture. "On the contrary," states our Form, "those who do not feel this testimony in their hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves." The sacraments are subsidiaries of the preaching of the word and the effect of both is the same. Even as in the preaching of the word there is always a two-fold effect upon the hearers, so is there a two-fold working of God through the sacraments. The word is a savor of life unto life or of death unto death. At the table of the Lord we either eat and drink by faith unto the enjoyment of our salvation in Christ, or we eat and drink judgment unto ourselves. The sacrament never leaves us totally unaffected. It is not so that we can come away from the Lord's table as though we had not been there. The word of God speaks to us through the holy sacrament and it says one of two things: it proclaims either the truth of justification by faith which affords us conscious peace with God, or it declares to us that we are the objects of God's holy wrath and disfavor. Such is the implication of the term "judgment" here. It contains the idea of "condemnation" and, consequently, it is a judgment of God in which he finds and declares us to be guilty according to his law of love. 

Therefore it is necessary to warn and admonish those who are defiled with sin "to keep themselves from the table of the Lord, and declare to them that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ." 

Concerning this paragraph of the communion form we wish to make the following observations: 

First, the admonition to abstain from the Lord's Supper is not directed to all who at some time or another have defiled themselves with the sins here enumerated. Rather, it speaks of those who live in these sins, refuse to part with them and in whom therefore there are no marks of conversion. Those who have sinned and repented of their sins are spoken of a bit later.

Secondly, the list of sins given here is not intended as a complete list of censurable sins or sins for which one will be excommunicated from the fellowship of the church. Neither is it simply a catalog of sins that happened to be common in the days when this communion form was written. One would miss the point altogether who would attempt to clear himself for admission to the table of the Lord by attempting to show that he is not guilty of the specific sins mentioned. We do well to observe that in general this list of sins follows the order of and covers the ten commandments of the law of God and in that light we may conclude that the thrust of the admonition here is that all those who walk in defiance of God's word are warned to abstain from the holy supper. This is further indicated by the last thing mentioned in this series, namely, "and all who lead offensive lives." This cannot be taken in general as though the meaning is that all offense is sin. It is unavoidable that the walk of the Christian in the midst of the world will and does give offense to those who love iniquity but this is not meant. The offense is that which results from violating God's word. God is the offended one. The life of the sinner is offensive to him. He never looks upon such lives with a "little favor" but he abhors it utterly. And, thus, also all the sins previously enumerated are those that cause such offense. The list could without difficulty be greatly enlarged but this is not necessary. It is sufficient to show from these examples that those who in their walk of life act contrary to the commands of God, thereby demonstrate that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ and therefore cannot be received at his table. To allow this is to desecrate the Lord's table and thereby bring the wrath of God upon the entire congregation (Lord’s Day 30, Heidelberg Catechism). 

In the fourth place, the form explicitly states that they shall abstain from the Lord's table "while they continue in such sins". The way is open for repentance and a turning from sin but as long as one walks willfully in sin and then seeks place at the table of the Lord, he can do so only to the aggravation of his own judgment. His condemnation becomes heavier. 

Fifthly, this warning and admonition is not designed to instill fear or terror into the hearts of those that would seek admission to the table of the Lord. Among some people you find the notion quite prevalent that the table of the Lord is only for people of God who are virtually perfect. This is a serious mistake and, if the self-examination were then properly conducted, it would lead to the practical conclusion that no one could ever come to the table of the Lord. It is well to be cautious, and in our preparation for the celebration of the Lord's Supper we cannot be too careful that there remains willful sin in us; but the fact that sin is still present in us may not deject our hearts. We exactly come to the supper as sinners, as redeemed sinners, as thankful sinners. 

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Gone to Prepare a Place

 

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also." John 14:2, 3

Saying good-bye is always hard. 

That's especially true for those who love each other. 

It's part of dying, it's separation. 

The bleakness of such a moment is felt when you leave loved ones behind and move away. A congregation and minister encounter that pain when it's time for farewell. Parents stand helplessly silent as their son boards the plane for battle. The tension is most acute at the bedside of our dying loved ones. 

It's hard to say goodbye. We desire the presence of the person whom we love. We're afraid that we may never see them on earth again. 

Our text could be called a lover's farewell. 

Jesus was saying goodbye to his bride. That little band of eleven represented his church. Since he knew the pains of farewell, Jesus also knew that only one promise would console her, "I go…I will come again." To make certain that she understood, he sent angels at the triumphant moment of his ascension to re-affirm his promise, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." 

The Bridegroom was saying goodbye to his bride. 

He was about to leave her to get everything ready for the wedding. 

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The Ark's Return from Philistia

And the men did so; and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home: And they laid the ark of the LORD upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods, And the kine took the straight way to the way of Bethshemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh. 1 Samuel 6:10-12

For seven months the ark of Israel's God had been in the land of the Philistines, and there was no longer any question with the Philistines that he was not under their power but that they were under his. The God of Israel had smitten them with the pestilence much in the same way he had smitten the Egyptians many years before. Everyone was covered with boils, open, sore and draining; many had died. It happened wherever the ark was brought, whether Ashdod, Gath or Ekron. No one could escape it. With swift destruction the hand of the God of Israel descended upon them. No incantation could drive it away. No form of medicine was able to heal. The invasion of mice which had gone before seemed bad at the time; but this was far worse. The damage done to Dagon in his temple was now all but forgotten because of the suffering that filled the land. The people cowered in fear. 

At last the priests and diviners, the wise men of the Philistines, were called together to do something to save the nation. There was no longer any question what the trouble was. Everyone knew and took it for granted, as much as they disliked the thought. The ark of Israel's God had proved to be for them, not a great victory as they had first expected, but their curse. The only question for these learned men was, "What shall we do to the ark of the Lord? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place." The ark of Jehovah had to be sent away. The only thing they feared was that they might not do it in the right way so that still greater judgments might descend upon them. 

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The Church and the Sacraments (Early Views of the Church)

Continuing with the early views of the organiza­tion of the church as entertained by the early church fathers, we now call attention to Irenaeus. In our preceding article we called attention to the views as expressed by Ignatius, one of the apostolic fathers and bishop of the church at Antioch. The great esteem in which he held the office of bishop appears from all his writings, although we also called attention to the fact that Ignatius also held the office of the presbyter or elder in high regard. Later the office of bishop was held in much higher esteem.

Irenaeus is reputed to have been the first to have advocated the institution of bishop as a diocesan of­fice and as the continuation of the apostolate. From him we quote the following quotation:

It is within the power of all, therefore, in every church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tra­dition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches, and to demonstrate the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these heretics rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to the “perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have de­livered them especially to those to whom they were committing the churches themselves. 

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Remember Me!

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Luke 23:42

Everyone mocked the Christ when he hung on the cross.

The people stood beholding.

The rulers derided him, but also with them, that is, the people.

The soldiers mocked him.

Even the written word meant to deride him. The superscription on the cross was meant as a taunt of the ruler, the governor: This is the King of the Jews! Imagine: a King on a cross??!!

Yes, and even a man who was in the same judg­ment with Jesus mocked him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us!

Everyone derided and mocked Jesus.

But wait! There is one solitary exception: the other murderer.

He turns his tortured body toward the other mur­derer and after chiding him for mocking Jesus, he turns to Jesus and says: Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom!

Marvel of marvels!

There is one in the whole universe that believes in the crucified one!

And he is a murderer.

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August 2019 Standard Bearer preview article

“As to our good works” (2): The nature of good works as works

Works occupy a prominent place in Scripture; in fact, Scripture is from beginning to end a book of works. Scripture attributes works to the triune God, Christ, angels—wicked and holy, and men—wicked and holy. We begin our examination of the good works of the believer by considering the nature of good works and noting five general characteristics of our good works as works.

A conscious, acting subject

First, works are those deeds consciously and volitionally performed by rational, moral beings. Strictly speaking, a creature like the sky is not capable of performing works. Psalm 19:1 teaches, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” The visible expanse of the heavens above us gives glory to God; however, it is not an intelligent creature consciously and willingly producing “works” of praise unto God as holy men and holy angels can do. We men are different than the creatures in the heavens above and in the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth, for God created us as personal beings with an intellect and will so that we are able to live consciously before His face performing works of service in love for Him and our neighbor. In marriage, a husband and wife are called to love each other and show it in word and deed, but if a whole week has gone by and they have not consciously performed even one considerate act towards each other, living as intimately as two stars twinkling side by side in the heavens, something is dreadfully amiss. God created us, and in Jesus Christ has recreated us, as new creatures able to do good. Consciously! Willingly! Cheerfully! Lovingly!

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A Covenant Home: What Is It Like?

Some years ago, on a visit to the south, I found myself in front of a home, which had, hanging over the front door, a sign upon which were the words: "In This House Christ Is King." I found this intriguing and immediately thought of the firm statement of Joshua to Israel just before his death: "But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." 

It would be equally appropriate for a covenant family to have a sign hanging over the front door of its home, with the words engraved on it: "This Home is a Covenant Home." Such a family would want all who visited it to understand that the home they were about to enter was a special kind of home, a unique home, a home which differed from countless thousands of homes throughout the country or the world. 

If you saw such a sign appropriately fixed above the front door of a house, what precisely would you expect to find inside? Would you enter with some firm ideas concerning what to expect? Or would you say: "I have no idea of what a covenant home is like." 

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Christian Marriage

As head of the wife the husband must love his wife even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (v. 25). In the love of God the husband must love his wife. Love never seeks to hurt or destroy, but always seeks the salvation of its object. God so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son to atone for our sins and give us everlasting life and glory. That love must be reflected by godly husbands. Loving his wife as Christ loved the church, the husband will never be a ruthless tyrant. He will lead his wife in the way of the word of God. Together husband and wife will bow before that word in all of their married life. God's word will be the foundation for their marriage. In God's love the husband will provide both the earthly and spiritual need of his wife. Just as Christ gave himself for the church, so the husband will love his wife. With the self-sacrificing love of Christ the husband will seek his wife's welfare in this life and for the life to come. A godly husband lives for his wife. She is first in his life. He is not harsh or bitter towards her. He is tender and kind. He nourishes and cherishes her as Christ cherishes the church. He rules not with an iron hand expecting to be waited on hand and foot. His wife is no harried, tired slave who lives in fear of him. As the church has all of the love of Christ so the wife has all of the love of her husband. He loves her so much that he will not only put up with her weaknesses and bad habits, he loves her so much he is willing to die for her.

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Fellowship with God

The truth concerning man's relation with God is one which deserves our attention and our understanding. Nothing can be more important than one’s standing before God. It is very literally a mat­ter of life and death.

There is a relationship of fellowship between God and his people. That relationship has been called a "covenant relationship." This concept is fundamental unto a proper understanding of our duties and responsibilities before God and with men. Within the church it becomes very plain that some sort of beautiful relationship exists between God and this people of his church. It is also to be clearly understood that this relationship exists only because of and through the cross of Jesus Christ.

"Covenant" involves a coming together, a dwelling under one roof. The term emphasizes that God and his people have a basis for unity. This, we believe, is the purpose of God's revelation outside of himself—that a people might eternally dwell with him in Christ.

 

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July Standard Bearer preview article

Introduction

The Lord’s Supper in the dialogue of worship was not always understood the scriptural way we have described it in these articles. In our previous article we examined how Rome views the Lord’s Supper in worship. In this article we want to understand how and why the Reformation was used of God to restore the church to a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper in worship.

Restoration of the gospel

When the Reformation returned the church to the truth of the gospel, everything changed also in worship. In God’s sovereign mercy, Martin Luther, who had access to Scripture, began to see the truth of the Word of God. Particularly, he saw that Scripture taught the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross that effectually atoned for the sins of all His people, so that they are justified by an imputed, alien righteousness alone.

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