In the last letter to you I mentioned, somewhat in passing, that our attitude towards the preacher and our attitude towards the preaching were inseparably related to each other. I want to say a bit more about that in this letter, especially from the viewpoint of what is involved in listening to a sermon. I wonder sometimes whether we have lost the art of listening. Or, if I may repeat that passage from Ecclesiastes which I quoted last time, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." Do we really know how to do this?
It is, it seems to me, elementary that how we listen to the preaching in church is determined by other important and related matters. I refer, in the first place, to the fact that our listening to the preaching will be determined in large measure by our attitude towards and interest in spiritual things. This is not something which ought to characterize our lives only on the Lord's day, but something that persists through all of life. Jesus points to the very heart of the matter in his sermon on the mount when he says: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). If our treasure is upon earth and not in heaven, then we will not listen very attentively to the preaching, for the preaching is all about spiritual treasures. It may be that a very interesting sermon delivered by a very gifted speaker captures our attention and holds our interest in spite of the fact that our treasures are on earth; but this "hearing" of the Word will be like the seed that fell upon thorny ground. "And the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful" (Matt. 13:22). Nor can one "lay up" treasures on earth during the week and expect to lay up treasures in heaven on the Lord's day. And this is simply because a person cannot "serve God and mammon," as Jesus points out in the following verses.
This is important to remember too. There are so many people who leave God's house unmoved by the sermon and untouched by the word as it is preached and dissatisfied with the preacher and his message. But the trouble lies with themselves. Their treasures are really on earth. They are basically and fundamentally uninterested in the treasures of heaven. But rather than admit this, they are quick to blame the preacher and his preaching for their own disinterest. They prefer to blame someone else rather than their own carnal-mindedness.
“I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplication.” Psalm 116:1
I love the Lord! That is the theme of the whole psalm. He will give us the reason for his love; he will tell us what he is going to do with that love, so that he ends in heaven itself where he will dwell in the courts of the Lord forevermore, but you are right when you write above the whole psalm: I love the Lord!
What mighty concept: I love the Lord!
Yes, the world also speaks of love.
Very learned men, especially in the field of psychology, tell us that love is the deepest urge in man, moving him irresistibly on. They say that behind all effort of men of all the ages you will find the love of man for his mate, his friend, his flesh and bone, his fatherland, humanity. And I can well believe it. Read the literature of all the ages, and you will come face to face at every page with the love of man.
But their love is not our love. Our love is the love of God! Therein lies all the difference in the world!
The love of God is pure and sweet; it is holy and just; it is wise and strong; faithful it is and true unto all eternity.
The love of God is God himself. God is his virtues. And so we sing: Unending is the love of God from age to age the same!
The love of the world, however, is ugly. It is so utterly ugly that God hates it, and the angels of God hide their pure faces from it.
The love of man ought to be the reflection of the love of God. But it is not. God is not in all their love.
And so we find a lot of filth in the world, masquerading under the sweet name of love. All human emotion should be nothing but the fruit of God’s emotion, reflecting the life of God. Everything apart from God is contraband. And you need no magnifying glasses to see the corruption which corrupts the love of the world.
How different is this psalmist: I love the Lord! That makes all the difference in the world. If you have the love of God in your heart you will find the sanctifying power of that love in all your other relationships. It will never stand in the way of the other avenues of love we spoke of above. Nay, but that love of God will hallow them.
I love the Lord!
It is the song of heaven unto all eternity.
I love the Lord!
Some elders may have sensed that an important aspect of elders’ qualifications has not been mentioned—that is, intimate knowledge of the people. While knowledge of scripture, church government, and counseling are essential, they will not make a man a good elder if he does not also know the flock. The good shepherd knows his sheep.
A good elder will be like a good doctor. Before he treats his patient, a doctor will get an “H&P”—a history and physical. He will assess my present condition via a thorough physical examination and learn my history by asking me to fill out an extensive questionnaire. The history will be valuable for his treatment of me. Is there heart disease in my family, or glaucoma? Did any of my relatives have cancer? More important than my family’s history is my own—my childhood diseases, past surgeries or injuries. Is there a history of substance abuse or depression? Even my social history may be helpful—am I married, single, or divorced. And every doctor must know my present condition—allergies, medications, tobacco use, etc.—before he is ready to treat me most beneficially. Not knowing these things may expose him to making serious errors of judgment in my treatment.
—Read "Training Elders in History" by Prof. Gritters in the upcoming February 15 issue of the Standard Bearer.
There are, undoubtedly, many reasons why wholesale departure from scripture truth is so characteristic of Reformed churches today, but not least among those reasons is the fact that churches and denominations often forget that they are part of the church of all ages, and that, also with regard to doctrine, they stand in organic connection with the church of the past. If the church is faithful to the truth then she is built on the foundation of apostolic doctrine and prophetic teaching, and by the grace of God that doctrine and that teaching is an inheritance received from the faithful church of years past. It is not only to her disgrace but to her own ruin that the church forgets this.
For Reformed churches, perhaps more than any others, this heritage of truth is to be found in their creeds. Those creeds or confessions are the fruit of hard study, careful interpretation, and life-long defense of the word of God by those who have gone before, and it is through faithful use of those creeds that we as Reformed Christians “come into” our inheritance. The trouble is that Reformed churches today, almost without exception, are churches without a heritage, not because they have discarded their creeds but because they have neglected them. The creeds are useful and profitable only in so far as they are used in the preaching, the teaching, and in all the work of the church. Through neglect of her creeds, a church cuts herself off from the organism of the church and lays herself open to the withering influence of false teaching and worldliness.
The argument is that the creeds which we have are not useful. They were written at a time when cold, abstract discussion of obscure doctrinal points was the order of the day, but now the church has progressed from such dogmatic argumentation to real, meaningful activity. The creeds are full of scholasticism, are far removed from the simple, practical teaching of scripture, and are therefore, all but useless in the church of Jesus Christ. The strange thing is, however, that this attitude is fostered by those who also want nothing to do with the so-called practical teaching of the scriptures on such matters as women in office and homosexuality. Nonetheless, this attitude does find fertile soil in the ignorance of the creeds which is so widespread, even among those of Reformed heritage.
Of Nova Zembla Tollens* sings: "Here the Prince of Winter has erected his throne."
Yet at heart this is ungodly and fundamentally heathen speech, as though there were a Prince of winter, who brings ice and snow and hoarfrost. A language that contrasts strongly with what in Israel a David and an Asaph sang: Our God gives snow like wool, he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes, he casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?" (Ps. 147:16, 17).
This is the language of piety.
Winter also is nothing but a wondrous creation of the almightiness of the Lord.
In cold also, which changeth the face of the earth, our God is made great.
More briefly still, with Asaph confessed in Psalm 74: "The winter also, which thou hast made."
Neither is winter accidental; what it brings with it is no mere play or whim. In winter also there is formation. One great thought expresses itself in it, which temporarily puts its fetters about all of life, and penetrates even smallest particles.
The same God who created Paradise without seasons, presently has broken up the one vast paradise wealth into four seasons, and as by magic imparted unto each of them a glory of its own, as well as a shadow-side.
And in that succession of the seasons, God gives you instruction, every year again the same instruction of His majesty and might, and of the turn from life to death and from death unto life again; an instruction in images as rich in meaning as compelling to action; for you yourself go on with the seasons and undergo the stimulus of the same.
Note: Though this editorial was written twenty-five years ago, it is still an applicable word for the church in the year of our Lord, 2019. The year 1994 has been changed to read 2019 in this article.
What 2019 will mean for the true church in North America is not our concern. We may not speculate. This belongs to the secret things of the counsel of God that are exclusively for him. It is comfort to the Reformed church, as it is to the believer personally, that the new year will be the unfolding of the eternal plan of the sovereign God in the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.
Our concern is the revealed will of God for the church. His will is that the church work. The reason for the continuation of history in this new year is the church. God has a church that must be gathered and saved. Since the Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves this church "by his Spirit and word" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 54) and since he does this through the instrumentality of the true church, the true church has a calling to work.
It is the true church that has a sacred, solemn mandate from the Lord.
The true church is the instituted congregation that is sound in doctrine, pure in the administration of the sacraments, and faithful in the exercise of discipline (Belgic Confession, Art. 29).
There is also a false church, characterized by rejection of the authority of Holy Scripture and corruption of the gospel of grace. She too has a work. Her work is to hate and oppose the true church. She has her mandate from the devil.
The departing church has one calling from the Lord, and one only: Repent! It belongs to the work of the true church that she bring this calling from the Lord to the church that is in the process of falling away from the truth.
What did we see in 2018? Man setting himself against God, and against truth and righteousness. Such men, according to Scripture, are without hope in this world. A world of despair.
We with our little ones live in such a world, facing a new year.
Without hope? In despair?
No! But with hope. Why?
Because our Christ Himself is a Man of War. Remember, He comes from a warrior line, David the warrior king.
It was exactly as such that the Old Testament prophets spoke of Him and the church looked for Him. Psalms 2 and 72 are cases in point (Psalter #’s 3 and 200). The great King who would crush His and the church’s enemies once and for all, and thus have the victory, the final victories that would usher in the Kingdom of righteousness and peace.
Lord, haste the Day, cried the Old Testament church. And He came!
—Read ‘Reflections as we await the coming year’ by Rev. Kenneth Koole in the upcoming January 1 issue of the Standard Bearer.
“And there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
“And Joseph also went up. . . .unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. . . .to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife being great with child.
“. . . .but he that came down from heaven.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.
“And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them. . . .and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host.
“The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea. . . .behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews?
“And they (scribes) said unto him (Herod), In Bethlehem. . . .
“And lo, the star. . . .stood over where the young child was.
“Then Herod. . . .sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem.”
—Matthew 2; Luke 2; John 3:13
In the fullness of time, when Jesus Christ our Savior was born, Bethlehem was the focal point of the universe. All things wend their way to the city of David.
First, there is that decree of Caesar Augustus! Yes, I have placed an exclamation point behind that sentence, and well I might. Wonder what the poor man is thinking about all through the ages of his hellish suffering. It was even through his imperial decree that Joseph and Mary and the child to be born took their journey to David’s city.
An exclamation point, for it shows us that the world must help to bring the kingdom of God to its completion. All through the ages, all things work together to bring the children in the bosom of the Father. All things are united in that one purpose.
But Caesar Augustus, seated on the mighty throne of the Roman empire, did not in the least suspect that he was bringing the Christ child to the place where he must be born according to the scriptures.
And, therefore, the Roman mandate, in some way or other, came in the fullness of time to Bethlehem, and the people told one another in the streets of that famous village: Did you hear the news? There went out a decree of the emperor! We must be taxed.
Oh yes, in spite of himself, not even knowing, perhaps, that there was such a place on the earth which was named Bethlehem: the mighty Caesar comes to Bethlehem!
The focal point in the universe of God!
Spiritually, we are very poor, by nature. We are poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt in ourselves. This poverty is the terrible poverty of sin, of death, of the curse, of hell! It is a poverty far more awful than the worst of material poverty. Do you recognize that poverty as yours? The whole church for which Christ died is poor, spiritually destitute. Think of the corrupt host for which Christ died, of the wretched sinners we all are, even now. If you think of your own terrible poverty, the poverty of a nature completely depraved, then you can see something of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He, being rich, was made poor on our behalf.
There is no other explanation for it but grace—undeserved favor. Christ was under no obligation to come into our poverty. He did not have to come to Bethlehem! He certainly did not have to save you and me! It was grace! It was our poverty that created the necessity for that horrible, foul-smelling stable in Bethlehem in which Christ was born. Do not attempt, like so many do, to make that stable a cozy, lovely place. It speaks of our sins and the depths of our poverty. It is our shame!
—Read the meditation ‘Christ’s poverty, our riches’ in the upcoming December 1 issue of the Standard Bearer by Rev. Michael DeVries.
The sword is necessary for the advance of God’s kingdom, first of all, because the true, instituted church of Christ and her youth are surrounded by false doctrines, vain philosophies, and wicked lifestyles.
Dangerous are the heretics with their heresies, the crafty false teachers with their honeycomb tongues in influential speeches and cunning literature, and the pleasure-seekers attractively promoting their ungodly lifestyles. No one is more dangerous than the seducer who takes the name “Christian” and, like his father Satan, tries to take our sword by quoting the pure Word of God to prove his damnable lies and further his abominations. Danger is everywhere. And due to the Internet, everyone has a platform for their vain babblings, easily gaining entrance into and influencing any home.
The church must not wait for error to infiltrate the camp, but through her watchman must be vigilant in identifying the threat of the hour and go on the offensive by engagement in polemical preaching and teaching that condemns threatening false doctrines and wicked practices. The sword of the Spirit drives heresy and the love for dissolute living out of hearts, homes, and churches, and, more importantly, prevents its entrance.
—Read ‘God’s armor for us: The sword’ by Rev. Brian Huizinga in the upcoming December 1 issue of the Standard Bearer.
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