Covenant People

Introduction

Dear young people, how many names can you think of that the Bible uses to describe a Christian? Child of God. Prophet, priest, and king. A servant. A lively stone. A soldier. A runner. A pilgrim and stranger. Citizen of the kingdom of heaven. These biblical metaphors help us understand and appreciate our multi-faceted and wonderful calling and identity as Christians. But perhaps the most beautiful description of a Christian that captures the heart of our entire Christian life and walk is that we are a covenant people.

Taken into the Covenant

To understand and appreciate the beauty of our identity as covenant people, we must first understand what the covenant is. The covenant is essentially God’s relationship of perfect divine fellowship within the Trinity. The three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy blessed covenant fellowship one with another from all eternity. When we say we are God’s covenant people, we are saying that God takes us into that trinitarian fellowship so that we enjoy the blessed communion with the three Persons of the Godhead. Pause… and wonder! God says, “I give you the privilege of entering the circle of divine fellowship. Welcome to THE family!” Amazing! Unbelievable! How is that possible? How can sinful man come anywhere near, let alone have fellowship with, the thrice holy God without being instantaneously consumed by His holiness? Why would the perfect God, exalted in the highest heavens, Almighty Creator of the heaven and earth, take into His closest fellowship imperfect, sinful creatures of the dust who deserve only to be cast away from His presence into everlasting punishment? The only answer we can give on this side of heaven is: sovereign, unconditional, eternal love. Read Ezekiel 16. That God should take us into His covenant is of sheer grace. When we consider how abominable we are as sinners, and that God yet takes us into His fellowship, we can only bow our faces in confusion and shame (Ezek. 16:63). And instead of boasting about our goodness or complaining that we deserve better, we shut our mouths lest they spew forth more sinful pride and foolishness.

Such unfathomable love and amazing grace that enable the sinner to dwell with the Most High is not at the expense of His holiness and justice. We can draw near to Him, enjoy intimate fellowship with Him – because of Jesus Christ, Who bore the punishment for all our sins to the uttermost. As far as satisfaction for the sins of His elect people is concerned, it is fully accomplished at the cross. God did not wink at our sin. He punished every single one of them as they deserve. He meted out the punishment fully. He did not hold back the least bit, but unleashed His full, just fury against our sins  – but all on Jesus Christ, our Substitute. It is in Christ that God establishes His covenant with us – Christ is the ground, the Surety, and the Head of the covenant . As covenant people, we are joined to Christ as members of the body to the Head. Hence the covenant is unbreakable. The relationship is firm and sure. For God will not break His covenant with us any more than He would with Christ.

Are we covenant people? Then God has taken us into His very own covenantal life, through Jesus Christ, to enjoy blessed fellowship with Him. Wonder of wonders!

Life in the Covenant

Having been taken into the covenant, we now live in the covenant. There is the individual aspect of this life as each child of God walks with the Lord. But there is also the corporate aspect of this life, which is life in the covenant family and covenant community or local church. For the purpose of this article, we will focus only on the corporate aspect. So what does this ‘family’ or ‘community’ life look like in God’s covenant?

Let’s begin with the covenant family. Because God is King and at the centre of the covenant family, the character and focus of the family is spiritual. The Word of God is the authority and rule that governs and directs all things in the home. The husband provides loving leadership, while the wife shows caring submission. The husband labours hard in the office and returns home in the evening to dwell with his wife. The wife labours diligently at home to build a warm, loving, and peaceful abode for her husband and children (if the Lord gives children). Parents raise their children in the fear of Jehovah with wisdom and patience, while the children obey their parents and honour them. Worship is a top priority for the family. Going to church on the Lord’s Day is the family’s chief delight, while family devotions are enjoyable times of fellowshipping with one another around the Word. Within the family, there is mutual love, trust, and respect between husband and wife and parents and children, and among the children. They delight in one another’s company and friendship, and share their life together. They weep together and rejoice together. They carry one another’s burdens. They build one another up in the faith. The bond that binds them together in such close, intimate fellowship is the covenant bond that God establishes with the believing parents and their children.

But of course, life in the covenant family is not perfect. Indeed, it is far from perfect. After all, the covenant family is composed entirely of sinners. Each family knows too well how imperfect they are. No doubt there are conflicts and disagreements. Tempers flare. Unkind words are said. Husband and wife give each other the cold shoulder. The children are no angels, and quite often bring distress and heartaches to the parents by their sinful behaviour. There can even be unfaithfulness on the part of spouses. Alas! The ugliness of sin! But the spiritual mark of a godly covenant family is not the absence of sin and conflict, but the presence of repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and love when dealing with sin and conflicts. The family takes heed to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, 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. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:12-14). Yes, the covenant family is a sinful family. But in the covenant family, grace triumphs over sin, and love covers the multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).

One more aspect of the covenant family – its extended family. When the children grow up and establish their own covenant families, some of us become covenant grandparents. God has blessed CERC with more of such members in recent years, as our second generation marries and brings forth covenant seed. Grandparents play an important role within the larger family context, not in directing or interfering with the family life of their married children, but by being godly examples and in providing wise, godly counsel to them, and by being always ready to lend a helping hand in times of need. It takes much wisdom and self-control on the part of grandparents to relate to their married children and grandchildren so that the husband and father can be and is encouraged to exercise his headship effectively. Married children too need grace to continue to honour their parents, include them in the fellowship of the family as part of the extended covenant family, and teach their children to honour their grandparents.

What about covenant life in the church? The principles that govern and guide the covenant life in the family are the same ones that govern and guide the covenant life in the church, which is the family of God. Hence, life in the church resembles life in the covenant family in many respects. The two are not identical, of course, but both are characterised by fellowship among covenant members, love and care for one another, serving one another, repentance and forgiveness, faithful performance of various roles and callings, and submission to God-ordained authority, except in a different context.

One outstanding characteristic of the covenant community life is that it is corporate, not individualistic. There are many members, with great diversity of personalities and gifts, yet one body. The identity of this community is not a mish-mash of individual personalities who share a common interest or happen to participate in a common activity, but a unified, corporate identity of organic oneness. The church is an organism with the life of Jesus Christ flowing through it and animating it. Each covenant member is a building block of a magnificent spiritual house, fitly joined to one another, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone; not loose stones and pebbles gathered in a jar. Hence, the concern and focus of a covenant member is not himself or herself, but his fellow members: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). Each covenant member desires to employ his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and salvation of other members (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 55). Because each member is a sinner saved by grace alone, self-promotion and self-glory have no place in the community, but rather this: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). My sincere desire is that Christ and my fellow brother and sister must increase, while I must decrease. This corporate aspect of the life of the covenant community is especially expressed when the covenant members gather on the Lord’s Day for worship. Throughout the entire worship service, from the call to worship to the benediction, every activity is a corporate activity. Conscious of this fact, and appreciating the beauty of their corporate identity as the body of Jesus Christ, covenant members desire to be present in church on the Lord’s Day so that they can take up their place in the body and worship God together with the rest of the body. Would not the beauty of the body be marred if there was a missing ear or finger or leg?

Covenant life in the church of Jesus Christ is ‘bodily’ life. “But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). It is knowing that God has made me a member of this body to serve the body, not myself. It is living with the consciousness that I am part of a larger reality and purpose that is far more important than me and my individual identity, needs, and desires.

Perfection of the Covenant

 Life in the covenant is a blessed life. Although on this earth it is tainted with much sin and often lined with pain, still it is the blessed life. For it is a foretaste of the perfect communion and fellowship we shall enjoy with the Triune God in heaven one day. There, we shall talk with Jehovah and walk with Him – without sin to spoil the communion! Right now, we have only a small beginning of the new obedience, and our experience of covenant life is marred by frequent and great struggles against sin from within and without. But though we are unfaithful, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). His covenant stands sure. He will bring it to its perfection according to His unchangeable counsel. At the appointed time, Jesus Christ shall return and usher in the new heaven and new earth, when “the tabernacle of God (shall be) with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). The Church will be presented to Christ at the end of history as a pure, holy, and spotless Bride, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph. 5:26-27, Rev. 21:2). She will dwell with Christ in the most intimate and perfect fellowship forever. You and I, living members of the church, shall then experience the most delightful fellowship with our covenant God in Jesus Christ, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

 Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church – do you not long for that day?

 

Written by: Eld Lee Kong Wee | Issue 51

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Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XIII): Jeremiah

Whenever I read from the book of Jeremiah I become very sad. I know of no one in Scripture who found it more difficult to do the work of his office than Jeremiah. His whole life was filled with disappointment, even his death. He is a man appropriate for an article in this series for he began to preach at a very early age, when he was only a child (Jer. 1:6).

We must, therefore, start our discussion of this noble man of God with some words about his calling.

I do not think that anyone as young as him was called to begin the work of preaching. There have been some self-appointed preachers who were children when they began to preach, especially at revivals; but they are false prophets. In the days of Jeremiah and in the sacred history recorded for us in Scripture, men who were called to be prophets normally had to wait until they were thirty years old. This was true, for example, with both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself.

But the times demanded preaching. They were the years prior to Judah’s captivity (Jer. 1:1-4). In fact, Jeremiah was still prophesying when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian army (Jer. 52).

It is mentioned twice in Jeremiah 1 that God called Jeremiah to be a prophet (Jer. 1:2, 4). The call was real; the call was urgent; the call was of such a kind that could not be refused. The trouble was that Jeremiah was, as he himself said, only a youth.

Before I make some remarks about that and its implications for the youth in the church today, I want to make a few remarks about Jeremiah’s ministry.

Judah was in its last days. The country and had become worse than Israel in its idolatry, its utter paganism and its rejection of God and His word. The sinfulness of the nation was from the king, down through the princes and into the lives of the people.

In addition to its terrible sinfulness, it also was in constant danger of being destroyed by foreign armies. (You can read of Judah’s sins and the threat of conquest in the last chapters of 2 Chronicles.) Already much of Judah was in the hands of the Babylonians and only Jerusalem was not conquered. The heathen armies surrounded the city.

Jeremiah had to bring the Word of God to the people who remained. He had to tell them to repent of their sins and turn again to God, or they would be destroyed. In fact, the end of Judah was so certain that God told Jeremiah to tell the people and the king and his princes that their only hope of escaping death was to surrender and give themselves over to the Babylonians. If they did not surrender, they would be killed by the Babylonian army, or by pestilence, or by starvation, for no food could be brought into the city because of the siege.

Judah would not repent and comforted itself with the false dream that Egypt would come to Jerusalem’s aid. They openly rejected Jeremiah’s preaching and hated him for calling them to repentance. His preaching that Judah should surrender was interpreted to mean that he wanted the Babylonians to win the war, and he was charged with treason.

At one point in Jeremiah’s ministry, he was ordered by God to go outside the city and purchase a piece of land. This seemed to be the epitome of foolishness; the land, captured by the Babylonian was worthless. But God told Jeremiah to do that because it was a testimony to Judah that God would bring them back to Canaan, and therefore, they should surrender.

On his return to the city, Jeremiah was captured by the guards at the gate, charged with treason for secretly providing the enemy with useful information about the city and thrown into a well which was full of mud and into which Jeremiah sunk up to his waist. He was rescued by a few men who believed Jeremiah’s prophecies and had repented of Judah’s sin. God preserved a very small remnant of His people, but they had little or no influence on the king and his counsellors.

To show how determined the king was to reject God’s Word, we are told that when the book (that now appears in our Bible under the name “Jeremiah” and which Jeremiah had partially written, under divine inspiration) was read page by page, the king took each separate sheet and threw it into the fire. (It was actually a scroll that was written, and the king took a knife and cut off parts as they were read. God comforted Jeremiah by telling him that he would be infallibly inspired to rewrite what was burned.)

Jeremiah suffered so much that he even resigned from his ministry, for the suffering was so great that it was hard to endure. But he could not stop preaching for “his (God’s) word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stop” (Jer. 20:9). It reminds us of Paul’s words, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16)! Jeremiah had to preach; so did Paul.   They could not stop preaching – even if they wanted to stop.

Any minister who is faithful in his calling knows what that means!

Even after Jerusalem was burned to the ground and Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations as he wept while sitting on a pile of rubble, he had at least the hope that he was spared captivity and that he could remain in the Holy City. But that too was denied him.

When wicked Ishmael murdered Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made ruler over a small remnant that was left in the city, Ishmael, in direct defiance of the Lord’s words to the remnant to remain in Canaan, forced them all to go with him to Egypt – Jeremiah as well; where, as far as we know, he died and was buried.

What a sad ministry when all Jeremiah knew was opposition and persecution.

We must now return to Jeremiah’s call to the ministry.

He was different from Moses: he refused because he was young; Moses refused because he was old. Yet they both refused God’s call (Jer. 1:6, Ex 5:10) And both appealed to their inability to speak properly. Moses was so adamant about his refusal that the Lord reminded him, “Who made your mouth (Ex. 5:11)?” And finally, God became angry with Moses (Ex. 5:14). Jeremiah’s refusal was simply brushed aside without argument and God provided the assurance that He would be with Jeremiah whatever happened.

You may say that Jeremiah did not know how badly he would be hated, but God warned him ahead of time: “Be not afraid of their faces for I am with thee to deliver thee”.

In a very general sense, God calls each of us to our place in His kingdom. He calls a father to care for his family, a mother to care for her husband and children, a clerk to work in a bank, an engineer to determine how a building must be done, etc. Every vocation is just that: a vocation, that is, a calling. We may never say of a calling that it is beneath our dignity or our talents. God puts a halo over every type of work – even sweeping streets or picking up garbage.

Sometimes God calls to special places in his kingdom where the one called has heavy responsibilities: elder, deacon, minister, Sunday School teacher, organist, Christian School teacher…Sometimes he calls us to do difficult work, or dangerous work, work that we do not particularly like to do. It makes no difference: God calls. He assigns everyone a position in His kingdom, the kingdom of Christ.

We may not refuse when God calls. We may not, out of some hypocritical piety and false humility, say, “No” while secretly hoping that the questioners will urge us to do it. But even when our refusal is genuinely rooted in a deep sense of our inadequacy when God calls, we may not refuse. God will not call inadequate people. The call of the church is a call we can never refuse, for it is the church through which God calls people to work in special offices in His kingdom.

That Jeremiah was called when still a youth is explained in the text. Before Jeremiah was born, God was preparing him for his life’s calling. God was working so that the gifts Jeremiah would need were given him – gifts for a very difficult task that would make Jeremiah’s calling all but humanly impossible. Yet God was right and Jeremiah wrong.

Incidentally, this work of God qualifying Jeremiah before he was born was also proof that God regenerates elect children born in the line of God’s covenant before they are born. Those who hold to a conditional covenant refuse to believe this clear Scriptural passage. They have various ways of getting around its unmistakable meaning. But the text is clear and serves covenant parents with incentive to teach their children (God’s children) the way they should walk.

Yet the text means that God qualifies a person for his place in God’s covenant and in the kingdom of Christ. The qualification is, of course, spiritual first of all. But it includes all a person needs to fulfil his calling, no matter how difficult the task. This is why a believing covenant man or woman always asks, “Lord, what wilt thou that I do?”

Paul speaks of every kind of work as worthy of our best in 1 Cor. 15:58. Paul calls it, whatever the situation, “the work of the Lord”. And, even though sometimes it is done with weakness, God promises that it is “not in vain in the Lord”.

This means that church must be the centre of our love and we must, by our work, labour in God’s kingdom. May God grant us the grace to heed this.

 

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 51

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XII): Joash

This series of articles in Salt Shakers concerns the lives of covenant youths. Joash, king of Judah, qualifies as a covenant youth; and yet he doesn’t. He qualifies as a covenant youth because he was born in the lines of the covenant and lived many years as a child of God’s covenant. But he is disqualified from the role of covenant youth because he turned his back on God toward the end of his life and led Judah into idolatry. He did not belong to God’s covenant in

There are some interesting events in the history of Joash, however, that are of importance to understand Joash’s life, and are also instruction for youth today.

It all began with Jehoshaphat, Judah’s God-fearing king. Although he did much to establish Judah as a nation that feared God, he had one fatal weakness: he was intent on forming an alliance with Ahab, wicked and godless king of the northern kingdom, composed of the ten tribes of Israel, now an independent nation. Ahab needed help to defend his land against the Syrians who had come to destroy Israel (2 Chron. 18). I am sure that Jehoshaphat could defend his actions of agreeing to form an alliance with Ahab with strong arguments. They might even have persuaded us. What are they? Syria was a threat to Judah as well as Israel, and Judah might be next on the list of conquests. Why not join in the battle against a common enemy?

Furthermore, the northern kingdom was still part of the Old Testament church: it had 5,000 in it who had not bowed the knee to Baal; it had the pure preaching of the Word in it, for Elijah, a great prophet, still preached in the nation; and there was always the hope of the two nations being united once again as they had been under the reigns of David and Solomon. What could be a better bit of diplomacy?

But it was not God’s will. Jehoshaphat learned that on his return. He found the prophet Jehu waiting for him. Jehu sharply reprimanded Jehoshaphat: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2).

Jehoshaphat did not listen, but continued his efforts to form an alliance with Israel’s king (2 Chron. 20:35-36), and again he was rebuked (2 Chron. 20:37).

What has all this to do with Joash?

Well, because of Jehoshaphat’s insistence on an alliance with Israel’s kings, his son, Jehoram, quite naturally, carried the alliance further and married the daughter of Israel’s king, Ahaziah. But Ahaziah, king of Israel, was also wicked, and Jehoram followed in his wicked ways and in his granddaughter Athaliah’s wicked ways. He was as wicked as Ahab’s family. He killed six of his brothers and other princes in Judah, because he considered them threats to the throne (2 Chron. 21:4). When God killed him (2 Chron. 21:18-19), what was probably written on his gravestone (if they used gravestones in those days) would have read: “He reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired” (2 Chron. 21:20). That word summed up the fruit of his whole life. Nobody cared when he died. Maybe they breathed a sigh of relief.

Many events, into which we cannot go, paved the way for Athaliah, Jehoram’s wife and daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, to bring the nation of Judah to sin. She came to the throne of Judah as the Queen mother and ruled the land. But she killed all the royal seed – except one, Joash. Cooperation between a God-fearing man and a wicked man led to marriage between the two families. It oftentimes does. And such a marriage was fatal.

Although this is not part of our story, you now also understand that Joash was now the only one left in the royal line that would bring forth Christ. If Joash would have been killed, Christ could not have come, born of Mary, from the line of Judah’s kings. As far as Jehoshaphat was concerned, his conniving with Ahab, a great sin, nearly destroyed Christ! Only by God’s intervention was the line preserved.

Association with and joining in the same cause as the wicked leads to God’s anger and the cutting off of our children from their being, even outwardly, from God’s covenant.

Joash escaped because, when still a baby, he was spirited away by his aunt Jehosheba, the wife of Jehoiada, who hid him in the temple for 7 years. She did this at the risk of her life. It was undoubtedly during this period that Joash was taught by his aunt and uncle the ways of Jehovah and the calling to walk as a covenant child. But he must also have been taught the responsibilities of being king over God’s people, for he ruled well. At the age of seven he was considered ready to be anointed king of Judah.

It was a coup d’ etat, led by Jehoiada and the temple guard that set Joash on the throne and resulted in the death of Athaliah.

As long as Jehoiada lived and served as an advisor to Joash, all was well. Joash considered the priority in his reign to be the repair of the temple, for it had been stripped of its utensils and left a broken-down building by Athaliah. Further, when the Levites were lax in collecting money for the repair of the temple, Joash devised another way of collecting the necessary funds. He put a box at the entrance of the temple into which the people had to drop their money. This method of collecting money proved successful and was still used in Jesus’ day.

But when Jehoiada died, the princes persuaded Joash to return to the worship of idols. Jehoiada had been so zealous for the cause of God that he was, so far as I know, the only non-king buried among the kings of Judah. Joash had, therefore, during all the years of Jehoiada, put on a show of being devoted to the cause of God. Only after Jehoiada died, Joash was revealed not to be a true son of the covenant that God established with Abraham.

It is unspeakably sad. The church has always had such people. God promises to save his covenant people in the line of generations, but not all children of believers are true children of Abraham. The sin of Joash was so great that Jesus incorporates him in those upon whom he pronounced his awful woes just before his death (Matt. 23:34-35). Zacharias, the son of Barachias, is the same as Zachariah, son of Jehoida, who was high priest in the place of his father, and who was stoned at the command of Joash (2 Chron. 24:20-22).

Some leave the church over doctrine or are cut out of the church for teaching false doctrine as were those who brought about the split in our own churches. Some leave for falling into some gross sin such as immorality or divorce and remarriage. Some leave because their parents did not teach them the ways of God’s covenant (Judg. 7:7-11).

I visited an aged saint who was near the end of his life. He wept as he told me, “All my children have left the church and it is my fault, for I never taught them God’s word”.

But those who leave the church of Christ are described in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they no doubt would have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us”.

All this confronts us with a very serious calling. In 2 Peter 1:10, we are admonished to make our calling and election sure, for “if ye do these things, ye shall never fall”.

Paul calls steadfastness that gift of the Christian who in the face of all temptation and trouble is faithful. He concludes his glorious chapter on the resurrection of our bodies with the words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:48).

And, do not fail to teach your children, beginning at their birth, the ways of God’s covenant. With the warnings and promises of the Scripture part of your instruction, be faithful, for these precious little ones are, if you are faithful, the church of tomorrow.

Our fathers would often pray (in Dutch), “Cut us not off in our generations”. I still pray that often; God grant that you do the same.

 

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 50

Grandparents in the Covenant Home

Grandparents have a significant role in the covenant home. Those who are come to this stage of life ought to realize this. This role can be the source of great blessing and joy. It also involves a serious calling and responsibility. God’s covenant mercy extends farther than only one generation. God is pleased to continue His covenant to succeeding generations. The covenant family in the church of the New Testament sometimes has present in it at one time three or even four generations. This is an amazing thing! On the day of Pentecost it was declared that God’s promise is to believers and their children even as many as the Lord our God shall call.

The Word of God has many passages in it that allude to the succeeding generations in the covenant among the God-fearing. After its beautiful description of the covenant home, Psalm 128 concludes with the promise of God: “The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion (the New Testament Church): and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. Yea, thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”

In Psalm 78, the inspired Psalmist exhorts fathers (and grandfathers) to instruct their children in the fear of the Lord. New generations arise in the covenant home and they must be instructed. “We will not hide them (the commandments of the Lord) from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done… which he  commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments” (Psalm 78:4-7). Count if you will, the number of generations mentioned in this passage.  After these words the Psalmist warns about the serious consequences which follow when fathers and grandfathers fail in their God-given calling. God’s chastisement will fall upon His people. They will be cut off in their generations. Yet the Lord will surely preserve His covenant with His elect people.

In the New Testament we also have examples of the so called multi-tier family in the church, where several generations live together. The family where the evangelist Timothy was raised included a godly grandmother as well as a godly mother. It seemed that the father was either absent or pagan. In spite of this, God’s covenant was preserved by the Lord in a wonderful way. See 2 Timothy 1: 5 and 2 Timothy 3:14-17.  Timothy inherited spiritually by the grace of God the legacy of the faith of his mother as well as his grandmother.

In Titus 2, the various generations are instructed. The aged women are exhorted to teach the younger women to love their husbands and to love their children. The aged men are to be held in high regard by the children; and their godly instruction and discipline are to be submitted to.

According to the natural instinct which God has put in man from creation, men and women love their own children in a very special way. They take pride in their children more than in anything else in the world and are greatly offended when their children are judged and condemned by the world in which they live. It is common that this natural affection extends to grandchildren. But because of man’s depraved nature, this natural affection is thoroughly carnal and worldly and motivated by sinful pride and ambition. According to God’s law, He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children unto the third and fourth generation.  The failure of man in raising a new generation contributes greatly to the evils of society among its youth. Society as a result loses all of its cohesion between the generations. In the nominal church, God’s covenant is forsaken and forgotten. Man is self-centered and proud and egotistical and consumed with concern only for his own welfare and personal enrichment and glory in the world. His days are cut off by God. He is destroyed in his generations. Therefore, every generation grows worse and worse.

No church in this world will ever continue to be spiritually strong when there is no concern about coming generations.  The boating of vast world-wide evangelism campaigns will come to nothing when there is neglect of the new generations that arise. The church that does not repent of this evil will soon be in the state of spiritual decline and apostasy. After a wave of excitement and enthusiasm and numerical growth it will decline and soon disappear from the earth. Very soon those who attend the worship services will only be the gray-headed. Children and young people will be gone. Their joy and laughter will no longer be heard. They will be lost to worldliness of life and ungodliness and even to total agnosticism. How very serious this is!

In the faithful covenant home and with the blessing of God there must be and will be a great difference. Godly married couples to whom God graciously gives covenant children must be concerned not only about their own homes but the homes and family which these children will establish in later life for themselves. Grandparents will be concerned about their children’s children and assist in teaching them the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of His truth. The Lord will pour out His blessing. There will be the great joy of the play and the laughter of covenant children. Few things in this life give greater joy and pleasure.

Psalm 128 speaks of the blessedness of the covenant home as culminating in the great joy and blessing of seeing one’s children’s children and peace upon the Israel of God. The apostle John in one of his letters says it in this way: “I have no greater joy than to see that my children walk in the truth”.

The senior generation in the church must guard against the sins of self-indulgence and self-pleasure. For the God-fearing, senior years are for more than endless vacations and world cruises, and visiting exotic places before one dies. It will be a generation that does not spend hour after hour and day after day sunbathing on the beach. This kind of life is worldliness, no less than the worldliness that destroys the youth in the early years of their lives.

Grandparents have a great calling in the church. It should be the case that they have gained spiritual wisdom and strength in the years of their life. They have learned even from their own falls and sinful weakness in the battles against sin and apostasy in the church. This wisdom must guide them in their lives and be evident in a life of holiness and devotion to God and the cause of His kingdom to the very end of their lives. Godly grandparents must support parents in the home in warning about the power of sin and the great temptations of the world. Grandparents must be an example of unwavering faithfulness and steadfastness in the truth of the Word of God for the great benefit of succeeding generations. In the times of many afflictions which often come with old age, they must show their genuine and sincere faith in God. They must be examples of trusting in the mercies of God and testifying of the strength of the Lord in their lives. This is not an easy calling. It takes a lot of grace. Old age in the church should be a time when grandparents live in such a way that they are worthy of honour and respect.  This is the time for them to leave a legacy of faith.

Sometimes by this time of life people have been able to amass large sums of wealth in the providence of God through retirement programs and annuities and such like. Those who have been able to do this ought not to proudly imagine that they have gained their wealth by their own wisdom and power. Rather they must give God the glory as the One who gave them power to get wealth in this world. Godly grandparents will not imagine that they have the freedom to spend their monies as they please. Grandparents, especially those entrusted with great wealth, have a special calling to contribute to the church and to Christian education for covenant children as well as to the evangelism of the church. They must be willing to make personal sacrifices and to give liberally, cheerfully and joyfully. This is more important than merely passing down material wealth to children who may or may not benefit spiritually from the inheritance of their parents. Remember that our Lord used the example of the widow’s mite who was probably aged and destitute herself. Yet she cast in all her living to the treasury for the support of the church and of the poor.

Grandparents must be around to help practically in the homes of their children with the raising of their grandchildren. They must joyfully give of their time, talents and remaining energy to help with the raising of the covenant family. In Bible times and in other cultures than our own, grandparents often lived with their children and their grandchildren in the same house. In these homes, by the grace of God there was care for each other, from one generation to the others. Even from a practical perspective, raising a covenant family is a daunting task. It can be wearying and exhausting to young mothers. Fathers often need to work long hours to earn enough to maintain their homes and pay for Christian school tuition. Therefore in the course of daily life in the home, many opportunities will arise for grandparents to help in practical as well as spiritual ways. In this way children will learn to honour and respect their grandparents. Grandparents have a deep sense of purpose in their lives in the days of their old age when perhaps they have retired from their full-time earthly occupations.

God-fearing grandparents must love their children and their grandchildren fervently and sincerely. They must seek to be of great influence in the lives of their children even after these children have grown up and married and have homes of their own. Grandparents can be the source of great encouragement to young mothers in that they do not forsake their duties in the home for secular careers of the world. The calling of grandparents continues even unto the day of their death. They have great influence through their tender loving embrace and sober godly example in their lives before their grandchildren.

After many years of enjoying the underserved faith and blessing  of God merited by the Lord Jesus Christ, what reason we have accumulated for a life of thankfulness. We have the solemn calling and obligation to speak of the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in our whole life from our youth to old age. By doing this, we encourage new generations and our lives will be an occasion for the praise of God and thanksgiving to Him. Listen once more to the words of one of the Psalms that speak specifically of old age and the later years of our life and pilgrimage on this earth. After the Psalmist has testified of the goodness and mercies of the Lord from the days of his youth and his strength in old age, he utters this earnest prayer: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” (Ps. 71: 18).

 

Written by: Rev. Arie Den Hartog | Issue 49

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XII): David

Although I have written about David’s youthful years, and although this column is devoted to covenant youth, I decided to write also of one incident in David’s adult life, which is of great significance for us. I refer to the sin David committed with Bathsheba and against her husband, Uriah. You can read the history in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. You ought also to read Psalm 51 that was written after Nathan the prophet came to David and exposed David’s sin; and Psalm 32 that was written after David knew that God had forgiven him.

The sin of David began when he did not go with Joab and the army of Israel to fight against Ammon. Although he was the man God had chosen to subdue Israel’s enemies and extend the borders of Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and his seed, he chose to enjoy the luxuries of life in the palace in Jerusalem. He was in fact in bed during the day because he arose from his bed in the evening (2 Sam. 11:1-2).

He put into motion a series of events that led to his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, his neighbour’s wife. When he learned that she was pregnant, he decided to hide his sin from his household and from the nation over which he ruled. He summoned Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, from the battlefield to spend a few days home in the hopes that Bathsheba’s pregnancy could be ascribed to Uriah, a prominent soldier in Israel’s army.

But this did not work, for Uriah would not leave his fellow soldiers to spend time with his wife. He refused to go home. The result was that David ordered Uriah’s death in the battle against Ammon, and this was successfully accomplished.

As is so often common with the sinner, David refused to confess his sin to himself or to God. He tells of that in Psalm 32: “While I kept guilty silence, my strength was spent in grief. Thy hand was heavy on me; my soul found no relief” (Psalter rendition of Psalm 32). This “guilty silence” continued until Nathan the prophet came to him and brought David to see his sin and confess it.

What needs emphasis here is that David was not a profligate sinner: he is said in many places in Scripture to be a man of God, a special servant of God and an unusual person who occupied a special place in God’s covenant. In fact, he was a special type of Christ and one who stood in the genealogical line of Christ. Psalm 89 says some wonderful things of what God promised David to whom would be given a son who would build God’s temple.

Scripture teaches us by David’s sin that the strongest and most important child of God is indeed prone to sin and would sin if it were not for God’s grace. He is totally depraved because he was born with a corrupt nature (vs. 5). I think we have a clue to this and to David’s recognition of this truth in Psalm 51 in which David prays, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (vs. 11). He knew that without the Spirit any sin, not matter how heinous, was within his doing.

There is another point here that is important for us. God forgave David his sin. That is true from many passages in Scripture including Psalm 32 and from many other passages throughout the Scriptures. Nevertheless, forgiveness does not mean that God simply overlooks our sins. They are forgiven because God gave His own Son to die in our place. But He does not leave us without any consequences in our lives; He tells David that although he is forgiven, the sword will not be removed from David’s house.

This is necessary because David had given the enemy occasion to slander God and the cause of God in the world. The enemy could (and did) mock Israel because their most important leader was no better than they, but only an adulterer and a murderer. For His own name’s sake God had to send affliction on David as well as on any sinner.

And so he did. Ammon raped his sister Tamar, and Absalom murdered Ammon. Absalom committed a coup d’etat against his father. Adonijah made himself king apart from David’s consent. And both Amnon and Adonijah were killed for their treason.

It is well that we remember this. The Lord our God is a merciful God and freely pardons our sins. But we shall endure the consequences of our sin in our lives. God is so merciful to us that even the “sword” which He sends into our lives He turns to our good, makes it chastisement, and uses it to prepare us for heaven. But that does not alter the fact that we suffer affliction in our lives because of our sins.

A drunkard remains a drunkard all his life, even though he may live a life of sobriety. A dope addict must live with a fried brain even though he has been delivered from this sin. Our sins reappear in our children – to our dismay. What a man sows he also reaps – even in the lives of God’s people.

But there is one more thing here that we must notice. After David’s sin, David was forgiven. There can be no doubt about that. But the fact is that after this dreadful sin, David’s effectiveness as a king was over. We read little more about him, except for his sin of numbering the people. That too is the price we pay for our sins.

Let us be ever on our guard against the temptations of Satan, who goes around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Let us know and understand that we serve a righteous and holy God who will not let sin go unpunished, who does not take sin lightly as we so often do, and who is also a God of great mercy. It is a wonder of grace that we actually do make it to heaven. The righteous are scarcely saved, Peter says. We just make it. We make it by the skin of our teeth. We stagger into heaven exhausted from a life of sin and corruption. We arrive only because of the greatness of the grace and love of our omnipotent God.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.

 

Written by: Prof Herman Hanko | Issue 49

Raising a Covenant Family

The covenant family is God’s gift to those who marry in the Lord. It exists where husband and wife are bound together in the love of Christ in the unity of faith. The covenant family is created by God through the work of regeneration in the hearts of the two so married. The covenant family begins with being serious about marrying a fellow believer with whom we are truly one in the truth of the Lord. We must avoid being overwhelmed by feelings with a pretty face or an attractive body when seeking a life partner. If we are guided mostly by sexual attraction we are in danger of joining ourselves with the wrong partner. Sober judgments must be made concerning whom we will spend the rest of our life with.

Raising and maintaining a covenant home is a calling and solemn obligation God gives to the married. This is one of the chief purposes of Christian marriage. The married are not to live only for themselves and their own worldly pleasure. They are to live serving one another and if God gives children, to raise these children in the fear of the Lord. The life of the covenant home has its source in living faith in the Lord and abiding union with Him. The covenant family serves the continuation of the church of Jesus Christ in the world and the cause of His kingdom. It therefore has a very high calling.

Raising and maintaining a covenant family in this ungodly world is a daunting task. It requires great application and the life-long devotion of the Christian husband and the Christian wife. As husbands and wives we must be partners in the work of the Lord. God in His Word has defined the role of each partner in the marriage. This order was designed by the wisdom of God to serve the welfare of marriage and the family. The husband and father is to be the head of the home. He has the responsibility to rule the home in love and maintain its godly order and discipline. The wife and mother is to be the help meet of her husband. She is to serve her husband and children in love. She is to be ‘the keeper of the home’, indicating that she has a role for which she must stay home for the great work of building her family in God’s given knowledge and wisdom.

The fact that the family of the Christian couple is called a ‘covenant home’ is very significant. Both in marriage and in the family the covenant of God Himself must be reflected. As the Holy and blessed Triune God, the three persons of the Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit live in perfect knowledge, communion   and   friendship   with each other. The truth of God’s own covenant could itself be the subject of an interesting and lengthy article to consider the wonder and beauty of this as revealed in God’s Word. But our focus now will be on the covenant home.

Our high calling in marriage is to reflect the covenant life of God. This means that we understand that the very essence of marriage as created by God is that it was intended to be a personal and intimate relationship of communion and friendship between a man and his wife. This is the heartbeat of it what will be a truly covenantal home. Without this being present marriage has lost its heart. We are still living on this sin cursed earth with its many troubles and miseries and we still have of our corrupt nature with us. Because of our sins, the above description of our families will still fall short of its beautiful and happy ideal. Nevertheless, we must constantly strive for God’s ideal for His glory and the blessedness of our marriages.

In the covenant home, sin between husband and wife must be regularly confessed before the cross of Jesus Christ. There must be sincere humble godly sorrow for the many sins that mar the beauty of our marriages. There must be repentance from these sins and sincere forgiveness offered. This is hard. It takes a lot of grace. Festering sin if left unresolved will soon destroy the heart of marriage for a time until it is again restored by the grace of God. Wounds and offenses must be healed with the balm of Jesus’ blood and righteousness. This must be done with great haste and urgency. Doing this, the covenant of God will be enriched between us as husbands and wives.

Husband and wife must be committed to life-long relationship of faithfulness and love together until they are parted by death. In special situations where God has taken one of the spouses to heaven, there can by the power of God’s grace still be a continuing covenant family. Strife and division, especially that which ends in divorce, is treachery before God. When one of the members of a broken marriage remains faithful to the Lord, He will also give grace to continue the covenant home and give grace to endure the pain of rejection and the suffering of separation.

Marriage must be a true and spiritual covenant relationship between husband and wife before children are born into the marriage. Great spiritual effort and much prayer must go into having a covenant home prepared and strong before God gives children, if He so pleases. This home must prepare the healthy spiritual environment for the receiving and nurturing of God-given covenant children. This is even more important than making a pretty cozy bed before the infant arrives.

The spiritual reality of the bond of love, fellowship and friendship that exists between the husband and wife will by the grace of God create an environment of personal warmth and protection, and security which children so urgently need. Such an environment is vital for helping children to grow up to mature responsible and stable adults. When this is there, this will be profound and obvious to all those who enter the covenant home. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised for the spiritual and psychological and social well-being of the children and the development of their personalities as children of God, and as citizens of the kingdom of Christ.

God and the Lord Jesus Christ must live by His Spirit and through His Word in the family for a home to be truly a covenant home. Without this reality, the home is not really a covenant home. Practically, this means that there must be structured family worship at regular times in the covenant home. This family worship must include the regular, daily, careful study of the Word of God. The Word of God must be applied to the lives of the members of the family in the regular course of the functioning of the family. The family must pray together and for one another. Both father and mother must be engaged in this family worship with their covenant children. The father must be the leader of this family worship. Leadership in this area is really more important than any other. Mother must teach her children the truth of God’s Word while they are sitting on her knees and embraced by her tender affection. An excellent part of regular family worship is the singing together of songs of praise and thanks to God. There is great joy in singing. Covenant children usually delight in it. The covenant home should be a place of great joy. This joy must not be the empty laughter of the world but the joy of the Lord and His salvation.

Especially while the children are still in the home, both parents must help the children with their many daily problems and struggles and disappointments. They must in the course of life in the home give wise counsel and advice for all the great issues of life. They must give encouragement in time of sorrows and trouble. The father must be careful not to be cold and distant from his children. He has the calling to lead His family. He must do this in fatherly love and sincere and hearty concern for the welfare of his growing children. Father certainly must not behave like a cruel tyrant in his home. For then he will grievously abuse his wife and children and cause them deep psychological and spiritual harm. (The grievous effects of this kind of behavior will often last a lifetime for those who experienced this abuse).

One of the greatest challenges of parenting over the years is to maintain a personal relationship with them even into adulthood, especially during the difficult teenage years. Father especially and also of course the mother must themselves be an example of godliness, holiness, reverence and humility before God. Only then can he hope to instill this same attitude in the hearts of their children. Fathers must lead their children in their daily behavior and walk. All of this requires time and sacrifice both on the part of father as well as on the part of mother.

Father must not be so busy with his own earthly career that he has very little time for the care of his children and show interest in their lives as they are growing up. Children are only with us in our homes for a very short time in their lives. Woe unto the father who is seldom home long enough to take any genuine interest in the lives of his own children. Mother must be devoted in love to the care of her children, not be busy with an independent career in the world for her own glory and satisfaction. There are very few roles in life that require more self- denial and self-sacrifice that the role of the covenant mother in the home. The complexities and business of the modern home easily crowds out true covenant living. Godly parents must carefully order their own lives so this does not happen. Sadly, it does even in too many covenant homes.

To maintain a covenant home there must be firm, consistent and loving discipline of the children. This ought not to be hastily given in the fit of anger or out of despair with the sinful behaviour of the children. The reason for the ongoing need of this is reality of the sinful nature of our covenant children with which they all were born. Through discipline children must be taught the seriousness of sin in the sight of God and the importance of holiness and obedience in all of their lives. They need to be corrected and turned from sin. They need to be positively encouraged in the way of obedience and the righteousness. Every child, even in the same home is different. God made them each unique. Some are in need of more discipline than others. Some occasionally need corporal discipline like spanking. Parents who neglect this according to the book of Proverbs do not truly love their covenant children. The crying of children should not deter the need of serious discipline at times. Though discipline is grievous at the time it is given for both parents and children, it will yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness. This is God’s promised blessing in the book of Proverbs and in Hebrews 12.

We   raise   our   covenant   family   in the midst of an ungodly world that is desperately wicked and full of temptations. The Word of God tells us that we are not to love the world nor the things of this world. We need to condemn this world and its ungodly philosophy and its ungodly life style, and its entertainment. This we must do for our children’s sake. This is urgent. The friendship of the world is according to the Word of God enmity against God and makes ongoing covenant fellowship with God impossible. Our homes and our children must be guarded from worldly influence. We must guard the books that are read, television that is watched and how computer and electronic devices are used by our children. Our families must be protected from the great evils of this world such as fornication, alcohol abuse and illicit drug use. They must also seek by the grace and Spirit of God seek to deliver our children from hearts sins such sinful pride, self-centeredness, and the covetousness and materialism of this world. Negligence in this task of raising our covenant family will greatly endanger our children for becoming worldly and joining the friendship of the world. Parents need to do all in their power to guide and protect their children in the choice of friendships and the company they go around with outside of the home.

In conclusion, let me make one more important point. God’s covenant with His people is known in Zion, in the New Testament, through our active membership in the true church of Jesus Christ. There God’s people come together   to   worship   the   covenant God of their salvation. There He dwells with them and they with Him. In His Fatherly house, He shows us His greatness and glory, His mercy and lovingkindness. We enjoy and appreciate the reality of God’s covenant with us through the preaching of the blessed gospel in Zion. God protects and keeps us as our might Lord and God from our enemies within the walls of Zion. The great blessedness of the communion of the saints is experienced in the church of Jesus Christ. Often this is the place were good and strong bonds of Christian friendship are formed. According to Psalm 128 the Lord blesses His covenant children ‘out of Zion.’ We maintain our covenant families by bringing them with us to Zion. Leaving and forsaking the true church of God in Zion will have very serious consequences for us and for them. Our children must be instructed in catechism classes in Zion to raise them to maturity in knowing and understanding the great doctrines of His Word. The goal is to prepare them to confess their faith in the midst of God’s peoples as citizens of Zion.

Let us strive with all our God-given powers to maintain this ideal for our covenant homes.

Written by: Rev. Arie Den Hartog | Issue 47

Lest We Forget (III)

A Fighting Church

The true church is a fighting church. She fights on behalf of the cause of Jesus Christ. She fights against all who would oppose Christ and His truth. She fights against all who oppose her Lover. She resists all other enticements that would draw her away from her Lover. Fighting faithfully, she enjoys the intimacy of her Lover’s affection. Fighting faithfully, she is blessed by her Lover. Fighting faithfully, she has the hope that her fighting will not be in vain at the coming again of her Saviour.

Scripture makes plain that fighting for the truth is an essential attribute of a believer. Most of Old Testament history was characterised by warfare. Already in the garden of Eden, God had established warfare as an inherent part of the Christian’s life (Gen. 3:15). Israel’s entire history was marked by continual warfare against her enemies who sought to destroy her, and Christ who was in her bosom.

The New Testament applies Israel’s warfare to the life of the believer. The Christian is called to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). He must “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). He must “put on the whole armour of God, that ye might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The confession of the apostle Paul shortly before his death, which ought to represent our own confession is this: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Lifelong fighting characterises the believer.

The Reformed confessions also teach that fighting spiritual battles is an essential characteristic of the Reformed believer. One reason why believers are called Christians is that they must with a free and good conscience “fight against sin and Satan in this life”.1

Confessing that they have many infirmities, believers “fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ”.2

At baptism, Reformed believers pray that God will equip their children so that they “manfully fight against and overcome sin, the devil and his whole dominion”.3

Reformed office bearers are especially called to fight for the cause of Christ and His truth. They are the watchmen on the walls of Zion, watching out for the enemy who seek to enter the sheepfold. Concerning these watchmen, God declares to the church: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence” (Isa. 62:6). It is quite remarkable that these watchmen are instructed not to hold their peace or to keep silent. They are to make mention of the Lord, not only in praising His name, but also in warning the people against the threats of the enemies.

Binding upon all Reformed office bearers is the Formula of Subscription, a liturgical form which “arose out of a desire to preserve unity in the church, which unity is based squarely on oneness in doctrine”.4   The Formula “requires   complete   agreement   with all the doctrines contained in the Reformed creeds”.5 By signing the Formula upon their entrance into the offices, they promise “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine (of the Reformed confessions), without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by our public preaching   or   writing”.   Moreover, they promise to “reject all errors that militate against this doctrine…and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors”.6

Given to the ministers of the Word is the charge that they must be “refuting with the Holy Scriptures all schisms and heresies which are repugnant to the pure doctrine”.7   Moreover, the office of the professors of theology is to “expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors”.8 The professors are called to caution the students “in regard to the errors and heresies of the old, but especially of the new day”.9 By their preaching, teaching, and writing, they are constantly refuting false doctrines and heresies which seek to enter the church and corrupt the sheepfold.

The elders, moreover, are to see to it that “no strange doctrine be taught”.10 They are to “take heed that purity of doctrine and godliness of life be maintained in the church of God”. Moreover, “to ward off false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, of refutation or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family- visiting”.11

Upon the young believer making confession in the church is placed the calling to fight spiritually. He swears before God and His church that he is “resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto; and to lead a new, godly life”.12 An older form for public confession of faith phrases this calling more forcefully: “Do you promise, by the grace of God, to continue steadfastly in the profession of this doctrine and to live and die in accordance therewith?”13

The young people, with all their energy and zeal, are to be rejecting heresies repugnant to, that is, offensive to the doctrines that they have been taught. They are to live and die in accordance with the doctrines that they confess.

 

Lest We Forget History

In the last ten years since the split of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS), God has used important developments here to teach us important lessons. The history of the split in the ERCS is of tremendous importance to CERC. No member, and certainly no office bearer, ought to shy away from speaking about this significant history. This history must be told, and taught to the next generation of faithful believers in CERC.

In the last ten years, by God’s grace, CERC has grown in her love for God and has been reforming according to the truth concerning marriage, the sovereignty of God’s grace, and the unconditional, sovereign covenant between God and His people in Jesus Christ.

But when a church receives not the love of the truth by allowing false doctrines into her midst, God sends her a strong delusion, so that she believes a lie (2 Thess. 2:10-11). The English Standard Version translates the verse this way: “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false”. Gradually, she believes more lies and adopts more false doctrines. In His wrath, God gives such a church which has lost her first love over to the lie, so that she is “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). What results is a future generation that grows up without the knowledge of the truth. Gradually, this church loses more important and fundamental doctrines of Scripture. Loving the truth goes hand in hand with God’s blessing, just as losing the love of the truth goes hand in hand with God’s judgment.

No church becomes false or apostate overnight, even though she embraces false doctrines. Prof. David Engelsma accurately defines a false or apostate church as “a congregation or denomination that, while claiming to be the church of Christ and displaying an appearance of being a church, has so far departed from the truth of the gospel, and thus from Christ the head of the church, that it no longer is a manifestation of the body of Christ at all”.14 He further elaborates that “a church does not become a false church at once. Usually it is a process of gradual development from bad to worse until finally the church becomes false, or fully apostate”.15 When a believer finds himself in a church that is embracing new doctrines, it is absolutely important that he searches the Word diligently and compare those doctrines with the standard of Scripture and the Reformed confessions.

When a church or denomination realises the error of her ways, there is mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation in the cross. It is hoped that through these editorials, the churches which may be enticed by the false doctrines of common grace, the well-meant gospel offer, and the conditional covenant may flee from those falsehoods and see the glorious truths of Scripture once again. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Pro. 27:6). Jesus’ promise of reconciliation and fellowship comes to the erring church today, just as it did to the erring church of the Laodiceans: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:20-1).

The warning is also sharp to all the members of CERC. Love the truth, and sell it not. Be a faithful witness to the truth, and live faithfully in it. Teach the truth to your children and their generations. Only in that way will the truth be maintained and confessed in the hearts, mouths, and lives of our people.

Our fighting will not be vain. We fight with the absolute confidence in God’s Word. We fight with the absolute confidence that no sacrifice is too great for the truth. This battle will be costly. But let us fight the good fight of faith, for henceforth there is laid up for us a crown of righteousness, not to us only but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim 4:7-8).

 

1 The Heidelberg Catechism, LD 12, Q&A 32.

2 The Belgic Confession, Article 29.

3 Prayer of Thanksgiving in the Reformed Form for the Administration of Baptism.

4 The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, (Grandville: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), 324.

5 The Confessions, 324.

6 The Formula of Subscription.

7 Form for the Ordination (or Installation) of Ministers of God’s Word.

8 Article 18, in The Church Order of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore.

9 Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology.

10 Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons.

11 Article 55, in The Church Order of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore.

12 Form for Public Confession of Faith.

13 Form for the Public Confession of Faith (http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/nethlit.htm).

14 David Engelsma, Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership, (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2010),

15 Bound to Join, 9.

 

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 43

Lest We Forget (II)

In the last editorial, I mentioned that through the ecclesiastical contacts of First Evangelical Reformed Church (FERC) in Singapore, the Arminian doctrines of common grace, the well- meant offer of the gospel, and the conditional covenant have made inroads into the Reformed churches in Singapore. In ten short years after their adoption of divorce and remarriage, these Arminian doctrines have found fertile ground in FERC.

Lest we forget, it was only ten years ago in 2007 that FERC still belonged to a faithful denomination, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). For over twenty years, the ERCS confessed the sovereignty and particularity of God’s grace in salvation. Prior to her institution in 1982, she had   received   distinctive   instruction in the Reformed faith through her contact with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).

As early as 1979, emissaries from the PRCA began instructing the young group of believers in Singapore concerning the heresy of common grace and the particularity of God’s grace. These emissaries reported the instruction that they gave:

We stressed that the grace called common is a non-entity and exists only in the minds of those who seek justification for fellowship with the world, whose good deeds are ethically ever only corrupt, while they indeed may be good in a functional sense. We emphasized the absolute antithesis established by God’s particular grace as our God calls children of light out of the children of darkness, life out of death, etc. This speech was very appreciatively received by many and they saw clearly that we are called to an antithetical walk.1

The emissaries also explained the PRCA’s rejection of the well-meant gospel offer:

We emphasized that the truth of election is not an hindrance to missions as is often alleged, but that it is instead an incentive for the guarantee that God has His people and that Christ has sheep which He must gather through the preaching of the Gospel by the Church.2

In 1982, after the young group of believers was organised into the ERCS, they expressed wholehearted agreement with the truths confessed by the PRCA:

We believe God has blessed you in a very special way and given you a measure of the truth that is largely lost to the churches of our day. We believe that God who gives you this truth so that we may learn from you, will in no wise leave you no avenue to proclaim it…We in the E.R.C.S. love the truth your churches have brought us…3

Through the ministries of two PRCA ministers working in the ERCS, Rev. Arie den Hartog and Rev. Jason Kortering, the ERCS continued to be instructed more fully in the Reformed faith. The two ministers on loan to the ERCS were instrumental in developing the young church’s understanding and conviction of the Reformed faith. Zealously,   they   preached,   taught, and gave much advice to the young church. They officiated at many weddings, instructing young couples in the biblical truth of marriage and the covenant home. They were also actively involved in the mission work of the ERCS. Their faithful ministries were used powerfully by God to develop the ERCS into a faithful Reformed church.

The Lord prospered the ERCS in those years. Many were gathered into the church out of heathendom. Marriages were aplenty. Young, godly families were characteristic of the ERCS. The denomination was entering into another phase of life, where the second generation   of   Reformed   believers was rising. In 1986, a daughter congregation, Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, was organised. At their peak, the ERCS numbered over three hundred members. The denomination was spiritually healthy and vibrant.

In 1996, based on the reports of the ERCS’ minister-on-loan, Rev. Kortering, the PRCA’s Contact Committee reported that the doctrinal distinctives concerning the preaching, God’s   covenant   and   grace   were preached:

Although the ERCS has not taken an official position on the doctrines of the covenant, common grace, and free offer, they continue to preach and teach the faithful Reformed position.4

In   1997,   Rev.   Kortering   reported that the doctrinal distinctives were understood and settled:

The doctrines of the covenant, the well- meant offer, and common grace are no longer issues in the ERCS. The ERCS have grown in their understanding and appreciation of the Reformed position in these areas. The ERCS are also being more and more identified with the PRC by the church community in Singapore.5

Giving hearty approval to the instruction given by the ministers on loan, the ERCS expressed their unity in the faith with the PRCA:

This indeed is another golden opportunity for our two churches to express our unity in the faith and support of each other in this increasingly dark and sinful world of unbelief…The Reformed faith, which we have come to know and love through the ministry of your churches, we will uphold and defend with all our might in the Far East…In our observation of you, we continue to notice, with great delight, your steadfast defense of the Reformed faith in all your publications. Your undaunted effort to clarify your fine theological position is helping the Reformed community more and more to develop in greater depth of understanding of the truth.6

A Broad-Minded Spirit

Nevertheless, trouble was already brewing in the ERCS. When emissaries from the PRCA’s contact committee visited the ERCS in 2003, they expressed some “real concerns about a ‘broad-minded’ spirit in the ERCS”. This broad-minded spirit would surface a year later in the controversy over divorce and remarriage that wrecked chaos in the denomination. This broad- minded spirit manifested itself in an eagerness to learn and embrace the doctrine of divorce and remarriage that was taught by other denominations, which doctrine had been repudiated by the two PRCA ministers during their lengthy ministries in the ERCS. Today, the broad-minded spirit is very much alive in FERC. Ministers of different theological stripes are invited to preach there.

Recounting the history of the ERCS, Rev. den Hartog astutely observes that one of the main reasons for apostasy in the ERCS was a broad-minded spirit in her leadership:

 

There were those in the ERCS who in these controversies became convinced that they did not want to continue in the direction presented by men from the PRCA. The direction was considered too narrow, and there arose a desire instead to have closer fellowship with other churches. There was a strong desire on the part of some of the leaders to be more broad minded and open in tolerating different doctrinal teachings in the church that came from several different denominations which came through new members who joined the ERCS over the years.8

A broad-minded spirit always spells the destruction of a faithful denomination, as history proves. Broad-mindedness necessarily implies a toleration of different doctrines, worldviews, and practices in the church. When a church is not narrowly on guard against the wolves that seek to enter the sheepfold, she becomes susceptible to many errors and temptations.

The only remedy for a broad-minded spirit is the narrow-mindedness of Scripture and the narrow-mindedness of the Reformed confessions. In an age which celebrates an open-mindedness to every conceivable false doctrine and immorality, being narrow-minded is not popular. It is scorned and rejected by many. Jesus Himself told us: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-4). Many indeed prefer the broad and comfortable way, but shun the narrow and difficult way of the cross, of the holy Scriptures, and of the Reformed faith.

But Jesus assures us that the narrow way is the way of life and of salvation. That narrow way is the way of walking faithfully in His Word, and rejecting all things contrary to it. That is the way that CERC embraces. We are a narrow- minded church. In the way of the narrow-mindedness of the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions, we remain a faithful Reformed church.

 

1 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1979, 71-2.

2 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1979, 71-2.

3 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1982, 82.

4 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1996, 97-8.

5 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1997, 91.

6 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 1996, 151-2.

7 Acts of Synod and Yearbook, Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2003, 93.

8 Arie den Hartog, Lessons from the Beloved Church of Jesus Christ Now Among Us, in the Salt Shakers (Aug. 2014, Issue 27), 22.

 

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 42

Lest We Forget

2017 – a special year for Reformed churches the world over.  Lest we forget, this year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. If anything stands out from the Reformation, it is the reformers’ fierce struggle for the truth. They counted God’s truth above all. They would readily lose their lives for the sake of the truth. In the words of Guido de Bres, chief author of the Belgic Confession, the persecuted believers would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to fire, rather than deny the truth of God’s Word”1. We are humbled and grateful to be the children of the Reformation, and to call its glorious heritage our own.

2017 is particularly significant for CERC, because she will celebrate her 30th anniversary. Thirty years ago in 1987, she was organised and instituted as a church. CERC’s history mirrors the history of the Reformation, a history marked by painful and bitter struggle for the truth. When she was first organised, CERC was made up of first- generation Christians. They were new believers who had just come to know the Lord. Most of them had come from pagan backgrounds, formerly worshipping idols, ancestors, and were deeply entrenched in superstition. Many suffered persecution on account of their faith. But forsaking their unbelief by the sovereign grace of God, they remained steadfast in the faith, and were organised into an instituted church.

Graciously, the Lord has preserved CERC through numerous trials. Today, CERC is growing spiritually with a group of second-generation believers. Many of them were raised in the church and have married, cleaving to those who love and confess the same truths as they do. Besides, God has added many others who were not born in covenant homes to CERC. There is doctrinal strength, and true, spiritual unity that is based upon the truth.

There is good hope for the future in CERC. The third generation arises. Plenty of covenant seed are being added to the church. God is demonstrating His gracious promise to be a God unto His people and to their seed after them. He has not cut us off in our generations. Sovereignly He maintains His covenant of grace with us and our children. He sees to it that His truth is believed, confessed, developed, and maintained in our midst. He uses false doctrines in other churches, in Singapore and elsewhere, to sharpen our understanding of His truth. Always God uses apostasy to increase a love for the truth in His people. He uses the lie in order that His truth is defended, developed, and cherished by faithful believers.

Only ten years ago, lest we forget, CERC still belonged to a denomination of Reformed churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). Ten years ago, the ERCS denomination was dissolved, and the only two member churches – First Evangelical Reformed Church (FERC) and Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC) – went their separate ways. Several years after the split, CERC reunited and became sisters with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) and their sister church, the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland (CPRC). FERC recently became a sister to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA), whose distinctive doctrine is that of a conditional covenant2.

These developments in Singapore are not only ecclesiastical in nature. They are doctrinal. Although the split ten years ago concerned the doctrine of marriage, differences then have led to differences today over the doctrine of God’s covenant, common grace, and the well-meant offer of the gospel. Ten short years was all it took to expose these differences. Through her ecclesiastical contacts, FERC has introduced the doctrines of common grace, the well- meant offer of the gospel, and the conditional covenant into the Reformed churches in Singapore.3 These are important doctrinal developments that deserve our analysis.

Through the controversy over divorce and   remarriage   that   raged   in   the ERCS, CERC was led by God to see the glorious and beautiful truth of marriage. Her members now confess the lifelong permanency of marriage, which Scripture incontrovertibly teaches in 1 Cor. 7:39 and Rom. 7:2-3. With humble boldness we reject, repudiate, and condemn the false doctrine of divorce and remarriage, which doctrine permits the “innocent party” of a lawful divorce to remarry. This doctrine not only violates the clear teaching of Scripture, but also makes marriage a conditional relationship, a relationship dependent on the faithfulness of a spouse. If a spouse remains faithful in the marriage, then the marriage bond remains intact. But if a spouse becomes unfaithful and commits adultery, then the “innocent party” may divorce and remarry. This weak view of marriage destroys what God has joined together, and disobeys what He has commanded not to be put asunder (Matt. 19:6). This conditional view of marriage ultimately denies the power and efficacy of God’s grace to maintain what He has established.

CERC will not permit divorce and remarriage. God will not allow it.

Unashamedly we confess that marriage is an unconditional relationship of love and friendship. Husband and wife love each other unconditionally in marriage. They cleave to each other for life because God has made them one flesh in marriage (Gen. 2:24). At no time is their marriage conditioned on the faithfulness of either spouse. Where there is sin against each other, even the grievous sin of adultery, there is forgiveness in the cross. In the comforting words of the Reformed Form for the Confirmation of Marriage which repudiates divorce and remarriage, married couples have the “certain assurance” of the grace of God in all their afflictions.4 They do not, and may not, take it upon themselves to break up their marriage. God’s grace gives them the “certain assurance” that He will uphold them in all their trials and afflictions. This is the comfort of the gospel of grace. Believing this comforting gospel, faithful believers are assured that God’s grace enables them to assist each other faithfully in “all things that belong to this life and a better”. Believing this faithful promise of God, married believers vow “never to forsake” the other, and to live holily in marriage as long as they both shall live.

Behind the marvellous truth of marriage’s lifelong permanency stands God’s everlasting covenant of grace. God’s covenant is His bond of marriage- friendship with His elect people in Jesus Christ. That covenant is described in Scripture in terms of a marriage (Jer. 3, Ezek. 16, Eph. 5:22-33). Jehovah is married to His beloved Bride, the Church. Faithfully, He maintains His marriage to her, even though His wife sins against Him so grievously, and ever so often. He remains married to her, for theirs is an unconditional relationship of love and friendship.

CERC believes, confesses, and preaches the unconditional character of God’s covenant. That God’s covenant is unconditional means that it is not dependent on man’s will for its origin, establishment, or maintenance. God is absolutely sovereign in establishing and   maintaining   His   covenant.   By His sovereign decree of election He chose a people for Himself, bringing them into His covenant in time and in history by the preaching of the gospel. He maintains His covenant with them sovereignly, and perfects it in the new heavens and earth, where His people will dwell with Him in perfect bliss. Never is God dependent on the will of sinful man for the establishment or maintenance of His covenant. The covenant is His.

Today, after ten short years, the evil root behind the false doctrine of divorce and remarriage is exposed. What the last ten years proved beyond any doubt is this: the doctrine of marriage is inseparable from the doctrine of God’s covenant. Touch the doctrine of marriage, and the doctrine of the covenant will necessarily be affected. So close, so intimate is the relationship between the earthly and the heavenly marriage, that to spoil or to exalt the one would impact the other. If marriage is conditional, so is God’s covenant. If marriage depends on the faithfulness of a spouse, so does the covenant depend on the faithfulness of man. Conversely, if marriage is unconditional, so is God’s covenant. If marriage does not depend on the faithfulness of a spouse, neither does God’s covenant depend on the faithfulness of His people.

Today, those who stood for the truth in the controversy are vindicated. History has vindicated them. History is making it clear that the split ten years ago was a divide between the truth and the lie. History is making it clear that God’s blessings abide with those who are faithful to His truth, and that those who reject His truth further apostatize from the faith through false doctrines and heresies.

Ten years have passed, and many of the younger generation in CERC do not know the bitter struggle for the truth only ten years ago. Lest we forget our history, it is imperative that the church continues to instruct the younger generation what happened ten years ago. Lest our children forget their parents’ and grandparents’ bitter struggle for the truth, we must teach our covenant seed to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to their forefathers. To those who find themselves in churches where false doctrines have made inroads, search the scriptures! Return to the old paths; remember your first love! The Lord will confess those who overcome, and clothe them in white garments (Rev. 3:5).

The church of Jesus Christ is always a militant church, so long as she is in the midst of this world. Like the reformers of old who counted all things but loss for the sake of the truth, it is our high calling to teach our children to battle for the truth in these last days. The words of Rev. Herman Hoeksema, who warned those who would shy away from controversy in the battle for the truth, is fitting: “Let those who are shy of controversy remember that in this world it is impossible to maintain the truth unless one is ready to defend it against the gainsayers”.5

 

1 The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005, 22.

2 Acts of the 2015 Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, Baldivis, 2015, 36-7. Taken from http://synod.frca.org.au/2015/acts/Acts_Of_FRCA_2015_Synod.pdf. See also The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers by David Engelsma. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2005.

3 See the speech “What is the Grace of God” by Maurice Roberts. (http://ferc.org.sg/OtherRecordings.aspx). For Wes Brendenhof ’s conditional covenant theology, see “I Will Be Your God” – An Easy Introduction to the Covenant of Grace” by Wes Brendenhof (Inter League Publication Board, 2015).

⁴ The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, 306-10.

⁵ Hoeksema, Herman. God’s Goodness Always Particular. 2nd Ed. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2015. EPub Edition.

 

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 41

Our Children’s Education (IX)

Covenant education for Covenant seed is faithfulness to Jehovah’s Covenant. Leaving our children to fend for themselves in the ungodly education of public schools is contrary to all the precepts of the Covenant. We rob our children of their Covenant privileges when we give them an ungodly education instead of a Covenant one.

It is sheer folly to expect godly, spiritually mature men and women to be raised under an ungodly education. As a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit, so an ungodly education cannot produce godly children.

Jehovah’s calling for Covenant parents is not to raise up the political and business leaders of this world. It is to raise up “Davids”, “Daniels”, and “Pauls” for the church of Jesus Christ; it is to rear mothers in Israel.

Educating our children carefully in the ways of the Covenant will serve an important purpose. We will raise a generation that knows their Reformed faith intimately; by God’s grace, they will love it, confess it, maintain it, defend it, live by it, and even die for it. We will raise a generation who will be jealous for their precious Reformed heritage because they have a God who is jealous of His glory. We will raise a generation whose chief end in life is the glory of their God.

It is extremely crucial for parents in CERC to understand and be convinced of Covenant education. Most of our second generation members have undergone the public education process and know of its evil consequences. If the Reformed faith is to survive and be developed in all its splendour and beauty, the next generation must not be bystanders in their children’s Covenant education.

If CERC pursues the path of Covenant education for her young (using whatever means the Lord provides us), we will be very much alone. Most churches in Singapore have carelessly given their Covenant seed over to the public schools and are suffering its devastating consequences. We must not be afraid to be alone, for God’s people always constitute a very small remnant.

 

I have no doubt that Covenant education in Singapore is a difficult path that will involve much sacrifice. It is, nevertheless, the path that Scripture directs for us as Covenant parents. God assures us that He will bless us in the way of obedience.

God has provided the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) as an example for us. There is nothing cultural about the PRC’s insistence on providing a Covenant education for her children. It is Biblical. It is confessional. It is Reformed.

For reformation to take place in the church of Jesus Christ, we must give serious consideration to the education our Covenant children receive and make significant effort to be greatly involved in it. The Christian education of our children is not a matter of choice. It is our Covenant duty. It is our Covenant privilege.

It is a Covenant necessity.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 39