A Pilgrim’s Path: The Steps of a Good Man (I)

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.” Psalm 37:23

Pilgrims in this World

It is said in worldly wisdom that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. This is interesting because it shows that the sages and wise men of the world know two important things about this life. First, there is a common end or goal; and second, there is a way or journey that one takes en route to his end. In this very broad sense, everyone who lives is travelling on a path—much like a pilgrim.

But, what defines a pilgrim from just anyone who is travelling? The origins of the word “pilgrim” gives us a good idea; in its origins, the word has meaning related to being from another country, or being a foreigner. The philosophy of the worldly wise is to truly live by being at home and as one with the world. One who makes himself or herself at home in this world cannot be called a pilgrim. A pilgrim is someone who is acutely aware that his surroundings are strange, and who earnestly looks for a dwelling-place of permanence, one whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

If you were to travel to another country—imagine a place you have never been to before—you will definitely feel that you are a stranger and foreigner there. You would not know how to get around, you would not know which places were safe or dangerous, and if you wanted to ask for directions or information, you might not even know how to speak their language! But, Christian pilgrims are yet something more than that. We are strangers not because of physical reasons like we are from another country, or because we speak another language; we are strangers because of a great spiritual difference between us and those of the world.

This difference is vast, as different as life and death—yes, spiritual life and spiritual death. Because we have been saved from our sin and misery through the Cross and quickened by the life of our resurrected Lord, we are spiritually alive people who live in the midst of a dark and sinful world. Immediately, we realise that the world is strange—just as they would consider us strange. Our spiritual eyes are opened to the dangers and vicious traps that lie in wait to cause our downfall (1 Peter 5:8). We find it difficult to understand the language and conversation of the world—just as they struggle to understand us and consider our lives foolish (John 15:18-20).

But yet, we are good pilgrims, only because we have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood and are covered by the righteousness purchased for us at the Cross of Christ. We are saved by grace alone, and not because of any good in us. We do not embark on this pilgrimage because we consider ourselves holy and worthy enough for this journey. No, we embark on this journey because we are thankful pilgrims who have been given new lives, and so we willingly obey our Lord who has called and given us the privilege to be pilgrims and strangers in this world (Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3, Ephesians 2:1-7).

Finally, a good pilgrim differs from any other traveller because the way he takes is one of struggle and difficulty. There is always another path that seems so much easier—both physically and spiritually—in so many aspects of a pilgrim’s life, but yet he chooses to walk the strait and narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). It is foolishness to the world that we should carry the burden of sin on our backs as we daily flee to the Cross with weary footsteps and faltering breaths (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is foolishness that we should forgo the pleasures of sin and instead choose to suffer affliction with the people of God (Hebrews 11:25). It is foolishness to obey and serve the true and living God when the whole world is walking merrily in the opposite direction of godlessness and man-worship.

Are you a good man on a journey? Are you a pilgrim in this world?

Our Sovereign God

Those who journey with a purpose will often try to plan where they would like to be and how they should get there. They will direct their life according to their plans and do all in their power to accomplish their goals. However, the Bible says, “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). This means that no matter how hard he tries, man will never be the one who determines what happens in each step of his life. Even if life appears smooth sailing for a season, he will still be frustrated and troubled because he cannot rest in a sovereign Being who loves him and works all things out for his ultimate good. When the storms of life come upon him, everything comes crashing down because he realises that he is helpless and there is no comfort around him.

In stark contrast, though the journey of a pilgrim in this world is a treacherous one, he can be at peace because God’s Word says that his steps are ordered by the LORD. What wonderful knowledge is this that lets us rest no matter what troubles are around?

Our journey in life is full of ups and downs, horizon after horizon, and paths of all different kinds. It would be easy to forget what a step means in such a journey. When you walked out of your house this morning, do you remember what the 35th step was like? Of course not, we could not even be bothered about such a small detail; and so how amazing it is when God tells us that he is concerned with each and every step of our journey! Every single detail of our lives comes to pass by the hand of our almighty Father (Luke 12:7) and so we never have to question if something happened by chance, or whether it happened because God had overlooked something and things spun out of control—never.

Jehovah’s sovereignty is also shown in the order of our steps. Sometimes, when things do not go according to plan, we may not question “Why?” but instead, we question “Why now?” We had a plan in our heads which we loved so much, but the sequence of things went haywire and we are left in distress. The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD. Our sovereign God does not just plan things that will happen in our lives, He plans and carries out His will down to the exact timing of every single event—and step—in our lives. You may have to take an extra year to complete your studies; you may have to wait years for the right person to come along, and then some more for a little one to follow; your father may have been brought home while you were little. Remember, with your loving Jehovah God, nothing happens a moment too soon, and nothing a moment too late. Every step takes place at the right and perfect time whether we realise it yet or not. My life in all its perfect plan, was ordered ere my days began (taken from Psalter 383, versification of Psalm 139).

That our steps are “ordered” also has a very important meaning that holds further comfort for a pilgrim. Our steps are ordered in the sense of being commanded and established with power and authority. A little child can plan his own birthday party to the minutest detail   with   a   timetable   of   events down to each minute, but it would be meaningless if he could not book the venue because he was too young or he could not order a birthday cake because he had no money. The LORD who plans the way of a pilgrim—down to the steps he should take—is the One whose Word created heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8); and He is also the One whose will is undeniable. The perfect plan of our lives as pilgrims is commanded and established in its exact detail by our sovereign God, and this holds infinite comfort for us pilgrims who love this God (Romans 8:28).

His Delight, Our Comfort

To understand anything about delight and any resulting comfort in this verse, we must first of all understand that the LORD delights in His own way. Knowing who He is as sovereign Creator of all things, it necessitates that everything He plans must first of all serve His glory and good pleasure. What is the greatest work of God in your life? To give you the best academic results in your school? Or, to give you the highest paying job possible? Or, to make you live to a ripe old age? No, God’s greatest work in us as pilgrims is the work of salvation that He is bringing to pass in our lives.

Specifically, He orders all our steps so that we may be sanctified daily as we journey our way to heaven. God showed His pleasure and acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by giving Jesus a seat at His right hand. This delight extends to His work and way of sanctification in our lives. This is comforting to us as pilgrims because we are reminded that we are in Christ, and so God as long as God delights in the work of His Son, we will always be the objects of God’s delight and concern (Hebrews 10).

It follows, then, that God delights in the way of a pilgrim who walks in His will and way. In God’s plan, a pilgrim may sometimes wander down paths of danger and temptation. But if such a pilgrim is one who belongs to Him, then he will always be found and returned to the right path, to the great delight of the LORD (Luke 15:20-24). By God’s grace, pilgrims will continue to walk in the fear of the LORD, and though the way might be difficult and full of trials, they maintain their hope in His mercy. God takes pleasure in the way of such pilgrims, and this knowledge gives added strength and encouragement to them (Psalm 147:11).

A pilgrim’s comfort is that he can rest in God’s work and delight in him. These are unmovable anchors in his life that will remain no matter how the winds and waves may rage (Psalm 121:3). Just like Paul and Silas did, a pilgrim in the worst of circumstances can pray in faith and sing joyful praises unto God (Acts 16:25). And so he, in turn, delights in the way and will of God in His life. He is happy with his lot in life, and continually enjoys sweet communion with the God of his salvation who he knows delights in him first.

Are we happy pilgrims? (to be continued…)

Written by: Paul Liu | Issue 39

24th Church Anniversary Thanksgiving

Time flies. Most of my memories of my life in church as a little kid have long since faded away over the years. Yep! I was born and raised in my church (CERC) and I am very grateful for that. (‘Born’ as in I attended church since I was a baby, definitely not ‘coming out of my mother’s womb’) As such, I have the privilege of receiving the benefits of my spiritual mother, CERC, when I was young. I am very thankful to God for the faithful preaching of God’s word every Sunday throughout our church history. We are all constantly being nourished and strengthened in our faith by this means of grace in which we all need and in which God commands. 2 Timothy 4:2 says “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.” And in Hebrews 4:12, we find, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word of God is powerful. It pierces into our hearts.

Although I cannot recall much of the time when I was a child as my brain was still undergoing serious development, some memories are hard to forget, no matter how much you want to, especially embarrassing moments. At that time, during my childhood days, our church was located at Tessensohn Road. I remember once, after a birthday celebration, we were asked to pass down cut-up pieces of cake. I spotted a huge strawberry in a slice of cake and could not resist a few nibbles. Feeling timid and not knowing what to do next after an adult told me to pass it down, I followed and passed it down. Suddenly, a girl cried out, “How come there are so many marks on my strawberry!” I kept quiet, but my face turned red.

I guess, without realizing it then, this embarrassing moment has become a pleasant memory where I laugh and think to myself: I could have done better. In a way, God was teaching me a little lesson about greed, bravery, and honesty.

We can all see God’s guiding hand at some points in our lives, and feel God’s presence in one way or another. Especially so in CERC, where we worship God, adore Him, sing praises to Him and where He alone is glorified. I am thankful to God for our pastors, elders, deacons and Sunday school teachers who look after God’s people, both spiritually and physically, and ensure that the sound doctrine of God’s Word, which is our reformed faith, is carefully and boldly taught. One example is the comforting truth of God’s Sovereignty, where God is in absolute control over all things and that everything will work together for our good even though we may not understand why we must go through a certain pain or difficulty. Matthew 10:29-30 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” And in the well known verse, Romans 8:28, we read, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

I am also thankful for everyone in the church – visitors, members, children and friends alike. I am thankful for their love   towards   one   another   in   Christ, their prayers for one another and their forgiving of one another. I am thankful for their zeal in serving God in CERC and in the various ministries. It is because of God’s sovereign love and grace for us that we are able to do all these and more.

Written by: Marcus Boon | Issue 10

Letters to a Young Believer

God’s Sovereignty in Hell

QN:

Dear Prof,

Greetings in His precious Name. Prof, I read in Psalm 139:8, a verse which speaks of God being present, even in hell. Is God also going to be present in hell and have sovereign rule in hell as well?

Thank you.

ANS:

Dear brother,

The answer to your question is this.

First, it is possible that the reference here is to the grave and the state of the dead. The OT uses the word sheol, which means either the place of everlasting punishment or the place of the dead: that is, the place of everlasting suffering, or the grave and the state of the soul existing without the body (either in heaven or in hell). That is the word used in Ps.139:8. The NT uses two words: hades which is the place of the dead and the so-called intermediate state, and gehenna, which is hell, the place of everlasting punishment.

If the meaning is hell itself, then the text reminds us that God is present even in hell. He is not present with His favor and love, but with His anger and wrath. He is present because by His providence He upholds the wicked and gives them their existence all the days of their life and on into hell, where they are everlastingly tormented. If the meaning is “the place of the dead,” then the idea is that death itself is God’s punishment for sin and that even in that disembodied state, God still upholds us and gives us our existence. This is true of the wicked and the righteous.

I think that probably the latter meaning is the meaning in Psalm 139:8.

Greetings and blessings, Prof

***

 

Is the KJV Bible Infallible?

QN:

Dear Prof,

Do you think there are some parts of the KJV which stand to be corrected? Would those corrections enable us to better understand the Word? Which translations would you recommend me to read, so that I am able to have a better understanding?

Thank you.

ANS:

Dear brother,

 

There are only a very few places where the translators of the KJV could have done a better job, in my opinion. But these places are not only very few in number, they are places where the difference in translation makes no difference of any significance in the meaning, and surely does not touch on a doctrinal truth.

I was asked to speak on Bible translations a while ago and I made an extensive study of the KJV as compared to other versions, along with a detailed study of how the translators of the KJV actually worked. I was completely persuaded that the KJV is far and away the most accurate translation, that it is written in a timeless English that is still understandable today (apart from a few words, the meaning of which can be found in any good dictionary and in many Bibles), is the easiest by far to memorize, and is written in a magnificent rhythm that gives it a lasting beauty, dignity and sanctity. The whole project borders on the miraculous. You can read of it yourself in a pamphlet that I wrote on the subject and which is available on the PRC website. There is a book entitled “God’s Secretaries” which is very much a book worth reading.

If you want another translation that you could use, I would suggest you take a look at the Revised Standard Bible. The trouble is that people cannot judge the accuracy of a translation, and that is why I insist that the KJV is the most accurate of any translation in existence. The proliferation of translations is doing untold harm to the church. No one knows any more what the Word of God says, because the translations differ so much.

Greetings and blessings, Prof

Issue 10

Free Willism: Another Gospel

There is one gospel.

This gospel is the message of salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone. “Grace alone” means that God saves sinners. God saves sinners according   to His own attitude of favour (grace) toward those sinners whom He saves. God saves sinners by His own quickening power (grace) in the hearts of those whom He wills to save. “Grace alone” means that grace is without supplement, condition, or assistance.

“Grace alone” means that the salvation   of   sinners   does   not depend on, is not due to, and is not accomplished by the worth, will, or work of those sinners. Not at all! Not any aspect of salvation! “Grace alone” means that man does not save himself.

This is why the gospel is good news. This is why the gospel exalts God. This is also why the gospel is offensive to men.

Offended by grace – free, sovereign, particular, almighty grace –   men change God’s gospel, creating other gospels more to their liking. There are many of them. All have one thing in common: they are gospels of man.

One such gospel is free-willism. This is the message that God’s salvation of the sinner depends upon the activity of the sinner’s will. The sinner’s will is free, that is, it is able to choose for God as well as against Him. By the free, sovereign activity of his will, the sinner makes God’s willingness (grace) to save him effectual.

By this act of his will, the sinner allows God’s quickening power (grace) to have its way with him. The salvation proclaimed by the gospel of free- willism is man’s salvation of himself by choosing God, opening up his heart to let Jesus in, making a decision for Christ, accepting the offer made well-meaningly to all, and fulfilling the prerequisite for regeneration and conversion.

This gospel is wildly popular.

But it is “another” gospel. It is “another gospel” precisely   in the sense in which the apostle speaks of “another gospel” in Galatians 1:6-9. It is a gospel that adds a work of man to the work of God in Jesus Christ. It is a message that makes the grace of God dependent upon some act of man. It is a message that calls the sinner to cooperate with God in Christ. It is a message that rejects “grace alone” for “grace and” (or, “grace but”). The other gospel in the Galatian churches was “grace and human circumcision” Free-willism is the gospel of “grace and human will.”

As “another gospel,” free-willism is not an acceptable, though somewhat deficient, version of the gospel, but a perversion of the one gospel. It is not an encouraging, though undeveloped, beginning of the gospel, out of which the full gospel can be expected to grow, but an enemy of the one gospel that nurses a murderous hatred toward the one gospel and those who confess it.

Free-willism is no gospel. It is not the good news that the gracious God conceived in eternity and revealed in time in Jesus Christ. It is not the faith of the Bible. Free-willism sets forth another way of salvation than the way of faith in Christ: the decision decision for Christ by the dead sinner.

It proclaims   another saviour than Jesus Christ:   the   willing sinner. It worships another god than the God of the one gospel: a nice, well- intentioned, loving, helpless, bumbling deity, who is perfectly, willing to share the glory of salvation with every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Free-willism denies the cross.   The cross redeemed no one. The cross accomplished nothing.   The cross was not substitutionary satisfaction of the justice of God regarding those for whom Christ died. Many for whom Christ died perish in hell. Those who are saved by the cross are saved, not because of their decision for Christ, their acceptance of the well-meant offer, their act of believing.

This condemnation of free-willism is not the private opinion of the author of this article. Much less is it the eccentric stand of the denomination of churches in which he is a minister.

That free-willism is another gospel, which is no gospel, is the official confession, and urgent testimony, of the Reformed churches in the world. They have voiced   their confession, once for all time, in the Canons of Dordt. Free-willism, which at that time took form in the heresy of Arminianism, the Reformed churches have damned as “the Pelagian error out of hell.” Many Reformed   churches require all their officebearers to subscribe this creed. Subscription explicitly expresses that the one subscribing agrees with Dordt’s condemnation of free-willism. It binds the subscriber “to refute and contradict” this false teaching and “to exert (himself) in keeping the Church free from such errors.”

Presbyterians who affirm commitment to the system of doctrine set down in the Westminster Standards likewise express condemnation of free-willism as another gospel. For the system of doctrine set down in the confession and catechisms of Westminster is the gospel of salvation by grace alone, to which free-willism is diametrically opposite. God judges free-willism as another gospel in His inspired, clear, and   authoritative Word. He does this in every passage that teaches salvation by His own gracious will and work. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that (faith) not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).

God exposes free-willism by name as one of the leading forms of the false gospel that always threatens to supplant the one gospel: “So then it (salvation) is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Salvation is not of man’s will. Man’s will and willing have nothing to do with the saving of elect sinners. They are excluded as much as is man’s running, or working. But the teaching that salvation is at least partly’ a matter of man’s will is as much an enemy of the gospel of salvation by God’s mercy alone as is the teaching that   man’s own works cooperate in salvation. The one gospel is the message that salvation is alone of God who shows mercy.

Against the one gospel stand two other gospels, which are no gospels: salvation by man’s willing, and salvation   by man’s working. Both agree that man saves himself, at least in part.

To teach that salvation depends on, or is due to, or is made effectual by man’s choosing Christ, or opening his heart   to let Christ come   in, or accepting an offer made well- meaninly to all, or fulfilling a condition in order then to be born against and converted is the lie. It is not merely a lie. It is the lie. In comparison with this gross blasphemy, this monstrous robbery of God of His glory in the work of salvation, women in church office is a small sin. Free-willism is a real threat today to the true churches of Christ. Free-willism has   always been the heart of the false church that is Rome. Luther taught us this in his On the Bondage of the Will. Now free-willism has infiltrated and corrupted much of Protestantism. Many of the self-styled “evangelical” churches and preachers are free- willist.   These   are   the   churches and churchmen represented by the magazine Christianity Today. These are the preachers who dominate religious radio and television. This is the reason why Billy Graham and his associates cooperate with the Roman Catholic clergy in their “evangelical” endeavours. This is the reason why prominent Protestant “evangelicals” are   defecting   to   Rome.   This is the reason for the recent union of “evangelicals”‘ and Roman Catholics. The “evangelicals” have the same gospel that Rome has: man   saves man by his free-will.

The threat is graver. There are toleration of, compromise with, and even approval of free-willism within the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Men who profess Calvinism (a mere identifying label of the gospel that God saves men-elect men-by sovereign grace alone) and who are esteemed as Calvinists speak well of, and defend, free-willism as gospel. Arminian free- willism is not the best and highest form of the gospel. It definitely leaves something to be desired. It could be wished that it would shake off certain of its weaknesses. But it is, for .a11 this, gospel. It is the one gospel. James I. Packer, who, though not ecclesiastically   Presbyterian or Reformed himself, nevertheless has tremendous influence on Presbyterian and Reformed churches and Christians, compromises with Wesleyian free-willism in an article that is bearing bitter fruit in Reformed circles. Packer is intent on defending the gospel preached by John Wesley- Wesley, who blasphemed God’s eternal predestination (source and foundation of the gospel of grace) as few enemies of grace have ever done.

Packer speaks of “evangelical Arminianism.” He claims that “Wesley’s teaching included so much Reformation truth.” Packer diagnoses Arminianism, that is, the gospel of free-willism, as “an impoverishing reaction from it (Reformation teaching), involving a partial denial of the biblical faith in the God of all grace. The lapse is less serious in some cases …” “Calvinists should therefore approach professed Arminians as brother evangelicals trapped in weakening theological mistakes, and seek to help them to a better mind” (“Arminianisms,” in The Manifold Grace of God, Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, 1968).

Free-willism is not “another gospel.” The condemnation of Dordt does not apply to this brand of free-willism. The Presbyterian theologian John M. Frame tolerates, if he does not approve, free-willism in his recent work on C. Van Til: There is a great gulf between Christianity and unbelief…. Is there also a “great gulf” between Reformed Christians and non-Reformed Christians . . . ? Arminianism . . . (is) erroneous in some measure, I would say, but (it has) much in common with the Reformed faith at the deepest level. Thus, we should not criticize (it) in the same terms that we use to criticize unbelief…. I am confident that Reformed believers are, in general, of one heart with their Arminian brothers and sisters (Cornelius Van Til, P&R, 1995, pp.   211,212). Free-willism is not “another gospel.” Dordt was wrong in its condemnation of free- willism.

The acceptance of free-willism within the nominally Reformed   churches is evident from the murderous opposition on the part of these churches to churches and ministers that condemn free-willism as soul- destroying, God-dishonouring heresy. The “Conclusion” of the Canons of Dordt indicates the enraged slander of the Reformed churches by the free- willists at the time of the synod of Dordt. Today, all these slanders are wrapped up in one epithet, and hurled at the churches that are faithful to Dordt: “hyper-calvinist!”

There are ministers who are being killed all the day long by nominal Calvinists for no other offense than that they preach the gospel of grace in such a way that they expose and condemn free-willism as the lie.

As might be expected from the expressions of tolerance for free- willism and from the rage at those who dare to condemn free-willism, the error itself now corrupts the confession and preaching of many Presbyterian and Reformed churches. Wherever the doctrine of a love of God in the gospel for all me and a desire of God in the preaching of the gospel   to save all men is accepted and defended, there free-willism has established its stronghold. In time, the entire system of the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace alone will be systematically destroyed.

And the end will be sheer theological modernism.

In his Crossed Fingers, reviewed in this issue of the Standard Bearer, Gary North demonstrates that the apostasy of the Northern Presbyterian Church began   with the   toleration of Arminianism. The history of the Christian Reformed Church provides the same terrible lesson. Herman Bavinck gave the warning long ago when he wrote, “Remonstrantism (Arminianism) paved the way for rationalism” (The Doctrine of God, Eerdmans, 1951, p 366). Reformed churches must preach and teach salvation by sovereign grace alone. As they do, they must condemn free- willism.

Reformed Christians must confess salvation by sovereign grace alone. As they do, they must condemn free- willism.

This stand will preserve us, as Reformed churches and as Reformed Christians, in the dangerous times in which we live and are called to glorify God by a sound confession and an obedient walk. It will keep us as churches out of ungodly, destructive ecumenical alliances. We have no unity with free-willist Rome.

We have no unity with free-willist “evangelical” Protestantism. We have no unity with compromising Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

It will keep the Reformed Christian out of such a movement as Promise Keepers.   The Reformed   Christian may not subject himself to free- willist preaching. He may not worship with those who claim to have saved themselves by their free will. He may not pretend spiritual oneness with those who hold “another gospel.” He may not promise to help break down the denominational barriers between Calvinist and Arminian churches. God forbid!

It will keep the Reformed Christian out of interdenominational Bible studies. How can a Reformed Christian tolerate study of the Word of God that professes to be neutral and non-committal regarding the doctrinal difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, that is, between the one gospel and “another gospel”? How can a Reformed Christian participate in a Bible study that gives equal time to free-willism and sovereign grace? How can a Reformed Christian be involved in a Bible study that does not defend salvation by grace alone and condemn free-willism?

The good and right stand for grace and against free-will must govern our church membership, our Iively church membership.

Where is sovereign grace faithfully and uncompromisingly preached and defended, with an accompanying condemnation of free-will?

There, and nowhere else, every child of God belongs, come what may.

There, and nowhere else, I belong, with my family, come what may.

For there, and nowhere else, is the one gospel.

Written by: Prof. David Engelsma | Issue 7

Review of Prof’s Talk on Missions

On 7 Dec 2010, Prof Hanko gave a talk on missions, the last talk of the “What the Bible Says” series. There were 3 themes in his talk relating to missions:

1) the Sovereignty of God;

2) the church’s responsibility;

3) the missionary’s responsibility.

First, Prof set the facts right on ‘church planting’, the original name of the talk. It is a modern term, not found anywhere in scripture and does not express the idea of missions. It emphasises what man does, having the idea that just about anybody can ‘plant churches’, rather than God’s almighty sovereignty in missions.

God’s sovereignty in missions can be seen in how God alone knows the elect and where they are, and in the ways God brings His elect the gospel. Scriptural proof is found in Isaiah 55: 11 and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. The gospel never returns to God void; it always leads to the salvation of His people but also the hardening of the hearts of the reprobate. It is a double edged sword; a savour of life unto life for some but unto others, a savour of death unto death. In fact, mission work is the title of the book of the history of the world, and not a footnote as one author disdainfully relegated it to.

Being assured of God’s sovereignty, what of the church’s responsibility? Far from taking the back seat and letting God (and a missionary in some foreign land) do all the work, the church has a calling to fulfil. Salvation of the church is in the line of continued generations, due to the covenant God established with Abraham in Genesis 17:7. Therefore, the mission calling of the church begins with the local congregation. It is wrong to have a church wrapped up in outward missions and have covenant children grow up spiritual imbeciles. Instead, as with Christ’s instruction to Peter after His resurrection, it is the church’s responsibility to “Feed my lambs!” John 21: 15. This is done through the official ministry of the church – preaching. Prof emphasised the importance of catechism teaching.

Written by: Christine Ong | Issue 7

Introduction to TULIP

Over the past year, Covenant Keepers (CK) has been learning about the Five Points of Calvinism. It can be said that this doctrine is the dividing line between the reformed and the non-reformed and thus it is important that the young people of the church are taught this doctrine from young and maintain the reformed heritage that has always upheld the truth of God’s effectual grace and that all things are to the glory of God alone.

The Five Points of Calvinism is a body of doctrines concerning Soteriology, or “Salvation” with its emphasis on the sovereign good pleasure and working of God in choosing and saving certain people unto salvation as well as man’s utter helplessness and wickedness. It is identified by namely, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints; also known as TULIP. Each individual aspect will be discussed more thoroughly in the coming issues but for now, an overview will suffice and such would be the scope of this article.

The Five Points and God’s Attributes

Those who think little of this truth or any other truths for the matter would usually think that belief over this doctrine ought not to disrupt the “unity” among professing Christians. However, this doctrine is crucial because it concerns the attributes of God. Every work of God comes forth from who He is or i.e., His attributes. How much more important is this truth since it involves the work of salvation itself? Since we know God by His attributes, thus, if a person denies this doctrine of salvation, the god he worships differs from the one true God whom we reformed believers worship and is nothing but an idol made up by the fancy of men’s carnal heart.

The Sovereignty of God

Underlying this doctrine is the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God begins with God being the decider of good and evil, of love and hate, of what exists and what does not, etc. In all things, He decides and it originates from His good pleasure. This is only be tting as He alone is king and ruler of all creation. Being the creator, does He not have the right to decide?

Regarding salvation, He alone, in His eternal counsel, decides who He will save and leaves the rest in their sins to their own condemnation. Using the language of the Bible itself, “Behold the goodness and severity of God…” (Rom 11:22)

While Paul could have used all sorts of soothing, nice-sounding words to soften the reality of God’s sovereignty in salvation, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he was telling the Romans to accept it for He is God and has every right to do so. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?

Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Rom 9:20-21)

Though this reality is frightening and ought to strike fear in every person, yet this truly is good news to the child of God who in all things seek first the glory of God and is in every way God-centred (cf The Five points of Calvinism and Good News).

The Love and Zeal of God

“O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” – Ps 107:1

Those who deny this doctrine of salvation must necessarily deny the everlasting virtue of the love and mercy of God. For they have to certainly claim, after having claimed that God loved everyone but condemns those who refuse to believe to hell, that the love of God ends for those people because of their unbelief. That is certainly untrue of the love of God. Alternatively, there are also those who claim that God only begins loving a person when they exercise faith to believe in Christ. That is untrue too. To those whom God has set His love on, he loves them to the very end (Jn 13:1). I.e., either God has loved a person and will love him or her to the end, or He has never loved that person.

Many would like to think that love is but a sentimental feeling and think that to be true of God. “O how God would love to save you and has done everything he can but he is waiting for you to choose him.” Truth is, God is zealous for those He loves and His love is a working love that is real and will de nitely bring salvation to those whom He loves. “For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.” (2 Kings 19:31) and “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Mat 1:21)

[These are just a few examples of the attributes involved and other attributes which are not discussed includes the omnipotence, omniscience of God etc. which may be discussed in the later articles]

The Five Points to the Glory of God Alone

God is a being of reason and thus everything that He does is for the highest reason possible — that is, Himself and His glory. TULIP teaches man’s utter ruin in sin, and helplessness regarding his salvation that not even his will would wish that he be saved in Christ (total depravity) while teaching also, that God certainly saves those whom He for His good pleasure and glory has chosen before the foundation of the world was laid. Since God begins and finishes His work of salvation, TULIP rightly teaches that all glory belongs to God in the work of salvation.

The Five Points and History/Worldview

Why do nations rise and fall? Why do the things on Earth, despite the tremendous pain and suffering, occur throughout world history? Only a Calvinist can answer, and that is for the salvation of the Church.

Although TULIP does not explicitly teach that everything in history existed to save the church, yet it teaches that all who Christ had died for must certainly be saved and so therefore everything that happens in the world happened by the sovereign will of God that the means of grace (i.e. Preaching of the gospel etc.) will reach the elect and through them, God irresistibly calls the elect to Himself.

The Five Points and Good News

Although previously mentioned that the sovereignty of God is frightening, yet to His people it is of great comfort.

“…or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.” (Canons of Dordt 1st Head art.6)

This is due to the certainty of salvation as taught by TULIP. For the world, the devil and his hosts, and even our sinful flesh constantly wages war against us and if we had to rely on our own will to be saved, we would be eternally lost. That, however, is not so as God promises otherwise that He would secure the salvation of His people.

Furthermore, the sovereignty of God is for, and not against, us. God loves His people in Christ and thus works all things for the good of His people. (Rom 8:31-39)

Also, in the sovereignty of God, God only gives us what is best for our salvation and His glory. As God does all things on the account of Himself (as previously mentioned), He, out of His own nature, can only give us what is best and anything less than the best would be contrary to His nature and His glory.

The Five Points and Other Doctrines

TULIP does not stand alone and as any other doctrine, it exists as part of a larger set of intertwining doctrines such as atonement, sanctification, justification, the assurance of faith and covenant theology etc.

Anyone who debates against those who deny TULIP will often find themselves debating against other doctrines as well, such as the disproving of dispensationalism or defending the perfect substitutionary atonement of Christ.

The Five Points and the Five Solas

The five Solas of the reformation was pointing towards a certain direction; the sovereign work of salvation by God alone. For if TULIP were to be denied, the five solas cannot stand too:

“Grace alone” and “Christ alone” would have to be denied since an external condition would be required.

Faith would then become a condition for salvation and that is not the true meaning of “faith alone” since faith has always been the means, and not the requirement, by which we are saved.

Thus, the denial of TULIP would not have been the teaching of “scripture alone” as it no longer teaches salvation to the glory of God alone since man has to fulfil certain requirements and crediting some glory (however little), to himself.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11: 33-36)

Written by: Woon Tian Loong | Issue 6

Distinctively Reformed

A Case for Doctrinal Distinctives

Reformed churches, since the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, have been in grave danger of sacrificing their faith. The days of the Reformation were marked by severe persecution upon those who opposed Rome and all her idolatry. Rome never hesitated to make martyrs out of her enemies. Persecution for Reformed churches today takes on a slightly different form. Reformed churches are forced to compromise on their witness to the truth. Great pressure is heaped upon Reformed believers and clergies to be tolerant of false doctrine. Under the false piety of Christian love, Reformed churches are compelled to be accepting towards churches of differing doctrinal persuasions. Anyone who refuses would be labeled arrogant and unforgiving. Tolerance is the ecclesiastical password to be accepted in the modern church world.

Prof. Herman Hanko of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America writes,

“Sad to say, the church has always been plagued with these great compromisers. They are almost more dangerous than outright heretics, for they sell the truth under the guise of toleration, love for brethren, and desire to be known as peacemakers” (pg 169, Contending for the Faith, RFPA, 2010).

As if calling ourselves Reformed were already not being exclusive, many shun the idea of developing the church’s doctrine for fear of being given unfriendly labels. Church leaders hesitate to maintain distinctive doctrinal standards for fear of offending others. As a result, the doctrines and practices which give the Reformed faith its unique power and vitality are compromised. The Reformed church sacri ces the truth on the altar of tolerance.

God’s Word is clear for the Reformed believer to “buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Prov 23:23). Wisdom, instruction and understanding are all products of his priceless purchase of the truth. The Reformed man uses all his talents and gifts God has given him to acquire as much of the truth as possible. Like the wise man who upon nding a pearl of great price, sells all that he has to purchase it (Matt 13:46). He learns it, studies it, confesses it, defends it and hides in his heart (Ps 119:11). Above all, he refuses to sell his purchase because it is God’s priceless gift to him.

What then are doctrinal distinctives?

They are the doctrines and practices which give the Reformed faith its rich meaning and uniqueness. They are the doctrines of sovereign, particular grace which proclaim a mighty and sovereign God in the salvation of sinners. They are the doctrines of God’s unconditional covenant which he sovereignly establishes with his elect in the cross of Jesus Christ. In sum, they are the deep truths of Scripture that have been passed down to us with the sweat and struggle of our spiritual fathers.

Consider the following 4 statements: 1. God saves sinners.

2. God saves sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ.

3. God saves His elect sinners in cross of Jesus Christ.

4. God saves His elect sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ by His grace alone.

Each statement is true from a biblical point of view. Yet each successive statement increases with detail and precision. Each statement increases in depth and meaning which stem from the rich fountain of Scripture. They give us a fuller understanding of the doctrine of salvation. Such is an example to develop the truth in sharper clarity and deeper meaning.

It would be extreme unfaithfulness on the part of a Reformed church to be satisfied with a shallow understanding of the truth. More than 400 years have passed since the days of the Reformation. The Reformed faith has since developed in great depth, clarity and beauty. Doctrines which were unheard of in the past have been forged in the res of controversies and intense spiritual struggles. It is nothing less than the duty of those who call themselves Reformed to carry on the legacy of doctrinal development.

To be doctrinally distinctive is not an easy course to take. On the one hand there are those in the church who have no genuine love for the truth. They are the Esaus of the covenant who, although, have been raised under the instruction of the church, despise all that they were taught. When the church develops the truth and confesses it with boldness and clarity, this wicked element are forced to reveal their true natures. On the other hand there are those outside the church who oppose her with an intense hatred. The bolder she confesses the truth of God, the more intense this hatred will be. Persecution is inevitable.

That many Reformed churches have been engulfed by a tolerant and liberal spirit is not surprising. Scripture speaks of those who “will not endure sound doctrine…[who] turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Tim 4:3-4). These churches have almost no interest in the development of the truth. Under the false notion of Christian unity, they join hands with all sorts of churches. Without any thought of the spiritual consequences, they freely allow exchanges of pulpit with each other. Ministers perform the sacraments for each other’s churches and discipline standards slip. Yet, they are not alarmed as unity is more important to them than the truth.

Prof. Hanko hits the nail squarely on the head with these words, “the salvation of the church lies in her intolerance – intolerance of all that is contrary to God’s truth in Christ” (pg 21). May we who have been so blessed to receive the Reformed truth learn this intolerance from our fathers of old. Our comfort comes from the Spirit of God who alone will lead the church into all truth (Jn 16:13). For the love of the truth, for the glory of God, the Reformed church must be doctrinally distinctive.

In the next article, the Lord willing, we will explore the reasons for maintaining doctrinal distinctives in the church of Jesus Christ.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 3

Book Review on “When You Pray”: Scripture’s Teaching on Prayer

Many books on prayer have been written. Yet many fail to do justice to the biblical nature of prayer. The author of this book, however, is careful to maintain Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Every aspect of prayer and every scope of the author’s argument ows from the rich fountain of Scripture. The author puts it rightly, that “our prayers are totally governed by that word” (pg 5).

What stands out powerfully in the book is the author’s treatment of God’s sovereignty in prayer. The modern man’s prayer has reduced God’s sovereignty to the level of his carnal mind. He imagines God to be a pushover Whose eternal counsel can be changed by prayer according to his liking. The author correctly refutes this vain notion. He argues that “prayer presupposes the truth of God’s complete and absolute sovereignty, but it also determines the character of our prayer” (pg 17). Thus “the privilege of prayer, the right to pray, the knowledge of how to pray, and the ability and power to pray…is all of God” (pg 17).

The author is well aware that the request of Jesus’ disciples to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1) also characterises the saints of all ages. He acknowledges that there are times where “spiritual questions and problems so overwhelm our souls, and a sense of our unworthiness is so great, that prayers die on our lips and God seems far away” (pg 27). God’s people, nevertheless, have the blessed assurance that their heavenly Mediator prays for them.

Thoroughly expounding Scripture, the author aptly points out the rich truths of prayer in God’s Word. He faithfully explains what God demands of His people in prayer because in prayer “we speak to the living God, who is exalted in the highest glory” (pg 28). The author also touches on different kinds of prayer for a range of situations God’s people experience in this life. Whether in private or public prayers the author directs our attention to the throne of grace where God is pleased to hear His people’s petitions.

The clear and simple language that the author employs throughout the book renders it extremely readable. It is truly a book suitable for all ages and highly recommended for the child of God who desires his Father’s will in prayer.

Title: When You Pray
Author: Herman Hanko Reformed Free Publishing Association, Michigan, USA, 2006
Hardback, 177pp

Written by: Aaron Lim | Salt Shakers Issue 1