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

Break-ups in the Church

In God’s sovereign plan for his children, not all relationships lead to marriage. Some end in a break-up and there are often painful emotions that follow. But even at this low point in one’s life, we take refuge in the one relationship we have that will never break. Resting in the comfort of the unbreakable Covenant God has established with us helps us find our way through sleepless nights. There is peace in our heart when we call to remembrance that Jesus Christ has washed us with his blood. The unconditional love of God that surrounds us helps us to do the humanly impossible—genuine praying and seeking the spiritual good of the one with whom we once had a relationship.

At first glance, it seems that Scripture does not have much to say about break-ups. It may also seem that solid Reformed literature does not speak specifically to one who has sunk deep into depression. However, Jesus, who is the Truth (John 14:6) and Wisdom (Proverbs 8) knows every sorrow and suffering that we go through (Hebrews 4:15), including all the pain involved in a break-up. Jesus knows every bit of that pain intimately.

The Facebook relationship status may have changed, the Friday date nights may have changed, dinner venues may have changed, but the Word of God still remains our light in the path of life, that at times are treacherous (Psalm 119:105). Contrary to what our sinful flesh cries out for—over-indulgence in food, deluded dramas, shopping sprees, pornography—to deal sinfully with the hurt, we must find all our comfort only in the Word of Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, our flesh does not even desire true comfort. Rather, we desire sinfully to remain hurt and justify our seeking comfort in the lusts of the flesh. We must cry out to God to give us a desire for true and lasting comfort and for a greater hatred against deceitful comforts that the world tempts us to. Contrary to what the world advises us to do—to entertain revengeful thoughts, backbiting, gossiping, slandering, rashly rushing into another relationship, we must find true and lasting joy only in God. This joy gives us a heart of forgiveness, love for the neighbour, and draws us yet closer to our God. This is not to say that going out for game of volleyball is wrong to help one cope with a break-up.

 

Rather, we must take to our hearts that the process of healing and growing will start and end with God’s word.

You may have lost a relationship with a person, but you will never lose your unbreakable Covenant relationship with God. You, with the church, have been married to the head of that Covenant, Jesus Christ. You may not have the one you have broken up with calling you out anymore, but Jesus Christ has always and still is calling to you, “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages” (Song of Solomon 7:11). That is the field of the adventure of faith. Because the focus of the call is to the whole church of Jesus Christ, therefore that call comes personally to you! He calls you to an adventure to continue digging deep into God’s word. It is an adventure because communion with God thrills our spiritual heart more than anything in this world. Taste and see that growing in the knowledge of God and in His doctrines is sweeter than anything our souls have tasted. That village Christ calls you to lodge in is the call to pour out your heart to Him in prayer during those sleepless nights. This call is irresistible, so that any child of God who is hurting, will be given spiritual strength from on high to answer that call to rest in our Lord Jesus Christ.

You may not feel desired like how you once were. Yet, know that you ought to say with the Shulamite woman, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). Christ covers all our sin with grace upon grace (John 1:16). There is absolutely nothing good in us, but because of the goodness of Jesus, He desires us to an extent that infinitely surpasses how anyone else will desire you. This desire of God for us is pure, eternal, and infinitely stronger than the pull of a million black holes stacked together.

Hear the words of Christ, “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.” (Song 4:9). Our eyes may be puffy from the nights of tears, but with one look at our puffy eyes, Christ says that you and I have ravished His heart. The doctrine of God’s Covenant is precious and is infinitely deep. In this, as the pain slowly begins to heal, we are assured that we are God’s. We are precious in His sight and God is ours. He is everything to us.

Jesus Christ calls you to come, not just physically, but to bring all of your heart to the gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day. Come! Hear the comforting words of Christ in the preaching, the Bible studies, and fellowship with fellow saints. It is especially through the preaching of God’s Word that the gushing grace of God meets us. It is especially in the preaching of God’s Word that all the streams of Bible study and church activities are filled with living waters, from which we drink and are spiritual invigorated. This is Covenant love and sweet fellowship with God and His people. You will find God’s call to join with the saints in worship and the intimate congregation prayer sweet and irresistible to your soul.

And so, the troubled soul with a trembling voice sings,

“Thy thoughts, O God, how manifold,

More precious unto me than gold!

I muse on their infinity,

Awaking I am still with Thee.”

(This and following stanzas taken from Psalter 383, versification of Psalm 139.)

Every Reformed Christian knows and believes that God is sovereign over all. God is sovereign over the terrorist who blows up bombs in brutal murder. He is sovereign over the cancer that has made a father a widower. He is sovereign over every married couple that He has united together as one flesh. And He is surely sovereign over all our relationships. God’s sovereignty is absolute. As the Almighty One and the Lord of Lords, he does whatsoever He pleases. In His might, the sovereign Potter makes one lump of clay to demonstrate His mercy, and another to demonstrate His justice and wrath against sin. If not a hair can fall from my head without God willing it, then all the events in my relationship—every date, every mistake, every devotion, every laughter shared, and finally its eventual end, are surely ordained by God’s eternal decree. As impossible as it seems now, all these things that have unfolded in one’s life are now serving our salvation perfectly.

“Ere into being I was brought, Thy eye did see, and in Thy thought

My life in all its perfect plan

Was ordered ere my days began.”

But when one’s heart continues to weigh a ton and you feel like you are being crushed to the ground, we might be tempted to ask, “How does a break- up bring glory to God’s name?” We may very well be tempted to think that somehow, God must have made a mistake! Oh, we can tell others that we are trusting in God and continue to keep a straight face in church. However, in the inner recesses of our hearts, a part of us can, as it were, grab God out of heaven and put Him in an interrogation chair, demanding God to explain to us why it feels like there is a knife in our gut. Yet, God lovingly rebukes us in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We humbly submit to the infinitely wise counsel of God. And we repent of our doubts in the God of heaven and earth. We quietly recall the saints of old, of Joseph and of Job, we recall our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, at the mount of transfiguration before facing the ultimate suffering on the cross, and we ask God for strength to keep our minds on the bigger picture: God is God. Man is nothing.

Because we still have the old man of sin, we can be far more prone to jealousy and anger especially after a break-up. A wise king quickly fortifies a breached wall in the face of an opportunistic enemy approaching. God tell us that we are by nature, children of wrath. Scripture reveals to us that we are totally depraved. In a break-up, we may feel that our sinful emotions may be far more powerful than our will. It seems that hate will devour our love. Yet, God knows our weaknesses. He reminds us, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” This is the truth of the perseverance of the saints that every Reformed believer holds dearly to. God will preserve you by giving you the strength of heart to persevere in love for God and your neighbour. Rule your heart wisely by tripling your defences with the Word and love of God.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy (depression) falls;…” (Canons of Dort, Article 6).

We may feel as though we do not have any spiritual strength to go on, but the Holy Spirit is always with us, never leaving us. We may feel that a temptation is impossible to resist, but know that God gives us the Spirit that moves our spirit to cry out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” In this trial of losing a relationship, there will surely come a way of escape that you will be able to bear. That way is through the cross. Through praying for mercy for yourself and the one that you have broken up with, God guides us in the right way forward. When we fail to forgive the sins of others, we fail to experience God’s forgiveness of our sins. When we stubbornly hold on to the hurt, we often go astray from God and the church. Rather, by God’s grace, we love the one whom our flesh calls us to hate because we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit of God and the Spirit dwells in our hearts.

So we pray…

“Search me, O God, my heart discern,

Try me, my inmost thought to learn; And lead me, if in sin I stray,

To choose the everlasting way.”

That everlasting way is not the way of looking to marry those who are not in the Lord or to date someone whom we are not in full agreement with in doctrine and life. That everlasting way is to wait upon the Lord and to run in the path of obedience and ardent desire for God. Think of the dreadful consequences of Samson’s sin when he set his heart on wicked Delilah.

To the readers who know of someone who has gone through a break up, or have gone through a break-up themselves, remember: Christ prayed for His sheep who crucified him. Stephen prayed for the salvation of those who stoned him to death. If you know the person who broke up with your friend is to be “blamed”, know that that person is a precious child of God too. There may be untold hurt. Yet, Christ never gave us a limit for forgiveness. Even if in your own judgment, your friend was sinfully dumped, we are to love that brother or sister who appears to have caused the hurt. Pray for his or her spiritual welfare. The church on this earth is made up of sinners at all times, but God will not take it lightly when someone speaks evil of a lost sheep. It is especially the foolish and dumb sheep that God loves, and there will be great rejoicing when it returns—just as the father killed the fatted calf upon the Prodigal Son’s return. Smite that lost sheep with your gossip and words, and God will lovingly but painfully chasten you too. We are called to love mercy (Micah 6:8). We are called to defend and promote the honour and reputation of both parties involved in the break-up (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s day 43). Hence, all parties must ask themselves, “In the light of the Truth of God’s word, what is God teaching us in this painful circumstance that He has sovereignly brought to pass?”

Written by: Josiah Tan | Issue 39

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (II): Isaac

We begin our discussion of Scripture’s teaching concerning various young people who are noted in the Bible for being children of God’s Covenant. I begin with Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah.

Scripture doesn’t say a lot about his youth, but some things are important for God’s purpose in the life of Isaac and for our instruction. I hope you will read all the Bible says about Isaac so that you may have the material Scripture gives us in your minds. There are passages in the New Testament that speak of Isaac’s youth as well as the history recorded for us in Genesis.

Let us remember before we begin that the entire history in Scripture of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revolves around God’s promise to send to His people the “Seed of the Woman” who was Christ. What is included in Scripture about these patriarchs is only the material that has to do with God’s faithfulness to His promise to send Christ.

This same interest of Scripture in the coming of Christ is evident in the Genesis narrative of Isaac’s birth. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90 years old when Isaac was born. He was truly a son of his parents’ old age. God deliberately waited so long before giving them a son that both Abraham and Sarah were much too old to have. God was showing them that the true seed of the woman would be born only by a miracle—as Isaac was. Human beings cannot bring forth one who saves us from hell; it takes a miracle of God’s working. Isaac was truly a miracle child. Isaac himself knew that. He knew he was born by a miracle; he knew that he was the promised seed of the woman of whom God had spoken to Adam. He knew that he was the heir of the birthright blessing. (You will remember what we learned about the birthright in our forum discussion of Jacob.) But he not only knew it; he dedicated his life to being a faithful Covenant son.

Isaac did this even though he was persecuted because of it.

You will recall that Abraham had another son, named Ishmael, a child born out of the union of Abraham and Hagar, Sarah’s slave. Both Abraham and Sarah thought they would help the Lord along, because the Lord seemed to be remiss in fulfilling His promise. So they decided that Abraham should marry Hagar and have a child with her: that would help God bring into the world the promised seed for Ishmael could be that promised seed.

But Ishmael was not the seed of the woman. He thought he was and he acted as though he was. He claimed the birthright for he was the firstborn; and he hated Isaac when Abraham and Sarah made Isaac the heir of the birthright. He mocked and taunted Isaac even when Isaac was still a baby, but also as he grew older. He probably said something like this: “Ha, ha; you think you’re the heir. I’m the firstborn and I’ll get the blessing.” The Bible says that he persecuted Isaac (Galatians 4:29-31). It was so bad that he had to be expelled from Abraham’s house. But Isaac bore the persecution in the assurance that he was in the promised line of Christ, and he insisted that he alone had the right to the birthright. Isaac was faithful to his calling.

 

It sort of makes me think of the believing youth of our own times. Those who belong to the true church of Christ and believe that they are saved are afraid to let other people know that they belong to the true church, and to tell others outside the church that their membership in a false church is wrong. They sometimes hide their commitment to God’s truth for fear of being mocked. How quick those outside say to us, “Oh, you people think you’re the only ones going to heaven.” They mock and ridicule us if we stand for the truth. We are persecuted for it. Here in America we run up against this very thing time and time again.

What if Isaac had said to Ishmael, “Well, you are a child of God’s Covenant too; you have part of the birthright too. We need not fight about it. Let’s be friends”? Persecution would have ended and Isaac and Ishmael would have gotten along well together. We need only compromise a bit and we can be friends with people from all kinds of churches. It’s the easy way, because we escape persecution that way—and we are frightened by the thought of persecution.

But there is one more part of Isaac’s life that we need to know about and emulate. A Covenant child is well aware of his calling to marry and have children. (I know: this is under usual circumstances. God sometimes calls us to remain single and He usually has a special place for us in His Covenant when He prevents us from marrying.)

There is a sort of analogy here between Isaac and today’s believing youth. Believing Israelites wanted children, because having children was a sure sign of their desire to have a part in the coming of Christ. Think of those mothers who feared they could not have children. Hannah is an outstanding example of this. And this was even true of Isaac’s wife, Rebekah (Genesis 25:21).

The same is true of Covenant young people today. They know that Christ will not come back until all the elect are born and brought to faith in Christ. They know too that God has promised to save them and their children. They bring forth children in the assurance that they are bringing forth the church. They therefore, express their desire for Christ to come by having children, Covenant children, elect children, the church.

I know, too, that things are different today than they were in Bible times. Abraham fetched a wife for Isaac—as in some countries today parents pick out the spouses for their children. But it doesn’t make any difference: parents may not pick out the spouses for their children today, but they must and do teach their children what kind of a spouse they must seek out: a spiritual and godly spouse! And children must listen to their parents.

Abraham absolutely forbad Isaac to marry a girl from Canaan. God didn’t save Canaanites and these women were wicked (Genesis 24:1-9). Instead he sent his trusted servant nearly 200 miles away where some of Abraham’s relatives lived, for these relatives, though outside the Covenant lines, were still believers in God. In other words, Abraham insisted that his son Isaac marry a believer.

This is the obligation and calling of Covenant youth. They must find a wife that loves the Lord and holds to His truth. Their marriage must be a picture of the marriage between Christ and His church. To attain that, husband and wife must be united in the truth. If they are not, their marriage and home will never be blessed, because the whole spiritual character of a home is determined by the unity of faith in the parents. Apart from unity in the truth there is only strife, disagreement, bitterness and division. When husband and wife agree in the truth, they agree in what church they attend, in the Covenant instruction of their children, in teaching their children to walk in God’s paths, and how to discipline the children when they do wrong.

My father insisted that we marry someone in the church. When told that we could not find anyone in the church, his answer was: “If you are absolutely convinced that God does not have a mate for you in the church, then look outside, but insist that your first date be to go to church together, and it had better be a Protestant Reformed Church. And settle the matter of church membership before you even think about marriage.”

Isaac was content with this. He, too, wanted a God-fearing wife. Read Genesis 24:63-67. No doubt Isaac was in the field meditating when Rebekah came, because he was pondering the will of God for him in maintaining the line of the Covenant.

And do not let it escape your attention that Isaac married her. He did not know her; he had never even heard of her before she came; he had no opportunity to “date” her and see whether they were compatible.

She was a God-fearing woman who loved God’s Covenant. That was what counted. He had no opportunity to “date” her and see whether they were compatible.

The Chinese have a proverb that I like. It goes like this: “A kettle does not sing until it has been on the stove for a while.” By this saying, they meant that true love does not have to and should not come between a man and a woman until they have been married for a while. They do not marry for love; that comes later.

I am not sure that this is always the case, but it was emphatically the case with Isaac and Rebekah. They married in the Lord even though they were strangers.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 39

A Proper Perspective on Christian Courtship: Godliness in Courtship and The Head of the Woman

Godliness in Courtship

As God establishes His covenant friendship   with   His   elect   in   Christ, He draws them closer to Himself in a spiritual bond of love. His love attracts and compels them to union with Him. He teaches them in His ways so that they know how to obey and love Him rightly. His Word instructs while His Spirit guides them along life’s journey. Covenant friendship with God is thus a perpetual process of uniting one’s heart, soul and mind to God until it reaches eternal perfection in glory.

Covenant courtship presents a time of growing in godliness. As two are better than one, so a good covenant partner spurs the other on to closeness with God. When God brings two believers together, they may be at different levels of spiritual maturity and thinking. God in His wisdom does this to the end that they may grow spiritually together. As a covenant couple become united in their affections for each other, they must provoke each other’s affections   for   God.   This   provocation must be active in covenant courtship if it is to be God-centered. Christ must be displayed in their own words and actions so that the other is edified and motivated in his love for God.

All too often, young people are concerned only about having fun and excitement in their courtship. Their dates are nothing more than frivolous activities and worldly amusement. Their conversations revolve around the affairs of this world more than spiritual matters. They prefer the movies, sports and all kinds of worldly entertainment to studying the Word and having discussions of spiritual worth together. Little time or effort is given to delight in the things of God, His Word, their spiritual health and the affairs of the church. The couple set their affections on things on this earth rather than those of heaven. Covenant courtship ought not to be so.

In a covenant relationship, a couple’s true happiness lies in their similar delight in the things of God. They are excited to understand each other’s unique spiritual struggles and are deeply concerned about each other’s spiritual welfare. Together they combat the lusts of the eyes and the lusts of the flesh, and battle against the pride of life by humbling themselves before God. Together they fight the good fight of faith, being convicted that they are in this world but not of it.

They are a help-meet to develop each other’s spiritual character, so that the one spurs the other to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. It is an amazing truth that godly relationships are a process in which we grow in a deeper knowledge of our sinfulness and our need for Christ. Such conviction causes a covenant couple to desire godliness in their relationship. In all of their conversation, conduct and activities, they strive to please Him who calls them into an intimate covenant friendship. As they mature as believers in Christ, so will their relationship be an increasingly powerful testimony of God’s love for them.

Godliness in courtship enables a couple to overcome all the troubles and differences that hinder their unity. This is because godliness implies love for God and the will to do all that He pleases. This is a love that provokes them to give Him their very best because it understands that God has given everything good. Sometimes the differences between a couple can be very significant and complicated. This is especially true because both individuals have been raised differently in their unique families. Although a couple, they still retain their individual mind and will. Sometimes differences of a spiritual nature arise and cause more complicated problems in the relationship. But when a couple’s relationship   is   controlled   by   such   a love for God, they will be able to love each other sacrificially and resolve their differences. They will, as Charles Spurgeon wrote, be able to “yield in all things; but be firm where truth and holiness are concerned”.

Attaining growth in godliness requires diligent effort in covenant courtship. It requires a habitual study of the Word and prayer together as a couple. As a couple grows in their knowledge of God’s truth, they will be able to experience the immense joy of oneness in Christ. As God fellowships with a covenant couple, they realise that the chief purpose of their relationship is to glorify and to enjoy Him. Such is the blessedness of a godly courtship.

 

The Head of the Woman

“The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man”. 1 Cor 11:3

In the miracle of God’s work of salvation, He promises to save families and their generations after them. As He establishes His covenant with a man and a woman in marriage, He establishes a system in which husband and wife are to live in their state of marriage. To the man, He instructs to rule over his wife in love and to lead the home in the fear of Jehovah. To the woman, He instructs to submit to her husband, obey him and guide the household. When husband and wife faithfully submit to their covenant callings, they see a beautifully harmonized system through which God saves them and their families.

The world hates this system of harmony between husband and wife because it hates God. It rebels against Him by rejecting this order that God places in marriage and in the church. The wicked world does this by promoting feminism and all sorts of notions that insist women have equal standing with men. One can see this wicked phenomenon in apostate churches today which allow women into office. They usurp the authority that God gives to men, who alone are called to rule the church and their homes in obedience to Him.

The idea of a young man ruling over his girlfriend may not be so apparent in the early stages of their courtship when they are only getting to know each other better. Nevertheless, as they become more committed to each other in their courtship, a young man must prepare himself to lead and to rule over her as they prepare to be united in marriage. The responsibilities of being the head of the woman are not small because his headship is a reflection of Christ’s Headship over the Church. His rule over her must therefore be a faithful testimony to this truth.

Covenant   courtship   is   a   process   in which a young man grows in an intimate knowledge of his girlfriend. It is striking how married couples can fail to meet each other’s   expectations   simply   because they do not know each other sufficiently well. The common, frustrated expression from married individuals seems to be, “You just don’t know me well enough!” Emotional and spiritual closeness begins with knowledge. The Scriptures aptly instruct husbands to dwell with their wives according to knowledge (1 Pet 3:7). This has important implications for covenant courtship. It teaches the young man that he must strive to know his girlfriend as much as possible so that he knows how to lead her in a way that is glorifying to God. Knowing her unique individuality, character, mindset, personality, lifestyle, temperament, habits, preferences and dislikes are essential. Christ the Bridegroom knows His bride with a perfect knowledge. That is why He can lead her in the perfect way. Godly young men reflect this beautiful truth when they diligently seek to grow in a deeper knowledge of their girlfriends to rule over them with the rule of Christ.

The process of courtship also prepares a young man to love his girlfriend adequately because of the knowledge of Christ’s love for him. As he understands the truth that Christ condescended to save His people by the way of the cross, so the young man gives himself selflessly in love for his girlfriend. Quarrels and bickering are not uncommon in any relationship, but a godly young man covers himself with the cloak of humility and adorns himself with the wisdom of Christ to resolve those differences. He learns to love her in biblical ways that will meet her expectations.

He dwells with her as the weaker vessel, seeking her welfare and caring for her needs. The Scriptures are clear that God made the woman to be the weaker sex. This is especially true from a physical and emotional viewpoint. For this reason, God so ordained the man to make up for these weaknesses by ruling over her. Together, man and woman complement and make each other complete. A man of God understands and appreciates these weaknesses, and does not criticise them harshly. He bears patiently with his help-meet despite her weaknesses, knowing that God loves him in spite of his sinfulness.

The rule of Christ renders honour unto His Bride. He honours her because she is His prized possession, chosen in all eternity to be His. For her He bled and died to redeem from corruption. As His body, He cherishes and nurtures her until the final day of their consummation. So too, a godly young man must honour his girlfriend as his help-meet. He honours her by praising her qualities, appreciating her uniqueness and defending her from all criticism, harm and danger.

As the head of the woman, it is above all else necessary for the young man to be responsible for his girlfriend’s spiritual well-being. Her spiritual welfare is his responsibility. This means that he functions as her spiritual guide and counselor. He is responsible for creating and sustaining a spiritual and godly atmosphere in their relationship. Being entrusted as her head carries the heavy responsibility of ensuring that she is spiritually healthy. A spiritual relationship bears testimony to the truth that God is in and at the centre of it.

To rule well, a covenant young man must always be striving for spiritual excellence and desiring to develop his spiritual gifts. He must equip himself with the knowledge of God so that he can use that knowledge to lead his girlfriend in God’s covenant ways. It is extremely deplorable that the church world today is engulfed by spiritual ignorance. Our covenant young men must be men of knowledge, men who study the Word of God diligently. They must know the doctrines of the Reformed faith by heart and be skilled at dividing the Word of truth. With sound, spiritual knowledge they will then know how to lead their future spouses in covenant courtship.

At various points in a couple’s relationship, they meet with unique problems and difficulties. Only God’s Word is able to solve those problems. That is why our covenant young men and women must be thoroughly and deeply acquainted with the Word of God.

Service to God in the church should also be in the minds of young men who desire covenant courtship. God calls them to lead His church as much as He calls them to rule over their wives. The young men are the future leaders of the church. They are called to bear the offices that Christ has ordained for His Church.

True and biblical rule is always done in love for God and for the woman God places in a young man’s life. A godly young man acknowledges that he is sinful, and that his rule over his girlfriend is therefore sinful. He needs the grace and wisdom of God to execute this rule in love for God and his girlfriend. While this rule is never perfect because of our sinfulness, God nevertheless is pleased to bless a young man in the way of his faith and obedience.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 10

Christian Courtship III: Spiritual Unity & Surrendering

“God in His wisdom brings together two young people who are sufficiently alike, yet also sufficiently different, that they complement each other, forming one whole, forming a balance wheel for each other as well”. Rev. Cornelius Hanko

The covenant of God is unity. It is the unity between the perfectly righteous One and fallen, elect sinners in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is a unity of extreme opposites, the reconciliation of enemies by the atoning blood of the Saviour. Precious is that blood and powerful is that work of reconciliation to transform enemies into eternal friends. Fallen man called into covenant friendship with the living God. What blessed unity!

As the covenant is unity, so covenant courtship demands unity. The God who calls His people into unity with Him likewise demands unity amongst them. The relationship between two young believers must be established on the basis of their common unity in Christ. This is important because all other basis for unity is false and can only lead to spiritual destruction in any relationship.

Spiritual unity in courtship means that a Reformed believer seeks to find a partner who is of the same mind of Christ as he is (Php 2:5). He is deeply attracted to one who shares the same spiritual mindset and convictions that he   does. Covenant courtship insists that we be “likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Php 2:2).   The common knowledge and love for God grips two believers so strongly that it is often the manner in which godly relationships begin.

Of utmost importance is to understand that spiritual unity means unity in the Word of God. A couple that is to grow in Christ must firstly be grounded in a common conviction concerning what the Word teaches. The cardinal truths of Scripture must be deeply impressed upon their souls to the extent that it is the foundation for a couple’s relationship. Since the confessions of the Reformed church are the expression of unity amongst members, they also ought to be the expression of unity in courtship. As a general rule I believe that covenant relationships must be established upon a common conviction on the 5 points of Calvinism and the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordrecht). These are strong foundations for unity in a relationship and we may only be deeply thankful to our Reformed fathers for establishing such strong foundations for us today.

A couple who establish their relationship on strong foundations in the Word will enjoy a strong relationship. Like the wise man   who built his house upon the rock, their relationship will not be easily swayed because of its sure foundations. Consequently they will be able to prosper in godliness and service to God who unites them in the same knowledge of His Word.

When a covenant couple love each other in the LORD, they express spiritual unity. The common knowledge of their sinfulness and salvation in Christ alone provokes them to love each other in the love of God. They seek to out-please each other because they are precious in each other’s eyes. They are brothers and sisters in the household of God and fellow members of the body of Christ. Marriage counsellor Dr. Ed Wheat writes that love is always doing the very best for the object of one’s love. Covenant courtship raises this love to a higher level because love is deeply exclusive in courtship, given only to a specific person.

Being spiritually united also implies possessing the same hope for their lives together. As pilgrims on this earth they seek the blessed hope of the new heavens and the new earth together. Their affections are not set on the things in this world, whether it be their studies, careers or achievements, but are set on the things of the heavenly kingdom. Unlike the people of this world, they seek for the blessed coming of their Lord and Saviour who has prepared a place for them in glory.

Service to God in the church is another expression of a couple’s spiritual unity. When the Lord brings two individuals together in courtship, He desires their united worship and service to Him as a spiritually united couple. Together they learn to function as one in reverential worship and service to God. In their own specific place and calling in the church they serve the Lord God with a profound knowledge of their unity. As they do this they will be a tremendous source of blessing to their brethren in the church. Their loving and happy relationship is an example for other godly couples to follow because Christ is powerfully displayed in it. Such unity in courtship also serves to promote the greater unity of the church as Christ calls it to.

Finally their unity is demonstrated in the couple’s totally selfless love for each other. In heart, mind and soul they surrender to each other as God calls them to. They care for the other’s good more than their own. When they surrender to each   other their wills merge as one. This is where they experience the miracle of growing to be one flesh in the Lord. Rev. Cornelius Hanko writes that “their life is a giving to each other, even as God gives Himself to us, to the extent that He brings us into His very heart, into His fellowship, into the intimate communion of life with Him, reflecting His glory”. Bound by the same truth, love, service, hope and mutual submission, there is indeed true spiritual unity.

CERC is placed in a unique position in Singapore, where the Reformed community is relatively small in number. Our young people face the temptation of indiscriminately dating professing Christians from other denominations. We thread dangerous waters when we do this because we may be tempted to sacrifice the distinctive edges of the faith that we possess. A relationship built with Christians of other faiths is a compromise to our Reformed faith. Our faith is a biblically distinctive faith, built by our fathers with sweat and blood. The truths that they have delivered to us must be carried on with all their power and sharpness even as we engage in courtship. How else are the Reformed truths of sovereign predestination and particular grace to be passed on to our children and their generations if couples are not doctrinally united? How else is the church to grow as the pillar and ground of the truth if covenant couples are not united in faith?

May the Lord so grant that we strive for spiritual unity in our relationships to the end that they may be powerful expressions of our unity with Christ!

In the covenant of grace, God extends His friendship to sinners who are by nature totally depraved. He does so by His Spirit, accompanied by the preaching of His Word, drawing His elect people out of darkness into the marvellous light of His fellowship. And although the hearts of His people have been transformed to the image of His Son who died for them, yet while on earth they still retain their sinful natures. Throughout their entire lives the people of God struggle with their sinful natures which are at enmity against Him, crying for deliverance. In earnest expectation they seek the blessed hope of Christ’s coming where their sinful natures will be fully destroyed and transformed into perfectly glorious bodies.

As much as courtship is a time of great excitement, it is also a time of profound humility. This is because the two young believers who are brought together in the providence of God realize that they are ultimately nothing but sinners saved by grace. They understand that they still retain their distinctively sinful natures and are prone to sin against God and each other. They know that only the grace of God could have brought them together in covenant courtship and that it is the only thing that will sustain their relationship.

Sin is present in any relationship, be it in the home, with our colleagues or friends. When we approach courtship with a spiritual frame of mind, we see the motions   of sin working in the relationship. We see sin working powerfully and expressing itself in the form of pride, lust, jealousy, anger and self-centeredness amongst other sins. A covenant couple may not be guilty of all of those sins but they carry with them specific   sins according to their characters. This struggle with sin carries on not only in courtship but also in marriage and all through their lives as one flesh. The Form of Marriage at the back of the Psalter confesses accurately that “married persons are generally, by reason of sin, subject to many troubles and afflictions”.

Sin has the potential to destroy a couple’s relationship. When sins are committed in the process of courtship and are not repented of, they grieve the Spirit that unites both believers in the bond of love. This grieving draws the couple away from each other, and consequently their personal relationship with God is also affected. They are unable to enjoy God’s favour and each other’s love for a season because sin has separated them.

The tendency to sin against each other in courtship is far greater than in normal friendships because of the closeness that the couple shares. Ironic as it may be, this closeness can sometimes have a contradictory effect. On the one hand it is the cause by which a couple devote themselves to each other, care for and love each other deeply. Yet on the other hand, this closeness makes them deeply aware of each other’s flaws and sinful tendencies. This awareness may sometimes cause a couple to sin against each other wilfully or to tempt the other to sin.

A couple’s knowledge and experience of sin in their courtship must finally bring them to the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. Above all things, they must acknowledge their sinfulness which provokes the holy God to wrath and anger. As they pray for forgiveness and submit themselves to Him in repentance, they     understand that they need God every moment of their relationship. God must reconcile them to Him and to each other. Only then will they experience His favour again and enjoy the blessings of His friendship with each other.

When a couple submit themselves to God, then they will be able to submit to each other. The ability to confess individual faults to each other, to seek each other’s forgiveness is evidence of the Spirit’s work in their hearts. Pride hinders us from confessing our faults, and the devil is ever quick to stroke that pride when believers sin against each other in a relationship. Sometimes the hardened heart finds it agonisingly painful to humble itself in repentance.

Nevertheless, the powerful grace of God, working in the lives of His covenant children, will break down that sinful pride, enabling the couple to surrender themselves fully to each other. As they are reunited to each other in humility they experience the peace of God which passes understanding. This peace gives them the assurance of their covenant friendship with God who alone works out all things for the good of His people.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God”. James 4:7a

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 9

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage II

Introduction

This is my second article for Salt Shakers on the general topic on “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage” as seen in the Bible.

In our first introduction article, we saw the importance and seriousness for Christians to have the right biblical view on such matters if they want to be good and faithful witnesses for their Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. In this article, we want to plunge right into the fundamental topic on marriage. It is fundamental because without it there would be nothing to write about divorce or remarriage. We must have a clear understanding of what marriage is all about before we can rightly discuss about divorce and remarriage. What then is marriage?

The Essence of Biblical Marriage

Marriage is not a sexual union between a man and a woman. If so, a man having a one-time sexual encounter with a prostitute would be considered as married to her. That such illegitimate sexual encounter does not constitute a marriage is clear in Scripture where we do read of David’s affair with Bathsheba. They had sex and the latter became pregnant, but they were not married until after her legitimate husband, Uriah, died and David asked for her hand in marriage (2 Sam 11:26-27).

Marriage is also not a permanent, avowed, sexual relationship between one man and one woman. Some old couples live for many years together and are happily married without having sex as they are too old for that. Sex, as important as it is in the marriage relationship, is not of the essential elements in marriage. So, what are the essential elements in a marriage? There is no better place to turn to for that than to the first marriage of mankind.

The First Marriage

The first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve, were created for each other, obviously, in every way. But, they were not created married. That came soon later by the act of God in Providence. In fact, at Creation they were not even created together at one go. Adam was first created and then Eve, out of one of his ribs, to be a suitable help for him. A man may have a help prepared for him, but he is not married until that help is brought into union with him in life. And God was involved in that first marriage – the reunion of an enhanced rib to its owner in a unique way. Once, it only functioned within him; but now, it even helps him externally. What a wonder!

God not only officiated the first marriage Himself, but He was the One who instituted it for the good of the human race. Ungodly social scientists who advocate evolution may imagine that primitive men lived like all other animals and had free sex and reproduced themselves for the survival of the fittest. It was later, according to them, that men instituted marriage for the better, healthier management of families, and thus, for the better preservation of the human species. But that is another lie of the devil to entrench men deeper into will-worship.

Believing that marriage is an institution of God is of paramount importance for   determining   our   behaviour   in the marriage bond. If man invented marriage, then men is free to determine and change the rules and regulations of the marriage   bond as he likes from time to time according to his prevailing philosophical beliefs. But as an institution of God, marriage and all the rules and regulations therein are determined by God, before Whom all involved parties are held accountable. Just recently, New York became the sixth state in the USA to redefine marriage as inclusive of same sex marriages. In the first marriage, God set by example what He expects in the marriage bond into which a man and a woman enter.

The Bride Prepared for the Groom

In the first marriage, Eve was created by God for Adam. God explicitly said that it was not good for man to be alone, and He proceeded to make a “help meet” for him. (Genesis 2:18-22) Here we must note that the first marriage took place before the Fall of man into sin. This means that, at its fundamental level, marriage   is not sin oriented, though sin did affect that relationship when it came later. So although all subsequent marriages after the first one must deal with the problem of sin, in a marriage relationship, the couple has many positive and good works to perform individually and collectively. Before marriage, Adam was given the work of naming the animals. This work was not a matter of dealing with sin, but it was tough for lonely Adam. A life partner was created to help him all through his earthly life and even through his generations to come. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:11). I cannot imagine a world with only one sex, either male or female. Can you? It is a sign of God’s imminent judgment when such things take place.   “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26-27). Certainly, God had in mind the woman when He designed the make-up of the man. They fit well into each other, body and soul.

In naming the animals, Adam saw many wonderful animals in their various unique and fascinating designs – both in the male and female forms. With his   perfect     understanding,   Adam knew that without a female form, he was incomplete. Marriage, therefore, is God’s finishing touch of the human nature in the history of creation. Married people should walk by faith in God that He will bless all faithful couples   who unconditionally   devote to seek each other’s completeness in the design and plan of God. Marriage is about two becoming one. It is a covenantal relationship. Therefore, it is treacherous when a married couple each has their own idea of things without trying to live in oneness and unity. “Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant. And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:14-15). It is God’s normal way to seek for godly seed from families of faithful, godly couples.

Marriage Has Witnesses Before The Judge

A man and a woman in their private moments together may make all kinds of vows to each other, but all such occasions do not constitute marriage events. A proper marriage is a social event involving the community in which the couple will live their united life as a family unit.

At the first marriage, God gathered the assembly together, comprising of Adam and Eve, some surrounding animals and plants in the Garden of Eden and God Himself, the officiating officer. In that ceremony, God, who raised the Bride, brought her to the Bridegroom before the Judge for the solemn exchange of vows and other public expressions of mutual commitment to raise a new family unit in the community.

At the sight of his Bride, Adam “said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) Adam’s public acknowledgment of God’s work in giving him a wife was also a vow (publicly declared) to treat her as the unique “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh”. That implies Adam’s headship over Eve, his wife. He is to love her, seek her well-being and lead her in their united service of Jehovah, their God. Eve’s silence at the ceremony implied her submission and agreement with the work and plan of God. In that way, also, she vowed publicly to take up faithfully her role as the help most suitable for her husband, Adam.

All these took place before the Governor Judge of the whole universe and in the presence of many witnesses. The establishment of homes for the raising of human beings to replenish the earth from generation to generation is serious business. God wants to impress that upon us with the solemnity in the first marriage which He Himself conducted. Subsequent ones would be conducted by His deputies in the civil courts of the nations. When a home is legally established, the Judge says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24). They shall be one to do God’s biddings: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). All these they must do for the glory and praise of God.

The confirmation of such a union of marriage comes as soon as the couple begins to live together in close intimacy, physically and otherwise. In this unique way, God joins a man and a woman together and says, “Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. “ (Matthew 19:6).

Like life and death, the dismantling of the marriage bond is in God’s own hand to bring about. And He does just that whenever the death of any of the spouses takes place. “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” (Romans 7:1-3). So all commitments related to the marriage bond is “so long as we both shall live”, or “till death do us part”.

Legitimacy of Marriages Outside the Church

In a multi-cultural society like Singapore we do come across many marriages which are not conducted in the same way as those conducted in the church. Some of them may even involve the invocation of ancestral spirits to participate in the wedding. Are we Christians to consider such marriages as legitimate and consider the groom and bride as man and wife after their marriage? When such people become Christians, do we require of them to be married again – this time in the Church? Is marriage one of the sacraments of the Church, like Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, we Protestant Churches do not believe that marriage is a sacrament of the Church. According to God’s Word, marriage was instituted before the Fall of man into sin and therefore was an institution established before the institution of the Church when the “mother promise” of Genesis 3:15 was first revealed. Marriage is indeed an institution of God and therefore holy. However, it was an institution entrusted to the State for its continuance. As the State manifests itself   in the different nations of the world, its corruptions are also clearly seen in these nations. The different administrations of marriage in these nations do show their weaknesses and errors in understanding what marriage is according to God’s will and plan. However mistaken, such marriages on behalf of God’s authority do have legal standing before God. A non-Christian marriage is proper when it is officiated by a representative of the State before some mature witnesses, and where the parties involved undertake solemnly to live together as a family for the propagation of the human race. God’s Laws relating to the roles of husband and wife are the same for both Christian and non-Christian marriages. God blesses and curses according to the standard of His own Laws and not to that of the corrupted laws of men. The preaching of the Gospel includes the setting forth of this Law of God to bring men to Christ.

Summary

In this first article of the sub-series on “Marriage”, we have considered what constitutes a proper marriage before God.

No matter what, marriage involves a man (the Groom) and a woman (the Bride). They show their willingness to the solemn union by the vows they make to each other before God and a holy assembly. Such consent is necessary to a marriage. (Gen. 24:57, 58. 1 Sam. 18:20. 1 Sam. 25:41)

The consent of parents or guardians is also important to indicate smooth continuity from single to married life. (Gen. 28:8. Jdg. 14:2, 3) Their presence and involvement at the marriage becomes important as well.

As marriage is a legal transaction, the State must officiate it publicly and orderly for all in the society to acknowledge and help the married couple in the change of their marital status.

When the married couple begin their life together in this orderly fashion, God considers them as one from that time onwards and deals with them accordingly in His Laws.

In future articles on “Marriage”, we will deal with some important dynamics in a married life.

Written by: Pastor Lau Chin Kwee | Issue 9

Godly Marriages I

We would be focusing our attention on marriage in this article. There is so much that can be said about marriage that we certainly are not able to cover the subject comprehensively in the little space we have here. What I intend to do is to discuss some of the key ‘practical’ aspects of marriage. But we must remember that all ‘practice’ is, and ought to be, founded upon doctrinal principles. Read thoughtfully and may the Lord use this reading to help you to be more prepared for the lifelong commitment of marriage.

I would like to begin from the subject of the wedding. The culmination of courtship is marriage. As a couple grows closer to each other through courtship, there comes a time when they decide to join together in marriage. Marriage ought not to be entered into lightly, but to be decided upon only after the couple has sought and discerned the Lord’s will through earnest prayer, individually as well as together. It must be entered upon only after honest soul-searching and serious consideration, for it affects not just one, but two persons’ lives radically; and not for only a period of time, but a lifetime. It is undoubtedly one of the most significant decisions that any person will ever make in his entire life.

When a courting or engaged couple talks about marriage, almost the first thing that comes into their minds is the wedding day. It is my observation that whenever a couple tells anyone that they are getting married, almost the next question that they are asked (after receiving congratulations) is “when is the wedding?” or “How are the wedding preparations?” Virtually no one talks to the couple about life after the wedding, or the meaning and significance of marriage. This, I believe, reflects to some extent the prevalent mindset of our culture today, which regards the ‘biggest’ thing about marriage to be the wedding day. A grand and lavish wedding in no way guarantees a ‘successful’ marriage. If the marriage becomes cold and acrimonious within months or even after a few years, or worse still, finally leads to a divorce, the wedding means absolutely nothing. If we really think about it, the wedding is only the beginning and a very small part of the whole life of marriage! My point is that the wedding day, though important and significant, is NOT everything that there is to marriage, nor the most important day in our married life. What truly counts is life after the wedding – until death. We ought not to spend so much time planning and preparing for our wedding that we are left with little time and energy to prepare well and lay a good foundation for the beginning of married life together. Having said all that, I do believe that a fair and significant amount of effort ought to go into planning a wedding to make it special and memorable. Planning for a wedding together is an exciting venture. The couple can and ought to use the opportunity of planning for the wedding to further strengthen their relationship. It is likely to be the first major ‘project’ that they work on together and it would be a good opportunity to get to know each other even better and grow closer together through the experience.

It is not my intention here to go into the details of planning a wedding, for that can quite easily be figured out, with the help of a wedding planner and friends, despite the mammoth amount of planning and coordination work that is required for that one day. But I want to direct our focus to just one thing by asking this question: What is the highlight and focus of our wedding? The celebration of human love? Of an exciting courtship and seemingly perfect match “made in heaven”? I submit that the most important part of the entire wedding proceeding is the exchange of the marriage vows [NB: not to say the Word that is spoken on the occasion is secondary, but the Word spoken really focuses the audience’s attention on the same thing as the vows do – the significance and seriousness of   marriage].   Not   the   march-in   or the recessional; not the lifting of the bride’s veil; not the kiss; not the thank- you speech by the bridegroom. Not the special items presented. Certainly not the refreshments after the ceremony. The highlight of the entire ceremony is when the couple pledge, with all solemnity and seriousness, before the all-knowing God Who judges their hearts as their witness, that they would give themselves wholly to each other for life. We can forget everything else about the wedding, but we cannot and must never forget the marriage vows we took on that day. To make a vow is a very serious matter. To trifle with our vows is to trifle with God! (Ecc 5:4 “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed”). God holds us to our vow and expects us to keep it (Deu 23:21 “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.”) We must mean what we say – that we (as husband and wife) will stay together, come what may, till death do us part. This unbreakable bond of marriage is a reflection (though pale and imperfect) of that everlasting and unbreakable covenant of grace that God establishes with His elect in Christ. It is a reminder of Christ’s constant, unfailing and unconditional love for the Church (Eph 5:31-32). This glorious truth must be the central theme of our wedding. All our planning and decisions concerning our wedding ought to be guided by this truth. All the witnesses on our wedding day ought to hear and see this truth unmistakably. They must hear and behold this truth especially in the exhortation by the minister and the exchange of the marriage vows. They must be left without a doubt that this truth is the highlight and focus of our wedding. They must know that the marriage that they are witnesses to is a reflection of the heavenly, spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church.

Too many weddings in our day, even some Christian weddings, put excessive focus on the couple – celebrating and highlighting their love for each other, their courtship, their achievements, their lives, – so much so that any reference to God or the spiritual significance of marriage appears very incidental. The couple is treated almost like movie stars or royalty. Everything and everyone else become secondary to them. No doubt, the wedding couple would be at the centre of attention. We do not shy away from that or say there is anything wrong with that per se. But the question is : what do people see when they look at the couple? Do their gaze and thoughts remain only on the couple, or are they lifted up and directed towards God, Christ and the Church? If the theme and focus of our wedding is the marriage of Christ and the Church, then the attention on us, by God’s grace, would not just dwell on and end with us, but would be turned heavenward to focus on the far more glorious marriage of Christ and the Church.

Additionally, over and against the serious character and deep spiritual significance of marriage, there is a disconcerting trend today that couples want their weddings to be more informal, casual and light-hearted. This tone and mood is diffused throughout the wedding programme, even including the exchange of the marriage vows. The occasion is little more than another social event where the friends of the couple gather with them to have a good time (like a birthday party). The exchange of vows becomes merely ceremonial, and the couple and guests look forward to the other parts of the programme that are deemed more exciting and interesting. So some weddings would include teasing the couple, making them do embarrassing things, getting them drunk, etc. Other couples, to make the wedding programme more memorable, exciting, or simply to do something different, do “out-of-the-world” or outrageous things such as exchanging rings underwater or while parachuting from a plane. I’m not saying that as Christians, we cannot do something special at our weddings to make it memorable; my point is we must not lose focus of the significance and purpose of our wedding – whatever we may plan as part of our wedding programme, the activities must not detract from the solemnity and profound meaning of marriage, namely, that it is a picture and reflection of the one true marriage between Jesus Christ and His Church.

“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for [he hath] no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” Ecc 5:4

A wedding is not about the romantic love story of 2 persons who happen to meet and like each other’s company very much, feel good about each other and decided to extend this experience for as long as they possibly can. No, no. It marks the beginning, through the making of vows before God and all the witnesses gathered, the beginning of a most intimate and spiritual union of two persons, of body and soul, that involves absolute faithfulness, commitment and whole-hearted devotion to each other, constant self-denial, enormous sacrifices, untiring perseverance, and unconditional love – for life. If we bear this in mind, I am certain we would see much more God-honouring, edifying and meaningful weddings.

Written by: Elder Lee Kong Wee | Issue 8

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage I

Introduction

Marriage,   divorce   and   remarriage are words we use to describe the various, basic human relationships underlying the family life. The proper understanding of the meanings and implications of these words help us to know how we should live in those relationships for a happy family life.

Look at the creation and you cannot help but notice the superiority of the human community over the others, for   example,   the   dog’s   and   cat’s. Which living creature in the whole of creation has subdued the earth more and better than what human beings have done so far? Much of the laws of nature have been discovered and are still being discovered by men today. God did fearfully and wonderfully create man capable of investigating and understanding this world even as He commanded them to have dominion over it on His behalf.

It should also be obvious to us that God expected the above task assigned to man to be done through many generations. By the creation of Eve and the giving of her to Adam for his fruitfulness and multiplying, the LORD God was saying to man that his work cannot be done all by himself. He must raise up a godly family to help him with the task.

Many generations have come and gone, but there is still much of this Creation of God that we are still ignorant of. Though we try to understand and describe to the best our abilities, we have not been able to do a proper job after man had fallen into sin. Man is to subdue all things for the glory of God.

But, in his estate of sin and misery (in his condition as a fallen creature) he cannot but sin against God (fall short of God’s glory). He is in no position to raise another generation to continue the task, even if he is doing well for himself. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

On marriage

Just look around, and you will see that this age-old institution of marriage is fallen on hard times. Many busy young people of today do consider the formal marriage (where you need to get registered with the authority) as a waste of time. This is especially so when the time comes for them to get a divorce. There are so many rules and regulations governing such serious actions and so they rather simply co- habit and agree to part ways when the time comes – as simple as that.

On another front, we do come across the gays who insist on their rights to marriage for parties of the same sex – men marrying men and women marrying women. This is nothing but a redefinition of marriage so as to claim the package of legal rights and privileges, for a once forbidden relationship, in a moment. Ungodly people are simply selfish and care neither for God’s glory nor the good of the human society.

When we see the Church supporting such erroneous concepts of marriage by allowing them, and worse, accepting gay people into office   to conduct the same, we know that this divine institution is being severely attacked! This is the scene of marriage today.

On divorce

Divorce, or the break-up of a family, legally or otherwise, is rampant these days. This seems to be the case in any developing or developed nations, as if growth necessitates such evils.

If the marriage union is necessary for man to carry out his calling to serve God, then divorce and all activities leading thereto must be evil, at least, in the undermining of his basic and fundamental   calling   as   the   bearer of God’s image and likeness. The depreciation of having and maintaining godly homes demonstrates the aimlessness of men in all their lives. The development of this world without God’s grace is a development of a systematic removal of that which truly and rightly binds us together in truth and unity, namely the Triune God. It is of, by, and through the Triune God that all things find their meaning and unity. The world is traveling on the road of separation and ultimate destruction. This road of divorce is what God hates. All things shall end up at the Final Judgment Seat of Christ to see if they are worthy of entrance into the New Heaven and New Earth wherein dwells righteousness.

 

 

 

On remarriage

Remarriage to another other than one’s own spouse is a further corruption and confusion of one’s own already problematic marriage. Repentance and reconciliation is the solution to a problematic relationship. All holy actions in such a dire situation (including the acceptable divorce) must serve this solution. Remarriage is never such an holy action as it undermines true repentance and reconciliation.

That the world around us is full of remarriages is exemplified by the lives of film stars so admired and worshipped by many all over the world. In fact, they boast about how many times and with whom they were married through their “successful” careers and lives. They are unashamed of their sinful ways, but rather promote them with pride.

When we look to the church for guidance and support, we find shaky floors, pillars and walls. In some instances the waters of destruction are already seeping into the boat. The Church that boasts of being entrusted with the divine ministry of reconciliation, is now providing a place of shelter for people who give up and want to start from the beginning again. This is an easy way out which leads to more problems. The church has failed to be the Pillar and Ground of the Truth for God’s people. The heavy hand of the Lord need not always lead to repentance and reconciliation, but, in some cases, it even justifies a further confusion in a relationship.

Conclusion

As God’s beloved covenant people, we must address these issues in this world not because we hope to change the world and avoid the inevitable Judgment Day, but because the truth must be testified to the glory of God and the comfort of His people living in this dark and sinful world. As God’s chosen people we must live the antithetical life which is not an easy task to perform. We need all the encouragement from our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no reason why He should not address these issues clearly for our good, protection and guidance.

Moreover, these are not problems peculiar to our modern world so that we cannot expect meaningful solutions from the ancient writings of the Bible. The issues involve human relationships as old as the human nature as created by God. It is of the nature of man that he loves and procreates. The family is inevitable. And when man fell into sin, all these sinful issues developed naturally in the development of sin. So, we read of the problem of polygamy early in the history of man. The whole Bible is full of stories related to family life, and thus, to such issues as divorce and remarriage. To say that the Bible lacks data on such matters to be clear is to suggest that God sees them as trivial. Even discerning social scientists acknowledge that these are serious matters affecting the well- being of nations and their futures. God is not silent on such matters, but we are careless and deceived to have neglected the careful study of His Word for His solution.

Since the rise of the remarriage controversy in First Evangelical Reformed   Church   until   now,   the Lord has only confirmed to me that remarriage is a sin to be repented of by God’s people as they seek to testify for God and seek His glory in this present world. I am therefore very happy when Salt Shakers asked me to write a series of articles on these issues. Though my health is not the greatest for such a long project, I believe God will enable when He commands it graciously. I do covet all your prayers for me to write to His glory and praise, and the comfort of His great people.

Amen.

Written by: Pastor Lau Chin Kwee | Issue 8

A Proper Perspective on Christian Courtship: Choosing Wisely

“god-fearing men seek god-fearing wives.” -Prof. Hanko

In God’s counsel of election, He chose a specific group of people to be His own. Leaving the rest of mankind to perish in the way of their sin, God chose a group of people unto salvation in Christ. Upon them He sets His favour and love, and reveals to them His ways of eternal blessedness and happiness. These chosen ones enjoy God’s covenant friendship only because the face of Christ is ever set before them. God sees them as a group of sinners redeemed by the accursed death of His beloved Son.

Although God in eternity has determined whom we shall marry, yet in time He leaves some room in our wills to seek that person that He has prepared for us. How God does this is a deep and profound mystery. We may only respond that God in His sovereignty is able to do this, although we never know precisely how. Nevertheless, the small room that God allows in our wills makes us responsible for the decision of who to marry. It is necessary to discuss this responsibility because we are, in the final judgment, accountable before God for whom we choose to be our spouse. Our salvation, in a very great measure, is involved in this choice.

God wills the process of courtship to be the platform for marriage. Since the covenant God is so central in the life of courtship, it is desperately important that the one whom we choose to be our boy or girlfriend is the man or woman of God’s choice. Our duty is to determine God’s will for us when making this choice. His Word must instruct us and His Spirit must guide our hearts to make the right choice. Our prayers ought to echo the plea of the psalmist, “Shew me thy ways, O LORD, teach me thy paths” (Psalm 25:4).

Choosing a spouse is perhaps one of the greatest decisions we will make in our lifetime. Choosing a boy or girlfriend is therefore equally important since courtship is the necessary platform for marriage. All too often, young people are concerned only about the outward beauty, physical attraction, talents, charisma, wealth, social status and personality of a person. Consequently they place these things as necessary qualities for an ideal boy or girlfriend to the injury of their souls.

Covenant young people ought not to be so. They are the people of God, the citizens of the heavenly kingdom, called out of darkness into the marvellous light of God’s fellowship. For this reason they must seek the things of God in courtship. “The child of God”, says Rev. Cornelius Hanko, “is drawn to one who speaks his language in spiritual matters, who enjoys with him the things of God’s kingdom.” As a young person understands the truth that God has chosen him in Christ, so he will seek to find a spouse who, like him, is also a member of the body of Christ. He will desire a girl who by her confession and life demonstrates true membership in the Church of God.

A covenant young man is attracted to the spirituality of a girl. He is not so much concerned about the outward beauty or personality of a girl but her spiritual-mindedness. How much she loves God and values things of spiritual worth are of chief concern to him. He is concerned about these characteristics because the Scriptures dictate that they are of a great price in the sight of God. A girl who fears God and desires to grow in grace is a virtuous woman whose price is far above rubies (Proverbs 31:10). Rev. Steven Key writes correctly that “the fear of Jehovah is what young men must require in the young women they marry, and therefore in any women they date” (Far Above Rubies).

Such is the unique character of a godly person that it is attractive to another. This spiritual attraction is the means by which a godly young man is drawn towards a godly young woman. He finds her attractive because He sees God in her. On the other hand she is drawn to him because she knows that he is a man of God. This is the power that not only draws two young believers together but more importantly sustains their relationship. Ungodly relationships with unbelievers are destructive to the believer because God is not in them. Covenant relationships prosper because God upholds them by His almighty power, keeping and blessing them in His grace.

Scripture is emphatic in its warning against making wrong choices where it comes to relationships. God expressly warns against choosing unbelievers in relationships. The consequences for choosing unbelieving partners in courtship ought to be crystal clear to all covenant young people. There is nothing but spiritual devastation and misery to the soul that chooses an unbelieving partner.

The truth is that courtship is an important process of a covenant young person’s life because it shapes his spiritual character. In many ways, his thinking and personality are dictated by his future spouse. The bishop J.C. Ryle offers his penetrating words, “Your wife must either help your soul or harm it: there is no neutral. She will either fan the flame of religion in your heart, or throw cold water upon it, and make it burn low. She will either be wings or fetters, a rein or a spur to your Christianity, according to her character.” (Thoughts for Young Men) So we see that a young man’s relationship with God is profoundly related to the character of his partner. A girl who loves God will inevitably draw him closer to God as they engage in an intimate bond of friendship.

Such ought to be our choice when choosing partners in relationships. The man or woman whom we date must bring us closer to God in courtship. We must be able to know and enjoy God in fresh and deeper ways. We must be able to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. In a godly relationship, we grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord, increasing in our love for Him because of the new love He gives to us in our lives.

Only by godly wisdom as derived from the Holy Scriptures and habitual prayer with our covenant God may we make that right choice. This is a choice with eternal consequences upon our soul. This is a choice that will either bring to us joys of salvation or spiritual misery with the one we choose to spend our life with. In the following parts, we shall devote more time to discuss some of the specific qualities that young covenant people ought to pursue and what to be concerned about in the process of courtship.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 8

A Proper Perspective on Christian Courtship I

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6

If Christian courtship is to be properly approached, then it demands first of all a proper definition. Our young people and their parents must know what Christian courtship involves. They must believe in their hearts the spiritual nature of a covenant relationship and seek to apply Scripture’s principles in their relationships. Only then will their relationships and marriages be strong. Only then will their families be spiritually happy ones. Only then will the Church grow in true spiritual strength and unity. Only then will the cause of God’s Covenant be established and promoted in the midst of this world.

Far too little instruction has been given on this subject. It appears that most churches, paralyzed by the ignorance of the Covenant doctrine, fail to treat courtship with its due importance. Without a biblical understanding of God’s covenant and its sacred implications, these churches flippantly allow their young people to date and marry whoever they will. All that these churches care for is that their marriage partners be professing Christians. Naturally the young people of these churches intermarry with other denominations. Some even forsake the Reformed faith to be joined in holy union with their non-Reformed spouses.

What results from this culture of intermarriage is a weakening of the Reformed faith. Those who leave the Reformed church sell the Reformed faith away. They show very little regard for the Reformed heritage that our spiritual fathers gave their sweat and blood for. Consequently the Reformed faith is lost in the lines of their generations. Their children grow up ignorant of the Reformed faith.

The Reformed Church must never be guilty of allowing her young people to fall into this deadly trap. The Reformed faith is too precious to let the devil ruin it. The Reformed Church holds with high esteem the truth that Jehovah establishes His Covenant with believers and their seed. She is deeply aware that a failure to teach her young people the covenant ways will result in destruction. To neglect the duty to impart the Reformed faith to the next generation will have far-reaching consequences.

Fearful of this threat and motivated by love for her covenant God, the Reformed church will teach her children faithfully. She will preach the truth of Jehovah’s Covenant distinctively and apply those lessons in the lives of her covenant young.

During Christian courtship, the most important thing is that the relationship between the   two individuals   has God at its centre. In His sovereign providence, God brings a young man and a young woman together. Whether they are in the same locality, church or denomination, the covenant God in His wisdom causes their individual paths to cross. It is important to know that God does this in eternity. According to His eternal counsel He has   purposed the   specific   young man and woman to meet, engage in courtship and then marry. The sovereign God does not simply leave it to the will of His children to decide by themselves whom they will marry, but leads them by His hand each step of the way. Christian courtship is, and must be, essentially covenantal in nature because God is the source of the couple’s life and journey together. This is a profound truth which deeply humbles the child of God as he considers the extensive power of God’s providence.

Christian courtship is essentially covenantal because these two individuals are friends of the living God. They delight to be intimate friends   with each   other   because they   share a common, intimate Friend.

Courtship with unbelievers is not covenantal because they are the enemies of God.

This is why the apostle sternly warns believers against being unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14-17). Only a couple who are equally yoked together will grow in true love because that love is rooted in God. God binds them in holy union as members of His covenant.

In Christian courtship, God is the Head of the couple. He governs the couple’s way of thinking, feeling and deciding on issues during the course of their relationship. He rules by leading them according to His Word and Spirit. He directs their minds to the Holy Scriptures and governs their relationship by His revealed will. A godly couple thirsts for the Spirit’s guidance and instruction. No wonder a couple that prays together stays together!

Christian   courtship prepares a young person to leave his father and mother and to cleave inseparably to his wife. It must be approached with all   seriousness   because   it must always be done with a view to marriage – a lifelong commitment. Relationships are not playthings. They involve a great degree of emotional attachment, often   leaving   painful scars when not properly handled. Far too often   these relationships end in breakups because they were not given due seriousness when they were established.

What beautifully characterizes Christian courtship is the spiritual unity   established and growing between both   believers. Together they are bound by the same faith, truth and love for each other and for the God who has first united them in His eternal love. This unity is an expression of the unity that Christ shares with His Bride, the Church. As the couple grows in their love for God, for His covenant, His truth and His kingdom, so do they grow united in their love for each other. Together they become one as this unity finally reaches its strongest manifestation in marriage.

Covenant parents play a crucial role in the way their children engage in courtship. What kind of partners their children choose is strongly dependent on the instruction given by them and the way they live with each other in the   home. Indeed Scripture insists on training up a child to prepare him for covenant courtship and marriage. Covenant instruction is the instrument that God uses to save His people and their seed.

Christian courtship may therefore be defined as an exclusive friendship between two believers, with God as their common, intimate   Friend for the purpose of marriage. So then we shall proceed in further depth what   Christian   courtship entails. May our covenant God establish our minds and teach our willful hearts His truth on this subject, so that we may humbly obey to His glory and our eternal good.

Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 7