We wrote in our first article on this subject that some of the members of Covenant have expressed concern about the decline of godly zeal among the second generation in the Lord’s church among us. Having observed life and behaviour in CERC recently when we had the great joy of being with you again for a time, we agree with this concern. There is evidence that at least some, though not all, seem to have lost their first love for the Lord. This sometimes becomes evident in the lack of involvement in the life and activities of the church. Sometimes this shows itself in the spirit and enthusiasm which we perform our calling in her midst.
The loss of her first love was the chief sin for which the church of Ephesus was admonished in one of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor found recorded in Revelation 2. This was the judgment of Him who loves His church dearly and is deeply concerned about her true character and the behaviour of her members. The letters to the seven apostolic churches of Asia Minor are preserved in the Scriptures for the spiritual instruction and admonition of the New Testament church of all ages and places until the glorious day of return of the Lord at the end of the world.
The church of Ephesus had many things for which the Lord commended her. There were characteristics and qualities which the Lord saw in this church in which He greatly delighted. These were a great testimony in the world and an example to other churches. But the Lord had this one very serious concern for her. The church which He Himself loved so dearly had lost her first love for Him and for the fellow members of the church for one another.
The admonitions and warning which the Lord addressed to the church who had lost her first love was a very serious. The seriousness of the situation in the church is reflected in the words of Revelation 2:4 and 5: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent”. If the Lord takes His candlestick from the church she is no longer a church at all in the true sense, even though she may still exist in her outward manifestation. She is then no longer the light of the world which the Lord had made her to be when He first saved her.
The decline in love for the Lord is so serious because love for the Lord and love for each other is the most important thing for true Christian living and for the church’s calling to glorify Christ in the world. This love must be the source of all true zeal and devotion. Her knowledge of the truth without love becomes dead orthodoxy, her worship of God mere cold ritual and ceremony, her service of God empty and vain. Heartless formalism in religion is displeasing to the Lord. Mere outward religious show and practice and the following of tradition is something which the Lord grieves at. Decline in the first love is really the beginning of apostasy and departure from the Lord. When God is not served with love for Him no amount of religious activity can cover up for this sin.
It is a great sin when hearty affection for God has grown cold in us. There is every reason why we should serve Him in love and thankfulness. Considering the great love whereby God has saved us, presenting ourselves as living sacrifices of thankfulness is our reasonable service to Him. See Romans 12. The sin of the loss of love for God must be acknowledged and repented of by the members of the church. We are corporately responsible for the fellow members of the church and for the church as a whole. Continuing in true Christian living requires constant self-examination and judgment of our own motives and hearts in how we are serving God. This must lead to daily repentance and humility and great spiritual efforts to bring up the change of that which is lacking and deficient among us. In the first article I pointed to some of the things which might be the cause of the loss of our first love and the decline of our zeal in serving God. In this article I will write about some of the remedies for this fault.
We must remember from which we have fallen. We have fallen from God’s great work of saving us. God has given to His church among us great and blessing of the knowledge of His own greatness and power and glory. He has caused us to see His own glory and to experience the blessedness of fellowship with Himself. He has blessed with the works of His own wonderful sovereign love and the amazing grace of His salvation. The heritage of the Reformed faith has been given to us! This heritage is the knowledge of His truth, the doctrines of His amazing grace and the certainty of the hope of His everlasting and heavenly glory. Especially to the Reformed Church the Lord has given the living and rich experience of truth of the Lord’s everlasting covenant. It is and should be the case that when this heritage is first received there is great excitement and joy and fellowship with the Lord in midst of the church. This truth is the heart of Christian marriages and the living reality and joy of Christian families. The excitement over this reality in the church should break forth from the heart of the members of the church in thankfulness and praise to God and in glorying in His goodness and the faithfulness of His mercies. A particularly wonderful aspect of how God realizes His everlasting covenant in His church is the fact that He is pleased to gather His church from the generations of the covenant, with believers and their God-given children. Spiritual decline happens in our lives when we take the blessings of God for granted. We no longer have the profound appreciation for God’s goodness to us that we ought to have. We need always to be reminded over and over again that the blessings of salvation are ours only because of sovereign grace and never because of any merit or worthiness on our part. Because of our sinful nature when a new generation arises in the church, there can grow among us the foolish imagination that the heritage of the Lord was passed down to us somehow because of what and who we are in ourselves or because we are so much better than others around us in this world. Lack of sincere appreciation and thankfulness to God will soon cause us to change the conversation among ourselves so that it will only about worldly things or human achievements rather than about the praising God for blessings and goodness.
We must remember that all the blessings of salvation which we enjoy were merited for us through the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and through His awful suffering and great sacrifice on the cross. We must remember the great cost which our dear Lord paid for our redemption. “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversations received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of the lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained from before the foundations of the world, but was manifest in these last days for us” (1 Pet. 1:18-20). So many of the great truths taught and maintained by the Reformed Church through the ages are found in these verses. Think of what this passage of God’s Word says about the atonement of Christ for His people through His death on the cross. Consider deeply that the salvation of God’s people was eternally ordained of God from before the foundations of the world, that is, from everlasting. God saved us because He loved us with everlasting love!
True revival always comes through the renewed interest and deeper study and consideration of the rich and profound truths of the Word of God. It never comes by the mere stirring of vague religious feeling or emotion. Zeal for God cannot be sustained by always looking for some new religious experience in our lives. The Reformed faith has the highest imaginable esteem for the Word of God. This has and must have practical implications. We need always to be engaged in the deeper study of the Word of God and of its inexhaustible treasures of God’s truth. Recently my wife and I travelled across the US between California and Michigan. We have children and grandchildren living in both places. The length of the drive between these two places is about 2,300 miles. It took us almost four days of driving. On the way we were greatly inspired by the beautiful scenery we drove through. What a majestic display of the greatness and glory and power of our God and the wonderful works of His creation. In addition to this, while we were driving we listened to the reading of the Word of God by means of an outstanding set CDs, no special commentary, just reading with expression and in a very captivating and dramatic way. We listened to the reading of whole books of the Bible in one session, listening sometimes for more than an hour at once and with great concentration. What a blessing we received from doing this. Find some time and place in your life to do this kind of thing. Do not let the busyness of life crowd out times for reading God’s word. Nothing can bring revival to the soul like the reading and concentrated listening to the word of God itself. The riches of God’s Word as it reveals our God Himself and His wonderful works of salvation are so overwhelming. The hearing of them moves us at times to tears, it deeply humbles us and stirs us up to utter amazement and wonderment about our God. We tremble before the prophesies of His judgments on this wicked world, know that we were delivered from these judgment when we ourselves deserved the same because of our own sin. What great reason we have for fearing the Lord as our great God. The more deeply we read the Bible through His Spirit in our hearts the more we will learn of Him as our great God and Father and the God of our salvation.
Increase in zeal for God comes through continually growing in our knowledge of Him. Remember the words of the prophet Jeremiah, really God speaking through Him. “Thus said the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am God” (Jer. 9: 23-24).
Returning to the Lord and proper devotion to Him requires that we put away all our idols. Idols can slowly arise in our lives again even after the Lord has delivered us from the folly of worshiping and serving them. They may not be the same idols of pagan religion which we once worshipped and from which the Lord has redeemed us. They may be new idols which we begin to serve because we have given our hearts to other things than to God only. The Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 35 where it comments on the first commandment has this significant thing to say: “What is idolatry? Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God who has manifested Himself in His Word, to contrive or have any other object which men place their trust”. Scripture teaches that covetousness is a form of idolatry. See Colossian 3:5. The inspired apostle Paul classifies this kind of covetousness in this passage with many other very grievous and abominable sins. Many ‘idols’ of our own making steal our hearts away from the whole-hearted and zealous devotion we owe to God alone. This will cause our spiritual zeal for the truth God to decline and every earnest purpose to serve Him to be compromised. The answer for this sinful cause of decline in zeal is repenting and putting away all personal idols. When Jacob returned from Haran to the land of Canaan , which was the land of God’s covenant blessing and came again to Bethel, where the house of God was, he was commanded to put away all the idols that were in his own house. So to turn again to the Lord we need to examine our own hearts. To what do we in our daily lives devote our interest and time and labours? We need to judge ourselves whether these things have become personal idols. For some these idols can be worldliness. For others the love of pleasure and ease in life. For others it can be worldly friendships. For others this can be the secret lusts and passions of our sinful natures. Without living in sanctification and holiness we cannot have true fellowship with God. There is a great need for re-ordering priorities in our lives and evaluating what we are truly living for and to what we devoting ourselves. This involves mighty spiritual exercise great faith in God. Remember that devotion to God requires personal sacrifice and self-denial and crucifying our sinful nature and its sinful lusts and passions.
Having zeal for God is bound up with being deeply interested in the church of God and her ministry and her service of the Lord in the world and the cause of Christ’s kingdom which she represents. Many Christians wrongly imagine that they can forsake the church or allow interest in her to decline because of other priorities in life. They begin to tell themselves that one does not need to be involved in the life the church overly much to be a good Christian. These are wrong thoughts. One of the great reasons why every Christian must be a member of a faithful church of Jesus Christ is because this is the place where God wants us to serve Him and be devoted to Him. We have a purpose and calling to serve our fellow church members. Doing this by the grace and Spirit of God will stir up our zeal and devotedness to God. Being active in the communion of the saints and serving one another in the church is so important for every Christian. By the very doing of this and understanding that this is serving the Lord we will greatly encourage one another and we ourselves will be spiritual blessed.
Self-centeredness is a sin. This sin will inevitably lead to spiritual decline. We must have great spiritual concern for one another in the church. Let us listen to the beautiful and practical instruction of Paul to the church of Philippi in Philippians 2:4 “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”. In the way of losing ourselves we gain the reward of God’s grace in His favour and blessing on us. Through a common faith in Him we have the assurance of His presence with us and the proper understanding of His purpose in our lives.
The church of Jesus Christ is called of God to stand together against her common enemies in the world. The devil and this wicked world are our spiritual enemies, and even our own sinful flesh. We are together continually engaged in a great spiritual warfare. We must resist the devil and stand against and overcome sin and temptation. We can do this only through the strength of faith we all have from the Lord. The church and her members together must be zealous and courageous to stand for the truth of God and the cause of Christ. In the great spiritual battle to do this the members of the church must have great spiritual courage and zeal. They must stand together united in their love and zeal and continually help those who are weak, encouraging each other. The revival of courage and zeal comes from the Spirit of God who dwells with us and in our hearts. Willing and active participation in the battle and the common reliance up the Lord will generate a holy zeal among us. This zeal must never be allowed to decline. Our great interest must be the glory of God and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our great concern must be that not even one of us falter or grow weary. Let us pray continually that the Lord Himself will give us the necessary courage of faith and undiminished zeal for this great purpose and glorious cause.
Written by: Rev. Arie den Hartog | Issue 54