Blessed and Happy – October 1, 2014 “Standard Bearer”

StandardBearerThe latest issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.91, No.1 – October 1, 2014) carries the next word study written by PRC pastor William (Bill) Langerak for the rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken”. This one covers the closely related words “Blessed-Happy”.

Today I post a wonderful paragraph from this article. If you wish to find other such word studies, visit this page on the PRC website, or do a search for this rubric on the “SB” website.

Significantly, Scripture never associates being blessed or happy with earthly things – especially money, food, houses, clothing, or good health. Rather, it locates happiness exclusively in God. Scripture claims God to be the happy God (I Tim.1:11). Therefore, happy are the people whose God is the Lord and whom He chooses for His inheritance (Ps.144:15; 33:12). Happy are they who have God for their help (Ps.146:5), trust in the Lord (Ps.34:8), and whose strength is God (Ps.84:4-5). Happiness is the goodness of God’s house (Ps.65:4), enjoying the light of God’s countenance (Ps.89:15), and that God preserves, keeps, and delivers us (Ps.41:1-2).

Jesus is also declared God’s happy Son (I Tim.6:15). Happy, therefore, are they who kiss the Son (Ps.2:12). Happy are they who know Jesus as Christ, have eyes to see and ears to hear, and are not offended by Christ (Matt.11:6; 13:6; 21:9). Happy, because in Jesus, they have their transgressions forgiven and sin covered, and the Lord imputes to them no iniquity (Ps.32:1-2), p.15

Are you a subscriber to the “SB”? If not, check out the website linked above and find out how to become one.

The Pillar of the Truth – Steve Timmis

The Pillar of the Truth by Steve Timmis | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

pillarsAs I finished reading the special articles in this month’s Tabletalk yesterday, I also read this fine one by Steve Timmis. In it he explains the truth of I Timothy 3:15, that the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth.”

I hope it reminds you, as it did me, just how important the church – and the life of her members – are for the support and spread of the gospel.

Here are the opening paragraphs. Find the rest at the Ligonier link above.

At first reading, 1 Timothy 3:15 seems somewhat disconcerting. In it, Paul is explaining to Timothy why he is writing to him. It concerns the church: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

Did you catch what he wrote? “The church … a pillar and buttress of the truth.” As sound evangelicals, we know that Paul has to have that backwards, don’t we? Surely, the gospel is that which gives solidity and shape to the church? Isn’t the church built on the gospel and the product of the gospel?

Yes, undoubtedly yes. But that’s not the point Paul is making in this context. He wants Timothy to get the church in Ephesus back on gospel tracks because she has departed from the gospel. The Pastoral Epistles are not simply manuals for church order. They are an urgent call to arms. Timothy needs to go to war because the gospel is at stake in this city and region.

But critical to this strategy is the church herself. The church, formed by the gospel, is for the gospel, and by her life and witness, she commends the gospel and is the primary apologetic for the gospel before the world. John Stott, in his commentary on 1 Timothy and Titus, put it well when he wrote, “The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defence and proclamation.”

In essence, Paul’s letter to Timothy shows us just how important the gospel is for the church, but equally how important the church is for the gospel. Which, given the comment by Jesus in Matthew 5, isn’t at all disconcerting. Just as Israel under the old covenant commended Yahweh to the surrounding nations by her covenant life, so the church of the new covenant commends Christ by her covenant life.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 150

Psalm 150On this final Lord’s Day of September we come to the end of the book of Psalms in our Sunday worship preparation devotionals, as we take a brief look at Psalm 150.

And while the Psalms are indeed a spiritual biography of the children of God, allowing us to see into the souls of the saints as they go through all of life’s experiences and express themselves with regard to these varied experiences, the Psalms are not really about God’s people. The book of Psalms is about God – all about God. God and His glorious character; God and His glorious works. God and His majestic work of creation. God and His sovereign work of providence. God and His might acts of salvation. God and His mercy and grace and faithfulness to His people in Jesus Christ and for His sake. Yes, God is the heart and soul of the Psalms!

And so the Psalms are all about praising this glorious God. This is a book of “Hallelujahs” – “Praise the Lord”. And as we have been seeing, this theme is coming to a climax at the end of the book of Psalms. Once again I quote from the Nelson Study Bible as it aptly describes this last psalm: “Psalm 150, a psalm of praise, is a development of the Hebrew word hallelujah, meaning ‘Praise the Lord.’ How fitting that this book of praises – the meaning of the name of the Book of Psalms in Hebrew – ends in repeated commands to praise the Lord” (1029).

Psalm 150, like Psalm 148, is a call to universal praise. That is, the psalmist calls for all creatures to praise the Lord – from those in heaven to those on earth – everything that has breath. And he calls for them to do this using all the means God has given, especially instruments of music. So that this too is a call to worship the Lord – in the sanctuary of His creation and in the sanctuary of His church.

As we prepare to enter that sanctuary of God this day, let us hear this call to praise our glorious God. Let us think on God and His glorious character. Let us ponder His mighty works – around us, as well as for us and in us. And as those who have received breath from God – even new breath from the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ – let us respond with glad and grateful “hallelujahs.”

Psalm 150

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “A Summons to Praise” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
In His temple God be praised;
In the high and heavenly places
Be the sounding anthem raised.

2. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
For his mighty acts of fame;
Excellent His might and greatness;
Fitting praises then proclaim.

3. Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah
With the trumpet’s joyful sound;
Praise with harp and praise with viol,
Let His glorious praise abound.

4. Hallelujah!  Praise Jehovah,
With the flute His praises sing;
Praise Him with the clanging cymbals,
Let them with His praises ring.

5. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
All that breathe, Jehovah praise;
Let the voices God hath given
Joyful anthems to Him raise.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 149

Psalm 149As our glorious Savior and King calls us once again this day to worship Him in “the congregation of saints”, we may prepare ourselves by considering the fourth “Hallelujah” psalm, Psalm 149. As you read through this portion of God’s Word, you will find it to be a joyful summons to praise the Lord, and as such, fitting for our public worship today in God’s house with His people.

In fact, v.2 specifically enjoins us to praise the Lord in public with our fellow saints, a point the Nelson Study Bible points out nicely: “One of the primary emphases in the Book of Psalms is that the praise of God is to take place in the center of the worshiping community. Praise unites the people of God (33:1-3)”.

Yes, and what a blessing it is that we are still able to do this openly and unhindered in our land! Let us not take this for granted, but thank our God for it. And let us gladly take advantage of every opportunity to gather with God’s people in praise our God! This Lord’s Day again affords us such opportunities.

The call to praise and worship the Lord, also as we have it here in Psalm 149, includes the fact that we must do so in joy. Notice that element too as you read this psalm (especially vss.2,5). God will not have us stand before Him with grumpy spirits, offering up grudging praise. He will not have us sing a new song with an old man soul, nor dance before Him with dragging feet and drooping hands.

No, He is the God of joy, the happy and blessed God, and in our worship He will have us match what He is, in spirit and in behavior. So let us rejoice and be joyful in our singing and dancing and playing (of instruments) this day (vss.2-3). Let us skip and sing, from renewed and thankful hearts. Why? Because God takes pleasure in us (Can you imagine that?!)! Because He will beautify the meek with salvation (v.4)! Yes, be clothed with Christ and you will have joy, boundless and endless joy!

You will also notice a “twist” in Psalm 149. The worshiping people of God go from joyful praise to swinging a two-edged sword and executing vengeance and judgment on the heathen (vss.6-9). What is going on? Why this? Because the church of Christ is at all times in this present world also the army of God. Always she is surrounded by her and His enemies, who hate and oppose her and Him. And against these foes she must do battle, fighting in the Lord’s name. As she marches into her holy warfare singing God’s praises, she is also to swing His sword of judgment.

While in the OT that warfare took on a physical form, with real swords and literal vengeance (as in the church’s conquest of Canaan), now the NT church swings the sword of the Lord’s Word, chiefly the preaching of the gospel among the nations. Yet, also when we sing God’s Word (as in these psalms!), we are wielding the “sword of the Lord” and executing His judgments against unbelieving enemies.

Let us be mindful of that too as we worship today. Worship is serious and dangerous business. Not only because we stand in the presence of the sovereign, all-glorious King of heaven and earth. But also because we are the instruments of His judgments on the wicked. May that humble us, so that we sing God’s praises and swing His sword only under the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 149

Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.

2Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

3Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

4For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.

5Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds.

6Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand;

7To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people;

8To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron;

9To execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the Lord.

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Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 149 through music, I encourage you to listen to one of the versifications of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “The Promise of Victory” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

 

1. O praise ye the Lord
And sing a new song,
Amid all His saints
His praises prolong;
The praise of their Maker
His people shall sing,
And children of Zion
Rejoice in their King.

2. With timbrel and harp
And joyful acclaim,
With gladness and mirth,
Sing praise to His Name;
For God in His people
His pleasure doth seek,
With robes of salvation
He clotheth the meek.

3. In glory exult,
Ye saints of the Lord;
With songs in the night
High praises accord;
Go forth in His service
And strong in His might
To conquer all evil
And stand for the right.

4. For this is His word:
His saints shall not fail,
But over the earth
Their power shall prevail;
All kingdoms and nations
Shall yield to their sway.
To God give the glory
And praise Him for aye.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 148

Psalm 148As we prepare to meet our covenant Father in His house of praise and prayer, we consider together Psalm 148, another of the “Hallelujah” Psalms beginning and ending with the call, “Praise ye the LORD.” Here is God’s Word in this part of the OT Psalter:

Psalm 148

Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light.

Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.

He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.

Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:

Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word:

Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars:

10 Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:

11 Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

12 Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children:

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.

14 He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints;even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord.

Psalm 148 is a call for universal praise, as all of creation – from everything in the heavens (angels and sun, moon, and stars) to everything on earth (snow and wind, mountains and trees, beasts and birds, kings and children) – is summoned to praise God. Why? Because God alone is the Maker and Sustainer of all creatures (vss.5-6). And because His name alone is excellent and His glory above the earth and heavens (v.13).

And when you sat on your deck on a summer morning, listening to the birds sing and observing the flowers opening up their blossoms, or watched and heard an approaching thunderstorm with its lightning  and peals of thunder, you know these creatures were praising the Name of the Lord. Or when you sat on the pierhead and heard the pounding of the surf and felt the breeze off the lake, and caught in sight soaring gulls and fish jumping out of the lake, you know these creatures were giving glory to their Maker. The praise of our God is all around us, from the majestic mountains to the flat prairies, from the “dragons” of the deep to the tiny ants on their sandhills.

But who should praise God the best? His church, the “children of Israel, a people near unto him” (v.14). For God exalts “the horn of His people, the praise of all His saints.” Do we remember how we sinners, who once were far off from God, have been brought near by the blood of Christ (read Eph.2:11-22 again)? Do we recall today God’s mighty mercy to us and His tender pity on us (Read Psalm 103 again)? Do we bring to mind His amazing grace that saved wretches like me – and you (Read Romans 3 again)? Do we think about what Jesus did to bring us back to the God from Whom we departed and ran (read Hebrews 10 again)?

Then let us praise the Lord! The angels in heaven will. The sun, moon, and stars will. The mountains and hills will. The fish and birds will. The grass and flowers will. Let us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb join them in a mighty chorus of praise to the Lord of creation and salvation.

And let us speak to one another with these words, “Hallelujah! Praise ye the Lord!” Today, as we assemble for public worship. Today, as we gather with family and loved ones. And, tomorrow, as we return to work. God is worthy of all our praise, all our days. “For His name alone is excellent.”

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Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 148 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “Universal Adoration” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Praise ye, praise ye the Lord
In yonder heavenly height;
Ye angels, all His hosts,
In joyful praise unite;
On sun and moon, declare His might,
Show forth His praise, ye stars of night.

2. Praise Him, ye highest heavens,
Praise Him, ye clouds that roll,
Created by his power
And under His control,
Ye heavens that stand eternally,
Established by His firm decree.

3. Ye creatures in the sea
And creatures on the earth,
Your mighty Maker praise
And tell His matchless worth;
Praise Him, ye stormy winds that blow,
Ye fire and hail, ye rain and snow.

4. Ye hills and mountains, praise,
Each tree and beast and bird;
Ye kings and realms of earth,
Now let your praise be heard;
By high and low, by young and old,
Be all His praise and glory told.

5. By all let God be praised,
For He alone is great;
Above the earth and heaven
He reigns in glorious state;
Praise Him, ye saints, who know His grace
And ever dwell before His face.

The Death of His Saints

Psalm116-15With the sudden death of two, precious saints – one young (25), one middle aged (55) – in our PR Christian community in the past week, I find this “Grace Gems” devotional from yesterday very fitting – and very comforting to every child of God. May it speak peace to our hearts in the face of that fearful, yet defeated last enemy, death.

The death of His saints!

(Alexander Smellie, “The Secret Place” 1907)

“Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints!” Psalm 116:15

To me death has its unlovely aspects. I may be ready by God’s grace to meet it–and yet I recoil instinctively from the act of dying.
It seems unnatural.
It is usually attended by pain and suffering.
It is a farewell to dear and beloved associations.
It is a going out into an untrodden land.
I cannot coax myself to love the dreadful experience. And therefore I am glad to think that there is another side to the matter, and that to my Lord, my death is precious. And why should it be so?

Let me consider the name by which He calls me, and I shall begin to understand. “His saints!” That is His title for His sons and daughters, among whom I have been enrolled.
The people of His own purchased possession.
The redeemed people whom He has set apart for Himself.
He owns them in virtue of the stupendous price which He paid for them.
He has been at infinite pains to redeem and save and cleanse them.
Nothing which concerns them appears indifferent to Him.
The death of the humblest of them, is of stupendous moment in His sight.

Let me reflect, too, that death is one of the means His grace and power employ to uplift and crown me. It looks as though I scarcely could know God thoroughly, or confide in Him completely–until I learn to lean upon Him . . .
when heart and flesh faint and fail,
when the long and close fellowship of body and soul is sundered,
and when I pass forth alone into the mystery of unseen eternity.
Then He becomes more indispensable than ever. Then my trust must be simple and absolute. Then, when lover and friend are put far away, I cling to Him and refuse to let Him go. Death teaches us this perfection of dependence.

And let me predict to myself the future to which death is the doorway. I can scarcely imagine it . . .
its spotless holiness,
its unfathomable bliss,
its endless pleasures,
its divine love.

But He sees it clearly, and comprehends it in its breadth and length and depth and height. He is familiar . . .
with the flowers and fruits of His upper garden,
with the refreshment of the fourfold river,
with the music of the better country,
with the city’s foundations of gems, and its gates of pearl, and its streets of gold.

Is it a marvel that He should pronounce desirable and precious, that loosening and wrench from earth which liberates me for a Heaven like this?

When I think my Lord’s thoughts, I shall cease to be so afraid of death!

Prof.R.Cammenga’s Thesis Now Available in Print: “God of Friendship”

Prof.Ronald CammengaLate last week Prof.R.Cammenga (professor of Dogmatics and OT Studies in our PRC Seminary) came through the doors of Seminary loaded with a large box filled with large black volumes. And yet, though loaded under the weight of these volumes, he was clearly enthused, for the box contained the printed (bound) copies of his recently completed thesis from Calvin Seminary, “in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Theology and successfully defended on April 29, 2013.” The certificate in the front of each volume (dated August 1, 2014) is signed by Profs.Richard A.Muller and John Bolt, the former serving as Supervisor.

The thesis Prof.Cammenga successfully defended and which was subsequently approved is titled “God of Friendship: Herman Hoeksema’s Unconditional Covenant Conception.” Those in the PRC – and many on the outside of her – will certainly recognize the significance of this work, for the Reformed and Biblical truth of the unconditional nature of God’s covenant of grace with His elect people in Jesus Christ lay at the heart of Hoeksema’s theology. This was a truth that Hoeksema distinctively developed in connection with the PRC controversies with W.Heyns (CRC) and K.Schilder (Liberated in the Netherlands), though, as Cammenga ably and clearly points out, Hoeksema stood in good company with this teaching and taught this from the beginning of his ministry, also in the Christian Reformed Church.

In the “abstract” Prof.Cammenga lays out the main theme of his thesis:

This thesis is a study of the doctrine of the covenant of grace as developed by the Protestant Reformed theologian Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965). In the thesis I will focus particularly on Hoeksema’s teaching that the covenant of grace is unconditional, both in its establishment and its maintenance. I will demonstrate that already in the early 1920s, while yet a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, Hoeksema’s understanding of the covenant was impacted by his convictions concerning election. Throughout his lifetime Hoeksema never wavered from his fundamental view of the covenant of grace in its relationship to God’s sovereign, gracious decree of election (vi).

“God of Friendship” is divided into four (4) main parts:

  1. The Covenant as a Bond of Friendship
  2. Election Applied to the Covenant
  3. Within the Tradition (here Cammenga defends the view that Hoeksema was by no means alone in his understanding of the covenant)
  4. The Unconditional Covenant (here Cammenga treats the contemporary controversies in which Hoeksema was engaged)

Prof.Cammenga affectionately dedicates this thesis to his son Daniel (1988-2004), “departed and in glory, whose parents rejoice in God’s covenant promise ‘to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee (Genesis 17:7).” Indeed, the doctrine of the covenant is no cold, abstract truth, but the source of the believer’s comfort and hope, in life and in death, for time and for eternity.

This is to inform you that a limited number of copies have been purchased and are for sale ($20) in the Seminary Bookstore. Contact the office if you would like a copy (616-531-1490).

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 146

Psalm 146For this new Sunday, as we awaken to new mercies and fresh revelations of God’s faithfulness (Lam. 3:22,23), we turn to the Word of God in Psalm 146.

As we continue to make our way through this OT Psalter, using it especially to prepare ourselves for the worship of the Lord in His house of prayer, we note that these last five psalms all begin and end on the note of “Praise ye the LORD” (or simply, “Hallelujah”). As such, these closing songs of the OT church’s songbook are most fitting for our worship – public and private – for the theme of our worship as well as of our daily walk must be the praise and adoration of our sovereign God and King.

And as we look at Psalm 146, we see that this is the psalmist’s resolve and testimony too. He will not praise the Lord occasionally or sporadically, but as long as he lives and as long as he has being (v.2). This is the way we must tell our own souls to praise God (v.1).

And the psalm writer also gives himself and us good reason to praise the Lord. The God of Jacob (which is another way to say that He is the God of the covenant and church) is the God of boundless power and saving help for His people. Read carefully the things he mentions here in describing the Lord and His power and works. And note too how broad and deep these works and ways of the Lord are, from creating the heaven and earth out of nothing to relieving the fatherless and widow. O, yes, this God reigns – forever! And He is “Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations” (v.10).

How foolish then to put our trust in anyone else but this sovereign Lord! The psalmist calls the people of God not to place their trust in princes or in the son of man (v.3). For obvious reasons (vss.3b,4). Rather he points us to the incredible happiness – and blessedness! – of having the one, true God for our help and hope (v.5). Is He such to us? Have we placed and do we place our trust in Him alone? Is He our only hope, in life and in death, in good times and in bad times, in prosperity and in adversity?

As we come into His presence today, may we find Him to be all that He is revealed to be here – the God of amazing creation, of faithful providence, and of gracious salvation. In Jesus Christ, the Son of Man Whom He made strong to save us and help us in all of life and in all of life’s circumstances. And finding Him so, may we place all our hope (trust) in Him alone. So that with solid hope in our souls, we may say with the psalmist, “Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.”

Psalm 146

146 Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.

While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:

Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. TheLord looseth the prisoners:

The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous:

The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.

If you desire to meditate on Psalm 146 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “Trust and Praise” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.

2. Put no confidence in princes,
Nor for help on man depend;
He shall die, to dust returning,
And his purposes shall end.

3. Happy is the man that chooses
Israel’s God to be his aid;
He is blest whose hope of blessing
On the Lord his God is stayed.

4. Heaven and earth the Lord created,
Seas and all that they contain;
He delivers from oppression,
Righteousness He will maintain.

5. Food He daily gives the hungry,
Sets the mourning prisoner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish,
Makes the sightless eyes to see.

6. Well Jehovah loves the righteous,
And the stranger He befriends,
Helps the fatherless and widow,
Judgment on the wicked sends.

7. Over all God reigns forever,
Through all ages He is King;
Unto Him, thy God, O Zion,
Joyful hallelujahs sing.

The Revelation’s Potent, Imaginative Style

Reversed Thunder - EPetersonThis past weekend I picked up in a local thrift store a used copy of Eugene H. Peterson’s book on the NT book of Revelation, titled Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination (Harper & Row, 1988). While one may differ with Peterson’s theology at points (he is “moderate” Presbyterian), he is a good writer and one can appreciate his emphasis on profiting from the Bible’s variety of literature and style.

In this work in which he addresses the last book of the Bible and all its “last words” (his chapter headings read like this: “The Last Word on Scripture”, “The Last Word on Christ”, “The Last Word on the Church”, etc.), Peterson comments on the striking character of Revelation’s style in his introduction. Since this too relates to how words are used, not merely in literature in general, but in the Bible specifically, it is fitting for this “Word Wednesday”.

What walking through Maryland forests does to my bodily senses, reading the Revelation does to my faith perceptions. For I am quite as dull to the marvelous word of Christ’s covenant as I am to his creation. ‘O Lord, and shall I ever live at this poor dying rate?’ Not if St. John’s Revelation has its way. A few paragraphs into the Revelation, the adrenalin starts rushing through the arteries of my faith, and I am on my feet alive, tingling. It is impossible to read the Revelation and not have my imagination aroused. The Revelation both forces and enables me to look at what is spread out right before me, and to see it with fresh eyes. It forces me because, being the last book of the Bible, I cannot finish the story apart from it. It enables me because, by using the unfamiliar language of apocalyptic vision, my imagination is called into vigorous play.

To that he adds this a page later:

God’s faithfulness, new every morning, finds me heavy-lidded. I am thick-skinned to the Spirit’s breeze, dull-eared to the heaven-declared glory of God.

…Is there no vision that can open our eyes to the abundant life of redemption in which we are immersed by Christ’s covenant? Is there no trumpet that can wake us to the intricacies of grace, the profundities of peace, the repeated and unrepeatable instances of love that are under and around and over us? For me, and for many, St. John’s Revelation has done it. Old dogmas are revisioned; familiar lines of scripture are revoiced; ancient moralities are subjected to intense testings from which they emerge glistening and attractive; valued but dusty beatitudes are plunged into waters from which they reappear washed, clean, and ready for fresh use.

And, finally, he says,

I do not read the Revelation to get additional information about the life of faith in Christ. …Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ. There is nothing new to say on the subject. But there is a new way to say it. I read the Revelation not to get more information but to revive my imagination (pp.x-xi).

Good food for thought, I believe.

And by the way, that title to the book comes from these lines about prayer from the English poet George Herbert:

Prayer [is]…

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing speare,
The six-dayes world transposing in an houre.

J.Calvin on Psalm 143: “…We must pray for the pardon of our sins.”

JCalvin1Also for our meditation on and profit from Psalm 143 this day we consider these comments of God’s Reformer, John Calvin. Here he reflects on v.2, where we learn again the importance of confessing our sins and casting ourselves upon God’s mercy in Christ. May these words too point us to the only gospel of comfort and hope in Jesus Christ.

2. And enter not into judgment, etc.

I have hinted already why he proceeds to pray for pardon. When overtaken by adversity, we are ever to conclude that it is a rod of correction sent by God to stir us up to pray. Although he is far from taking pleasure in our trials, it is certain that our sins are the cause of his dealing towards us with this severity. While those to whom David was opposed were wicked men, and he was perfectly conscious of the rectitude of his cause as regarded them, he freely acknowledged his sin before God as a condemned suppliant.

We are to hold this as a general rule in seeking to conciliate God, that we must pray for the pardon of our sins. If David found refuge nowhere else than in prayer for pardon, who is there amongst us who would presume to come before God trusting in his own righteousness and integrity? Nor does David here merely set an example before God’s people how they ought to pray, but declares that there is none amongst men who could be just before God were he called to plead his cause.

The passage is one fraught with much instruction, teaching us, as I have just hinted, that God can only show favor to us in our approaches by throwing aside the character of a judge, and reconciling us to himself in a gratuitous remission of our sins. All human righteousnesses, accordingly, go for nothing, when we come to his tribunal. This is a truth which is universally acknowledged in words, but which very few are seriously impressed with. As there is an indulgence which is mutually extended to one another amongst men, they all come confidently before God for judgment, as if it were as easy to satisfy him as to gain man’s approval.

In order to obtain a proper view of the whole matter, we are first to note what is meant by being justified. The passage before us clearly proves that the man who is justified, is he who is judged and reckoned just before God, or whom the heavenly Judge himself acquits as innocent. Now, in denying that any amongst men can claim this innocence, David intimates that any righteousness which the saints have is not perfect enough to abide God’s scrutiny, and thus he declares that all are guilty before God, and can only be absolved in the way of acknowledging they might justly be condemned.

Had perfection been a thing to be found in the world, he certainly of all others was the man who might justly have boasted of it; and the righteousness of Abraham and the holy fathers was not unknown to him; but he spares neither them nor himself, but lays it down as the one universal rule of conciliating God, that we must cast ourselves upon his mercy.

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