“Sing Psalms Unto Him” – Special Issue on Psalm-Singing – April 1, 2014 Standard Bearer

The latest issue of The Standard Bearer is out, and it is another excellent special one! The April 1, 2014 issue is devoted to the Reformed practice and tradition of Psalmody or Psalm-singing. Prof.B.Gritters, one of the editors, includes this descriptive note before his own fine article “In Praise of Psalm-Singing”:

You have in your hands a special issue on the church’s long-treasured practice of singing psalms in public worship. Although our Psalter’s anniversary was not in view when we planned the issue, 2014 does mark 100 years since our fathers adopted the 1912 Psalter for use in the churches. God’s faithfulness explains our continuing in psalm-singing.

The logic of the articles should not be missed. First, Rev.James Slopsema, one of our long-time writers of meditations, helps us reflect on God’s Word in the psalms. The editorial encourages us in the use of this songbook called ‘the Psalms’ and the great blessing of them. Three articles look at the rich history of psalm-singing. Rev.Brian Huizinga’s moving article traces the history of psalm-singing from the earliest times of the New Testament church. Rev.Kenneth Koole writes a fascinating history of the use of the 1912 Psalter in the PRC. Rev.Martyn McGeown, whose churches use the Scottish Metrical Version of the Psalter, writes about the present use of the psalms in various Reformed and Presbyterian churches. That all the psalms should (and can be!) sung by New Testament Christians is the purpose of Rev.Ronald Hanko’s article on the imprecatory psalms. Then there is careful reflection, by Prof.Russell Dykstra, on how the PRC’s Psalter might be improved.

SB-Psalm Issue-April 1-2014_Page_1

Fittingly, the cover of this special issue contains this wonderful quote from the Reformer John Calvin:

There are in brief three things that our Lord has commanded us to observe in our spiritual assemblies, namely, the Preaching of his Word, the public and solemn prayers, and the administration of his sacraments. As to the public prayers, these are of two kinds: some are offered by means of words alone, the others with song…. We know by experience that song has great force and vigor to move and inflame the hearts of men to invoke and praise God with a more vehement and ardent zeal. It must always be looked to that the song be not light and frivolous, but have weight and majesty as Saint Augustine says, and that there is likewise a great difference between the music one makes to entertain men at the table and in their homes, and the psalms which are sung in the Church in the presence of God and his angels…. Wherefore, although we look far and wide and search on every hand, we shall not find better songs nor songs better suited to that end than the Psalms of David which the Holy Spirit made and uttered through him. And for this reason, when we sing them we may be certain that God puts the words in our mouths as if he himself sang in us to exalt his glory.

You are urged to obtain and read this significant and edifying issue of the “SB”. To receive your copy if you are not a subscriber, visit the “SB” website at the link given above. If you are a subscriber, and the issue has reached your home, I pray you devour it completely!

“Semper Reformanda” – The Reformation Isn’t Over – James White

The Reformation Isn’t Over by James White | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014On the last Sunday of March I finished reading the final articles of this month’s Tabletalk, including this fine one by Dr.James R.White. Since the March issue carried a Reformation theme (“John Knox & the Scottish Reformation” – see my previous Monday posts this month), it was fitting to have such a piece pointing us to the ongoing need of reformation in the church today, especially in the battle against Rome.

I pull a few paragraphs from the end of White’s article here, encouraging you as always to read the rest at the Ligonier link above.

Should the Reformation continue to hold a place of importance in the church that faces such immense opposition as that coming from radical, gospel-hating secularism? Wouldn’t a united front, free from partisan bickering, help the cause of Christ? The answer has to be, “Of course the Reformation remains important, and, in fact, its work must continue in our day, and into the future as well.”

The reason is not hard to see, even if it seems hidden to many in our day. Wonderfully nebulous catchphrases like “the cause of Christ” often hide the truth: the cause of Christ is the glorification of the triune God through the redemption of a particular people through the cross-work of Jesus Christ, which is a rather Puritan way of saying, “The cause of Christ is the gospel.” Each of the emphases of the Reformation, summed up in the solas, is focused upon protecting the integrity and identity of the gospel itself. Without the inspiration, authority, harmony, and sufficiency of Scripture, we do not know the gospel (sola Scriptura). Without the freedom of grace and the fullness of the provision of the work of Christ, we have no saving message (sola fide). And so on.

The Reformation fought a battle that each and every generation is called to fight simply because each and every generation is made up of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, and hence there will always be those who seek to detract from the singular glory of God in the gospel through the addition of man’s authority, man’s merit, man’s sovereignty. Is this not the meaning of semper reformanda, the church always reforming, always seeking to hear more clearly, walk more closely, to her Lord?

With the ebb and flow of human history, the forces arrayed against the church and her Lord and the particular front upon which the battle rages hottest will change. Rome’s theology has evolved and her arguments have been modified, but the issues remain very much what they were when Luther and Eck battled at Leipzig, only modified and complicated. God’s kingship, man’s depravity and enslavement to sin, and the insatiable desire of sinners to control the grace of God will always be present. And today, the sufficiency, clarity, and authority of Scripture are at the forefront, just as they were then. The need for the Reformation will end when the church no longer faces foes inside and out who seek to distort her purpose, her mission, her message, and her authority. Till then,semper reformanda.

Human Words May Hurt, but God’s Word Counts

trueman-fools.inddBack on March 4 I gave you another Carl Trueman quote, this time about how we all need to get tougher when it comes to being hurt by what people say and write about us. In the past week I read the next chapter in his book Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012), titled “Am I Bovvered?” (Now, there’s a great “Wednesday word”!), and here Trueman admits that, yes, sometimes people’s words do hurt us. And what should we do about that? Is what they say reality? How do I handle ridicule and scorn?

Interestingly, to find answers he turns to the theology of Martin Luther and the gospel of the Reformation, joining together justification by grace alone through faith alone with the preaching of the Word of God. And I thought that on this “Word Wednesday”, as we think about not only the meaning of words but also the power of words, these would be some good thoughts for  us.And perhaps, thinking on these things, we may also find our true consolation when we are truly hurt by what people say.

Here is Trueman:

This is yet again where I find that giant of Protestant theology, Martin Luther, to be a singularly useful source of personal help and pastoral insight.

…Central to Luther’s Reformation theology was his understanding of how words constitute reality. …In other words, reality – real reality – was exactly what God declared it to be.

And then, after pointing to two examples of this “real reality” of what God says (creation and the cross), Trueman takes us to the Reformation doctrine of justification:

Finally, this power of divine speaking culminates in justification. Luther understands that God does not find men and women righteous and then declare them to be so as some act of description of, or response to, an established state of affairs. Luther knows that God declares that which is drenched in sin, foul, obnoxious, and deserving of nothing but divine wrath – Luther, I say, knows that God declares this person to be righteous; and by the sheer power of the divine word, they then are righteous. This is no cosmic gas or mere legal fiction, as some have claimed; rather the divine word makes it so.

And now comes the application:

Others might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God speaks louder, and his Word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s Word is real reality.

Isn’t that precisely what we need to remember when others hurt us by their words? How simple, yet how profound!

And from that comes this further word of application from Trueman:

That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the Word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his Word to me, and as I hear that Word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever (pp.209-213).

Book Alert! RFPA Releases “1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church” by M.Kamps

1834-HdeCock-MKampsLast week the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) released its latest publication, and it is a unique and significant volume. 1834: Hendrik De Cock’s Return to the True Church by Marvin Kamps is the story of a godly Dutch Reformed churchman who seceded from the apostate state church in the Netherlands in the early 19th century to form the church anew according to the Word of God and the Reformed confessions.

It is a story that needs to be told, not only because it is not well-known (much of it being hidden behind the Dutch language and limited English resources), but also because it set the stage for subsequent reformation in the church in the Netherlands and beyond (America, e.g.). Much of the present Reformed church world with its roots in the Netherlands can trace its heritage back to Hendrik De Cock and the secession he led out of the Dutch state church. And of course, because many Reformed churches have long-departed from this heritage, the story of De Cock and his restoration of a truly Reformed church needs to be uttered as a call to return to the “old paths” of the gospel of sovereign grace and true worship.

Here is part of the author’s conviction as expressed in the “Preface”:

The Reformed churches today that are faithful to their name are the continuation of the reformation of 1517 and 1834. These reformations of the church were a return to the Bible. Often it is said that the significance of 1834 is that it constituted a return to the Canons of Dordt. Although this is true, it is an incomplete statement. My thesis is that in 1834 De Cock and his congregation returned to the Bible and therefore to the Reformed creeds. Many will disagree with this understanding of 1834. Let the reader judge.

And then he issues this challenge to us:

Do we share in the Secession fathers’ confession, witness, struggle, and walk before God? Do we today treasure De Cock’s spiritual legacy as our spiritual father? Are the Reformed creeds still our heartfelt confession? Or have we consciously rejected that confession of the fathers and returned to the apostate teachings and way of life championed by the false church?

This is a beautifully-produced book (490 pages), complete with pictures from the age as well as seven appendices containing significant translations of original documents relating to the 1834 reformation in the Netherlands.We take the opportunity to thank Mr.Kamps for his diligent work resulting in such an important book.

We hope this book is widely received and welcomed, not only by those of Dutch Reformed heritage but by all who have come to know and love the Reformed faith and by all who love and want to learn from the history of Christ’s church in the world.

Scotland and the Birth of the United States – Donald Fortson – March “Tabletalk”

Scotland and the Birth of the United States by Donald Fortson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The fourth and final featured article on “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation” in this month’s Tabletalk focuses on the influence of the Scottish Reformation on the beginnings of the United States of America. It is written by Dr. Donald Fortson, associate professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, and has the above-linked title.

Being interested in early American history and knowing precious little about how the Scottish Presbyterians played a part in our country’s beginnings, I was highly interested in getting to Fortson’s article. I did yesterday, and I was not disappointed. It is an important and fascinating story – and not without controversy. But you will have to read that for yourself.

I quote a portion of it here and encourage you as always to read the entire article at the Ligonier link above. Your eyes will be opened to a connection between Scottish Presbyterian history and U.S. history that you perhaps did not know much about before.

One of the reasons American Presbyterians had organized themselves was a belief that joint effort could strengthen religious toleration. Under the 1689 Toleration Act of William and Mary, Makemie and other ministers had secured Dissenter licenses. Makemie’s house had been designated as an authorized preaching point in Anglican-established Virginia, but he was arrested in New York by the governor, Lord Cornbury, for illegal preaching. He was jailed and eventually tried, but was acquitted in 1707. Makemie’s exoneration was a notable milestone in the advancement of religious liberty in the colonies and made Presbyterians popular with Dissenters.

Within a decade of Makemie’s trial, the massive immigration of Scots-Irish would commence. Beginning in 1717, a steady stream of Ulster Scots populated the Middle Colonies, particularly the frontier in western Pennsylvania. By the time of American independence, nearly five hundred thousand Scots-Irish had come to America. The Virginia and Carolina Piedmont areas were unoccupied before 1730, but Scots-Irish settlers coming down the “Great Philadelphia Wagon Road” began to populate the backcountry. By 1750, they had moved into the South Carolina Piedmont and north Georgia. Scottish Highlanders settled along the North Carolina seaboard and coastal areas of Georgia.

The most remarkable spiritual event to shape Scots-Irish colonists in the generation preceding the Revolutionary War was the revival known as the First Great Awakening. Many Presbyterians were keen supporters of revivalist preachers George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, who deepened American passion for freedom to worship God according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

One fruit of the revival was renewed Christian piety, which many American clergy saw as central to God’s blessing on the colonies. There were also millennial overtones to the Spirit’s work as a sign of America’s providential destiny. These elements helped create fertile soil for the American Revolution, and Presbyterian ministers utilized these themes as advocates for independence from Britain.

How the Scots Changed the World (including the Sabbath) – Aaron Denlinger

How the Scots Changed the World by Aaron Denlinger | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014The third main feature article in this month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine) is penned by Dr.Aaron C. Denlinger, professor of historical and systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.

You will recall that this month’s issue is devoted to “John Knox & the Scottish Reformation’, since this year is the 500th anniversary of Knox’s supposed birth. Denlinger’s subject is the above-linked article, “How the Scots Changed the World”, and it is another interesting and instructive piece.

Of particular interest to me was his last section where Denlinger treats the Scottish Reformers’ influence on the sabbath. I quote from that part of his article, encouraging you to read all of it. We Dutch Reformed folk can trace a similar influence on the sabbath to the Reformation in the Netherlands; but we are thankful for the Scottish Presbyterian impact on the Lord’s Day too.

The Sabbath

The early modern Kirk was notable for its emphasis upon keeping the Sabbath holy, coupled with a strong distaste for observing any other “holy days.” Insistence upon observing the Sabbath in fulfillment of the fourth commandment was, again, a characteristic of Reformed thought more broadly, though it may have had deeper roots in Scotland than elsewhere. For example, legislation passed under the eleventh-century Scottish Queen Margaret, intended to reform the church and nation, stressed the people’s obligation to keep the Sabbath.

Unique to the Kirk at the time of the Reformation, however, was the insistence that no other days be credited with religious significance. In fact, when asked in 1566 to review the Second Helvetic Confession, a respected document penned by the Reformer Heinrich Bullinger, the Scots felt compelled to offer qualified appreciation of the text, calling attention to their disapproval of the confession’s tolerance for the celebration of Christmas, Pentecost, and Easter, “feast days” with no warrant in Scripture.

The Kirk, to be sure, never entirely succeeded in discouraging Christmas festivities in Scotland, and rarely have churches or Christians elsewhere in the world embraced the Kirk’s argument for the complete eradication of a Christian calendar, and thus the refusal to attribute religious significance to any day beyond Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Kirk’s general privileging of a weekly rhythm for work and Sabbath rest over a liturgical calendar year orienting believers toward various seasons and days defined by Christ’s earthly ministry has affected attitudes toward both worship and work throughout the world. Fewer holy days translates, not only linguistically but also socially and historically, into fewer holidays. What sociologists have called “the Protestant work ethic”—an orientation in historically Protestant countries toward good, honest, hard work—is arguably the fruit of not only a general emphasis in Reformation thought on the godliness of every vocation but also a peculiar insistence in Scotland that believers should pause every Sunday for worship and respite, and more or less work the rest of the time.

John Knox – Sinclair Ferguson & For the Glory of God – R.C.Sproul

John Knox by Sinclair Ferguson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014As was pointed out last Monday, this month’s Tabletalk is devoted to “John Knox and the Scottish Reformation”. Dr.Sinclair B.Ferguson writes the second main feature article in this issue, with the focus simply on Knox himself. You may find his full article “John Knox” online here, and I certainly encourage you to read his fine description of Knox the Reformer.

But there are two other articles I would like to reference on my blog today. The first is Dr.R.C.Sproul, Sr.’s lead article “For the Glory of God”. In this article Sproul points out that of the five solas of the Reformation the last one is the most important – Sola Deo Gloria: To God alone belongs the glory. The other four serve to preserve this one, he writes. From here he goes on to show why the glory of God is so important.

At the end of this article Sproul makes some points that I thought were excellent for our Sunday worship, as well as for our daily witness in this world. I post them here in the hope that they also serve to drive home to us a basic but an all-important truth.

Every day in America, we hear one of the great pernicious lies about God, namely, that we all worship the same god. We are told that whatever we call him or it—Allah or Yahweh or Tao or Buddha—it doesn’t matter. We all worship the same thing. To that I reply, “No, we don’t.” The scary part about religion in general is that it underscores man’s guilt before God, but then goes on to create ineffective solutions to this guilt. The impetus for creating alternatives to the religion that God reveals in nature and in Scripture is idolatry. But even if we boldly confess this truth, we must be on guard against idolatry even within the Christian community. Because we are fallen creatures, we can be religious and be idolaters at the same time. All of us can remake God in our own image, downplaying or ignoring those aspects of His character we do not like. If we do that, we are withholding the glory that belongs to God alone.

The whole goal of our salvation is to bring us to a place where we worship God and we honor Him as God. The great danger is that we make ourselves the center of concern, and we steal the glory of God. In all that we do, the driving passion of the Christian must always be Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. And the only way for this passion to be realized is to honor God as God, to understand Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word and not according to the mere opinions of fallen creatures.

“Give Me Scotland, or I Die” – J.Knox/Burk Parsons

Give Me Scotland, or I Die by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-March2014Today we can introduce the March issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional periodical. This being the 400th anniversary of the supposed year of John Knox’s birth, “TT” has devoted this month’s issue to “John Know & the Scottish Reformation”. Which makes this an interesting and significant issue.

The story of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland has all the elements of the Reformation in other countries, but with its own unique twists and turns according to the sovereign will and hand of God: incredible bravery and boldness on the part of the Protestants, brazen resistance on the part of the Roman Catholics, political intrigue, and agonizing yet joyous martyrdom.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces us to the subject of Knox and the Reformation in Scotland under the above title. I encourage you to read it so that you may see in brief what was at stake in this part of the Reformation and how God used Knox to claim this land and its church for Him. After you have read this, go on to read the first main feature article, “The Scottish Reformation” by Stephen J. Nichols. It is a good read and will help you see the “big picture” of what God was doing in Scotland.

Here is an excerpt from Parsons’ article introducing this issue:

Perhaps more than anything else, John Knox is known for his prayer “Give me Scotland, or I die.” Knox’s prayer was not an arrogant demand, but the passionate plea of a man willing to die for the sake of the pure preaching of the gospel and the salvation of his countrymen. Knox’s greatness lay in his humble dependence on our sovereign God to save His people, revive a nation, and reform His church. As is evident from his preaching and prayer, Knox believed neither in the power of his preaching nor in the power of his prayer, but in the power of the gospel and the power of God, who sovereignly ordains preaching and prayer as secondary means in the salvation of His people.

Although Knox had been imprisoned and enslaved, and though he was often infirm and under threat of persecution, he consistently lived out his theology, believing that “one man with God is always in the majority.” As such, the prayers of one man heard at the throne of God were a threat to the throne of Scotland. During the time of the sixteenth-century Scottish Reformation, Knox’s ministry of preaching and prayer were so well known that the Roman Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”

The Florence “Flamethrower” – G.Savonarola

One of my favorite areas of reading is church history. Most times I enjoy reading books that focus on a single figure or a certain period of the history of the church. But sometimes I like shorter overviews with a variety of figures and periods. Currently I have two devotional type books I am working my way through: 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World by William Peterson and Randy Peterson (F.Revell, 2001 – one which I have mentioned before) and All the Saints Adore Thee: Insight From Christian Classics by Bruce Shelley (Baker, 1994 – my sister Sue put me on to this one).

GSavonarolaRecently I read a chapter from 100 Bible Verses that dealt with a little-known figure from the 15th century: Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). The chapter is titled “The Flamethrower of Florence”, and as I read it, I began to recall some things I had learned about this early Roman Catholic reformer. In fact, the opening paragraph states this: “Was Savonarola the real igniter of the Reformation flames? Many historians charge this fiery Italian preacher with striking a crucial match. Luther himself said he was greatly influenced by what Savonarola had done a generation before him” (p.35).

But it was the end of this “devotion” that I found especially moving, and from that I quote:

Though Florentines lauded him, Savonarola’s fearlessness did not win him any friends in Rome. The pope made a political gesture, offering Savonarola a cardinals’s hat. He refused to take it.

The pope had enough. Savonarola was suspended from the priesthood and excommunicated. Besides that, the city of Florence was placed under a papal interdict. That’s when the people of Florence changed their minds about the reformer. Of course, he always had his share of foes in the city, but now those enemies flexed their muscles. Savonarola was asked to retract his charges against the pope and admit he was a false prophet. He refused, was arrested, stood trial for heresy, and was found guilty.

After a month of torture, he was sent to the gallows. The execution took place on the city square. After the pope’s representative pronounced judgment upon him, saying, ‘I exclude thee from the militant and triumphant church,’ Savonarola responded, ‘From the church militant you may, but from the church triumphant, you cannot’ (p.36).

By the way, the verse that changed Savonarola’s life was Matthew 3:2, where the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching is summarized: “…Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s the call from God he received and the message he brought, first to smaller cities in northern Italy and then to the influential city of Florence.

 

Z.Ursinus on Jesus’ Birth of the Virgin Mary

HC-Q&A 1-GermanToday marks the end of our year-long, special Thursday posts on the Heidelberg Catechism, as we noted its 450th birthday (1563-2013). We are concluding with the commentary of one of the chief writers, Zacharias Ursinus, on the fourteenth Lord’s Day of the HC. Here he is explaining the HC’s treatment of the statement in the Apostles’ Creed, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”

Last week we focused on the first part of that confession; today we focus on the second part, that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. May this be a fitting conclusion to our study of the beloved “HC” this year.

He was born of the Virgin Mary. It behooved the Messiah to be born of the Virgin according to the predictions of the prophets, that he might be a High Priest without sin, and the type or figure of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of the will of flesh, but of God. Hence it is added in the Creed, that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary :

1.   That the truth of the human nature assumed by the Son of God might thus be signified, that is to say, that Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, and was born a true man from the substance of Mary his mother; or, the flesh of Christ, although miraculously conceived, was nevertheless taken, and born of the Virgin.

2.   That we may know that Christ has descended from the fathers from whom Mary also was, that is to say, that he was the true seed of Abraham, being born from his seed, and that he was the Son of David, being born from the daughter of David, according to the prophecies and promises.

3.   That we may know that the Scriptures are fulfilled, which declared, “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent s head.” (Is. 7:14Gen. 3:15.) From this fulfillment of prophecy, by which it was foretold that Christ should be born of a Virgin of the family of David, and that by a miraculous conception, which the prophets did in a manner foretell, it is most clearly manifest that this man Jesus, born of the Virgin, is the promised Messiah, or the Christ, the redeemer of the human race.

4.   That we may know that Christ was sanctified in the womb of the Virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and is, therefore, pure and without sin.

5.   That we may know that there is an analogy between the nativity of Christ, and the regeneration of the faithful; for the birth of Christ of the Virgin is a sign of our spiritual regeneration, which is not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

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