A Prayer in Time of Affliction – John Knox (It’s harder than you think!)

Just and righteous art Thou, O dreadful and most high God, holy in all Thy works and most just in all Thy judgments – yea, even then when as Thou punishest in greatest severity. We have before, O Lord, felt Thy heavy hand on us, and when we cried on Thee in our calamities and afflictions, most mercifully Thou inclined Thy ears unto us. But, alas, O Lord, we have not answered in our lives glorifying Thy holy name as Thou answered us when we called in our distress, but we did return unto our accustomed sin and so provoked Thee through our misdeeds unto displeasure.

Therefore hast Thou most justly turned Thyself to punish [read as chastise] us again in bringing among us this troublesome and destroying pestilence, according to the threatening of Thy law, because we have not made our fruit of Thy former corrections. Our repentance, O Lord, hath been like the dew that suddenly vanisheth away; yea, the great multitude remained hardened in heart through their own pride and, walking in the lusts of their own hearts, confidently despised Thy blessed ordinances. For who hath mourned for the universal corruption of this blind age? …Yea, Lord, where could the man be found that sought not himself, even with the hurt of others and defacing of Thy glory? So universally did and presently doth that root of covetousness reign throughout this whole country. Yea, Lord, they to whom Thou granted worldly blessings in greatest abundance have been and are possessed with this unclean spirit of avarice. The more Thou gave, the more insatiably thirsted they to have, and they ceased not till they did spoil Thee of Thy own patrimony; yet in this matter they will not know themselves to sin and offend Thy majesty. Therefore cannot Thy justice longer spare, but it must punish and strike us as Thou threatenest in Thy holy law.

Now we know, Lord, that Thy judgments commonly begin at Thy own house, and therefore hast Thou begun to correct us, albeit yet in Thy mercy and not in greatest severity. Wherefore, good Lord, either else in the multitude of Thy mercies remove this bitter cup away from us or grant us Thy grace patiently and obediently to drink the same as given out of Thy own hand for our amendment.

We acknowledge, O Lord, that afflictions are disturbing, vexing, and hard to be borne with of fragile flesh; but Christ Jesus hath suffered heavier torments for us, and we have deserved more than we sustain who so oft have merited the very hells. If it shall please Thy Majesty to continue our punishment [read, chastisement] and double our stripes, then let it please Thee in like means to increase our patience and make our corporal afflictions serve to our humiliation, invocation of Thy name, and obedience to Thy holy ordinances. Or if of a fatherly pity it shall please Thee to be content with this gentle correction, let the calm appear after this present tempest that in respect of both the one and the other we may glorify Thee, in that first Thou hast corrected to amendment lest we should have slept in sin to our destruction and, secondly, that Thou hast taken away the bitterness of affliction with the sweetness of Thy comfortable deliverance, in Thee first having respect to the necessity and in the last to our infirmity.

…But, O Lord, now it is Thy own inheritance, for the which we sigh and groan before Thy Majesty. Look on it, therefore, from the heavens, and be merciful to Thy people; let Thy anger and Thy wrath be turned away from us, and make Thy face to shine lovingly on Thy own sanctuary. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, consider, grant our requests, for Thy own sake, O our God, and that in the name of Thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ, our only Savior and Mediator, in whose name we pray unto Thee…. So be it.

collected-prayers-jknox-2019Taken from The Collected Prayers of John Knox, edited and introduced by Brian G. Najapfour (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), pp.37-39. This is the first prayer in the section “Supplication in Times of Difficulty,” and when I read it last week, it struck me as so relevant for the present time. This prayer of Knox is prophetic.

And yes, it smote my own conscience. How fitting for our age, our country, our churches, yes – but, especially for my own heart and life, as we have sat in such prosperity, lusting for more and trusting in our idols to deliver us. And now the Lord is judging us, unmasking the vanity of our false gods and calling us to true repentance and full faith in Him alone.

Can we pray these words of Knox? Yes, as children of God we can, and we must. But will we? May God humble us to do so, and work genuine repentance in us in this time of affliction.

Life in These COVID-19 Days: A Personal Picture

So what is life like for us during the coronavirus pandemic?

Like many, we are trying to keep things as normal as possible, keeping as many routines as we can. But, of course, many things have changed too. Yet, in the midst of all these changes (and fears), manifold evidences of God’s faithfulness and goodness appear from day to day – as you will see from the pictures.

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A sunset over the “muck” fields of Hudsonville this past week

Let me begin with life at home, which is where we often are these days, especially in the evening (I have been able to maintain my work days at seminary – see more below). My wife and I have been working on some home projects, inside and out. She has been painting/cleaning/reorganizing (it’s Spring!) and I have been cleaning out clutter in the basement (the garage will wait a bit yet for nicer weather so I can move the deck and patio furniture and yard accessories out).

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Some hyacinths blooming in back of the house this week

I love yard work, and with the weather becoming more favorable each week – and the daylight longer – I have been doing some landscape cleanup and garden preparation (the kale I left in the ground over the winter has actually started to come back!). This past week I also repaired our mailbox, which was knocked down for the third time in five years!

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On the warmer spring weather days/nights I get out to walk, ride bike, and play pickleball (but no golf – the courses are closed!). We even got a ride out to the lake in this past week (Holland State Park), where the lake and sky were amazing!

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Recently my brother and I visited Kollen Park in Holland, where we watched the first ship of the season come in – the Pere Marquette.

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One of the things we had to stop for now too was our Voices of Victory quartet practices – and it is sorely missed! We take turns hosting at each other’s homes and we have come to enjoy the fellowship (“business meetings”) as much as the singing. Though several singing events have been cancelled, we continue to practice our songs and prepare for some future scheduled concerts by means of recordings. We are also posting some old and new recordings of fitting songs for the times on our Facebook page, so be sure to visit it.

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Our Sundays are the best and hardest of days right now. “Best” because, though not allowed to gather for public worship right now, we are able to receive live preaching, prayer, and singing through live-streamed services broadcast on our church’s website (Faith PRC). We are thankful for this blessed means of grace in these times – truly rest for our souls! Thank you pastor and elders for providing this for us!

At the same time, these are the “hardest” days, since we cannot gather with the congregation and experience face-to-face fellowship and united, physical worship together. But our leaders are making sure we stay informed and in touch with one another as best we can. And, we are also missing our every-other-Sunday family dinner gatherings. It is hard not to see our children and grandchildren in this regular way. But, in this too, we stay in close touch and share picture and videos as well as texts and calls. They say this is the “new normal,” but it not normal and it is hard, as we know it is for you too.

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But, then, last night our pastor and his family, along with an organist and pianist  from the congregation, organized a congregational singspiration and live-streamed it! It was a wonderful hour of psalm and hymn singing, as many of us gathered around our devices to join in! Word is they are also organizing one for next Sunday night on Easter. That would be wonderful!

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As for life at the PRC Seminary, things have changed significantly there, too, as of last week. After the first executive order of our governor (in early March), we were able to continue our normal daily labors. But after the second order (last Monday), we had to transition to all online classes.

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After a crash-course in how to use Zoom (the popular live-streaming app), most of the professors are teaching their classes live each day – either from their office at seminary (allowed!) or from home. For a few of the classes we are using prerecorded videos. So far this is going well, and we are thankful to be able to continue the training in this way. But, again, it is hard not to have regular contact and fellowship together. Our seminary “family life” has also been disrupted. (:

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I am continuing my labors at seminary with near normal hours. I am allowed to be present to maintain the building, keep up with office work (it’s actually busier now!), and offer support (tech and moral!) to faculty and students. I am blessed and thankful to do so.

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The friendly deer notice it is quieter at seminary and feel free to roam in front now too.

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Little blessings of Spring from our Lord – miniature daffodils in bloom in front landscape

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Even Judi Doezema’s Thanksgiving cactus inside is rejoicing in Spring!

Pray for us as we live in these trying times. We pray for you too, wherever you are. God is faithful and God is good, always worthy of our trust. And He loves us unchangingly, as one of our elders reminded us this past week in one of the devotionals he writes and sends us during these days:

Knowing our sin, and let’s be honest, only God knows our sins better than we ourselves, it so often seems unfathomable that the Holy God could or would love us.  In fact, simply the idea of Him having any kind of a positive disposition toward us, much less love, seems impossible.  We need only look back on this day or yesterday to see that repeatedly we have fallen into sin, and in our pride have rejected God and denied His sovereignty in our lives.  This is nothing new.  When we read through the history of old testament Israel, we are struck by how quickly and how often they would forget God and His mighty works that He had done, and follow after the false gods of the people around them.  We might even shake our heads at this, but are we really any different?  Yes, the circumstances of our lives are much different from theirs but think about it.  How many times, just today, just in the last few hours, have we forgotten God and gone after the other gods in our lives such as self, money, human strength, etc.?

And yet, despite our sin, God loves us.  Despite our failings as husbands and fathers, God loves us.  Despite our failings as wives and mothers, God loves us.  Despite our disobedience as children and young people, God loves us.  Despite our constant backsliding and forsaking of Him, God loves us.  Think of the prophet Hosea, who God commanded to take Gomer, an adulterous woman, for his wife.  Why did He do this?  First, it was to give a very clear and real example of the infidelity of the nation of Israel as she ran after other gods.  Secondly though, it was to show to Israel and to us, the great and unchanging love He has for His people, despite our constant infidelity.

The key, and this is what we must always remember, is that His love is UNCHANGING!  There is nothing that the people of God in the old testament or that you and I today, can do to change God’s love for His people.  Not even our greatest sins are able to change that great love.  If that were true then the Apostle Paul could never have written what he did in Romans 8:35-39: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

 

PRC Archives: Rev. C. Hanko’s Recollection of the 1918-19 Pandemic

Our PRC Archives item this Thursday relates to the present pandemic sweeping the world, COVID-19. But in 1918-19 a far greater pandemic swept the world, taking away one fifth of the wold’s population. How did this affect the life of God’s people and His church then?

Less_Than_the_least-CHanko-2017Rev. Cornelius Hanko’s book of memoirs contains his personal remembrance of the disastrous worldwide flu (Spanish influenza) of 1918-19. Hear his story as the church and her saints dealt with a great affliction in those days too:

And then, to make matters worse, the influenza epidemic hit in the winter of 1918-1919. Once more schools and churches were closed for six weeks. Almost no one went to work. Nearly every home had one or more sick with the flu. Doctors could not keep up with the calls that came in. They worked day and night. But the worst of all was that they knew no cure. They tried the usual medicines, and they tried the most caustic medicines, all to no avail. Hundreds died. Funeral services were held outside. Very few went to the cemetery.

A little girl in our neighborhood died also. Her coffin was placed by the front window for the neighbors to see. The minister preached the funeral sermon in the street.

A gloom hung over all. Everyone wondered, ‘Will it strike us next?’ There were some homes in which the whole family was stricken, and one home in which there were five deaths. My future mother-in-law, Mrs. Alida Griffioen, gave birth to a child in a room shut off by sheets while others in the family had the flu.

Ministers were in a quandary as to what to do. Rev. Groen was so afraid of catching the flu that he refused to visit any one. Rev. Peter Jonker Jr. of Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church was out almost day and night visiting the sick. He would place a ladder next to an upstairs window in order to visit someone upstairs. He wore himself out to the point where he could hardly preach. The consistory allowed him to preach old sermons for awhile.

Our family was spared. We sat at home, trying to seek a bit of entertainment amongst ourselves. But sitting home day after day can grow very wearisome. I remember walking along Wealthy Street just to get out, but the streets were void of pedestrians. The street was ‘like a painted ship on a painted ocean.’ [a line from a poem of Samuel T. Coleridge] It hardly seemed real. The break came on Sunday when we had our home service in the morning. To prevent further spreading of the sickness, no more than seven people were allowed to meet together; but we did invite in a few neighbors. These were times when prayer was no longer a mere formality, but a cry of the anxious soul pleading for the sick and bereaved.

As the nation struggled to deal with this public health disaster, it also had to contend with sick and crippled men returning from the front.

Taken from Less Than the Least: Memoirs of Cornelius Hanko, 2nd ed. (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, pp. 42-43.

It may be necessary to note that though I begin this post with the title “PRC Archives” because C. Hanko became a Protestant Reformed Churches’ member and minister of the Word, the history recalled and recorded here is really “pre-PRC” (the PRC did not begin until 1924-25) and took place when Cornelius was a lad of 11/12 years old (he was born in 1907) and still a member by baptism in the Christian Reformed Church. Hence, the reference to the CRC ministers also.

The Reality of Fear, the Power of Faith

With foresight known only fully to God, the editors of this month’s Tabletalk magazine chose as its theme “Fear.” Yes, fear – with article titles such as “The Reality of Fear,” Fear of a Changing World,” Fear of Financial Loss,” “Fear of Being Alone,” “Fear of Disease and Disability,” and “Fear of Dying” – all fitting especially now.

So, on this last night of March, we pull some words of comfort and peace from two articles in this issue. At the same time, I encourage you to look up and read any of these other articles too. They are all profitable, especially in these days and times.

First, we hear Ed Welch as he speaks of “The Reality of Fear,” but also ends with what God says to us in our fears.

When the Spirit takes you into passages about fear and anxiety, you will hear three persistent refrains. First, God speaks beautiful and attractive words to His fearful people. Don’t be quick to expect rebuke, though there is room for confession and repentance in all of life. Instead, expect compassion. Expect comfort.

Second, the Lord promises that He is with us, and He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). This is the promise that includes all others. Jesus Christ died for sins “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Fearful people are the ones who are in a position to cherish the gospel.

Third, since the Lord is present and He is the God who is sovereign over tomorrow, we can give our full attention to our God-given mission today (Matt. 6:33–34). Today we have all the grace we need. Today we have the Spirit of power who gives us courage for small steps of obedience even when tomorrow seems quite bleak. When tomorrow comes, the Spirit will again give us the power and courage that we need. Grace is new every morning.

Fears and anxieties are everywhere in life and in Scripture. Since they are such constants, these three refrains are not merely a way to stand against our fears, but they summarize the pattern of Christian growth.

The second article we choose to reference is that of pastor Eric Watkins, “Fear Not, for I Am With You.”

What God expected of His people was faith in His promise and presence. The opposite of being “frightened and dismayed” is to be “strong and courageous.” There was only one problem: the people were sinfully afraid. Their courage waned more than it waxed, and eventually God would have to do even more for His covenant people. And He did. Many years and episodes later, against the backdrop of an even gloomier stage, God raised up another deliverer—the Prophet more faithful than Moses and the Captain more successful than Joshua. Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to transform this stage of foreboding darkness into one of radiant hope. He came to do battle with all that threatens us, and He overcame our greatest fear—death itself—by His own life, death, and resurrection.

Is it any surprise that in the resurrection narrative in Matthew 28, God’s people were told not to fear? First, the angels told the women at the tomb not to be afraid (v. 5); next, Jesus, having risen from the dead, told the women to say the same thing to the disciples (v. 10); and finally, Jesus gave us the Great Commission with the singular promise that banishes our fear: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (v. 20).

Israel’s tendency was to be “frightened and dismayed.” So is ours. At times, fear grips the heart and boggles the mind, causing us to do the wrong thing at times and hindering us from doing what we ought to do. But we must remember that we are accompanied by One who is far stronger than anything that threatens us—and He is not afraid. There are still many giants in the land. But the One who is with us is greater. He has already defeated His and our enemies. He is victoriously subduing hearts just as He promised. He is working faith in us just as He promised. And the greatest comfort any of us can have—no matter how frightening or dismaying this world may be—is that Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Source: The Reality of Fear | Tabletalk

“…when things seem tough and against all reason, what God has ordained means more to us than anything our brain can apprehend.” ~ J. Calvin

crucifiedandrisencover-JCalvin-2020What we learn here is that God’s will should stop us in our tracks and hold us in check, so that when things seem tough and against all reason, what God has ordained means more to us than anything our brain can apprehend. Our whims and fancies must thus be trodden underfoot once we know that God has other plans. It is part of the obedience of faith to think of God as wise and as having authority to do everything as he wishes. And if we have contrary views, we should know that they are mere smoke and emptiness. God knows all things: nothing is hidden from him and his will is the measure of all wisdom and righteousness.

The fact that we reason to the contrary reflects our ignorance, for as we know, God’s wisdom is infinite, while we have scarcely three drops of common sense in us. Men should not be surprised if God does not behave the way they like. Why not? Because we are poor fools. As long as our mind and reason have the upper hand, we are quite senseless. Therefore since we cannot fathom the bottomless depths of God’s judgment, let us learn to worship what is hidden from us – worship it, I say, humbly and reverently, confessing that all that God does is entirely right and just, even though we do not understand how it is so. That is one point. [pp.42-43]

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…Let us therefore learn that, whenever the story of the passion is told to us, we should sigh and groan, since the Son of God endured so much suffering for us. Yet at the same time let us also tremble before his majesty until it should be revealed to us, and let us resolve that, when he comes, it will be to make us taste the actual fruit which he obtained for us by his death and passion.

Let us fear also lest we are among those whom he threatened when he said ‘Hereafter you will see [the Son of man seated at the right hand of God’s power.’] For the wicked and reprobate will discover how terrible is God’s seat, and how great is his power when he rises up to destroy them. When Paul sets out to describe the condemnation of the wicked and those cursed by God, he says that they will tremble before his infinite majesty and will be terrified by his sight (2 Thess.1:8,9).

Since this is so, we should humble ourselves before the Lord Jesus, and not wait until we visibly see the majesty he will display at his last coming. Let us by faith contemplate him today as our king, the head of the angels and of every creature, and let us welcome him as our sovereign ruler. Let us ascribe to him the honour due to him, knowing that because he is given to us by God his Father for wisdom, redemption, righteousness and holiness (1 Cor.1:30), we must ascribe to him all praise, and must draw from him fullness that will truly satisfy. Let us be sure we pay this honour to our Lord Jesus Christ, even though we do not yet see his judgment seat.

May we contemplate him with the eyes of faith, praying that God may enlighten us by his Holy Spirit and so strengthen us that we may call upon him in time of need. And may we be so lifted up above this world, above all thought and understanding, that we may exalt Jesus Christ today as he deserves. That, in brief, is what we must remember. [51-52]

Both parts are taken from the third sermon of John Calvin, “Arrest and Prosecution” (Matt.26:51-66), in the newly published collection of his sermons on Matthew 26-28 titled Crucified and Risen (Banner of Truth, 2020) “newly translated from the French of 1558 by Robert White.”

Both of these quotes struck me as timely and relevant as I read this sermon today. The first one in the light of the great crisis facing the nations and man’s attempt to trust his own reason, plans, and power to get him through it. And the second quote in the time of reflecting on Christ’s suffering and death, and this being the Lord’s Day, another celebration of His sovereign Lordship and victory. Truly, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev.5:12).

Stay-at-Home Activities, Like Reading, Etc.!

During this time of CV-19 lock-downs and stay-at-home orders (such as here in Michigan), many websites and blogs are offering practical help regarding activities for families and individuals involving all ages. Let me add my own suggestions, while relying on some of these other ideas.

Of course, you will expect me to say that READING should be at the top of your list! By all means let this be a time when we as grandparents, parents, and children spend “extra” time diving into books and renewing our love for the soothing activity of reading. March is, after all, National Reading Month (Make sure to read some Dr. Seuss to your children – it’s in honor of his birthday)!

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Many physical bookstores that had been open are now closed, but they are open online and offering curbside service and free shipping, including Baker Books, Barnes and Noble (in the Rivertown Mall, Woodland Mall and Holland), and Schuler Books here in Grand Rapids. While the Reformed Book Outlet is closed, their website is also available for orders. The RFPA is also taking online orders. Don’t forget Monergism’s website too for great book ideas and many free ebooks.

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If you are looking for other books ideas online, especially for children, let me recommend Really Good Reads and Redeemed Reader.

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There are a number of great Kindle deals right now, including many classics and free ebooks. One I purchased this week is a wonderful devotional on prayers in the Bible from the pen of pastor Gordon Keddie (his commentaries are ALL worth while!): Prayers of the Bible is available free through today.

I’ve been hearing that puzzles are making a comeback and puzzle makers are doing a booming business. Wonderful – a great personal or family activity! My own wife has her card table set up in front of our large living room window and is currently busy with a 1000-piece one.

Speaking of puzzles – word puzzles, that is – Another fun activity our grandchildren enjoy is the “Scrambled Scriptures” Bible word search from Creation Moments (other good things on their website too!). You can subscribe to receive the weekly edition, or print off any available at the link provided. Give it a try and see what the kids think.

Watching videos and documentaries also has its place. And there are many valuable educational and inspirational things out there.

Ligonier Ministries is offering all their teaching videos free during this time. This is a great way to feed your soul and expand your mind right now – Bible studies, church history, Christian doctrine are all open to you.

Christian History Institute is offering their “RedeemTV” beta version free right now. This includes videos on church history and documentaries on world history.

Other activities online may be found at the National Archives website (a wealth of history, etc. there!) and your local state history website. The Michigan Historical Society website has all kinds of ideas for children.

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Of course, for those of us missing March madness basketball and the start of the MLB baseball season (Cubs!), there are plenty of classic games being broadcast right now. Yes, sports has its place – just keep it in its place (Indeed, I need that reminder too.).

Better yet, get outside and play your own games, take bike rides, and walk. Some of us West Michigan pickleball players got our first 2020 outdoor game in this week. It was only 50 degrees and breezy, but it sure felt great to be out playing! 🙂

Feel free to pass along your own suggestions in the comments section!

*Update: I forgot to share this bookplate I came across in some books I was sorting through this past week.

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Comfort Greater Than a Pandemic

As our lives have changed drastically in the last few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now in our own state of Michigan a “stay-at-home” order was issued Monday by our governor with further restrictions on our activities and work, the fears and worries mount. Flooded daily with information about the spread of the deadly virus, we feel overwhelmed by the news. We try to stay occupied and keep our own minds as well as those of our children and grandchildren off the threat lurking all around.

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But as children of God, we must know we also have an abundance of special peace and hope coming our way in these days. We have a comfort greater than any and all pandemics! Because we have a comfort that comes from the triune God, rooted in the love of our heavenly Father, accomplished by the saving work of the Son,  Jesus Christ, and applied by the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit. Now, there’s an anchor for our souls!

And in these times, we are also being flooded with the gospel of this divine comfort. I think of all the wonderful sermons being produced by our pastors, just for these times. A couple of examples are Rev. C. Haak’s at Georgetown PRC this past week, “Souls Redeemed from Fear,” based on Isaiah 43:1. and Rev. C. Griess’ at First PRC, “Coronavirus and the King,” based on Rev.4-5.

Then there are the precious pastoral meditations pastors, elders, and members are writing and sending out to the congregations. One of our elders at Faith PRC, Tom Cammenga, has written a couple, including this one this week, which reads in part as follows:

To whom or to what are you looking right now for peace and security?  Is it yourself, or your neighbor? Is it the government? Is it the stock of food and goods you have amassed?  Is it the money that you have in the bank or in a retirement account? All these things are fleeting and can be lost in an instant.  

Let us instead, with David, seek the Lord.  It is only in Him that we have deliverance. It is in Him alone that we have our boast.  It is in Him alone that we put our trust. Let it be our prayer together as a congregation for ourselves and for one another that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts that enables us to say with David in Psalm 34:1-2: “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad”.

What then is the result of our seeking after and trusting in God?  First, He hears us. Think of that for a moment and be amazed and humbled.  The Almighty God of heaven and earth hears US! We who are less than the dust and are worthy of nothing less than eternal damnation!  He, as it were, bends His ear to us in His Fatherly love and tender mercy, and HEARS us. What a wonder!  Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry”.

Secondly, He answers us.  Our God is not the god of wood or stone that is unable to answer those who seek deliverance from them.  Jehovah is the LIVING God and answers our requests. Psalm 145:18: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth”. 

Finally, He delivers us, and that deliverance is total and complete.  Yes, He certainly delivers us from evils and difficulties here in this life.  And when, as it is at times, not His will to deliver us from them, He works them out for our eternal good and advantage.  Ultimately and most importantly of course, He delivers us from our sin and the misery that is ours because of it. Even now, though we still battle with our old human nature, in Christ, we have been made righteous, and in Christ we have and enjoy that beautiful Covenant relationship of friendship with God.  Even when we are afflicted, alone, or, as now, when we are unable to come together as a congregation, we are never left desolate and without hope. Psalm 34:22: “The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate”.   

Our own pastor, Rev. C. Spronk has produced some special YouTube videos with a comforting message from God’s Word. You will find one such here:

Besides, we have God’s Word of comfort through radio messages, such as on the Reformed Witness Hour. The Facebook page of the RWH featured one today, ‘Trusting and Not Fearing,” which was also posted on the  PRC website.

And then there is the powerful message of music. On the Voices of Victory Facebook page today the song “Don’t Be Afraid” was featured. It’s a beautiful song of comfort for these days. Read and listen to these lyrics based on Mark 4:35-41:

1. The disciples were tossed on a cold, raging sea
But Jesus was sleeping so peacefully
They cried, “Master, don’t you care that we die?”
But He spoke spoke three small words, “peace be still,”
It was the storm that had to die

(Chorus)
So don’t be afraid when the darkness is closing
The Master is near, His voice calms every storm
So when the world says it’s over, the Master says, “No, I’ve just begun”
In your darkest of times, whether rain or in sunshine, don’t be afraid

2. I know how it feels to be tossed by the storms
And I know how it feels to be battered and worn
But then I know how it feels to be carried on through
Called by the strength of the One who is faithful and true

Repeat Chorus

And, of course, the Psalms speak to us in times like this too, because they speak for us, as God’s children speak (sing and pray) out of the experience of their own personal doubts, worries, and fears. You are encouraged to make use of our Psalter online, including the lyrics, piano accompaniment, and special videos by the PR Psalm Choir.

Here’s a few lines from Psalter 34, based on Psalm 18:

1. I love the Lord, His strength is mine;
He is my God, I trust His grace.
My fortress high, my shield divine,
My Saviour and my hiding place.

2. My prayer to God shall still be raised
When troubles thick around me close;
The Lord, most worthy to be praised,
Will rescue me from all my foes.

3. When, floods of evil raging near,
Down nigh to death my soul was brought,
I cried to God in all my fear;
He heard and great deliverance wrought.

May we avail ourselves of all these means in the days ahead. God has comfort for us, the only comfort there is in this present world, comfort greater than the pandemic.

“We cannot doubt that through him we may now surmount all worry, fear and dread….” ~ J. Calvin

crucifiedandrisencover-JCalvin-2020Moreover, since we have to struggle with such dread [of death, which is “as it were the pit of hell, expressive of God’s wrath.”], we need to know that our Lord Jesus Christ made provision for all our fears, and that even in the midst of death we can still come before God with our heads held high.

…If, then, we have no hope of life when we come before the heavenly Judge, we are sure to be rejected by him. He will not acknowledge us but will disown us, even though we make profession of the Christian faith. We can only await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ if we are persuaded and convinced that he so battled with the terrors of death as to free us from them and to win for us the victory. And although we will always struggle to be conscious of our weaknesses, to turn to God for help and to be continually made to confess our sins so that God alone is seen to be righteous, we can nevertheless be sure that Jesus Christ has fought for us and gained the victory, not for himself but for us. We cannot doubt that through him we may now surmount all worry, fear and dread, and call upon God, certain that he will always receive us with outstretched arm.

It is important that we remember this. We should be clear that there is nothing speculative about the message that our Lord Jesus suffered the awful terrors of death, and that he deliberately stood surety for us before our Judge, so that, because of the battle he fought, we today may triumph over all our infirmities and may persistently call upon God’s name, never doubting that he will answer us and will always be ready in his goodness to receive us to himself. Thus we will pass through life and death, through fire and water, knowing that our Lord Jesus did not fight in vain but gives the victory to all who come to him in faith. That, in sum, is what we need to bear in mind.

Taken from the first sermon of John Calvin, “No Sorrow Like His Sorrow,” in the newly published collection of his sermons on Matthew 26-28 titled Crucified and Risen (Banner of Truth, 2020) “newly translated from the French of 1558 by Robert White.”

This particular quote shows just how relevant the gospel of Christ crucified is, no matter the place or time or circumstance. Faith in this Christ of the cross and empty tomb frees us from fear of death and gives us hope in the life to come.

One also cannot fail to note how pastoral Calvin was in his preaching. He truly ministered the Word to God’s people, convicting them of God’s truth and comforting them with the good news in Christ Jesus.

This will be a collection of sermons you will want to obtain. It makes for fine reading in this time of year.

Sovereign Ruler of the Skies – John Ryland

I came across part of this comforting hymn today in a “Grace Gems” devotional, and had to look it up. The first result of my search gave the fullest version of “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies,” though it is also found on hymnary.org. I found this nice summary of the hymn on the Founders website:

“Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” [was written] by the English Baptist pastor and hymn writer John Ryland (1753–1825). The hymn was written in 1777 and included in Rippon’s Selection (1787) #545. It originally had nine verses. Unfortunately, as with many hymns, it is often shortened to four or five verses when included in hymnals.

…The longer composition is worth singing. It reveals Ryland’s intentions in thought and structure. The hymn begins with doctrine that overflows into devotion. As in a well-crafted sermon, he takes time to proclaim truth and then apply truth. In the first six verses he declares what is true about God and about himself. Then in verses 7–9 he responds to that truth. His response is a model for us in how we should respond:

He prays, entrusting himself to God: “In Thy hands my life I trust.”

He examines his heart and motives, wanting nothing to surpass God in his life, asking himself: “Have I somewhat dearer still?”

He commits himself to God’s will, acknowledging that all he has and is belongs to God.

He praises God, desiring to bless Him “at all times”

And he closes the hymn by preaching to his own soul. God is sovereign over all. If I have Him, I have all I need. He will never leave me or forsake me. So how could I ever be orphaned or abandoned?

Take time to read Ryland’s hymn—all nine verses. He has much to teach us about savoring truth and crafting praise.

Here, then, are all nine verses of the original hymn of Rylands:

1.   Sovereign Ruler of the skies!
Ever gracious, ever wise!
All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command.

2.   His decree, who formed the earth,
Fixed my first and second birth;
Parents, native place and time,
All appointed were by Him.

3.   He that formed me in the womb,
He shall guide me to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by His wise decree.

4.   Times of sickness, times of health,
Times of penury and wealth;
Times of trial and of grief,
Time of triumph and relief.

5.   Times the tempter’s power to prove,
Times to taste a Savior’s love:
All must come, and last and end,
As shall please my heavenly Friend.

6.   Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit.

7.   O Thou Gracious, Wise and Just,
In Thy hands my life I trust:
Have I somewhat dearer still?
I resign it to Thy will.

8.   May I always own Thy hand
Still to the surrender stand;
Know that Thou art God alone,
I and mine are all Thine own.

9.   Thee, at all times, will I bless;
Having Thee, I all possess;
How can I bereaved be,
Since I cannot part with Thee?

Notice especially that 6th verse in our present calamity:

6.   Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit.

Source: Hymns from History | Sovereign Ruler of the Skies

“Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague” by Martin Luther

mluther.jpegThese pearls of wisdom from the pen of Martin Luther shed marvelous light on our own response to the situation with COVID-19 in our world at present. Biblical principles pervade Luther’s counsel to people facing the Black Plague in his day, including the two chief ones: love for God and love for the neighbor.
May his words give us guidance in these dark and difficult days.

Tolle Lege

“Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are.

They say that it is God’s punishment; if He wants to protect them He can do so without medicines or our carefulness. This is not trusting God but tempting Him. God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health.

If one makes no use of intelligence or medicine when he could do so without detriment to his neighbor, such a person injures his body and must beware lest he become a suicide in God’s eyes. By the…

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