Ordinary Means of Grace Ministry | Tabletalk

TT-March-2023The March 2023 issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine, is focused on the theme of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, with a sub-theme of “A Manual for Kingdom Living.” There are many good articles developing this theme, and I encourage you to browse the contents and read those.

But in this post I wish to draw on an article from the regular rubrics in the back of the magazine. In “For the Church” Dr. Jon D. Payne has a valuable contribution on the “Ordinary Means of Grace Ministry” (see link below). He draws lessons for the modern church from the ministry of the great American pastor, missionary, and theologian, Jonathan Edwards.

I quote from the second part of the article, where Payne makes application to the church’s calling today with regard to God’s means of grace. On this Lord’s day, I believe you and I will profit from this powerful reminder of how God is pleased to work and preserve salvation in His people.

Edwards’ example of fidelity to the means of grace serves as a strong reminder to pastors and churches alike not to exchange God’s means of grace for the world’s strategies of growth. Too often in churches today, even among the Reformed, faithful preaching gets eclipsed by man-centered, sociology-driven, moralistic homilies. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper often receive little attention compared to praise teams and church programs. Prayer gets pushed to the margins of worship and congregational life. The vanishing of Lord’s Day evening worship further accentuates the need to recover God’s strategy for Christ-centered discipleship in our churches. Pastors are called first and foremost to be “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). Those mysteries of God are the Christ-instituted means of grace through which He gives us Himself.

Some might wonder why the means of grace are often referred to as ordinary. They are ordinary in that they do not possess the outward and visible glory of the signs, miracles, and wonders of the exodus, the public ministry of Christ, or Pentecost. The means of grace are simple, unadorned, and common. At the same time, the means of grace are quite extraordinary. Why? Because God has promised to work through them for the salvation of His elect, to bring guilty sinners into union and communion with Christ through faith. Therefore, to neglect the ordinary means of grace in the ministry of the church is not only to question the wisdom of God; it’s to disregard the saving power of Christ. This doesn’t mean, of course, that church ministry outside Lord’s Day public worship is never appropriate or beneficial to God’s people. Midweek church programs and various ministry activities can be a great blessing, but they must never overshadow the ordinary means of grace.

Finally, the ordinary means of grace are the tools through which God will gradually destroy Satan and the kingdom of darkness. In his famous History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards states that the destruction of Satan and his kingdom “will not be accomplished at once.” Instead, he explains that “this work will be accomplished by means, by the preaching of the gospel, and the use of the ordinary means of grace, and so shall gradually be brought to pass.”

Dear believer, sinners are saved and Satan is vanquished not through the visible glory of social activism, political victories, or cultural transformation. As beneficial as these pursuits might be to improve society, the saving power of Christ is not mediated through them. In fact, it’s one of Satan’s tactics to make us believe that it is. Rather, the saving power of Christ is operative, by the Spirit, through God’s chosen instruments of salvation: preaching, prayer, water, bread, and wine. Administered by lawfully ordained ministers of the gospel, the ordinary means of grace form God’s chief strategy for making disciples. God creates and confirms faith through them, and not apart from them. In the tradition of the Reformers, Edwards believed that an ordinary-means-of-grace ministry is a gospel ministry focused on the person and work of Christ and filled with the saving power of Christ. May we believe it as well.

Source: Ordinary Means of Grace Ministry | Tabletalk

Published in: on March 26, 2023 at 7:27 AM  Leave a Comment  

Knowing God: The Difference between Knowing God and Merely Knowing about Him – J. I. Packer

knowing-god-packer-2023Crossway has just published a new, beautiful hardcover edition of J.I. Packer’s classic work, Knowing God. In the article mentioned above and linked below, the publisher quotes the author himself on what it means to truly know God. There are plenty of good thoughts here for us to ponder.

I well remember reading this book for the first time and being captured by Packer’s ability to explain deep truths about God in a clear, biblical way that was also warm and pastoral. I learned to love the Puritans from him, often considered the last great Puritan himself.

After giving you a portion of that article, I post Crossway’s description of the book. As always, I encourage to visit the links to read more about this wonderful title and to think seriously about adding this edition to your library.

To focus this point further, let me say two things:

1. One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him. I am sure that many of us have never really grasped this. We find in ourselves a deep interest in theology (which is, of course, a most fascinating and intriguing subject—in the seventeenth century, it was every gentleman’s hobby). We read books of theological exposition and apologetics. We dip into Christian history and study the Christian creeds. We learn to find our way around in the Scriptures. Others appreciate our interest in these things, and we find ourselves asked to give our opinion in public on this or that Christian question, to lead study groups, to give papers, to write articles, and generally to accept responsibility, informal if not formal, for acting as teachers and arbiters of orthodoxy in our own Christian circles. Our friends tell us how much they value our contribution, and this spurs us to further explorations of God’s truth so that we may be equal to the demands made upon us.

All very fine—yet interest in theology and knowledge about God and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes is not at all the same thing as knowing him. We may know as much about God as John Calvin knew—indeed, if we study his works diligently, sooner or later we shall—and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, may I say) we may hardly know God at all.

2. One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God. It depends on the sermons one hears, the books one reads, and the company one keeps. In this analytical and technological age, there is no shortage of books on the church book tables, or sermons from the pulpits, on how to pray, how to witness, how to read our Bibles, how to tithe our money, how to be a young Christian, how to be an old Christian, how to be a happy Christian, how to get consecrated, how to lead people to Christ, how to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (or, in some cases, how to avoid receiving it), how to speak with tongues (or how to explain away Pentecostal manifestations), and generally how to go through all the various motions that the teachers in question associate with being a Christian believer. Nor is there any shortage of biographies delineating the experiences of Christians in past days for our interested perusal.

Whatever else may be said about this state of affairs, it certainly makes it possible to learn a great deal secondhand about the practice of Christianity. Moreover, if one has been given a good bump of common sense, one may frequently be able to use this learning to help floundering Christians of less stable temperament to regain their footing and develop a sense of proportion about their troubles, and in this way one may gain for oneself a reputation for being quite a pastor. Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all.

We come back, then, to where we started. The question is not whether we are good at theology or “balanced” (horrible, self-conscious word!) in our approach to problems of Christian living. The question is, can we say, simply, honestly, not because we feel that as evangelicals we ought to, but because it is a plain matter of fact, that we have known God, and that because we have known God the unpleasantness we have had, or the pleasantness we have not had, through being Christians does not matter to us? If we really knew God, this is what we would be saying, and if we are not saying it, that is a sign that we need to face ourselves more sharply with the difference between knowing God and merely knowing about him.


Knowing God by J. I. Packer is a modern Christian classic. Since its original publication in 1973, Packer’s insightful and practical approach has impacted countless Christians throughout the world as they are introduced to the wonder and joy of knowing God.

In this beloved work, Packer challenges readers that while they may know about God, it is not the same thing as knowing him. Organized into 3 sections, Knowing God explains the importance of theological study of the Lord, what the Bible has to say about God and his character, and the benefits of knowing him. From cover to cover, Packer teaches that each truth learned about God should ultimately lead to prayer and praise.

  • Accessible: Written for Christians of all backgrounds and denominations, as well as new believers

  • Practical and Insightful: Addresses many common questions about faith, including Who needs theology?What does it mean to be adopted into the family of God?, and Can God communicate his plan to us? 

  • Beautiful Hardcover Edition: Perfect for a lifetime of reading and for giving as a gift

Source: The Difference between Knowing God and Merely Knowing about Him | Crossway Articles

Published in: on March 21, 2023 at 10:13 PM  Leave a Comment  

St. Patrick – Worthy of Protestant Attention

Today, March 17, is the traditional St. Patrick’s Day, which as we know, the world has turned into another day of mindless and God-less revelry. And we may know what the Roman Catholic Church has done with this Christian character, turning him into another occasion for her ecclesiastical promotion.

But, as many Protestants have been advancing of late, we need to reclaim St. Patrick and rescue him from the worldly and the Romish uses of him. So let’s do that today by doing some healthy reading about the man and his mission.

Allow me to point you to a couple of good resources today. First of all, I show you my little display of items from the PRC Seminary library that I set out this morning. It includes a couple of articles I will link you to below. We have more books on St. Patrick in this library, but these are representative. And they are available for our readers.

Second, Ligonier Ministries has published on their website a fine introduction to St. Patrick by Steve Lawson. You may find “Who Was St. Patrick and Should Christians Celebrate St. Parick’s Day” here. Lawson opens this way:

When it comes to Saint Patrick, the true story is even more exciting than the legend and the myth. The facts are far better than the fable. This day that belongs to St. Patrick has become about leprechauns, shamrocks, pots of gold, and green—green everywhere. Famously, the City of Chicago dumps forty pounds of its top-secret dye into the river. A green racing stripe courses through the city. But long before there was the St. Patrick of myth, there was the Patrick of history. Who was Patrick?

And third, just this morning Log College Press published a post about St. Patrick that is worth reading. “What to Think About St. Patrick?” may be found here. I include an excerpt to encourage you to read the rest:

Every year as Spring is about to commence, the world seems to turn green as celebrations of St. Patrick of Ireland take place (in some Protestant locales, such as Ulster, orange is the preferred color). But what are we to make of St. Patrick himself, a man who is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church but also greatly admired by Protestant historians too? Was he in fact, as Sheldon Jackson claimed in the Moderator’s Opening Sermon at the 1892 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, “Saint Patrick, Father of Presbyterianism in Ireland”? It may be challenging to discern, but in the words of George Macloskie, Princeton professor of biology and Presbyterian minister, “The St. Patrick of legend and superstition is not attractive, but the historical Patrick is a beautiful personage, whose memory should be revered by all Irishmen and by all Christians” (The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, Vol. 8, No. 8 (Apr. 1897), p. 330). A few of our Log College Press authors chime in with these further thoughts.

William D. Howard, A History of the Origin of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church (1872):

I would like to speak of Patrick, who was not, as many suppose, a Roman Catholic saint, but an earnest evangelical missionary, and his successful labors among the Druids of Ireland; and of his successors—Columba, Columbanus, and Gallus — who, long before Gregory the Great had, whilst yet an humble priest, seen the fair-faced Angles in the slave mart at Rome and, of course, long before as Pope he had sent Augustine as a missionary to Britain, had conveyed the Gospel to Scotland and England, Gaul and Germany, Switzerland and Lombardy.

Published in: on March 17, 2023 at 10:42 AM  Leave a Comment  

March 2023: It’s National Reading Month – What’s on Your Stack?

Yes, March is now annually designated as National Reading Month, in honor of Dr. Suess’ birthday (You do remember all those fun Dr. Suess books, don’t you?!). Local libraries and bookstores traditionally promote the month of reading, and that is good. And the purpose is especially to encourage reading in children, which continues to decline. And I hope you will certainly use this month to encourage the children in your life to read and to read widely.

But I also want to use this opportunity to encourage you as an adult to read and to read widely. You also know how I feel about reading (“read more, read better”) and you typically know what I’m reading from reading this blog. I have a stack of diverse books alongside my chair in the den, from the serious Christian and Reformed books to American and world history, from lighter fare that includes fiction and non-fiction (such as my annual baseball read!) to magazines and journals, religious (such as Tabletalk) and secular (Michigan History is one of my favorites).

Reading is hard work – no question about that. That includes setting time aside to read. I am not unaware of the challenges to that. In fact, I struggle with that daily. And yet I can and do commit to reading something for some part of the day. That includes, of course, reading the most important book in the world – God’s Word, the Bible.

But in this post I want to stress the importance of reading for sheer fun and enjoyment. Yes, I too admit that sometimes one of my favorite activities becomes a chore and I don’t want to give myself to it. But then I simply have to ‘change gears’ (or jump cars) a bit so as to get my passion for reading back. Which is why I keep a variety of books at my elbow, so that if my mood is to read for simple pleasure, I have a book ready to give me just that. I am always on the lookout for these types of books, and sometimes these kind of fall into your lap, providentially.

That happened again in the last few weeks. I was browsing some local thrift stores for some things for the seminary library, the bookstore, and for my own reading pleasure when I came on a brand new author (to me) and book: Jim Heynen’s The One-Room Schoolhouse: Stories about the Boys (Alread A. Knopf, 1993). What a delight this book has been to my winter reading! Simple, fun (and funny), real-life stories of boys growing up in Midwest farm country. Lots of wholesome outdoor animal and boyhood adventures! In short chapters with attention-grabbing headings (“Dancing with Chickens,” “Betcha Don’t Dare,” “Eye to Eye” (with pigs!), and “Church Bears”), and well written prose, Heynen has captured both my imagination and my love for reading for sheer enjoyment.

So, go out and find a good book (I highly recommend this one!) and set down in your easy chair, inside or outside, and read for pure pleasure. I promise it will do your soul good. And it will stimulate you to read more, and better.

Want a taste of the pleasure? Try this from “Dancing with Chickens.”

What most people didn’t know is that chickens could dance. The boys thought this might have something to do with how stupid they were, though they actually seemed to have a knack for it. The boys didn’t bring music to dance with chickens, just a little rhythm, a little clapping of hands and shuffling of feet. Not so much that it would scare the chickens into piling in a corner and killing themselves, but hard and loud enough so the chickens’ heads would start keeping time. First in little jerky moves while the boys patted their heads, as if the chickens were sniffing the air in the direction of the boys’ soft clapping. Then the boys moved their shoulders as they clapped, and the chickens’ heads started turning from side to side – at the same time they kept doing their little pecks of the air. Just when everybody was together on this, a whole coop of chickens following the beat, the boys added some foot shuffling, careful not to move so fast that it scared the stupid chickens, never so loud that it sent them squawking into chicken bedlam. After a few seconds of this, one chicken would lift its foot from the straw and then, as if it was too dumb to know what to do with it, put it down again, probably because its head was turning and it wasn’t sure which direction it would go in if it did try and take a step.

In a while it was a flock of soft jerky dancing, the boys leading the way, keeping it up until they got dizzy – or until they heard someone coming. They didn’t want anyone to see them doing this. Dancing with chickens was the only dancing the boys ever did. How would they know for sure that someone watching them wouldn’t think the stupid chickens had started all this and they were just following?

Published in: on March 11, 2023 at 10:08 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Calculus of the Cross – G. Fluhrer

Some more good thoughts for you from the new title from Ligonier Ministries, The Beauty of Divine Grace: Gabriel N.E. Fluhrer.

This is taken from a section subtitled “The Calculus of the Cross” in chapter two, “One Way Back: Grace Alone.”

Paul’s message in Ephesians 2:8-9 is that we are saved by grace alone precisely because of our tendency to boast in the wrong things. So God, in His mercy, removes the ground of any kind of boasting in our salvation by offering [presenting] us a crucified Savior. Why would God do this?

Perhaps the main reason is that any human contribution to salvation immediately reduces the necessity of the cross. There is a kind of ‘cross calculus.’ Any kind of contribution on our part proportionately reduces both the effectiveness of and the need for the cross. So in a brilliant gospel mathematics lesson, Paul teaches us here that the value of our works relative to our salvation is precisely zero. Therefore, salvation by grace alone once and for all destroys the ground for our idolatrous boasting.

But our sin is insidious and even more cunning than we imagine. Our preference to boast in something other than Christ reveals this deviousness. We boast in other things so that we can keep Christ at a distance. Our pitiful works are just one more way that we avoid the cross.

Therefore, any attempt to save ourselves is, at the same time, a deadly avoidance of Jesus. We think our efforts will make us right with God when, in reality, they keep God and Christ at a distance from us. Ironically, what we thought would save us – our works – keep us from being saved.

Here is the altar at which we must sacrifice our pride. Once we grasp that our works contribute nothing to our salvation, we have come to the end of ourselves. And at the end of self, we always meet Jesus. We will never meet Him anywhere else. How could we? Blinded by our relentless doing, we miss the centrality of His dying and doing.

This is why every other system of salvation does not provide a savior that actually saves you. What do they provide for you? They provide moral guidance. They provide teachers. They provide ways and means and systems and rituals and things to obey and laws to follow. But what they do not and cannot provide is any meaningful assurance that you will actually be saved. [pp.38-39]

May our sovereign God’s gospel math drive us to our knees where we crucify our pride and place all our trust in our crucified Savior, Jesus Christ.

That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (I Cor.1:29-31)

Published in: on March 5, 2023 at 7:37 AM  Leave a Comment  

PRC Archives Feature! Mystery Photo Time *(Updated)

Good Thursday morning to you from the PRC archives center at the PRC Seminary in Wyoming, MI.

It is time for another mystery photo feature. This photo was actually just donated last evening through Prof. R. Dykstra who received it from the Hoksbergens (Don and Wilma) in Hull PRC (IA). We thank them for it, especially because it comes still in its original cardboard frame!

So, who can identify the photo – and if you are really good – the men in it?!

Just so you know, I do have the answer to these questions, thanks in part to the photo (love it when people send a picture AND identify it!) and Prof. R. Dykstra.


I realize this might be a tough one to place, so let’s move ahead and identify the photo above for our readers. It is a picture of the 1949 Consistory of Orange City (IA) PRC. Maybe you didn’t even know we used to have a church in that beautiful community with its own Dutch flavor, named after William of Orange. But here are the names of the men in the photo as it was submitted to us:

This photo also appears in the PRC 25th anniversary booklet, as seen below. Now the mystery is mysterious no more. If you have any memories of this congregation or of the men in the picture, please share them here or by email (cjterpstra@sbcglobal.net).

Published in: on March 2, 2023 at 10:24 AM  Leave a Comment  

J. G. Machen on the Bible: Christianity vs. Liberalism

The February 2023 issue of Tabletalk features articles commemorating the 100th anniversary of J. Gresham Machen’s classic defense of historic Christianity, Christianity and Liberalism (Macmillan, 1923).

Editor Burk Parsons has some opening thoughts on this great conflict and Machen’s place in it in his article “Liberalism: A Different Religion”:

This year marks one hundred years since the publication of Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). Machen was a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1906 to 1929, when he left to help establish Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he was professor of New Testament until his death. Machen was instrumental in the founding of what later became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He is one of the most important, but lesser-known, Christian figures of the twentieth century, and it would be difficult to overstate the significance of his classic work. In Christianity and Liberalism, Machen took a valiant and unwavering stance by drawing a sharp contrast between true, biblical Christianity (as summarized by the church’s historic creeds and confessions) and liberalism, demonstrating that liberalism is an altogether different religion from Christianity. While some chose not to enter the fray, Machen confidently and charitably fought to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in the one, true church of Jesus Christ.

David B. Garner has a fine article on how the Bible as God’s authoritative Word was at the center of this battle against modernist Protestantism in the early 20th century. After laying out the nature of the battle, Garner writes this in closing:

“Armed with the divine Word, Machen spoke with keen insight, sincere compassion, and disarming clarity. He challenged liberalism’s dogmas: its repudiation of the supernatural, its sinful decimation of sin, its arrogant bluster over the ultimate goodness of mankind, its perverse eclipse of historic theology behind a mirage of heartwarming tolerance, and its crafty turning of Jesus into a guru rather than God. Rather than Rome’s magisterial authority, the reigning voice of the day was theological liberalism, “founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”

“With their feet planted in the shifting sands of sentiment, the mainline denominations celebrated their newfound freedom: Since the Bible is a man-made book, we can interpret it as we want. We can be free from the biblical definitions of sin and salvation, from the shackles of ancient dogmas. Orthodox doctrine is passé; in this new age, we know better.

“J. Gresham Machen was sure that they didn’t. And out of zeal for the glory of God, he stood up to expose the darkness with the light of truth:

Let us not deceive ourselves. A Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls. Clothe Him with all the art of modern research, throw upon Him the warm, deceptive calcium-light of modern sentimentality; and despite it all common sense will come to its rights again, and for our brief hour of self-deception—as though we had been with Jesus—will wreak havoc upon us the revenge of hopeless disillusionment.

“The liberals believed that they found freedom. Machen demurred: “Emancipation from the blessed will of God always involves bondage to some worse taskmaster.”

“The God-given vitality that comes by resting wholly in Scripture, even when accused of stodgy closed-mindedness, ignited Machen and should warm the heart of every believer:

Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God’s word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Charta of Christian liberty.

“In that liberty, Machen stood securely, and in that liberty, every Christian delights. For the one who feasts on God’s Word day and night will be the one who withstands the storms and bears fruit (Ps. 1).”

To read more on this controversy in this issue, visit this page.

Published in: on February 26, 2023 at 8:40 PM  Leave a Comment  

Faith PRC Is 50 Years Old Today (1973-2023)!

Today, February 22, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the organization of Faith PRC in Jenison, MI, of which my wife and I are members. This coming Sunday she will celebrate the event, as this announcement placed in this past Sunday’s bulletin notes:

Faith PRC Anniversary: February 22, 2023 marks the official 50th anniversary of the organization of Faith PRC. We are grateful for God’s covenant faithfulness to us as a congregation over these 50 years. During that time, we have been greatly blessed with faithful preaching of the Word and a strong communion of the saints. The Council is planning a time for fellowship and reminiscing after the morning service of February 26 in the fellowship room. Many pictures will be displayed and you are encouraged to bring your stories to share.

Here are a few items from the PRC archives related to Faith’s history and the dedication of her building six years later, in February of 1978.

First Sunday bulletin after organization (cover above and contents below)

Grand Rapids Press notice of the new church (Saturday, Feb.24, 1973)

Published in: on February 22, 2023 at 8:28 AM  Leave a Comment  

Guard the Lord’s Day and Treasure Its Blessings

Last week, in connection with the world’s great sacrilege of God’s Sabbath Day, the Log College Press posted excerpts from two Presbyterians from the past under the heading, “Not ‘Superbowl’ Sunday, but the Lord’s Day, or the Christian Sabbath.” The first voice is that of Samuel Miller, who had this to say in connection with the best name for NT Christians to use for the first day of the week:

“First, let us hear Samuel Miller, the great defender of historic Presbyterianism from Princeton, who authored an 1836 article titled “The Most Suitable Name For the Christian Sabbath.” After addressing the objection of Quakers to the word “Sunday” (they believed the fourth commandment was abrogated and preferred to use the phrase “the first day of the week”), Miller turned his attention to the pagan origin of the term “Sunday.” After discussion of the history of the Christian observance of the first day of the week and its relationship to the Jewish Sabbath and the pagan Sunday, Miller sums up his position in a few succinct paragraphs:

We are now prepared to answer the question, “What name ought to be given to this weekly season of sacred rest, by us, at the present day?”

Sunday, we think, is not the most suitable name. It is, confessedly, of Pagan origin. This, however, alone, would not be sufficient to support our opinion. All the other days of the week are equally Pagan, and we are not prepared to plead any conscientious scruples about their use. Still it seems to be in itself desirable that not only a significant, but a scriptural name should be attached to that day which is divinely appointed; which is so important for keeping religion alive in our world; and which holds so conspicuous a place in the language of the Church of God. Besides, we have seen that the early Christians preferred a scriptural name, and seldom or never used the title of Sunday, excepting when they were addressing the heathen, who knew the day by no other name. For these reasons we regret that the name Sunday has ever obtained so much currency in the nomenclature of Christians, and would discourage its popular use as far as possible.

The Lord’s day, is a title which we would greatly prefer to every other. It is a name expressly given to the day by an inspired apostle. It is more expressive than any other title of its divine appointment; of the Lord’s propriety in it; and of its reference to his resurrection, his triumph, and the glory of his kingdom. And, what is in no small degree interesting, we know that this was the favourite title of early Christians; the title which has been habitually used, for a number of centuries, by the great majority both of the Romish and Protestant communions. Would that its restoration to the Christian Church, and to all Christian intercourse, could be universal!

The Sabbath, is the last title of which we shall speak. The objections made to this title by the early Christians no longer exist. We are no longer in danger of confounding the observance of the first day of the week with that of the seventh. Nor are we any longer in danger of being carried away by a fondness for Jewish rigour, in our plan for its sanctification. The fourth commandment still makes a part of the Decalogue. We teach it to our children as a rule still in force. It requires nothing austere, punctilious, or excessive; only that we, and all “within our gates,” abstain from servile labour, and consider the day as “hallowed,” or devoted to God. Whoever scrutinizes its contents will find no requisition in which all Christians are not substantially agreed; and no reason assigned for its observance which does not apply to Gentiles as well as Jews. As the first sabbath was so named as a memorial of God’s “rest” from the work of creation; so we may consider the Christian Sabbath as a memorial of the Saviour’s rest (if the expression may be allowed) from the labours, the sufferings, and the humiliation of the work of redemption. And, what is no less interesting, the apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, considers the Sabbath as an emblem and memorial of that eternal Sabbatism, or “rest which remaineth for the people of God.” Surely the name is a most appropriate and endeared one when we regard it in this connection! Surely when we bring this name to the test of either philological or theological principles, it is as suitable now, as it could have been under the old dispensation.

The second voice is that of Thomas L. Slater, a later Reformed Presbyterian minister, who also echoed Miller’s call for the use of the name “Lord’s Day” for the Sabbath (first day of the week). About his sentiments and those of a Presbyterian Church General Assembly, they write:

“Slater, like Miller, in the vein of Puritans before them who were sometimes known derisively as “Precisionists,” argued for expressions of thought grounded in Biblical principle, especially in a matter which Presbyterians of an earlier time viewed the importance of the Sabbath in its relation to both to the church and to civil society. It was not long before the first “Superbowl Sunday” was held in 1967 that the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) issued this relevant warning:

Let us beware brethren: As goes the Sabbath, so goes the church, as goes the church, so goes the nation [emphasis added]. Any people who neglect the duties and privileges of the Sabbath day soon lose the knowledge of true religion and become pagan. If men refuse to retain God in their knowledge; God declares that He will give them over to a reprobate mind. Both history and experience confirm this truth” (Minutes of the Sixty-First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, A.D. 1948, p. 183).

And from my latest ‘easy’ read, Last Summer Boys (a well written historical novel set in the summer of 1968) comes this related excerpt about what used to be a regular part of American life:

Sunday morning our family piles into the Ford and Dad drives us into town for church.

New Shiloh Lutheran sits at the town’s edge, white wooden boards blazing in morning sun under a steeple that tilts like a scarecrow’s hat toward the ocean of corn that surrounds it. Wind moves among the stalks as we pull up, making waves that lap the walls of the church like water against the hull of a ship. And it reminds me how Pastor Fenton said one time the church was a ship: seas could swell and rise against it, but it could never sink, and neither would you so long as you kept inside it.

We pass under the steeple’s shadow, through the double doors, and into a creaky wooden pew. All around us, people fan themselves with paper song sheets so that the whole church seems full of giant white butterflies furiously flapping their wings.

Pastor Fenton reads a bit from the Bible and I try hard to listen close, but my button-down shirt clings to me like a second skin. Ma’s eyes flash John Thomas, stop your fidgeting or else, and that settles me long enough to catch some of Pastor Fenton’s sermon on redemption. With a voice that’s surprisingly powerful for how small a man he is, he tells us nobody is beyond God’s love, no matter what they’ve done, and thinking otherwise is a dangerous kind of pride.

Published in: on February 18, 2023 at 7:56 PM  Leave a Comment  

Resting in the Sovereign LORD who is in His holy temple – Habakkuk 2:20

In the February 1, 2023 issue of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Ron Hanko (emeritus PRC pastor in Covenant of Grace PRC in Spokane, WA) has penned another edifying exposition of a part of Habakkuk, the latest minor prophet he is working his way through. In his seventh installment he focuses on verse 20 of chapter 2, though he is treating the entire section of chap.2:5-20. That 20th verse reads, “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

This is part of what he has written on this passage with that focal point:

Now in 2:5-20, having reassured His people, God turns to the matter of Babylon’s wickedness, pronouncing five-fold woe on that evil nation.  Babylon, too, would be punished, and would be punished for laying Judah waste!  Her punishment would correspond to her crimes and would come for Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem and the temple: “And I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, saith the LORD” (Jer. 51:24).

Babylon would suffer but Babylon’s judgment was not God’s main concern.  Judah had to see His glory and holiness as that of the LORD, the God of His people. And so the chapter ends with an assurance that God, even in His use of Babylon, is righteous and holy, through fire and water the God who keeps covenant and remembers mercy: “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”  God’s description of Babylon’s coming judgment is vivid and memorable, but the hope of seeing Babylon’s fall might not be the focus of God’s people.  The faithful must look to Him, trusting in His sovereignty and perfect holiness as the LORD, their covenant God.  Only then would they be able to live by their faith.  Their faith could not rest in the coming judgment of the nations, but in God Himself as the God of His people.

By the time God punished Babylon, Jerusalem would be destroyed and abandoned and the people for whom Habakkuk prophesied would be captives in Babylon.  The temple would be desolate and it would still be some years before God kept His promise to bring them back to their own land.  Many of those who believed God’s word through Habakkuk would not even live to see Babylon’s fall.  Yet God would still be in His holy temple, the covenant God and justifer of His people.

This has application to us.  We wonder what will happen to those who misuse and persecute God’s church and people.  That is not our first concern.  Our calling is not to wait for God’s judgment to come on those who trouble His church, or to delight in their downfall.  We can leave their punishment in His almighty hands, though we may be sure that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” and that He will always punish evildoers.  We must look in faith to Him, believing that even when His ways are not our ways, He is in His holy temple, enthroned in majesty and righteousness, far beyond our questioning or even our understanding, and always the LORD, Jehovah, who saves His own with an everlasting salvation.

Beautiful comfort for us, Jehovah’s precious church and people today. May we manifest that true faith that rests in Him in all of life’s trials and tribulations.

Published in: on February 11, 2023 at 9:00 PM  Leave a Comment