Ascension Day and the Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian Reaches the Celestial City

christian-flees-city--destruction

After thinking about the classic The Pilgrim’s Progress the last few days, and in the light of this being Ascension Day (the church’s remembrance of Christ’s going up to heaven), it seemed fitting to post this part from the Tenth Stage of John Bunyan’s allegory, where Christian and his fellow pilgrim cross the river and enter the Celestial City.

May this encourage all true Christian pilgrim’s to continue to make their trek through every valley, over every mountain, and in battle against every enemy to the heavenly city, knowing that our great Pilgrim has gone before us, conquering and preparing (Heb.6:19-20; 12:1-2).

Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them. Wherefore, being come out of the river, they saluted them, saying, We are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for those that shall be the heirs of salvation. Thus they went along towards the gate.

Now you must note, that the city stood upon a mighty hill; but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms: they had likewise left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed, though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds; they therefore went up through the region of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted because they safely got over the river, and had such glorious companions to attend them.

The talk that they had with the shining ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is “Mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.” Heb. 12:22-24. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof: and when you come there you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity. Rev. 2:7; 3:4,5; 22:5. There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower region upon earth; to wit, sorrow, sickness, affliction, and death; “For the former things are passed away.” Rev. 21:4. You are going now to Abraham, to Isaac, and Jacob, and to the prophets, men that God hath taken away from the evil to come, and that are now “resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness.” The men then asked, What must we do in the holy place? To whom it was answered, You must there receive the comfort of all your toil, and have joy for all your sorrow; you must reap what you have sown, even the fruit of all your prayers, and tears, and sufferings for the King by the way. Gal. 6:7,8. In that place you must wear crowns of gold, and enjoy the perpetual sight and vision of the Holy One; for “there you shall see him as he is.” 1 John, 3:2. There also you shall serve him continually with praise, with shouting and thanksgiving, whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive even every one that follows into the holy place after you. There also you shall be clothed with glory and majesty, and put into an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind, you shall come with him; and when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment, you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon all the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, you also shall have a voice in that judgment, because they were his and your enemies. Also, when he shall again return to the city, you shall go too with sound of trumpet, and be ever with him. 1 Thess. 4:14-17; Jude 14,15; Dan. 7:9,10; 1 Cor. 6:2,3.

Now, while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold a company of the heavenly host came out to meet them: to whom it was said by the other two shining ones, These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name; and he hath sent us to fetch them, and we have brought them thus far on their desired journey, that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy. Then the heavenly host gave a great shout, saying, “Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” Rev. 19:9. There came out also at this time to meet them several of the King’s trumpeters, clothed in white and shining raiment, who, with melodious noises and loud, made even the heavens to echo with their sound. These trumpeters saluted Christian and his fellow with ten thousand welcomes from the world; and this they did with shouting and sound of trumpet.

This done, they compassed them round on every side; some went before, some behind, and some on the right hand, and some on the left, (as it were to guard them through the upper regions,) continually sounding as they went, with melodious noise, in notes on high; so that the very sight was to them that could behold it as if heaven itself was come down to meet them. Thus, therefore, they walked on together; and, as they walked, ever and anon these trumpeters, even with joyful sound, would, by mixing their music with looks and gestures, still signify to Christian and his brother how welcome they were into their company, and with what gladness they came to meet them. And now were these two men, as it were, in heaven, before they came to it, being swallowed up with the sight of angels, and with hearing of their melodious notes. Here also they had the city itself in view; and they thought they heard all the bells therein to ring, to welcome them thereto. But, above all, the warm and joyful thoughts that they had about their own dwelling there with such company, and that for ever and ever; oh, by what tongue or pen can their glorious joy be expressed! Thus they came up to the gate.

Now when they were come up to the gate, there was written over it, in letters of gold, “blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”

Then I saw in my dream, that the shining men bid them call at the gate: the which when they did, some from above looked over the gate, to wit, Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, etc., to whom it was said, These pilgrims are come from the City of Destruction, for the love that they bear to the King of this place; and then the pilgrims gave in unto them each man his certificate, which they had received in the beginning: those therefore were carried in unto the King, who, when he had read them, said, Where are the men? To whom it was answered, They are standing without the gate. The King then commanded to open the gate, “That the righteous nation (said he) that keepeth the truth may enter in.”  Isa. 26:2.

Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “enter ye into the joy of your lord.”

I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying, “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever.”

Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold; and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps, to sing praises withal.

There were also of them that had wings, and they answered one another without intermission, saying, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord. And after that they shut up the gates; which, when I had seen, I wished myself among them.

This quotation is taken from the online edition found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

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Comfort in God’s Sure Covenant

evening-thoughts-winslowOn this sobering Monday, reflecting on the brevity of life and our hope in Christ, the evening meditation for April 30 from Octavius Winslow’s book Evening Thoughts is certainly fitting.

Taking his thoughts from the promise of God to David in 2 Samuel 23:5, Winslow wrote:

God sometimes comforts the cast-down, by bringing them to rest in the fullness and stability of the covenant.

…What a cloud was now resting upon his [David’s] tabernacle! How bitter were the waters he was now drinking! But see how God comforted him. “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.”

Believer, this covenant is equally yours. You have the same individual interest in it that David had. The ‘sure mercies’ of the true David are yours, as they were those of ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel.’ In the midst of domestic trial – family changes – thwarted designs – blighted hopes, God has made with you in the hands of Jesus, its Surety and Mediator, ‘an everlasting covenant.’

In it your whole history is recorded by Him who knows the end from the beginning. All the events of your life, all the steps of your journey, all your sorrows and your comforts, all your needs and your supplies, are ordained in that covenant which is ‘ordered in all things.’ While mutability is a constituent element of everything temporal – ‘passing away’ written upon life’s loveliest landscape, and upon the heart’s dearest treasure – this, and this alone, remains sure and unchangeable.

Let, then, the covenant be your comfort and your stay, your sheet-anchor in the storm, the bow in your cloud, upon which God invites you to fix your believing eyes; yes, all your salvation and all your desire, though He makes not domestic comfort to grow.

Note: to find this book in print, go here or here; to find it online, go here.

Confidence in God and Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”

Everything that could go wrong did. The plague had come to his city. Their infant daughter died within a few short months of her birth. He had felt the pain of betrayal. He was still reeling from the throes of a war, with both sides feeling as if he had somehow let them down. He had started a movement that was nearly drowning him. This was one of the most difficult years of his life. The year was 1527, and Martin Luther wondered if he could survive it.

Time-for-confidence-nichols-2016-2So begins Stephen J. Nichols in the second chapter of his new book,  A Time for Confidence: Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society (Reformation Trust, 2016). The title of this second chapter is “Confidence in God.”

In that light, Nichols asks and answers the question, What was Luther’s response to these dark days he was experiencing? Quite simply, he trusted in God! How did he demonstrate this trust? By writing one of the great hymns of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

As Nichols goes on to say,

Luther knew the reality of human limitations. He was nearly omnicompetent, a driven individual. He was a larger-than-life personality. Yet, he knew his own limitations. In 1527, as stormy events surrounded him, he knew he needed to look beyond himself, past his own strength and ability. He knew that God alone is our ‘mighty fortress,’ our ‘bulwark never failing.’ He knew how futile it would be to trust in our own strength.

To which the author adds this wonderful summary of Luther’s theology tucked away in that grand hymn:

The point of this entire book is captured in this one hymn from Martin Luther. Luther based the hymn on Psalm 46, which thunders, ‘The God of Jacob is our fortress.’ That phrase is not abstract; it is richly textured. This is the God of Jacob. We know of the foibles of Jacob. We also know of God’s tender and never-ending care of Jacob. This is the God who sees, hears, knows and cares. This is not a far-off, aloof God. This God who cared for Jacob is our fortress. This phrase from Psalm 46 prompted Luther to think of all the benefits that belong to us.

From there, Nichols takes each line from that majestic song (“Who is on our side? “The Man of God’s own choosing.” What abides? God’s Word abideth still.” And the last line; “His kingdom is forever.”), ending with these thoughts:

That is the resounding truth that anchored Luther in the storms of 1527. It is God. It is His Son. It is His Word. It is His Spirit. It is His kingdom. This is what matters [pp.21-23].

The question for us is, Does it matter for us too, in these days? And will it matter in those times of difficulty and persecution that are sure to come? Ponder the truths of Psalm 46 and have confidence in God, as Luther did. The God of Jacob is with us and for us.

God is the Lord: Implication #2 – H. Hoeksema

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHAnd here is implication #2 (see previous post) from Herman Hoeksema’s Oct.26, 1941 radio message broadcast on the Reformed Witness Hour, “God is the Lord”, treating the absolute Lordship (sovereignty) of God.

As we live in the conscious faith that God is the Lord, a second practical implication of his lordship is that we will be without fear and terror in the world, because we will live the tranquil assurance that all things must ‘work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28).

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who manifested his love toward us in  the death of his Son and who surely will give us all things with him, is the Lord of all. He holds the reins. Whatever happens, he will surely save his church. As the church makes her voyage across the seas of the centuries, tempests may rage furiously, and the waves may rise mountain high, but we know that our God is Lord of the tempest and that the waves must do his bidding. In the world we may have to suffer tribulation, but God is the Lord of the tribulation, and we may even glory in it. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.

Therefore, we will not be afraid

Though hills amidst the sea be cast,
Though foaming waters roar,
Yea, though the mighty billows shake
The mountains on the shore.
(versification of Psalm 46:2,3 [from PRC Psalter])

Nor will we fear though the nations rage furiously, and though we hear of wars and rumors of wars; yes, though all hell break loose and all the powers of darkness set themselves against us, we will not be afraid but be of good cheer, for we know that we have a covenant with the only potentate and that we are of the party of the living God, who only does wondrous things. The Lord of hosts is his name (p.31-32 in Knowing God & Man, RFPA, 2006)

In God We Trust – RFPA Blog

us-motto-in-godHere is another biblical and comforting perspective for us to take as we await the results of today’s election.

Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of the Doon (IA) PRC penned this post, which appeared today on the blog of the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

We quote from the middle of the post; find the rest at the RFPA link above or below.

What are we as Christians to think as we stand in line to vote, as we sit around the computer monitor awaiting the results, as we go about our callings in the next days and weeks?

Remember, Christ is King! In Psalm 2:6, after describing the raging of the heathen, God says, “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.” That King is the risen and exalted Lord Jesus who rules over all things, both great and small, upon the earth. And he does so for his Zion, his church.

Our confidence is that King Jesus rules today over the election. What determines the outcome of the election is not the candidates and their campaign staff, not the Democratic or Republican parties, not even the American people. The King of kings governs this country and this election, and he will be the one to determine sovereignly who will occupy the oval office for the next four years.

King Jesus will rule over this election guided by the eternal counsel of God. His determining of the next President will serve the grand purpose of God in leading all things to the goal of his glory in his second coming, the judgment of the ungodly, and the salvation of the church.

Source: Reformed Free Publishing Association — In God We Trust

The Origin (and Security) of the Church – John Muether

TT-Sept-2016As we have noted here before, this month’s Tabletalk carries the theme of “The Church,” with eight-plus (brief) articles dedicated to explaining the Reformed doctrine of the church.

As we contemplate the Lord’s Day tomorrow and prepare to exercise our place in Christ’s body, part of which is worship, we may benefit from the thoughts of Dr. John R. Muether (professor of church history and dean of libraries at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL and an OPC ruling elder).

He wrote an article on “The Origin of the Church” and, strikingly (for our doctrinally weak age), roots the church in the eternal counsel of God, specifically, the covenant of redemption and sovereign election in and by the Triune God.

He has some excellent points by way of application of this truth, two of which I include here – his closing paragraphs. Deep thoughts, but rich thoughts. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is supremely practical and comforting, as you will see again. And that, in turn, should lead us to deep praise to our Savior God.

The eternal counsel of peace highlights the Son as the “surety” of the covenant, and so we find in Christ alone the hope and security of the church. “All that the Father gives to me will come to me,” Christ assures us, “and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). The “peace” of this covenant is purchased for us according to Christ’s priestly office, maintained and defended by His kingly office, and revealed by His prophetic office. Because the God who decrees the church is the same God who sustains the church, the future of the church is in God’s hands. This encourages us to see the church with the eyes of faith. It is bigger and stronger than its frail and precarious human expression suggests. Though despised and disparaged by this world, the church is the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8) that will prevail against all of her enemies.

Finally, the eternal origin of the church provides our assurance of faith. Commenting on God’s words in Jeremiah 31:3 (“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”), Geerhardus Vos famously wrote, “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began.” That everlasting love finds expression in the covenant of redemption. As the Heidelberg Catechism beautifully puts it, the church is “a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member” (Q&A 54).

Source: The Origin of the Church by John Muether

Note to Self: Speak to Others

Note-to-self-Thorn(Recall the last one was “Listen to Others.”)

Begin by reading and reflecting on Hebrews 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

Are you connected to others in such a way that affords you opportunities to speak into their lives? Just as God has put people near you to speak to you for your God, so he has intended to use you to speak words of grace to others. The questions are – are you connected, and are you speaking?

…At times you feel as if you have little to say, or that your words are too simple and not deep enough. But when you doubt that you have anything to offer, you question God’s ability to use you beyond your own weakness. Your usefulness in the lives of others is not dependent on your intellectual or creative abilities, though God will use your talents whatever they are. Your usefulness to God and his people is connected with your dependence on God and his Word and your love for his people.

The people around you need to hear from you. Share God’s Word with those who need to hear it.

Taken from Chap.24 “Speak to Others” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.85-86.

The Christian and Suffering – R.C. Sproul

TT-Aug-2016Last night in our home church (Faith PRC) our Seminary intern, Justin Smidstra, brought a comforting message to us from James 1:2-4 about our calling to rejoice in the midst of all the trials God gives us in this life.

That tied in nicely to the article I read by Dr. R.C. Sproul Sunday morning. Writing in his usual column “Right Now Counts Forever,” Sproul explained the difference between and the connection between “bearing and enduring” as found in I 1 Cor.13:7.

For our profit today as we start a new work week and begin to face the manifold trials God places on our path, I quote a section from that article. May it give us proper perspective and enable us by God’s abounding grace to “count it all joy” when we fall into these trials.

Pain and suffering tend to eat away not only at our love but also at our faith, because we begin to wonder if God is loving and if He is even real. We ask how in the world He can let this relentless pain grip our lives. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our attention on the Word of God. We are told not to be surprised when suffering comes our way. The New Testament doesn’t say that suffering might occur—it says it’s a certainty. Remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 when he talks about what he bore for the sake of the gospel: beatings, stonings, being left for dead, shipwrecks, days and nights at sea, fighting with wild beasts, and constantly being the target of human hostility. Why was he willing to bear those things? Because he understood the divine purpose for suffering and the divine promise not only of relief from suffering, but of the redemption of the suffering itself. In this interim between Christ’s resurrection and return, Christians are called to participate in the afflictions of Christ (Col. 1:24). By bearing and enduring pain, we walk in the footsteps of Jesus and mirror and reflect Him to onlookers. Pain and suffering are opportunities to show the love that God has shed abroad in our hearts.

Source: Bearing and Enduring by R.C. Sproul

Prayers of the Reformers (14)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this second Lord’s Day in April we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers (compiled by Clyde Manschreck; Muhlenberg Press, 1958).

This prayer is taken from the section “Prayers in Time of Affliction and Suffering” and, as you will see, is fitting for us as we gather with God’s people in worship today.

The editor gives it the German title “Wenn wir in hochsten Nothen sein,” (from Paul Eber, 1566 based on a text from Joachim Camerarius, 1546) while the prayer itself is in English arranged in poem form thus:

When in the hour of utmost need
We know not where to look for aid,
When days and nights of anxious thought
Nor help nor counsel yet have brought.

Then this our comfort is alone,
That we may meet before Thy throne,
And cry, O faithful God, to Thee
For rescue from our misery.

To Thee may raise our hearts and eyes,
Repenting sore with bitter sighs,
And seek Thy pardon for our sin
And respite from our griefs within.

For Thou hast promised graciously
To hear all those who cry to Thee
Thro’ Him whose name alone is great,
Our Savior and our advocate.

And thus we come, O God, today
And all our woes before Thee lay;
For sorely tried, cast down, we stand,
Perplexed by fears on every hand.

O hide not for our sins Thy face,
Absolve us through Thy boundless grace,
Be with us in our anguish still,
Free us at last from every ill.

That so with all our hearts we may
Once more our glad thanksgivings pay,
And walk obedient to Thy Word,
And now and ever praise the Lord.

An Internet search reveals that this is a hymn set to music under the title “When in the Hour of Utmost Need, ” arranged by Louis Burgeois (c.1510-1559), as part of the Genevan tunes.

Jesus, “the Conqueror of Death”, Buried – J. Calvin

The burial of Christ is now added, as an intermediate transition from the ignominy of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. True, indeed, God determined, for another reason that Christ should be buried, that it might be more fully attested that he suffered real death on our account.

But yet it ought to be regarded as the principal design, that in this manner the cursing which he had endured for a short time began to be removed; for his body was not thrown into a ditch in the ordinary way, but honorably laid in a hewn sepulchre.

Although at that time the weakness of the flesh was still visible and the divine power of the Spirit was not clearly seen before his resurrection; yet God determined by this, as a sort of preparation, to shadow out what he was shortly afterwards to do, that he might exalt gloriously above the heavens his Son, the conqueror of death.

JCalvin1Taken from John Calvin’s Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), XVII: 330-331.