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

Prayers of the Reformers (15)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this first Lord’s Day in May we post two more prayers from the book Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press (1958).

These prayers (slightly edited) are taken from the section “Prayers for Baptism” and, as you will note, accord with the Reformed, covenantal (biblical) view of children.

For sanctification

Almighty and everlasting God, who of Thy infinite mercy and goodness hast promised unto us that Thou wilt not only be our God, but also the God and Father of our children: We beseech Thee, since Thou hast vouchsafed to call us to be partakers of this Thy great mercy in the fellowship of faith: that it may please Thee to sanctify with Thy Spirit and receive into the number of Thy children this infant, whom we shall baptize according to Thy Word.

May he, coming of age, confess Thee as the only true God, and Him whom Thou hast sent, Jesus Christ, and serve Him and be profitable unto His church, in the whole course of his life. After this life be ended, may he be brought unto the full fruition of Thy joys in the heavens, where Thy Son our Christ reigneth, world without end. In whose name we pray as He hath taught us…. Amen.

For the Spirit of light and grace

O Almighty God, which in commanding us to pray hast assured us that we, believing steadfastly in Thy promise, shall have all that we desire, especially concerning the soul, wherein we seek Thy glory and the wealth of our neighbors; our humble petition to Thee, O most dear Father, is, that forasmuch as this child is not without original sin, Thou wilt consider Thine own mercy, and according to Thy promise send this child thy good Spirit, that in Thy sight it be not counted among the children of wrath, but of light and grace, and become a member of the undefiled church espoused to Christ, Thy dear Son, in faith and love unfeigned, by the means of the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (attributed to M.Coverdale)

 

Note to Self: Give Thanks

Klamer-spring-break-2016

After a wonderful week in the deep South celebrating my wife’s parents’ 60th wedding anniversary (celebrated this past Tuesday, April 5) with over eighty of her family and some of our own, we were constantly filled with gratitude to God for His covenant mercies and blessings – as well as for the beautiful place in His creation where we could celebrate these mercies and blessings.

Klamer-group-pic-GS-2016

And we gave thanks to God often throughout the week – in set times (devotions) and in special times of public fellowship and private conversation. We sang and prayed and read His Word (favorite passages and songs abounded!), and with tears thanked our faithful Father for His amazing grace to sinners such as ourselves. It was a good week together. It was a better than good week together. It was a God-centered, grace-filled, gratitude-displaying time.

Note-to-self-ThornTonight in wondering what to post in light of this, I decided to share these thoughts – and then too, these thoughts from  chapter 5 of Joe Thorn’s book Note to Self. That chapter is simply titled “Give Thanks.” You will see why it fits with this post.

     The psalmist calls us to ‘enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise,’ which is a call to approach God in gratitude. Why is that? He points to three realities: because God is good, because God is loving, and because God is faithful. A good theologian is thankful, and until you know these truths you are likely to feel entitled and deserving.

How do you know God to be good, loving, and faithful? These attributes were put on display most beautifully in the gospel. God is good, loving, and faithful by not giving you what you deserve (judgment) and by lavishing on you grace unmeasured. He is good and loving in saving us from sin and judgment, giving us hope and life, and adopting us as his own. He is faithful to his Word and his promise to us, that he will not count our sins against us and will continue the work he began in us to completion. On top of this, every good thing you have in this life is a gift from your heavenly Father, and as one who has been justified by the grace of Christ you should see everything in your life as grace that accompanies your salvation [to which we give a hearty AMEN!].

…Does gratitude characterize your thoughts of God? Thankfulness is a good test of your faith. ….Your days, whether easy or difficult, should be filled with thanksgiving because while life changes drastically, your God remains the same forever. He is constant – constantly good, loving, and faithful (pp.43-44).

Now, shall we give this thanks to our great and gracious God tomorrow in our times of public and private worship?

Christ in Gethsemane: The Covenant Bond

     While our Lord in Gethsemane received no answer to his repeated knocking on heaven’s door, he knew, from that profound silence, that he must drink the awful chalice that the Father had placed in his hands. Always he was fully aware of the covenant bond between the Father, representing the Trinity, and himself, representing his people – the covenant of grace. Again and again he addressed the Father, a word so often on his lips, as ‘my Father’ and ‘my God’. That is covenant language.

Christ knew that the Father smote him for the salvation of his people. Before going to Gethsemane, he warned his disciples that they would soon forsake him, quoting from Zechariah, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’ (Matt.26:31). He willingly submitted to the rod. In Gethsemane he virtually said, ‘Here am I’. His obedience was covenant obedience. He was ever mindful of his eternal undertaking as the Surety and Mediator of his people, a thought that is dominant in his high priestly prayer (John 17). He never doubted that holy decree by which he came into the world to save sinners. And so the darker the night, the greater the storm and the fiercer the conflict, the more he reached out to his Father and rested in his sovereign will.

CrossHeBore-LeahyTaken from chapter 3, “Strengthened to Suffer” (based on Luke 22:43) by Frederick S. Leahy in The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Banner of Truth, 1996), p.14.

Book Alert! Restored & Revived PRC Documents

Rock-Hewn-HH-HD-2015On this PRC archive/history day, we can bring to your attention a significant new publication from the RFPA (Reformed Free Publishing Association) – a personal copy of which I received Sunday in my church mailbox as a book club member and two copies of which I received for the Seminary library (and cataloged yesterday).

The 530 page book is titled The Rock Whence We Are Hewn: God, Grace, and Covenant, authored by early PRC fathers Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema and edited by David J. Engelsma. The work consists of nine pamphlets published early in the history of the PRC and her controversy with the CRC over the doctrine of common grace (as well as over covenant theology), and has important historical significance therefore. While all of these pamphlets were previously published, some were not readily or widely available in English, and some not in English at all until now.

In his foreword, Engelsma writes:

     The various writings included in The Rock Whence We Are Hewn are all pamphlets or booklets written very early in the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches – between 1919 and 1940. The authors are two men whom God used in forming these churches – Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof. All the writings explain and defend the great doctrines of the Reformed faith that were fundamental to the founding of the Protestant Reformed Churches – covenant, predestination, particular grace, and antithesis. These writings therefore were used to establish these churches in the very beginning of their history. The contents of the book are their foundational writings.

He also explains the title and the purpose of the book in these words:

     The title of the book is taken from Isaiah 51:1: ‘Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.’ In this figurative way the prophet called the people of Israel to look to their origins. This title calls the members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, including the ministers and officebearers, and especially the younger generation, to find in the book the doctrinal truths that are of fundamental importance to the Protestant Reformed Churches still today. By the work of the Spirit these doctrines, confessed, defended, and explained in the writings in this book, are the source of the churches – the rock whence they were hewn.

Below are the contents of The Rock:
1. “The Idea of the Covenant of Grace” – H.Danhof, Transl. from the Dutch by D.Engelsma
2. “On the Theory of Common Grace” – H.Hoeksema
3. “Not Anabaptist but Reformed” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by D.Holstege
4. “Along Pure Paths” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by M.Kamps
5. “For the Sake of Justice and Truth” – H.Danhof & H.Hoeksema, Transl. from the Dutch by M.Kamps
6. “Calvin, Berkhof, and H.J. Kuiper: A Comparison” – H.Hoeksema
7. “A Triple Breach in the Foundation of the Reformed Truth: A Critical Treatise on the Three Points Adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924”
8. “The Reunion of the Christian Reformed Church and Protestant Reformed Churches: Is It Demanded, Possible, Desirable?” – H.Hoeksema, Transl. by H.Veldman
9. “The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel” – H.Hoeksema, Transl. by C.Hanko

The book is enhanced by the editor’s historical introductions for each document, to his applicatory “afterword,” and to a helpful “appendix of names” giving “biographical sketches of the main combatants in the common grace controversy.”

The Rock reveals significant history and vital Reformed/biblical doctrines, but also something else – heroism. Engelsma explains in his “Afterword”:

Finally, The Rock bespeaks heroism – the most courageous doctrinal and churchly bravery. To be willing to give up everything that is dear to a minister of the gospel – name, position, and office – and to be willing to suffer reproach, shame, and even church discipline for the sake of the purity of the gospel and the glory of the name of God, this is heroism at the highest level. And this leaves out of sight, as Danhof and Hoeksema did, financial support for one’s family. This is heroism in the cause of God in the world. This is heroism in the most important and hottest warfare, the warfare of Jesus Christ on earth (p.498).

For information on ordering the book – or becoming a book club member – visit the RFPA website.

God’s Messenger of the Covenant – R.Hanko

Coming_of_Zion_s_Redeemer -LgFrom his recently published commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (The Coming of Zion’s Redeemer, RFPA, 2014) comes these thoughts from Rev.R. Hanko (Lynden, WA PRC) on Mal.3:1ff., which reads, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

He is identified not just as God’s messenger, but as the Messenger of the covenant. This identifies him both as the fulfillment of all the promises, the one of whom every other messenger was only a type and forerunner, and also as the one who would by his work bring God’s people into the full enjoyment of their covenantal relationship with God and who would establish that covenant on everlasting foundations, so that the relationship between God and his people could never again be interrupted.

But Christ is the messenger of the covenant not only because he takes away that which separates God and his people, that is, their sin; not only because he, by his Spirit, actually receives them into fellowship with God; but also because he is in his own person the one who unites us to God. He is the one in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily and the one whose bone and whose flesh we are, so that in him we live and walk with God and are joined to God. He is Immanuel, God with us.

That he is the one in whom we delight stands in stark contrast to the unbelieving question of chap.2:17. When he does come, unbelief is cured, doubt is turned to faith, and disbelief becomes delight, by his gracious work as God’s messenger.

This is all promised by Jehovah of hosts, the one whom all things serve and in whose army they march. Nothing, therefore, can prevent the coming of the Messenger of the covenant. Nothing can stand in the way of his work. Nothing can spoil or interrupt his work, not the rise of the Roman Empire, not the apostasy of Judah in the days following Malachi’s prophecy, not the rise of Pharisees who would be his bitter enemies, not even the temptations of Satan. All things would serve him (pp.475-76).

“A deep and living faith in God’s Covenant is the foundation of our quiet, watchful, patient waiting and working.” – A.Kuyper

If the Lord is to come as a thief in the night, the church should go about its daily duties in quiet devotion, until He suddenly appears. We are not to keep looking out the window, or climbing to the housetops to gaze eagerly into the distance, while neglecting our work and giving our household duties but scant attention.

Indeed we must watch. We must so live that we are ready to welcome Him at any moment. Like a Christian family that, having commended home and children to God’s care for the night, quietly goes to bed and to sleep, and awakens in the morning to resume the daily task, so the church of Christ upon earth must go on quietly, prayerfully, with its common daily tasks, until He comes, in His own time, to break off this round of daily duties.

A deep and living faith in God’s Covenant is the foundation of our quiet, watchful, patient waiting and working. For included in God’s covenant are also all the chosen who are yet to be brought into the fold, though they may now be drunkards, or thieves, or self-righteous rejectors of the truth. They are destined to be saved; and it is through the ministration of the church that they must be brought to the light and taught in the truth.

This one confession, that God is God, and that He will bring in His own, makes us patient to bear with the imperfections and weaknesses of the church, since He has seen fit to place that cross upon us. And it also keeps us humble before Him, as we must confess our own guilt. ‘The sin of the church is also my sin. I, yea even especially I, am at fault.’

…Being keenly aware of his own sins, and knowing full well that he has fanned the flames of sin perhaps more than others, the true Christian fights against sin the more earnestly and zealously.

PracticeofGodliness-AKuyper-1948-2Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the chapter titled “The Church of Jesus Christ”, found in The Practice of Godliness, (translated and edited by Marian M. Schoolland; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948), pp.56-57.

Prayers of the Reformers (2) – M.Coverdale

prayersofreformers-manschreckThe following two prayers I recently discovered while browsing further through the wonderful collection of prayers titled, Prayers of the Reformers, compiled by Clyde Manschreck and published by Muhlenberg Press in 1958.

These two are from the section headed “Prayers of Petition and Supplication” (pp.50ff.), and are both attributed to Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), whom we know as one of the early translators of the Bible into English. I found both of these fitting with my earlier post on the blessedness of our communion with Christ.

This saving union with our Lord is not and never must become static from our side, but must be experienced and developed daily, as these prayers assume and express. May they be ours in this coming week, as we seek to grow in closer, intimate fellowship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

For increase of knowledge and truth

O gracious Father, grant unto us, which through thy Son have known thy name, that in such knowledge and light of the truth we may increase more and more; that the love wherewith thou lovest thy dear Son may be and remain in us; and that thy only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, our head, may in us his members continue still to work, live, and bring forth fruit acceptable unto thee. Amen (p.50).

Draw thou our hearts

O Lord Jesus Christ, draw thou our hearts unto thee; join them together in inseparable love, that we may abide in thee, and thou in us, and that the everlasting covenant between us may stand sure forever. O wound our hearts with the fiery darts of thy piercing love. Let them pierce through all our slothful members and inward powers, that we, being happily wounded, may so become whole and sound. Let us have no lover but thyself alone; let us seek no joy nor comfort except in thee. Amen (p.55).

Communion with God the Son – J.Owen/S.Ferguson

Trinitarian-Devotion-Ferguson-2014Thus, Owen’s great burden and emphasis in helping us to understand what it means to be a Christian is to say: Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Father gives you to Jesus and gives Jesus to you. You have Him. Everything you can ever lack is found in Him; all you will ever need is given to you in Him. ‘From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ For the Father has ‘blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.’ It is as true for the newest, weakest Christian as for the most mature believer; from the first moment of faith, we are fully, finally, irreversibly justified in Christ.

In this way, like Calvin before him, at a stroke Owen transforms our understanding of the nature of grace and salvation. To explore fellowship with Christ, then, means that we need to explore both ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ with whom we have fellowship, and how it is that we have ‘fellowship’ with Him in His grace.

…Since all the fullness of God dwells in Him, and He received the Spirit without measure, His bearing the judgment of God on the cross could not exhaust and destroy Him. Because He is so perfectly suited to our needs, therefore, Christ endears Himself to believers. He is just what we need and He is all that we need:

[Here Ferguson quotes Owen]

There is no man that hath any want in reference unto the things of God, but Christ will be unto him that which he wants.

I speak of those who are given him of his Father. Is he dead? Christ is life. Is he weak? Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Hath he the sense of guilt upon him? Christ is complete righteousness.

He hath a fitness to save, having pity and ability, tenderness and power, to carry on that work to the uttermost; and a fulness to save, of redemption and sanctification, or righteousness and the Spirit; and a suitableness to the wants of all our souls.

And so Ferguson concludes:

From beginning to end, therefore, communion with Christ is all about Christ. When He fills the horizon of our vision, we find ourselves drawn to Him, embraced by Him, and beginning to enjoy Him.

Taken from chapter four “Communion with the Son”, in the new book by Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, published by Reformation Trust, 2014 (pp.64-67).

“…All of that eternal life will be concentrated upon the everlasting praise of God….” – Rev. H.Hoeksema

Last Sunday our pastor at Faith PRC preached a wonderful sermon on Lord’s Day 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where this Reformed teacher is explaining the last articles of the Apostles’ Creed (the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting).

Image result for i believe the life everlastingSince every Sunday is a foretaste of that future glory of the church with her great God and Savior, this morning we post an excerpt from Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s exposition of this Lord’s Day. It is taken from vol.5, Abundant Mercy (Eerdmans, 1949), p.148( now being reprinted by the RFPA in the original ten volumes). These are his final paragraphs on “the life everlasting.”

But the essence of all the blessedness and glory of that new world will, nevertheless, be the perfect fellowship of friendship with the living God in Christ. Everywhere in that new world we shall see Christ, and, in Him, the Father. We shall see Him face to face. All our knowledge will then be theology, in the highest sense of the word. This is eternal life, to know Thee, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent!

Of that glory we can only form a faint conception as long as we are in this life.

For, as the Catechism reminds us, that perfect salvation belongs to the things ‘which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.’

But when it shall be revealed, all of that eternal life will be concentrated upon the everlasting praise of God, of Whom, and through Whom, and unto Whom are all things.

To Him be glory forever!

If that is the essence and ultimate purpose of our glorious future, and if today is another preview of that “life everlasting”, shall we not seek to see the face of Christ and glorify our God in our worship and in all our activities this day? May God grant us grace so to do.