Forgiveness and Life in the Church of Christ – H.Hoeksema

Our pastor will be preaching on the truth of the believer’s confession of the forgiveness of sins as found in the Apostles’ Creed (Art.10) and explained by the Heidelberg Catechism in Q&A 56. In his commentary on the HC, Herman Hoeksema has this to say about the connection between our confession of forgiveness and our confession of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints (Art.9 in the AC):

In the fellowship of the Church, and, therefore, in the communion of saints, the believer lays hold upon this blessing, and makes this confession. This is the connection between the article concerning the Church and that concerning the forgiveness of sins.

Outside of the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, there are no spiritual benefits, the forgiveness of sins cannot be appropriated. If, for some reason, the believer severs himself as far as his conscious life is concerned, from that communion, the first effect of this error is always that he lacks the joy of forgiveness. Perhaps, for a time, he lives in hatred over against some of the brethren; or he envinces an unforgiving spirit; or he seeks the friendship of the world; or he lives in whatever other sin may sever his fellowship with the saints, and disturb the exercise of the communion of saints: in that state of separation from the body of believers, he forfeits the forgiveness of sins (p.88).

And then, after demonstrating this from several passages of Scripture, Hoeksema explains this relation further at the end of this treatment:

Nor is it difficult to understand why this relation between our living in the communion of saints and in the joy of forgiveness exists, and is so inseparable that the one cannot be enjoyed without the other.

It is never in our own power to lay hold on the forgiveness of sins. That we are sorry for sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and obtain it, is the work of Christ Himself. By His Spirit and grace He works the true sorrow after God in our hearts. By that Spirit, He brings us to repentance, leads us to the cross, and assures us of redemption, even the forgiveness of sins in His blood. But that Spirit, on Whose constant indwelling and operation our appropriation of the forgiveness of sins continuously depends, is the Spirit of Christ, and, therefore, the Spirit of the body, that is, the Church. For there is one Lord, and one Spirit, and that one Spirit dwells in the one body. He does not dwell in you or in me, individually, apart from the body, but in the body as a whole, and, in the individual believers, only in fellowship with the body. Hence, outside of that body the Spirit does not operate to bestow the blessings of salvation upon men. If, therefore, through some sin, the believer separates himself from the body, and does not live in the communion of saints, he immediately forfeits the forgiveness of sins.

And as he loses the forgiveness of sins, he necessarily forfeits all the blessings and joy of salvation; for the remission of sins… is basic for all other benefits in Christ.

The article concerning the forgiveness of sins, therefore, occupies a most proper place in the Apostolicum.

By its very position, we are exhorted to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! (pp.89-90).

Triple-Knowledge-HHoeksemaTaken from volume V, Abundant Mercy of Hoeksema’s The Triple Knowledge (Wm.B. Eerdmans, 1949) and now reprinted by the RFPA in the same ten volume format (2015).

May 1, 2015 Standard Bearer: Second Helvetic Confession on Holy Scripture – Prof.R.Cammenga

SB-May-1-2015The May 1, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer, the semi-monthly Reformed magazine published by the RFPA (rfpa.org), is now published and being distributed. This issue too contains a variety of edifying articles – from a meditation on Ps.55:22, to another editorial on “What It Means to Be Reformed”, to matters “all around us” of interest to Christians, to an article on raising children in a covenant home – and an important book review (By Faith Alone).

One of the new series of articles is on the historic Reformed confession, the Second Helvetic (Swiss) Confession. In this issue Prof.R.Cammenga begins to treat the specific articles of this creed, starting with Art.1 on the doctrine of holy Scripture. Today, I take a brief quote from this article to show you how significant a confession this is and why you and I ought to become better acquainted with it.

First, Prof.Cammenga quotes from the first article itself, which reads this way:

We believe and confess the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men.  For God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.

And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from the same.

Then he adds this opening commentary:

The Second Helvetic Confession begins its exposition of the Reformed faith with the doctrine of Scripture.  This is altogether proper.  This is necessary.  Everything depends on one’s view of Scripture.  More than anything else, this is what distinguishes the Reformed faith.  What distinguished the Reformed faith at the time of the Reformation was its view of Scripture. This is what set the Reformed apart from the Roman Catholics, on the one hand, and the Anabaptists and enthusiasts, on the other hand.   Both Rome and the Anabaptists erred in their view of Scripture. That aberrant view of Scripture affected everything.  And as different as they were from each other, both Rome and the Anabaptists were alike in that they denied the sufficiency of Scripture, that in Scripture “the Church of Christ has the most complete exposition of all that pertains to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God.”  Rome denied the sufficiency of Scripture by adding to Scripture, as an equal authority alongside of Scripture, tradition. That tradition consisted of the writings of the church fathers, the decisions of the church councils, and the Apocrypha.  The Anabaptists denied the sufficiency of Scripture by adding direct revelations and immediate promptings of the Spirit.  The Reformers said, “A plague on both your houses.”  And they affirmed the sole authority and complete sufficiency of Holy Scripture, with appeal to Revelation 22:18 and 19, where “it is expressly commanded by God that nothing be either added to or taken from” the Word of God.

And finally, he makes this application to us today:

Still today, this is the issue and still today this is what distinguishes the Reformed faith, at least the Reformed faith properly understood.  Scripture alone is the arbiter of truth.  Scripture alone is the authority for faith and life.  Scripture alone is determinative in the life of the church, both the local congregation and the broader assemblies.  And Scripture is determinative for the walk of the individual believer in the midst of the world. The method employed by Bullinger in the Second Helvetic Confession of beginning with the doctrine of Scripture is the distinctively Reformed method.  All the truth that we confess and that is summarized in the confession is revealed in Holy Scripture.  The Reformed view of Scripture is that it is “the true Word of God.”  Fundamental to the Reformed faith is its view of Scripture.

To receive a sample of this Reformed magazine, or to subscribe, visit this SB page on the RFPA website.

“And so He (Christ, the Son of God) died.” – Rev. H.Hoeksema

After describing all that death is and what it signifies, Rev. Herman Hoeksema applies it to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died on the cross at Calvary:

And so He died.

O, yes, it was necessary that He, too, should die the physical death. He might not simply suffer the agonies of death on the cross, in order then to be revived or glorified in the sight of the enemies. He must bear the wrath of God to the end. The sentence of God in physical death is that the sinner has absolutely forfeited every right to his existence in the world. This sentence must be executed upon Christ also. God takes away His whole earthly house. His very name perishes. His body, too, collapses, and He gives up the ghost. Also upon Him the sentence is pronounced that He is unworthy to exist on the earth.

Only, as the Head of His people, He agrees with the sentence of God with all His heart. He makes of death an act. His life He lays down even as God takes it. His spirit He commends to God, His body He delivers over into the place of corruption. His name and position He freely offers up to the righteousness of God. And in delivering up His soul unto death He confesses: ‘Thou, Father, art just and righteous, when Thou judgest that the sinner has no right to be, should be utterly destroyed from the earth, and should sink into everlasting desolation. Take my life, my name, my all. Freely I offer it in love to Thee. For even now it is my meat to do Thy will!’

…Only His death, the death of the Son of God Himself in human nature, could be so deep, so precious in the sight of God, that by His obedience many could be made righteous. Only when the death of the cross is the death of the Son of God can we have the assurance that our sins are blotted out for ever, and that in Christ we have the righteousness of God by faith.

Triple Knowledge-10vols-2015Taken from Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s explanation of Lord’s Day XVI (16), Q&As 40-44, of the Heidelberg Catechism, as found in The Death of the Son of God (Vol.3 of “The Triple Knowledge”; originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946 and now being reprinted by the RFPA), p.247-250.

Where Does Scripture’s Authority Come From? – Keith Mathison

What We’ve Received by Keith Mathison | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - March 2015The above-linked article in this month’s Tabletalk is the third one centered on the theme of the March issue – “Inerrancy and the Doctrine of Scripture.”

Dr.Keith A. Mathison is the author of this article, and in it he treats the authority of Scripture in connection with how we know in the first place what books belong to the Bible (its “canon”). As he shows us the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, he refutes Rome’s claim that the church is the body that determines the canon of the Bible and therefore she is the one who gives Scripture its authority. Mathison shows plainly that the Bible carries its own authority because it is the Word of God.

What I appreciated about this article is its solid historical and confessional foundation rooted in the great Reformation. Repeatedly Mathison takes us to the historic Reformed creeds of the Reformation (Westminster Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Second Helvetic Confession, etc.).

This is a lengthy article, but well-worth your reading. I give you a portion of it here, where Mathison gets at the heart of the controversy between the Reformed and Rome. Find the full article at this link (or the one above).

The question at the heart of the debate between Rome and the Protestants regarding the canon and the authority of Scripture may be stated as follows (using Michael Kruger’s terminology): Is the canon of Scripture community determined or is it self-authenticating? According to Rome, the authority of Scripture depends upon the authority of the church. The most fundamental problem with this view, however carefully it may be nuanced and qualified, is that it unavoidably and inevitably places the authority of God beneath the authority of the church. It completely reverses the true state of affairs. If we are to believe in the authority of Scripture, according to Rome, we must assume the authority of the church. But why should we accept the authority of the church? Is it self-authenticating? No, Rome says, and she appeals to Scripture to establish the authority of the church just as she appeals to the church to establish the authority of Scripture. The circular nature of this appeal has been pointed out since the Reformation.

To say that the canon and authority of Scripture is self-authenticating is to say what the Reformed confessions say. It is, to use the words of William Whitaker, to say that “the Scripture is autopistos.” It has “all its authority and credit from itself.” Why? Because it is the Word of the living God, and God does not have to appeal to the church in order to establish His own inherent sovereign authority. God is God. The church is not God.

So, how is it that the church has come to recognize the right books and only the right books? Jesus Himself gives us the answer when He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). As Roger Nicole has pointed out, the best way to describe the way in which we know the canon is “the witness of the Holy Spirit given corporately to God’s people.” Recognition of the canonical books is due to the action of the Holy Spirit’s enabling God’s people to hear His voice.

The Paradox of the Cross – H.Hoeksema

And the expression of this wrath, i.e., the pain and agony, the suffering and misery, the sorrow and anguish of soul, the desolation and darkness, the fear and terror, the death and hell, that becomes the experience of him against whom God directs His wrath, Christ experienced!

That is the explanation, but at the same time the paradox of the cross!

At the moment of His deepest and most perfect obedience, He endures the agonies of the damned!

At the moment when God is most highly pleased with Him, He experiences all the terror of being forsaken of God!

But this is exactly why hell is still a question, an outcry to God for an answer! And that is the reason, too, why, even from the darkness of hell, and in the condition of utter desolation, the obedient Servant can still cry out: ‘My God, My God!’

He, that knew no sin, is made sin!

And that is also the reason, why his question, pressed from His utterly forsaken and agonized soul, has an answer. In the hell of mere sinners there is no question. It is the answer, the final answer, the answer of everlasting wrath. But the suffering Servant of Jehovah, because He is obedient and yet forsaken, has a question: Why me? And it receives an answer presently, an answer to which the Servant responds even at the cross: It is finished!

Triple Knowledge-10vols-2015Taken from Rev.Herman Hoeksema’s explanation of Lord’s Day XV (15), Q&As 37-39, of the Heidelberg Catechism, as found in The Death of the Son of God (Vol.3 of “The Triple Knowledge”; originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1946 and now being reprinted by the RFPA), p.214

Meditation: Our Father Created All Things in Six Days!

InbegGodThe following meditation is taken from the “daily meditations on the Heidelberg Catechism” feature found on the PRC website. The author is Rev.G.Van Baren (emeritus PRC pastor), who originally wrote this section of meditations for our sister church in Singapore, the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church.

This series of meditations covering the doctrine of creation begins the month of March and explains that part of the “HC” which treats the Apostles’ Creed, specifically its opening article on the sovereign Fatherhood of our God: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.”

Following my post from yesterday and in light of the current church (and world) attacks on God’s Fatherhood and His work of creating in the beginning, I believe this meditation and the rest in the series (which you may find at the link above) will guide you truthfully in your faith concerning the Almighty Maker. And may such truth lead us to fall down before Him in humble worship and adoration on this Lord’s Day (for this, you may also read Rev.4).

Read: Hebrews 11

Genesis 1 and 2 present the simple, clear, testimony of the great work of creation by our Almighty Father. In six literal days (each identified as beginning and ending with evening and morning) He fashioned all things within His great universe. It did not take our Father millions or billions of years to finish the work. It was finished in six days. The word “day” almost always refers to a literal day in Scripture. The few exceptions are clearly identified (as in Gen. 2:4). God speaks also of the days of creation in His great law: the Ten Commandments. God said that we are to rest on the seventh day, for “in six days God created the heavens and the earth and rested the seventh day.”

This is an essential truth which can be contradicted only with severe consequences for the interpretation of all of Holy Scripture. Scripture is completely infallible or it is fallible in some or many of its passages. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches which began with a denial of the literal creation days, soon were led into a pattern of denying or “reinterpreting” many other passages of Scripture. Many heresies have been introduced in this way.

The creation account has in it a simple beauty in describing the great work of creation. The beautiful statement is included with the days of creation: “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was (very) good.” There was no sin, no evidence of the curse or of death in all of that which God had made.

There is clearly presented also an order in that creation: God creates a “stage” for his work—especially on the earth. He forms the plants needed to sustain life. Then He created animal life from lower to higher forms. Within each “kind” there could be and would be changes seen over a period of time. But one “kind” did not evolve into other “kinds”.

The climax of this creation was the formation of Adam (means “dust”) from the dust of the earth—and Eve (the first woman) from Adam’s rib. Adam was made the head of creation and all mankind. Gen. 2 points out also that the creation was at the same time the establishment of the marriage relationship. From the beginning, God made one man for one woman as long as they both would live. When questioned about divorce, Jesus insisted, “From the beginning it was not so.”

It is humbling to realize that the Almighty God who did all this, is my Father for Jesus’ sake.

*Note: It may be added here that the PRC website has plenty of other reading material on the creation-evolution debate taking place in the church. Consult, for example, our pamphlet section, or specifically, this pamphlet.

Standing to Confess the Apostles’ Creed – Rev.C.Griess

SB-Feb1-2015-coverAnother profitable article found in the February 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer is the latest installment from Rev.Cory Griess (Calvary PRC, Hull, IA) in the rubric “O Come Let Us Worship”, a series dealing with the public worship of the church.

At present he is treating the various elements of Reformed worship and is up to the church’s united confession of faith usually found in the evening service. We refer to the saints’ recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. Rev.Griess titles this article, “The Church Confessing Truth: Reciting the Apostles’ Creed” (this is the first part of two).

Interestingly, pastor Griess ties together the reading of the law in the morning service with its “replacement” in the evening service, the Apostles’ Creed. I will only quote a portion of that section where he treats this connection, but hope that you will certainly read all of it on your own.

Here he explains part of the significance of what the congregation is doing when it recites the creed together:

What drives the church to confess her faith in the evening is the overwhelming grace of God that she has experienced already in the morning. And she comes together in the evening, then, and stands up (that is great practice)! She arises to confess the truth that has liberated her and that continues to guide her in all her life.

To stand up and confess indicates commitment, a certain passion in the soul. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘stand up’ to tell people to hold to a conviction: ‘Stand up for freedom. Stand up for rights.’

When we confess the faith, we are standing up for God and all His truth. We are arising, in the face of all the world and its untruth, and saying, ‘God, this is what we believe about Thee, and should the world come into our building tonight and try to stop us from confessing truth about Thee, they will not stop us. We are redeemed by this truth, and we have experienced that again this morning; therefore Thou dost have our full allegiance’ (208).

H.Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession – R.Cammenga

SB-Jan1 2015Writing in the January 1, 2015 issue of The Standard Bearer, Prof.R.Cammenga begins a new series on the historic Reformed creed, the Second Helvetic Confession (1566).

At the outset Cammenga explains his intent with this series:

Beginning with this issue of the Standard Bearer, the undersigned has agreed to write a series of articles explaining the Second Helvetic Confession.  These articles will regularly appear in the rubric “Believing and Confessing.”  This first article and the one that is to follow will serve as a general introduction to this new series.  In this article we will focus on the author of the Second Helvetic Confession, Heinrich Bullinger.  In the next article we will take an overview of the confession that he penned.

A bit further on he makes the connection between the Swiss Reformed H.Bullinger and the Second Helvetic Confession, before going into a more detailed description of this godly man and his reforming work in the church of the 16th century:

The Second Helvetic Confession was exclusively the work of Heinrich Bullinger.  It was not commissioned by any particular church or group of churches.  Originally Bullinger intended it to be included with his last will and testament as an abiding testimony to his faith.  However, unforeseen circumstances led Bullinger to share the confession of faith that he had composed.  Those who first examined it immediately saw its value as a Reformed confession, among whom was Frederick III, the pious prince behind the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and Elector of the Palatinate.  What was intended to be a private confession of faith, therefore, turned out to be one of the most widely adopted confessions of the Reformation era.  Rather than to go into Bullinger’s grave with his remains, the Second Helvetic Confession was disseminated by Reformed believers around the world.

If you are interested in learning more about this significant Reformed confession, you are encouraged to subscribe to the “SB” and follow this interesting and informative series.

December “Tabletalk”: Christology in Context – S.Nichols

TT - Dec 2014As we noted here last Monday, the December issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional) is fittingly (for the season) centered on the doctrine of Christ. The theme is “Who Do You Say That I Am?: The Person and Work of Christ.”

Yesterday I read the second feature article on this subject, “Christology in Context”, by Dr.Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and a Ligonier teaching fellow.

He takes us on a brief journey through the first four centuries of church history to show the ecclesiastical setting in which the Christological controversies took place. Revealing the errors of Docetism and Arianism (among others), Nichols reminds us of the great care the church took under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures to set forth the truth concerning the Person and natures of Christ at Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451).

If you have forgotten this part of your church history, this is a great article to review it and be reminded again of the importance of careful definition in theology. As in the vital importance of one vowel – “i” – in the Greek! Find out why by reading the article linked above. For now, here is a brief excerpt from it:

The bishops at Nicea concluded that homoousios alone measured up to the standard of biblical teaching. The Nicene Creed declares that Jesus is “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

This creed is not uncovering new ground. Rather, it summarizes the massive swath of biblical material regarding the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews begins by declaring, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). Paul says rather directly that in Jesus “dwells the whole fullness of deity bodily” (Col. 2:9).

The Nicene Creed is a prime example of systematic theology at its best. Systematic theology seeks to organize and summarize, not add or detract from, the biblical teaching. Systematic theologians then teach this doctrine to the church. These bishops in the early churches were systematic theologians. The creed the bishops constructed at Nicea was their gift to the church.

At the center of church life is worship. And at the center of our worship is Christ. Every Christian should be asking, Whom do I worship? Who is this Christ at the center of my worship? The Nicene Creed gives us a biblically rich and true answer.

December “Tabletalk”: Who Do You Say That I Am?

Which Christ? by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT - Dec 2014With the outset of a new month comes a new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ fine devotional magazine. The December issue – appropriately for the church season we are in – revolves around the theme “Who Do You Say That I Am? The Person and Work of Christ.”

As is the custom, editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue with an editorial under the title “Which Christ?” And he explains well why the church today must be sure she believes, understands, and defends the truth concerning her Savior, as that truth is summed in the ancient creeds of the church.

As we commemorate Christ’s birth in this time of year, it is timely that we consider carefully Who Christ is. Which Christ will we embrace and worship in faith?

Here are two paragraphs from Parson’s introductory article; find the rest at the Ligonier link above.

Creeds are concise doctrinal summaries of the doctrines of Scripture, and creeds are subordinate to Scripture as our only infallible rule for faith and life. Although we do not by any means believe creeds are infallible, we do believe that creeds are authoritative insofar as they accurately summarize the teachings of Scripture. While we may not know all the creeds by heart, if we are Christians, we will wholeheartedly affirm them, confess them, and teach them to our children. For if we were to reject the church’s ancient creeds, we would be rejecting Christianity; and if we were to deny an essential creedal formulation about the person and work of Christ, we would be denying Christ.

On occasion, however, I have heard people passionately reply, “I don’t need the ancient creeds of the church—my only creed is Christ.” But as soon as I ask the question, “Which Christ?” they are quick to provide me with their personal creed about the person and work of Christ. Their personal creed is often heretical, unbiblical, and out of accord with the church’s ancient creeds. I will then patiently try to explain to them that if they do not believe in the Christ of Scripture but believe in a christ of their own making, they will find themselves among those to whom Christ will say, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” For if it is the Christ of the Bible who saves us, we must affirm the one, true Christ of the Bible in order to truly possess the salvation of the God of the Bible.

I also encourage you to read the first featured article on this month’s theme. That is penned by Dr.Sinclair B. Ferguson and titled “Does Christology Really Matter?” Here’s a few lines from his article to whet your appetite:

Does it really matter if those views are wrong, indeed heretical, so long as we know that Jesus saves and we witness to others about Him? After all, the important thing is that we preach the gospel.

But that is precisely the point—Jesus Christ Himself is the gospel. Like loose threads in a tapestry—pull on any of these views, and the entire gospel will unravel. If the Christ we trust and preach is not qualified to save us, we have a false Christ.

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