Christmas Song – Thelma Westra

PoemsofPraise-TWestraAs we continue to meditate on the Wonder of grace, the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ during this week of Christmas, we consider a poem written by Mrs. Thelma Westra, a fellow church member at Faith PRC.

It is taken from her  collection of Christian poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published), and is titled “Christmas Song” (p.58). The piece may also be sung to the tune of Psalter #278.

The shepherds, watching in the field
On that first Christmas night
Were startled when the Lord revealed
A wondrous heav’nly light.

An angel, robed in white array,
To them this message brought:
‘Fear not, for unto you today
A miracle is wrought!

‘The very Son of God and man
Has been brought forth on earth,
So hasten now to Bethlehem
To witness of His birth.’

So we today proclaim the praise
Of Him Who came to die
That we may live, and voices raise
In praise to God on High.

Jesus Must be “Perfectly Human” – R.C. Sproul

Part of my Sunday reading today was in this month’s Tabletalk, including R.C.Sproul, Sr.’s edifying article under his regular column “Right Now Counts Forever.”

In “Perfectly Human”, Sproul treats the importance of Christians believing the truth of both the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. While we need Jesus to be fully God to save us, we also need Him to be fully human – a perfectly sinless man, he emphasizes. And that is especially brought home to us in this time of year when the church marks the incarnation of our Savior.

Here is a portion of Sproul’s article; read the rest of this instructive contribution at the Ligonier link below.

Christ’s sinlessness is vital to the biblical understanding of redemption. If Jesus is to be our mediator, if He is to be our redeemer, it’s essential that He be sinless. How could His atoning life have any significance if He committed even one sin? He’s called the lamb without blemish because His perfection is integral to His redemptive role as the mediator who offers up a perfect sacrifice to the Father to fulfill the old covenant and satisfy the wrath of God. The sinlessness of Jesus is critical to the full biblical understanding of His sacrificial death. Not only does Christ take what should be ours—namely, punishment for sin—but through imputation He gives to those who are in Him by faith alone the inheritance He receives for His perfect obedience (Rom. 3:21–26).

Some have denied the sinlessness of Christ in the name of protecting His humanity. If there’s anything that binds us together in common humanity, if there’s anything true of all men of all races and creeds, it’s that we fall short of our standards. We transgress our own laws, not to mention the laws of God. I don’t know anything more common to humanity than sin. If one man in this world today lived ten minutes in perfect obedience to God, that would be nothing less than astonishing. But Christ’s entire life was marked by sinlessness (1 Peter 2:22). So, how could a sinless Christ be truly human if sinlessness violates what is so common to human behavior?

What we’re really asking is this: Is sinfulness intrinsic to true humanity? We can answer only in the negative. To say that sinfulness is intrinsic to authentic humanity requires two conclusions: first, that Adam before the fall was not a human being; second, and more seriously, that Christians in a state of perfected glory in heaven will no longer be human.

Source: Perfectly Human by R.C. Sproul | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Dr. R.C. Sproul is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and author of the books The Work of Christ, Who Is Jesus?, and The Unexpected Jesus.

Ministering to the Abused and the Abusers, and to the Sexually Broken – S.Lucas and R.Butterfield

Source: Ministering to the Abused and the Abusers by Sean Michael Lucas | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

TT-Nov-2015Two excellent back-to-back articles in this month’s Tabletalk address specific aspects of “The Christian Sexual Ethic” – the one linked above, which addresses the church’s calling to minister both to those who have been sexually abused and to those who do the abusing, and a second by Rosaria C. Butterfield, which addresses ministering to the sexually broken, including those involved in homosexuality – a sin in which she herself was once enslaved before God’s grace broke her chains.

I read both articles yesterday and found them very direct, uncompromising, and yet expressive of God’s love and gospel hope in Christ alone. I give you a portion of both today, encouraging you to read the complete articles at the links provided (see title to Butterfield’s article below).

First, here is part of what Dr.Sean M. Lucas has to say in terms of gospel hope for abused and abuser:

Both the perpetrator and the victim of sin need the same thing: the gospel of Jesus. Those who commit sexual sins—whether sexual immorality, adultery, or even sexual abuse—need to hear the gospel. The entire point of discipline is to confront the sinner with the claims of Christ, to call for repentance, but also to seek new patterns of obedience that can come only as the sinner runs daily to Christ.

Often, those who commit messy and heinous sins believe their sins are too great to forgive. They need to be reminded that “there is no sin so great, that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent” (Westminster Confession of Faith 15.4). Such genuine repentance is drawn out by the “apprehension of [God’s] mercy in Christ to such as are penitent” (WCF 15.2). How great is God’s mercy in Christ? So great that He sent His one and only Son to die for sinners—and that death is sufficient to cover all our sins, even the most heinous ones.

Victims, too, need the gospel of Jesus: that Jesus is a Savior who does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick (Matt. 12:20); that He identifies with the hurt and broken and grants liberty to those oppressed by sin (Luke 4:17– 21); and that He likewise asked, “Why?” when the pain and godforsakenness was overwhelming (Matt. 27:46).

But victims of sin also need to know that Jesus does more than identify with us in our hurts—He actually has done something about them. Through His resurrection, He is able to bring new life and new hope in the present as well as the future. There is power to move forward through the pain they know. In addition, the gospel provides us with the basis for forgiveness, knowing that we, too, have committed heinous sins against God (Eph. 4:32).

And this is how Butterfield opens her article on “Ministering to the Sexually Broken”:

Coming to Christ is the ultimate reality check, as it makes us face the fact that our sin is our biggest problem. Every day, a believer must face the reality that original sin distorts us, actual sin distracts us, and indwelling sin manipulates us. This distortion, distraction, and manipulation create a wedge between us and our God. We are in a war, and the sooner we realize it, the better.

Sexual brokenness comes with boatloads of shame, as sexual sin is itself predatory: it hounds us, traps us, and seduces us to do its bidding. Sexual sin won’t rest until it has captured its object. When our conscience condemns us, we sometimes try to fight. But when shame compels isolation, we hide from the very people and resources that we need. We whiteknuckle it until Satan deceptively promises that sweet relief will come only from embracing that lustful glance, clicking that Internet link, or turning off the lights to our bedrooms and hearts and embracing the fellow divine image-bearer that God forbids us to embrace.

We sexually broken sheep will sacrifice faithful marriages, precious children, fruitful ministries, productive labor, and unsullied reputations for immediate, illicit sexual pleasure.

We may pray sincerely for deliverance from a particular sexual sin, only to be duped when its counterfeit seduces us. When we pray for deliverance from sin by the atoning blood of Christ, this means that I know the true nature of sin, not that I no longer feel its draw. If you want to be strong in your own terms, God will not answer you. God wants you to be strong in the risen Christ.

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).

Fighting the Prince of Darkness through the Prince of princes – D.Thomas

Christian & his burdenSatan or ‘the devil’ has ‘wiles’ – schemes and ploys to cause us to falter and halt our perseverance. One of these is to speak evil against us (as the label devil, which means ‘slanderer,’ suggests), making us out to be worse than we think and therefore unworthy to be called Christians. This Satan does a great deal, but he overplays, as John Bunyan so brilliantly illustrates in The Pilgrim’s Progress. There, Apollyon (‘destroyer,’ another name for the devil; Rev.9:11) mockingly berates Christian for the tardiness of his profession of faith. In short, he is a hypocrite. Christians responds:

All this is true, and much more which you have left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour is merciful and ready to forgive. Besides, these sins possessed me in your own country; I have groaned under them, been sorry for them, but now have obtained pardon from my Prince.

We are much worse than we ever confess, but the gospel is for sinners. Christian, get to know this wily ploy of Satan’s – and stand firm in the gospel.

From the pen of Dr. Derek Thomas, as found in the July 25-26, 2015 weekend devotional in Tabletalk.

To find this classic online, visit this link.

Word Wednesday: “Keep” – Rev.W.Langerak

For this Wednesday we will return to our word feature, in part because I wanted to call attention to something from the June 2015 issue the Standard Bearer. For that issue, Rev.W. (Bill) Langerak has written his latest installment for the rubric “A Word Fitly Spoken.” And this time he has focused on the significant biblical word “keep.”

Below is that article in its entirety. For more on the content of the June 1 “SB”, see the cover image at the end of this post. For information on subscribing to this excellent Reformed magazine, visit the “SB” link above.

Keep

“Keep” is a biblical word that teaches both the preservation and perseverance of the saints.  Preservation of saints is God’s keeping them; perseverance of saints is their keeping God’s law by His keeping them.  Basically, “keep” means to exert careful attention (thus, to heed, obey, and observe), so that something precious and pure is guarded and protected from being defiled and destroyed by some evil power.  And with regard to keeping, Scripture teaches six grand truths.

     First:  Our main calling is to keep.  Adam’s duty was to keep the garden.  That also implied evil was afoot; angels who kept not their first estate intended to destroy the place (Gen. 2:15; Jude 1:6).  When Adam failed, other angels had to keep it (Gen. 3:24).  Keeping was the earthly vocation of many Old Testament saints.  Cain wouldn’t keep his brother, but Abel kept sheep (Gen. 4:4).  So did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David.  Kings were called to keep the kingdom, priests the tabernacle, and prophets the Word (I Sam. 13:13; Num. 1:53; Rev. 22:9).  So we are also keepers.

     Second:  The essential thing we must keep is God’s Word.  The whole duty of man is to keep His commandments (Eccl. 12:13).  The frequent Word to Israel was to keep His statutes, judgments, and laws (Lev. 18:5).  Their calling was to keep the covenant, the service, the feasts, and the Sabbath of the Lord (Gen. 17:9; Ex. 12:25); keep their soul, mouths, and hands from evil (Ps. 39:1; Is. 56:2); keep knowledge, truth, righteousness, and wisdom (Is. 26:2; Mal. 2:7; Prov. 2:20).  And this does not change in the New Testament.  God still calls us to keep His Scripture, the faith and ordinances delivered to us by the apostles (Luke 8:15; I Tim. 6:20; I Cor. 11:2); to keep ourselves pure, in the love of God, unspotted from the world, and from idols (I Tim. 5:22; James 1:27; I John 5:21); and to keep our garments, the unity of the Spirit, and our hearts though Jesus (Rev. 16:15; Eph. 4:3).

     Third:  Keeping God’s Word is the only and necessary way of blessedness and life.  There is no other way.  Blessed are they that hear the Word and keep it (Luke 11:28).  In keeping God’s law there is great reward and it goes well with us forever (Ps. 19:11; Deut. 4:40).  Whoever keeps Jesus’ sayings shall not see death, and whoever keeps His commandments dwells in God and God in Him (I John 3:24; 8:51).  But cursed are those who keep it not; they will be cut off, perish, die, and be cast away from God forever (Deut. 28:25; I Chr. 28:9; Rev. 22:19).

     Fourth:  No man has kept God’s Word.  Except Jesus.  He kept the commandments of God (John 15:10).  But not Israel.  They kept not His covenant, judgments, ways, temple, feasts, or Sabbath (Ezek. 20:21).  Neither their wisest kings, princes, priests, or fathers kept His law (I Kings 11:10; Ezek. 44:8; Neh. 9:34).  Nor do we.  For if we keep the whole law but offend at one point, we are guilty of all (James 2:10).  If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar (I John 1:10).

     Fifth:  And yet…saints do keep the Word of God.  Scripture says Abraham kept the law and covenant of God (Gen. 26:5).  So did Job (23:11), David, and others (Ps. 18:21).  So do we.  For if a man loves Jesus, He will keep His Word (John 14:15, 23).

     Sixth:  Saints not keeping, but keeping God’s Word is no contradiction.  Nor is preservation (our keeping) and perseverance (God’s keeping) of the saints.  First, because God is our keeper (Ps. 121:5).  It is the Lord who keeps our soul, keeps us alive, keeps His truth, and keeps us from presumptuous sins, falling, the wicked, snares, and evil (Ps. 17:8; 19:13; 25:20; 41:2; 140:4; 141:9).  Abraham kept God’s law because God kept Abraham (Gen. 28:15).  Israel kept God’s way because His Angel kept that way (Ex. 23:20).  We keep His covenant only because He keeps His covenant to us (Deut. 7:8-9).  Secondly, because all keeping of God’s Word is by faith.  Faith now, not in one’s merit, power, or ability, but in Jesus the original Shepherd, who kept the law for us, keeps those given to Him, and keeps God’s covenant forever (Jer. 31:10; John 17:11; Ps. 89:29).  Indeed, we both keep and are kept by the power of God through faith that commits the keeping of our souls to Him by the Spirit dwelling within us (II Tim. 1:14; I Pet. 1:5).

SB-June-2015_Page_1

“…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.

Pentecost: “From first to last… the Spirit says, ‘Jesus.’ – S.Ferguson

In Christ Alone - SFergusonOn this Pentecost Sunday evening we go backwards in Sinclair Ferguson’s book In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, 2007), in order to post a section from one of his chapters treating the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

This quotation is from chapter 18, “Seeing Jesus – At Pentecost”, where Ferguson points out that the coming of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Pentecost (the OT feast) was a work of the risen and ascended Christ, and that the Spirit’s work is to make Jesus and His saving work visible.

This is his third and final point about this proper relationship:

Third, Pentecost was the firstfruits of the fulfillment of Jesus’ own promise about the ministry of the Spirit: ‘And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment’ (John 16:8). Jesus’ own explanation of this is illuminating. The Spirit will convict the world ‘of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged’ (John 16:9-11). The conviction mentioned in this promise is related to the way the Spirit reveals Jesus himself. The Spirit makes it evident that He is the Messiah, the Son of the Father to whom He has returned, the One who defeated Satan by defeating death as the wages of sin. From first to last, then, the Spirit says, ‘Jesus.’

Is there any pastoral value to this biblical theology? Yes, indeed. One hundred and twenty men and women were full of Christ. They were overwhelmed with a sense of His exaltation and enthronement, absolutely assured that He is reigning and will reign throughout the world. They had a heartfelt certainty that if God had kept this, the greatest of His promises, He would keep all of His promises.

Somewhere along the line, many Christians have lost this sense of the exaltation, enthronement, and triumph of Christ. We need to grasp that Jesus’ coronation has taken place. He is already enthroned. That is why we are to go into the world with the good news – in the power of the Holy Spirit (Kindle ed.).

Pentecost Meditation – “The Spirit of Jesus”

holy-spirit-pentecost-1On this Pentecost Sunday we post another prayer/devotional from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by A.Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975). This one is titled “The Spirit of Jesus”, and is a fitting prayer for us to make personally as we remember our Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to His church and people.

LORD JESUS CHRIST,

Fill me with thy Spirit
that I may be occupied with his presence.

I am blind — send him to make me see;
dark — let him say, ‘Let there be light’!

May he give me faith to behold
my name engraven in thy hand,
my soul and body redeemed by thy blood,
my sinfulness covered by the life of
pure obedience.

Replenish me by his revealing grace,
that I may realise my indissoluble union with thee;
that I may know thou hast espoused me
to thyself for ever,
in righteousness, love, mercy, faithfulness;
that I am one with thee,
as a branch with its stock, as a building
with its foundation.

May his comforts cheer me in my sorrows,
his strength sustain me in my trials,
his blessings revive me in my weariness,
his presence render me a fruitful tree of holiness,
his might establish me in peace and joy,
his incitements make me ceaseless in prayer,
his animation kindle in me undying devotion.

Send him as the searcher of my heart,
to show me more of my corruptions
and helplessness
that I may flee to thee,
cling to thee,
rest on thee,
as the beginning and end of my salvation.

May I never vex him by my indifference
and waywardness,
grieve him by my cold welcome,
resist him by my hard rebellion.

Answer my prayers, O Lord,
for thy great name’s sake.

Word Wednesday: Rise(n); Raise(d) – Rev.W.Langerak

SB-April15-2015For our word feature on this Wednesday, we turn to the latest Standard Bearer – April 15, 2015 – and post the most recent contribution of Rev.W. (Bill) Langerak to the “A Word Fitly Spoken” rubric. This one ties in nicely with our recent commemoration of Easter and our Lord’s resurrection.

Rise(n); Raise(d)

Rev. Bill Langerak

The gospel is that Jesus is risen from the dead. The good news is not merely that Christ died. Indeed, Jesus must die for our sins according to the Scriptures (1Cor. 15:3). But He must also rise (John 2:22). For if Christ is not risen, our faith is vain (1Cor. 15:14). A dead Jesus does us no good. A dead Jesus is no different from any other human. And Christians who believe only a dead Jesus are themselves still dead in sin (1Cor. 15:17). The complete, comforting, pure and powerful good news of salvation is that Jesus is risen from the dead, and if we confess this with our mouth and believe it in our heart, we also shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).

The good news of this gospel is derived from three truths concerning the resurrection. First, we are repeatedly taught (17 times in Acts alone) that God raised Jesus (Acts 2:32). This proves the impossibility of any salvation by the will or worth of man. So completely is salvation from beginning to end the work of God, even Jesus did not raise Himself up. God must raise Jesus by His Spirit (Rom. 8:11). Likewise, the same God who raised up the Lord, must also raise us up by His own power and grace (1Cor. 6:14). Eternal life is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23).

Secondly, Jesus is risen from the dead. This is why God must raise Him. Dead is dead. God raised Him because, having paid the wages of sin, it was impossible for death to hold Him any longer (Acts 2:24). And being raised, death has no more dominion over Him (Rom. 6:9) and this enemy will be destroyed (1Cor. 15:26). The Lord is risen to scatter His enemies (Num. 10:35), rule His adversaries (Num. 24:17), and stand over His fallen foes (Psa. 20:8). Risen, He has abolished death and brings life and immortality to light through the gospel (2Tim. 1:10).

Thirdly, He is risen. On the third day, God did not raise merely His body. But God raised His Son (1Thes. 1:10). He raised up Jesus and showed Him openly (Acts 2:24). Likewise we shall be raised. It is true this includes the quickening of our bodies (Rom. 8:11)—the same natural body sown in corruption, dishonor and weakness, is raised a spiritual body, incorruptible, glorious and powerful (1Cor. 15:42-44). But the really good news is God raises persons—and that if His Spirit dwell in us, then He who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise us up (2Cor. 4:14).

Because God raises persons from the dead, the good news is that we need not wait until He raise our bodies to enjoy the benefits of His resurrection. Indeed it is true, that Christ is risen as the first fruits of them that sleep, so that when He returns we will awakened from slumber by trumpet sound, and in a blink of an eye raised incorruptible (1Cor. 15:20, 52). But the really good news is we are already risen. As we are buried with Him in baptism, we are now risen with Him through faith by the operation of God (Col. 2:12). And whosever lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:26). God is not the God of the dead, but God of the living (Mark 12:27).

God has given us assurance in that He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:31). Jesus is risen that we might have a living faith and hope in God (1Pet. 1:21). Faith believes that, as He was delivered to death for our offences, so He was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Hope is certain that God, having raised up His Son, has delivered us from the wrath to come, and sent Him to bless us in turning us away from our iniquities (1Thes. 1:10; Acts 3:26).

Such faith worked by the Spirit of the risen Christ is powerful to make us alive unto good works. Now. It is as impossible that a living faith leave us unfruitful and remiss in a holy life, as it would be for those who believe this gospel to ignore Jesus at the trumpet’s call and remain unchanged in the grave (B.C., Art. 24). Christ was raised by the glory of the Father that we should walk in newness of life, and bring forth fruits unto God (Rom. 6:4; 7:4). As those alive from the dead, we yield our members instruments of righteousness unto God (Rom 6:13). Risen with Christ, we are made to sit together in heavenly places, to seek those things which are above where He sits on the right hand of God (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Good news indeed!

For more word studies like this, visit this page on the PRC website. They make for fine devotional material.

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