Zion’s Blessedness in the Covenant of Grace – John Newton

IsaacNewtonOn Sunday, April 30, 1775, John Newton preached a sermon on 2 Samuel 23:5. on God’s covenant of grace with His people in Christ Jesus. In the evening he continued his sermon on this passage and also tied it to a hymn he had written on the glory of Zion, God’s church.

On this second Lord’s Day in September – also the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 (Sept.11, 2001 – Sept.11, 2016) – he has good words for us to consider, both in sermon and in hymn.

This is part of what he had to say in his sermon:

… we can promise or perform nothing. Therefore it is called a covenant of grace… This covenant of grace was established with and in our Lord Jesus Christ… making atonement for transgression with his own blood.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but they have a sure refuge and strong consolations provided in the covenant of grace. This secures them so that their enemies have no reason to rejoice over them. When they seem to fall they shall rise again. This is a balance to all their sufferings.
Believers – rejoice in this Covenant. Walk about this Sion, consider her foundations and all the towers thereof and mark well the bulwark. See how it is fixed upon an immoveable rock, guarded by almighty power, encompassed with infinite love, and enriched with all desirable blessings, and then with a holy indifference to all the trials of the present hour, rejoice and say, Although my house be not so with God, yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered and sure, etc.

During the evening service of that date, Newton tied his sermon to this hymn he had written based on Isaiah 33:20-21. We know it as “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” It is from Book 1 of the “Olney Hymns.”

Zion, or the city of God

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for his own abode:
On the rock of ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See! the streams of living waters
Springing from eternal love;
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hovering,
See the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a covering,
Showing that the Lord is near:
Thus deriving from their banner
Light by night, and shade by day;
Safe they feed upon the manna
Which he gives them when they pray.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God:
‘Tis his love his people raises
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, his solemn praises
Each for a thank-offering brings.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
I through grace a member am;
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure,
None but Zion’s children know.

 

Sunday Meditation: Divine Mercies

ValleyofVisionOur Sunday worship (personal, family, and corporate) thoughts for reflection come from the Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (Banner of Truth, c.1975).

We have been slowly working our way through the first section titled “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and this next one is taken from there too. It is simply titled Divine Mercies.”

May it help lead us into great thoughts of God and His mercies to us in His Son, even as we confess our manifold sins to Him in humble contrition.

Divine Mercies

 THOU ETERNAL GOD,
Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable
goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean’s ‘lip’
as number Thy favors towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.
I thank Thee for personal mercies,
a measure of health, preservation of body,
comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food
and clothing,
continuance of mental powers,
my family, their mutual help and support,
the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
my country, church, Bible, faith.
But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
the days that add to my guilt,
the scenes that witness my offending tongue;
All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
condemn me—
the sun which sees my misdeeds,
the darkness which is light to thee,
the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
the good angels who have been provoked to leave
me,
Thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
Thy righteous law, Thy holy Word,
my sin-soiled conscience, my private and
public life,
my neighbors, myself—
all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
‘Father, I have sinned’;
Yet still I live, and fly repenting to Thy outstretched
arms;
Thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
Thou wilt not condemn me, for He died in
my stead,
Thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
for He leveled all,
and His beauty covers my deformities.
O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging
to His cross,
hiding in His wounds, and sheltering in His side.

“Let the church… emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God! H.Hoeksema

Blessed, indeed, are the people who know this God who is God blessed forever. It is true that God is God, and therefore he cannot be comprehended. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite; time cannot compass eternity. But there is a difference between knowledge and comprehension, and comprehension is not necessary for knowledge. Although in the very testimony that God is God the church confesses that God cannot be comprehended, she also proclaims that he is knowable, and that he is known. He is known because he has revealed himself. He has revealed himself not merely as god, but also as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves his church with an eternal and unfathomable love; who reconciles his people to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them; who delivers them from the power of sin and death; and who gives them life eternal in the knowledge of himself.

We know God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and not merely with our head, intellectually, as theology knows him; we also know him with our heart, spiritually, so that we taste that he is good and the overflowing fountain of all good. We know him and have fellowship with him, and we hear him tell us that we are his friends, his sons and daughters. We know him, and in this knowledge we have eternal life. “This is  life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Let the church of Jesus Christ in the world clearly understand her calling and emphatically proclaim – always and everywhere – that God is God!

This is another quote from the very first message broadcast on the Reformed Witness Hour (celebrating 75 years in 2016!), “God is God”, based on Isaiah 43:12 (“Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.”) and delivered by Rev. Herman Hoeksema, pastor of First PRC in Grand Rapids, MI.

Knowing-God-and-Man -HHBesides being published in individual leaflet form, this message was later published by the RFPA in book form, along with the other messages in this series on the doctrine of God and another on the doctrine of man that followed it. That book is titled Knowing God & Man (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2006). The quote is taken from p.12.

Don’t Be Weary in Doing God’s Beauty Work! – Rev. C. Haak

RWHmasthead

Our thoughts for reflection on this first Lord’s Day in August come from a message Rev.C. Haak delivered on the Reformed Witness Hour program last month (which had also been broadcast previously).

The message is titled “Not Weary in Well-Doing” (for the audio version go here) and is based on the Word of God in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well-doing:  for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

Below is a portion of his exposition of that text. May we find it a necessary rebuke for our sluggishness and a powerful encouragement to our weary souls.

  Now, when the apostle says, “Don’t be weary in well-doing,” he is not referring just to a few people, but he is referring to all the people of God.  He is not referring just to giving things to the poor, but he is referring to our whole life as we are to live that life out of Jesus Christ.  Does he refer to the work of elder or deacon in your church?  Yes.  But mothers in the home and fathers, too, as they bring up their children, as they go to work to support their family.  Our church life is included.  Our marriages are included.  And all the deeds of thoughtfulness and kindness that we are to do in His name.  Witnessing to the gospel and pursuing the evangelism call of the church.  All of these things are well-doing.

        Literally, we could translate this “beauty work.”  Do not be weary in beauty work.  That is a very powerful word of God because there we see that apart from God every doing, every act, and every deed is darkness.  Apart from the beauty of God’s grace working first in our hearts, every work that is performed on the earth, the Bible says, is ugly, smelly, soiled in pride.  But there is beauty.  And that beauty comes from God alone.  It is the beauty of His grace when He works through His people in Jesus Christ.  It is that which does not then come out of self, that which is not rooted in self, but that which is of grace in us.  That is beauty work.  And even though now those works, too, are shot through with our own sin, yet God smiles because He sees in that work His wonderful grace.  Now do not be weary in beauty work.

        Further, we learn that this well-doing is synonymous with sowing to the Spirit.  Look at verses 7 and 8 and see that the Word of God has set down a principle for everyone.  There we read, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  There are only two possibilities.  One is either sowing, in his life, to his destruction, or he is sowing, in his life, to life eternal.

…Are you sowing greed in your life as a father?  Then the Word of God says, “Don’t expect contentment but expect a constricted heart, and anxious nights, and narrow eyes.”  Are you sowing gossip in your church?  Do you talk about others?  Then do not expect peace and love in your church or in your marriage or family.  But you shall harvest division and tension.  Are you, as a young man, sowing lust through pornography in your life?  Then do not expect that you are ever going to be satisfied if God gives you a wife.  What you sow you shall also reap.

        So, well-doing, then, is to be understood as that work of the Spirit of Christ whereby we sow looking for the life that is to come, that we might have an abundant harvest then.

        But you understand that that well-doing is very hard, it is very difficult, it is continuous, it is never-ending.  And this is really, I believe, the point of the apostle.  You do not see the fruit of this kind of work quickly.  Because that is the case, we become discouraged and our souls begin to sag.  You say to me, “Are you telling me that my work as a mother is beauty-work?  Are you trying to mock me?  Have you ever seen my house on a Monday morning?  It’s upside-down.  Beauty-work with my child?  I yell at my child.  How can that be beauty-work?”  “Beauty-work in our marriage” you say to me?  “Well, that’s hard work!”  And maybe you say, “It’s never going to change.  Our marriage is not going to change.  He’s not going to change.  We’re just going to have to resign ourselves to have to live with it.  We give up.”

        Maybe you say that in the church.  You say, “I’ve tried to be active in the communion of the saints.  I’ve tried to have people over to my house.  There is no reciprocation.  Beauty-work?  I’ve been hurt in the church!”  Maybe as an elder you say to me, “Pastor, you’re calling our work beauty-work, but in the church it seems that the problems are greater than anywhere else!”  And maybe personally you say, “I’m weary.  I can’t seem to get out of the doldrums.  The spiritual resilience has departed from my life because of obstacles, because of the sins of others, because of my own sins.  I’m tempted to say, ‘Well, if that’s the way they’re going to be, see if I care!’”

        So often we find ourselves then settling down into the routine.  The earlier days of fresh spiritual vigor are a distant dream.  We become discouraged and we become tempted to withdraw from doing good—in church, in marriage, in family, in our personal life.  We begin to multiply obstacles and magnify obstacles and say, “We can’t do that!”  We are ready to quit.  And we would, if we could find a good excuse for doing so.

Review Books – Two New Crossway Titles

Recently I received two requested review books from Crossway publishers, and today I make them available to our readers who may be interested in writing a brief review for the Standard Bearer.

"Free Grace" Theology

The first is “Free Grace” ‘Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, written by Wayne Grudem (paper, 159 pp.). This book is a fresh look at an old error that often creeps into the church, that salvation by grace means salvation without a change of life (genuine repentance) and without demands on a person’s heart, mind, and walk (godly obedience).

In the more recent past, this error was known as the “lordship controversy,” but now it has a “new” name – “free grace theology.” It may be pointed out that this error also shows itself wherever antinomianism is promoted. As Grudem points out in his introduction, he wrote this to point out properly the nature of the gospel, true Christian assurance, and the nature of saving faith.

The publisher offers this description:

Must the gospel message include a call for people to repent of their sins? “No,” say Free Grace advocates. Is evidence of a changed life an important indication of whether a person is truly born again? “No, again,” these advocates say.

But in this book, Wayne Grudem shows how the Bible answers “Yes” to both of these questions, arguing that the Free Grace movement contradicts both historic Protestant teaching and the New Testament itself.

This important book explains the true nature of the Christian gospel and answers the question asked by so many people: “How can I know that I’m saved?”

If this book is of interest to you and you are willing to write a review on it, please contact me here or by email.

Eight Women of Faith

The second book is Eight Women of Faith, penned by Michael A. G. Haykin (paper, 160 pp.), and takes a look at eight significant women who played an important role in church history.

Crossway gives this summary:

With the majority of books about church history centering on the lives and accomplishments of men, it is easy for contemporary Christians to forget the vital role that women have played in the history of Christianity. Drawing from journal entries, personal letters, and other historical documents, historian Michael Haykin reminds Christians of women from previous generations who have helped shape the church. This book affords readers deep insights into how women such as Jane Austen, Sarah Edwards, and Anne Steele responded to challenges in society, came to embrace key doctrines, and made crucial contributions to the life of the church.

For obvious reasons, it would be nice to have a woman do the review on this book. Any interested ladies?

As always, the books are your to keep.

Save

Note to Self: Welcome (Hospitality)

Begin by reading Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2.

Dear Self,

Hospitality… is the will of God for you. God commands you to be hospitable. …He calls you to be hospitable because he himself is a welcomer of strangers and loves the sojourner.

…Throughout history, God has called his people to welcome outsiders into their cities, homes, and lives. Israel was commanded to practice hospitality with their Jewish neighbors but also to welcome, care for, and bless those who visited their cities. Likewise, the church is also commanded to welcome both believers and unbelievers.

…The most basic idea behind hospitality is to care for outsiders in a way that you would care for insiders. You welcome them. So, when was the last time you invited outsiders into your home? Into your busy life? Outsiders are not those close to you but those who are not yet a part of your life. This includes people at church you have not taken the time to meet as well as your neighbors and coworkers you do not yet know. They may be outside or inside the kingdom, but they are currently outside of your ministry influence.

Of course there is no better picture of hospitality than what we find in the gospel, for in the gospel God calls those who were not his people, ‘My people.” By faith we are orphans who have been adopted into God’s family, made coheirs with Christ, and are promised a place at his table in the kingdom to come. God has accepted you and welcomed you in Christ. You know what it is to be an outsider and yet received as an insider, so you should be ready to show others what that kind of grace looks like on a smaller scale in your home.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.22 “Welcome” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.81-82.

A True Love Story – Grace Gems

Romans8-39This “Grace Gems” devotional was sent yesterday (July 16, 2016) and is fitting for our contemplation on this Lord’s Day. It contains not the fictions of human love stories, but the facts of God’s gospel love story.

The journey which our Divine Lover took

(Thomas Guthrie, 1803-1873)

The story of Christ’s redeeming love surpasses anything related in the pages of the wildest romances. These tell of a prince, who, enamored with a humble maiden, assumed a disguise. Doffing his crown and royal state for the dress of common life, he left his palace, traveled far, faced danger, and fared hard–to win the heart of a peasant’s daughter, and raise her from obscurity to the position of a queen!

Facts are more wonderful than fables. The journey which our Divine Lover took was from Heaven to earth. To win His bride, He exchanged the bosom of the eternal Father–to lie, a feeble infant, on a woman’s bosom. The Son of God left the throne of the universe, and assumed the guise of humanity–to be cradled in a feeding trough and murdered on a cross!

In His people, He found His bride deep in debt–and paid it all. Herself under sentence of death–He died in her place. A lost creature, clad in rags–He took off His own royal robes to cover her. To wash her–He shed His blood! To win her–He shed His tears! Finding her poor and miserable and naked, He endowed her with all His goods–and heir of all things. Everything that He possessed as His Father’s Son–she was to forever enjoy and share with Himself!

Overcoming Legalism – Sean M. Lucas

TT-June-2016You will recall that legalism is the theme of the June Tabletalk (the subtitle says it all: “the delusion of man-made religion”). In the last full-featured article on the subject, Dr. Sean M. Lucas addresses how to overcome legalism, with the revealing subtitle – “Let No One Disqualify You.”

His answer to the sin of legalism is really simple: the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of who Christ is for us, what He has done for us, and what we are in Him.

Here is a part of what he has to say (worth your time reading the rest of his article too):

Pilgrim’s Progress

This gospel formation means that Christianity really isn’t about rule-keeping. To be sure, a Christian obeys God’s Word, but the way to obedience is not by focusing on keeping the rules, flying right, and doing better. At the heart of what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 is to explode the notion that righteousness is about external obedience to the law. When He says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), He tells us that the way to righteousness is not through mere external obedience. Instead, the way to a righteous life is the Spirit’s inside-out transformation as we progress in living into the gospel. As we use the means of grace—including corporate worship that centers on the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, as well as private worship—God meets us, drives the gospel into our hearts, confronts our patterns of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and makes us new.

But this sort of gospel transformation takes time. We progress in it as we are formed and shaped and molded by the Spirit’s work. As we go further up and farther in, we see more sin, confront more deception, believe more gospel, receive more divine comfort. We learn by experience and gain wisdom and insight as we turn from folly to reverence and love the Lord.

And here’s the thing: as we live in step with the Spirit, we actually live in ways that “keep the rules.” Those who bear the Spirit-fruit of love will be those who keep the two tables of the Ten Commandments. Those who bear joy will know the strength to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Those who bear peace will be whole and wholesome, not restless or anxious. And so forth. We keep the rules, not by focusing on them as merely deeds that must be done, but by focusing our hearts on Jesus, who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing by the Spirit in us to make us fulfill the law.

Source: Overcoming Legalism by Sean Michael Lucas

Note to Self: Forgive

Begin by reading and meditating on Colossians 3:12-13.

Dear Self,

You need to forgive. You need to. …You need to forgive others because God in Jesus Christ has forgiven you. Your infinitely holy and just Maker has not held your sins against you, but instead has held them against his Son on the cross. Your faith rests squarely on this act of substitution.

Your refusal to forgive one who has sinned against you is a manifestation of hypocrisy – a telltale sign that either you have not experienced God’s forgiving grace, or that you take such grace for granted. Why do you withhold what has been given so freely to you? Have your offenders done worse than you? Are their crimes against you more severe than your crimes against God and others? When you refuse to forgive, it can only mean that you have not yet come to understand forgiveness, or you have been taking it for granted and have not sufficiently learned from it.

You need to forgive to make much of Jesus and his gospel. This is the real reason to extend forgiveness to the undeserving. …Forgiveness points us all back to our greatest need – reconciliation to God by way of his own work.

…While forgiveness is never easy, it is also never impossible – not for those who have been saved by the grace of God. For the grace of salvation not only secures your forgiveness and models it for you, but it also empowers forgiveness by giving you a new heart and spirit.

You can forgive because you learned it in the gospel. …The gospel compels you to forgive, and it enables you to do so.

Give yourself to meditation on the cross; learn forgiveness, and walk in it.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.20 “Forgive” (found in Part Two, “The Gospel and Others”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.77-78.

Legalism and the Grace of God in Christ – Nicholas Batzig

TT-June-2016This month’s Tabletalk addresses a serious error into which the church of Christ and Christians can easily fall – that of legalism.  Legalism goes hand in hand with other sins as well – pride, self-righteousness, Phariseeism, and judgmentalism to name but a few.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject in his editorial “Legalism vs. Gospel Religion.” The first main featured article, “Legalism Defined: Taken Captive by Empty Deceit,” is by Rev. Nick Batzig, and it is from this one that we quote today.

In an early paragraph, Batzig defines legalism this way:

Legalism is, by definition, an attempt to add anything to the finished work of Christ. It is to trust in anything other than Christ and His finished work for one’s standing before God. The New Testament refutation of legalism is primarily a response to perversions of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The majority of the Savior’s opponents were those who believed that they were righteous in and of themselves, based on their zeal for and commitment to the law of God. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes exemplified, by their words and deeds, doctrinal legalism in the days of Christ and the Apostles. While they made occasional appeals to grace, they self-righteously truncated and twisted the Scriptural meaning of grace. The Apostle Paul summed up the nature of Jewish legalism when he wrote: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3–4).

But then he also shows how a proper understanding of justification by faith alone in Christ alone keeps us on the right path:

Understanding the relationship between the law and the gospel for our justification is paramount to learning how to avoid doctrinal legalism. The Scriptures teach that we are justified by the Savior’s works—not our own. The last Adam came to do all that the first Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Cor. 15:47–49). He was “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4–5). He came to be our representative in order to fulfill the legal demands of God’s covenant—namely, to render to God perfect, personal, and continual obedience on behalf of His people. Jesus merited perfect righteousness for all those whom the Father had given Him. We, through faith-union with Him, receive a righteous status by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In Christ, God provides what He demands. The good works for which God has redeemed believers, that we might walk in them, do not in any way whatsoever play into our justification. They are merely the necessary evidence that God has forgiven and accepted us in Christ.

Finally, after pointing out how legalism can creep into our hearts and lives in practical ways too, he ends by showing that the only cure for this error is the pure grace of God:

The grace of God in the gospel is the only cure for doctrinal and practical legalism. When we recognize doctrinal or practical legalism in our lives, we must flee to Christ crucified. As we do, we will again begin to grow in our love for the One who died to heal us of our propensity to trust in our own works or achievements. On a daily basis, we need to be reminded of the grace that has covered all of our sins, provided us with righteousness from outside of ourselves and freed us from the power of sin. Only then will we joyfully pursue holiness. Only then will we love God’s law without attempting to keep it for our justification before Him.

Source: Legalism Defined by Nicholas Batzig