“I lift up my eyes to the hills”

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

Where does one place his trust in the uncertain times in which we live? Since, in reality, all times are uncertain from a human perspective, this is a very important question. I hope that the present financial times have at least taught us the lesson that our security can not be found in 401Ks, or in Bernie Madoff’s “foolproof” investment scheme. The latest news cycle has also reminded us that it is not unheard of for spouses to be less than trustworthy, as the wife of the governor of South Carolina has discovered (which really aggravated me since I liked his refusal of federal bail-out funds). Moreover, we must remember that even faithful, trustworthy spouses are susceptible to disease and death, and through “no fault of their own” should be removed as the being to whom we place our ultimate trust. And, we all know that politicians can not be trusted to do anything, but to seek to be re-elected.

The Psalmist knew from whom he could expect help, and in whom to place his trust. His help came “from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” The Lord is able to shepherd His people so that they “will not want.” The Lord is able to encourage His people so that they can experience the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” which will guard their “hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The Lord is the only one who can truly say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” in the dark providences of our lives. The Lord alone can make it possible for a sinner to be able to cry out, “Abba, Father,” and “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” all through the obedient life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. And, last of all, only to Jesus Christ have been given the “keys to Death and Hades” so that a child of God need not fear the last enemy he will ever have to face: his physical death.

Therefore, I would encourage you to look up to, and trust in, the only One who purchased salvation for His elect; the only one who can be our comfort in life and death; and proclaim along with J. Gresham Machen, “I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. [There is] no hope without it.

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Death in the 21st Century

During the past week three cultural icons learned a very important lesson about life here on this earth: it comes to an end. Death is never a comfortable subject to discuss, especially for the generation in which we live; however, the passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson forces us to think about death, and that is a positive thing. Our culture does its best to trivialize death by putting forth such axioms as, “he who dies with the most toys, wins,” but a better understanding would be a bumper sticker that I will never forget seeing: “he who dies with the most toys, still dies.” So, how should mankind view death?

First of all, we should accept the fact that death is not natural. It is not a part of the “circle of life” as The Lion King would have us believe. Death is actually an intruder upon earth which was given entrance because of man’s sin. As Paul wrote in the Book of Romans, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its accustomed precise manner states:

Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.” (WCF VI.vi)

In other words, we are not only responsible for the sin of Adam, but for our own sin. And, as Paul reminds us, “wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23)

Second, we should accept the fact that, unless Christ returns during our lifetime, we will all face death. The Bible clearly states that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Heb. 9:27) There is no escaping death. Don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say; I am not calling for some grand morbidity to cast a shadow over every waking moment of our lives, but I am calling for people to come to grips with reality. Life is not similar to a video game in which every time we are killed, we are able to hit reset and start again. When death enters, it comes to stay. It is either the doorway to eternal bliss through Christ, or to the eternal torment that we have earned because of our own sin.

Last of all, we should realize that the answer to death is found in the grace of God. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive,” and the words that Jesus said to Martha give to us great hope, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) Our hope, our victory over death, and our eternal life is to be found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Trust in the promise of God’s Word that “if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17)

The Apostles’ Creed

Some 1800 years ago, the early church in the west provided catechetical instruction for converts who were about to undergo Christian baptism. The instruction came to be known as the Apostles’ Creed, not because the Apostles wrote it (there is no evidence to the 5th century legend that each Apostle provided one-twelfth of the Creed), but because it contained the teaching of Christ and His Apostles.

The Creed spells out the basic doctrines of Christianity in a systematic manner. One sees the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of the virgin birth, the doctrine of the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the return of Christ, and the doctrine of the Church all within a matter of three short paragraphs. One also can read of the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of our Lord Jesus Christ, all in a form that even a child can understand. Before one was baptized, he (or she) would be asked, “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth?” and the candidate would answer, “I believe.” Then, each section of the creed would be asked in the form of a question to the new convert, and after responding, “I believe,” he would be baptized.

Of course, one must remember that the phrase, “descended into hell” (which was not added until the approximately the fourth century) speaks in a general way of the place of the dead, not Gehenna or the place of torment. (It simply means in terms of Christ humanity, He really died; not swooned, fainted, etc.) Moreover, it is prudent to point out that the phrase “holy catholic church” does not describe the Roman Catholic Church (which did not yet exist), but the universal church of God.

However, when one recites the Apostles’ Creed in a corporate worship service (or in family worship), believers are comforted by the fact that they share a common faith with the church of Jesus Christ of all the ages. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

 

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth:

 

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

 Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

 Was crucified, dead, and buried:

He descended into hell;

The third day he rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

 

I believe in the Holy Ghost;

The holy catholic church;

The communion of saints;

The forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body,

And the life everlasting.

Amen.

“Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” by Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly was an Irish dissenting pastor during the 19th century who wrote over 750 hymns. Some may remember, “Look, Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious,” but probably his most well-known hymn is “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” In that song, sin is seen in all of its depravity, and we are reminded of the price that was paid in order that we might enter into a covenant relationship with God. May the following words bring comfort to all who are resting in the finished work of Christ for their deliverance from the wrath and curse of God.

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
‘Tis the long-expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
By His Son, God now has spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear him groaning,
Was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress;
Many hands were raised to wound him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on him their hope have built.

In Reverence and Awe

It is always good for me to go away to the General Assembly every year, because it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be a part of Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas. I suppose there are worse things than praise bands, that is, if you don’t tire of hearing them shout “Put your hands together,” however, I must admit that the first person pronouns were really starting to get on my nerves (I, I, I, me, me, me, my, my, my) when we were in a corporate worship service. Nevertheless, the goal of this post is not to complain about GA, but to voice appreciation for the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ that I am blessed to be a part of every Lord’s Day.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that when we gather together to worship the Triune God we are to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29) Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon defines the word, reverence, as “godly fear,” and defines the word awe in the very same way. In other words, we should be more apt to fall on our faces before the living God, than to wave our cigarette lighters over our heads as we sway to music.

Our gatherings in Jesus’ name should focus on God’s glory, God’s Law, and God’s Grace which He has poured out on us through Jesus Christ, and our worship should be conducted in a manner which reflects the majesty of His holiness. I readily admit that the worship at RPC is not perfect, because it involves people who struggle with the remaining sin in their lives; but I am so grateful that Sunday in and Sunday out, I have a place where I can gather with the redeemed and corporately worship a holy God in “reverence and awe.”

“A new idea never originated at Princeton Seminary.”–Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge was the Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary from 1851 until his death on June 19, 1878. He was known for his dictum: “A new idea never originated at Princeton Seminary.” (Sadly, Princeton jettisoned that approach to theology early in the twentieth century.) Our society today would consider such a dictum, “anathema.” Our generation seems to think that the world began (or at least the “civilized” world) in the last 50 years, and that it is our responsibility to update our theology, and ecclesiology to fit the culture in which we live. C. S. Lewis had a name for such thinking: “chronological snobbery.”

 Actually, Hodge was keenly perceptive when he coined his maxim, for truth, especially theological truth, is eternal. Murder, adultery, theft, covetousness, idolatry, etc. was sin in 3500 B. C., in 1500 B. C., in 1000 A. D., in 1850 A. D., and is still sin today (and will be in the future). In the same way, God has declared how man might draw near to Him and how mankind should worship Him, and it is not in our purview to change God’s modus operandi to make it more acceptable to the age in which we live. Right and wrong will never change, and God’s truth does not evolve with each and every fad that is embraced by a shallow and fickle culture.

Therefore, it is a much wiser course to heed what God said through the prophet Jeremiah, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jer. 6:16) Don’t be seduced by the spirit of the age, but trust in the ancient paths set down for us in God’s Word, as we live out our lives, resting in the grace that has been poured out upon us through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Glory of the Person of Christ

As I was preparing a message on Psalm 139 last week I came across a passage in Calvin’s Institutes (II.xiii.4) (actually, I came across it in Robert Reymond’s Systematic Theology who quoted Calvin) which made my head hurt as I struggled to comprehend the two natures and one person of Christ:

Another absurdity…namely, that if the Word of God became incarnate, [he] must have been confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body, is sheer impudence! For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be born in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, to hang upon the cross, yet he continuously filled the earth even as he had done from the beginning!

The Westminster divines expressed the same idea in the following way:

The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. (WCF VIII.ii)

Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus also articulated this truth in the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 48. But if his human nature is not present, wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another?

Answer: Not as all, for since the Godhead is illimitable and omnipresent, (a) it must necessarily follow that the same is beyond the limits of the human nature he assumed, (b) and yet is nevertheless in this human nature, and remains personally united to it.

As I ponder in wonder the limitless glory of our Triune God, I am comforted by the fact that the same omnipotent God who “has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, And marked off the heavens by the span, And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, And weighed the mountains in a balance, And the hills in a pair of scales?” will also “tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isa. 40:11-12)

B. B. Warfield and the Inspiration of Scripture

I came across B. B. Warfield’s description of his belief in the inspiration of Scripture in a book entitled, B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, edited by Gary L. W. Johnson (a great book, by the way):

God’s continued work of superintendence, by which, his providential, gracious and supernatural contributions having been presupposed, he presided over the sacred writers in their entire work of writing, with the design and effect of rendering that writing an errorless record of the matters he designed them to communicate, and hence constituting the entire volume in all its parts the word of God to us. (p. 6)

Warfield was not being in tedious in his writing; he was being precise, for if we do not get the doctrine of Scripture correct, we face the danger of going astray in every other doctrine. The men of the Westminster Assembly were aware of that danger and thus declared:

The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCF 1:10)  

Thus, the question which must be asked in settling any query of consequence is, What do the Scriptures say? It is not the Holy Spirit speaking in some kind of subjective “quiver in our liver,” or “holy nudge,” but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. That is why it is imperative that we, as God’s people, take the time to read, study, and anchor our lives to the truths that are “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

“From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee”

Last Sunday, our offertory hymn was a hymn written by Martin Luther back in 1525. One thing I have always appreciated about Luther was how clearly he could see his sin, and in the midst of that darkness of sin, how clearly he could see the light of the Gospel of Christ. Below you will find the lyrics of Luther’s hymn and I would encourage you to focus especially on the last verse because, “though great our sins and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth.”

 “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee”

 From depths of woe I cry to Thee,

Lord, hear me, I implore Thee.

Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,

My prayer let come before Thee.

If Thou rememberest each misdeed,

If each should have its rightful meed,

Who may abide Thy presence?

 

Thy love and grace alone avail

To blot out my transgression;

The best and holiest deeds must fail

To break sin’s dread oppression.

Before Thee none can boasting stand,

But all must fear Thy strict demand

And live alone by mercy.

 

Therefore my hope is in the Lord

And not in mine own merit;

It rests upon His faithful Word

To them of contrite spirit

That He is merciful and just;

This is my comfort and my trust.

His help I wait with patience.

 

And though it tarry till the night

And till the morning waken,

My heart shall never doubt His might

Nor count itself forsaken.

Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,

Ye of the Spirit born indeed;

Wait for your God’s appearing.

 

Though great our sins and sore our woes,

His grace much more aboundeth;

His helping love no limit knows,

Our utmost need it soundeth.

Our shepherd good and true is He,

Who will at last His Israel free

From all their sin and sorrow.

My Sin and God’s Grace

Carl Trueman, a Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, published an article about blog attacks in Reformation 21, the online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals at: http://www.reformation21.org/counterpoints/wages-of-spin/thank-god-for-bandit-country.php. (Actually, I was made aware of the original article by reading Justin Taylor’s blog at: http://theologica.blogspot.com/) In the article he mentioned the following from the life of Martin Luther:

“It is well-known that in his writings in table conversation Luther would often refer to visits from the Devil, how the Devil would come to him and whisper in his ear, accusing him of all manner of filthy sin: ‘Martin, you are a liar, greedy, lecherous, a blasphemer, a hypocrite.  You cannot stand before God.’   To which Luther would respond: ‘Well, yes, I am.  And, indeed, Satan, you do not know the half of it.  I have done much worse than that and if you care to give me your full list, I can no doubt add to it and help make it more complete.  But you know what?  My Saviour has died for all my sins – those you mention, those I could add and, indeed, those I have committed but am so wicked that I am unaware of having done so.  It does not change the fact that Christ has died for all of them; his blood is sufficient; and on the Day of Judgment I shall be exonerated because he has taken all my sins on himself and clothed me in his own perfect righteousness.’”

When we see our sin in all of its vileness, knowing that from “out of [our] heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, [and] slanders,” (Matt. 15:19) it is easy to fall into despair and cry out, “What’s the use?” However, we, like Luther, have the promise of God, that, in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.” (Eph. 1:7-8) Our hope is not to be found in our own grit and determination, but in the perfect work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Therefore, even though it is important to strive by the power of His Holy Spirit to live a life pleasing to God, it is just as important to rest by faith in the redemption that is ours through Jesus Christ.

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