“Can anything good come out of Liverpool?”

On August 30, 1968, The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was released. At seven minutes and ten seconds in length, it was the longest song ever to be #1 on the British charts. It was #1 on the American charts for nine weeks, and I still have vivid memories of listening to that song on the School Bus heading to a track meet just a few years later.

It was written by Paul McCartney for Jules (he changed the title and lyrics to “Jude” because it sounded better and was easier to sing), the son of John Lennon, when his parents divorced over John’s adulterous affair with Yoko Ono. Paul wanted to encourage Cynthia (John’s ex) and Jules to “take a sad song and make it better.” In other words, don’t let this get you down; keep living. The “her” in the song was supposedly Jules’ self-worth, reminding him that all of this was not his fault. When John heard the song, being who he was, thought it was all about him, and the “her” was Yoko, and that he should “go out and get her.” Some people just—don’t—get—it.

The upshot of all this is that divorce is a horrible thing. How horrible is it? It is so horrible, and the harm done by it is so great, that God only provides two reasons why a divorce should be allowed. The first of these is made very clear by Jesus in Matthew 19 when he says, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The Greek word translated, “sexual immorality” is “porneia,” which covers a wide range of sexual infidelity. The second reason given why a divorce may be sought is found in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul writes:

13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.  14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (1 Corinthians 7:13-15)

These three verses are describing what we would, today, call, “desertion.” If the husband or wife leaves (thus, showing evidence of unbelief) there is absolutely nothing one can do about it. The “innocent” party (innocent in terms of not being unfaithful or deserting, not perfectly innocent because we are all sinners) has to let the unbelieving spouse go. In both of these cases, divorce is not required (the spouses can work diligently to repair the broken marriage covenant), but it is allowed.

However, even in these cases the pain caused to the offended spouse, the children, the two families, the friends who too often are pressed to “take sides,” etc. is great and does not quickly go away. Thus, I plead for husbands and wives to take seriously those vows made to his or her spouse and God on their wedding day when the promise was made to:

I, ________, take you, ________, to be my wedded wife—to have and to hold—from this day forward—for better, for worse—for richer, for poorer—in sickness and in health—to love and to cherish—till death do us part—and therefore, I promise my love.

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Is it really “worse now than then?”

J. Edwin Orr once wrote:

Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution (following1776-1781) there was a moral slump. Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

What about the churches? The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season. The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation’s ungodliness. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’ Voltaire averred and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.

Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on anti-christian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790’s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.

After reading Dr. Orr’s assessment of the early days of our country, we are reminded that there is truly “nothing new under the sun.” It is not necessarilyworse now than thenas Marijohn Wilkin once sang. The world, the flesh, and the devil have been our enemies ever since God told Satan after Adam’s first sin that He wouldput enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Yes, there is much evil in the world, and we should do what we can to be salt and light in this decaying and dark place, but we should never forget that God is sovereign and that He is at work in our present situation for His glory and purpose.

I do not know if spiritual reformation or destruction lay in our immediate future as a nation, but I do know that God’s grace is real, and He will continue to call sinners to repentance regardless of the darkness of the day. Just be diligent to rest in Christ, walk in His Spirit, proclaim the Gospel, and be faithful even unto death and remember that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

Tuesday Hymns: Psalm 32

I love singing from The Trinity Psalter. I am not one who believes that the Bible teaches exclusive Psalmody (one who believes we should only sing Psalms to worship God when we gather as God’s people), but singing Psalms (of course in a different language, meter, etc.) that have been sung by the people of God since 1000 B.C. (and before) is a reminder to us that we are not the “new kids on the block.” We are a part of the people of God who have existed not for centuries, but for millennia. Thus, our Tuesday Hymn for this week comes from The Trinity Psalter: Psalm 32. (Sung to the tune, VOX DILECTI, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”)

This Psalm shouts to us the truth that “there is nothing new under the sun.” David’s problem in the 11th century B.C. is the same problem that plagues us today: sin. David speaks of the shame and distress that come because of our rebellion against the holy Law of God, and the great relief that comes to us when we are forgiven through the mercy and grace of a holy God. He did not understand from his historical perspective that his (and our) sins were paid for through the perfect life and sacrificial death of the God/Man, Jesus Christ; but he did understand that it was all because of the mercy of the living God.

So rejoice today if you are one of the blessed ones against “whom the LORD counts no iniquity.”

What blessedness for him whose guilt
Has all forgiven been!
When his transgressions pardoned are,
And covered is his sin.
O blessed the man ’gainst whom the Lord
Counts no iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is not
Deceit or treachery.

When I kept silent, my bones aged;
My groaning filled each day.
Your hand oppressed me day and night;
My moisture dried away.
Then I to You admitted sin,
Hid not my guiltiness;
I said, “I will before the LORD’
Transgressions now confess.”

Then You did all my sin forgive
And take my guilt away.
For this when You are near at hand
Let all the godly pray.
The rising floods will harm him not.
You are my hiding place.
And You will comfort me with songs
Of victory and grace.

Instruction I will give to you
And teach you as you go.
My watchful eye will guide your steps;
My counsel you will know.
Be not like senseless horse or mule
Which if you would subdue
You must with bit and bridle hold
To bring him close to you.

The wicked many pangs endure,
But steadfast cov’nant love
Encircles ev’ry man whose trust
Is in the LORD above.
Be glad and shout, you righteous ones,
And in the LORD rejoice!
And all whose hearts are just and true
Sing out with joyful voice.

Evening Praise from “The Valley of Vision”

Giver of all,
another day is ended and I take my place
beneath my great redeemer’s cross,
where healing streams continually descend,
where balm is poured into every wound,
where I wash anew in the all-cleansing blood,
assured that Thou seest in me no spots of sin.

Yet a little while and I shall go to Thy home
and be no more seen;
help me to gird up the loins of my mind,
to quicken my step,
to speed as if each moment were my last,
that my life be joy, my death glory.

I thank Thee for the temporal blessings of this world
—the refreshing air,
the light of the sun,
the food that renews strength,
the raiment that clothes,
the dwelling that shelters,
the sleep that gives rest,
the starry canopy of night,
the summer breeze,
the flowers’ sweetness,
the music of flowing streams,
the happy endearments of family, kindred, friends.
Things animate, things inanimate,
minister to my comfort.

My cup runs over.
Suffer me not to be insensible to these daily mercies.
Thy hand bestows blessings:
Thy power averts evil.
I bring my tribute of thanks for spiritual graces,
the full warmth of faith,
the cheering presence of Thy Spirit,
the strength of Thy restraining will,
Thy spiking of hell’s artillery.

Blessed be my sovereign Lord!

“What you see is what you get!”–Geraldine

Why are confessions of faith so important? Why can’t we just say that the Bible is our creed? Isn’t that sufficient? One would think that saying, “I just believe the Bible,” would answer all of the questions about what is believed by that particular person or group. The problem is that I have several friends who would ALL say, “I just believe the Bible,” but they have very different theologies. I have Presbyterian friends, Baptist friends (I think they are still my friends), Church of Christ friends, charismatic friends, and other friends of various backgrounds (and the “beat goes on” [a little Sonny and Cher lingo there]), who claim to believe the written Word of God, yet have very different views about what the Bible says.

It is good to be able to point to a piece of paper and say, “This is what we believe the Bible says,” and these doctrines will be preached and taught in this particular church. For example, we have people who are members of our church, who we love and minister to, who don’t believe every jot and tittle of the Westminster Confession of Faith (We only require a credible profession of faith to become a member of RPC), yet they know what they will hear from the pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out.

Of course, we know our theology is not perfect, but as R. C. Sproul once said, “Our problem is that we don’t know where we are wrong. If we did, we would repent and change.” (Loose paraphrase from memory of his statement) But, this is what we sincerely believe is the testimony of the Holy Scriptures. That is why we have a confession, catechisms, and a Book of Church Order (BOCO) to follow. As it says in our BOCO:

The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is subject to and subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word Of God, consists of its doctrinal standards set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Book of Church Order comprising the Form of Government, the Rules of Discipline and the Directory for Worship; all as adopted by the Church.

Sadly, people are not always honest when they vow to uphold standards. At Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, professors once joked about “crossing their fingers” when they were asked to sign the Abstract of Principles (I am glad those days are over, I think), but it is the best that we can do in this fallen world in which we live. Therefore, I have no qualms whatsoever vowing to teach the doctrines of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, because I believe that they contain “the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture.”

So, as people who love, serve, and have been redeemed by a God “who cannot lie,” we should concur with what Geraldine once said (Google “Flip Wilson” if you are younger than 40), “What you see is what you get!”

Tuesday Hymns: “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove”

In our “Bob, the Builder” world, we like to cry out, “Can we do it? Yes, we can.” However, our Tuesday Hymn for this week, “Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” is a reminder to us that our salvation comes to us by grace alone and not because of any merit of our own. Isaac Watts writes of our “cold hearts,” our “trifling toys,” and our “formal songs;” and our need of God’s Holy Spirit to “kindle a flame,” to “quicken our hearts” (quicken means to make alive), and to have His love “kindle ours.”

The message of this hymn (and the Holy Scriptures) is that we are only able to love Him “because He first loved us.” Before anyone will ever desire to trust in Christ, God’s Holy Spirit must first take his heart that is “dead in trespasses and sins,” and bring it to life. As Paul says in the Book of Ephesians:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved- 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9)

When one looks at the actor in those nine verses, it is not man, but God. God was merciful, God loved us, God made us alive, God raised us, and God seated us in heavenly places. It is “by grace [we] have been saved through faith…it [all] is the gift of God.”

Watts’ hymn is a cry to God’s Holy Spirit to “kindle a flame of sacred love in these cold hearts of ours.” It is sung to John B. Dykes’ tune, ST. AGNES.

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.

In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.

Dear Lord! and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great!

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.

In Christ We find Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow

Living in a fallen world has its challenges. Automobiles break down. People get too much rain. People get too little rain. People get sick. People die. We are told in the Book of Romans that “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23) Until Christ returns and ushers in the new heavens and the new earth we will have to deal with the afflictions that accompany our fallen humanity. However, even in the midst of this trouble, we are comforted by the fact that God has a purpose in everything that we experience, and will use it for our eternal good and for His eternal glory.

Thus, Dixie and I find ourselves looking at a residential facility for our son who suffers with autism and a mental illness called schizoaffective disorder (Bi-polar type). The last couple of years have been very difficult, yet, we have seen the evidence of God’s grace at work in the midst of it all. We believe we have found a facility with a Christian underpinning, which provides the dignity of work and independence, along with the care that an adult with special needs requires. There are still a few hurdles that must be cleared, but we may be nearing that first checkpoint in this marathon of his life.

We are grateful for all that have prayed for us in the past, and ask that those prayers continue as we forge ahead into the future. We rest in the grace of God and heartily concur with the thoughts that Samuel Rodigast penned so many years ago:

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God,
Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content,
What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew.
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all.

Doctrine Matters

Why is doctrine so important? I believe Stephen Charnock, a seventeenth century English Presbyterian answered that question well when he wrote, “It is impossible to honor God as we ought, unless we know Him as He is.” It is true that “the heavens declare the glory of God” and shout to us that God is wise, powerful, and good; but it is in God’s written word, the Bible, that we can see God as He is. The Scriptures are there to teach us “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 3)

Be sure that the God that you worship is not a figment of your own (or another’s) imagination, but the God who revealed Himself to us through His Holy Scriptures. As the prophet Micah has written:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20) And, He accomplishes all of that through the perfect life, and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Worship the God of the Scriptures lest you end up like King James I of England of whom it was said, “When the temple of a man’s heart is empty, he becomes unconsciously a worshiper of himself.”

Tuesday Hymns: “Have You Not Known, Have You Not Heard”

Isaac Watts once complained about the attitudes of some as they sang hymns in worship services: “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”

It would be difficult for me, however, to imagine how one could be “indifferent, negligent, and thoughtless” as he sang Watt’s, “Have You Not Known, Have You Not Heard,” based on the final verses of Isaiah 40 (which just happens to be our Tuesday Hymn for this week [Yes, I realize it has been a while]).

The hymn speaks of God’s creating and sustaining power and asks the reader if he could be so foolish as to believe that God’s “power shall fail when comes your evil day?” The implied answer is, “Of course not.” Although “Mere human pow’r shall fast decay, and youthful vigor cease; they who wait upon the Lord in strength shall still increase.”

The hymn is sung to Lowell Mason’s tune, HERMON.

Have you not known, have you not heard
That firm remains on high
The everlasting throne of Him
Who formed the earth and sky?

Are you afraid His power shall fail
When comes your evil day?
And can an all creating arm
Grow weary or decay?

Supreme in wisdom as in power
The Rock of Ages stands,
Though Him you cannot see, nor trace
The working of His hands.

He gives the conquest to the weak,
Supports the fainting heart;
And courage in the evil hour
His heavenly aids impart.

Mere human power shall fast decay,
And youthful vigor cease;
But they who wait upon the Lord
In strength shall still increase.

They with unwearied feet shall tread
The path of life divine;
With growing ardor onward move,
With growing brightness shine.

On eagles’ wings they mount, they soar,
Their wings are faith and love;
Till, past the cloudy regions here,
They rise to Heav’n above.

“It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.”

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) once wrote: “It is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.” That is the message of the Book of Galatians (and the rest of the Bible for that matter): We are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. How serious was Paul about that thought? Galatians 1:8-9 tells us: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

What was the Gospel that Paul preached? Again, Paul spells it out for us in Galatians 2:16: “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Three times in one verse we are told that we are not made right with God by the things we do (the law), but by faith in what Christ has done.

Why is that so? Isaiah tells us that “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Or as the old King James says, “like filthy rags.”) We must trust in the one who never sinned in deed, in word, or even in thought. We must trust in Jesus Christ alone because “it is a destructive addition to add anything to Christ.”

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