“Wiser than God?”–Heidelberg Catechism


We live in a culture that has been called a “visual culture.” People my age and younger grew up watching television and it is said that everyone’s attention span is shorter than it used to be. And, now with IPhones and such, one study has shown that a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human (yeah, I know; can such a study really be trusted?). Modern churchmen have latched on to that thought and have postulated that if we are going to teach people about God, we are going to need pictures. The problem with that kind of thinking is that the second of the Ten Commandments states very clearly that “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Any image that we would make to portray God could never capture His worth and glory, and thus pictures of the Godhead must be placed in the category of idolatry.

The idea of using pictures of God to teach is not exactly a new thing. The writer of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus, felt that it was needful to discuss it several hundred years ago. I love the way he handled the subject:

Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them.

Q. But may images not be tolerated in the churches as ‘books for the laity’?
A. No, for we should not be wiser than God. He wants His people to be taught not by means of dumb images but by the living preaching of His Word.

Yesterday, as we were about to share the Lord’s Supper, our pastor said something that bears repeating. He mentioned that although we do not have “pictures” in the place where we worship God to be an aid to worship, God has declared that we, as the church, may use two images to our benefit: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each of them is a “sensible sign” that points us to the truth of the Gospel. They are reminders that Christ took on human flesh, kept God’s Law (something that we could never do) on our behalf, died as a sacrifice for our sins, and if we rest in Him, our sins will be cleansed through His sacrifice.

I think that I will meditate upon what Ursinus said and not try to be “wiser than God.” No matter how short my attention span  is.



What about the Poor?

what about the poor
It was over a decade ago. After being a Southern Baptist pastor for approximately twenty-five years, I was becoming a Presbyterian; not a mainline, liberal Presbyterian, but a conservative, Bible-believing, Westminster Standards confessing Presbyterian. For my ordination to be accepted I had to pass written tests over the English Bible, Church history, the Sacraments, Theology, and the Book of Church Order. I then went before the Candidates and Credential Committee to be examined and was eventually questioned before the entire Presbytery.

There were several things that to me were interesting through that process. The first surprise came when I said that I had no exceptions to the Westminster Standards; the chairmen looked at me with some surprise and said, “None?” I responded by saying, “None.” He, with a funny look on his face said, “Oh.” The second surprise came when I answered the question, “What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of the Creation?” I responded by saying, “six, twenty-four hour days.” The chairman smiled and patiently explained that there were several views of Creation that were acceptable in the Presbyterian Church in America, and I smiled back and said, “But the question was, ‘What view did the Westminster Assembly take on the time of Creation?’” And, yes, I happened to agree with them.

There was a question that caught me off guard when I stood before the entire Presbytery, also. Someone called out, “What about the poor?” I said, “Pardon?” “What about the poor?” I think I responded with a rather long comment about how we should always be ready to care for the physical needs of the poor, etc. While I believe that there was some truth in what I said; looking back, I believe I would have answered differently.

What do the poor need from the church? They need the same thing that the rich, the middle class, and every other strata of society needs from the church: The Gospel. The church’s primary responsibility is, as Paul said, to proclaim that “the times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) We are to call upon people to turn from trusting in themselves, and to put their trust in what Jesus Christ has done on their behalf; no matter the size of their bank account. Jesus told the messengers that John the Baptist had sent to him that one of the evidences that He was the Messiah was that the “poor have the good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:5)

So, while it is important to remember Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10) the most important thing we can do, as Christ’s Church, is to point men to Christ through Word, prayer, and sacraments, that they might discover the abundant grace that God has poured out upon all who believe the Gospel.

What about the poor? The poor need the Gospel.


Tuesday Hymns: “Alas, And Did My Saviour Bleed”

watts isaac

In Isaac Watt’s later years he once complained, “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.” Even in complaining about church members’ attitudes, Watt’s words flowed like a mountain stream. He has been called the “Father of English Hymnody” for good reason and his published hymns would be exhibit numbers 1-800. Our Tuesday Hymn of the Week, “Alas, And Did My Saviour Bleed,” is a good example of his inborn talent and his excellent theology. His understanding of the depth of man’s sin and the abundance of God’s mercy and grace is found in every verse.

As one who grew up in a tradition that sang, “At the Cross,” (which took the words of Watts, added a refrain, and sang it to a tune that sounded like it originated in a circus calliope…sorry, I just feel that way) I was thrilled to discover his words connected to a more appropriate tune in The Trinity Hymnal.

Alas! and did my Saviour bleed,
And did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree!
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While his dear cross appears;
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes in tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
‘Tis all that I can do.

PS—And, just for the record, I have no issue at all with the phrase, “For such a worm as I.”




Tuesday Hymns: “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”

When Johann Heermann (1585-1647) was a little boy he contracted a serious illness and his mother promised God that if He spared the boy’s life, she would educate him to become a pastor. She was true to her word, and after his ordination he taught at the university, then became a deacon, and eventually a Lutheran pastor in Silesia. His ministry was hampered by poor health and the Thirty Years’ War, but he faithfully ministered, and found time to write numerous hymns, including our Tuesday Hymn, “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.”

The hymn pictures for us the holiness and innocence of Christ, and the depth of our sin. It reminds us that our salvation comes to us entirely through the grace of God. It is not something that we can earn or repay, but it is a merciful gift that becomes ours by what Christ did through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father. It is sung to several tunes, but the haunting “Iste Confessor” (https://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=11) is my favorite.

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.

Lo, the good Shepherd for the sheep is offered:
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered:
For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation:
Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee
Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Preach the Word! (and love the people)


Six months ago I quit running every morning because I had gotten tired of my knees and ankles hurting 24 hours a day, seven days a week (they didn’t even stop hurting on the Lord’s Day). So for exercise I began riding a recumbent bicycle in my study. I still get my 30 minutes of cardio a day, and at least I don’t have to run in the heat, the cold, or the dark (during Daylight Savings Time); and, I don’t hurt all the time.

As I listen to my IPod (I am so 1990s) to keep my mind off of my heavy breathing, I look around my study and take in the portraits, photographs, and books. Today while doing that, my eyes fell on my Ordination Certificate. I looked at the date (August, 1981), the church (Morgan Mill Baptist Church), and the names of the ordination council. Names like Adams, Quarles, Nachtigall (Ted, but not Richard; Richard must have been playing hooky), Mayberry, and at the top of the list, Dr. A. J. Quinn. Dr. Quinn preached my ordination sermon, and it consisted of him quoting the first eight verses of 2 Timothy 4 by heart. I could not have been given better advice and direction for the years of ministry that lay before me:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Being a pastor is really a somewhat simple task. Preach the Word, and love the people. Yes, there are still difficult issues, troublesome people, long days, and long nights, but if one does those two things he will “fulfill his ministry” in the Lord.



Don’t Fear the Reaper, Christian!

Well, it happened again: Another friend that I graduated with from high school died this week. Of course, when one reaches the age of 60 it should be expected, but it seems as if our class has had more than its share of tragedy lately.

While there are those whose lives are so filled with pain that death is looked upon as an escape, actually, death is not a friend; it is an enemy. Apart from Adam’s sin, death would not even be a part of this world; but since that day in the garden it has filled our lives with tears, loss, and heart break. It is something to be hated and despised.

However, for the Christian, it is the last enemy that we will ever face. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, Christ must “reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet,” and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (15:25-26) As a matter of fact, that victory will be so complete that the Psalmist was inspired to write, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.

Our hope is to be found in Christ’s promise that He made to Martha by the graveside of Lazarus, “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.”

So my plans are to live every day that the Lord gives me as full as I possibly can for His glory, and when my appointment with death comes, whether it be sooner or later, I will know that my only comfort in life and death is “that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.” (Heidelberg Catechism)

Tuesday Hymns: “Psalm 139” (The Trinity Psalter)

I have mentioned before how much that I enjoy singing the Psalms in corporate worship. For the last two Sunday nights we have been singing the 139th Psalm from The Trinity Psalter. Of course, the Psalm itself tells so much about the glory of the Lord we worship: we are told of His omniscience in verses 1-6, His omnipresence in verses 7-12, His omnipotence in verses 13-18, and of His justice and mercy in verses 19-22, and 24. Along with the theological depth of the Psalm, we hear the literary beauty of this particular metrical version. For example,

Where shall I from Thy Spirit flee,
Or from Thy presence hidden be?
In heav’n Thou art, if there I fly,
In death’s abode, if there I lie.

We sang the Psalm to the tune of New Winchester, and the Psalter listed Maryton as the tune of choice. Both are easily sung, and are appropriate to describe the transcendence and immanence of our holy and loving Lord.

Our Tuesday Hymn of the week: Psalm 139 from The Trinity Psalter.

LORD, Thou hast searched me; Thou hast known
My rising and my sitting down;
And from afar Thou knowest well
The very thoughts that in me dwell.

Thou knowest all the ways I plan,
My path and lying down dost scan;
For in my tongue no word can be,
But, lo, O LORD, ‘tis known to Thee.

Behind, before me, Thou dost stand
And lay on me Thy mighty hand;
Such knowledge is for me too strange
And high beyond my utmost range.

Where shall I from Thy Spirit flee,
Or from Thy presence hidden be?
In heav’n Thou art, if there I fly,
In death’s abode, if there I lie.

If I the wings of morning take
And utmost sea my dwelling make,
Ev’n there Thy hand shall guide my way
And Thy right hand shall be my stay.

If I say, “Darkness covers me,”
The darkness hideth not from Thee.
To Thee both night and day are bright;
The darkness shineth as the light.

My inward parts were formed by Thee;
Within the womb, Thou fashioned me;
And I Thy praises will proclaim,
For strange and wondrous is my frame.

Thy wondrous works I surely know;
When as in depths of earth below
My frame in secret first was made,
‘Twas all before Thine eyes displayed.

Mine unformed substance Thou didst see;
The days that were ordained to me
Were written in Thy book each one,
When as of them there yet was none.

Thy thoughts, O God, to me are dear;
How great their sum! They more appear
In number than the sand to me.
When I awake, I’m still with Thee.

The wicked Thou wilt slay, O God;
Depart from me, ye men of blood,
They speak of Thee in words profane,
The foes who take Thy name in vain.

Do not I hate Thy foes, O LORD?
And Thine assailants hold abhorred?
I truly hate all foes of Thine;
I count them enemies of mine.

Search me, O God; my heart discern;
And try me, every thought to learn,
And see if any sin holds sway.
Lead in the everlasting way.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”

I have begun teaching through the Westminster Confession of Faith during our Bible Study hour on Sunday mornings and, presently, I am in the middle of the section entitled, “Of God and the Holy Trinity.” As someone has once said, “If you try to comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity you may lose your mind, and if you deny it you will lose your soul.” It is a challenging doctrine to understand, but we must always remember something that John Calvin has written, “The finite cannot comprehend the infinite.” If we could understand all there was to know about God, would He really be God?

In looking for a good Biblical summary of the doctrine of the Trinity I came across this paragraph in Alan Cairns’, Dictionary of Theological Terms:”

Since there is one God, and since the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and since these three are clearly distinguished in Scripture, we are left with the glorious truth of the Trinity—one God eternally existing as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each indwelling the other and each possessing, not in part, but entirely, the infinite essence of the one divine Being. Contemplating such a majestic mystery of revealed truth, we are constrained to cry out with heaven’s seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6:3). (page 417)

Or, if you prefer, you may always fall back on the historic (4th century) Nicene Creed which spells out so beautifully this Biblical truth:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic* and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

*catholic: universal, not “Roman Catholic”

While I must admit I do not understand all that there is to understand about this glorious Biblical truth, I am so glad that it does not deter me from falling on my knees and worshiping the Triune God, my Creator and Redeemer.

“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.

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