Monday, 2 July 2018

Living with the "River Jordan" in Sight

Psalm 114:1-8
When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

This majestic Psalm is sandwiched by Psalms 111-113 and then followed by Psalms 115-118 which emphasises the theme of "Praise the Lord". The phrase "Praise the Lord" interestingly is a plural Hebrew imperative to praise, spoken by the covenant Lord Himself. It is, in other words, a call to worship. Every time you read that phrase, ask yourself, am I praising because it is habit or in obedience to the Person of the Covenant Lord himself?

We notice two main themes of redemption described here, both of great importance.
I. The Red Sea was supernaturally parted
II. The River Jordan was supernaturally parted.

These two historical events paint for us on the canvas of redemptive history the two events for the salvation of every person. First we must be delivered from sin, death and judgment through the new birth which is likened to the parting of the Red Sea; Second we pass through the River Jordan as we die in the Lord (assuming that we are born again and in the Lord). That means that our lives in this world are likened to the journey by faith between the Red Sea and the parting of Jordan.

My application is that we need to spend more time in the church through preaching, pastoring and encouraging one another to prepare for the day of our death. None of us know when that will be. Think of some of the great hymns.

The last verse of Henry Francis Lyte's (1793-1847) "Abide with Me":
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heaven’’s morning breaks, and earth’’s vain shadows flee:
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Or the hymn "Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah" by William William's:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death, and hell’'s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’'s side;
songs of praises
I will ever give to Thee.


Notice how long ago these hymn writers lived, they had death as a greater reality than we do today. We must think and prepare for the final day of judgment. May this note be found in the preaching we hear, the exhortations we give, the songs we sing.

Romans 14:8-9 "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living".

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and the Church

The doctrine of the church is as important, as it is exciting. Exciting you may respond. "I have never thought of the doctrine of the church being exciting" many may react. If you know the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Scriptures, then you will know that the church is central to all of His contemporary purposes. Contemporary has become a new buzz word in the church. My question is: should a church be seeking to be contemporary or biblically faithful?

Ephesians 5:25-27 "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish".

Colossians 1:17-18 "And he [the Lord Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent".


Jesus Christ is the head of the church, which is his body; now that is significant. As we would expect the Westminster Confession has much to say on the doctrine of the church. Three foundational chapters are Chapter 25 "Of the Church" with 6 different sections. Also Chapter 26 "Of the Communion of the Saints" and also Chapter 30 "Of Church Censures". The chapter on Church Censures teaches the third mark of the church, which is church discipline. I suggest that we all read these three chapters, in order to refresh our minds upon the centrality of the doctrine of the church with the gospel.

It has become a buzz word to talk about "gospel ministry" without this phrase being explained. But in a New Testament sense can we talk about gospel ministry without talking about the doctrine of the church?

Three subjects need to be discussed today.

What is a biblical doctrine for public church worship? What is the church's theology for worship?

What is a biblical doctrine for church government?

What is a biblical doctrine for the doctrines that we hold on every theological subject?

In sum, doctrine, worship and church government are the "big 3" truths for the church.

A book to recommend is the Glorious Body of Christ by R. B Kuiper, through the front cover is poor, the content of the book is excellent. The chapter by Guy Prentiss Waters on Church Government in the book "The Westminster Standards for Today" is excellent also.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Westminster Standards do not Support Arminianism or Hyper-Calvinism

The church, in order to be biblical and orthodox, she needs to be committed to the two "O's". What are these two "O's"?
They are:
Orthodox
Outward-moving in vision

It is not enough to be orthodox in doctrine, but the church must be outward-moving in her vision. Not static! Never static! It is possible to hold orthodox doctrine, so you think, and yet be unorthodox, because you are static and failing to show interest in reaching out to the lost. My two suggested "O's" are not perfect, but they get us all thinking, I hope.

As a younger Christian I read two terrific books by Iain Murray of the Banner of Truth. They were about Spurgeon being against Arminianism and also Hyper-Calvinism. These twin dangers are always around when there is any kind of Reformed recovery. We need to be aware of both. For example you can say that you tick all the boxes about Reformed doctrine and yet hold to sub-conscious hyper-Calvinism where due to a certain view of the doctrine of election that you do virtually nothing to make Christ known. Similarly, you may hold to particular redemption and yet be an Arminian in practice, in thinking that the kingdom of God will expand by the use of man-made methods. The dangers are very subtle for all of us.

However, the character of the Lord is outward-moving. The Lord our Father sent his only-begotten in His love and then the Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost to spread the gospel and build up the church around the world. The Westminster Standards (the Confession along with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) provide a biblically balanced theology. We should read the chapter in the confession on the Eternal Decree, but then pray the Lord's Prayer with the explanation of the Westminster Larger Catechism. Here is Question 191 to explain the second petition.

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, (which is, Your kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here,18 and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.


We need to pray and work as the Lord spoke through Haggai in 2:4 "Work for I am with you declares the Lord of Hosts".

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 2)

How do we delight in the Lord for the whole day?

The Lord’s Day is the whole day and not the Lord’s half day or even less the Lord’s quarter day. This day is a gift from the Lord and we are expected to labour to turn our foot from doing our pleasure on this holy day. It is a day to set aside our worldly pursuits and recreations. This day is different to the other six days. Do you live on this day differently to the other six days? Being planted in a church that is committed to preaching in two services helps us to structure our day around the Lord and his ordinances. These include preaching, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. We need to take extra time whwre possible to nourish our soul spiritually. This may include reading some good Christian book, to take time to recharge by devoting this day to extra Bible reading or personal communion with the Lord in prayer.
Christian fellowship can be a means of strengthening our soul as well. However, we need to heed the Creator’s teaching that this is not a day to “talk idly” (Is 58:13). On this day especially, we should put away converation that does not upbuild, or that is frivilous jesting, or unwholesome arguments or in boasting foolishly. It is not that we cannot discuss normal matters, but mere chit-chat is to be avoided. The “rule of thumb” to uphold this holy day of the Lord as honourable could well be Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”.

How can families delight in this day?
The correct definition of the visible church is “a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world, do profess the true religion, and of their children” (Westminster Larger Catechism question 62). It has been the common practice of the church over 2000 years to have children with their parents sitting through worship services together. It would be wrong to starve children from the primary instrument of communication from heaven, which is preaching. The Lord’s Supper needs to be seen by children, it is a visible sign and portrayal of the gospel. The breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine is a wonderful gift for children as well as all, to understand better the significance of the sufferings of Jesus.
There are some practical matters that could be covered in this subject. Elders, preachers and parents, all need to think through how this day can be maximised. I have heard over the years that some father’s keep their family at home to catechise them, instead of going to the evening service. I am not sure I understand the logic of this decision. I have often maintianed that it would hard not to grow spiritually, if you sit under two well prepared sermons each Lord’s Day. I hope to discuss this whole matter more, in another article, as to how families can delight in this day

Do we call this particular day the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath?

The Westminster Larger Catechism is in my view one of the best Christian documents produced in the history of the church. I would love to see it read, taught and used far more. Earlier I cited question 59 in the Shorter Catechism, but the answer is amplified in question 116 in the Larger. The question asked is “What is required in the fourth commandment?”. Immediately we learn then that this day is seen to be the application of the fourth of the Ten Commandments to “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Catechism’s answer then, emphasises that this day is “one whole day in seven” and it explains that it is “the Christian Sabbath, and in the New Testament called the Lord’s day”. Thereofre we see that these terms are interchangeable to explain the same blessed gift from heaven. The church are to feast spiritually every seven days on the gospel of Christ, to meet together according to the Lord’s appointment in His calendar and to congregate publicly.

What better for us to close, than with Psalm 92, the Song of the Sabbath (in the Psalm title): “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (92:12-13). You cannot flourish by staying at home on the Lord’s Day, but by being planted in the church, worshipping with the Lord’s people.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Westminster Standards and Delighting in the Christian Sabbath (Part 1)

Delighting in the Sabbath
What comes to your mind when the phrase “delighting in the sabbath” is read or heard by you? Depending on your upbringing, your background, and whether you are a Christian or otherwise, a whole variety of thoughts may well spring into your mind. For some, the very idea of a sabbath, maybe completley foreign, for others it may conjure up thoughts of a dry form of Christianity. How do you consider the practicing of the Christian Sabbath? Have you considered the Lord’s command and invitation to delight in the Sabbath?

Let me lay a biblical basis at the outset and then let us move to considering some practical thoughts as to how we can mazimise our delighting in the LORD through the whole sabbath day. Sadly, an American Presbyterian minister who is a personal friend of mine, lamented to me recently. He said that “this is the first generation in the history of the USA, that the whole church in the USA has not practiced the Lord’s Day”. The Christian Sabbath is also commonly known as the Lord’s Day and they mean the same thing. Imagine that! In one generation a whole nation has undergone a sea-change in religious practice.

Has our nation, the United Kingdom fared better? Sadly no. My father grew up in northern Sheffield in the 1940’s. It was a time when chapel buildings were everywhere. Many people professed a commitment to the local chapel, but few went regulalrly in reality. The Sunday School movement continued at that time, with some fervour, and children like my dad, were joyfully sent to this. For many the parents motive was most often to provide a brief respite for the parents. This is not entirely suprising though, when many husbands worked six days down a coalmine. However, in recalling those days, my dad would retell that Christian religion on Sunday was more a matter of what you could not do. You could not play as a child, or ride your bike, or enjoy the day. It was a day to be endured. But as to what this day was really to be about in a Biblical worldview, very few knew, let alone practicing this day as a spiritual delight.

Such memories by many are common. The light and zeal of the church was at a very low ebb, as nominal Christian allegiance remained. As far as delighting in the Sabbath, that idea would have meant little. However, this biblical truth must be recovered, that is, if Christianity is to uphold the vitals of true Christian religion.

Before we go much further, let us briefly look at Isaiah 58:13-14 and we note that this instruction comes “from the mouth of the Lord” and it begins with the tiny English word “If”. “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

These two Bible verses are full of truth. They are worthy of much meditation. The heartbeat of this message is that an attitude change is required which then will lead to a change in the way you live. It is the same principle in that right doctrine leads to right practice which leads to godly living. Are you preared to have an attitude change? One whereby, as a godly man or woman, you will “call the Sabbath a delight” and “the holy day of the LORD honourable”. Do you do this? Let us examine briefly, five simple questions to help us to understand this truth.

Which day is the Christian Sabbath?
The day, we now call Sunday, was formerly known in Bible times as the first day of the week. The early Christians moved their day of worship, one day forward from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) because this was the day that the Son of God, Jesus Christ,was risen from the dead. The Bible testifies to this: “And very early on the first day of the week” several women went to the tomb and they found the stone rolled away. The angel said to them “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here” (Mark 16:2, 6).
The early church set about to meet on the first day of the week, by divine command and to remember the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They gathered together to hear the Word of the gospel preached, to enjoy the Lord’s Supper, and to give to the Lord in collections (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2). John the apostle was banished to a remote Greek Island as a punishment for preaching the gospel, and he called this day in the book of Revelation, “the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1:10).
As the church grew and matured, their understanding of the Christian Sabbath also grew. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it simply in question 59: “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath”.

How do we delight in the Sabbath?
The starting point tp delight on the sabbth is to have a love for good and sound preaching. The high point of worship is preaching. Preaching does something to our soul that no other activity in the church can do. A love for preaching will drive you to find a church that will offer you the spiritual meals that you need to live a godly life. On a side note, never move to a new area without first checking out if there would be a church there for you to grow and thrive.
Remember that Jesus of Nazareth announced that “ the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). He loved the Sabbath, he looked forward to it and he practiced it rightly. Rightly meaning with an inward spiritual attitude and not simply a wooden or outward conformity. This contrasted with the Pharisees who were simply concerned with rules. Let us learn of Christ and follow his example.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Reverent-Simple Public Worship

The New Testament teaches a style of worship which is reverent, simple and full of thankfulness. The high point of New Testament worship is the preaching and reading of the Scriptures, in order to elucidate the gospel of Christ. Here are seven principles necessary, if we are to be biblical in a New Testament sense and therefore in a truly Reformed approach to public worship.
Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?
A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has instituted in his Word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the Word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.
This question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism is a helpful reminder for us in public worship.

1. Simplicity
"For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you" 2 Cor 1:12.

2 Cor 11:3 "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ".

It is amazing how the fallen-ness of mankind struggles with the beauty of simplicity, especially in worship. When will we learn that public worship is not according to our personal taste preferences, but according to the Lord's divine worship pattern revealed in Holy Scripture.

2. Reverence and awe
Hebrews 12:28-29 "And thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire".

3. Without distractions and gimmicks
When we observe the instructions given by Paul to Timothy the emphasis is on preaching. Nothing can replace preaching to pass on the content of the faith. How often churches seek extras to compensate for preaching, but nothing can replace Holy Spirit empowered preaching "out of the Scriptures".

4. Centred on the holy character of the Lord and the one mediator Jesus Christ

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time", 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

5. Thankfulness in prayer
"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship" Hebrews 12:28-29.

6. Anchored in Scripture read and explained through Preaching
"And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ”, Acts 17:2-3.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
1 Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching".

7. Led by qualified ministers who are called and qualified men meeting the biblical qualifications of elders
Titus 1:5-9 "For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it".

Perhaps you may go through my small list and think that some things are missing. What about singing you may say? Good point! Singing has its place but the NT makes very little mention about singing in the NT church. Sometimes singing is disproportionately emphasised in sections of the church. Let us keep things in balance. May we desire public worship with preaching as its high point but an approach that resonates with simplicity, reverence and awe.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Westminster Standards and Family Worship

I first learned about family worship from the relatives of my Dutch wife. Observing families The Netherlands read the Bible, sing and pray together, after the evening meals, set me on a new course for life. It has been a joy for our family to read, hear and discuss the Bible after evening meals and this time has been one of the places our children have learned to pray. It is important that children learn to pray and not only listen to the parents pray. This is a safe environment for learning.

An ideal document for family worship is the Westminster Shorter Catechism. In the new book called "The Westminster Standards for Today" , there is an excellent essay by Rev Chad Bailey called "The Westminster Standards and Family Worship: Maintaining True Religion in the Home". Chad humbly and clearly explains the blessing of such historic practices and the book is worth the price for this essay alone.

We must pray for the joyful recovery of family worship in our own generation. Family worship must never replace involvement in the church and fathers must not absent themselves from public worship services by excusing that they are stopping at home to catechise their children. Children belong to the Lord and the church has its place to instruct children, beyond the family structures, to support, encourage and disciple children under the oversight of elders and parents.

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" Ephesians 6:1-4.

' “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates' Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Let us pray with faith for a global recovery of family worship for covenant parents and children, for the glory of God!