Everything we need to know so that we may live to the honor of God and obtain salvation, can be found in the Bible. The more the Bible speaks to you, so much the more you begin to appreciate it.
Those books that make this Book clearer and more easily understood are books worth having. Those books that do not do this are of little value, and you should keep away from all books that teach the opposite.
The old Dutch writers wrote many books that are worth reading, because they sought to teach FROM THE BIBLE about the Word of God and about ourselves and our relationship between God and us. On page 18 you will find again, for the last time, a quotation from such an old writer or old-father. Why for the last time? For two reasons, in the first place because of all the old-fathers of whom I have books, I went through them in alphabetical order, using those books. I began with Alardin, and this time you can read a piece by Witsius (X,Y and Z are not to be found in my study). In the second place because I enjoy a change - and I think you do too. For that reason we are going to fill that page in a different way next month.
This time though a piece from Hermannus or Harmannus Witz or Witsius, pages 417-419 from his book A quarrel of the Lord with His vineyard, the foreword of that book is dated 16th April 1660.
Who was this minister? The Christian Encyclopedia writes the following about him: He was very concerned about the practical aspect of theology which lay very near to his heart and he denounced all sorts of errors in the Church of God in his day. In 1675 he was appointed as lecturer in Franeker (Netherlands). His best known work is About Gods Covenant with man. His pet proverb was:
In necessariis: unitas
in non necessariis: libertas
in omnibus: prudentia et charitas.
In necessary things: unity,
in not necessary things: freedom
in all things: prudence and love.
WORDS OF JESUS
Language is a fascinating phenomenon. We use with the greatest of ease all sorts of different figures of speech in our daily speech. When we say: I would not like to be in your shoes, nobody even thinks about taking that literally.
In the Bible it is no different. The Lord Jesus also used figures of speech / parables, among other places in the words He used at the beginning of Matthew 23:
"Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat."
He does not mean that literally. What does He mean then? In those days the teachers sat on a platform and the students on the floor, so that the students sat literally at the feet of their teachers. Jesus means by the term 'seat of Moses' that the scribes and Pharisees had teachers-authority. And the multitude - even the disciples, the students of Jesus (!) - must acknowledge that authority of the scribes and the Pharisees. At least, in so far as it agreed with what Moses had written. He did not just mention that they had authority, but that they sat in the 'seat of Moses', that is: their teacher-authority was founded on the law of Moses.
For that reason the Lord Jesus said in the third verse:
"All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do."
With this saying Jesus made it clear that all the commandments of Moses, and further: all of the Old Testament had authority. And no wonder, because it was Gods own Word.
After these introductory words He made it clear that by the scribes and Pharisees there was a difference between their teacher-authority and their life walk and conversation. Because in verse 3 there was more than what we noted above, because in the same breath Jesus added:
"But do not after their works: for they say, and do not."
From all this we learn that when we listen to ministers and office bearers in the congregation we must make a difference - at least if that is necessary (!) - between what they say and how they live. When a minister speaks in accordance with the Word of God, but in the meantime does not live like that, then it is still true what he says and you must listen to him.
It is of course a pity when such a minister with his deeds pulls down, what he builds up with his words. But his un-Biblical way of life is no excuse for you to deny his Biblical authority. His authority is founded on the Word of God. As long as he instructs his congregation according to Gods Word, then is that GODS WORD. When he lives contrary to the Word of his heavenly Master, then he will have to give an account of that to God. The Elders should do something about that, but that has nothing to do with you as a member of the congregation.
It was for that reason that Jesus spoke those words.
He could have left this introduction out, but He did not do that. Yes, He could have left it out altogether, because in Matthew 23 He wanted to show up the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. You can see how pointedly He does that, but to avoid any misconception He begins by acknowledging their authority.
And, take note, Jesus does not say: they say that they sit in the seat of Moses, but this is not true. He also does not say: they do sit in the seat of Moses, but this is of no importance and you do not have to take any notice of that, because they are not concerned about the truth, are not converted and are at enmity with God. No, He clearly tells His own disciples that they should obey what their spiritual leaders command them from the Word of God.
It is therefore necessary that, especially while you are young you should clearly discern these two matters, although I hope that you do not have to make a difference as long as your ministers keep strictly to that Word of God that they seek to teach others. But if that is not so, and you discover that they (and perhaps even badly) go astray from walking according to the Word of God, even then you must still acknowledge their authority, ministerial authority, that they have a right to receive from you, in as far as they pass on to you the Word of God.
Even Jesus was subject to the authority of the leaders of His people, because as Son of Mary He was a real human being. For example: He paid tribute, and although those that were in authority over the temple may have misused that money, that was up to them to account for that. He paid the tribute money. He acknowledged their authority. He in that way set us an example.
For that reason, do everything that your minister tells you to do; and pray also that you can and may be able to follow him in his life walk and conversation.
How do I have to deal with Bible groups?
The appearance of Bible groups is not new. A hundred years ago there were Bible groups. Why? Because the Church of Christ lives by the Word of God. This Word has been given to the Church to proclaim it, and that is what takes place on Sabbath in the preaching. But it is not only there, but the Scriptures are also searched in the family, read and explained (I hope), but even that is not everything.
Apart from the official-church and personal gatherings, there are also gatherings where Gods Word is read, searched and discussed.
There were such Bible studies ever since the Reformation, where a minister or an elder explained a portion of the Bible; and wherein especially the members (may) enter into discussions. Later on we called these gatherings societies. Most of the time these gatherings were conducted by an elder or a respected (experienced) child of God.
In times of revival a sort of Bible lectures were began, wherein an able person would explain whole books of the Bible over a number of weekly gatherings. One example is that of a converted Jew, Isaac Da Costa: his Bible lectures are still reprinted in our day. The purpose of Bible study or Bible lectures is: for the increase of Bible knowledge. These Bible lectures are often a sort of Church service on a weekday. In their place or in addition there are many congregational Bible groups.
One of the reasons of (small) gatherings for Bible study was as the result of the Second World War. In the last winter (1944-1945) in The Netherlands Church gatherings were very much restricted. For that reason - especially in the cities - small neighborhood circles, street circles or circles of friends came into being; with as reason the strengthening of community and individual growth in faith and knowledge. Very often small groups of people gathered in houses.
One of the more positive aspects of a Bible study is that the sphere is more intimate, less crowded than the Sabbath Church services, and that those present are more involved than in the Sabbath listening service.
How then do we deal with Bible groups? When there is in your congregation a Bible group, led by a member of the Kirk Session / Consistory, or with their approval, then it is good to participate.
How do you participate? You no doubt understand that you cannot expect a blessing if you are only bodily present - although it is possible with God even to bless that -, but you must prayerfully prepare yourself for the study of the Bible. Just in the same way as you do on Saturday evening and on Sabbath morning for the Church Services on the Lords Day, is that not so?!
Usually in a Bible group you know before hand what will be discussed the next time, so you are able to prepare for it. It is good to do that, because it increases your knowledge; and the knowledge of the Word of God is the means to salvation.
It is evident when we look at the church of Rome and the church of the Reformation, that the church of Rome keeps her members in ignorance; while the church of the Reformation seeks to instruct her members. Even to this very day, in our generation, reading the Bible is not encouraged by the church of Rome and maybe even discouraged. Why? Because the errors of Rome are revealed when her members begin to read the Bible...
The Church of the Reformation is not founded upon transmissions of men either alongside or contrary to the Word of God, but only upon the Word of God. For that reason the Reformation did always encourage the study of the Word of God. We know that the more the members of the congregations, and in particular the young among them, are instructed in the Scriptures, the less chance there is that error will break out in a congregation.
For that reason we publish the 'De Catechisant', for that reason we have Catechism lessons, for that reason we have sermons based on the Catechism. And for that reason also Bible lectures, Bible groups, or member gatherings, societies of men and of women in order to study the Bible.
But maybe you think, knowledge might tend to pride? Because that is what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8 verse 1:
"Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth."
Is it then not better to have less knowledge and more charity / love? You might be right. Might it, nevertheless, not even be better if we have much knowledge and even more charity...?! The Dutch Statenvertaling teaches us in the margin what kind of knowledge makes us proud: when that knowledge is without love and without the fear of God. And following on from there we read: love seeks to make use of knowledge to the benefit of our neighbor. That is how a Bible group is to be used.
Misuse is unfortunately possible, but is not a reason to give up a good use.
- - -
'God always gives enough strength for the next step.'
'You can't go wrong if you follow God's lead.'
'One act of kindness may teach more about the love of God than many sermons.'
'Life's burdens are designed not to break us but to bend us toward God.'
The LORD'S Praise
In stead of doing as little as possible in the monastery, Luther made it very difficult for his teacher, because he was never satisfied with himself (his conscience accused him continually!) and for that reason he kept on confessing his sins to him. But by the grace of God his father confessor had some understanding of the Gospel, because he told the doubting young monk: You may trust in Christ and you do not need to keep on looking at your shortcomings.
But oh, how terribly were he and all the other monks led astray. The prior told him that since he was permanently in the monastery all his sins were forgiven; and he prayed for him that with the help of God's grace he could confidently appear before his Judge, because he had kept all his promises faithfully.
Luther was very busy in the monastery with his prayers. They began in the middle of the night (in the chapel, and all dressed!); at six o'clock the second prayer; at 9 o'clock the third; and at 12 noon the fourth; in the afternoon another three times and after the evening meal, just as by each meal, no one was allowed to speak ... Luther was taught: this is the way of salvation. You must pay for your sins in this way (and with many other works), and so be reconciled with God and saved.
It was later on that Luther saw how empty and useless all this had been, but in the meantime he did his very best. When he was too busy to pray all these prayers, he saved up those that he could not do, and when he had some spare time he hoped to catch up (but in 1520 he was three months behind with his prayers...) Then Luther fasted so strictly that he endangered his health: better to fast than to feast. Oh, how did this serious young monk do his best to deliver himself from his sins!
One particular time his confession of his sins was so extensive that he was confessing his sins for six hours on end. But then, it was really necessary to confess all sins honestly, otherwise there could be no forgiveness ... And oh, that was the greatest desire of Luther that he so longed for, to receive forgiveness of his sins and to be reconciled with a holy and a righteous God. And the most important part of the confession - what was the most difficult part as far as Luther was concerned - was: that he had to be sorry for his sins, otherwise they were not forgiven, and Luther never knew if his sorrow for sin was real.
Because of this, he was often in despair and despondent. Whatever he tried, he remained full of sin and could not attain to real sorrow for sin.
The most well known father confessor of Luther was Johann von Staupitz, who did not understand what Luther's trouble was, and for that reason could not comfort him, besides, he felt that Luther exaggerated all his troubles. Martin knew that not only great sins, but even small sins separated him from God. For that reason the troubled monk was to receive the forgiveness of his sins in a different way!
Luther enters the priesthood
The prior of the monastery decided that the serious monk should enter the priesthood and study theology. The highest leader in the monastery, Von Staupitz, was in agreement and on the 3rd of April 1507 Luther was inducted as a priest. His most important work, now, was to celebrate mass (this by the Roman Catholics is to celebrate the Lords Supper). In this also the young monk-priest was very serious: 'My heart bled as I read the mass', he later wrote.
Oh, how Luther was afraid in case he would sin even more in this holy institution. He already felt himself as dust and ashes before a holy God and, did he now have to celebrate this solemn sacrament and to offer the flesh and blood of Christ??? He went into a cold sweat when on the 2nd of May he celebrated his first mass ... He could not apply the promises of God to himself and he could no longer trust in his own holy works. What was he to do? He was afraid to partake of the elements of the mass, and he would have sooner walked for miles than do that; and now he had to celebrate it himself..!
Luther was in doubt the whole day. He did not know Christ as his Saviour, he only knew Him as the Judge of all the earth. Instead of fleeing to this merciful High Priest he was afraid of Him. His only hope was to call upon the saints and ask them to intercede for him. His favorite saint was the doubting Thomas. But especially Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the most important intercessor.
Later on Luther saw what idolatry was committed with all these saints and what dishonor was done to Christ, as if He was not willing to save all that come to Him!? But in all this time Luther did not see anything of that and believed the false teaching of the church of Rome, who says: God the Father is a wrathful God, Jesus Christ kneels before Him in order to atone through His wounds, but in front of Christ Mary kneels, who shows Him her heart in order to make Him willing to save sinners. And so Mary is the actual intercessor...
From Matthew Henry's Commentary
'Innocence itself will be no security against a false and foul tongue. Job, whom God himself praised as the best man in the world, is here represented by one of his friends, and he a wise and good man too, as one of the greatest villains in nature. Let us not think it strange if at any time we be thus blackened, but learn how to pass by evil report as well as good, and commit our cause, as Job did his, to him that judges righteously.'
'No sin makes a louder cry there than unmercifulness. Those that have not shown mercy may justly be denied the comfortable hope that they shall find mercy; and then what can they expect but snares, and darkness, and continual fear?'
'Bad men expel the fear of God out of their hearts by banishing the eye of God out of the world.'
'Those who will not submit to God's golden scepter must expect to be broken to pieces with His iron rod.'
'Many have their houses full of goods but their hearts empty of grace, and thereby are marked for ruin.'
'Those that differ from each other in some matters of religion, and are engaged in disputes about them, yet ought unanimously and vigorously to appear against atheism and irreligion, and to take care that their disputes do not hinder either their vigor or unanimity in that common cause of God, that righteous cause.'
'Ministers must try both ways in dealing with people, they must speak to them from Mount Sinai by the terrors of the law, and from Mount Sion by the comforts of the gospel; they must set before them both life and death, good and evil, the blessing and the curse.'
'God has His remnant in all places, sealed ones out of every nation, as well as out of every tribe of Israel.'
'Sincerity is gospel perfection. I know no religion without it.'
'Though it is hard and rare, it is not impossible, for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven. With God even this is possible, and by His grace the temptations of worldly wealth are not insuperable.'
'Children must be looked upon as blessings, for so they are, especially to good people, that will give them good instructions, and set them good examples, and put up good prayers for them.'
'Those that have great families to provide for, ought to consider that what is prudently given in alms, is set out to the best interest and put into the best fund for their children's benefit.'
'Good parents desire, promote, and rejoice in, their children's wealth and prosperity as their own. To see them in health, no sickness in their houses. Especially to see them live in love, and unity, and mutual good affection, no jars or quarrels among them, no strangeness, no shyness one of another, no strait-handedness, but to live with as much freedom as if they had had all in common. It is comfortable to the hearts of parents, and comely in the eyes of all, to see brethren thus knit together.'
'Young people may be allowed a youthful liberty, provided they flee youthful lusts.'
'Those that are good will be good to their children, and especially do what they can for the good of their souls.'
'Nothing alienates the mind more from God than the indulgence of the flesh.'
'Those that are merry must find a time to be serious.'
'Parents cannot give grace to their children (it is God Who sanctifies), but they ought by seasonable admonitions and counsels to further their sanctification. In their baptism they were sanctified to God; let it be our desire and endeavor that they may be sanctified for Him.'
'Parents should be particular in their addresses to God for the several branches of their family. "For this child I prayed, according to its particular temper, genius, and condition," to which the prayers, as well as the endeavors, must be accommodated.'
'The acts of repentance and faith must be often renewed, because we often repeat our transgressions.'
'The occasional exercises of religion will not excuse us from those that are stated. He that serves God uprightly will serve Him continually.'
FROM A LETTER FROM REV. D.J. CRAG
I have not only had a day of no progress, but also a difficult day. I felt very oppressed. It was a day of heart self-examination: how is my state in the midst of all circumstances, particularly in view of my relationship with my congregation? It weighed me down like lead. Yet I do not have to avert my eyes when I meet anyone. Even if everyone should know that, that so serious a minister has been such a great sinner and still is no better, they may also know that I shall eternally sing of God's free grace alone, of sovereign grace in Christ alone, of one-sided grace of the Holy Spirit alone. Because of that my burdens have somewhat enlightened and I have rejoiced, but how is that possible?
But because I had read nothing spiritual today, I did not have the liberty to enjoy my own preaching. Mind you, that was not necessary because the relationship between me and my God was nevertheless good, because God lives and because in His Divine providence He does everything perfectly. It is not necessary that I always see that, as long as I am able to believe it.
I was moved and deeply affected to hear and to read that you have been praying for me in my weakness. I know that on the one hand it is dangerous to put the emphasis on your prayers, because we are inclined, without realizing it, to take away the honor that belongs to God, and to ascribe it to the prayer of a sinful creature. On the other hand it is also true that the Lord Himself in His Word honors prayer. And, the person that prays is in the end not honored because as you know yourself, that your prayer is worth nothing, as far as it comes from you; and although it is good and useful for me, but it comes after all from God and is put into your heart by God. So in the end He only, receives the honor, both from our prayers and His hearing of them.
Your joy is my joy. That was in my heart this afternoon when I read about Gods surprise to you out of Psalm 111. Oh, what was that a joy to me. And what is it again clearly proved that the way of the LORD is in the use of the means; that study and searching are blessed by God. If we leave off to search and study the Word of God it will be damaging our spiritual life.
- - -
'Instead of trying to twist God's arm, put yourself in His hands.'
'A Christ-like life can be the world's Bible.'
The Heidelberg Catechism is written from the point of view that both the questioner and the person that answers the question are upright believers. From that point of view are also question and answer 52 written, about the return of Christ. Therefore the Catechism puts the question as to what comfort the return of Christ has for us. The answer also originates from a living spiritual relationship with Christ; and because of that we find the answer as to what comfort there is in it for you when Christ comes to judge the quick and the dead:
"That in all my sorrow and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same Person - Who before offered Himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me - to come as Judge from heaven: Who shall cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all His chosen ones to Himself, into heavenly joys and glory."
The comfort lies in a relationship with the coming Judge. The Judge is not a stranger to the catechumen or to the catechist. Is that so at this present time both for the writer and the reader? Do I know / do you know the Lord Jesus Christ, Who before long shall appear as our Judge? And, does He know us? Because that last question, is what counts. It is at that last day that He shall say to some: I never knew you.
It has to do then with to know Him and to be known of Him.
Answer 52 explains on what grounds we can say that we know Christ. If I really know Him, then do I know experimentally that Christ has delivered me from the curse.
The Catechism also dealt with the same matters in question and answer 39: Is there anything more in His being crucified, than if He had died some other death? Yes, (there is); for thereby I am assured, that He took on Him the curse which lay upon me; for the death of the cross was accursed of God.
How did He take away the curse from me? By placing Himself before the judgment seat of God. In other words by taking my place before the holy Judge of heaven and earth. When I think about Christ's return to this earth, my attention is (anew) fixed on the first time He came into this world, and then on the reason of His coming, namely that He came to be my Substitute.
I could write much about this but I have already dealt with that when I dealt with the questions and answers about the sufferings of Christ.
At this time I am going to continue with the last part of answer 52: but shall translate me with all His chosen ones to Himself, into heavenly joys and glory.
HEAVENLY JOYS AND GLORY
That is the future of every reader of 'The Catechisant' who has been delivered by Christ's substitution from this horrible curse. What does this joy consist off? What do we think of when we think of this heavenly glory?
Heaven is the place where God in all His glory and blessedness lives. All the angels and those of mankind that have been saved, partake of this joy, and blessedness, and this heavenly glory.
It is not a joy apart from Christ, but a joy that Christ Himself partakes of, it has to do with joy in Him and because of Him.
That is exactly so also in relation to the heavenly glory we read of in the intercessory prayer of Christ that we have in John 17 where Christ says in verse 24 to His Father:
"Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me: for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world."
The heavenly glory has to do with the heavenly glory of Christ, which His Father has given Him.
Come, let us put the question to each other: do you with a holy curiosity long to see the Mediatorial glory of your Savior, and that you may enjoy that glory throughout a never ending eternity?!?!?!
Answer 52 says that all His chosen ones shall be translated to Christ in heavenly joys and glory. The Heidelberg Catechism has nowhere a question about election (being chosen). This subject is not dealt with separately. As far as I know it is only dealt with in this answer and in answer 54 where the subject is the church of Christ. When we come to that question and answer I will write a little more about it, if the Lord will.
Now, on the last page of the three pages that I always spend on the explanations of the Catechism, I want to emphasize a most important part of answer 52.
It does not say, that the Son of God shall translate me with all His chosen ones into heavenly joys and glory, but that He shall translate me with all His chosen ones TO HIMSELF, into heavenly joys and glory. That is the most important part. Let us see how this is recorded by the Lord Jesus in the parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins, where we read (in Matthew 25 verse 10):
"... And they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage."
What is a marriage without the bridegroom? Now, that is like a heaven without Jesus Christ. If He would not be there, then heaven would be empty! That is how Asaph put it in the Old Testament (Psalm 73 verse 25)
"Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee!"
If heaven would be empty without the presence of Jesus Christ, then the earth also would be empty without Him. Have you / have I, ever experienced the emptiness of what it was to be WITHOUT CHRIST? Then we have tasted, what it is to be converted, to be born again, to take hold of Christ by faith: to consider everything without Christ to be worthless. That is now what the Heidelberg Catechism points to: the coming again of Christ to this earth has as it's center the Bridegroom - Whom I expect from heaven as my Judge. My dear Bridegroom Who was willing to humble Himself and take upon Himself my curse!
Heaven also has only one center-point: the Triune God, the Father, in His Son, through the Spirit. The life of the real Christian has also only one center-point: this Triune God in the Savior! That is according to the Catechism the comfort of the Biblical message that Christ shall come again: I am looking forward to it. I long so much for it. The time cannot go fast enough! Oh, what a long time it seems to take...!
"And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be." "He who testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
Do you remember that it was about the Synod of Dort and the there written confession of faith we dealt with last time? The first chapter of the Canons of Dort deal with election, and the first article in that first chapter shows us how we must consider and think about election in the right way. The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom the fathers displayed at these meetings. Let us look at it for a while.
Article 1 of chapter 1 states:
'As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving them all to perish, and delivering them over to condemnation on account of sin, according to the words of the apostle, Romans 3:19, "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." And verse 23: "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." And Romans 6:23: "for the wages of sin is death."'
There is nothing here about election. In fact, the exact opposite, I would have nearly said. What is being said here, is: in order to have a good understanding of the sovereignty of God, you must begin with your own debt of sin. If you do not know - have not experienced - your own debt of sin, you are already astray, before you have begun.
What is written in this first paragraph? When you consider it carefully, it definitely has to do with election...: it is said that God was not obliged to elect any one.
And that is a first class basis in order to consider and accept an undeserved election by free grace. As long as I either (secretly or openly) think that God is still (a little) obliged to elect and deliver me, so long am I of course completely unfit (and unwilling) to accept His sovereignty, His not being obliged to save me, and I can not even appreciate it in the slightest.
So: through our fall in Adam we are so deserving of eternal death, that He would have done no injustice if He should have loved or elected no one. If the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth then would have, out of all this great mass of vile enemies, chosen one human being, it would have been very difficult to have accused God of evil or dishonesty?! This especially so, if we ourselves deliberately chose to walk contrary to God, which we do every time we chose to sin against God in whatever sin it may be.
A clear example is Saul of Tarsus and his Pharisee colleagues. When God, having elected him, called him and arrested him on his way to Damascus, do you think his fellow Pharisees were jealous? I am sure you know what they thought about him. You only need to read Acts 23 verse 12:
"And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul."
Did they have a desire to belong to the people of God? Did they have a desire to be elected? No. Well, that now is exactly the position we are in according to the first paragraph of the Canons of Dort (Job 21 verse 14): we
"say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways."
So, WE DO NOT WANT Christ to be King over us. We do not want to be elected. We do want to go to heaven, but that only because we do not want the only alternative, to go to hell. If only there were another alternative: without sickness, sorrow and trouble, always young, fresh, happy and joyful...; if that were a possibility would you care at all that you were not elected and would not be eternally with God???
Will you not give an answer?!
The second article in the first chapter says:
'But in this the love of God was manifested, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 1 John 4:9; John 3:16.'
Are only the elect allowed to believe? Do you first have to know that you are elected before you may flee to Christ, trust in Him, and find refuge by Him? You know that the answer is: No!
You see, that is the reason for the second paragraph: to make it clear that everyone who WILL, may come, and believe in the Lord Jesus, that is: put his trust in Jesus Christ. From that point of view, you need not concern yourself if you are elected or not. Do you not believe in the only begotten Son of God? Do not blame God, but start with yourself. Do you lean with all your might upon Jesus and upon His death on the cross? If that is what you do, your soul shall not perish, but shall surely live forever!!
. . . and ORTHOPRAXY
Wine is not bad if used in moderation. Because of this 'in moderation' is so difficult for many people, it is not such a bad idea to leave alcohol alone.
In any case, what the apostle Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5, is: it is bad to fill yourself up with it. He actually speaks about being filled with the Holy Spirit. But instead of mentioning what he is going to speak about, he writes about something else first:
"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess."
And then he continues with:
"... but be filled with the Spirit"
How can you avoid getting drunk? Simply by not drinking! How can you do any work so that you might be filled with the Spirit? That is what the apostle writes about in the following verse. Take note, what now follows, is not something that happens automatically, but is a means in the blessing hands of God:
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
This sentence begins with a present participle, that you can relate in the following manner: 'by ...' You receive the following exhortation:
Be filled with the Spirit by speaking to yourselves in psalms ...
This is an important means. In the Old Testament we read about a prophet, Elisha, who was filled with the Spirit when someone played on a harp. That musical instrument and the playing of it could not have worked anything, but still ... God used those means. So it is also with the singing of psalms: when we sing psalms we are not filled with the Holy Spirit because we do some work that God commands us to do, but God shows us here, what means He has ordained, which He will use, that we be filled with His Spirit. God can work without means, but normally works through the use of means. Why? Because He has so decreed. Also because He created us as creatures after His image and His likeness, so that we may participate completely in that one-sided work of God, as thinking, willing, choosing and responsible human beings.
Do you want to be filled with the Spirit of Christ? Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Not as some magic means, but prayerfully looking up to Him from Whom all blessings flow!
We don't sing enough! What do we have to sing then? Paul says: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The Greek words used are: 'psalmois kai humnois kai ooidais pneumatikais'. What is the meaning of Scripture with these three words? According to the marginal notes:
'These three sorts of spiritual songs have only one purpose, namely to entertain the spirit. The distinction according to some is, that the psalms are all sorts of spiritual songs that are rendered not only with the voice but also with strings: spiritual songs are thank offerings to God, or songs of praise about the grace of God to us-ward; and spiritual songs are such poems wherein we find spiritual doctrines. The different names seem to have been taken from the different headings of the psalms of David.'
Others - among whom Matthew Henry - explain them as follows:
'By the word 'psalms' the psalms of David are meant, or such songs that are suitable to be sung with the accompaniment of musical instruments. 'Hymns' are such songs that more particularly sing of Gods glory, such as those of Zacharias and Simeon. 'Spiritual songs' contain a great multitude of subjects, doctrinal, prophetic, historical etc.'
Whatever may be the case, at any rate we can agree with what Rev. Henry observes immediately after:
'Although Christians are enemies of unseemly joyfulness, they are nevertheless encouraged to joy and gladness, and to give evidence of it. The people of God have reason to be glad and to sing for joy.'
An example as to how powerful the singing of praises is, you will find in Acts 16, where we read of an earthquake after songs of praise: Paul and Silas in the prison.
To put it a different way: to sing with your heart (!) to God, to His praise and glory, with joyfulness and thankfulness does not exactly cause an earthquake but an 'heavenquake' and causes the Spirit of God to come down and fill the hearts of those joyful singers.
I repeat: none of this works automatically, but is a means of faith by God's blessed sovereignty. On the other hand, trusting in God alone you can be sure to be blessed.
'The most powerful ruler is but a pawn in the hand of the King of kings.'
A QUOTATION FROM
There is no doubt that the lengthy times of prosperity wherein we have lived have been the reason for our great moral decline. Our legs were too weak and feeble to carry this difficult burden of abundant luxury. These cords of love wherewith the Lord did draw us ought to have bound us more firmly to His holy service. If we would have made a proper use of these blessings, we would have seen therein the goodness of God - from Whose bountiful hand we received them - and thankfully acknowledged them, and have learned from that: what we received from His hand, should not have been used other than according to His will, and be used in His service and to His honor and glory.
We should have considered, in the enjoyment of these blessings in a holy manner, that they were not so much external blessings, but more: God Himself entertaining us with His goodness. And if we found some sweetness therein, so that we came to love these gifts, we should have risen above them and have considered how sweet the Giver of them must be, and how worthy He is that we should love Him above all His gifts and above everything else, and praise and thank Him with all our strength and all our might.
That is how our souls through the enjoyment of prosperity, should rise up to the Lord, Who provides the prosperity, and be strengthened by His Divine love to us-ward. More so if we were to consider thereby that we could not enjoy the minutest crumb of dry bread, or the minutest drop of cold water except in the favour of God through the Lord Jesus Christ, Who after all His fearful and bitter sufferings, had to die the cursed death on the cross; - so that we, through the love of God, could have such beautifully furnished houses, such well provided tables, such beautiful clothes and such an abundance of desirable goods. Therefore, that we might have all that, our great Lord Jesus had to sojourn here without a house, without any worldly possessions, while He was the Heir of all things. Therefore He suffered hunger and thirst, yea: that bitter cup with the dregs of His Father's wrath, He had to drink to our health. Therefore He in His life experienced such poverty that He had to complain: "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay His head." So dear and through so much sorrow Jesus won all this abundance for His elect; otherwise it would have been impossible that they would have enjoyed the least of these blessings. How, when we meditate on all this, ought not every holy soul be inflamed with love to God? Would that all our possessions on this earth be as a ladder reaching to heaven to convey our praises for the goodness of God.
From Long Ago
Delivered from great need
On a small island by the coast of Jutland around 1820, lived a minister who was very poor. The members of his congregation were also very poor. In spring the poverty of the congregation was so great that they were no longer able to provide what was most necessary for life, for their minister.
Everywhere there was a crying need. Nearly no one had even some bread to eat. One day the minister went out to beg some food from the people, but no one could help him. When he came home he had to tell them: I have got nothing. He went again to his room and told the Lord of all his troubles. During this prayer he was encouraged by the Lord to feel that He would undertake for him, and so he rose from his knees full of trust in the Lord, although he did not know from where he would receive relief.
While her husband wrestled in prayer at the throne of grace, the mother had sent two of her boys to go and get some peat from a peat ground not far from home. On their way to get the peat, these boys had to pass a lime grove, from where a few days before lime was dug to build a wall. Because of heavy rain some of the lime was washed away over the last few days.
While the boys were on their way the sun came out through the clouds and when they came past the lime pit they saw something glitter in the sun. When they got near they discovered that it was a big ring that was attached to a big tin. They pulled but the tin was so firmly in the ground they could not pull it out, however, they had a spade with them to dig the peat so they began to dig out the tin. When they finally got the tin out of the ground they found it was partly rusted away and a whole lot of old coins fell out.
The boys ran home and showed their parents what they had found. The father was astounded: his trust in God was not confounded! The treasure was carefully examined and it now became clear that the coins were over two hundred years old and of great value so that the whole family would be able to live from that for many years and there would be enough to share with others on the island!
But now.., was this really their money? He immediately went to the mayor and handed over all the money. The mayor sent the money to the king, accompanied with a letter wherein he wrote of the poor circumstances of the minister's family. Before long a message came back, that the whole of the amount was to be given back to those that found it for the relief of their poor circumstances.
What joy there was in the house of this man of God!
B I B L E C A T E C H I S M
The contents of the book of Exodus
1. The descendants of Jacob become a great nation that is likely to become a threat to the Egyptians. They are hated and oppressed; they need to be destroyed. This is the tactic of hell, but God upholds His people in a wondrous way, verse 12!
2. A goodly child, exceeding fair (according to Acts 7 verse 20) and a proper child (Hebrews 11 verse 23), Moses, is born and not thrown into the Nile, but cleverly put in the way of Pharaoh's daughter, who nourishes him as her own child. Moses chooses to suffer with the people of God (Hebrews 11 verse 24-26!), but has to flee to Midian instead of delivering the people. In exile he marries Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro and has a son by her: Gershom (= stranger).
3. In Midian, where he forty (!) years has been a shepherd for his father in law, the Lord appears to him in a burning bush, where he is instructed to go to Pharaoh and to ask him to let the people go to keep a feast in the wilderness. God reveals Himself to Moses as: "I am that I am."
4. Moses does not want to go, but God breaks his opposition by enabling him to do wonders and tells him that his brother Aaron will be his spokesman for him. On his way to Egypt the Lord appears to him, to kill him, because he had not circumcised his son.
5. Moses meets with Aaron and together they go to Pharaoh, who is very angry and increases the burdens of the people. Moses calls upon God and receives a joyful promise of deliverance.
6. God promises to deliver the people and to accept them as His people and to be their God. In this promise is bound up their salvation. How important to receive that!
7. Forced by Pharaoh's unwillingness to let the people go, Moses at Gods command gives Pharaoh a sign: all the water turns into blood.
8. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th plagues: frogs, lice and other sorts of vermin, but Pharoah does not listen. What we see here, is a picture of our own sin-loving disobedient heart...: confessing sin but not fighting against sin.
9. The 5th, 6th, 7th plagues: upon the cattle, boils and hail. Still the king hardens his heart.
10. The 8th en 9th plagues locusts and three days of thick darkness. Every time Pharaoh confesses his sins and promises to do better, but unfortunately every time he is sorry for his sorrow. And we?
11. The 10th plague is threatened.
The Catechism of Geneva (1545)
The second commandment
146. You think then that an insult is offered to His Majesty when He is represented in this way?
Such is my belief.
147. What kind of worship is here condemned?
When we turn to a statue or image intending to pray, we prostrate ourselves before it: when we pay honor to it by the bending of our knees, or other signs, as if God were there representing Himself to us.
148. We are not to understand then that simply any kind of picture or sculpture is condemned by these words. We are only prohibited from making images for the purpose of seeking or worshipping God in them, or - which is the same thing - for the purpose of worshipping them in honor of God, or abusing them in any way to superstition and idolatry.
149. Now to what end shall we refer this head?
As under the former head He declared that He alone should be worshipped and served, so He now shows what is the correct form of worship, that He may call us off from all superstition, and other vicious and carnal fictions.
150. Let us proceed.
He adds the sanction that He is Jehovah our God, a strong and jealous God, Who avenges the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of them who hate Him, even to the third and fourth generation.
151. Why does He make mention of His strength?
He thereby intimates that He has power enough to vindicate His glory.
JEHOVAH TSIDKENU "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS"
(The watchword of the Reformers)
I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
I oft read with pleasure, to soothe or engage,
Isaiah's wild measure and Johns simple page;
But e'en when they pictured the blood sprinkled tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu was nothing to me.
Like tears from the daughters of Zion that roll,
I wept when the waters went over His soul;
Yet thought not that my sins had nailed to the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu - 't was nothing to me.
When free grace awoke me, by light from on high,
Then legal fears shook me, I trembled to die;
No refuge, no safety in self could I see -
Jehovah Tsidkenu my Saviour must be.
My terrors all vanished before the sweet Name;
My guilty fears banished, with boldness I came
To drink at the fountain, life-giving and free -
Jehovah Tsidkenu is all things to me.
Jehovah Tsidkenu! My Treasure and Boast,
Jehovah Tsidkenu! I ne'er can be lost;
In Thee I shall conquer by flood and by field -
My Cable, my Anchor, my Breastplate and Shield!
Even treading the valley, the shadow of death,
This "watchword" shall rally my faltering breath;
For while from life's fever my God sets me free,
Jehovah Tsidkenu my death-song shall be.
From 'Memoirs of M'Cheyne'
Contemplation of man, Genesis 1 & 2
'O God, what a little lord hast Thou made over this great world! The least corn of sand is not so small to the whole earth, as man is to heaven. When I see the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars, O God, what is man? Who would think Thou wouldst make all these creatures for one, and this one near the least of all? Yet none but he can see what Tou hast done; none but he can admire and adore Thee in what he sees; how had he need to do nothing but seeing and adoring, since he alone must do it!
Certainly the price and virtue of things consist not in the quantity. One diamond is more worth than many quarries of stone; one loadstone has more power than mountains of earth.
It is lawful for us to praise Thee in ourselves. All Thy creation has not more wonder in it, than one of us. Other creatures Thou madest by a simple command; MAN, not without a Divine consultation. Others at once; man, Thou didst first form, then inspire. Others in several shapes like to none but themselves; man, after Thy own image. Others with qualities fit for service; man, for dominion.
Man had his name from Thee; the other creatures had their names from man.
How should we be consecrated to Thee above all others, since Thou hast bestowed more cost on us than on others!
What shall I admire first? Thy providence in the time of our creation; or Thy power and wisdom in the act? First, Thou madest the great house of the world, and furnishedst it; then Thou broughtest in Thy tenant to possess it. The bare walls had been too good for us, but Thy love was above our desert: Thou, Who madest the earth ready for us before we were, hast by the same mercy prepared a place in heaven for us while we are on earth.
The stage was first fully prepared, then was man brought forth as an actor, or spectator, that he might neither be idle nor discontent. Behold, Thou hadst addressed an earth for use, a heaven for contemplation. After that Thou hadst drawn that large and real map of the world, Thou didst thus abridge it into this little table of man: he alone consists of heaven and earth, soul and body.
Even this earthly part - which is vile in comparison of the soul - as it is Thine, O God, I dare admire it, though I can neglect it as my own; for lo, this heap of earth has an outward reference to heaven. Other creatures grovel down to their earth, and have all their senses intent upon it; man is reared up towards heaven, and has no more power to look beside heaven, than to tread beside the earth.
Unto this, every part has its wonder. The head is nearest to heaven, as in place, so in resemblance, both for roundness of figure, and for those Divine guests which have their seat in it: there dwell those majestical powers of reason, which make a man a man. All the senses as they have their original from there, so they do all agree there to manifest the virtue. How goodly proportions hast Thou set in the face! Such as, though oft-times we can give no reason when they please, yet transport us to admiration.
What living glasses are those, which Thou hast placed in the midst of this visage, whereby all objects from far are clearly represented to the mind! And because their tenderness lies open to dangers, how hast Thou defended them with hollow bones, and with prominent brows and lids! And lest they would be too much bent on what they ought not, Thou hast given them peculiar muscles to pull them up towards heaven, the seat of their rest.
What a tongue hast Thou given him; the instrument not of taste only, but of speech! How sweet and excellent voices are formed by that little loose film of flesh!
What an incredible strength hast Thou given to the weak bones of the jaws!
And lest I be infinite, what able arms and active hands hast Thou framed him, whereby he can frame all things to his own conceit!
In every part beauty, strength, and convenience meet together. Neither is there any whereof our weakness cannot give reason why it should be no otherwise.
How hast Thou disposed of all the inward vessels, for all offices of life, nourishment, egesting, generation! No vein, sinew, artery is idle. There is no piece in this exquisite frame, whereof the place, use, and form does not admit wonder, and exceed it.
Yet this body, if it is compared to the soul, what is it, but as a clay wall that encompasses a treasure; as a wooden box of a jeweler; as a coarse case to a rich instrument?
Man was made last, because he was worthiest. The soul was inspired last, because yet more noble. If the body has this honor to be the companion of the soul, yet withal it is the drudge; if it is the instrument, yet also the clog of that Divine part: the companion for life, the drudge for service; the instrument for action, the clog in respect of contemplation. External works are effected by the body; internal works, which are more noble, are hindered by the body. Contrary to the bird which sings most in her cage, but flies most and highest at liberty.
This my soul teaches me of itself, that itself cannot conceive how capable, how active it is. It can pass by her nimble thoughts from heaven to earth in a moment; it can comprehend all things; know that which is, and conceive that which never was and never will be. Nothing can fill the soul, but Thou, Who are Infinite; nothing can limit her, but Thou Who are everywhere. O God, Who made her, replenish her, possess her, dwell Thou in her, Who hast appointed her to dwell in clay.
The body was made of earth common to his fellow creatures; the soul inspired immediately from God. The body lay senseless upon the earth, the breath of life gave it what it is; and that breath was from Thee. Sense, motion, reason, are infused into it at once. From where then was this quickening breath? No air, no earth, no water was here used to give help to this work. Thou Who breathedst upon man, and gavest him the Holy Spirit (John 20), didst also breathe upon the body, and gavest it a living spirit. We are beholden to nothing but Thee for our soul. Our flesh is from flesh; our spirit is from the God of spirits. How should our souls rise up to Thee, and fix themselves in their thoughts upon Thee, Who alone createdst them in their infusion, and infusedst them in their creation! How should they long to return to the Fountain of their being, and the Author of being glorious! As Thou, so the soul is immaterial, immortal. Thou, the wise Creator of all things, wouldst have some things to resemble their Creator, not so much in the natural faculties, as in those Divine graces, wherewith Thou beautifiest our soul.
Do Thou whet our desires, answerably to the readiness of Thy mercies, that we may redeem what we have lost. The fault will be ours, if our damage prove not beneficial.
I do not find, that man, thus framed, found the lack of a helper. His fruition of God gave him fullness of contentment: the sweetness which he found in the contemplation of the glory of the Author of creation did so take him up, that he had neither leisure nor cause of complaint. If man had craved a helper, he had grudged at the condition of his creation, and had questioned that which he had: perfection of being. But He Who gave him his being, and knew him better than he himself, thinks of giving him comfort in the creature, while he sought none but in his Maker. How ready will He be to help our necessities, Who thus provides for our perfection!
Rather than man's innocence will lack an outward comfort, God will begin a new creation; not out of earth, which was the matter of man; not out of the inferior creatures, which were the servants of man, but out of himself, for dearness, for equality. The bounty of God was so absolute, that He would not so much as consult with man's will, to make him happy. As man knew not while he was made, so will he not know while his other self is made out of him: that the comfort might be greater, which was seen before it was expected.
The woman owes nothing but to her Creator. The rib of Adam sleeping can challenge no more of her than the earth can of him. It was a happy change to Adam of a rib for a helper.
O God, we can never be losers by Thy changes; we have nothing but what is Thine. Take from us Thy own, when Thou wilt, we are sure Thou canst not but give us better.