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Help Lord, I am a sinner!

glen001-sm By Glen R. Jackman

You may go to church regularly, yet deep down you may not feel that you are saved or living as you ought to live.

This is not a strange thought to have. Occasionally, a Christian can feel that we are not where we would like to be spiritually. Generally this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is guiding you to engage mindfully in the process of responsible sanctification.

This has been the lament of even prophets like Isaiah who were very close to the Lord: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). He felt just like you feel. He confessed he was a man of unclean lips (and lived in a world, home, workplace, or religious affiliation etc. abounding in worldliness and self-will). When contrasted with the revealed glory of the Lord, he said “I am ruined” or “I am unworthy – I’m not sure Lord how I measure up”.

As we read further: “See . . . your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7). Not only at the initial point of salvation do we need this assurance! The more Christ is presented in His righteousness as we grow in holiness, the more we need assurance that the perfect righteousness of Christ is in fact credited to us. Growing in holiness is the Holy Spirit’s work of making us aware of our need of holiness, the need to follow the example of Jesus.

Once we see this need, we must always keep in mind the righteousness of Jesus Christ on our behalf, as what He paid on the cross for you: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, our attitude changes: “Now, little children, abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him”. (1 John 2:28 ) Practicing righteousness or being in the pursuit of righteousness, is our holy calling to enter this process day by day by faith. John Wesley felt that he must repent daily as he beheld the glory of the Lord.

Apostle John said, “everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure”. (John 3:3) Just beware that in this process of allowing God to purify us, that Satan wants to leverage our awareness of the gap – the lack of our own righteousness in contrast with Christ’s pure righteousness, first when we see the difference and when we strive with the Spirit’s help applying the precious promises of the Word, to put away sin and “have this mindset, that was also in Christ” toward sin.

Bear in mind that the closer you get to Christ, the farther your righteousness will seem from His perfection. So when you are tempted to feel unworthy realize that “no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, and the Lord will give you a way of escape so that you can endure” these fears (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). Your fear of not being a Christian or not worthy, are common to all mankind.

When you begin to follow the example of Christ, and the command of God to “be holy as I am holy” in the light of being righteous by faith in Christ’s beauteous righteousness, Satan will try to convince you that you are not a genuine Christian after all, tempting with thoughts such as “No true born again Christian would yell at their spouse or think the lustful thoughts like you’ve have.”

Jesus spoke a parable to help us understand the need to not rely on our own sense of being righteous:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Take note that Jesus did not view the man who thought he was saved, thought he was an outstanding righteous man as the man with the right viewpoint. No. Christ looked at the man who was ashamed, confessing and concerned about his sin, as a righteous man, whom He justified (legally accounted) as saved.

Why does God bring us to these queries of assurance? Is it fear of the doctrine of election, that you are not chosen? Is it the fear of the unpardonable sin? Regardless of the questions that may haunt us due to regrets or simple misunderstandings, generally it is to bring us into a deeper understanding of the Righteousness of Christ, and our need as pilgrims to enter into the process – the journey – of sanctification (living obedient to Christ’s Word), in mind, motive, action and body.

 

 

The Holy Spirit reveals the truth of the Gospel

glen001-sm By Glen R. Jackman

     In John 6:63, 68 Jesus notes that “the Spirit gives Life” (v63), and that the Words that He speaks “are full of the Spirit and life” (v 68). The entire ministry of the Holy Spirit is predicated upon the occurrences of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.The pivotal role of the Spirit as the empowerment and enabler of the mission to teach the Gospel is paramount after Jesus’ ascension and return to the Father.

I will here note what I see as relevant distinctions, similarities, finally merging into the explication of the purpose statement of John.

1) The Spirit as Empowerment of Mission.
The name “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; 15:26-27; 16:13-15) which I list also ties to the Holy Spirit in the same chapters noted as “the Holy Spirit” (14:26); and the paraklētos or “helping presence” (cf. 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). This mission is empowered within the hearts of separated/sanctified men and works personally inside to empower them as speaking-out teachers in mission.

  • The Spirit is gifted to disciples as “another Helper” from the Father: “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (14:17)
  • The Spirit is clearly given to enable testimony in mission: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (15:26-27)
  • The Spirit unites commissioned saints as co-labourers in the vineyard: Jesus notes that the Spirit takes “of Mine” indicating bringing the ministering saint into a co-labouring union with Christ as He teaches of Him: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. (16:13-15)

2) The Holy Spirit convicts of experiential mutual joy as residents of the New Covenant Community.

In 1 John we find instances of the mention of the Spirit of God which I here list in context to ascertain the use in (3:23-24; 4:11-14; 5:5-10) as primarily as gifting the interplay of the affection of mutual love within the church community(i.e. the Temple of the Holy Spirit with Christ as the Head). This empowering effect of virtue acts as a witness to and among others, and thus is similar to point #1 but it is dissimilar as it is manifested and witnessed by the unconverted primarily outwardly as a response to the converted church’s inward affectionate joyful obedience to Christ’s royal commandment:

  • Believing in Christ occurs as the Spirit leads within the hearts of men: “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (3:23-24)
  • Believers testify of their “abiding in the Vine” by their mutual love (cf. John 15): The parable of abiding in the vine in the same farewell period, adds nuance to the New Covenant wine shared at Passover: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. (4:11-14)
  • The Spirit of God testifies within, that we are children of God (cf. Romans 8:16): “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? … It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth…If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself…” (5:5-10)

3) The Spirit unpacks the Purpose Statement of John in his Gospel.
John 17 goes beyond the Spirit giving eternal life both to His disciples and others who will believe their testimony of His Word, and that they all would be separated out of the world, in context with the above Gospel verses which indicate this is achieved ONLY via the Spirit-Teacher. They are to expound the purpose statement of John to the world from His Church unified as absolutely one in mind, enable by the Holy Spirit.

  • How is this achieved? This is only achieved by the inward gifting of the Holy Spirit for mission and the inward obedience of uniting in Christ in His Church Temple, now explicated in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer to His Father in vss 3, 7-8, 17-21:  “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent…Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me…Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”
  • How does the Holy Spirit engage our minds? Clearly the Spirit of Truth is the activator of all understanding in the minds of men of the Word, and the ancient scriptures prophesying of the Christ, making them mindful of who Christ is, as the Word is magnified in Gospel preaching to the whole world prior to His Second Advent. This is evident in vss. 20-21: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
  • United Gospel workers are collaborators in Christ’s glory. The whole purpose Christ indicated as He prayed to the Father, was sharing the glory of the Father with His disciples as they abide in Him born again via the Spirit. And in context this would include all subsequent believers, as per vss 22-23: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

 

God is faithful and righteous to forgive you

glen001-sm By Glen R. Jackman

There may be moments when a man doubts his relationship with the Lord. It may be harboured and unconfessed sin, or he may be lax in reading the Scriptures and in prayer or he may not understand  the faithful promise of His Lord — that He does forgive confessed sin.

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If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NAS)

“Faithful” as promised, God our Judge, is and remains “righteous” when He legally acquits us, (see Rom 3:26). This is never as an act of partiality or favouritism, otherwise God would be charged with injustice. He is righteous and just when He is acquitting the confessing justified believer for the sake of Christ’s blood. He is also just  when he is damning the non-confessing man who denies that Christ’s blood was shed for him.

In every verdict of God on men, there is involved a verdict on God himself. Once we have confessed our obvious and unknown sins (see Ps. 19:12), then His forgiving effects and secures the cleansing of all sin. In context, the letter of 1 John, practicing the Truth in the Light indicates ongoing confessing and accepting the promise in the sanctification process though we will not obtain absolute perfection before heaven. The Apostle Paul, taught that overcoming sin is a process that we engage in with the help of the Holy Spirit: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NAS) The operative idea is “toward the goal” which means that our Christian life is lived in a responsible, co-operative process with God,

In context, the letter of 1 John, deals with practicing the Truth in the Light meaning living the Christian life. It indicates ongoing confessing and accepting the promise in the sanctification process as we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our mind and transform our thinking though we will not obtain absolute perfection before heaven. The Apostle Paul, taught that overcoming sin is a process that we engage in with the help of the Holy Spirit: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NAS) The operative idea is “toward the goal” which means that our Christian life is lived in responsible, co-operative process with God,

 

My Testimony: A vision of Jesus Christ

By Glen R. Jackman

In 1979, the same year my son was born, I had a seven-day vision of the Lord. The following is an account of my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and my God. I had involvement in the United Church choir as a young boy, but sadly had slipped away from church-going and in retrospect was a sinner saved by Grace.

The Vision

Thousands upon thousands of people articulated in full colour in the sky (not cloudy figures), of all nations and all ages past; turbans inclusive, turning their heads, happy, then next manifesting terror as if an apocalyptic judgment was imminent; and back to joy, repeated again and again (I saw this as the righteous in Christ, versus the final fear of the unsaved facing judgement).

On the last of the successive daily visions, a bright atomic-like, pure white, penetrating light flashed all around me — a radiant universal light-force which I had never before experienced in the natural world, came towards the vision’s screen from behind and broke through the screen smashing it. I then beheld the magnificent face of the Lord Jesus Christ filling the entire sky.

During the vision, the light permeated everything around me. Jesus’ face portrayed absolute LOVE. He had long flowing white hair, radiant penetrating eyes, which I could see despite the brightness and glory of the vision. Jesus, the focal glorified Lord of the heavens and the earth was revealing His very clear directive, Sovereign Will, to me, wooing, calling this sinner, into His family, the heavenly, in-Christ, New Jerusalem church of which the apostle John wrote in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

His face expressed a character of pure love and obvious majestic God-power. I fell on my knees trembling, crying: “Lord, oh Lord, I know you are out there and alive; now teach me everything I need to know. I want to know you, and my purpose in your will”. The very next day, an invitation to an evangelistic series came in the mail. After several evenings of illuminating preaching by Gordon Pifher, along with a daily snippet from a gospel film, I was moved to the degree that I fell totally in unified love with Jesus (the person, not bound by religion) and was baptized without hesitation (along with my first wife, my mother, and sister). My vision confirms Isaiah’s reference that Paul quotes regarding how the Lord would reveal himself to the undeserving: “I was found by people who were not looking for me. I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.” (Romans 10:20) Joel 2:28 reveals that visions do occur: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people…your young men will see visions.

Since then I have witnessed this radiant light on other occasions: during miraculous healing; in one case immediate healing of a bedridden person sick with pleurisy during a private anointing (a man of God must know healing is imminent and when to act).

While leading as a Publishing Director, working with another Gospel worker in Newfoundland, he and I met a family by knocking on a door of a home built near the Atlantic Ocean. This time the Lord’s Presence came near during prayer for this group who were eager to learn more about Jesus Christ. After sharing the Biblical doctrine of the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ their home became immediately infused with bright white light and they all began crying aloud (when the Lord’s Presence becomes known with such open immediacy, a certain respectful fear of the Lord touches your soul). The Spirit of the Lord was touching their consciences with the sacred scriptures which only He knows how to administer. Though these folks were strangers, they opened their home with eagerness to know about the Lord.

On other occasions, I have had the Lord lead me with prophetic insights, at times hearing his directives clearly in my inward mind. Strong warnings have come to me in night visions which I have delivered to the souls to be warned: on one occasion unheeded, a man close to me was killed in a car accident exactly as I had seen in a dream.

Reflecting on my earlier preparatory period (prior to conversion and baptism), beginning as a very young man, a mystical experience confirmed the Presence of the Lord — God was active in a most mysterious way. Walking in nature or in an orchard (as a boy, several orchards surrounded our property), or during my landscape photography (my father started me off with a box camera at age 10); the Great Shepherd gently led me beside green pastures. In the old Carruthers orchard, a radical vision occurred during which time inexplicably stopped, which enlarged my viewpoint about the Lord being Omnipresent everywhere.

This was not explained in the theological commentaries

I have learned that not all men of the cloth understand these occurrences and can be derisive to a young man with budding faith. However, a pastor of the United Church advised that I indeed had a mystical experience. I’ll try to explain: I saw an atomic energy field of the Lord — the creator of all nature flow pulsatingly, with bright sparklike flashes of light-energy flowing, bending like a river towards me,  around and through my physical being and consciousness. At the time of these manifestations, I knew it was the Lord enveloping me, sharing His union as my Father. My faith was growing, and I was never afraid.

Often, I am called to rise in the wee hours to seek the Lord in prayer, and receive doctrinal revelation or life applicative solutions from Him.

Praise be to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Read how the Lord led me as a Literature Evangelist.

Glen Jackman, 2015

 

The Church: The Westminster Confession of Faith

Westminster Confession of Faith (25.1)
The catholic or universal Church which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

After Peter Confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord makes this remarkable pronouncement: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The Greek word translated “church” means a number of persons called together in a public assembly (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). When the Jews translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek, this word was used for the congregation of Israel at Mt. Sinai (Deut. 4:10; 9:10), and later assemblies, especially for worship (2 Chron. 6:3, 12, 13; Ps. 22:22, 25; Joel 2:16).

Christ seized this word with a rich history in Israel and claimed it as His own: My church. He is the Lord of the congregation of God’s worshipers, the King of the true Israel (Phil. 3:3). Christ builds the church by His power, and He promises that Satan will never overthrow it.

This church transcends each local congregation of worshipers. A local church can die spiritually (Rev. 3:1), and Christ Himself may remove its light (Rev. 2:5). There are many sad sights of empty buildings where a church once met or where formerly faithful churches have fallen into heresy. But Christ said that His church cannot fail.

Therefore Christ spoke of what the Westminster Confession calls “the catholic or universal church,” both the church worldwide and the church in heaven and on earth. (The word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning universal or international, and does not necessarily or exclusively refer to Roman Catholicism.) Some of the church’s members are already in glory (the church triumphant). Some still fight the good fight of the faith on earth (the church militant). But all are one people called out of the world into holy union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). When we meet in local congregations, we join with saints in heaven and throughout the earth to worship God through Christ as one great assembly (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Confession has a number of things to say about the universal church.

First, this church is invisible. That does not mean its members are ghosts that meet in phantom buildings; it means that the universal church is defined in ways that are spiritually discerned and not physically seen. The church is not a building but a people who worship in spirit and truth, a temple built with living, personal stones (John 4:20-24; 1 Peter 2:5). It is not a particular denomination and cannot be defined by allegiance to any mere man such as the pope of Rome (1 Cor. 1:12-13). At certain times and places, the true church may exist as hidden gatherings of believers fiercely persecuted by leaders of the visible church (Rev. 13:11-15).

We cannot produce a complete list of the church’s mem- bers, for some whom we thought to be saved fall away and show that they never really belonged (1 John 2:19). Not everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord is known to Him or saved by Him (Matt. 7:21-23). The church’s member- ship is not defined by participation in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for some who receive the sacraments are not in Christ (Acts 8:13, 18-24; 1 Cor. 10:1-8), and some true believers do not have the opportunity to receive them (Luke 23:39-43).

The true church is defined by invisible factors. The qualifications for membership are the secret election of God and the internal work of the Holy Spirit to produce faith. We can see evidence of these divine operations in the fruit of the Spirit, but the true identity of the church is invisible. Yet it is visible or known to God: “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).

Second, the church consists of the elect. God elected or chose individuals in order to save them from their sins, adopt them as His children and heirs, and make them holy by union with Christ (Eph. 1:4). The church is “a chosen generation,” joined to Christ who is Himself “chosen of God, and precious” (1 Peter 2:4, 9). The Bible says, “Christ died for the church” (Eph. 5:25), that is, He decreed to redeem the elect long before any of them were born (Eph. 4:5). Their names were “written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,” and when they believe in the Lamb, they overcome the world because they are “called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:8, 14).

Third, the church is in union with Christ as the bride or spouse of the Lord. The church was promised to Christ in God’s eternal counsels (2 Tim. 1:9) and is betrothed to Christ by the Spirit in effectual calling (1 Cor. 1:9; 6:17). As Christ’s spouse, the church is the object of Christ’s redeeming love and His nourishing and cherishing affection (Eph. 5:25, 28-29).

Fourth, the members of the church are joined to Christ in a living, organic, and personal union, knit to Him as closely as the members or parts of a man’s body (Eph. 5:30– 31). Since Christ is the church’s head, He rules over it as Lord and the true members of the church submit to His Word as it washes them clean (Eph. 5:23, 24, 26).

This unspeakable privilege of union with Christ makes the church the recipient of the fullness of Christ’s graces, “his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). There is no station in life higher or more privileged than to be a member of the true church!

Westminster Confession oF Faith (25.2)
The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that pro- fess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation

In this section the Westminster Confession discusses the visible church. We make this distinction because the church is a people called together, but the call is twofold. There is an external call through the voice of the preacher (Matt. 22:9–10, 14), and an internal, effectual call through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul (1 Cor. 1:23– 24). We can see the people who have outwardly responded to the preacher’s call, but we cannot directly view the inward working of the Spirit.

Sometimes people find the distinction of visible/invisible confusing. Are we talking about two different churches? By no means! Perhaps an analogy would help. An old Dutch divine, Wilhelmus à Brakel, compared it to the soul and body of a man. We recognize that human beings have an invisible aspect and a visible aspect to their lives. The soul is hidden within the body, but we do not divide the soul and body of a living man. We do not expect people to walk around as souls without bodies. Nor do we say that a body without a soul is really a man—it’s just a corpse.

In the same way, we recognize that the church has an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The invisible church is hidden within the visible, but we do not divide them into two churches. The claim to be part of the invisible church while having nothing to do with the visible church is as plausible as spirits walking around without bodies—and almost as frightening. On the other hand, a church without a vital union with Christ by the Holy Spirit is not a true church. It is an institutional corpse. In reality, the invisible church shows itself on earth in and through the visible church.

The Confession teaches us that the visible church is also universal, adding the explanatory note that it is not confined to one nation. From the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God’s visible church consisted of Israel and those few foreigners such as Rahab and Ruth who were joined to Israel. The risen Christ commissioned His servants to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), and this they did by planting churches in many lands (Acts 14:23).

Historically, Reformed and Presbyterian Christians have taught that the universal church is visible not only in local churches but also in the order or structure that binds many congregations together into one, such as classes or presbyteries, and synods or general assemblies. This church polity is distinguished from Congregational (and Baptist) polity, in which the visible church has no higher authority than the elders who rule over local congregations, though congregations may consult together and cooperate in missions.

The visible church consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion. That is to say, membership of the visible church is defined by those persons who confess the faith, who publicly declare that they believe in Jesus Christ, and who obey the teachings of Christianity. The New Testament argues that personal trust in Christ will produce a public confession of Him before men (Rom. 10:9–10), and warns that those who refuse to confess Christ will not be owned by Him on Judgment Day (Matt. 10:32–33). A true profession of Christ as Lord also includes receiving the sacraments and walking in obedience to God’s laws (Matt. 28:19–20; Acts 2:38, 41; 1 Cor. 11:26). The visible church has a responsibility to exclude from its membership those who embrace serious error or sin and refuse to repent.

In addition to professing believers, the confession declares that the children of those that profess the true religion are also members of the visible church. Here the Confession stands on the pattern of the covenant that is universal in Scripture, whereby promises made to believers are extended to include their children (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:39). Note that membership in the visible church is no guarantee of membership in the invisible church. Nonetheless, the practice of the visible church must conform to the promise, and so children of believers are to be baptized and received as members of the church.

Though it is true that some in the visible church are not saved, we should never fail to cherish the visible church. The Confession says that it is the kingdom of Christ and the house and family of God. The exiled Judean poet expressed it well: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:5, 6).

It may shock modern evangelicals, but the Confession also says that there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside of the visible church. The Book of Acts tells us about many miracles done by the apostles and visits from angels. But in nearly every case where someone is saved from sin, it is by the ministry of the church. Even when an angel visited Cornelius, the angel did not proclaim the gospel to him, but directed him to the apostle Peter, “who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved” (Acts 11:14). We do not deny that God may use a gospel tract or well-placed Bible to convert a sinner. But His ordinary means are set forth in Paul’s argument for the necessity of preaching: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear with- out a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Therefore, cherish the visible church, faithfully attend its assemblies, and make diligent use of the means of grace it provides, for God is pleased to use the preaching of the Word to save sinners.

Westminster Confession of Faith (25.3)
Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the min- istry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

Some people think that true spirituality is so mystical that we really do not need the church with its creeds and confessions, and its forms of worship, so long as we follow what God says to our hearts. A personal relationship with the Lord surpasses everything else, even the plain teaching of the Bible. Other people put so much stock in the sacraments that they think receiving baptism, attending church, and taking the Lord’s Supper virtually guarantees their salvation unless they do something really bad. Reformed Christianity, in contrast to these extremes, does not separate the life of the visible church and the invisible work of the Spirit, but emphasizes both as crucial to knowing and pleasing God.

We treasure the church because Christ has given to the visible church the means by which He saves His people. First, Christ gives them the ministry, that is, men gifted and called as servants of the Word. Paul taught that the ascended Christ builds up His body by giving ministers of the Word to the church (Eph. 4:10-12). These men are not saviors but only servants of God and stewards of God’s truth (1 Cor. 4:1). Still, ministers who are faithful in their lives and teachings are instruments by which God saves the church from sin and brings it to glory (1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:10).

Second, Christ gives to the church the oracles of God (Rom. 3:1-2), the Holy Scriptures. We are grateful that in America we live in an age of unprecedented access to the Scriptures (just a click away on the internet). But the church, as “the pillar and ground of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:15), still plays a central role in preserving the Scriptures, guarding their faithful translation and interpretation, promoting edu- cation and literacy, reading them as part of public worship, and encouraging the private reading of the Bible in personal devotions and family worship.

Third, Christ gives the ordinances to the church. By “ordinances” the confession refers to the public means of worship which Christ ordained or commanded, such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, public prayer, and singing praise to God (see Confession, 21.5). The holy God inhabits the praises of Israel (Ps. 22:3), and many times God’s people have experienced His presence dwelling with them as they worship together on the Lord’s Day. Indeed, Christ promised His special presence when believers assemble in His name (Ps. 22:22; Matt. 18:20).

Christ commanded His church to preach the Word and to use the ordinances, and promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19± 20)Ð implying that these means of grace will never grow obsolete and we must faithfully use them to the end of the world. Far from despising the means, we should use them with great expectation, for as we use the means, Christ is present with us. And Christ will not let His church fail.

However, we do not turn the means of grace into a surrogate Christ, but instead, as the Confession says, believe that Christ must make them effective by His own presence and Spirit. Mechanical rituals and even the preaching of ser- mons do not have any inherent power to do spiritual good. Reformed Christianity rejects the ex opere operato (“by the work having been worked”) principle of the Roman church where the mere performance of the liturgy confers grace. Instead, the church constantly remembers Christ’s words, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).


Rev. Paul Smalley is Dr. Beeke’s teaching assistant

Medical Ethics – A Reformed Perspective

Biblical Doctrines In Medical Ethics

Last time I left off with the plan to present somewhat of a framework that may be helpful when working through ethical dilemmas. This framework is not my own. It is drawn from a book that I recommend, Bioethics and the Christian Life, by David VanDrunen.1

VanDrunen suggests that there are four key doctrines found in Scripture that can help to inform our decisions. There are many other doctrines that are found in Scripture that can apply in different situations. In fact, for each dilemma or decision that we face, we must do our utmost to prayerfully consider the whole counsel of God before proceeding; however, these four doctrines are a starting point.

1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD

The first is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God and divine providence. The Bible makes it very clear that God is in control of all things. Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the will of our heavenly Father (Matt. 10:29). He ordains every detail of our lives. The hairs of our head are numbered (Matt. 10:30). What we perceive as “good” or even what we perceive as evil is under His control. We often find it easy to see the providential hand of God and acknowledge His sovereignty in the good things that happen to us; but in times of adversity, this is much more difficult. As the Heidelberg Catechism states in Question 27, the providence of God is “the almighty and every- where present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”

Scripture also tells us that God’s providence and sovereignty are directed toward the upbuilding of His people. “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28). Even the evil that befalls His children works to their good.

One of the most vivid examples that we find in Scripture of someone submitting to the sovereignty of God is the story of Job. He received much evil at the hand of Satan, allowed by God. After all the awful things had happened to him, he could still say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15). So, first and foremost when a challenge arises, consider this: God is in control. However, if one is not united to Christ, then all things will not necessarily work together for good. This provides us with a place to begin in our counseling.

2. THE IMAGE OF GOD

Another key biblical doctrine to keep in mind when deal- ing with medical ethics is that man is created in the image of God. God made this entire wonderful, awesome creation with all its vastness, beauty, and incredible diversity. But out of all of it only man was created in the image of God. Psalm 8 comes to mind as an exposition of how man truly is the pin- nacle of God’s creation. Today, most physicians—in fact, most people in our society at large—fail to see much of a distinction between human beings and the rest of creation. Human beings are often held in much the same regard as other animal life. The reality that a human being is special because he or she is created in the image of God has largely been lost.

To most physicians, the concept of an eternal soul is for- eign. But in reality, human life is radically different from any other life that we find on this earth. From the moment that new life is formed at conception, God creates a unique human being with both a body and a soul, which remain together until separated by death. No other creature has a living soul.

We live in a very visual culture; we thrive on images. If we can’t see something, we tend to disbelieve it or minimize its importance. This can have a subtle yet profound influence on how we think about the beginning and end of life issues. Human embryos, only a few cells in number, invisible to the naked eye, look nothing like a human being. In our visually driven culture, these are not given the respect that they deserve. These tiny, microscopic collections of cells are a living person, incredibly precious, deserving of honor and protection as God’s image-bearers. The elderly person, curled up in a fetal position in bed, too weak to rise with his mind clouded by Alzheimer’s and his voice too weak to speak, is also an image-bearer.

Perhaps this sounds a little too man-centered or almost as man-worship. That is not my intention. Mankind as image-bearers has tarnished this image by the Fall. The Bible teaches that our natural state is totally depraved. As Psalm 9 teaches us, we need to recognize ourselves to be “but men.” Our true, full glory as image-bearers will not be seen until we are risen again when the Bridegroom returns and we are found among the com- pany gathered around the throne of the Lamb. We must view mankind from this balanced perspective. Every image-bearer bears the image of God and because of this deserves our respect.

3. THE REALITY AND NATURE OF DEATH

This is the third doctrine that is often helpful to consider when thinking about medical ethics. This is somewhat difficult to explain. In our current society, perhaps even more so in Europe than in North America, we normalize death. Death is con- sidered to be a very natural thing. Much has been written to define the stages of dying and coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis; the goal of this is to help lessen the sting of death, to take away the fear associated with death. We are told that those suffering from chronic diseases should welcome death as a means to escape this suffering. Yet is this understanding and attitude toward death scriptural?

Death first entered into the world through sin. It is a punishment for sin, man’s sin. Man was created to live. God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Life (both physical and more importantly eternal life) is what humans were created for. It is in life that we bear the image of God. Therefore, we as Christians should always act to affirm life—to choose life over death. We need to accept that death will come to all, but death in and of itself should not be embraced. Death is a fearsome thing. It is an awful thing. It separates soul and body. This, in the deepest sense, is wholly unnatural.

I agree that, in one sense of the word, death is natural. It is natural in that it happens to all creatures; no one will escape it. Perhaps it is better to say that death is inevitable (as a result of sin) but not natural. In fact, Jesus has come and conquered death so that His people do not have to suffer eternal death. For His people, even the sting of physical death has been taken away. Now death, instead of being a portal to eternal woe, is a portal to eternal life in anticipation of the resurrection and the world to come.

This biblical concept of death is utterly foreign to our society. By focusing on how we die—free of pain, dignity intact, in full control of our faculties—society has distracted us from the fearsome reality of what lies beyond the grave. Accord- ing to this view, death is good if it is noble and preserves our autonomy or pride.

We too can be drawn into this misguided focus on the manner of death. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Physicians, healthcare workers, and family members, when caring for those who are experiencing a great deal of pain and suffering, have an obligation to provide comfort, support, and care for those at the end of their lives. We must hold firm, however, to the belief that life, even when it may involve suffering or pain or incapacity, is still an inherent good, a God-breathed gift worth protecting.

4. THE REALITY OF SUFFERING

The fourth key doctrine to consider is the reality of suffering. Suffering is inevitable. To quote VanDrunen: “For Christians the question is not really whether we will suffer but how we will suffer. Will we suffer in a godly way or not?”2 Scripture says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Many issues that give rise to difficult ethical dilemmas involve suffering. Issues regarding infertility, chronic pain, and chronic illness all can cause those struggling with these matters to experience great suffering.

Our natural response to suffering is often to question God. Reflexively we ask, “Why me?” or “How could a loving God allow, even ordain that such a thing should happen?” Yet we must accept, through prayerful submission, that God is lov- ing and wise. “For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Think again of the example of Job. When Job questions why all these things have happened to him, God reminds him in chapters 38–41 how great He is and how small Job is.

Although we are not called to look for suffering, we should pray for grace to bear a burden if God chooses to place it upon us. Suffering is not the ultimate evil. We may not necessarily do all that we can to avoid suffering; at times we must accept it as God’s will. Think, for instance, of the suffering that a person with a spinal cord injury experiences. Such a person may be unable to walk, possibly unable to perform even basic self-care. Now suppose medical science had found a way to use embryonic stem cells, derived from “spare” human embryos, to cause regeneration of the nervous system and treatment of the injury. This would provide immense relief and heal the suffering of many, yet it would be wrong because it involved taking innocent life.

Suffering must be endured if the means that we would use to end it are contrary to the revealed will of God. In fact, it is in times of suffering that God’s people are often drawn closer to Him, made more dependent on Him, and become more gloriously aware of their adoption as His children. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4).

So, to briefly recap, we should keep in mind four important biblical doctrines: first, the providence of God—He controls and directs all things; second, man is an image-bearer of God and as such deserves respect; third, the reality and nature of death—that it is wholly unnatural and that the only way for the sting of the grave to be lost is through redemption by Christ; and fourth, the nature of suffering—at times we are called to suffer and we must do so in a God-honoring way.


1. David VanDrunen. Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton: Crossway, 2009).
2. Ibid., p. 62.


Dr. Joel Hamstra is a member of the Free Reformed Church of Dundas, Ontario and is Assistant Clinical Professor of Anesthesia at McMaster University and Director of Obstetrical Anesthesia, St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton, Ontario. This article is reprinted from The Messenger.

Faith in Christ – Experiential Christianity

We ought to believe in Jesus Christ to the saving of our souls.

Faith in Christ is a necessary duty. There is no salvation except in Christ; and without faith in His name, we can obtain none of His precious blessings. “Saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness”; “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” If so, who would not wish above all things to know the character of Him in whom we are called on to believe: what is meant by believing on Him; what ground we have for our faith; and what motives or encouragements we have for looking
exclusively to Him for the salvation of our souls?

IN WHOM ARE WE TO BELIEVE?

How shall we believe in Him of whom we have not heard? We cannot trust in Christ for salvation unless assured on unimpeachable evidence that He is able and willing to save us. If He were able but not willing to save, His power would be the object of terror, and not of confidence. If not almighty, His willingness to save would be worthless, for only an omnipotent arm could deliver sinners from the ruins of their fallen condition. But blessed be God, from the writings of the prophets and apostles we have the most perfect assurance of the infinite grace and infinite power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Take only the testimony of John, the beloved disciple, who wrote his gospel that we might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing, we might have life through His name. In its opening sentence he gives such an account of the person of Christ as must convince every unprejudiced reader that our Saviour is the Great God, equal in power and glory with the Father, and therefore “mighty to save.”

“In the beginning was the Word.” This “Word” was a distinct person from another person who is called God. These two persons do not differ in essence, for the Word who was in the beginning with God is God. The Word is in no respect inferior, for He who lay in the bosom of the Father was the Creator of all things, and “without him was not anything made that was made.” If Christ had not been a divine person, He could not have been entrusted with the salvation of our souls. Only “in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength”; “who is God, but the Lord; who is a rock, save our God?”

“The Word was made flesh,” and tabernacled among the Jews. Most of them saw no beauty in the incarnate Word that they should desire Him; but the men whose eyes were opened by the grace of God “saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He was from eternity appointed to be the Savior of self-ruined sinners. In consequence of this appointment, He took part of our flesh and blood, that He might obey the law, and satisfy all its demands in that nature by which it had been violated. The Messiah was cut off, but not for Himself. For sinful men He lived a holy life, and died an accursed death. Being made perfect through sufferings, He became the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him. Had Jesus continued forever under the power of death, our faith and our hope had been vain, “but now is Christ risen from the dead, and is become the first-fruits of them that slept.” God hath not only raised Him from the dead, but all power in heaven and earth has been given unto Him, that He might give eternal life to all that believe on His name.

Such is the account which the Scriptures give of Him in whom we are called to believe. They assure us that He is a person truly divine and yet incarnate, having assumed human nature that He might do everything needful for our salvation. Further, they assure us that every saving office belongs to Him by His Father’s appointment, and His own voluntary undertaking; that He is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world; a light given to the Gen- tiles, that He might be God’s salvation to the ends of the earth; a King highly exalted, seated on a throne of mercy, that He may dispense in rich abundance spiritual blessings to perishing sinners. In the representations given of the Lord Jesus Christ we find everything fitted to impart per- fect confidence in His ability and willingness to save. We behold in Him all divine excellencies, every saving office, an exhaustless fullness of grace and truth, an everlasting righteousness, and a complete salvation, purchased by His precious blood, placed before our view, offered and recom- mended to our acceptance by the blessed God, the Author of the glorious gospel. What shall we say to these things? Shall we not say with joy and gratitude, “We will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is our strength and our song, and he also is become our salvation.”

When we believe in Christ, we give not that glory to another which is due only to God (Ps. 146:3± 5). The confi- dence we place in the Redeemer is not alienated from God. Our justification is through faith in Christ, as Paul shows at great length in Romans; and yet in the same epistle he sometimes speaks of that faith by which we are justified as if it were placed in God the Father: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9; 4:24). To believe in Christ as an exalted Savior is to believe in God, who raised Him from the dead.

We cannot come to Christ without coming to God by Him, and we cannot come to God but by Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

The name of Christ is frequently represented as the – object of our faith. By His name is meant the full representation made of Him in Holy Scripture. We cannot believe the word of truth without believing in Christ. For what is the gospel, but the revelation of Christ as our Savior; and what is the faith of the gospel, but faith in Him whom it so clearly displays to our view (Rom. 1:16, 17).

THE NATURE OF FAITH

What is that faith which is so necessary for our salvation, and so highly commended in the Bible?

There have been many disputes about the true nature of faith; and yet one would think that the characteristics of this grace must be fully described in a book which was designed by divine wisdom to be a light to our feet and a lamp to our path.

If the Scriptures do not clearly explain the way of salvation, how can they be a light to guide our feet in the way that
leads to life everlasting? We are not to suppose that some men are saved in one way and some in another. “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus.” There is no other way in which we can receive salvation from Jesus but by faith; and there is only one kind of saving faith. How important, therefore, the question, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” How dangerous to be mistaken on a point of such vital consequence!

It is, however, a comfortable thought that different men may exercise the same faith in Christ, and obtain the same salvation through His name, who use very different language in describing their faith in Him.

All men do not mean the same thing by the same words. Those who deny something to belong to the nature of faith which others hold to be essential to it, may, in a greater or less degree, practice, under another name, that which they deny to be needful. There are some, for instance, who allege that it forms no part of our faith to assure ourselves of salvation, and yet they may really enjoy personal assurance of salvation by receiving and resting upon Christ. There are others who maintain that coming to Jesus is a distinct exercise of the soul from believing, and yet allow that it is inseparably connected with faith. It is, however, of great importance to have clear, precise, and distinct apprehensions of the true nature of faith, that the exercise of our hearts in believing may not be perplexed and encumbered by mistakes or doubts. Besides, if we err simply in words in regard to this grace, we may lead other men into errors of judgment or practice, by conveying to them our sentiments in language to which they may affix very different ideas from our own.

One thing is certain, our faith, if genuine, must be in exact accordance with the word of the truth of the gospel. Hence, in Scripture it is called obedience to the gospel, or the “obedience of faith.” If we receive the testimony of man, the testimony of God is greater; and if we know what is meant by the belief of a man’s testimony, we may from this form a clear idea of the nature of that grace by which we set to our seal that God is true.


Dr. George Lawson (1749-1820), who studied under John Brown of Haddington, became pastor of the Associate Synod church in Selkirk, Scotland in 1771. In 1787, he succeeded Brown as professor of theology in the Divinity Hall, which was then moved to Selkirk so that he could continue serving as pastor there. As a professor of theology he trained scores of men for the ministry for more than three decades and was loved by all the people of God. He became best known for his sermons and commentaries, particularly for his commentary on Proverbs and his books on Ruth, Joseph, Esther, and David. Less known is his scarce work, Helps to A Devout Life, being a Treatise on Religious Duties. This remarkable little book is a summary of how Christians ought to live. It is divided into a Trinitarian structure: the duties we owe to Christ, the duties we owe to the Father, and the duties we owe to the Holy Spirit. The entire book is full of practical, savory truth. As space allots, we hope to print this book in short articles in this periodical. The article below is the first part of the second chapter.

The Results of Evangelistic Preaching

PRESENT

Evangelistic preaching majors in the present tense. Yes, it deals with biblical data, which is usually in the past tense. But it moves rapidly from the past to the present. These are not sermons that are taken up with large amounts of history, geography, and chronology. They may begin there, but move swiftly to the here and the now.

Hearers realize the sermon is about here, about now. It’s connected to the present, it’s relevant, it has impact on them, in this day and in this age. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to speak of such sermons being in the “urgent tense,” and that really is what should be communicated. We must show that the ancient Word connects with today’s world, and is relevant both to the present and the future.

PERSONAL

These sermons should also be personal. Yes, again, we begin with explaining the Word as originally given to the Israelites, the disciples, etc. It starts with “they” and “them.” However, in evangelistic preaching, we move rapidly to “you.”
I’m sure we’ve all sat in congregations, heard sermons about the Philistines, the Israelites, the Corinthians, and the Philippians, and wondered, “But what about me? Does this have anything to say to Americans, Scots, Africans, etc.?” When teaching God’s people we can spend more time explaining the teaching as it applied to the original hearers. But when we are going after lost souls, we have to move more swiftly, we have to engage more rapidly, we must show relevance much earlier on.

Also, when we are addressing the unconverted in front of us, we should work especially hard at moving away from reading our notes. When we are appealing, beseeching, arguing, and reasoning in a very personal way with unbelievers let it be eyeball to eyeball, “we beseech you.” Don’t let paper get in the way, distracting, and break- ing the eye contact. Let’s really make it personal so that people really feel “he is speaking to me.”

We can also make it personal by getting inside the minds of our hearers and saying things like this: “Well, you’re sitting there, you are thinking this…aren’t you? But this is what God’s Word says.” Or, “You’re here today and you’re hearing this and you are feeling so and so….” And the person sitting there says, “He is thinking about me. He knows how I think, he knows how I tick; he is concerned to address what is going on in my mind.” Again, it just makes it a very personal intimate transaction.

PERSUASIVE

In evangelistic preaching the great aim is persuasion. Much of such sermons will be taken up with Acts 2:38-42 type beseeching, pleading, arguing, and reasoning. It’s not just, “Here are some facts; take them or leave them,” as if we are just dispassionate conveyors of information. We are here to persuade. People must see our anxiety that they respond to the gospel in faith and repentance. We plead that the Holy Spirit may attend with the Word to raise the spiritually dead to life (Eph. 2:1). We urge them to ask for Him (Luke 11:13).

PASSIONATE

To be really persuasive, we must also be passionate. Let peo- ple see that we feel this deeply, that we fear for their eternal state, that we are anxious over them, and that we love them deeply. Let that be communicated in our words, but also in our facial expressions, our body language, and our tone.

I’m not arguing for acting here; this should come natu- rally. Sometimes, before preaching an evangelistic sermon, I spend some time trying to think of lost unbelieving souls in my congregation, and even of particular individuals. I may try to see their faces (often lovely characters by nature— helpful, kind, loving people—but lost). I try to see them dying, going to judgment, and then their faces as they hear the verdict. Then I envision them sinking into the bottom- less pit, being burned in eternal fire, going to the company of the devil and his angels. I try to see them there, try to hear them there. Sometimes I might even think of one of my own unsaved family members, just to try and bring home the reality and the enormity of the unsaved’s predicament. If we can really feel it ourselves, we will be passionate in our pleading, in our loving, and in our reasoning.

PLAIN

Evangelistic preaching will be plain. If we love sinners and we are anxious for them to be saved, we will be clear and plain in our structure, content, and choice of words. If we can use a smaller word, we use it. If we can shorten our sentences, we do so. If we can find an illustration, we tell it. Everything is aimed at simplicity and clarity, so that, as it was said of Martin Luther, it may be said of us, “It’s impossible to misunderstand him.”

This is exhausting work. People may think at times that doctrinal sermons are harder to prepare and preach than evangelistic sermons. Not if you are really going to edit and trim and modify until your message communicates the profoundest truth in the simplest way possible. That involves real labor, sweat, toil, and tears. In Preaching and Preachers Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:

If I am asked which sermons I wrote, I have already said that I used to divide my ministry, as I still do, into edification of the saints in the morning and a more evangelistic sermon in the evening. Well, my practice was to write my evangelistic sermon. I did so because I felt that in speaking to the saints, to the believers, one could feel more relaxed. There, one was speaking in the realm of the family. In other words, I believe that one should be unusually careful in evangelistic sermons. That is why the idea that a fellow who is merely gifted with a certain amount of glibness of speech and self- confidence, not to say cheek, can make an evangelist is all wrong. The greatest men should always be the evangelists, and generally have been; and the idea that Tom, Dick, and Harry can be put up to speak on a street corner, but you must have a great preacher in a pulpit in a church is, to me, the reversing of the right order. It is when addressing the unbelieving world that we need to be most careful; and therefore I used to write my evangelistic sermon and not the other (pp. 215–16).

POWERFUL

When we go into the pulpit with an evangelistic sermon, let’s not go in defensively and apologetically. Yes, it may be an “apologetic” sermon, but we are not apologizing for the truth. When we go in front of sinners with the gospel, let’s not come across as if we have something to hide or be afraid of. Let’s not hedge and qualify. Let’s not “discuss” or “share.” Let’s preach with powerful, bold, divine authority. People need to hear, “Thus says the Lord.” This isn’t an option, this isn’t just another idea; this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

PERSEVERING

And let our evangelistic sermons also be characterized by perseverance. We preach. No one’s converted. We do it again. We preach. No one’s converted. We do it again, and again, and again.

How often should you preach an evangelistic sermon? That will largely depend on context. In Scotland, I was expected to preach one evangelistic sermon and one teach- ing sermon every Sunday. Once a week is probably too much if you and your church are not used to this. But how about once a month? You can tell your congregation that on such a morning/evening this is going to be a sermon largely for the unconverted, so that Christians will think, “I can take my friends to this. This is something I know my boss could listen to with some understanding.” Make it regular, and make it known that this is what you are going to be doing.

PRAYERFUL

Above all, of course, evangelistic preaching is to be prayer- ful—before, during, and after. Pray to be delivered from the fear of man. Pray that God would give you a passion for souls. Pray that you would be able to communicate naturally and easily and freely. Pray that you’d get a hearing for the gospel and that you’d be able to present Christ so that you “disappear.” Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring Scripture to your mind which He will use to bring life to the spiritu- ally dead (Eph. 2:1). And pray afterward that the seed sown would bring forth a harvest of saved souls, and that the church will be revived and built up.

“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). 


Dr. David P. Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article is reprinted from The Free Church Witness.

The Miracles of Jesus: Walking on the Water – Matthew 14:22-33

When God’s people are in a difficulty, they are only between deliverances. Paul writes to the Corinthians that God “delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us” (2 Cor. 1:10). In other words, God delivers His people again and again. And between those deliverances, God tests and stretches the faith of His people through trials in order that they would learn to love Him more, follow Him more closely, rely on His Word more exclusively, and glorify their Savior more heartily and deeply. This is what the miracle of Jesus walking on water shows us.

Purposeful Constraint

This passage comes right on the heels of the account of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. What a spectacular event that had been! Enthralled with that display of Christ’s power, the crowds were clamoring to make Him a national king (John 6:15). But Christ had not come for a crown with- out a cross.

In verse 22 of our passage, we read that Jesus “constrained” His disciples to get into a ship, alone, without Him. He would join them later after spending time alone with His Father (v. 23; John 6:15). This may not have been something the disciples were expecting; they may have been disappointed and confused by Christ’s wishes. But Christ had His plans and purposes for sending them off in their boat alone. He knew all about the storm they would encounter. And it wasn’t long before the disciples themselves realized that they were in deep trouble. From the time references in the text, we learn that, in the space of the next six hours, they were able to go a distance of only about three miles. Their night quickly turned into a time of agony, uncertainty, fear, and confusion! Why would Christ, who knew enough to multiply loaves and fishes for thousands, have sent them into such a vicious storm? Just hours ago, these same disciples were happily distributing loaves and fish to awe-struck multitudes. Now they were about to be swallowed up by death itself.

We will see more of what Christ was teaching His dis- ciples below, but at this point, it is worth this initial lesson. Though we often see the difficulties we are in, we often don’t see the difficulty we could have been in if we had been left to ourselves. As difficult as the storm was, it was better for the disciples to be there than to be falling for the ideas of the crowd and seeking to turn Jesus away from His real mission. Who can tell how often God’s people are hemmed in by trials for their own protection?

Omniscient Care

Earlier there had been a storm at sea for the disciples, but then Christ had been with them in the boat (see 8:23± 27). This time, Christ was not with them physically; however, He was with them spiritually. Though the disciples did not see Christ in the tem- pest on the lake, Mark tells us that Christ saw them: “And he saw them toiling in rowing” (6:48). This was supernatural sight, for through the darkness of the night, the distance, and the dreadful storm, no other human would have been able to see their ship.

What a comfort this is for believers! Perhaps you are in a place in life where you can’t see the Lord. You’re straining to see Him, but week in, week out, you’re not able to catch a glimpse of His presence like you did in the past. But when we lose sight of Him, it can be a great comfort that He doesn’t lose sight of us(compareJob23:8± 9).By not being with them, He could end up giving them a more magnificent view of His glory.

Magnificent Revelation

Matthew describes it this way: “And in the fourth watch of the night [about 3:00 AM] Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea” (v. 25). Everything about Christ’s coming to His disciples was so majestic: the timing, the manner, the direction. There was nothing hurried, harried, or hazardous about it. The picture the text paints is that He simply willed to be with His disciples, and no obstacle could stand in the way of that will.

Years later, as they wrote about that night, they remembered their “hysterical shrieks” (that’s what Matthew’s phrase “cried out for fear” literally means) as they mistook Christ for a ghost or a phantom (v. 26; Mark 6:49-50; John 6:19). They thought they were doomed!

Why, with Jesus so near, would they react like that? Think about it: wouldn’t we have responded the same way? These men were exhausted after hours of rowing. If only they had seen by faith that the form they were so terrified of was actually their Savior coming with deliverance. Think of William Cowper’s words: “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; / The clouds ye so much dread / Are big with mercy and shall break / In blessings on your head.”

Christ called to the disciples across the water, and His words were filled with tender magnificence and magnificent tenderness: “Be of good cheer; it is I, be not afraid” (v. 27). Notice the three intricate parts of this statement, so filled with lessons: first, He encouraged them: “Be of good cheer.” The literal meaning in the original is: “Take courage.” Their cour- age had failed, and Christ tells them to take fresh courage.

Secondly, He revealed Himself as God. That was the reason they should take fresh courage. In the Old Testament, God gave His name to Moses as “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14). What Christ said here is short for exactly that. He means: “I am the faithful, covenant-keeping, immutable God, who saves His people in distress. Amid everything that is topsy-turvy, I give stability and solidity.” This self-revelation of Christ is the calm within their storm.

Thirdly, He consoled them. The first part of Christ’s words was a positive command. This last part is a negative command: “Be not afraid.” It is as if He brought in courage and cast out fear, and all because He is the Lord.

Perhaps as you read this, you are straining at the oars of life’s storm. Making no headway is getting old. Perhaps it is the fourth watch for you. Hear the One who says through His Word: “Take courage, It is I, be not afraid.” In this divine I, there is the calm you need; the stronghold in the midst of the waves. What you need is to be centered on Him.

Centered Focus

Peter seems to have been the first to recognize Jesus, or at least the first one to dare to reply to Him. And certainly only Peter would dare to say: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (v. 28). Some Bible students have disapproved of Peter for making this request; but Christ did not. “Come,” Christ said, and “when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water” (v. 29). By faith, Peter stepped onto the solid surface that Christ’s presence miraculously extended over the water.

But then something changed and Peter felt himself sinking. He must have thought for a moment: “I’m going to drown after all!” But Christ was still there, and was still the “I Am.” As Peter cried, “Lord, save me” (v. 30), we find that “immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (v. 31). Peter, whose name means stone, was held up by the solid Rock.

Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter for having no faith; but He did rebuke him for being of “little faith” and for ”doubting” (v. 31). That’s one thing that the Holy Spirit teaches His people in the storms of life: the secret to stability in storms is a centered focus on Christ.

It is significant to read that Peter only began to sink (v. 30). He didn’t end up sinking. Christ would not allow it, for He Himself on the cross would sink underneath the billows and waves of His Father’s wrath in order that He might hold Peter up. He cried out back in Psalm 69, a Messianic Psalm: “I sink in depths where none can standÐ deep waters over me roll” (Ps. 69:2).

If you are outside of Christ, how will you stand when the floods of God’s wrath come to swallow you up? To die outside of Christ and then to meet Him at last will be more terrify- ing than meeting a ghost was for the disciples. Cry like Peter, “Lord, save me.” He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him (see Heb. 7:25).

We read, “And the wind ceased” (v. 32). The wind had fulfilled its divine purpose. The trials God sends aim to drive us into the arms of Christ in worship, as the disciples did; they “worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Matt. 14:32). Trials serve the glory of Christ. Why don’t we glorify Him sooner? Lord, why do we need storms to bring us to our knees in adoration?

“And immediately, the ship was at the land whither they went” (John 6:21). It had taken hours to go three miles. But now, with Christ on the boat, the next three miles were over just like that. With the Savior close, time passes quickly until God’s church reaches the other shore, where no storms can ever come and where God’s church will never be between dif- ficulties, but forever delivered.

Questions

  1. What does it mean that the Christian is “between deliv- erances”? What attitude and actions should this truth foster for a believer when in difficulty?
  2. How can we be more mindful of all that God is keeping us from when He deems it necessary for us to have trials and storms? What begets humility and thankfulness even when in difficult circumstances?
  3. Prove from the passage that no wave ever came between Christ and His disciples.
  4. Why did Christ walk on the sea, and not just calm the storm from a distance? How would you answer those who said it was wrong for Peter to want to walk to Jesus?
  5. Someone described Peter’s problem as Christ “moving from the center of his eyes to the corner” and the storm moving from “the corner of his eyes to the center.” Reflect on how that happens.

Dr. Gerald M. Bilkes is Professor of Old and New Testament at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Free Reformed churches of North America.

Efficacious Grace – Ezekiel 36:22–32

It is always good to remember that salvation is all of grace and that the salvation of every genuine believer should be to the praise of the glory of that grace. There are any number of texts in the Scripture that highlight God’s grace to sinnersÐ both in the Old and New Testaments. Ezekiel 36 is one of those texts and brings us to the heart of Ezekiel’s sal- vation theology. This passage is a comprehensive enunciation of God’s plan of salvation, and very likely was the Scripture Christ had in mind when He spoke to Nicodemus about the new birth and was amazed when the teacher in Israel did not know these things (John 3). No one can come to this text without being confronted with man’s desperate need. Both Ezekiel and Christ make it clear that unless there is a radical transformation of heart there can be no spiritual life. That is an impossible demand if man is left to himself. But the beauty of the gospel is that God does not leave man to himself: He does for sinners what sinners cannot do for themselves. That the same truth is expressed in both Old and New Testaments teaches us that there is a grand unity in God’s dealing with men in salvation. It is an everlasting gospel.

The verses for our consideration draw attention to the source of salvation and to some essential components of sal- vation. The proposition of the passage is clear: God’s grace is successfully effective to save sinners. Ezekiel makes two principal points about this efficacious grace.

SALVATION IS ALL OF GRACE

God’s grace is a glorious truth, but one that is hard for
sinners to grasp. There is something about grace that is unattract-ive to natural man. It makes man terribly small
and makes God incomprehensibly big. Grace is contrary to all natural reasoning since it is freely given to those who do not deserve it indeed, to those who deserve damnation instead. Ezekiel addresses this by focusing first on the source rather than the recipients of grace.

The Lord’s Glory: The Goal of Grace

Salvation surely results in the sinner’s good, but salvation is ultimately about God’s glory. Throughout this passage, the Lord declares that His gracious work is not for their sakes (vv. 22, 32) but for the sake of His own holy name (vv. 22, 23). God’s name refers to the totality of His Person including all of His infinite perfections. Saving grace magnifies the Lord. He was going to act in such a way that even the heathen would “know that I am the LORD” (v. 23). Isaiah declares the same holy motive: “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it…I will not give my glory unto another” (Isa. 48:11). The salvation of sinners is a way by which God sanctifies (sets apart, makes distinct, exalts) His great name (v. 23). The prophet Micah also caught the truth of this with his question, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity?” (Mic. 7:18). Similarly, in that Grand Canyon text in Ephesians 1, Paul repeats three times that salvation is all to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). Even though sinners are the beneficiaries of salvation grace, salvation is ultimately about God.

The Lord’s Work: The Means of Grace

God purposes grace, and God always accomplishes His purposes. Grace is not abstract theory; it is a reality that operates through divine initiative. Salvation is not some vague plan that is revealed just for human evaluation or consideration. Man is totally incapable of responding to the gospel message without first being enabled to do so. God makes the first move or there would be and could be no movement to Him. Ezekiel underscores this truth repeatedly in this passage with all the first-person verbs designating what the Lord does (vv. 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30). God is the author and finisher of salvation. Salvation, indeed, is of the Lord. Therefore, the sinner’s positive response is the consequence of His gracious work. Reception of grace is evidence of grace. There is an old hymn that sums it nicely: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew it was the Lord who sought me, seeking Him.”

That salvation is all of grace has significant implications. First, sinners can never hope to earn salvation. To attempt to work for salvation or even to make a contribution is a denial of grace and an affront to divine glory. This rebukes all pride. Second, sinners need never despair of salvation. If salvation depended on self-merit or works, there would be constant torture in the soul. The nagging doubt as to whether enough had been done or if sufficient merit existed would rob the soul of the peace that the gospel affords. But grace shifts the ground of salvation away from self to God. Grace is greater than sin, and resting in what grace has done leads to the third implication. Sinners saved by grace have cause for joy. The application of grace never fails its purpose. Let us stand in wonder of God’s amazing and wonderful grace.

SALVIFIC GRACE IS EFFICACIOUS

The gospel of saving grace really and truly works. Grace does what is necessary to fit a sinner for heaven. Ezekiel summa- rizes the effectiveness of grace in three ways.

Grace Reconciles Exiled Sinners

Sin separates from God. The first Adam was expelled from Paradise because of his sin, and all the sons of Adam have been exiled and banished ever since. By nature, man is alien- ated from God. If reconciliation is possible, it is because God in Christ has removed the impediments to restored fellow- ship. Ezekiel uses the symbolism of ceremonial cleansing to describe this reconciliation (vv. 25, 29). To be ceremonially unclean was to be outside the sphere of fellowship, to be separated from God and all the spiritual benefits of life. But regardless of the nature of the uncleanness (leprosy, birth, contact with death, etc.), there was always an appropriate sacrifice to address the problem. Ezekiel utilizes the Levitical imagery to describe this work of grace.

“Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you” (v. 25). The sprinkling was a rite of purification to remove symbolically the impediments to fellowship. This sprinkling was typical (a picture prophecy) of Christ who is the cleansing fountain (see Isa. 52:13). It points directly to the application of the blood of Christ, the only means of cleansing the soul from the guilt and power of sin. Happily, what God cleanses is clean: “ye shall be clean” (v. 25) “I will save you from all your uncleanness” (v. 29). Reconciliation results in covenant fellowship: “ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (v. 28).

Grace Regenerates Dead Sinners

In verse 26, the Lord gives a new heart (mind, will, affec- tions) and a new spirit (the impulses that drive and regulate desires, thoughts, and conduct). The old heart is a stone. It is lifeless, hard, and unfeeling. This is a vivid image of the helplessness and hopelessness of the human heart that is dead in sin. The heart, the most vital of organs, is petrified in utter death, incapable of responding to the good of the gospel. You would wait forever before you could find a spark of life in a stone, but here is the grace of the gospel: the Lord takes away the lifeless heart and gives a new one that is capable of new and spiritual impulses, feelings, and desires. A heart that now is capable of answering to God. This is the new birth. It is a change in the very nature of man’s being as spiritual life is implanted into that which had no life. Without this new heart that makes man a new creature, there is no hope. This is why Christ said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Without grace, the new birth is impossible.

Grace Empowers Saved Saints

“And I will put my spirit within you” (v. 27). By means of God’s indwelling Spirit, the renewed man enjoys God’s abiding presence. In true regeneration, God the Spirit enters the very soul, enabling fellowship and companionship (v. 28). This indwelling Spirit also provides enabling grace to do the things that please the Lord: walk in His statutes, keep His judgments, and obey Him. A changed life is evidence of grace. Grace never leaves a sinner where it finds him. God’s gracious salvation works not only to bring a sinner to spiritual life but to lead Him in the way of life. The inner change that occurs in regeneration leads to the life of sanctification. Being renewed in the whole man after God’s image enables the progressive dying to sin and living in righteousness.

God’s gracious salvation is complete, and Ezekiel’s brief synopsis of it is to the point and most instructive. We could almost paraphrase Christ’s question to Nicodemus in that night class in this way: “Art thou a master of Israel and you’ve never read Ezekiel 36?” But surely, as we meditate on this text let us echo Paul’s assessment of all we have in Christ by praising the glory of His grace.


Dr. Michael P. V. Barrett is Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.