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The Bible’s verdict on the human heart is that it is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). And it deceives preachers of the gospel, too. It persuades us that we have more to do than to pray; that prayer is a luxury that we cannot afford; or that prayer is a practice we do not really need. Our hearts tell us to get straight from breakfast to exegesis and that we are sufficient in ourselves for the duties of our calling. Sometimes our hearts don’t even tell us that; they tell us that it can all wait until after another cup of coffee.

Iain Campbell, “Pray, Plan, Prepare, and Preach”, pg. 40

HT: Benjamin Glaser

The Hypocrite’s Religion

“They weave the spider’s web.” — Isaiah 59:5
 
See the spider’s web, and behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion. It is meant to catch his prey: the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward. Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill: look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful? How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold? A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers, the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their trust and hope within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God. But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. … Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the besom of destruction begins its purifying work. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house: he will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever. O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.
 
C.H. Spurgeon

We Must Fear God

John Calvin, from his commentary on Daniel (Daniel 6:22 specifically):

“Fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
The two commands are connected together, and cannot be separated from one another. The fear of God ought to precede, that kings may obtain their authority. For if any one begins his reverence of an earthly prince by rejecting that of God, he will act preposterously, since this is a complete perversion of the order of nature. Then let God be feared in the first place, and earthly princes will obtain their authority, if only God shines forth … . For earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind. We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them [Latin, conspuere in ipsorum capita; “spit on their heads”] whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven.

 

I am currently preaching through Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5. While preaching on the 4th Beatitude (“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness”; you may access the sermon here), I made the point that we must have a hunger for spiritual things — for God and the things of God. This would extend to hungering after God’s word, desiring to spend time with Him in prayer, longing to honor the Lord’s day in attending worship and setting aside the day unto Him. In short, hungering and thirsting after righteousness involves making God our priority.

I recently came across the following comments by Dr. Derek Thomas in his commentary on Acts:

There will not be any great reformation in our churches or our personal lives if such a thirst [for the word of God] is absent. If we are content to hear one sermon a week lasting twenty minutes, then we are displaying a condition of spiritual sickness. Unless we cultivate an appetite for the exposition of Scripture, we will never grow as Christians. Instead of being among those who are always wanting less exposition, we should be among those always desiring more.

Dr. Thomas is correct. The reason we do not see reformation because we do not want reformation. We do not desire the things of God as we ought. We do not truly hunger for His word.

My good friend Benjamin Glaser has recently written about the importance of the Sabbath Day, or Lord’s Day. I believe all of these are connected. Why are so many content with a single twenty-minute sermon confined to an hour-long worship service? Very often, it is because we have allowed other priorities to creep in, and these by necessity will then encroach on the things of God. Many of us have not gotten over our love for the world and the things of the world.

May we pray that God would once again stoke the fires of our heart to love Him and His word above all the vain entertainments that the world would set before us. May we see such a great reformation in our churches and personal lives that begins with the wonder of the word. Why not help our hearts in this matter by guarding the Lord’s Day against things that might distract us from hungering after the word of God? Indeed, the grass will wither and the flower will fade; the things of this world will pass away.  The word of our God, however, will stand forever. May our desire be for such an imperishable word.

Among the good news happenings at the very beginning of the 2015 meeting of General Synod was word from the stated clerk that extraneous chapters had been officially removed from the ARP version of Westminster Confession of Faith. These two chapters (“Of the Holy Spirit” and “Of the Gospel”) were not originally in the WCF, but were added in the 20th century and had the effect of diluting the robust Calvinism present in the original version of the WCF. Please note: the removal of the chapters is not an alteration to the WCF, but a return to the original document by removing non-reformed additions to it.

The report with the recommendations to remove the chapters passed at last year’s meeting of Synod, was voted on by the presbyteries this past year, and the voted officially certified at Synod this year. According to the clerk, the vote to remove the chapters passed by a 95% margin. In keeping with the theme of this year’s Synod, it is a return to ancient paths.

I had the privilege of being on the Moderator’s committee which produced the report that made the recommendations to remove the chapters. If not for the hard work of the other committee members (Dr. Nathan Frazier, chairman; Rev. John Shearouse; Dr. Derek Thomas; Rev. Mark Wright) such an historic measure could not have taken place. I am thankful to God for His providence in all of this.

Here is a copy of the report which led to the removal of the chapters:

Report of the Special Comittee to review WCF 34-35

Encouragement for Pastors

I just recently returned from the 2015 meeting of General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Overall, it was a good meeting, and I am especially thankful for the fact that it was a concurrent synod with the brothers in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. It was good spending time with them. There were joint worship services (Dr. Richard Gamble’s sermon on Romans 13 was especially good; a motion that I made to have the sermon be made available to all ARP churches passed, so hopefully I can post a link to audio of the sermon very soon), and there were other rich times of more informal fellowship as well.

Our moderator, Rev. Jamie Hunt, made two books available to the delegates attending the meeting: Joel Beeke’s Developing Healthy Spiritual Growth and Encouragement for Today’s Pastors by Joel Beeke and Terry Slachter (the RPCNA also provided copies of Dennis Prutow’s Public Worship 101). The subtitle of Encouragement for Today’s Pastors is Help from the Puritans. I began reading this book and have already found it to be profitable. In particular the following words from a section entitled “Hold Fast” are particularly good. If anyone wishes to know about the struggles pastors frequently go through, the following will give you an idea:

Some of us face opposition, perhaps from peers within our own denomination or from members in the pews who want us to join them in abandoning the historic doctrines of Reformation Christianity or to downplay the necessity to experience those doctrines in a personal and spiritual way. Brothers, we are called to “hold fast our profession” and the profession of our forefathers. A Christianity that is only a vague theory about the nature of things or a program for personal improvement and/or the amelioration of social evils is really no threat to the world or anything like “the power of God unto salvation.”

Some of us are confronted with a cult of man-made traditions or a demand for trendy innovations in church life and worship. … We are commanded to resist such ungody demands as part of holding fast our profession of faith in the God who has commanded us to worship Him in the way appointed in His Word.

Some of us labor in situations where little growth is evident, numerical or spiritual. We are confronted with a painful lack of practical godliness and hunger for communion with God. We are confronted daily with unbelief, with apathy, with ignorance, with spiritual deadness, or with man-centered worldliness. Such signs of spiritual declension are enough to crush the soul of any servant of God and bring us to tears of sorrow and grief. Yet the call comes to us to “hold fast our profession,” even in an evil day.

It is encouraging to realize that many others have walked a similar path before, have held fast, and have persevered. May God grant godly pastors the strength to continue to do so.

Flavel on Infant Baptism

As I prepare for the baptism of my infant twin daughters this coming Lord’s Day, I found the following exposition by John Flavel on the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 95 to be a helpful examination of the subject:

WSC Q. 95. To whom is baptism to be administered?
A. Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of suck as are members of the visible church are to be baptized.

Q. 1. Who are to be baptized?
A. Believers, and their infant-offspring; Acts 2:39. For the promise is to you, and your children, and to all that are afar off, even many as the Lord our God shall call.

Q. 2. How doth it appear, that the infant-seed of believers ought to be baptized?
A. It appears by this, that they being Abraham’s seed, were taken into covenant with God, and ordered to have the sign of the covenant applied to them; and that grant was never reversed; Genesis 17:7, 10. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep between me and you, and thy seed after thee; even every man-child among you shall be circumcised.

Q. 3. But was not that the covenant of works; and so will not hold, to infer their privilege under the covenant of grace?
A. No, it was not; for God never did, nor will become a God by way of special interest to any people; by virtue of the covenant of works, since the breach of it by the fall.

Q. 4. But if it were the covenant of grace, how doth it appear the right of believers infants is still the same it was before in Abraham’s time?
A. It appears plainly from the apostle’s own words and arguments; Acts 2:39. For the promise is to you, and to your children, &c.

Q. 5. But though infants then were members of God’s visible church among the Jews, how doth it appear they are so now, when God hath cast them off?
A. It appears, the membership and privileges are as free and complete to them now, that are the children of Gentile believers, as ever they were to the Jewish infants; Romans 11:17. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou being a wild olive tree, were graffed in amongst them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree.

Q. 6. How else doth it appear they are within the covenant?
A. It appears by this, that they are pronounced holy; 1 Corinthians 7:14. Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy. Which is a federal holiness, and none out of covenant can be holy by covenant.

Q. 7. But may not that place mean only their legitimacy?
A. No, it cannot; for then the apostle must pronounce all the infants in the world bastards, that descend not at least from one believing parent.

Q. 8. But infants are not capable to covenant with God, or to perform covenant-duties; and therefore why should they be admitted to covenant-privileges?
A. A child now of eight days old, is as capable of being admitted into covenant with God, as children of the same age were in Abraham’s days: and then it is manifest they were admitted.

Q. 9. Though they were admitted by circumcision then, will it follow, they may be so by baptism now, seeing that ordinance is abolished?
A. Yes, it will: For though circumcision cease, yet baptism is come in its place; Colossians 2:10-12. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power. In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with him in baptism, &c.

Q. 10. But circumcision was a seal of the covenant of works; and the argument will not hold, from a seal of the covenant of works, to a seal of the covenant of grace?
A. Circumcision never was, nor was intended to be a seal of the covenant of works, but of the righteousness of faith; Romans 4:11. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet, being uncircumcised, &c.

Q. 11. But have we no express command in the New Testament to baptize infants?
A. There needed no new command; their privilege had been settled many ages before upon them, and never reversed by Christ, or his apostles, hut their former right declared to continue still to them; Acts 2:39. For the promise is to you and to your children, &c.

Q. 12. But if they have a right, we might expect to find some examples of their baptizing?
A. It is manifest that believers households were baptized with them; Acts 16:15, 33. And when she was baptized, and her household, &c. Ver. 33. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his straightway. And if infants are not named, so neither are any of age, born of Christian parents.

Q. 13. But many trust to their infant-baptism, as to their regeneration, and so much mischief is done?
A. They do so; yet the duty is not therefore to be neglected. The preaching of Christ is to some a stumbling-block; yet Christ must be preached for all that.

Q. 14. But many baptized infants prove naught?
A. And so do many baptized at age too. Duties are not to be measured by events.

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