Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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May 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 13


Mount Sion (3)

The first glorious privilege of the New Testament church in Hebrews 12:22-24 is our coming to (spiritual) Mount Sion and Jerusalem (22), as we saw in the last News. The second blessing of the New Testament church and economy involves the angels: "But ye are come ... to an innumerable company of angels" (22). This is speaking of elect, godly angels, not Satan and his demons. This "innumerable company" of angels is far more than those at Mount Sinai. We come to them; we are not like the Old Testament church standing at the bottom of Mount Horeb quaking in our sandals! Coming to the angels is not prayer to them or through them. That would be idolatry. We and the angels worship Almighty God, as His creatures and servants.

Godly believers and angels in heaven and earth are united under the same Lord, namely Jesus Christ, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1. Both saints and angels are animated by the same holy zeal; they in heaven, sinlessly and perfectly, and we on earth, weakly and imperfectly (but truly). Both groups are busy looking into gospel mysteries, for even the angels are so engaged (I Peter 1:12). Hebrews 1:14 teaches that the unfallen angels are ministering spirits who serve our salvation.

Our third glorious privilege in the New Testament economy is that of membership in the one true church of all the elect of all ages: "To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (12:23). The "general assembly" carries the idea of pilgrimage feasts. New Testament believers do not, and will not, literally observe the feasts of Passover (and unleavened bread), Pentecost and Tabernacles in the earthly Jerusalem. We go on pilgrimage and assemble together before God as we pray, fellowship together and assemble in worship through Christ our mediator and by faith. Thus Zechariah 14:16-21 is not teaching that, in days future to us, all believers will go up to Jerusalem annually to sojourn in booths made of branches of trees and to listen to the jingling of horses’ bells. Christ and His New Testament economy is the fulfilment of the Old Testament types and shadows (Belgic Confession 25). We are called the "church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12:23) because of our pre-eminence by grace alone, for we are united to Jesus Christ, the firstborn, who has the pre-eminence in all things (Col. 1:18), according to the decree and purpose of God.

The fourth glorious privilege recorded in Hebrews 12 is that we have access to the one true and living God: "and to God the Judge of all" (23). What a privilege to come to the Triune and glorious Jehovah, our only creator, governor and redeemer! But why is He here called "the Judge of all"? At Sinai, through His holy law, God judges Israel (and all the world) guilty. At Sion, God is our judge who justifies us, declaring us perfectly righteous in Jesus Christ by faith alone. Let us approach Him in thanksgiving and praise with awe and reverent boldness!

Fifth, we have fellowship with saints who are in the intermediate state, that is, believers who are dead as to their body but who now live and reign with Christ in heaven: "and to the spirits of just men made perfect" (23). This fellowship with glorified saints is not, as Eastern Orthodoxy would have it, through icons of the fathers. Contrary to Rome, we do not have fellowship with saints in purgatory (there is no such place) or with deceased saints as intercessors (they have no such function). We have communion with glorified saints because, like them, we are united to Jesus Christ our head through whom we receive the Holy Spirit as members of His body. Together we consciously worship and serve the Triune God as one great chorus and band of willing servants. This also opposes the heretical teaching of some Anabaptists who believe in soul sleep between death and the general resurrection.

The sixth and crowning privilege of the New Testament church and economy is that we come to Jesus Christ (and not merely Moses): "And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel" (24). Considered in themselves, the Old Testament sacrifices could not forgive a single sin (10:1-4), but the cross of Christ purchased pardon for all the elect people of God in both Old and New Testament days (9:14-15), making Him "the mediator of the new [and better] covenant."

The "blood of sprinkling" does not indicate that all the blood that was formed in Christ’s human body during His 33 years on earth is now in His body in heaven (for one thing, His human body is not large enough for that) nor in some vat in heaven, as some fundamentalists reckon. The "blood of sprinkling" refers to the application of the blessed benefits of our Saviour’s redemption on the cross: justifying, sanctifying, cleansing and renewing us by His Holy Spirit.

Abel’s blood, wickedly shed by Cain, cried out to God for punishment (Gen. 4:10). Christ’s blood speaks of the better things of the new covenant: our ransom and reconciliation, our adoption and acceptance with God, and our covenant fellowship and heavenly inheritance.

Do you see the glory that is yours, believer? By a living faith, you are come to the everlasting church and city of God, the unfallen angels, the saints in heaven, the justifying Jehovah and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! So what are you going to do? Go back? Back to a Christ-less Judaism or the godless world or the purposelessness of evolutionism or some pagan religion or your old life of sin? No! Persevere in holiness, continue with Jesus Christ and His spiritual kingdom! Don’t merely stay in the faith by the skin of your teeth! Press on gladly and enthusiastically, grateful for rich salvation in Christ! With all your heart and with your family serve the Lord Jesus and His church. Don’t go back, keep going forward to Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem! Rev. Stewart

Did God Bless Esau?

Question: "How can we understand the blessings promised to Esau in Hebrews 11:20—a reprobate man? Surely only God’s covenant people were blessed."

Hebrews 11:20 states, "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come."

We know with certainty that Esau was reprobate. God already told Rebekah before the twins were born that "the elder [i.e., Esau] shall serve the younger [i.e., Jacob]" (Gen. 25:23). Malachi confirmed this in his prophecy: "Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" (Mal. 1:2-3). Paul, in explaining why all that are of Israel are not Israel (Rom. 9:6), finds the explanation in God’s decree of election and reprobation. He writes, "But when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (10-13).

It is perhaps worth noting in this connection that my Old Testament professor, Rev. George Ophoff, insisted that the Hebrew required that we translate Genesis 27:39, Isaac’s words to Esau: "Behold, thy dwelling shall be away from the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above." But this does not alter the fact that Isaac said to Esau, "And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck" (40). Taken together, these words sound to me like a blessing. I do not want to argue the rightness or the wrongness of the translation of the AV, but it seems to me that there is some kind of a blessing in all this for Esau.

There is another matter that is of importance in this question. Esau is not the only one who was reprobate and of whom it is said that God blessed him. In Genesis 39:5, the Bible tells us that God blessed the house of Potiphar. The verse reads, "And it came to pass from the time that he [i.e. Potiphar] had made him [i.e., Joseph] overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field." And when Jacob came into Pharaoh’s presence upon arriving in Egypt, it is twice mentioned in the Genesis narrative that Jacob blessed Pharaoh (47:7, 10).

I doubt whether anyone would argue that either Potiphar or Pharaoh was an elect child of God. My point is that in the Old Testament times it was not necessarily true that the blessing of God upon an individual was the blessing of salvation in the promised seed, the Christ. The narrative which describes God’s blessing on Potiphar’s house (Potiphar’s house surely included that slut of a wife who tried to seduce Joseph) was material prosperity. This was frequently the case in the dispensation of shadows. The blessing of God on these people was limited to material riches. Esau was promised wealth. Potiphar’s fields produced abundant riches and so Jacob sought such material prosperity for Pharaoh—perhaps along with long life, for long life was included in the blessing and favour of God upon people.

This was emphatically true in the life of Israel in the land of Canaan. Canaan was a picture of heaven and when Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, it was God’s blessing on the nation, a blessing outwardly given to be a picture of the spiritual blessings of the kingdom of heaven. So the people in the Old Testament associated material prosperity with spiritual blessings. And indeed riches were such a picture.

This occasioned Asaph’s error, which he describes in Psalm 73. He was envious of the wicked when he witnessed their prosperity and long life. But God taught him that these were only outward "blessings," while the true blessings of God’s people were far more abundant, far richer, far more valuable. When God held Asaph by His right hand, guided him by His counsel, and afterward received him in glory, that was blessing indeed. And as far as the blessings of material prosperity are concerned, they were, in the end, no blessings at all, but simply ice on the slippery slope of life on which those who received them would slide the more rapidly into hell. (Prof. Engelsma’s superb book, Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An Exposition of Psalm 73, is available from the CPRC for £6.60, including P&P.)

One more point needs to be made. In every case where blessings were given to those obviously reprobate, they were given for the sake of the elect. In Joseph’s case this is explicitly stated (Gen. 39:5) and we are able to see the same truth in the other instances.

Today, prosperity gospellers attract thousands by promising them earthly prosperity if they will only give their life to Christ. But it is worse than that, for such a serious mistake can be found in the church as well. When our way is easy to walk and no cares burden us, we speak of the great blessedness upon us from our God. And when troubles mount and evils are our lot, then we question God’s goodness and wonder why God is so cruel to us and why He places such heavy burdens on us.

In the Old Testament times, God blessed His people with the true blessings of salvation and cursed the wicked, for then too it was true what Solomon said, "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just" (Prov. 3:33). The curse of the Lord was also in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s house, as well as in Esau’s house. But we are no longer in the Old Testament and we ought not to bind ourselves to types and shadows as if they are realities. For poverty and grief, trouble and sorrow come to God’s people pregnant with blessing and the riches of troublous times are as great as, if not greater than, wealth and well-being. Prof. Hanko

Check out the on-line audio and video of a recent sermon on Hebrews 11:20 by Rev. Martyn McGeown of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (near the bottom of

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