Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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September 2002, Volume IX, Issue 5


September 11

Earlier this month, the world remembered those who died in the terrorist attacks upon the United States on 11 September, 2001. Who can forget those images of the World Trade Center—planes flying into two skyscrapers, people jumping out of windows dozens of floors up, and finally the Twin Towers crashing to rubble with the loss of thousands of lives? Many of us relived that sad day by watching the commemorative ceremony in New York when friends and relatives descended to Ground Zero to lay flowers and to shed yet more tears over their loved ones so tragically torn from them.

What ought the church think of this terrible event? And what does God think of it all? A reader asked for our comments on the words of Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz: "I believe that God is deeply saddened by this just as we are. But for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He has calmly backed out." But can the ever-blessed God, who is infinitely joyful in His own perfect covenant fellowship in the Trinity, really be "deeply saddened?" Is it true that when men sin, God "calmly back[s] out" like a "gentleman?" Is September 11 really to be explained by saying that while God vacated His providential government over the nations, Satan stepped in and sent murderous terrorists to wreak havoc, so that God was "deeply saddened by this just as we are?" We must ask with the apostle, "what saith the scripture?" (Rom. 4:3).

God declares, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isa. 45:7). All earthly calamities and troubles—including death and destruction, disease and famine, that is, all the events that we call "evil"—come from the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth "who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). Jehovah sent the world-wide flood (Gen. 7:4) and rained fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). He slew the Canaanites in Joshua’s day (Ps. 44:1-3) and He sent the evils of sword, famine, disease and wild beasts upon Jerusalem (Eze. 5:7-17). He brought slaughter and misery upon the cities of Babylon (Isa. 13), Tyre (Eze. 26) and Nineveh (Nah. 3), and even upon whole nations (Isa. 13-23; Jer 46-51; Eze. 25-32; Amos 1-2). Thus Amos asks the rhetorical question, "shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6).

Now what ought we conclude about September 11? Shall there be evil in the city of New York and the Lord hath not done it? The sovereign God ordained the destruction of the Twin Towers and brought it to pass in His providence. Just as all things were created by Him, so all things are governed by Him, so that nothing happens contrary to or outside of His sovereign purpose.

None of this in any way detracts from God’s holiness. The God of love loves righteousness and abhors and hates the bloodthirsty terrorists who hijacked the planes and flew them into the World Trade Center (Ps. 5:4-6), and He is currently punishing them with fire and brimstone in Hell (Ps. 11:6). Moreover who can deny that many of those in the World Trade Center were driven by covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5)? Fallen man is not only "shapen in iniquity" (Ps. 51:5) but he lives in iniquity and "drinketh iniquity like water" (Job 15:16). "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Ps. 7:11), and He judges in this world as well as in the next. We must not only confess that September 11 took place in God’s sovereign plan but also that it was God’s judgment upon sin and sinners.

The media said nothing of God’s sovereignty on September 11 or of His judgment upon the wicked. It was as noticeable as it was deliberate that there were no references to God during the commemorative ceremony in New York. The response of a large part of the church world, including Anne Graham Lotz, was even worse. The ungodly media ignored the sovereign Jehovah; many church leaders lied that He had nothing to do with it. The Scriptures tell us that events like September 11 are signs of Christ’s second coming (cf. Matt. 24:6-7), but few church leaders would dare to say this. When a tower in Siloam fell killing 18 people, Jesus used the opportunity afforded to call men to repentance (Luke 13:4-5). But many Christian leaders, instead of referring to September 11 to warn the ungodly, tried to "defend" God by presenting Him as a "gentlemanly" idol who does not reign in the heavens. The Bible gives the reason why people, even church leaders, teach lies: "it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20). Let us hold fast to the confession of the psalmist: "our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3), and let us trust in Jesus Christ who delivers us from the wrath to come. Rev. Stewart

Seeking the Unity of the Church (5)

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).

We have discussed this passage in the last four issues of the News. Last time I stressed that if we are to keep the unity of the Spirit as manifested in the church, we must make the church of which we are members the centre of all our lives. The church must never be a peripheral institution. It must control and regulate all our life in the world.

The various Christian virtues that the text mentions are intended to stress this very fact. The apostle says that, in order to keep the unity of the Spirit, we must be characterized by "all lowliness and meekness," by "longsuffering," by "forbearing one another in love."

The apostle refers, in these virtues, to our relationship to God first of all. This is especially stressed by the word "lowliness." In our relationship to God we are to be lowly. What does this mean? It means that each of us considers the fact that we are members of the church of Christ by sovereign grace. We have not chosen to join the church. We have not enlisted in the armies of Christ. We have not made ourselves a part of the church, nor have we done anything to merit a place in that church.

The church of Christ is the most wonderful institution in the world. It is the earthly manifestation of the body of Christ. It is the gathering of those whom God chose from eternity. It is the body for whom Christ gave His life in the sufferings of Hell. It is the covenant people of God, the redeemed of Christ, the object of God’s everlasting love, the people in whom the Lord delights. It is destined to live with God in perfect covenant fellowship in the kingdom yet to come.

God has graciously and sovereignly made us members of that church. We have not deserved it, but have done all to forfeit our right to God’s favour. Membership in the church is a free gift of God to us poor and undeserving sinners. It is grace alone that has given us such blessedness.

Indeed, this is what Paul refers to when he urges us to walk worthy of our calling. Our calling is God’s gracious, irresistible and efficacious calling by which we are brought out of the fellowship of the world and Hell, into the fellowship of the church. Now, Paul says, conscious of this, walk worthy of that calling!

How is it possible that anyone, captured by the wonder of this, should be anything but very lowly before God and before his fellow saints? All we can do, overwhelmed by the greatness of this wonder, is fall on our faces on the earth to adore the name of our great God.

And so we are to be meek in relation to each other. Paul explains that more fully in Philippians 2:3-5: "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."

In meekness we also live in peace with our fellow saints. We esteem them better than ourselves and seek their good. Specifically that means that we are longsuffering, and that we forbear each other.

To be longsuffering is to suffer along with the sufferings of our fellow saints, i.e., it is to carry, in so far as we are able, their great burdens of suffering and pain. It is to make their anguish ours. It is to be truly sympathetic in word and deed.

And this, in turn, requires that we forbear one another. That is, to put it bluntly, that we put up with each other and with each other’s oddities and eccentricities. There are always people in the church who annoy us. They have scratchy personalities and are blustery and windy. They are know-it-alls who seem to think they have a corner on everything worth knowing. In addition to these "character-faults," they seem to us to have sins which they ought to have overcome by now.

The trouble is that we forget that what we dislike in others is equally true of ourselves. We expect others to overlook our weaknesses, but refuse to overlook the weaknesses of others. We are blind to our own faults and sins, but extremely sensitive to the sins of others.

For the sake of the unity of the church and peace in Jerusalem, we must forbear one another. Even with respect to sin in others, we assume that, because we are all sinful and far from perfect, our fellow saints confess their sins and struggle against them. We must assume this unless we have good reason to suppose that they do not. But being the chief of sinners ourselves, we ought to be able to forbear others in their weaknesses.

How the Holy Spirit is able to penetrate our hearts and lay bare our weaknesses!

And so all these spiritual virtues are necessary to keep the unity of the Spirit. Without them the church is soon torn by discord, envy, strife, bitterness and schism. And not only do we personally suffer because the church cannot do its work, but we make it impossible for our children and grandchildren to be nourished and fed by mother church who nurtures us until we are in glory.

And so we ought all to consider our calling with respect to this urgent admonition of Scripture. May God give us grace that we may humbly receive this as God’s Word to each one of us. Prof. H. Hanko

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