September 2002, Volume IX,
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
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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