September 2004, Volume X,
The Church, the Pillar and Ground of the
The church’s calling in the world is to uphold the whole
truth of God set forth in the 66 books of sacred Scripture, including not only
the attributes of God, the wickedness of man, the irresistible grace of the Holy
Spirit, the Lord’s covenant with believers and their seed, etc., but also the
Christian’s duty "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with" his
God (Mic. 6:8). From I Timothy we learn that the church must testify publicly of
the purpose of the law (ch. 1), the role of men and women in the church (ch. 2),
the qualifications for special office bearers (ch. 3), the "latter times" (ch.
4), care for widows (ch. 5) and work and covetousness (ch. 6). Moreover, after
declaring that the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (3:15), the
next verse explains the very heart and core of that truth: "the mystery of
godliness" formerly hidden but now revealed in the incarnation, life, death,
resurrection and ascension of Christ. "And without controversy [i.e.
confessedly] great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on
in the world, received up into glory" (3:16). Clearly, declaring God’s truth to
the nations centres on proclaiming Him who is "the way, the truth, and
the life" (John 14:6).
The church holds up the truth in the world, in part, by
preserving and translating the sacred Scriptures. The OT church was the
custodian of the truth, for unto the Jews "were committed the oracles of God"
(Rom. 3:2). Before the age of printing, members of the NT church engaged in
painstaking copying of God’s Word. The NT church, especially in its early and
modern eras, has laboured in Bible translation. Think of Jerome and his Latin
Vulgate, Luther in the Wartburg toiling on the German Bible, our own William
Tyndale and the men who produced the Authorized Version. Of the 6528 or so
languages in the world, some two thirds of them still do not have any of the
Bible in written form. Though only about 6% of the world’s population speaks
these languages, important work in the kingdom of heaven remains to be done in
The church also holds up the truth in the world by
interpreting God’s Word, for the Holy Spirit does His work of interpreting
His Word in the true church. Church members and office bearers search the Bible
daily, comparing Scripture with Scripture. The body labours to understand and
expound God’s Word. Thus we have biblical commentaries; Christian books and
pamphlets; and Reformed catechisms and confessions.
The church especially holds up the truth in the world by
preaching God’s Word, the chief means of grace. The OT prophets preached,
Christ preached, the apostles preached, and the church is called to preach. A
church must be able to say with Paul that she has "fully preached the gospel of
Christ" (Rom. 15:19). Rev. Stewart
The Eternal Covenant With Levi (1)
For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to
sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; Neither shall the priests the
Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat
offerings, and to do sacrifice continually. And the word of the Lord came unto
Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord; If ye can break my covenant of the day,
and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in
their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he
should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the
priests, my ministers (Jer. 33:17-21).
The question that was submitted with this text is, "How has
the promise regarding the Levites been fulfilled?"
Jeremiah prophesied during very dark days in Judah. Because
of the terrible apostasy of the nation, manifested especially in idolatry, God
had sent the Babylonian armies against Judah. These Babylonian armies would soon
break into the city, destroy the temple and fortress of Zion, and lead the
people of Judah into captivity far from the promised land. God’s anger would be
poured out upon His people who had forsaken his law and committed all the sins
of the heathen.
It must be remembered that within the nation of Judah was a
remnant according to the election of grace. Although the nation had become
apostate, nevertheless, God preserved unto Himself a small number. Isaiah calls
this remnant, a hut in a garden of cucumbers, a very small remnant, and a
besieged city (1:8-9).
When Judah was taken into captivity, the whole nation went,
both elect and reprobate. All went because the nation could only be purged and
the elect saved through the judgment of the captivity: "Zion shall be redeemed
with judgment, and her converts with righteousness" (Isa. 1:27). The elect
remnant, while in captivity, penned the words of Psalm 137: "By the rivers of
Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our
harps upon the willows ..."
The captivity was an unparalleled tragedy, not simply because
the glorious nation of Israel now existed no longer, but also because Israel was
the nation from whom Christ would come, a coming impossible when the nation was
destroyed. That is why, in Psalm 137, Judah could not sing the songs of Zion in
a strange land, for all the songs of Zion spoke of Christ.
With the captivity, the two pillars on which the nation had
been built were broken down. These two pillars were the monarchy of David and
his descendants and the Levitical priesthood. Israel was a theocracy. It was a
nation whose God was the Lord. That theocracy was established on the pillar of
the throne of David and the worship of God in the temple. A son of David on the
throne and continual sacrifices in the temple were essential. Without those two
institutions, the nation could not exist as God’s people. Hence the despair of
But now, during the dreadful time of the siege of Jerusalem,
when defeat was inevitable, Jeremiah must bring a word of comfort to God’s
people within that apostate nation. That word of comfort is found in the text.
As is true of many prophecies in the Old Testament, this
prophecy also has a twofold fulfilment: the first is the historical fulfilment
in Israel itself, and the second is a future fulfilment in the new dispensation.
For example, the prophecy of Hosea 1:10 had a fulfilment for Israel in the
history of the nation when, from that nation, God saved a remnant according to
His eternal election. But Paul, in Romans 9:25-26 calls attention to the fact
that Hosea’s prophecy is fulfilled in the gathering of the Gentiles into the
church of Christ: "Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also
of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which
were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to
pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there
shall they be called the children of the living God."
This prophecy of Jeremiah 33:17-21 was historically fulfilled
when the nation of Judah was brought back from captivity. As Jeremiah spoke the
Word of God to Judah that God’s wrath was to destroy the nation by bringing the
nation under the yoke of Babylon, so he was also given the word of the gospel to
the remnant according to God’s election. That word was that God would not forget
His promises made to their fathers, but would restore the nation. Isaiah was so
explicit as to name the king who would give the command for Judah to return
(Isa. 45:1-4). Jeremiah even prophesied the exact number of years that Judah
would be in captivity (Jer. 29:10).
God would, in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy, restore the
throne of David and the worship of the nation in the temple. What a comfort that
was to the remnant of God’s people who, apart from that promise, saw only black
despair. And, as the Scriptures tell us, this was also done.
However, it is obvious that this was not the complete
fulfilment of the prophecy. It is obvious for the simple reason that the nation
of Judah, though the line of David was preserved, never did have a king on
David’s throne again. Except for a short time under the Maccabees, Judah was
ruled by foreign nations, and the sons in the line of David, though rulers in
Judah, ruled only under foreign kings.
The complete fulfilment had to wait. Prof. Hanko
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and
stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy
children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye
would not!" (Matt. 23:37). Many reckon that Christ uttered these words with love
and tender pity, but the context reveals that He is denouncing the scribes and
Pharisees. Seven times He curses them, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites!" (13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). He calls them "blind" "fools" (16,
17, 19, 24, 26). He asks, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye
escape the damnation of hell?" (33). He designates them murderers (34, 35, 37).
Our text is a "warning" (Thomas Manton) and an "upbraiding" (Augustine) uttered
in "indignation" (Calvin) against the wicked religious guides. The emphatic
repetition, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem" (37), was uttered in righteous displeasure
against the corrupt leaders who had perverted the law (2-30) and were ripe for
judgment (31-39). Thus He adds, immediately after our text, "Behold, your house
is left unto you desolate" (38).
Some teach that Christ’s words, "how often would I
have gathered thy children ... and ye would not," imply that Christ’s will to
gather Jerusalem’s children was frustrated. However, "how often" simply tells us
that the religious leaders ("Jerusalem") opposed Christ’s gathering His elect
("Jerusalem’s children") many times. They did this for several years, right
through His public ministry. They opposed Him in his miracles (attributing them
to Beelzebub); they opposed Him in His teaching. They opposed Him with the
tradition of the elders; they opposed Him with their erroneous interpretation of
Moses. They opposed Him in the countryside; they opposed Him in Jerusalem; they
opposed Him in the temple precincts; they opposed Him at His trial. They opposed
Him by hiring Judas to betray Him; by whipping up the crowd to cry out, "Crucify
him;" and by putting pressure on Pilate to have Him executed. How often
they opposed Him, and yet He gathered blind Bartimaeus, Zacchaeus and all the
The wicked leaders so strongly opposed Christ’s gathering His
people that they had Him executed on trumped-up charges as a criminal. Yet the
cross was the very means God ordained to save His elect! O Jehovah, even the
wrath of man shall praise thee! Psalm 2 is similar. The kings and rulers take
counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ (1-3). They nail Him to
the tree. But God laughs at them (4), for this is the very way in which He
brings His Son to His universal dominion: "Yet have I set my king upon my holy
mount of Zion" (6).
Thus Matthew 23:37, instead of teaching the well-meant offer
(a frustrated desire of God to save the reprobate), is Christ’s indignant
upbraiding of wicked religious leaders who tried to stop him from saving His
people. How this Word needs to be heard! Liberal ministers and Roman priests try
to prevent their church members from hearing the true gospel. They slander the
Reformed faith. Many unbelieving husbands, wives and family members oppose
believers attending church services. Yet Christ the king gathers all Jerusalem’s
children by his irresistible grace! Rev. Stewart
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