Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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September 2004, Volume X, Issue 5


The Church, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth (2)

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 this area.

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 the captives.

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

Christ’s Will to Gather Jerusalem’s Children (3)

"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 rest!

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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