Wednesday, December 30, 2020

More Simplicity, Less Outward Glory, but More Fullness, Evidence, and Spiritual Efficacy

WCF 7.6 Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

There is a gospel (new testament) principle of simplicity at the core of what Christ's finished work has done to our worship. 

The Priest is now in heaven. The sacrifice has been performed once for all. He sings through His people's mouths and accompanies it by His work in the heart. His blessing is proclaimed by preaching, and in His royal-priesthood's admonishing one another in song and showing forth His death until He comes. 

The very simplicity of the Christian worship assembly's liturgy announces, "the substance of these things is not so much here as it is in glory, where we are seated with Him, and where He presents us, and from where He preaches and He sings and He gives us Himself!" (cf. Heb 2:10–13, Eph 2:4–10)

Whatever extra formality is added upon earth mutes this announcement and obscures this reality. When we worship in simplicity and purity, we are not exulting in simplicity and purity but rather exulting in God through Christ. If, lacking the Spirit-given faith to perceive Him, we attempt to dress things up with that which we think will better present Him to ourselves, we unwittingly muddle the very means by which the Spirit is ordinarily pleased to give that faith.

When once God deemed it good to give Himself through the voice on the mountain as fleshed out by the inscripturated pattern given to Moses, His people frequently thought this might be enhanced by various locations and images, which came to be enshrined in their traditions. But God said that doing so is to "hate Him," and indeed He hated their worship (cf. Deu 4–5). They could only have the true God by way of the given worship.

Now, God has deemed it good to give Himself through the finished work of His only-begotten Son, personally led by the God-Man from the throne of glory and grace. The true "worship war" is not so much among varying preferences of men as it is between the gospel simplicity in which Christ is held forth and whatever hiding of Him from true Spiritual view comes by man's sophomoric (indeed, idolatrous) additions to that simplicity.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

We Need a Luke 2 Shepherd Song with Some Real Terror in It—To Point Us to the Eschatological Joy in It!

We are enjoying the kindness of our merciful God on our annual seaside holiday.

Trying to anticipate what we might get in worship this week (often a sketchy proposition on holiday) to address in family worship times, it seems that the minister has been preaching through Handel's Messiah (at least it's full of Scripture!). He has hit all the Isaiah passages. If he doesn't change gears, likely candidates include Mal 3:1–3, Luk 2:8–14, Zec 9:9–10, Psalm 2, 1Cor 15:20–22/51–57, Rom 8:31–34, Rev 5:9–14.

In opening the Luke passage, we considered the sheer terror these shepherds must have known: not just one warrior of heaven's army, but God's very glory itself enveloping them, and then the thundering host of an entire battalion of heaven.

And yet, their fear was stayed by the mighty word that because of the Savior, Christ the Lord, God's most heavenly glory was actually for their peace rather than their destruction, expressed in His goodwill rather than enmity!!
Luke 2:8–17
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.
No wonder, then, that what they were most excited about at the manger was that this sign had successfully verified this fact: by virtue of the Savior, we will stand in the presence of His glory not with exceeding terror but with great joy. He came not only that we might be forgiven, but that we might be preserved and perfected, so that on that day when we stand before Him, He will have made us faultless, and we will be filled with His joy!

This of course prompted reflection upon Jude, vv20–25
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction; 23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
And to present you faultless
Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
25 To God our Savior,
Who alone is wise,
Be glory and majesty,
Dominion and power,
Both now and forever.
So, we brought this back full circle to how much we have been enjoying His mercy. Not in ignorance, like so many poor ones 'round us for whom our hearts ache at the terror which awaits them. We enjoy all of these mercies, because we know that they are subsidiary to THAT great mercy—that we have a Savior in Whom all God's doings toward us are peace and goodwill. And one day, that greatest of all mercies will be to stand in the presence of His glory, faultless, with great joy!

I don't merely wish you contented moments and wholesome pleasures. I pray for you that they would be for you not illusions that precede horror, but foretastes that precede the exceeding gladness of sinlessly enjoying the full display of His glory.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

God's Means for God's Children: Reflections on His Covenant Faithfulness to His Covenant Children in My Home

My Google Photos just shot me a spread from when my eldest were 2 and 1. In some ways, I remember those days better than I remember last year. What I remember most is how quickly the Spirit made those little hearts and minds latch onto His Word. Strong faith in Christ and love for God and man developed so early in them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Six Reasons I'm NOT About to Quit: Counting As JOY Christ's Wise and Sanctifying Providence in the Ministry

So, a man whom I have been underwhelmed by in his church-planting and cultural-expertise guru-ship has published yet another article about how hard and horrible it is to be in ministry. I see articles like this from time to time. And I do have some sympathy with them (though I wonder how much of it is fleshly rather than of grace).

But, how is the necessity of applying gospel gratitude any different for pastors than it is for believers in every other calling? And, just in case any of our dear congregation happen to read the original article or something like it and worry/wonder if their own pastor feels this way, I want to be on the record expressing my gratitude to God for them and appreciation for their love of Him and of me as His servant among them.

Six reasons I'm NOT about to quit:

Friday, May 29, 2020

An Open Reply to Our Moderator Regarding His Pastoral Letter of Encouragement unto Public Worship

I wrote the following letter this morning. 

It is brief of necessity, because I expect that not all response to our Moderator's letter will be positive, and I wished to reply with encouragement as quickly as possible. There is so much more that I could have said about the thinking of our Session (and myself), our hunger to hear other ministers of the gospel speak similarly from Scripture, etc.

I make my letter "open" for similar reasons. Since there may be other voices that push back against him, I wish to be public in my support for our Morderator's wise and biblically prioritized counsel:
Dear Dr. Holmes,

I almost wept with joy upon reading your letter yesterday, brother. 

It has been a lonely time for me and the few other ARP ministers who thought that public worship is not something that we may cancel, and that if in trying to gather the Lord positively prevented us from being able to do so, that this would be a time for great mourning, regardless of what other measures might be taken for some semblance of continuing the means of grace without that public worship.

In all that was said and written, there was very little about the priority of the first table of the law over the second, the place of public worship and the Lord's Day in the will of Christ for His disciples and His church, the risk-worthiness of public worship, and especially the glory that is due unto God in the manner that He Himself says glorifies Him. 

The man-centeredness of even most of the careful and thoughtful commentary was cause for much reflection upon where our own congregation and lives have been man-centered in a way that we just couldn't see. We cried out to God to help us see and repent. And, God helping us, we have some areas in which our congregation will be reforming as a result.

But, as I said, we felt extremely lonely in our refusal to give up gathering for the public worship of God, and our viewing this as a call to REPENTANCE FROM innovation in worship (as opposed to new LICENSE TO innovate in worship). We reached a point where, as our Session and congregation prayed for the church generally and our Synod specifically, we did so with great grief, pleading with God to stir our hearts up toward Him and His worship. 

Your letter has been a part of the Lord's answer to that prayer. 

And now, I find myself able to pray not only that the Lord would bring us back to His inerrant and sufficient and authoritative word in Scripture; but, also that He would grant us humility and unity in heeding the edifying and encouraging letter from His servant who has stood upon the Scriptures to write so helpfully to us.

With thanks and prayer to our great and gracious God for you, I remain your co-laborer in the gospel ministry,

Pastor James Hakim
Hopewell ARP Church
Culleoka, Tennessee

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Short Christian Directory from Samuel Rutherford

The following is taken from the BoT reprint of the 1891 edition of Rutherford's Letters. In letter 159 to John Fleming, he's replying to Fleming's request that he write a full directory for Christian conduct and life. Rutherford declines, saying that others have done that as well as he can, but does give a brief summary of advice for the Christian life. I found it spiritually profitable and hope that any readers that I might have would also find it so.

I will show you what I would have done myself; though, alas! I always come short of my purpose.
1. That hours of the day, less or more time, for the word and prayer, be given to God; not sparing the twelfth hour, or mid-day; howbeit it should then be the shorter time.
2. In the midst of worldly employments, there should be some thoughts of sin, death, judgment, and eternity, with at least a word or two of ejaculatory prayer to God.
3. To beware of wandering of heart in private prayer.
4. Not to grudge, howbeit ye come from prayer without sense of joy. Downcasting, sense of guiltiness, and hunger, are often best for us.
5. That the Lord's-day, from morning to night, be spent always either in public or private worship.
6. That words be observed, wandering and idle thoughts be avoided, sudden anger and desire of revenge, even of such as persecute the truth, be guarded against; for we often mix our zeal with our own wild-fire.
7. That known, discovered, and revealed sins, that are against the conscience, be eschewed, as most dangerous preparatives to hardness of heart.
8. That in dealing with men, faith and truth in covenants and trafficking be regarded, that we deal with all men in sincerity; that conscience be made of idle and lying words; and that our carriage be
such, as that they who see it may speak honourably of our sweet Master and profession.

9. I have been much challenged—
1. For not referring all to God, as the last end: that I do not eat, drink, sleep, journey, speak and think for God.
2. That I have not benefited by good company; and that I left not some word of conviction, even upon natural and wicked men; as, by reproving swearing in them; or because of being a silent witness to their loose carriage; and because I intended not in all companies to do good.
3. That the woes and calamities of the kirk, and of particular professors, have not sufficiently moved me.
4. That at the reading of the lives of David, Paul, and the like, when it humbled me, I (coming so far short of their holiness) laboured not to imitate them, afar off at least, according to the measure of God's grace.
5. That unrepented sins of youth were not looked to, and lamented for.
6. That sudden stirrings of pride, lust, revenge, love of honours, were not resisted and mourned for.
7. That my charity was cold.
8. That the experiences I had of God's hearing me, in this and the other particular, being gathered, yet in the new trouble I had always (once at least) my faith to seek, as if I were to begin at A, B, C again.
9. That I have not more boldly contradicted the enemies speaking against the truth; either in public church meetings, or at tables, or ordinary conference.
10. That in great troubles I have received false reports of Christ's love, and misbelieved Him in His chastening; whereas the event hath said, "All was in mercy."
11. Nothing more moveth me, and weighteth my soul, than that I could never from my heart, in my prosperity, so wrestle in prayer with God, nor be so dead to the world, so hungry and so sick of love for Christ, so heavenly minded, as when ten stone-weight of a heavy cross was upon me.
12. That the cross extorted vows of new obedience, which ease hath blown away, as chaff before the wind.
13. That practice was so short and narrow, and light so long and broad.
14. That death had not been often meditated upon.
15. That I have not been careful of gaining others to Christ.
16. That my grace and gifts bring forth little or no thankfulness.

There are some things, also, whereby I have been helped as—
1. I have been benefited by riding alone in a long journey, in giving that time to prayer.
2. By abstinence, and giving days to God.
3. By praying for others; for by making an errand to God for them, I have gotten something for myself.
4. I have been really confirmed, in many particulars, that God heareth prayers; and, therefore, I used to pray for anything, of how little importance soever.
5. He enabled me to make no question, that this mocked way, which is nicknamed, is the only way to heaven.

Sir, these and many more occurrences in your life, should be looked into; and,
1. Thoughts of Atheism should be watched over, as, "If there be a God in heaven??" which will trouble and assault the best at some times.
2. Growth in grace should be cared for above all things; and falling from our first love mourned for.
3. Conscience made of praying for the enemies, who are blinded.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

God Is Not So Careless and Easy as We Are about Church Attendance and Membership

Hebrews 10:29–31
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has TRAMPLED THE SON OF GOD UNDERFOOT, COUNTED THE BLOOD OF THE COVENANT BY WHICH HE WAS CONSECRATED A COMMON THING, AND INSULTED THE SPIRIT OF GRACE? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Webinar on When to Disobey the Government

Note that I'm not endorsing everything that will be said on Friday, especially since in their email promo said that the men hold different positions. But the NCFIC has been holding weekly webinars on things like dying and death, the priority of public worship, etc. This week's is on when to disobey the government.

Unintended but Culpable Consequences of Deifying the State

Many believers in my nation are increasingly, justifiably furious at the expansion of tyranny in recent days. What was originally an attempt to keep medical resources from being saturated has become the wildest of goose chases, with increasingly prodigal wasting of life and livelihood to secure little or no ultimate benefit.

But what many believers aren't recognizing is that this—as bad as it is—is not itself the great problem, but a small consequence of a much greater problem. To use the current, "viral" language, the current destruction of life and livelihood by the state is not the disease, but a symptom of a more complex and deadly disease.

The symptom may be a moving target with unintended consequences. But the disease is the deification of the state—with inevitable consequences.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Faithful Christians Make the Best, but Sometimes the Most Annoying, and Even Occasionally the Most Dangerous, Citizens

I saw someone link to [this article] via social media today. I began to comment, but as often happens with me, it would have ended up being something of a "thread hijack," so I decided to do the polite thing and post here instead. (Perhaps the "wise" thing would have just been to select all and delete, which is my default way to end typing a comment, so I hope that I am not being a fool.)

First, the idea that the government can save everyone is a tremendous arrogance before the face of God, which violation of the first commandment was one of the most frequent and greatest charges against the nations in Scripture

Monday, April 20, 2020

Illegitimate Destruction of Life, and a Suggestion of What to Do about It

As of this afternoon, our county has had 34 cases. 30 have recovered, none deceased. That means we have four cases remaining. It is good to give the benefit of the doubt to those who weigh lives against livelihood. But it is also good to recognize that the reason that it is called "livelihood" is because Scripture equates it with a man's life.

Virtual Worship Assemblies More Viral Than Virtuous

A word to brother pastors.

I sympathize with the desire to provide the worship experience, as closely as possible, for those who cannot physically assemble. Hopewell had been doing this, long before covid made it cool, for just a few shut-ins or frequently providentially hindered (feeble, distance drivers, etc.).

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Spiritual Inoculation Is Not Innocuous

We live in an age in which churches are like restaurants—one can try a different one every week and never run out. If the menu changes at your favorite, you can just hunt for another that is more like the old menu, maybe even a little further in the same direction. The problem is that the vast majority of what's out there either is not Christian at all or has just enough of the gospel for someone to be converted, but the church itself is not saturated with the knowledge of Christ, the love of Christ, the teaching of Christ, the means that Christ has appointed.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Encouraging Authorities to Submit to Christ in the 5th, 6th, and 8th Commandments

May the cost of the "cure" send us to the Cross
All that has been done in the advance of tyranny and decline of the economy will have an astronomical price tag in lives. Not just lives by which these are means that they ended early, but lives that are destroyed even in the midst of the living.

Apart from the grace of Christ, millions will come to the provocative conclusion that Solomon suggests for the godless in Ecclesiastes 6:3–6,
"If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he—for it comes in vanity and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness. Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man, 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice—but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Your Face, O Lord, I Will Seek

We ought to tremble
In this time when many are alarmed at earthly things that are happening, we ought to tremble with dread at a spiritual thing that isn't happening.

We have been shifting from God to man
For generations, churches have lost the true sense of the reality of God among us.

Less and less, have we sought His involvement or offered that which pleases Him; more and more, we have innovated to involve more men and please more men. It has been a long, slow, slouch toward functional atheism in how we handle the things of God.

If ever there was a time to reverse the shift, this is the time

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Dr. P on COVID, A Helpful Podcast Interview

On Friday, Dr. Joseph Pipa of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary did a Q&A on the recent virus outbreak. I've given it a listen. I thought it was helpful and have included some of my additional thoughts below:

Sunday, March 15, 2020

4th Commandment or 6th Commandment—Not Either/or, but Both/and

Why was it that more than a month after South Korea had SARS-CoV-2, roughly half of the cases in that nation were from one Christian congregation?

I am passionately devoted to gathering for public worship. I'm not even a "morning and evening" guy so much as a "morning and evening and before and between and after" guy—think Eutychus and such.

I think that the Westminster Larger Catechism got the 4th commandment right,

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Rocks in the Tumbler as a Disease Spreads

The disease which I reference in the title is fear, anxiety, and panic. Far more infectious and harmful than COVID-19. Not that the latter isn't plenty of both. Just that the former is plenty worse.