Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Remembering God's Word unto Ourselves and Our Children [from Seventeen82]

This article was first published at Seventeen82

[Photo: Emmet E. Hakim]

Associate Reformed Presbyterians adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms—a wonderfully biblical thing to do, as we hope to see from Paul’s letters to Timothy next month. In this series of articles, I hope to convince you from Scripture of the necessity and wisdom of mastering and using our doctrinal standards, and then proceed to highlight from Scripture the riches in Christ that can be gained by way of some of our theological distinctives.

But, as a way of setting up for that, I’d like for us to consider from Psalm 78 Israel’s forgetfulness of the Lord and His Word—both in their own hearts (failing Deut 6:6) and to their children (failing Deut 6:7). This article will be best-read with your Bible open, taking the time to see each of the statements from the verses referenced.

Covenant Children’s Right to Be Taught about God

Psalm 78:1–4 teaches us that telling to the next generation the praises of the good, great, saving God is an obligation not an option. v4 refers to failure to do so as “hiding” the “praises of the LORD and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.”

vv5–7 tell us that God Himself established this “right” that covenant children possess, that they would receive instruction in the Word of God from one generation to the next. It is His appointed means by which successive generations would be brought to “hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep His commandments” (v7).


Forgetfulness that Offends God, Harms Ourselves, and Deprives Our Children

But the people of Israel up to the point of the Psalm’s writing had not been faithful to their purpose (v8). Not only did they forget to tell their children the wonderful works of God, they forgot those works for themselves—and so drifted from Him and rebelled against Him (vv10–11). Even those who saw the miraculous plagues and power by which He delivered them from Egypt, and by which He led them through the wilderness, forgot these works during their own lifetimes (vv12–20). And if they forgot Him for themselves, how can they have remembered Him to their children?

Although God was full of wrath against this (vv21–22), yet He responded with even more mercy and more miracles (vv23–30)—accompanied by reminders of His wrath against sin as in v31. Against such a backdrop, how marvelous is His grace that even their superficial and temporary repentings (vv32–37) were met with great compassion and forgiveness and restoration (vv38–39)!


Forgotten Holiness, Forgotten Grace

But that greatness that they had forgotten, in which He had delivered them, was also a greatness in which He had displayed His wrath upon Egypt (vv42–51)… and what could they expect, but similar wrath, if they continued not according to grace, but according to sin, against the Holy One (vv40–41)?

And how great had been His grace!
Not just bringing them out of bondage (v52), but bringing them to Himself (v54).
Not just bringing them out of the land of Egypt, but bringing them into the land of promise (v55b–c).
Not just delivering them from the oppression of the nations (v53), but delivering the nations into their hands (v55a).

Yet, from the end of the conquest until the end of the exile, the story of Israel’s faithlessness was much the same (vv56–58). This is dreadful, because of him to whom much is given, much is required; and, sins against increasing grace are increasingly heinous. Therefore, the wrath of the exile was great indeed (vv59–64).


The Redeemer over a Church that Must Still Remember

But wrath is not the end of this story, for God Himself comes in saving power (vv65–66) as the Son of David (v70) from the tribe of Judah (vv67–68). Jesus is faithful (v72), building His holy and eternal Zion (vv68b–69), as He redeems people unto faithfulness (v71).

Though Christ’s visible church on earth includes many (cf. Mat 7:21–22) that are false (cf. Mat 7:23); yet, it is now the church under Christ, not the church under Moses.

If any from Jacob and Ephraim are to be redeemed, they must be grafted back into Judah (vv67–68, cf. Rom 11:23–24)—into Christ. Indeed, God is redeeming a countless multitude, from all the nations, whom He is grafting into Judah—into Christ (cf. Rom 11:16–18; Rev 5:8–14).

The visible Church is still under the obligation of covenant faithfulness from one generation to the next (cf. Rom 11:19–21), and we hope to see how the use of confessions and catechisms is derived from the Spirit’s way of maintaining that faithfulness in the church. As can be attested by the seven churches of Asia, together with those that once spanned North Africa, and too many even in our own land and recent history, congregations and households and believers who forget God do so to their peril—and to their children’s peril.


Believers Remember the Lord unto Themselves and unto Their Children

But the invisible Church, that number of the elect for whom Christ died, cannot provoke wrath in the ultimate sense. That wrath was spent upon Christ at the cross. For these, God’s placement of them into the visible church is a reminder of one of His great purposes of that church (cf. 1Tim 3:15)—that they would neither forget God’s great salvation for themselves, nor hide that great salvation from their children.

And by God’s putting their children into the church, He has given to those children that covenantal right and advantage to hear His Word (cf. Rom 3:1–2), to be reminded of His works, to receive those means by which the Spirit brings them to hope in God and be grafted into Christ.

So, hoping in Christ and clinging to His Word, and walking with Him by grace, believers don’t forget Him but remember Him—and this not only unto themselves; they remember Him to their children.

This is the great purpose behind the use of confession and catechisms: that we ourselves would remember Him, and that we would teach the next generation, so that they would both remember Him for themselves and teach the generation yet to come.

Next month, Lord-willing, we’ll consider how the Spirit, Whom the mighty Victor from Judah poured out, teaches us to do this.

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