Why the LORD Calls the Church to Sing As One and Why it Matters

I could have titled this post “Choirs, Solos, and Praise Leaders Oh My!”, but catchy titles that cause negative reactions are not really my thing. While there are always questions concerning the form and content of sung praise (Psalms and/or Hymns, etc…) very little time in these discussions are taken up with why we sing at all and how the answer to that question informs the more common arenas of battle over what Reformed and Presbyterian churches should be doing on the Sabbath Day. It is usually an assumption that we should have vocalized intoning of words during the Lord’s Day worship, but where do we have command in God’s Word to do this? What is God’s larger purpose for this and why does it matter how we join together in this as brothers and sisters in Christ? These are the kinds of questions I want to answer and examine in this particular blog post.

Singing is something you see all over the Old and New Testaments in private, family, and public expressions of thanksgiving to God after His providential blessings. Whether it be Moses’ song and Miriam’s response in Exodus 15, Barak and Deborah’s ecstatic call to God after their deliverance from the enemies of God in Judges 5, or David’s exclamations of praise in 2 Samuel 22 you see the covenant people praising the name of the LORD in song.  This being the case there is definitely a difference between the songs of Barak and Moses and the words of David, but that is another issue that is not necessarily germane to this post. There is also a question about the applicability of these examples to corporate worship. In the Bible you have lots of examples of people doing all kinds of things, but do they meet the standard of good and necessary consequence when it comes to the worship of God? It is certainly not the case that just because it happens in the Bible, and God’s people are doing it, that therefore we can do it in worship. So can Moses or Barak or Mary be used as a command from God to have singing in public worship? The answer is no. The reformed Christian has to (if he is concerned with principle) go to other places to find the command of His LORD to worship in song on the Lord’s Day.

Now to find examples for this element of worship in the Old Testament is fairly easy. One only need to go to 1 Chronicles 6:31-33 and the myriad of examples in that book (9:33, 15:14-22, etc…). Singing is very much a part of the regular worship of the people of God in the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the Synagogue and is clearly commanded by God to be so. It is very true that any variation from the mind of men in the worship of God is not seen as a keen thing in the eyes of the LORD. So from this short and certainly not exhaustive look at the Old Testament and especially the old covenant order it is without question that singing plays a large and central role in the worship of God by His covenant people under this administration.

Having looked at the Old Testament and the old covenant it might be worthwhile for the New Testament church to look at what the Scriptures say about what role singing plays in the new covenant. There are lots of things in old covenant worship that have passed away with the end of that administration, not just the slaughtering of bulls and the bloody sacrifices, which obviously are not to carry on in this age. What examples are there of public worship singing in the new covenant? The first thing that comes to fore is Paul’s admonition to sing with understanding in 1 Cor 14:15. Contextually the Apostle is dealing there with the use of sign gifts in the church at Corinth during their public meetings. It is evident from this that there is singing going on in worship and Paul is concerned that it be properly regulated by the Spirit.

Another place is Paul’s comments about the way the people of God join together in praise of God’s glory in Romans 15. John Calvin has an excellent word on this:

For you may observe this everywhere in Scripture, that God’s praises cannot be declared, except in the assembly of the faithful, who have ears capable of hearing his praise.

These two examples are plenty (along with the sister passages of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16) to give support for God’s command that the Christian Church have sung praise in their public Lord’s Day worship of their LORD. Much like the Old Testament examples of Moses and Barak the singing of the 144,000 in heaven and other examples of the heavenly worship of the Book of Revelation are not applicable to church’s assemblies during this age anymore than the other things that go on in those passages can be used in stated new covenant worship. Now it being proved from the Bible that Christians are to have singing in their congregations what does this have to tell us about other aspects of our praise on the Lord’s Day?

A common theme of new covenant worship is the gathering together of the saints as the one body in Christ to offer up united praise to God for His mercy and grace. Something that has found its way into the common practice of Reformed and Presbyterian churches is the choir. There is certainly no question that well-trained choirs are very soothing to the ear and provide a great service for the blessing of many. However dividing the people of God into qualified singers and unqualified singers was a part of the old covenant, not the new. Just as the other duties of the Levites went away with the second and better covenant in Christ so to did this division. Not only is there no positive command for this practice in the New Testament, but it drives against the whole purpose of singing in our worship, which is the people of God responding together as one to God’s blessing. This unbiblical division not only causes trouble in the congregation, but from a missions stand point think about how much money would be made available for diaconal and other purposes that is taken up by this non-commanded worship practice?

This same thing goes for soloists as well. While there are many of us who have not been given the gift of being able to sing well the purpose of God in granting that mercy to some is to assist the whole body in their praise, not to be singled out and given an office in the church for that purpose thereby dividing the body unlawfully.

Last, but not least this same principle of united praise to God by the assembly of the people can be applied to the creation of the worship leader who acts in a separate capacity from the only given leader of Christ’s worship. Only the called Minister and Overseer of Christ’s Church is given the authority (in consultation with the Elders) to lead and organize the worship of God’s people by the Great Shepherd Himself. [update: A question was raised about the purpose of precenters in acapella congregations and how they fit into this equation. While a precenter (someone who begins/leads the singing in an acapella context) does not fit the general idea of a worship leader I had in mind here, I do think the practice of having the precenter stay in the congregation and not bringing them up front as a separate entity is best.]

More could and probably needs to be said on this, but this should provide a starting point for our Presbyterian and Reformed churches to think about not just the how’s of our worship, but why God would ordain the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ to do the things He has called it do in His Praise.

6 Ways to Deal With Encroaching Wickedness

I have mentioned before that I have spent the last several weeks reading Thomas Boston and today I am in a sermon from 2 Kings 2:14 where he is expounding on the lack of piety and the growth of sinfulness in his day in Scotland (ca. 1713). Towards the end Boston gives six helpful examples of ways the individual Christian can work to help erase this attack by the Lord’s help. I will list them with some commentary.

1) Stir Yourselves Up to Repent and Reform. (Rev. 3:2)

This is key. Much like Daniel in Babylon the Christian must begin with his own sin and need for personal growth in holiness before he can call upon his brethren to likewise move forward in sanctification. This is the heart of Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 7. It is the height of hypocrisy to demand others to bend away from their lusts if you are not willing to do it. Understanding your own lack of righteousness before God is part and parcel of the humility we are all called to as believers in Christ. Is your brother a Sabbath-breaker? How do you fail to keep the Sabbath? Does your sister violate the ninth commandment in her conversation? What are you doing in spreading gossip about her work? This again must be the foundation of any prayer before the LORD God, especially when it concerns national impiety.

2) Lament After the Lord. (1 Sam 7:2).

True repentance does not look for self-satisfaction in that repentance, but sincerely and honestly seeks God’s forgiveness and His love. The Scriptures often associate tears with humble remorse for sin and the reason for doing so is that there is heartfelt response tied in with such emotional pleading. This is not to say tears must follow repentance, but the heart knows whether it is wholehearted or half-hearted in its work. A good way to learn what this kind of prayer looks like is to read the Book of Lamentations. In that work you see the depths of the inward pain of the prophet Jeremiah at his own sin, his nations sin, and how that effects their relationship with God. The holiness and justice of God must always be in the forefront, for as David rightly notes in his prayer of repentance it is against the Lord alone that people have sinned and it is to Him they must flee not just for forgiveness, but assurance.

3) Study Unity, and Beware of Division. (Psalm 133:3).

In Boston’s own words he says:

Be more afraid of your own than other people’s sins. This church at best is but weak. Let us not by divisions make ourselves an easier prey to the common enemy, lest God be provoked to cast us into the fire to make us burn together.

It may seem a bit rich for Thomas Boston who did see the body divided from both his tireless work to see Professor Simpson removed from office due to his heterodox teaching and his support of the Marrow Men who would ultimately form the Associate Church to talk about unity. However what Boston intends here is not a quietism or a cowardice that seeks union for union’s sake, but that Christian’s would never divide for division’s sake. A united front and a confessional agreement on the Gospel is vital to the testimony of the church. If the Church cannot agree on what the good news is what witness is that to the unbelieving world around it? Boston’s wisdom here is that the people of God would always seek corporate rather than personal or professional glory in the work of Christ.

4) Lay Out Yourselves For the Advancement of Piety

As with the first three principles Boston begins at home. How can you call upon the world to turn away from their defections to the Lordship of Christ if you also are in rebellion against His Word? The individual Christian and the Church has to be willing and be already engaged in the work of stirring up holiness, love, and good works among its members and needs to be a witness through their lives to the nation. (Deut 4:9). It is a popular thing in our day to bemoan the wickedness of our culture and even to mock the liberals and antinomians of this age, but where are we falling short of the glory of God? How are we violating the Law of God in our response to these things? Are we seeking God’s blessing in calling out sinfulness or are we unrighteously puffing up our chests among our brethren?

5) Labor to Put Yourselves in Posture For Suffering

Jesus’ own words to His disciples are instructive here:

“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.” — John 16:1-4

It is in keeping with the general witness of redemptive history that the World and its king the Devil will do everything in its power to shut the mouths of faithful preaching. Christians should neither be surprised nor shocked to see it happening. However, believers need to be careful not to use persecution as a sign of faithfulness. In other words it easy to not only seek out the world’s existing hatred, but to revel in it. You are to prepare for hardship and rest in the promises of God in the midst of it. What Boston has in mind here is that the believer needs to cast off the cares of this world to such a degree that you are free to bear the whips of evil men and preach the free gift of Christ for sinners.

6) Pray For the Remnant That is Left

In closing Thomas Boston reminds us to pray, and to do so often and without reservation. The content of these prayers must be in light of what he has already noted: Seeking God’s mercy in forgiveness, acknowledging His majesty and perfection, faithfully hoping for the uplifting of the saints in unity, working towards a Christlike life according to His blessed Law for the betterment not just of the Church, but society writ large, seeing your own holiness grow in the face of the world’s hatred, and finally that you may rest in the corporate worship and the sufficiency of the given ordinances of Christ for His Bride which are granted therein for all your needs in this life.

I hope these six suggestions from our father in the faith will be helpful to you not only as you consider the wicked days in which we live, but also in your personal walk with Christ as forgiven sinners by Grace through Faith Alone.

Tribes and Republication

                This may be something that is unique to my own heart, but a common problem in the Reformed world is this constant desire to know which camp one is in: am I a Klineian or a Murrayite? A Vossian or Turretinite? A Covenanter or R2K’er? There is of course nothing new about this. A large part of the human social construct is to want to be a member of a tribe. It is something that Paul deals with in Corinth, likewise a cause of trouble in Israel. While there is nothing inherently wrong with tribalism as a concept (I am of the Christian tribe after all) it far too often causes men to speak with pride about the external name rather than the internal reality. Rarely do folks truly inhabit the whole kernel, but merely aspects of the husk of the clans they hope to be counted under. Even John Murray was not a complete Murrayite, the same with Meredith Kline, Geerhardos Vos, and/or John Calvin. Again nothing of the previous should be much of a surprise or groundbreaking in the least. My goal is in the following is just to lay out my basic thoughts (in constant flux as they are as I read and learn more) on Republication and its place in the covenant theology of the Holy Scriptures. If I happen to fit a particular school, that is fine. If I am off in some weird hybrid place that is fine as well. This is certainly not meant to be all-encompassing or exhaustive in any sense, just some jots of my mind, as weak as it is.

                While the doctrine of republication has at its foundation the covenant with Moses it certainly does not begin there. The doctrine of republication teaches that in some sense the covenant made with Adam in the Garden, the covenant of works/life, was republished at Sinai. Now, the heart of the discussion centers on what that some sense is. If you look at the scene at the mount you see grace at the beginning. God has brought His people out of bondage to slavery, not because of anything within them or any merit that they have earned to deserve God’s benevolent favor. God in His sovereign decree has called Moses, again not because Moses was Moses, but due to Moses’ instrumental place in the economy of God. (Ex. 3). So as the people are gathered together in felicity after their deliverance from the armies of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (not the Reed Sea as I was erroneously taught in seminary), which was itself (see 1 Cor 10) an illustration of God’s merciful hand over His covenant people, they are now brought to receive the Law written on the tablets of stone. (Ex. 19 and 20). As far as the content of that Law there was nothing “new” in that revelation. The same law which was a reflection of the character of God (known more popularly as the moral law) had already been given to the people of God by virtue of their birth as humans. Now there is no question that this law was obscured and masked by not just the sin of Adam, but their own depraved hearts and minds as well. This is part of the reason for the need of God’s presence at Sinai. Not only had Israel lost contact with the revealed will of God due to their sin and failures to pass down to each succeeding generation the law of God (which is why they are reminded of their duty in this regard more than once in Deuteronomy), but through their disobedience in Egypt and generally atrophy due to their loss of access to the means of grace much had been lost in the previous four hundred years. This is part of the tutoring aspect of the giving of the law at Sinai. Much like prisoners who have been locked up in solitary confinement for a long period have to be slowly reintroduced to life outside a 6’x6’ box Israel needed to go through a sort of re-education camp during the Wilderness.

This is where republication comes into sharp focus. Israel did not just need to be reminded about the holiness of God and their duty to Him as covenant members, but they needed the threatenings and consequences of the violation of the positive law given to Adam brought to bear on them in clear, unambiguous terms. (Lev 18:5, Rom 10:5). This “negative” work at Sinai served three major purposes. 1) To show Israel the impossibility of life through the Covenant of Works, 2) To show Israel that there were real-life consequences to trusting in the works of the flesh, and 3) To show Covenant Israel that violating the law of God would result in temporal punishments as a form of discipline to covenant members.

The illustration that God used at Sinai to teach this was explained this first use was in the manner in which the law was given. God could have just handed them to Moses in the way that God revealed things to Paul or the Prophets, through the indwelling illumination of the Holy Spirit, but that would not have served this first purpose. God used the mountain, the thunder, lightning, and the whole display of His power to demonstrate in a serious way the gulf that exists between God and man. In other words Israel was to be frightened in the same way Peter was at the mount of transfiguration, and likewise shown that his (and their) attempts at obedience (the building of the tabernacles) to impress God and earn his favor were useless and without merit.

The second use is seen in God’s reaction to the Golden Calf. Through the literal eating of the idol and the certain intestinal and health problems that caused (among other things) it could not have been more clear to Israel that disobedience would be met with the kind of “eye-for-an-eye” they would also see in the judicial law.

The third use is the one that the prophets were continually called upon to illustrate through their preaching and covenant warnings, most clearly by Moses in the covenant-breaking chapters in Deuteronomy and through the prophet Hosea’s scary and petrifying words.

To close I am not sure where this places me on the continuum (and I am not really concerned about it, to be honest, as is the case with myriads of other discussions in our world). But I thought it useful to at least put down in words where my brain is at the moment on this particular doctrinal controversy. I likely will write more posts like this in the near future as I put fingers to keyboard for my own conscience sake if for nothing else. Instruction is more than welcome.

How to Deal With Indwelling Sin

Over the past several days I have been very slowly working my way through Thomas Boston’s “Human Nature in its Fourfold State”, not intentionally, but life has limited me to ten-twenty page spurts in this work. Currently I am in Boston’s initial discussion of the “Second State”, which deals with the manner that Adam’s sin effects the human being in their whole person.

As with most works written in earlier days this book was originally given in sermon form to Boston’s congregation at Ettrick. I have often wondered (dangerous as that is) if this is one of the reasons why these works are still so beloved; they were intended for the spiritual life of the local parish and all the troubles and tribulations they deal with on a daily basis. Scripture is clear on this point that what bothered David in his fight against sin (hint: a reason why the Psalms remain the best resource for praise and intercession) is the same battle that rankled the apostle Paul and is part and parcel of the life of the believer in this current day.

Rule #1:

Study to Know the Spirituality and the Extent of the Law of God For That is the Glass Where You May See Yourselves

To dive a little deeper in what Thomas Boston is seeking in this rule a place to look is in Paul’s words in Romans 7:7-12. There the apostle is dealing with the trouble he has in facing the remaining elements of the old man in his heart while embracing his new found love for Christ. He notes how when reading the law the covetousness of his own spirit is made painfully aware to him, not because of anything in the nature of the law itself, but for the remaining twinges toward sin in his fleshly spirit. In other words the word of God acts as a mirror to show Paul where he still falls short of the Glory of God, it is in this way the reading of the law benefits the spiritual health of the believer. Christians often can find themselves in a place where they haughtily believe they are doing well in their fight against sin, yet the reality is often much different. It is in applying this rule of Thomas Boston that sinners are graciously reminded that they are sinners in great need of further sanctification according to God’s will.

Of the three rules given by Boston there is probably the most need of this one in our current situation. Due to the unbiblical focus on sins which were not really sins over the past 100 years or so in the United States there has been an overreaction to the use of the law in the Christian life that has predictably led to doctrines which reach Antinomian territory. A wise use of the law will lead not only to a growing holiness in the life of the believer, but as the third rule of Boston will show, it provides a greater appreciation for the grace of Christ.

Rule #2:

Observe Your Hearts At All Times, But Especially Under Temptation

Rule #3:

Go to God, Through Jesus Christ, For Illumination By His Spirit

Emmylou and the Covenant

It is interesting how listening to the dulcet tones of Emmylou Harris can make a man consider the nature of the promises of God, but one thing it highlights is that condescending blessing that God gives to mankind and through it all those who have been given ears to hear can even gain a greater knowledge of the truth in His divine plan for all eternity. Yet this understanding really and honestly knows the limitation of such things which calls the people of God to a clearer revelation.

There is much in the Christian life which leads the people of God along the kind of bread trail that Hansel and Gretel followed (and obviously to a better end than they met in the original fairy tale). These crumbs of common grace remind us of the honorable way that God has called His people to give thanks in everything for what the LORD has provided. One can be a Christian and give thanks for the work of unregenerate men to give joy to the heart of the believer. It is often the way in which God ironically condemns the wicked men in using his labor to benefit His people. The winepresser who gave the wine to the Psalmist may have been wicked, yet his work still brought joy to the heart of God’s king. It really is amazing sometimes how God makes plain the teachings of Holy Scripture through the most mundane and rote of situations to His glory. This is of course one of the blessings of the New Covenant and Regulative Worship, but that is for another day.

This is kind of an indirect line to consider the perfection of the covenant which has been secured through the pactum salutis and via that rock-solid agreement for the sinner’s place in the Kingdom of God, but it is one of the many ways through which God can even make a modest graduate of that school on the Allegheny understand God’s merciful work through the finished work of His Son.

It is also in the midst of considering these wonderful things that one is called in praise to humbly deliver themselves into an almost euphoric thanksgiving for the manner in which the Trinity conceived to consider the clay in the Potter’s Hand for the grace of salvation. Not to go back into a rut, but this is one of the blessings of singing the Psalms prepared from the foundation of the World. They are literally the given declarations of God for the people of God from their own mouths throughout the generations. It is striking the way folks kick against the goads in this respect to this in our day. It really is strange the way this happened over the last several generations. To go back even further it almost makes one laugh to think how blindingly arrogant Isaac Watts must have been to think he could improve the Psalms for corporate worship. Yet that kind of thinking was hardly new then or new today.

On another note I often receive some flack from certain corners for listening to the heavier end of the musical range, yet one of the things that calls me back to it is the way in which it speaks to the nature of fallen man in a real, and gritty sort of way. There is little pretension in its calls for help and deliverance and while it seeks these answers in all the wrong places it further grounds the truth that all men have fallen short of the glory of God almighty and are in need of the free offer of the Gospel found alone in the precious blood and perfect life of Jesus Christ. These cries for assistance from the fleshly things of the world go a long way to reminding this gross sinner of the amazing mercy that the creator of Heaven and Earth has unfairly poured out upon me. Who am I that the Holy One above all should regenerate my heart and call me by that sweet voice of the Holy Spirit and bring me through His adopting love into the family of God? What a wretched sinner I be! Yet it is in the midst of these things that the Covenant of Grace has its greatest peace.

An illustration of this can be found in the aforementioned Psalter. Hear Asaph’s plea from Psalm 74:

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness. Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter. Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name. O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever. Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty. O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.

I have highlighted two sentences from this Psalm to meditate a bit on for a moment. Firstly Asaph says, “For God is my King of old” in response to his earlier pleas in this Psalm for the LORD not to forsake His people. Notice how he comforts himself with both the sovereignty and the eternality of God. Likewise his whole hope and the very ground of his own salvation is in this truth. Secondly Asaph calls upon the covenant in confidence that God shall respond to this plea. He knows that his only recourse in the midst of wicked men and the machinations of the evil one is to flee to the covenant and its attending promises. Sometimes in Reformed theology the word covenant can become wooden and lose the sweetness of its flame, developing into a cog in an argument instead of retaining its mystical beauty. It really is an amazing grace that the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth has called us into union with Him through the bond of love made between the First and Second persons of the Trinity. Who is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you would visit him with these manifold blessings?

To kind of close out these late night ramblings I guess the main point of all of this was to show, yet again, the many ways through which God has not only reminded me of the dark heart of man (and myself) through this gift of song, but also the interesting ways God uses the common benevolences of this fallen world in the service of calling to mind His covenant faithfulness and how all these things work together in the service of its Creator.

Be Watchful Over Idolatry

As part of my morning devotions I read one psalm, two chapters from the Old Testament, and two chapters from the New Testament (which are very nicely laid out for me by an app I use on my tablet). While I do not always have the time or the will every now and then I read something that moves my fancy to do a little more digging. This morning while going through Joshua 23 I saw this in verse 6:

“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside to therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”

The last clause is a common expression found in the Scriptures that refer to either adding things to what God has given (the Pharisee response) or to take away from what God has granted (the Saducee response). I wanted to share Matthew Henry’s comments on this passage for your own edification and consideration. What Henry notes from this passage is not something that we often consider in our day-to-day life, but is often the avenue that the evil one uses to cause us to either add or subtract from God ‘s gracious gift in His Word.

From Matthew Henry’s commentary on Joshua 23:6:

(1.) To be very courageous (v. 6): “God fighteth for you against your enemies, do you therefore behave yourselves valiantly for him. Keep and do with a firm resolutionall that is written in the book of the law.” He presses upon them no more than what they were already bound to. “Keep with care, do with diligence, and eye what is written with sincerity.”

(2.) To be very cautious: “Take heed of missing it, either on the right hand or on the left, for there are errors and extremes on both hands. Take heed of running either into a profane neglect of any of God’s institutions or into a superstitious addition of any of your own inventions.” They must especially take heed of all approaches towards idolatry, the sin to which they were first inclined and would be most tempted, v. 7. [1.] They must not acquaint themselves with idolaters, nor come among them to visit them or be present at any of their feasts or entertainments, for they could not contract any intimacy nor keep up any conversation with them, without danger of infection. [2.] They must not show the least respect to any idol, nor make mention of the name of their gods, but endeavour to bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion, that the worship of them may never be revived. “Let the very name of them be forgotten. Look upon idols as filthy detestable things, not to be named without the utmost loathing and detestation.” The Jews would not suffer their children to name swine’s flesh, because it was forbidden, lest the name of it should occasion their desiring it; but, if they had occasion to speak of it, they must call it that strange thing. It is a pity that among Christians the names of the heathen gods are so commonly used, and made so familiar as they are, especially in plays and poems: let those names which have been set up in rivalship with God be for ever loathed and lost. [3.] They must not countenance others in showing respect to them. They must not only not swear by them themselves, but they must not cause others to swear by them, which supposes that they must not make any covenants with idolaters, because they, in the confirming of their covenants, would swear by their idols; never let Israelites admit such an oath. [4.] They must take heed of these occasions of idolatry, lest by degrees they should arrive at the highest step of it, which was serving false gods, and bowing down to them, against the letter of the second commandment.

Christ Wins Yesterday, Today, and Forever

In one of my previous postings I noted that it can be a naive reaction to the troubles we face as believers in a fallen world to lazily say, despite whatever takes place, that our response to those quandaries does not really matter because in the end we all know that Jesus wins. (Rev. 19). While it is true that this take can be used in a way to hide ourselves from the harder questions of the Christian life it does not change the fact that it is an accurate statement. One of the standard beliefs of the Reformed faith is that Jesus Christ is not absent from the activities of the world in the time between the First and Second Advent. He is a currently reigning monarch who mediatorially rules over His kingdom in every area of life, not just over the Church, but over Nations as Nations as well. In this post I want to talk about why this doctrine is an important part of the testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ and why it would be wise for Reformed bodies to become reacquainted with this unfortunately forgotten truth.

To back up a bit in the historical record it might be worthwhile to understand how we came, in the United States especially, to demure from this teaching. The founding fathers of the mainline Presbyterian church in the colonies were heavily influenced by the political theory of John Locke, the subtle, but important change in understanding of where moral principles should be derived that was being imported from the Scottish universities, particularly in regards to the civil magistrate, and this was most especially born out in the writings of men like John Witherspoon who was instrumental in the reworking of the training of ministers at the College of New Jersey. He instituted a way of understanding moral philosophy that was grounded in the kind of small “r” republicanism and Scottish Common Sense Realism (neither of which in themselves are “at fault”, to be sure) that also was a part of the education of so many of the later signers of the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon’s own personal background is important in this regard. He had grown up in Scotland, of an evangelical faith in contrast with the moderate party of the Church of Scotland and had personally been affected by the political battles (being imprisoned after the Battle of Falkirk). However, Witherspoon’s position as President of the aforementioned College of New Jersey and his instruction to the majority of ministers who were in attendance at the convocation called by this young church were foundational for the decisions that led to the changes to the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 23 and some (though inconsistently not all) of the portions of the Catechisms in 1789. While there is a lot more than can be said here and Witherspoon is most certainly not the only source of the “blame” and it would undoubtedly benefit from a more careful examination, this should suffice for background in this short post. To summarize a bit what this paragraph is for we are to understand what led to this change in conception of the Mediatorial reign of Christ was both a philosophical and an excitable political situation which caught the mainline Presbyterian church in its wake. It should not be surprising that there was a change in the application of Christ’s Kingly reign in the new American context that was in league with the 1st Amendment of the new American constitution.

Another place to look for this change in understanding is how certain passages, in the Old Testament especially, were read and applied. The duties of the Government to Christ as expressed in the 1646 reading of the Westminster Confession as given in places like Psalm 2, Psalm 8, Isaiah 49:23, and others were fairly common place in the Presbyterian world until the 18th Century. In comparison if you go and examine commentaries and sermons on these and like passages written in America in the period following the founding of the United States you will notice an understated shift from a specific application to a more general statement concerning the duties of the leaders of nations in regards to both the Church and Christ Himself. The authorities go from being Foster Fathers, to absentee dads who are best home once or twice a month and Nursing Mothers to moms who drop their kids off at boarding school for the year and leave their training to the wisdom of others. It is in this change where you can see how the Mediatorial Reign of Christ over the Nations is of a much better pedigree to work in concert with the Church for the betterment of the Sheep (and all men for that matter) than to let all governments off the hook for its directive to humble themselves before the right and true King.

This biblical doctrine teaches that individual countries are required by the Word of God to recognize Christ as King in their foundational documents and therefore rule their people in light of what Jesus has called good and wise. (Psalm 2:8, 9:15, Rom 13:1-9, 1 Tim. 2:2, etc…). When one looks at the Scriptural wisdom of what is right versus what the world calls righteous it can hardly be overstated that common sense shows which is better. This is why it is important to rightly understand what Natural Law is and what it teaches even the blind sinner. Natural Law is nothing more and nothing less than the inscriptureated law of God written on the hearts of all men. There is no conflict between what is given in the Word of God and what is publicized in general revelation. (Rom. 2). Those leaders who have access to the Bible have a responsibility before God to rule according to that Wisdom and those in power who for whatever providential reason do not have in their possession this Word shall be judged by what nature itself reveals, ignorance is no excuse for the magistrate.

A new appreciation for this doctrine can only benefit the people of God, especially as we see the fruits of the poor decision to open our nation up to a principled pluralism and the wake that it has given to us. Now some will point to the failures of the State churches in Europe as a sign that the position I have outlined above is no sure thing either, yet the fact that the nations of the Continent and the UK are the moral cesspools that they are is in fact more proof of this doctrine. When a nation forsakes its covenant duties one should not be surprised to see the judgment of God poured out upon it. (Isaiah 1:4). What needs to take place is not an Anabaptist retirement to the hills, but a loud and constant proclamation of warning and condemnation upon our nation’s leaders and the Presidents and Prime Ministers of all countries to heed the commands of the Bible and submit their knee to Christ Almighty. Despite their attempts to hide their face from God and ignore His precepts all who do not side with the Reign of the Lamb of God shall receive the same fate as the evil one Satan himself.