Do Romans 14 and Colossians 2 Provide Cover For Modern Sabbath Deniers?

As someone who seems out in the wilderness in defending a doctrine which once was almost unquestioned in confessionally Presbyterian circles (and not exactly that long ago) since the days of the Reformation from Rome and is in a very small minority even in his own denomination it is without a doubt that easily the two most often cited New Testament passages against what is plainly taught in WCF 21 and the similar WSC and WLC questions are Romans 14 and Colossians 2.

The defenders of the modern sacrament of eating out on the Lord’s Day and the imbibing of worldly entertainment like to use these passages especially to support their departure from centuries of consistent teaching by their Presbyterian forefathers, yet when one goes back to commentators on such passages it seems that they, not those of us who commend the biblical and spiritual blessing of the one in seven rest, that have allowed the nature of the age to move them to accommodate to the World’s conception of using their neighbor’s labor to fill their bellies and provide them entertainment on their “day off” (only if their maidservants and manservants were given such luxury, or as the kids would say #firstworldproblems). So to provide some defense of the confessional and scriptural position on the 4th Commandment in regards to the above mentioned passages here are the thoughts of a few of our forefathers on these parts of God’s Word.

Matthew Henry on Romans 14:5 (One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every dayalike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.)

“Those who thought themselves still under some kind of obligation to the ceremonial law esteemed one day above another—kept up a respect to the times of the passover, pentecost, new moons, and feasts of tabernacles; thought those days better than other days, and solemnized them accordingly with particular observances, binding themselves to some religious rest and exercise on those days. Those who knew that all these things were abolished and done away by Christ’s coming esteemed every day alike. We must understand it with an exception of the Lord’s day, which all Christians unanimously observed; but they made no account, took no notice, of those antiquated festivals of the Jews. Here the apostle speaks of the distinction of meats and days as a thing indifferent, when it went no further than the opinion and practice of some particular persons, who had been trained up all their days to such observances, and therefore were the more excusable if they with difficulty parted with them. But in the epistle to the Galatians, where he deals with those that were originally Gentiles, but were influenced by some judaizing teachers, not only to believe such a distinction and to practise accordingly, but to lay a stress upon it as necessary to salvation, and to make the observance of the Jewish festivals public and congregational, here the case was altered, and it is charged upon them as the frustrating of the design of the gospel, falling from grace, Gal. iv. 9-11. The Romans did it out of weakness, the Galatians did it out of wilfulness and wickedness; and therefore the apostle handles them thus differently. This epistle is supposed to have been written some time before that to the Galatians. The apostle seems willing to let the ceremonial law wither by degrees, and to let it have an honourable burial; now these weak Romans seem to be only following it weeping to its grave, but those Galatians were raking it out of its ashes.”

Charles Hodge on Rom. 14:5

It is obvious from the context, and from such parallel passages as Gal. 5:10, ‘Ye observe days, and months, and titles, and years,’ and Col, 2:16, ‘Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of Sabbath days,”‘that Paul has reference to the Jewish festivals, and therefore his language cannot properly be applied to the Christian Sabbath. The sentiment of the passage is this, ‘One man observes the Jewish festivals, another man does not.’ Such we know was the fact in the apostolic church, even among those who agreed in the observance of the first day of the week.
Again as both the comments from Matthew Henry and Charles Hodge testify to the fact that Romans 14:5 cannot be legitimately used in defense of the laxity of our modern keeping of the 4th Commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ. (John 14:15). Next let us examine a couple of quotes on the discussed Colossians 2 passage.
First from Nicholas Byfield, an Anglican preacher during James I:
Or of Sabbath-days. There were divers sorts of sabbaths: of days, of years, of sevens of years. The sabbaths of days were either moral, the seventh day, which God did choose, or ceremonial. The ceremonial sabbaths were either more solemn, such as were the three great feasts, passover, pentecost, and tabernacles; or less solemn, such as were the feasts of blowing the trumpets. Lev. 23:24, and the feast of expiation, Lev. 16:32-34. The sabbath of years was every seventh year, Lev. 25:4. The sabbath of sevens of years was the jubilee, which returned every fifty years. We see here, then, that the apostle shews that we are delivered from the bondage of the observation as before of meats, so now of sabbaths.
Objection. But is the sabbath-day that was moral abrogated?
Answer: No, the apostle speaks here of the ceremonial law, not of the moral; and of ceremonial sabbaths, not of the moral sabbath for the word is in the plural number.
Secondly concerning the Colossians passage from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church report on the Sabbath:

“Feast, new moon, sabbath.” The second group of terms used by Paul is more crucial for the present study. In the order followed by Paul, the equivalent expression occurs only in Hosea 2:11 and Ezekiel 45:17 (see above). In reverse order, “sabbaths, new moons, feasts,” it occurs in I Chronicles 23:31; 2 Chronicles 2:4; 8:13; 31:3 and Nehemiah 10:33 (all reflecting post-exilic terminology). And all of these are quite clearly derived from Numbers 28, 29.

Even a cursory examination of these references makes it clear that Paul’s “sabbath” can only mean the weekly Sabbaths.

In Numbers 28 and 29, the subject throughout is the official sacrifices to be offered by the priests in God’s house in behalf of the whole covenant people (cf. 29:39, where these official sacrifices are distinguished from such individual worship as “your vows, and your freewill offerings”). These official sacrifices are prescribed for each day (28:3-8); for each weekly Sabbath (28:9, 10); for each new moon (28:11-15); and in detail for each of the annual feasts (28:16-29:38). The subject is not the individual worshipper’s offerings, nor his personal acts of worship on those days, but the system of official sacrifices to be made for all Israel.

So too, in all the other references (with the possible exception of Hosea 2:11) where these three kinds of days are mentioned together. In 1 Chronicles 23:31 it is David’s scheduling of the official sacrifices that is in view; 2 Chronicles 2:4 mentions Solomon’s intention, and 8:13 relates his actual offering of these same sacrifices; 2 Chronicles 31:3 has to do with Hezekiah’s provision for them; and Nehemiah 10:33 deals with that governor’s arrangement to do the same thing after the return from exile.

In Hosea 2:11 there is no specific reference to sacrifices. Even here, however, the reference is to the whole people of Israel, and the phrase itself points back to Numbers 28, 29.

Ezekiel 45:17, besides its reference to “meat” and “drink,” also gives the same catalog of three kinds of days. Here the reference is to the “prince” of the ideal Israel of Ezekiel’s vision who shall offer these same official sacrifices in behalf of the covenant people.

Wherever it occurs in the Old Testament, the phrase “sabbaths, new moons, and feasts” always has reference to the official sacrifices to be offered on those days in behalf of the covenant nation, and never refers to individual observance of those days. As such, the phrase points clearly to Christ, the Prince of Israel who offered himself as the sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people once for all.

Conclusion. We can only conclude that for Paul, “feast, new moon, and sabbath” meant those same official sacrifices the phrase denotes in the Old Testament usage. There is nothing in the phrase to require us to understand that Paul meant to abrogate the Fourth Commandment for Christians. What Paul did.” They were God-given for that purpose and thus permissible at least for Christians, but were no longer required since the reality had come.

In closing, as you can see from the consistent teaching of our forefathers the common current reading of this passage which is used in order to do our own pleasure, rather than the Lord’s blessing on the day He has made Holy as a gift to His covenant people (and the whole of creation) is untenable, especially in the use of these two passages for besmirching the Christian Sabbath.

The Living and Saving Word of God

Robert Bolton was a 16th and 17th century Reformed English conformist author and minister (not related to the more well-known member of the Westminster Assembly Samuel Bolton) who was neither Puritan nor Laudian in his sympathies, yet remained in the Anglican church throughout his life. Converted as an adult he had been a student at Oxford and had heard William Perkins preach several times and was quoted as saying that as a young man he found the most-popular of the early English preachers to be dull and a “barren empty-fellow”. What makes the later comment so important for the quotations to follow from Bolton’s work on Holy Scripture, entitled The Saints Sure and Perpetual Guide is how important it is for Christians to understand the “how’s” of the work of the Holy Spirit in using this particular means of grace to quicken the heart of the sinner.

In this early section by Robert Bolton the author is defining what exactly is the place of the Bible in the life of the believer, especially when it comes to the work of regeneration. Having just spoken at length about the situation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 he gives three reasons why we are to understand the Word of God found in the Holy Scriptures to be lively and active in the work of the Almighty.

The first item that Bolton lists is:

Because, whereas we naturally live under the shadow of death, and in the darkness of sin, it quickens us with a new and spiritual life, it cheers and comforts us with heavenly Light.

The book of Acts provides myriads of examples of how the Word of God, especially in the preaching of it by ministers of the Gospel, accomplishes this very act, something previewed for us in Ezekiel 37. When Paul speaks the words of life to Lydia her heart is opened to heed the things spoken by the apostle. The thousands converted at Pentecost come to faith by Peter’s judicious use of the Word of God which moves them to inquire about the way to salvation. Likewise as Paul and Silas sing the Psalms in prison it is through this many hear the good news of the gospel and the jailer and his family are brought into the household of faith. The well-known and misappropriated quotation about Saint Francis of Assisi concerning the preaching of the Word and using words if necessary denies this simple testimony of the Holy Scriptures and the power they are given by God to do His Work. This work is shown quite clearly by Paul in Romans 10.

The second thing Bolton remarks concerning the Word of God is:

The Word may be called Living, because itself is immortal and lasts forever; as does the living and true God, the Author of it.

It is a key and central aspect of how we look and understand the Word of God that it is the Word of God. It may seem redundant to type that but far too often the Church forgets this part of the equation. Whether by reducing it to literature or placing man-made strictures on the interpretation thereof we can limit the aura and weight of the blessing our Heavenly Father has granted to His people (and all creation) by granting us a written revelation of His truth and character. Think for a second of the reaction of Josiah to the re-discovery of the book of Deuteronomy or the scene surrounding the giving of the Law at Sinai. Both of these are perfect illustrations of how the Christian must approach the Word of God. We cannot come to the Bible without first considering its author and preparing ourselves through prayer to be fed by it. Of course what Bolton says about this really is just a paraphrase of what the Scripture testifies about itself in Isaiah 40 and quoted by the apostle Peter in his 1st Epistle.

The third and last mark that Bolton notes says:

But most especially, and agreeably to the place in Hebrews, it is called lively because it enters with great power and secret insinuation into every part and power of both soul and body.

What he is alluding to in this statement is what the apostle Paul writes in the second half of Hebrews 4, which says:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

This should be seen as a great comfort to the believer while at the same time showering fear upon those who hate God. One of the benefits of what Bolton writes here is illustrated in the words of Paul in Romans 8:16:

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

and in the same chapter at verse 26 and 27:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[b] with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

In both of these cases one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is making real to the conscience of the believer that they are truly members of the body of Christ and adopted into the family of God through their union with Him. A way this is accomplished is through the regular reading and meditating upon the word of God. This is the kind of thing Jesus has in mind when He instructs Peter to feed His sheep. They need to feed upon the Word which He has given. A Christian who does not live in the Bible forsakes the very nourishment by which they know God. This same thing can be said for those who forsake the assembling of the people of God together on the Lord’s Day as well as those Christian churches which choke away the gift of God’s word by taking away lengthy Scripture readings from both Testaments and shortening the exposition of the Word of God from the pulpit. It cannot be a sign of health in a church if the Bible loses its central place.

In closing, this short post has hopefully opened your minds to consider some of the aspects of the Word of God and why the neglecting of this necessarily does damage to the life of the believer as well as reminding all men of the perfection of the Holy Scriptures both in their character and in accomplishing its purpose in the economy of God for the believer and the unbeliever alike.

Hear the Instruction of Thy Father, and Forsake Not the Law of Your Mother

Yesterday I wrote something for the local paper (we will see if it actually runs) that talked a short bit about the difference between seeking out counselors that confirm already held beliefs about ourselves and the world around us and instead that we should be wisely resting in the guidance provided previously by God Himself in the Holy Scriptures. This week has begun as a completely new chapter in the life of our family, especially for my sainted wife and kids, as we began the process of homeschooling our children. As part of that new chapter we have started having family worship in the morning as well as in the evening. Through prayer and study it was decided that the book that would receive the first focus in this early devotion was the book of Proverbs. Now Solomon, before he violated most of the principles he lays down in this work, and confesses that sin in the following material found in Ecclesiastes, writes Proverbs for his son and the opening chapter expresses a basic truth for all Christians, that it is unwise to allow ungodly relations and friends to lead you into sin and the misery that follows. In verses 7-10 Solomon writes:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

Now what does he mean by “hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother”? Well to be certain Solomon means more than just a bare obedience to the 5th Commandment. No, Solomon is grounding that obedience into something much stronger and much more certain than the instruction and laws of a mother and father. The advice of parents is only as good as it remains in contact with the knowledge that comes from the wisdom of God. So what Solomon is getting on about here to his son is that what mom and dad have to teach you is not from the wells of their own mind, but from the revelation of the LORD, which they are mediating to him by God’s will. This is of course one of the main functions of parents in the lives of their children. Our doctrine of infant baptism comes with it a promise from father to child that covenantally they will raise their offspring up in the fear and the admonition of the LORD, not to create anger or cause them to hate the things of God, but to learn what true love means and looks like in the context of the grace of Jesus Christ. (Eph. 6:1-4).

To step back for a second there is another part of this passage worth meditating on for a moment and that is the foolishness of those who despise wisdom and instruction. Looking at this passage from the covenantal child’s perspective it is likely that at 7 or 9 the average young person is not going to intuitively understand the long term effects of sinfully neglecting the mercy of God in being raised under the covenant promises of baptism. This is where the practice of reading and teaching the fear of the LORD in the gracious gift of the Word of God comes into play. In Reformed circles much is often made of the means of grace, and for good reason. When the apostle Paul is writing to Timothy for a second time he begins that letter by commending the work of his grandma and mom, Louis and Eunice, for teaching him the Scriptures. In doing so they prepared him (in the blessed providence of God) through this work for a lifetime of ministerial service to Jesus Christ and His Church. It is unlikely Timothy was aware of the plans of God in his life and that is not why Louis and Eunice read the Bible to him. They performed this action because of their abiding trust in the promises God had and continues to make to His people. It was in reading about Samson and Delilah, the sins of Achen, the countless examples of the kings of Israel and Judah who continued in the sins of their fathers, and ultimately the unbelief of Judah, despite all their outward blessings, which led them into exile that young Timothy learned what Solomon warns his son about in this opening passage from the book of Proverbs. This is what it looks like in basic terms to raise your children up so that they can gain an appreciation for the consequences of failing to listen when their mothers and fathers graciously provide them with the knowledge of the LORD, which as Solomon so beautifully puts it, this wisdom will be “an ornament of grace unto thy head”. God works in and through His Word to prepare His Church for the next generation.

 In closing, Christian parents and children must never forget that it is a testimony to the work of Christ in His Word through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit alone that any of us come to a right understanding of the truth of redemption and salvation and thereby grow in our sanctification by His grace. These promises made in the Covenant of Baptism, both with the parents and the children, are fulfilled not by the works of the flesh, but by the consummator of that covenant who is the great Triune God. As noted before Solomon himself would fail miserably to heed the counsel he provides in this passage. He did not listen to the words of his father David, and it can rightfully be said that David, who was faithfully taught the 6th and 7th Commandments by his father Jesse, fell short of the glory of God as well. Teaching and preparing our children in the righteous fear and the knowledge of His Truth is not a recipe for sinlessness. But a right communication of the nature of God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible is a process for raising covenant children who understand the forgiveness of God in Christ, of resting and trusting in Him Alone for eternal life. What better way to communicate the whole counsel of God, from Creation to the Second Coming, to our children than by using the means that same LORD has granted to us in His Word, so that our young people know that the word they receive in instruction from their father and the law provided by their mother comes not from their fallen hearts, but from the perfect and glorious hand of Almighty God?

From Whom Should We Seek Counsel?

Submission to one of the local papers ~500 words

One of my favorite Bible passages comes from the book of 1st Kings. In that portion of God’s Word there is a continuing war against the people of Israel by their enemies the Syrians. The king of Judah, who at that time is named Jehoshaphat (of jumping fame), has come down to meet with Ahab, king of Israel to speak about what they can do together about the problems they both face. In those days it was common for someone seeking the LORD’s wisdom to go to a prophet and discern what it was that God had in mind for them. The kings could not agree on which prophet to seek, Ahab only wanted to talk to a prophet that would give him good news and Jehoshaphat wanted a prophet who had been approved by God. Compare the words of the kings. Ahab says, “There is yet one man, Micaiah the son of Imlah, by whom we may inquire of the LORD, but I hate him for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” while Jehoshaphat states, “Is there not here a prophet of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22). Notice the difference in their focus. Ahab does not want someone who will speak the truth to him, but only a person that will confirm his already held beliefs. He had no interest in what God had to say.

Now, there is a lot to be learned from the words of these two kings. In fact, this is precisely the problem that Jesus Christ our Lord ran into during His public ministry. The Pharisees and the Zealots were looking for a Messiah that fit what they wanted and not what the Bible taught He would be. They longed for an earthly king that would rid them of the Romans and not the humble shepherd who laid down His life for His Sheep and brought in a greater kingdom than they could possibly imagine. In fact the King of Kings did rid them of the Romans, just not in the way their wicked hearts wanted Him to. Rome was taken down not by a sword of steel, but by the double-edged sword of His Word.

Another case of this seeking a false comfort from men who please our preconceived notions is from a warning the Apostle Paul gives to his young student Timothy. In his second letter Paul counsels Timothy that in the days to come the people to whom he preached the Gospel would no longer be satisfied with the truth of Christ’s redeeming work, but would seek out teachers who tickled their ears and shouted peace, peace where there was no peace.

In all three of these biblical examples the common thread is a denial of who God is and a wrong comprehension of who we are. The wisdom of man is folly, but the understanding of God is right and true. While we do not have prophets in this day, we do have the perfect Word of the LORD given to us in the Bible. Let us be sensible not to hearken unto the words of men who tell us what we want to hear, but to be found prudently resting and trusting in what our gracious heavenly Father has provided in the all-sufficient testimony of His blessed Word.

Rev. Glaser is the Pastor of the Ellisville Presbyterian Church, ARP

Decisions About Textual Variants

I want to start this off by noting that in no way shape or form do I consider myself an expert or even a son of an expert when it comes to doing textual work in the Hebrew and Greek. I was a poor Hebrew student (C- on my best days) and passable at Greek (B+ on average). So the tendency when I am beginning to preach a passage is to just translate the verses under consideration and slavishly trust my lexical apparati more than one probably should. That being said when it came time to preach on 1 John 5:6-9 it became apparent that this approach was not going to best serve me or the congregation. There is too much controversy and too many serious questions surrounding the text to trudge along without humbly dealing with some honest study concerning, as it is popularly known, the Johannine Comma.

I was asked on facebook to give a short analysis as to why I came to the conclusion of accepting its authenticity. The following bullet points are not meant to be exhaustive in any sense and will likely leave out some important material, but shall merely be a short listing of key points in no particular order.

  1. Methodological Concerns 

At the root of this question is how do we come to see what the text of Holy Scripture is and what methods do we use to determine that. I am fully aware that my own negative biases have probably ruined me from the Critical Text school and I am willing to own that. In other words I probably let my experience in a liberal school and the way that the CT was taught to me and the effect of that teaching, turning broad evangelical students into theological liberals and destroying their faith in the unity of the Bible, overly influence my consideration of the whole question surrounding this passage (and others to a lesser degree). This being noted a reason to accept the comma is due to one’s approach to deciding what manuscripts, uncials, etc… are going to receive more weight and after study I remain convinced the methods and procedures behind accepting the “Byzantine family” is due more consideration than the “Alexandrian”. An article I find useful in this regard is by Jakob Van Bruggen.

2. Use By Christian Authors and Church Leaders

To be honest this section of my study was inconclusive. I am not sure much can be determined mostly because frankly I do not think we have enough on either side to make a definitive statement. There is certainly usage by Tertullian and Cyprian as well as allusions by Gregory Nazianzus and others. That it does not appear regularly in the Trinitarian controversies is a pretty serious stumbling block. However I do think there is a plausible case to be made that the Arian party was successful in scrubbing texts which would account for some of its lack of use, but not all of it. Of the Reformation-era authors Matthew Henry makes a good case for the inclusion of the comma. Another place to go for this argument is Edmund Calamy III’s work.

3. Internal Evidence 

At the end of the day this was probably the strongest evidence to me for the comma’s inclusion. The rules of Greek grammar (which is also mentioned by Gregory Nazianzus and Robert Dabney) and verses 6 and 8 in the traditional text point to the existence of verse 7. I will let Dabney speak:

First, if it be made, the masculine article, numeral, and particle…are made to agree directly with three neuters—an insuperable and very bald grammatical difficulty. But if the disputed words are allowed to stand, they agree directly with two masculines and one neuter noun…where, according to a well known rule of syntax, the masculines among the group control the gender over a neuter connected with them… Second, if the excision is made, the eighth verse coming next to the sixth, gives us a very bald and awkward, and apparently meaningless, repetition of the Spirit’s witness twice in immediate succession. Third, if the excision is made, then the proposition at the end of the eighth verse [and these three agree in one], contains an unintelligible reference… ”And these three agree to that (aforesaid) One”… What is that aforesaid unity to which these three agree? If the seventh verse is exscinded, there is none… Let the seventh verse stand, and all is clear: the three earthly witnesses testify to that aforementioned unity which the Father, Word, and Spirit constitute.”

4. Textual History

For this section I am just going to quote Maurice Robinson. This bullet point ties into the first one I listed:

The Byzantine-priority principles reflect a “reasoned transmissionalism” which evaluates internal and external evidence in the light of transmissional probabilities. This approach emphasizes the effect of scribal habits in preserving, altering, or otherwise corrupting the text, the recognition of transmissional development leading to family and texttype groupings, and the ongoing maintenance of the text in its general integrity as demonstrated within our critical apparatuses. The overriding principle is that textual criticism without a history of transmission is impossible. To achieve this end, all readings in sequence need to be accounted for within a transmissional history, and no reading can be considered in isolation as a “variant unit” unrelated to the rest of the text.

5. Doctrinal and Apologetic Use

As it exists in the text this passage provides a very strong (and confessional) defense of the Trinity. While it is not necessary in the sense that its removal will cause our doctrine of the one ousia and three prosopon to crumble like a house of cards I do think their are larger questions at play, which goes back to the first section of these points that point towards its wise inclusion. This part of my study probably needs the most further work and likely involves no small evidence of special pleading.

In closing, I realize this will not answer many of the questions most have and there are likely many holes in the arguments as I have presented them. I could probably spend more time tightening these up and I might in the future, but I did want to respond to the question that was placed before me in a reasonable time frame  and give a sense of how I arrived at my decision. Hopefully this short post answers some of those.

If God is For Us Who Can Be Against Us?

Those salient words of the apostle Paul in the book of Romans have long been the calling card of faithful Christians in the face of the instruments of the evil one. It is with these words that many a believer has been brought to comfort and peace despite every effort of those who stand against the Bride of Christ.

This was the same ethos that allowed Hezekiah to not fear, despite his own weaknesses, the fancy and fallacious words of Sennacherib. In the 2nd Book of Chronicles you have the chief spokesman for the king of Assyria promising death and destruction to any who would stand in the way of the will of the sovereign leader of his people. There resulted from this a great worry among the Israelites, and as king Hezekiah had a responsibility to defend his land from those who would like to see it laid waste and taken for their own use. Many a leader has faced similar situations, but the response of Hezekiah is instructive for us today. He speaks in 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 in this way:

“Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid nor dismayed before the king of Assyria, nor before all the multitude that is with him; for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people were strengthened by the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.

This is in keeping with what Christians have sung from the 1650 Scottish Psalter for many years in verses 4 and 5 of Psalm 56:

   3  When I'm afraid I'll trust in thee:
   4     In God I'll praise his word;
      I will not fear what flesh can do,
         my trust is in the Lord.

This post is not directly a defense of Psalm-singing, but it is enlightening to think in this particular case what one of the unique benefits of singing the Word of the LORD is when faced with the enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Just look for a moment at this portion of Psalm 56. The context of the psalm is David fleeing from the persecution of Saul. He is being hounded by someone who is supposed to be protecting him from those who would set upon the people of God for harm. There is something particularly incompatible with a Minister of God (c.f.-Romans 13:1-7) going out of his way, abandoning his duty, to attack the very person he has been called to defend, but that is what Saul is doing to David. However, as is often the case with those caught in similar circumstances the man in whom God will/had placed His mark by His covenantal promises seeks to find respite in the only place he can truly find it, and that is in the nature of the Godhead, in Jehovah God, and what better way to learn and hold in one’s heart this knowledge of the LORD than in the words of God’s own Hymnbook? As good and as biblical a man-made composition might be it will always fall short of the Divine Word given by our King.

Another way of looking at this is that a man or woman who truly believes in the person and work of Jesus Christ will not look outside the means and instruments that their Heavenly Father has granted and gifted to them for their protection from enemies of both the physical and the spiritual kind. The sufficiency of the Psalter and the whole Word of God to accomplish this is especially vital, no less in our day, precisely because as Protestants one of the things we believe is that the Word of God is the Word of God and because of that it alone has the ability to accurately perform the action for which it was given, as the Psalmist says in Psalm 118:5, “I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me“.

Unfortunately what eventually happened to the Israelites to whom Hezekiah spoke those words is that they failed to heed the promise to which the king spoke. They feared men more than God and received the penalty of that unbelief in exile. This is exactly what is going on in the Church in the West today. We have backslidden enormously from the foundations of our faith and have given away our birthright for a mess of porridge. Instead of resting and receiving the mercy of God as He has blessedly provided in His Son, in His substitutionary sacrifice for His Sheep, the perfection of the Word in worship and life, and Christ’s mediatorial reign, we have instead fallen into the same trap as the Israelites and gone after other gods and served the creature rather than the Creator.

In closing, Brothers and Sisters heed the warning of Scripture. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul, if God is for us who can be against us? Let God be true and every man a liar. Do not fear what this World can do to you, but find ease, refreshing, and strength for your weak and wearied souls in the faith once for all delivered unto the saints and especially in the Word our loving Father has graciously provided for us to sing in times of trouble that we may, as the Scottish Psalter expresses so beautifully in the words of David from Psalm 4:

1     Give ear unto me when I call,
         God of my righteousness:
      Have mercy, hear my pray'r; thou hast
         enlarged me in distress.
   2  O ye the sons of men! how long
         will ye love vanities?
      How long my glory turn to shame,
         and will ye follow lies?
   3  But know, that for himself the Lord
         the godly man doth choose:
      The Lord, when I on him do call,
         to hear will not refuse.
   4  Fear, and sin not; talk with your heart
         on bed, and silent be.
   5  Off 'rings present of righteousness,
         and in the Lord trust ye.
   6  O who will show us any good?
         is that which many say:
      But of thy countenance the light,
         Lord, lift on us alway.
   7  Upon my heart, bestowed by thee,
         more gladness I have found
      Than they, ev'n then, when corn and wine
         did most with them abound.
   8  I will both lay me down in peace,
         and quiet sleep will take;
      Because thou only me to dwell
         in safety, Lord, dost make.

The Ministerial Heart and Life

We are beginning a new sermon series at our church going through the Book of Jude. As with many of the epistles in the New Testament it begins with a word of comfort for the readers of the letter. Jude 1:2 says,

“Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.”

Here the apostle wants to both comfort and challenge believers to live in light of the Gospel truth which has been made known to them through the work of the Triune God. These three attributes are especially applicable to the officers of Christ’s Church and in this short post I want to talk about how these characteristics must be a part of the life and message of Ministers tasked to oversee the people of God.

The nature of mercy, similar to its analogous cousin grace, is understood to be unmerited favor. The apostle Paul uses it in this way to talk about the doctrine of election in Romans 9. God has mercy upon whom He has mercy. Just as neither Abram nor Noah had performed any praiseworthy action to earn the approbation of the LORD in being the avenues of His covenant promises, those shod with the feet of mercy must rightly comprehend the immense work that God has called them to in the office of a Minister of the Gospel. This is why it is a vital requirement of any who undertake this work that they truly understand the particular nature of this grace and how it has been shown to them. The manner by which it must light the path of the Minister should be illustrated in the freeness of his preaching of the Gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. To hide the good news of Christ from men and women is as unmerciful an act as can be done. To whom much mercy has been shown, much mercy should be given and there is no more gracious act then the free offer of the Gospel in the preaching of the Word. Calling men to repentance and faith is the particular work the Creator of the heavens and the earth has granted to His ambassadors to the nations of this world. Speaking of the imagery of embassies and the men tasked with talking for the King it leads quite nicely to the second attribute.

The Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians is concerned with reminding his readers that a particular labor is done for them in Jesus Christ and they are to act in accordance with that work. One of the illustrations he uses to accomplish this can be found in the fifth chapter. Quoting at length:

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

When Jude talks about peace in the list above he means at least three things by it. The first one, as given by Paul, is the judicial peace of the forensic work in justification. Peace has been made between those in Christ who were in rebellion against the Father. Quite literally the warfare between true believers and God the Father has ceased. They are no longer enemies, but friends through Christ’s fulfillment of the broken Covenant. Second, Jude has in mind the effect of that work upon the heart of the Christian. This enmity that once existed has ended. Peace exists in the heart of believers. Third, the apostle Jude directs this word to the contentment the Christian now has in Christ. Paul speaks of this in the well-known (yet often misappropriated) passage of Philippians 4:9-13. He has learned by the peace of the Gospel of Grace to be content regardless of his outward situation.

The minister of the gospel exhibits this peace in all three examples put forward in the preceding paragraph. He does so, to repeat 2 Cor 5:19, by committing himself to the ministry of the word of reconciliation, which should be the theme of gospel preaching. Preachers must call men and women to peace through the forgiveness of sins by the washing of the blood of the lamb and reinforce that it alone is the manner by which any believer is brought to reconciliation with the Father and can receive both the rest that comes with the knowledge of salvation and by it the contentment of which Christ calls us to in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-6.

Lastly, the third attribute in this opening benediction is love. It is almost a byword that love is one of, if not the most, misused words in the current culture. As with the other two this has more than one reference in the purpose of Jude. The believer, and in the context of this post, the minister must look at the love of God from two different vantage points. First of all the love of God is born out in that any are saved. This ties in with the whole concept of grace as mentioned above. The Lord was not required to provide a means for reconciliation, but in His love for His creation He decreed from the foundation of the world that a substitute would be provided. The well-loved passage from Ephesians is good here:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

The love of God is the source of the election and predestination of God in the sending of His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. This love is the ground of mercy and peace. Going back to the preaching ministry of the Pastor this once more illustrates the beauty of the work Christ who has called them to, in the grandeur of His wisdom, to be able to expound the Gospel of reconciliation. This should at once drive one to the ground in unworthiness, yet should also provide all the incentive necessary to preach without ceasing this beautiful and unequalled labor of love.

It is an unfortunate bit of history that Reformed ministers are caricatured in works of literature as being dour, gruff, men without an ounce of warmth, but the reality is far different. Likewise must it be with those called to be officers in Christ’s church. Their warmth and tenderness, even when using the crook of the staff, must be evident. A shepherd shall sacrifice even his own life for the sake of His flock. It is no small thing to be called to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in this way. (Hebrews 13:17). His ministry must exhibit the mercy, peace, and love of His God most especially in the content of His preaching, but also in the daily shepherding of the sheep the Great Shepherd has given him to watch over.

In closing, there must always be a weight upon the heart and mind of the minister when considering the scope of the gospel work, yet this burden is greatly relieved when one considers for whom they serve. Can there be a more magnificent, merciful, and beautiful yoke than bearing the calling of the blessed savior to put forth the mercy, peace, and love of the Triune God?