Does What We Mean By God Matter?

This is a short 350-word article I wrote for a local paper

Christians know the names, “Heavenly Father”, “Jesus Christ”, and “Holy Spirit”, use them regularly in conversation, and more or less have a passing familiarity with what they represent.

Or at least they think they do.

In this short article I want to ask the question do we really know what they mean, scripturally. Do we properly understand their place in relation to ourselves and how our grasp of who God is affects our knowledge of Him? A good number of the problems the Church faces in our day can find their start in losing sight of the immensity of God and His Holiness. His Otherness. To put it bluntly God is God and humans are not. When the church turns God into a comfortable grandfather or a deified version of Santa Claus and casts off, intentionally or not, the sacredness of God we greatly err.

The Bible speaks of the Triune God as existing eternally; that is Christianity teaches there has never been a time where God is not. As an example when you look at how God introduces Himself to Moses in Exodus 3 He calls Himself “I AM”, which is a present-tense name. He is constant and the same yesterday, today, and forever. A real life application can be seen when Christians bring our cares and concerns before the LORD in prayer. We do so at the feet of a God who already knows our needs and has anticipated them in His providential love. God is not reactive, but proactive in His mercy. This is why when Daniel humbly stands in the face of Belshazzar and proclaims his coming destruction he can speak with such certainty, because the same God who created the Heavens and the Earth has ordered all things according to His Glory and what He proclaims shall come to pass.

These are but a few examples where our knowledge of the attributes of the Triune God has an immediate effect on our relationship with Him and why knowing God as God is necessary for the Christian Life.

Word of Warning

The Prophet Amos warned of a day when there would be a famine upon the land of Israel. It was not going to be one like Israel had seen in the days of Joseph where the people were starving from a lack of grain, but a famine where the Word of the LORD would be scarce and men and women would find themselves longing for spritual food, yet not being able to find it because they sought it from dead idols. This was partially fulfilled in the days of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He dealt with this problem after the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6. The people had the Word of the Bread of Life in their presence yet longed for the worldy bread that became moldy and stale rather than resting in the blessed nourishment of the good spiritual food of Christ. They did this because in God’s holy wrath He had blinded their eyes from the Truth. In that same chapter in John’s gospel you hear Christ speak of the eternal mercy of God in calling men and women out of this darkness, yet because the heart of men is deceitful above all things it is not in our nature to seek the things of God, especially as presented to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This problem was also not restricted to the Jews. The Apostle Paul warns his young student Timothy that the day would come and was already here where the people would no longer sit under the preaching of the Word of the Gospel, but would rather flock to those teachers who tickled their ears with soothing words, and not with the stimulating and convicting testimony of God’s wonderful grace, but with the wisdom of the gods of this age. It is certainly the case that the cautionary message of Paul has come to pass in our day. The much-needed preaching of the whole counsel of God in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God for the sins of His people, and the blessed work of the Holy Spirit in calling people out of death and into life, the opening of the eyes of the spiritually blind, has been passed over in favor of the modern idols of self-esteem, materialism, and cultural acceptance. Jesus Christ did not suffer crucifixion so that you could be happy, wealthy, and wise, but so that you would be washed of your sins, both that which you committed in Adam, and have done in transgressing the Law of God in thought and word and deed. He died so that men would be reconciled with their Heavenly Father through the gift and grant of the imputation of the righteousness earned by Christ, given to you by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The Hand of the LORD in National Catastrophe

“If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” — Amos 3:6

In his sermon responding to the Great Fire of 1835 in New York City Reformed Presbyterian minister James R. Willson speaks at great length as to the reasons why there was such a wanton destruction of both material and buildings, even noting the way that the freezing of the water lines inhibited the fighting of the fire, and how Christians should respond to this tragedy. There is much to take from this work including his jeremiads against the violence done to abolitionists, the danger of preaching false gospels, and the sins of the United States government, all of which Willson speaks about at length in other sermons and letters. However what I would like to focus on in this post is something dealing not with the content of the sermon (which I highly recommend you read), but one of the theological underpinnings of Willson’s writings, that being the role of our sovereign and holy God in the calamity of the fire. Throughout the sermon he makes some statements that would cause most 21st Century Christians to image Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and I want to examine for the believer why, despite the inelegant and wrongheaded manner in which men like Robertson and Falwell often went about their condemnations, the spirit of their motions were correct, and in keeping with a long-held understanding of God’s continued hand in the world and its conflagrations.

There has always been an impulse to speak to ones congregation about major events happening in and around the church (see the myriads of sermons preached after the Great Fire of London in 1666), which we have seen in recent years after events like 9/11 and more recently the Supreme Court decisions. My personal practice is not to deviate from already organized services as I find the breadth of Holy Scripture to be sufficient to work in applications to happenings in wider society regardless of the passage. That being said a topical sermon devoted to extraordinary thanksgivings and other more negative events are certainly in keeping with the strictures of WCF 21 and our Reformed heritage. So there is no trouble, historically or confessionally, with this practice. Going back to the larger question at hand what right does a Reformed minister have in speaking to God’s specific destruction for national sin, whether before or after, and His hand in these things? There is certainly a more recent school of thought in Reformed circles that to speak at all about God’s role in anything but a generic sense is to be not just presumptuous, but confusing the theology of the cross with a theology of glory. Part of the reason for this is the absence in our systematic theology of an understanding of nations as nations being moral persons. In other words we all confess the truth that people, as individuals, owe obedience to God and will be held accountable for their decisions in accordance with revealed truth. However, what is absent from our day is the long held awareness in Reformed theology of a corporate aspect to this obedience in not just the Church, but in society as well. Here is a link to some quotes that illustrate the way in which this thought permeated Reformed thinkers across the centuries.

It is worth quoting Willson at length to whet the appetite:

“We may therefore enforce the maxim that national calamities are sent to punish national sins, from the [example of the] sufferings of Israel for their sins. If the hand of God is in these late calamities, and who but an atheist will deny it, then he either inflicts for sin, or for no cause. The latter will hardly be asserted by any one who professes to believe in the being and attributes of God. It is the award of the common conscience of all nations, that God punishes with visible judgments, flagrant sins (Acts 28:4)…Hardened sinners in Christian nations appear to be nearly alone in denying our maxim”, pg. 39

Now of course we could add the majority of the West to this last sentence as even belief in a watchmaker god has passed by the wayside. Willson will go on to give several examples from Holy Scripture where pagan nations (especially from Amos and the examples of Egypt, Assyria, 1st Century AD Israel, and Babylon) face the wrath of God for their unbelief and multitude of sins. This is how Willson can then speak in the way he does in this work outlining the wickedness of slavery and the way in which the people of New York (especially the politicians, merchants, and high society folks) benefit from the continuance of southern slavery and this being the reason for God’s hot displeasure in the fire and the cold. Biblically 1 Timothy 2:1-2 is another place where you can see God’s call upon His people to be actively involved in the prophetic denunciations of wickedness and therefore also to be in prayer for the elimination of such things by the hand of the Magistrate. Notice the reason Paul gives for this work is so that the people of God would live peaceably in Godliness and reverence. How can the sheep of Christ hope to have this work out in real life if the President, Congress, Supreme Court, etc… invite the wrath of God through their support of evil? It should be of no surprise that you see the speedy acceptance of the gross immorality of sodomy as part of God’s judgment upon the nations for their already unrighteous support of Sabbath-breaking, usury, and other violations of God’s holy and perfect commandments.

We are, as a nation, being held accountable for our corporate sin, regardless of whether our churches theology allows for this to be the case or not. We should respond in the way Willson describes in this work and heed the testimony of our forefathers. Their failure to listen to Willson in 1836 led to the deaths of 800,000 Americans in God’s judgment for man-stealing.

Despite the plethora of “Persecution? You’ll Love It and the Church Will Be Better For It!” articles from some circles in the past several days God’s destruction upon a wicked nation is neither “fun” nor “good”. It is be lamented and mourned. Great apostasy is a time for sackcloth and ashes not Kevin Bacon in Animal House shouting “all is well”; when the winnowing scythe is cutting through the wheat the plant is killed in the process and requires replanting in the Spring. These days are to met with tears, not attempts to assuage conscience. This is why the words of Willson are more necessary than ever. God’s condemnation is being poured out upon this land, and as Jeremiah wept at the end of his home so to should believers be on their knees seeking repentance, for not just personal sin, but our corporate responsibility in the continuance of our national sins.

As Willson notes:

“If there is any principle of God’s moral government clearly revealed and irrefragably proved, by the light of nature, by the Holy Scriptures, and by the dispensations of God’s providence, it is that when judgments fall on cities and nations, they are the rod of Heaven punishing them for their sins.” — pg.44

In closing, while it is not fashionable to speak in the way Willson does in his sermon, partly out of the aforementioned theological and social reasons, we would be wise to heed the example that we read and examine why exactly these things are upon us and to call all men to repentance and faith in the only answer for the troubles we face, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the lamb slain from the foundation of the World. Seek Him, Rest in His Righteousness, and find peace in his Blood and Mercy. For as Willson carefully and winsomely reminds us, there is no hope for individuals, churches, or nations outside of bowing the knee in humility to the Son of God who is currently breaking this Nation with his rod of iron.

A Day of Lamentation, Yet Not As the Pagans Lament Without Hope

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!” O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!” — Psalm 137

Listen to the Psalm being sung for edification and blessing.

The Effectual Prayers of the Saints

I read the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’s magazine each month when it is made available online and really enjoyed May’s edition. (Link to PDF) This choice quote I will share below from the opening article perfectly encapsulates the covenantal hope of the believer. In other words a key reason why God has enshrined infant baptism and the covenantal scheme into his sovereign plan for his people is that it reminds us of the link that each generation shares all the way back to the initial salvation promise made to Adam and Eve after their fall. God in Genesis 3:15 says he shall provide a seed that would strike the serpent down (imaged for them in the first death which came from the animal skins they were given) and that God’s salvation for their sin would be accomplished in the seed. It is why Psalm 120 tells us of the blessings that will come upon our Children’s Children through the LORD’s hand. It is why we are called to pray for God’s precious hand to be upon our little ones just as David called upon God’s mercy to generations to come in Psalm 89:4, which Matthew lays out for us in genealogical fashion. So again as you read this quotation be comforted and reminded of the good things that come, regardless how evil they may look today, to the family of God through the effectual prayers of the saints.

“If God’s children have been praying, one might ask, where is the answer? A first response to this question is: God is still delivering sinners out of Satan’s kingdom. Converts may be few, but God has not allowed His Church to die out. Indeed He never will, for there always will be those who fear God “as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations” (Ps 72:5). Second, God is sovereign as to when He will answer prayer. The prayers of God’s children are not rejected. Whenever it will please God to return in power and bring multitudes into His kingdom at once, it will be in answer, not only to the prayers offered up in that generation, but also to the prayers of many previous generations.”

The Sabbath Day and the Law of Love

It has been a while since I ranted about the Sabbath Day so I figure it is time for another one, much to your delight I am sure. In this post I want to come at the 4th Command from a little bit different angle than is usually taken when discussing this part of God’s Law. In his defense of the abiding validity of the Sabbath Jesus in Mark Chapter 2 says that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Part of His point is that the Lord’s Day is a gift from God not just for His covenant people, but for all of mankind. It was intended from the beginning before Adam’s fall and remains to this day to be a part of the LORD’s good pleasure for His creation. Quite often when discussing the Law of God in general we can forget that the mercy of the law applies not just for the ethic of the Christian believer, but for all of humanity as well, regardless of whether in their depraved minds they may realize that this is the case or not. Their denial does not change God’s purpose.

In Reformed confessional theology we reckon the 4th Commandment as part of the “First Table” of the Law. While this most certainly is the case it could be said to act almost as a keystone between the two tables. After calling on the people of God to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it Holy (i.e.- set apart from the other days of the week) you see a listing of people and animals who also should be observing the Lord’s Day. From Ex. 20:10:

In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.

When considering their following of this command the Israelite (and later the Christian) was to reflect on its application to those around them. The cattle were to rest. The strangers were to rest. The servants were to rest. This is where you see the law of love come into play. The question to be asked is can it be remarked to be loving to make your servant (no longer the slave of the old testament day, but those working at your request at the restaurant or shopping center, etc…) miss out on this God-given time of rest? I would posit that it is not an act of love to expect those outside the camp of Christ to service your pleasure on the Lord’s Day. In causing your own foot to turn (Isaiah 58:13-14) you are in reality forcing your waitress, ticket-taker, concession worker, etc…, to turn their foot on the Sabbath Day of the LORD. So it is not just you who have violated the 4th Commandment, but the stranger within your gates has as well, and at your personal request. This also gets you into some of the applications of the 5th commandment as well, especially as it is laid out in the explanatory questions in the Shorter and Larger Catechism. What is your responsibility to your neighbor when it comes to this?

In his general epistle the apostle James talks about the law of love. He says:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

It is important for this discussion to bring into account what James says here about partiality. This is an inescapable part of the section of the 4th Commandment quoted above about the servants, strangers, and cattle. The question needs to be asked concerning how we take partiality to ourselves against the common liberty of our servants, strangers, and cattle that exists in the giving of the Sabbath Day as a creation ordinance.

Let us look at an example. When I worked at Hardee’s back in high school there were a couple nice ladies who came in every morning to make the biscuits for the day. This included Sundays. They often would not finish their work until 10:00am. Let us assume for a second that these ladies were Christians. For argument’s sake their church services began at 10:00am. How would they be able to worship the Lord their God with the other members of the flock? Well obviously they cannot. Are we not showing partiality in a negative way by using their labor to serve our bellies on our way to worship God? Our inability and/or unwillingness to prepare for the Lord’s Day (in the case of breakfast) has kept these ladies from the means of grace.  Is this an example of loving your neighbor as yourself? I think the answer is pretty clear. To back up a second would you say that there would be a change if the ladies were not Christians? One of the ironies is if while waiting for your food to be served at 9:30am on the Lord’s Day morning you asked the young man at the cash register to come to worship with you to hear the words of salvation he could not because he was busy getting your coffee and breakfast sandwich ready for you. Is this a good testimony to the Second Greatest Commandment? Again, the answer is clear in regards to this.

In closing I want to defuse some push back. All confessional Presbyterians understand that the Sabbath command speaks of the allowance of works of necessity and mercy on the Lord’s Day. It is part of God’s good gift that first responders (Police, Fire, Ambulance), who work for our benefit, will labor on that day. It is a red herring to bring them into this discussion. What I want you to ask of yourself is if it is an act of love, in fulfillment of the First or Second Table of the Law to do things on the Holy Day set aside by God Himself from the creation of the World that neither are necessary (shopping, professional sports, going to the movies, etc…) nor merciful to your neighbor who needs that Sabbath rest and more importantly does not need barriers to the hearing of the Word of Life.

The Wings of Conversion and the New Birth

Benjamin P. Glaser:

My newest at the Fire and Hammer Reformation blog (a blog dedicated to experimental Calvinism) about two graces the Lord Jesus Christ grants to us in our new walk in Him in order to cause us to grow both in faith and assurance of that faith.

Originally posted on :

Puritan Isaac Ambrose, an English Presbyterian serving mostly in the north of England, and like many of that era pushed out of his pulpit by the marauding conformists was a preacher of not a common dexterity and depth. His sermons were said to cause even the most mature Christian to pause and weep for their sins and admire afresh the beauty of the grace of their savior. While not a lot of his works remain extant the ones that are available should be on the kindle and pdf bookshelves of any serious Christian. Today in this post I want to examine and lay before you a couple of “wings” upon which Ambrose calls the Christian believer to rest as they come into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in Him for Salvation. These “wings” follow Ambrose’s eight signs of true conversion, which themselves are worth meditating on in…

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