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Prone to Worry

Young people (and older people) are liable to worry about their future. Given our old sinful natures, legitimate questions can easily lead to illegitimate concerns, unhealthy doubts and damaging, even crippling, fears. Just as “I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour” (Heidelberg Catechism, A5), so we are prone to worry.

 

Should I go to college or university? Which one? Will I get the grades to get in? What subjects should I study? What courses should I take? What if I don’t like it there? Can I afford the fees? Will I be able to pay back my student loan? Or should I learn a trade or serve an apprenticeship?

 

What job should I do? Will it provide enough to provide for my family (if God gives me one), Christian school tuition, and my church? Will I even be able to get a job in these economically unsettled times? Do I have or will I have the requisite skills?

 

Young people are also prone to worries about dating and marriage. Whom should I court? Who would want to date me, since I am unattractive, unpopular, or whatever? Would anyone want to marry me? I’d probably make a terrible spouse! I’d be no good in a marriage! How could I cope with children? Maybe God is calling me to a life of singleness? If so, what will others think?

 

The temptation to worry about these and other things is present especially for young people—those in their late teens or early twenties, because you are approaching and entering a period of transition in your life. You are moving from the security of living with your parents in the family home into situations in which you have to take more responsibility and find your own way.

 

Worry Is Sin!

The first thing we must be entirely clear about is that worry is sin. It is appropriate and necessary to think and plan for the future (submitting, of course, to the sovereignty of our merciful and just Father in heaven). However, anxiety about the days and months and years ahead betrays a lack of trust in the goodness and wisdom of our covenant God, for it contradicts our confession of the loving providence of our creator and redeemer (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 9–10).

 

Since scripture promises (concerning the future too) that all things work together for good to those who love God (Rom. 8:28), we must not work ourselves up with anxiety and fear by thinking that events will conspire against us for ill. Do not, like foolish Jacob, reckon “all these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). This is sinful unbelief!

 

In the middle of his famous sermon on the mount (Matt. 5–7), which explains the calling of the citizens of the kingdom of God, our savior addressed the issue of worry (Matt. 6:24–34). He forbids us to be anxious about food, drink, and clothing (for ourselves or our future spouses or children), and thus the jobs required to pay for such things and the education and training necessary for such jobs.

 

Listen closely to Christ’s crucial concluding commands: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought [i.e., do not worry] for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matt. 6:33–34). Believe and obey!

 

God’s Sovereignty and Our Calling

When we worry, we foolishly ignore our human limitations, for we do not know and cannot control the future. These are solely divine prerogatives, for Jehovah alone has decreed and governs all things.

 

Our calling defines our responsibility. Those in education are to make good use of their God-given abilities, studying faithfully, as unto the Lord, not merely regarding man (cf. Eph. 6:5–8). Through confession of our all-too-frequent laziness and disobedience, God grants us cleansing by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:9).

 

Regarding future training or education, learn about the options available, discuss the issues with teachers and/or parents and/or people in these fields and then decide on the basis of sufficient information. Those who seek God’s glory in making decisions (small or large) in accordance with biblical principles have no reason to lie awake at night worrying, but should sleep in peace, knowing the future is in the Lord’s gracious hands.

 

The same principles apply regarding a job. What skills do you have? What are your interests? What training do you need? What openings are there? Learn about the company and position you seek before your interview. Do the best you can and leave the results to the sovereign God. Keep trying, if at first you don’t succeed. The Lord is with you as you truly seek to serve him; that is more important than a job, even the “ideal” job.

 

Concerning a spouse, if God wills that you marry, you will. Your calling meanwhile is to grow in grace so that you are ready to be a godly husband or wife. Prepare for confession of faith and make the church central in your life. Attend Bible studies and go to church lectures. Do not use your increased freedom to indulge in worldliness!

 

Those who can truly confess, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:63) are the young men and women who will be blessed in singleness (1 Cor. 7:1, 7–8), courtship (as you seek to ascertain if this is the biblically qualified person God would have you marry) and in the covenant of marriage, according to Jehovah’s sovereign purpose. Marriage, like this present world, is temporary, “but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17).

 

Trust and Pray

While it is wrong to dodge or run away from your responsibilities, heaping up and compounding your problems and fears is also self-destructive. By God’s grace, do not give in to self-pity or despair through worrying about the future.

 

Instead, trust in the goodness of the God who holds you, the future, and the world in his hands. Pray to him through Jesus Christ, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Continually and especially when you are feeling anxious, bring all your burdens to the Lord, telling him all the things that oppress you and your fears for the future. Our heavenly Father, like a good parent, understands, comforts, and guides his children.

 

Psalm 62:8 puts it so well: “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8). All our cares and worries build up like pressure in our hearts. Release them through prayer to the Lord and you will find him “a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1), like Hannah (1 Sam. 1–2), even through the uncertain years of young adulthood.

“… it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory. And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles” (Isaiah 66:18b-19).

  1. The Message to Be Preached to All Nations

What do you think is the most important thing about the work of missions? The message! The message to be preached!

Do you have a message? Does your congregation have a message? Does your denomination have a message? Do you, personally, have a message? Do you have a message that is worth bringing to the nations?

You must be totally convinced that the gospel that you believe and the gospel that your church preaches is both true and important. It must be true otherwise you are spreading lies—lies about God and his salvation in Jesus Christ! Wouldn’t that be awful! It must also be important—and you must be convicted that the Reformed gospel we confess is important. If you don’t believe this, you won’t do much witnessing. If you don’t believe that it is important, even a little bit of hardship and suffering will be enough to silence you.

The Protestant Reformed Churches must be convinced that their message is both true and important. If not, why send missionaries halfway around the world? Why bother with all the necessary training? Why spend all that money? Why go through all the difficulties and setbacks that are involved in mission work—suffering experienced not only by the missionary but also by those converted through his missionary labours?

Unless we believe that the Reformed faith, as we confess it, is both true and important, we should not start any more mission works, for there are other churches that do mission work which are much bigger than us and have more earthly resources than us. Moreover, unless we believe that the Reformed faith is both true and important, we should stop all our existing mission works.

Now, what does Isaiah 66 have to say about the true and important message to be preached to all nations? In verse 19, Jehovah says, “they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.” This is the message to be proclaimed throughout the world: glory, God’s glory. This is the truth! This is the only important thing!

The Hebrew word for “glory” means “heavy.” We must proclaim not that which is light or insubstantial, like idols or the wisdom of man, for they are vain and inconsequential. Rather, we must preach God’s glory, which is heavy, substantial and weighty. The God of glory is dreadfully majestic and only to be approached with fear and awe.

The glory of God! This is the message to be preached to the nations. This is missionary work. This is what God himself wants proclaimed. This is what God himself will see to it is preached by true churches.

This means that missionary work is not man-centered. The glory of man is not to be preached. This is what must be preached about man:

All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isa. 40:6-8).

Missionary work is not—if we’re thinking in a third-world context—sending famine relief, building huts or hospitals, or raising the standard of living. These may be related to missionary work and may even be by-products of missionary work, but these in themselves are not missionary work. This is pretty much all the liberal and departing churches can do, because they are not concerned with God and his glory. They are not consumed with his majesty; they are man-centered in their missionary endeavours. Where does preaching God’s glory come in for them? It doesn’t. According to verse 19, God does not send such people.

What are some of the things that Isaiah says about God’s glory? Isaiah makes it very clear that God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:5 prophesies, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The context, along with the citation of the previous two verses in the gospel accounts (e.g., Matt. 3:3; Luke 3:4-6), indicates that this refers to the incarnation of the eternal Son of God for us, totally depraved sinners. This is certainly weighty! In Isaiah 49:3, Jehovah speaks to Christ, “Thou art my servant…in whom I will be glorified.” God is glorified in Jesus’ holy life, his death on the cross, his resurrection, his ascension and his reign from heaven. Christ alone justifies, sanctifies, preserves and glorifies us. The name of Jesus is the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Preaching him glorifies the one, true and living God.

Remember also Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, high and lifted up in the temple, in Isaiah 6. John 12:39-41 identifies the glorious One seated on the throne as Jesus Christ. Only with this awesome vision of God’s glory in Christ could Isaiah obey his call to preach. After all, Isaiah’s ministry was largely to be one of hardening; his preaching was used to effect God’s eternal decree of reprobation in most of his hearers. What does Isaiah 6:9-10 declare?

And he [i.e., God] said, Go [Isaiah], and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.

In short, the message of God’s glory in Christ to all nations includes sovereign election and reprobation. We cannot be unfaithful and leave this out.

God calls it “my glory” in Isaiah 66:19, and he determines what glorifies him. He does this in his Word—all of it! This is the book that glorifies God! His Word is summarized and systematized in our Reformed confessions, the Three Forms of Unity.

God is God! This is the message of omnipotent grace, Christ’s particular and effectual atonement, sovereign regeneration, the almighty preservation of all the elect, etc.—God’s glory! This is the message of God’s grace in the covenant with us and our elect children. This is the biblical and Reformed gospel that declares God’s glory among the Gentiles.

  1. The Messengers Who Are to Preach to All Nations

Isaiah 66 is distinctive, even unique, in the Old Testament in that it not only presents the message to be preached—God’s glory!—but also the official messengers who preach it.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the Gentiles are typically presented as being attracted or drawn to the church. This is the case in Isaiah 2:2-3:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

The nations are drawn to Zion—flow uphill to it—by irresistible grace, in order to hear God’s Word.

But here, in Isaiah 66, God sends out his messengers to the Gentiles where they are: “I will send those that escape of them unto the nations” (v. 19). Isaiah 66 does not mention the nations closest to the land of Israel, such as Moab, Philistia or Edom. In this passage, God’s messengers are not even sent to nations a bit farther away, such as Egypt, Assyria or Babylon. It is the distant nations, the lands farthest away from Israel, that are listed in Isaiah 66. Five are named in verse 19: Tarshish, Pul, Lud, Tubal and Javan, places in the three then-known continents, which we call Asia, Africa and Europe. (Australia and North and South America were unknown to the ancients.) The text also refers to “the isles [or coastlands] afar off.” This includes most of us, for we are far from the biblical lands in the Near East.

Those mentioned in Isaiah 66 initially know nothing of the one true God revealed to Israel, for God describes them as those who “have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory” (v. 19).

These messengers that God sends out in Isaiah 66 are sent even to the fiercest of the pagans, those who “draw the bow” (v. 19), the warlike peoples. One thinks, for example, of the cannibals of Papua New Guinea. There have been many missionaries who have been martyred by those to whom they brought the gospel.

It is entirely appropriate that Isaiah should be the prophet who speaks of God sending out missionaries to the heathen to bring them God’s Word. The book of Isaiah has so much to say of Christ, his gospel and the conversion of the Gentiles that Isaiah is rightly called the “evangelical prophet.”

Isaiah 66 is the last chapter of his prophecy, so our text is included in the culmination and climax of this biblical book. It answers the questions, How is Christ going to be made known throughout the world? How are the Gentiles going to be converted?

Isaiah 66:18-19 sets before us various elements in the sending out of God’s New Testament messengers.

First, God prophesies, “I will set a sign among them” (Isa. 66:19). Christ himself is this “sign,” as Isaiah 7:14 confirms: “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The same Hebrew word for “sign” is used in both texts (Isa. 7:14; 66:19). Old Simeon refers to Jesus as a “sign” in his words to the Virgin Mary: “Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against” (Luke 2:34). Christ is a “sign” pointing us to the God who saves his elect people and punishes the wicked and unbelieving.

Second, God set Christ as “a sign among them,” that is, among Israel (Isa. 66:19). Some thirty years he lived in their midst, followed by three years of public ministry amongst them. All knew of him and his teaching, miracles and work, for this thing was not done in a corner. But the nation rejected him and killed him by Roman crucifixion, resulting in the cutting off of the Jews as a nation (Isa. 66:15-17).

Third, Jehovah says, “I will send those that escape of them to the nations” (Isa. 66:19). “Those that escape of them” are those that escape the spiritual judgment upon Israel. They are the believing Jews who receive Christ as the promised Messiah and so do not perish with the unbelieving majority in Israel. Thus Peter, one who by grace avoided God’s righteous judgment, exhorted the people on the day of Pentecost to escape from that “untoward generation” (Acts 2:40).

Fourth, God promises, “I will send those that escape of them to the nations” (v. 19). Jehovah sent Philip to Samaria. He sent Peter to Cornelius in Caesarea. Paul was sent on his first, second and third missionary journeys, probably even going as far as Spain, which includes “Tarshish,” mentioned in Isaiah 66:19.

Think of your catechism classes on New Testament history. Do you remember what the word “apostle” means? It means “sent ones;” the word “apostle” comes from the Greek word for “send.” God sent the twelve apostles and Paul. They escaped the judgment of God against Israel, and they were sent to the nations, with many even being martyred doing their missionary work.

There were others who were sent but were not among the twelve apostles. Prophets, such as Agabus, and evangelists, like Timothy and Titus, were sent by God through the risen Christ (Eph. 4:11). There were also pastors and teachers who were sent by the Lord, just as today he still sends pastors and teachers in this special, permanent office.

In this connection, it must be pointed out that God sends through the church. In Acts 13:1-3, Paul and Barnabus were sent on their missionary journey by the church at Antioch. Missionaries are to be sent by churches, not parachurch organizations or missionary societies. Romans 10:15 states that missionaries cannot preach “except they be sent.”

God is still sending people through the church as he has done throughout the New Testament age. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). This is the great commission. Teaching all nations all things that Christ has commanded us and baptising them into the name of the Triune God is proclaiming God’s glory!

Fifth, God gives positive fruit to the preaching of his glory. In Isaiah 66:18, Jehovah proclaims, “it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come, and see my glory.” This is God’s history-long gathering of his catholic or universal church of which you, young people, are a part. Being a part of this church means that we are privileged to see God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 66:20 uses Old Testament imagery to represent this gathering of the universal church:

And they shall bring all your brethren for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations upon horses, and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules, and upon swift beasts, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, saith the Lord, as the children of Israel bring an offering in a clean vessel into the house of the Lord.

All of God’s people, including us, are dedicated to the Lord!

Isaiah 66:21 adds, “And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord.” God will make some Gentile New Testament believers “priests” and “Levites,” that is, special office-bearers in his church.

III. Your Practical Calling

Flowing from all this comes your personal calling, young people in Christ’s church. Some of you will fill special offices in his church. Some of you will be ministers or missionaries who preach God’s glory to the nations. Some of you will be elders who oversee ministers and missionaries who preach God’s glory to the nations. Some of you will be wives who help such ministers, missionaries or elders. Some of you will serve as missionary assistants on foreign mission fields. Some of you will be members of evangelism committees. (By the way, if you do join such committees or hold such positions, perhaps you could forward requests for literature from the British Isles or Europe to us in N. Ireland, just as we forward requests we receive from people in the US and Canada to the nearest Protestant Reformed church, thus reducing postage costs.)

There are, of course, a couple of objections that you might have to this. You may be thinking that this is all far off in the future: “I’m only 14 [or 16 or 18 or whatever].” You may also reckon, “I’ll never be an office-bearer or do any of those things you’ve mentioned.” Even if this is the case—and which of us knows the future?—there are other ways, though, that you can help in the spread of the Word by using your various skills or opportunities or resources.

If you travel abroad on vacation or for study or work, what about learning about the country you are visiting? Why not learn about the church there and the history of the gospel in that region? Or perhaps you could visit our mission fields. You are all very welcome to stay with us in Northern Ireland. But don’t all come at once; our home doesn’t have room for all of you! You are all invited to come to the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Cardiff, Wales (7-14 August, 2010). There you will meet fellow believers from the British Isles, Italy, Portugal, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other countries, as well as saints from Canada and the US (DV).

Some of you have computer skills. You may be able to help with your church website. Far more people listen to our church’s sermons via the internet than attend our church services—a lot of people listen from China especially. Whatever you do, though, don’t go on-line to air criticisms of your church on the worldwide web. This is sinning against Christ and the unity of his church. If anyone you know spreads evil, schismatic views, tell them that the devil has legions of fallen angels to do his bidding already, and he doesn’t need any more helpers!

Mission fields need those with practical skills. For example, the Pittsburgh mission field needed work done on their church building and manse. There are opportunities for those who can help with such things as cleaning, carpentry, landscaping, etc.

The one most important thing—and something all of you can engage in right now, even at this stage in your lives—is prayer. Pray, of course, for labours connected with the PRC in the US and Canada, for the two missionaries called to the Philippines, for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, for Singapore and Myanmar, for Australia and India, etc. Pray also for the labours of others in over 200 countries in the world. Pray for the church in all six continents of the globe; remember, half or more of the world’s population is in Asia.

There are also various Protestant Reformed ministries of great help in mission work. There is the Reformed Witness Hour (RWH) with its radio sermons by Rev. Haak and others. The RWH is broadcast on the airwaves in N. Ireland and the Philippines, as well as on various stations in America and Canada. A friend in Portugal hopes to translate RWH sermons into Portuguese and read them on Portuguese radio. Praying for the Reformed Witness Hour, helping them and giving offerings to them helps in the spread of the gospel and missions.

What about RFPA books and Protestant Reformed pamphlets? Our mission work in Northern Ireland would be greatly hampered without these excellent resources. While my wife and I have been here in the US, we have received a request from an officer in the British army in the Falkland Islands, off the coast of Argentina, who would like ten copies of Rev. Houck’s pamphlet “God’s Sovereignty in Salvation” to use in a Bible study with fellow soldiers. We also have translators and/or helpers on every continent who assist us in rendering parts of these materials into other languages.

Finally, your own walk with the Lord affects the spread of the gospel and missions. Be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. If you stray spiritually and walk in sin, you bring grief and trouble to the pastor and the consistory (as well as your parents and other saints). Time and energy that might have been spent spreading the Word of God then goes in seeking to recover you! You should be a help, not a hindrance in the dissemination of the gospel of Christ!

Witness where you are—now! You don’t have to go overseas. Probably people from every country of the world are already found in the US, the world’s great melting pot. Pass on literature (pamphlets and books) or CDs or DVDs or internet links to friends and acquaintances. Contribute to the life of your church so that it is a faithful, thriving congregation filled with the Spirit, just like the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch in the book of Acts. It is churches like these—like yours—that God uses to preach his glory to the nations. Let us be faithful and diligent!

What means does God use to hold up his truth in the world? Is it angels? No. Angels appeared to men on earth only occasionally even in biblical times, and now not at all until Christ’s return. Are individual Christians the pillar and ground of the truth? No, though individual believers do have an important role to play in witnessing of Christ. What about Christian families? They are the building blocks of the church, but they are not the pillar and ground of the truth. What about the civil government? Its calling is to punish evil-doers and reward well-doers (I Peter 2:14), but it is not the pillar and ground of the truth. What of the false church? It is the pillar and ground of the lie, holding up before the world the false gospel as if it were the true gospel.

“The church of the living God”—not Billy Graham crusades, not mission halls, not lay preachers—is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). God is in the church for it is “the house of God” in which He dwells by His Spirit (14). Jesus Christ speaks through faithful teaching and catechising by true ministers of His Word. Thus the church—and the church alone—is the pillar and ground of the truth.

From all of this we learn, first, the dignity of the church. No other body on earth is the pillar and ground of the truth. Without faithful churches the truth of God in the world would fall to the ground. Let us esteem true churches highly! Second, here we have a test for churches. Does a particular congregation or denomination function as the pillar and ground of the truth? Does it hold up all of the truth or most of the truth or some of the truth? Does it hold up lies as if they were the truth? Some churches do so little teaching that it is as if they are pillars which hold up nothing at all! This test, whether or not a church holds up God’s truth faithfully, enables us to determine the purity of a church. Try the spirits, including the churches, by God’s Word (I John 4:1). Believers must discern a truth-upholding church in order to remain members of it or join it. Third, this teaches us the solemn calling of a minister. He must know how he ought to “behave” in a true church which is nothing less than a “pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:14-15). His behavior or conduct here especially includes his preaching. He must preach knowing that there is only one truth and not two. The truth must be preached with certainty and without fear of man. The minister must “speak as the oracles of God” (I Peter 4:11). He must be careful not to mix wood, hay and stubble with the pure truth of God’s Word (I Cor. 3:10-15). Fourth, the calling of elders in a church (which is to be “the pillar and ground of the truth”) includes ensuring that the truth and the truth alone is held up. Thus they must correct the minister if he preaches error and defend him if he is attacked for preaching the truth.

The church’s calling in the world is to uphold the whole truth of God set forth in the 66 books of sacred Scripture, including not only the attributes of God, the wickedness of man, the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s covenant with believers and their seed, etc., but also the Christian’s duty “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with” his God (Mic. 6:8). From I Timothy we learn that the church must testify publicly of the purpose of the law (ch. 1), the role of men and women in the church (ch. 2), the qualifications for special office bearers (ch. 3), the “latter times” (ch. 4), care for widows (ch. 5) and work and covetousness (ch. 6). Moreover, after declaring that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (3:15), the next verse explains the very heart and core of that truth: “the mystery of godliness” formerly hidden but now revealed in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. “And without controversy [i.e. confessedly] great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (3:16). Clearly, declaring God’s truth to the nations centres on proclaiming Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

The church holds up the truth in the world, in part, by preserving and translating the sacred Scriptures. The OT church was the custodian of the truth, for unto the Jews “were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Before the age of printing, members of the NT church engaged in painstaking copying of God’s Word. The NT church, especially in its early and modern eras, has laboured in Bible translation. Think of Jerome and his Latin Vulgate, Luther in the Wartburg toiling on the German Bible, our own William Tyndale and the men who produced the Authorized Version. Of the 6528 or so languages in the world, some two thirds of them still do not have any of the Bible in written form. Though only about 6% of the world’s population speaks these languages, important work in the kingdom of heaven remains to be done in this area.

The church also holds up the truth in the world by interpreting God’s Word, for the Holy Spirit does His work of interpreting His Word in the true church. Church members and office bearers search the Bible daily, comparing Scripture with Scripture. The body labours to understand and expound God’s Word. Thus we have biblical commentaries; Christian books and pamphlets; and Reformed catechisms and confessions.

The church especially holds up the truth in the world by preaching God’s Word, the chief means of grace. The OT prophets preached, Christ preached, the apostles preached, and the church is called to preach. A church must be able to say with Paul that she has “fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 15:19).

Previously, we considered the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Now we shall consider the relationship between Scripture and the church, which I Timothy 3:15 calls “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Does the church authorize Scripture, so that the Bible has no authority without the church’s say-so? Does the church produce the Word or does the Word produce the church? or both? and in what senses?

First, we need to identify the church in I Timothy 3:15 : “the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” The church here is the church institute with her office bearers, sacraments and worship. Thus I Timothy 2 tells us that only men should pray in her assemblies (8) and that women must dress modestly (9) and must not teach nor usurp authority over men (12). Also it is the institute church which has deacons and elders (3:1-13), including teaching and ruling elders (5:17).

Faithful institute churches are “the pillar and ground of the truth.” A “pillar” is a vertical column. The “ground” here is the band around the top of the pillar. Thus the church is the bulwark or stay which supports and upholds the truth taught in the Scriptures before the world.

Rome appeals to I Timothy 3:15 in support of her claims. “We are the church, possessing the fullness of salvation. We are founded on Peter. We have the pope, tradition, the seven sacraments, etc. We are indefectible; our church can never apostatize.” In effect, they read, “the [Roman] church” is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” “Since we are the church, what we teach must be truth. Therefore all our doctrines are true: the mass, prayers for the dead, Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, clerical celibacy, etc.” Thus Rome claims that to assail her is to attack God’s church and truth.

The context, as well as the whole Word of God, forbids us to identify Rome as the true church. Just before our text, the offices of the church are set forth: bishops (elders) and deacons (3:1-13). Popes, cardinals, archbishops, etc., are not biblical offices. After our text, we read of the doctrines of devils and seducing spirits in the “latter times” (the period between the first and second comings of Christ): “forbidding to marry [think of priests, monks and nuns], and commanding to abstain from meats [think of Rome’s laws on fasting]” (4:1-3).

I Timothy was written to Timothy when he was in Ephesus (1:3). Faithful institute churches, wherever they are, which hold up the truth in the world are “the pillar and ground of the truth.” A congregation or denomination has a right to the name “church” if (and only if) it holds up the truth revealed in God-breathed Scripture.

This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume X, Issues 4.

Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume X, Issues 2 & 3.

Having explained the idea and the content of the “traditions” (II Thess. 2:15) last time, we must now ask: Where does this leave the church of Rome and her tradition? Rome has rejected apostolic traditions. Justification by faith alone is jettisoned for justification by faith and works. Christ’s all sufficient atonement and mediation is rejected for the mass and the intercession of Mary and the saints. Sovereign election and reprobation (11-14) is forsaken for the “gospel” of free will. (How few professed Protestants today “stand fast, and hold” this apostolic tradition!) Rome also rejects the faithful tradition of the best teachers of the church (e.g., Augustine, Luther and Calvin).

However, II Thessalonians 2 does apply to Rome and her tradition. It is not verse 15, though. Rome is embraced in the “falling away” (3), idolatry (4), false miracles (9), ingenious deceits (10) and “strong delusion” (11) which softens the world up to receive the “man of sin” (3), who brings the apostasy of the centuries to its culmination. At “his coming” (8) on the clouds, Christ will destroy “the son of perdition” (3).

While many are “falling away” (3), our calling is to “stand fast” (15) by “hold[ing] the traditions” as we “have been taught” (15). Obviously, this includes the truth of this chapter (II Thess. 2). Hold fast to the truth of Christ’s bodily return in great glory to destroy the man of sin who is the culmination of the working of the mystery of iniquity. Hold fast to the truth that God sovereignly orders all of this for the salvation of His elect and the destruction of the wicked (11-14). Indeed, hold fast to all of God-breathed Scripture: OT and NT; every book, chapter and verse.

Every professedly Christian group has its tradition (a received body of doctrine), whether its tradition is large or small, or whether or not it even realizes that it has its tradition. But how are we to judge between the various traditions of Rome or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Reformed churches, etc.? Scripture, of course, is the infallible rule which judges all tradition (Acts 17:11; I John 4:1).

We in the CPRF believe that the Three Forms of Unity (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt) faithfully set forth and summarize what the Scripture teaches about the Trinity, Creation, the Person and natures of Christ, the doctrines of grace, etc. Thus we stand fast to the Three Forms of Unity as a concise and accurate presentation of the truth of God’s Word.

We ought also to notice that the command of II Thessalonians 2:15 to hold the traditions is not addressed to church officers (pastors, elders and deacons) but to all the “brethren.” For the Bible is given to all God’s people, for they all have the Spirit of Christ to enable them to understand and cling to the truth of God’s Word. All the people of God are commanded to hold the faithful traditions because, negatively, this is the way of avoiding destruction (10-12). There is vast apostasy in the professing churches and “the falling away” is coming (3; the Greek has the article “the”). The man of sin will say that he is God (4). He will work miracles (9) and be incredibly deceptive (10) and most in the church will be fooled (4). Moreover, God will send “strong delusion” (11). How then will we stand? Only by holding fast to the truth! Those who do not hold fast to the biblical traditions will be deceived and perish.

True, the manifestation of the man of sin may not happen in our day, though it might, since no one knows when he will be “revealed” (3). But the apostle teaches that “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (7). Many today are falling for false doctrine. Unbiblical worship corrupts many churches. Millions are swept away by the false miracles of Roman Catholicism and of charismaticism, all over the world. What will happen when real miracles are wrought with “all power” “after the working of Satan” (9) “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness” (10)?

Though they may say that they believe the truth, many do not receive “the love of the truth” (10) and so do not actually believe the truth (12). Instead, they believe “the lie” (11; the Greek has the article “the”) and thus they shall be “damned” (12).

The imperatives, “stand fast” and “hold,” are in the present tense. Thus, right now, you must cling to the truth as it is developed through the NT age. This includes holding fast to the biblical doctrine of the last times (eschatology) as taught in II Thessalonians 2 and elsewhere, for even in apostolic days there was false teaching on eschatology which deceived and unsettled people (1-3).

Not only must the professing Christian hold fast to biblical traditions lest he perish (10-12), but this adherence to the truth is also the way in which God saves us. God’s “beloved” people are “chosen” “from the beginning,” “called,” sanctified and glorified (13-14). But God has ordained that the way of salvation (and the blessed experience of salvation) is the way of “belief of the truth” and no other way (14). “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the

Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume IX, Issue 24 and Volume X, Issue 1.

Scripture (God’s hammer) is the more sure word that shall never pass away, for it is God-breathed and unbreakable. Though the Bible is an incomparable book, this does not mean that Christians should not also read other books.

Our various callings usually require other reading. Education (both of children and adults) and most forms of employment necessitate reading. Even reading of newspapers enables us to keep informed of the world in which we live.

The Bible actually refers to non-inspired books, such as “the book of Jasher” (Josh. 10:13) and the books of Samuel, Nathan and Gad (I Chron. 29:29). As well as citing the God-breathed OT, Paul quotes (without naming) some pagan authors, such as, Aratus (Acts 17:28), Epimenides (Titus 1:12) and Menander (I Cor. 15:33).

But what about “tradition?” “Doesn’t the Roman church vaunt her tradition? Surely all tradition is bad.” What then do you make of II Thessalonians 2:15 (a text oft quoted by apologists of Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy): “brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions?” Not only is there a positive reference to “traditions” in this verse, but the text also urges Christians to “stand fast” and “hold” them.

But what does Rome means by tradition? Rome believes that God’s Word consists of two parts, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Both have God as their source and they are to be received with equal respect and veneration. Either (or both) can be used to establish or prove a doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting Vatican II) declares that Rome “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (82).

Rome’s tradition includes transubstantiation, the worship of the host, the mass as a sacrifice for the living and the dead; the immaculate conception, bodily assumption and heavenly mediation of Mary; the universal dominion and infallibility of the pope; the seven sacraments, involving auricular confession and penance; purgatory, indulgences, prayers for the dead, prayers to the saints; the rosary and the worship of idols.

Rome teaches that there is an oral transmission of God’s truth from the apostles and their successors over the centuries within the (Roman) church. Some of this tradition is now written in the decisions of the ecumenical and Roman councils, the papal pronouncements, and the writings of the church fathers and the doctors of the church. Unwritten tradition will be disclosed in future Roman dogmas. The magisterium (the Roman church’s teaching office) determines what is Sacred Tradition and what is not. But is all this what II Thessalonians 2:15 has in mind by “traditions?”

The Greek word translated “traditions” carries the idea of handing something down or passing it on. The ones who handed these things down to the Thessalonians were the apostle Paul and his helpers, Timothy and Silas (1:1). They passed these things on by “word, or… epistle.” “Word” includes preaching (and other forms of oral teaching). Thus Paul writes, “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told ye these things?” (2:5). “Our epistle” (singular) is I Thessalonians. Thus the tradition of II Thessalonians 2:15 is apostolic testimony handed down either by inspired Scripture (I Thessalonians) or preaching. Remember that the preaching of Paul (and his associates)—faithful explanation and application of God’s Word—was in full accordance with the Scriptures.

What is the content of the “traditions” of II Thessalonians 2:15? Obviously, the heart of it is the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the salvation of His church to the glory of God. I and II Thessalonians speak especially of Christ’s return for judgment and salvation. II Thessalonians 2 elaborates on this. Preceding Christ’s return and the “gathering” of the saints unto Him (1) is the “falling away” and the revelation of the “man of sin” (3). The man of sin will set himself up “above all that is called God” (4) and will work miracles in the service of the lie (9). Christ “shall consume [him] with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy [him] with the brightness of his coming” (8). God will use the deception of the man of sin (9-10) in executing His decree of reprobation (11-12). However, those “chosen” “to salvation” “from the beginning” shall be effectually “called” to “belief of the truth,” “sanctification of the Spirit” and “obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (13-14). Moreover, included in the “traditions” are the “eschatological ethics” which flow from the biblical doctrine of the last times. These are found especially in I Thessalonians 5:6-28 but also throughout I and II Thessalonians.

Thus the “traditions” which we must hold fast are biblical doctrines contained in God-breathed Scripture and church teaching that is consonant with the written Word of God. This teaching does not add to or contradict the Scriptures. It merely explains and applies the Word of God.

What then of the church of Rome and her tradition? And what is the calling of the believer regarding tradition? We shall consider this next time (DV).

Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume IX, Issues 22–23.

II Peter 3:15-16 tells us two ways in which false teachers twist the Scriptures. First they abuse the “hard” places, the texts that many do not understand, and then they make the easier text conform to their twisting of the harder text. This corrupt method is widespread today. For example, regarding election and reprobation, people should start with Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, chapters directly addressing the subject. Instead, Scripture twisters find some hard verses here or there and build their theory on it. Then they torture Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 to fit with their view. John Wesley’s commentary on Romans 9 is a good example of this.

Second, the Scripture twisters play biblical writers and books against each other. Peter states that he and Paul taught the same thing (II Peter 3:15), for there were some who challenged this. Also Peter places Paul’s (inspired) writings on a par with the Old Testament (15-16), for there were some who challenged this too. Many today are at the same wicked craft. Like Marcion, a heretic in the early church, they believe that the Old Testament teaches a lower deity than the New Testament. Others teach that Paul’s theology differs from Christ’s teaching in the four gospel accounts. It is increasingly popular to say that there are various New Testament theologies—those of Paul, Peter, John, the author to the Hebrews, etc.—and that these theologies contradict each other. These spiritually “unlearned and unstable” men twist the Scriptures “unto their own destruction” (16) when they allege that the New Testament (or Old Testament) writers belie each other. For, while it is true that the various inspired penmen have different approaches and styles, God’s Word is one, a revelation of the unity of His one Being and the product of the one divine Breath (the Holy Spirit) who teaches the one “wisdom” (15) of God in Jesus Christ. A more subtle lie is that biblical theology (a study of the doctrine of the various biblical books or authors) makes systematic theology (an integrated presentation of the whole body of biblical doctrines) unnecessary. This springs from doubt about the possibility of absolute truth, especially in the form of a worldview which gives the “big picture.”

Scripture twisting is in evidence today in many ways. Have you not heard people defend their drunkenness with a garbled reference to I Timothy 5:23: “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities?” This verse may be used to defend the lawfulness of taking alcoholic drinks in moderation (Eph. 5:18) but it is grossly abused to defend drunkenness. In I Timothy 5:23, wine is used not for intoxication but for medicinal purposes: “for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” Moreover it says, “use a little wine” and not a lot of wine.

Those seduced by feminism twist I Timothy 2:12 which declares (regarding the church institute), “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.” We are told that this was only for their day, as if the ascended Christ was not laying down rules for the governance of His church till the end of the age (6:14). We are told that Paul was a bigot or a male chauvinist, as if “our beloved brother Paul” were not an inspired apostle who wrote “according to the wisdom given unto him” (II Peter 3:15).

Scientism teaches that the universe was formed through a massive explosion billions of years ago and that life evolved from the primeval slime. Those who swallow this false teaching and seek to retain some connection with the Bible then “reinterpret” (i.e. “twist”) Genesis 1 and other passages. The fourth commandment’s “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth” goes onto the torturer’s rack, as do the “days” and the “mornings and evenings” of Genesis 1. And, lo and behold, we find that “days” here are millions and millions of years.

Professed Christians twist Scripture when they claim that it does not condemn sodomy, and so we could continue. In fact, some modern hermeneutical theorists are arguing that the reader and not the text determines the text’s meaning!

Against all Scripture twisters, the believer must hold fast the Reformed truth that Scripture interprets Scripture and that “the whole counsel of God” may be “deduced” from Scripture by “good and necessary consequence” (Westminster Confession 1.6). So watch out for Scripture twisting in seminaries and in churches; in books and in tapes; by theologians, by ministers and by professing Christians. Do not be deceived!

People perish in hell for unrepentant Scripture twisting. Westminster Larger Catechism 113 explains this as a sin against the third commandment which forbids “any way perverting the word, or any part of it.” Perverting the Scriptures “enables” a man to reject more of the Word and to live more loosely. Those teachers who twist the Scriptures lead others to perdition for “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). The Scriptures which they twisted shall judge them at the last day.

Scripture twisting is a characteristic of the false church. Belgic Confession 29 states, “As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ.” The false church practices Scripture twisting to support her false teaching and her power. Therefore Christ will destroy the false church.

Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume IX, Issues 20-21.

So far we have seen that God-breathed Scripture is absolutely sure and unbreakable, and that it shall never pass away. How then are sinful men going to avoid submitting to it? Many try to ignore it. Others attack it, calling it “cunningly devised fables” (II Peter 1:16). Others argue that the Bible’s meaning is simply a matter of personal opinion: “That’s what you say it means!” Many try all three of these methods to avoid obeying God’s Word. Moreover, Peter even writes of these who are “unlearned and unstable” who “wrest” or twist the writings of Paul and “the other scriptures” (II Peter 3:15-16).

The “other scriptures” (16) certainly include the inspired Old Testament. Paul’s epistles (15) are also Scripture, placed on par with the Old Testament as divine writings, since Peter refers to the Old Testament as “other scriptures” (16). The Old Testament, all the inspired letters Paul wrote, and indeed the remaining New Testament books constitute the sacred Scriptures. The 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books are the product of divine “wisdom” (15) given to God’s chosen penmen. Wisdom is that which perfectly adapts to reality, and all Scripture perfectly accords with the reality of the sovereign Triune God and His redemption in Christ Jesus. The 66 books of the Scriptures, as the product of Jehovah’s infinite wisdom, are a perfect unity and contain no mistakes. For what part have errors in God’s wisdom?

There are, however, difficult parts in God’s Word—in the Old Testament, in Paul’s epistles and in the rest of the New Testament—for there are “some things hard to be understood” in the Scriptures (16). This does not oppose the orthodox doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture. “Hard to be understood” does not mean impossible to be understood. Furthermore, “some things” are “hard to be understood;” not all or even most things; merely some things. This means that most of the Bible is not hard to understand. As the Psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). Thus “ordinary” believers—and not just church officers or those with theological degrees—can and must read the Scriptures in the confidence that most of Scripture can be understood. There are some hard bits, but do not let them discourage you. Interpret the hard parts in the light of the easier parts. Study more diligently. Pray over the Word for divine illumination. Use commentaries or ask an orthodox church teacher.

The infinitely wise God included some hard parts in Scripture in order to serve our salvation. These difficulties subdue our pride and stir us up to pray and search the Word. Moreover, we often only esteem that which we obtain with difficulty. God also uses the difficult sections of His Word to snare the wicked, for they twist especially the hard parts of Scripture to their own destruction (16).

II Peter 3:16 speaks of “unlearned and unstable” people who “wrest” the Scriptures “unto their own destruction.” The man who wrests Scripture is not neutral; he comes with a preconceived false view. He does not want God’s Word to condemn him and/or others, so he twists it. He wants Scripture to support his views, so he twists it.

The Greek word used here means to torture. Scripture is tortured, like a man put on the rack, in order to force it to say what the torturers want it to say. Picture a cruel tormentor in a torture chamber: “If you do not say what I want you to say, I will tighten the thumbscrew or suspend you from the rafters.” The Scripture twister—the spiritual equivalent of the Grand Inquisitor—likewise tortures the Word of God in order to extort a confession from it. By misquoting a text or ignoring vital words, by disregarding the context or the analogy of faith or the clearer passages which speak on the same subject, the Scripture twister perverts the Word of God. Violence is done to the divine oracles out of hatred for the truth in order to serve the lie.

The Scripture twisters of II Peter 3 twisted God’s Word in its doctrine of the last things: Christ’s second coming, the final judgment and the renewal of heaven and earth. In denying the Christian hope, the Scripture twisters destroy the incentive to godliness provided by Christ’s return (11-14). Thus their false doctrine serves their sinful “lusts” (3)—always an attraction of heresy. These false teachers hold the wicked world-view of the ungodly world that “all things continue as they were from the beginning” (4). They oppose the worldwide flood and find it hard to believe that Christ will return on the clouds of heaven to purge the world with fire (7, 10-12). Moreover, the godly lifestyle required of Christ’s followers is too cramped for their fleshly desires.

Thus these heretics resort to Scripture twisting. They dismiss the gospel accounts of Christ’s power and glory at His transfiguration as “cunningly devised fables” (1:16), for the transfiguration points to His glorious coming (1:16-18). They twist Paul’s letters and the “other scriptures” of Old Testament and New Testament (3:15-16), especially those parts which speak of the end of the world. The narrative of the flood is “willingly” ignored (5). The final “judgment and perdition of ungodly men” (7) is an unpalatable truth, as is the doctrine that “the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (10). “What about our beloved sins!” their flesh cries out. Thus, not content to have any part of God’s Word oppose them, they twist Old Testament and New Testament—gospel, epistle and prophecy—to fit their sinful views and their carnal lifestyles. Many today do likewise. Next time (DV), we will consider the ways in which they twist the Scriptures.

Rev. Stewart is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Northern Ireland. This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume IX, Issues 17–19.

Christ’s words, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35), are a divine promise of the preservation of the entire Scriptures up to (and beyond) Christ’s second coming. This text leads us to believe that God has providentially maintained His Word for over 3,000 years and will continue to do so. The Westminster Confession states that the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek “being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical” (1.8).

God’s special preservation of the Scriptures is denied or ignored by many. Liberal Protestants don’t see God’s sovereign hand much in the world at all, never mind in His singular care for His Word. Muslims tell us that the Bible is hopelessly corrupted and so cannot be trusted. Most textual critics labor without a living sense of God’s special providential preservation of His inspired Word.

It is true that we do not have the original manuscripts written by holy men of God as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (II Peter 1:21). And in the thousands of copies that we have, there are transmissional errors. However, from these manuscripts, the correct reading can be and is seen.

God used the Jews as the librarians of the Old Testament for the church, as Augustine said. The Old Testament priesthood was commanded to care for the law (Deut. 31:9f.). When Ezra returned from the Babylonian captivity, he probably brought with him the inspired oracles written up to that point. Philo, an Alexandrian Jew and a contemporary of the apostles, said that the Jews would rather die a thousand times than see one word of the Scriptures altered. It was a common Jewish saying that to alter one letter of the law is no less a sin than to set the whole world on fire. The Massoretes, Jewish scribes who labored in the second half of the first millennium after Christ, had a great respect for the written Word. They counted the number of verses in each book and identified the middle verse. They numbered the occurrences of each Hebrew letter in every book and in the whole Old Testament. For example, the letter Aleph occurs 42,377 times and Beth 38,218 times. In 1947 when the Qumran scrolls were found in some caves west of the Dead Sea, unbelieving scholars hoped to see vast differences between these Hebrew manuscripts written before Christ and the later manuscripts used by the church. Much to their chagrin, the Dead Sea Scrolls agreed with our Hebrew manuscripts remarkably. These are just some pointers showing how God has kept the Old Testament pure by “his singular care and providence” (WC 1.8) so that His Word shall never pass away (Matt. 24:35).

Christ’s promise that His “words shall not pass away” includes not only the preservation of the Old Testament but also the rejection of the Apocrypha as uninspired. The Apocrypha, which includes I and II Maccabees and additions to Daniel and Esther, etc., was not reckoned part of the Old Testament canon by the Jews, as is evident, for example, in the writings of Josephus, a Jew of the first century AD. This is particularly significant, for “unto [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). Thus Christ and His apostles do not quote the Apocrypha.

The Apocryphal books were written later than the Old Testament and even then not in Hebrew as the Old Testament books. Moreover, some of the Apocryphal books disclaim inspiration or teach false doctrines such as free will, prayers for the dead or the worship of angels. Thus the true church understood that the Apocrypha was not God-breathed. Jerome, a fifth century church father, made this point in his Latin translation of the Bible. The Westminster Confession declares that the Apocrypha is “not…of divine inspiration” for it merely consists of “human writings” (1.3; cf. Belgic Confession 6). The false church of Rome, however, in its Council of Trent (1546) calls down an “anathema” upon those who do not receive the Apocrypha as “canonical and sacred.”

Not only the Old Testament (which does not contain the Apocrypha) but also the New Testament has been specially preserved by God through the centuries. In the early days of the New Testament church, the 27 God-breathed New Testament books were recognized and grouped together. Uninspired materials, such as the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, were set aside. From the original autographs good copies were made. These were then copied, and so on. The original manuscripts in Greece, Turkey, Israel, Rome, etc., (and faithful copies of them) served as controls or checks upon the new copies which were made. Believing scribes labored in the consciousness that God threatened plagues upon those who add to or take away from God’s Word (Rev. 22:18-19). The invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century ensured wider availability of God’s inspired and preserved Word.

The number of New Testament manuscripts possessed today far outweighs those of any ancient book. For the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (c.460-c.400 BC) we have eight manuscripts. The works of Sophocles (an older Greek contemporary of Thucydides) are only found in one manuscript written 1400 years after his death! On the other hand, there are about 7,000 manuscripts containing all or part of the New Testament. Christ is faithful; His Word has not passed away and will not pass away.

The church of Jesus Christ confesses that the Holy Scriptures are a wonder. Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus uttered these famous words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35), and His words have not passed away. You are a witness to this marvel, the preservation of God’s Word, Old Testament and New Testament.

This is all the more remarkable in that the Bible has frequently and fiercely been attacked. In the fourth century, Diocletian, a Roman emperor, ordered all Bibles to be handed over to the civil authorities to be destroyed. The so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century disparaged the Scriptures as a book written in a “pre-rational” age for childish or adolescent man who had not yet attained to maturity. Higher criticism of the Bible entered the mainstream in the nineteenth century. Yet even then the nineteenth century became the century of Bible Societies translating the Scriptures into many languages and distributing them all around the world. Today there are more translations and copies of the Bible than any other book. After 2,000 years of desperate efforts, the unbelieving world has still failed to prove one error in God’s Word.

We must thank God for the Bible and its preservation. It is rightly said that verbal inspiration is only a significant doctrine if verbal preservation is also true. Without the preservation of the Bible, the church would be unable to fulfill the great commission. How could we go into all the world to preach the (pure) gospel if the Scriptures are hopelessly corrupted? Moreover, the preservation of the Bible and the preservation of the church are closely tied together. Without the Bible, there would be no church, for the Word—preached and read—creates the church. On the other hand, without the church there would be no one (humanly speaking) to preserve the Bible.

We can be sure that our Bible (Authorized Version) is a trustworthy and faithful translation of God’s inerrant and preserved Word—a Word breathed out by the Spirit in Hebrew and Greek thousands of years ago. Christians have nothing to fear from unbelieving textual critics or new discoveries of ancient manuscripts. For Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon to his young adult son. Solomon’s purpose in writing Proverbs was “that the generation to come might know them [God’s wonderful works]…that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:6–7). Throughout the book, Solomon […]

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The group of churches that John writes to in this trio of epistles had recently experienced a split because of doctrinal controversy. We do not know the exact content of the error that these false teachers were spreading, but it is apparent from John’s writing that their teaching somehow denied the truth of the incarnation—that […]

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Jael: An Example of Christian Warfare

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021. Jael lived during the era of the judges. Deborah the prophetess was the judge who served Israel at the time of Jael. During this time, the Canaanites under the rule of king Jabin […]

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Indiana Mini Convention Review 2021

One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]

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Editorial, November 2021: Catechism Season

At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]

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Tennessee Young People’s Retreat 2021

The 2021 Tennessee young people’s retreat was held August 9 to 13 by Providence, Hudsonville, Unity, and First (Holland) Protestant Reformed Churches. The retreat took place at Eagle Rock Retreat Center in the city of Tallassee. It was about an eleven-hour drive, give or take a bit due to stops for food and restrooms. Though […]

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Judah: A Story of Redemption

This article was originally presented as a speech at a Protestant Reformed mini convention held at Quaker Haven Camp in August 2021.   The story of Judah is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. We often overlook this history because it is nestled in the middle of the story of Joseph. All the […]

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Author Interview: “Through Many Dangers”

M. Kuiper, Through Many Dangers (Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2021)   Through Many Dangers is a work of Christian, historical fiction that has just been released this summer by the RFPA. The book is written especially for young people and details the story of a group of Dutch Reformed boys who serve in the […]

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