Quotable Church History: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation…”

This is the eighth in a series on famous quotes from church history.  We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

By the late 1700s, the Reformed church in the Netherlands had largely become anemic.  Unbelief and liberal theology ran rampant.  There were few gospel preachers and only scattered handfuls of true believers.  Instead, what dominated was the type of religion emphasizing Jesus as the good example for a moral life.  Doctrine was  sidelined, along with the creeds and Reformed confessions.

This was the story in the tiny village church of Ulrum coming into the 1800s.  Ulrum is located in the north-west of the Dutch province of Groningen (one of the two most northern Dutch provinces).  In 1826, Ulrum received a new pastor in the person of Petrus Hofstede de Groot.  De Groot was the typical minister of his day.  In one place he summarized his belief:  “Christianity is no doctrine, it is power, spirit, and life, for the enlightenment, warming, sanctification, and perfection of man.”  His message was moral improvement.  While some delighted in the pablum he offered in his weekly preaching, others in Ulrum saw the sad reality.  Several Ulrum members refused to make a public profession of faith with de Groot as their minister.  Thankfully, de Groot’s ministry was short:  he left to teach at the University of Groningen in 1829, only three years after arriving in Ulrum.

De Groot handpicked his successor.  Hendrik de Cock was his good friend and a like-minded preacher.  He arrived in Ulrum in October 1829.  At first his preaching was much the same as de Groot.  However, he did make some changes.  For example, prior to his arrival, Ulrum consistory meetings were never convened or closed with prayer.  De Cock introduced prayer at the beginning of the first meeting of the year and prayer at the end of the last meeting of the year.  It was a small step.  Nevertheless, despite being a minister and quite religious, de Cock was really no different than de Groot at this time:  both were missing the gospel, and both were lacking in true faith.

One of the members who had refused to make profession of his faith with de Groot was a working-class brother by the name of Klaas Pieters Kuypenga.  In due time, de Cock urged Kuypenga to come by the Ulrum manse for an hour a week to receive further instruction.  Kuypenga agreed.  But what happened was remarkable.  Kuypenga became one of God’s instruments to bring de Cock to true faith in Jesus Christ.  During one of their sessions, Kuypenga remarked to his pastor:  “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation, I would be eternally lost.”  This language stunned de Cock and it put the proverbial stone in his shoe — he couldn’t stop thinking about what this meant.  In due time, God would providentially bring other factors into play so that de Cock would become a Christian and start preaching like one.  De Cock would go on to challenge the liberalism of the Dutch Reformed Church and be instrumental in a reformation known as the Secession (in Dutch: Afscheiding) of 1834.

One would think it rather obvious that Kuypenga spoke biblical truth to his pastor.  Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…”  Adding anything from our works to Christ’s work would place us under a curse.  Or one could think of Isaiah 64:6 which insists that even our so-called righteous deeds are like unmentionables in the sight of God.  Furthermore, Romans 3:28 reminds us that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  We have nothing to contribute to our salvation except for the sin which made it necessary.  The moment you seek to add something to the perfect work of Christ, you are holding to a different gospel, a false gospel which will damn you.  Klaas Pieters Kuypenga had been trained by the Holy Spirit to speak his truth.

It wouldn’t be the last time God would use a regular church member as a powerful instrument to bring reformation.  He did something similar with Abraham Kuyper and a lady named Pietje Balthus.  Both Hendrik de Cock and Abrhaham Kuyper were exceptionally learned men, scholarly pastors — and yet God used these “little people” to turn their worlds upside down for the gospel.  These episodes in church history illustrate that 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 continues to hold true:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

 


Supervised Lord’s Supper

Each month Faith in Focus, the official magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, has a column entitled “Letters from New Zealand.”  This column features historical correspondence from D.G. Vanderpyl, a long-serving elder in the RCNZ and, at one time, their stated clerk.  The February 2018 issue sees Vanderpyl commenting on the supervision of the Lord’s Supper in the RCNZ.  He notes (writing in September 1978) that the RCNZ practices “closed communion.”  The elders supervise admission to the table and only those admitted by the elders are permitted to partake.

Vanderpyl shares a number of reasons why Reformed churches have a closed Lord’s Supper with supervision by the elders:

Elders have the responsibility to superintend (shepherd) the Church of Jesus Christ to see that all things are done decently and in order, 1 Cor. 14:40, Acts 20:28-31, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.

Open communion means that the session [a.k.a. consistory] must measure with two different standards:  Local members are under the continuous disciplinary supervision of the session while the visitors are permitted to come to the Lord’s Table without any exercise of supervision on the part of the session.

At open communion elders have no prior knowledge of who partakes of the sacrament, which allows for the possibility that visiting communicants may not have made a credible profession of faith earlier, may be living in open sin, or may even be under discipline elsewhere, all of which desecrates the Lord’s Table.

Open communion contradicts the Church Order, Articles 66 and 91 (Reformed Church of Australia), which specify that the session must ascertain whether those who come to the Lord’s Table are qualified to do so, namely, those who have professed their faith publicly and who are in good standing in the church.

Open communion contradicts the necessity of discharging and receiving members in orderly fashion by means of a letter or certificate from sister churches.

Open communion contradicts the commandments of love (Matthew 22:37-40) which indicate that, in order to love God and the neighbour properly, concern for the neighbour should include that he not be guilty of eating or drinking judgment upon himself (1 Cor. 11:27ff.).

Open communion prevents conscientious members from exercising their right to come to the Lord’s Table because they do not wish to share responsibility for an improper celebration of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30ff.).

All good reasons worthy of our consideration!  The continued practice of closed communion in churches like the CanRC and FRCA is not, historically speaking, idiosyncratic or arbitrary.


Enmity With the World is Friendship With God

You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  James 4:4

With these words James presents a stark contrast between two different relationships.  There’s your relationship with the world and then there’s your relationship with God.  The two ought never to be of the same sort.  One way or another these two relationships should always be radically opposed.

Now we could consider what it means to have friendship with the world.  We could look at what that involves and all its different permutations.  If this were a sermon, I’d definitely do that.  However, in this brief meditation, I want to go a different route.  If what the Holy Spirit says is true (which it is), then we ought to be able to flip the terms around in his formulation.  When we do that, we discover something remarkable.

What I mean is this:  if “friendship with the world is enmity with God,” then the reverse follows as also true.  It is also true that “enmity with the world is friendship with God.”  Moreover, anyone who wishes to be an enemy of the world is a friend of God.  When we put it like that, two key questions still need to be answered.

First, what would it mean to be an enemy of the world?  Enmity with the world means a relationship of hostility or hatred with the world.  And what is meant by the world here?   It refers to everything associated with humanity’s rebellion against God.  “The world” is all the different ways in which sin manifests itself amongst human beings.  Being an enemy of the world really means being hostile towards sin.  Rather than embracing or coddling sinfulness, you hate it and long to see it destroyed.  Being an enemy of the world means you harbour no affection for the rebellion which has the potential to destroy you and other human beings.  This is the way it ought to be for those redeemed by Christ.

Second, what does it mean to be a friend of God?  Friendship with God means a relationship of close fellowship with him.  Being a friend of God means you love God and treasure your place with him.   Whereas once you were alienated from him, hating him, avoiding him and denying him, now you embrace him in trust and affection.

Both of these relationships work two ways.  When you’re a Christian and the world is your enemy, you are also the world’s enemy.  It’s both ways:  you hate the world (sinful rebellion), but the world also hates you and seeks to destroy you.  Satan is the world’s greatest strategist and cheerleader.  First Peter 5:8 reminds us:  “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”  Satan hates you and has a terrible plan for your life.  Similarly, because of your association with Christ the world hates you and wants to undo you (see John 15:18-19).

The other relationship also works two ways.  When you’re a Christian and God is your friend, you are also God’s friend.  It would be absurd to imagine a friendly relationship where only one side is a friend.  By their very nature, friendships work both ways.  Indeed, in Scripture, we read that sinful human beings like us enjoyed friendship with God – for example, Abraham in James 2:23.  This isn’t comparable to a human friendship between equals.  God isn’t our equal and even in our friendly relationship with him we are to interact with him with reverence and godly fear.  Psalm 25:14 says, “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”  Similarly, Christ says in John 15:13, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”  Our friendship includes not only love, but also fear and obedience.

The two relationships described in James 4:4 are antithetical.  They are antithetical in principle, but in practice we don’t always hate the world (sinful rebellion) as our enemy.  In practice, we don’t always act as if God is our friend.  If we did, we would always want to do his will.  We would always do it because we know our friend loves us and we respect him so highly.  Instead, so often we are the adulterous people the Holy Spirit upbraids.  Adultery is a betrayal in relationship.  You betray your best friend, your spouse, with adultery.  So we do when we cavort with the enemy of James 4:4.  We’re to see this and be disgusted with it.  We’re to repent of it and seek forgiveness for it through our Saviour.  When we do, our Friend will forgive and, to those who ask, he will more richly grant his Spirit so we may betray him less and less.  So, Christian:  hate the world – it’s your bitter enemy.  Love your God – he is your dear friend.

 

 


Quotable Church History: “Be killing sin…”

This is the seventh in a series on famous quotes from church history. We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

Today’s quote comes from the post-Reformation period.  It’s probably the most well-known quote by any Puritan:  “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”  It comes from John Owen (1616-1683).

Himself born into a Puritan family, God raised up Owen to become one of Puritanism’s greatest theologians.  As a young man he already showed signs of precociousness — he was known to study for 18+ hours each day.  By the age of 19 he had earned a Master of Arts degree from Oxford.  He served later as a pastor, but eventually returned to Oxford to teach theology.  Owen was a prolific writer — the Banner of Truth reprint of his collected writings runs to 16 volumes of about 9,000 pages.  In Owen’s case, prolific equals profound but not always plain.  Owen often expects a lot from his readers.  Some modern editions of his books have rendered him more readable, but those wanting to begin digging into the Puritans ought to look elsewhere (I recommend Thomas Watson).

In 1656 Owen published an exposition of Romans 8 entitled Of the Mortification of SinYou can find this book available for free online.  In this book Owen shows at length how Christians are to wage war on sin and do violence to it in their hearts and lives.  You could think of it as an extended explanation of how to apply Heidelberg Catechism QA 89.  In older editions of the HC this question reads:  “What is the mortification of the old man?”  Answer:  “It is a sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins, and more and more to hate and flee from them.”  “Mortification” is an antiquated word for killing.  So, at a certain point in his book, Owen says it:  “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

This is speaking about the life of a redeemed Christian.  A Christian who has been saved by God’s free gift of grace in Jesus Christ needs to set himself or herself to the task of sanctification — the process of growing in holiness.  While we are passive in things like our election, regeneration, and justification, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be active in our sanctification.  God calls us to be active in this.  Thus Owen gives Christians this imperative or command:  be killing sin.  It is something to which we need to apply ourselves.  We must strangle sin in our lives.  If we are not constantly murdering our wickedness, it will rise up and murder us.  It will destroy our lives.  Why?  Because it is the very nature of sin to kill and destroy.

By now you might recognize this quote as self-evidently biblical.  However, if it isn’t, consider one of the verses Owen was expositing.  Romans 8:13 says it most clearly:  “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”  Putting to death the deeds of the body equals “be killing sin.”  Not killing sin and having sin kill you equals “if you live according to the flesh you will die.”  Colossians 3:5 also urges Christians to plunge the knife into sin, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”  We’re to do that, the Holy Spirit goes on to say, because on account of these the wrath of God is coming.  If you don’t slay sin, your sins will slay you in the end.

Often when I’m tempted to sin I recall these pithy words of John Owen, based on God’s Word.  They’ve often been a help in seeing sin for what it is.  Sin presents itself to us in deceitful ways.  It promises what it will never deliver.  It promises to enrich your life, but this is a deadly lie.  Faced with sin, tell yourself the truth:  “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”  That’s reality and we ignore it to our detriment.

Now if you want to learn how to murder your wickedness, you could turn to Owen.  Sadly, as I mentioned, Owen is not going to be digestible spiritual food for everyone today.  Let me then recommend a readable summary of Owen’s teaching on this.  You’ll find it in section three of Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers.  The clear prose of Challies is complemented by the effective infographics of Josh Byers.  It’s hard to beat on this topic.

 

 


CanRC Proposal to Approve Trinity Psalter Hymnal

For several years, the Canadian Reformed Churches were working with the United Reformed Churches to produce a joint song book.  Progress was slow, but steady.  However, eventually the URC abandoned the joint venture with the CanRC and later decided to work with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church instead.  The OPC and URC are now on the verge of releasing the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  Apparently it’s supposed to be available around the beginning of May.

The CanRC have been watching these developments closely.  At Classis Pacific East of February 22, 2018, the Aldergrove church presented a proposal to adopt the psalms and hymns of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  It was presented as a proposal for synod, with the hopes that classis would adopt it and forward it on via the next Regional Synod West.  According to the press release, Classis Pacific East did what Aldergrove asked.  So the proposal is going to the next Regional Synod West.

A similar proposal was floated in the east last year.  A Classis Central Ontario brought a proposal to Regional Synod East of November 8, 2017.  However, Regional Synod East was not convinced.  We’ll see what West will do later in the year.

These are developments for the Australian Free Reformed Churches to watch too.  As I mentioned earlier in the week, we have a Synod coming up with weighty decisions to make about our song book.  We’ll be debating whether to add the 19 new hymns from the 2014 CanRC Book of Praise.  Meanwhile, the CanRCs have moved on to debate whether to add dozens more.