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Archive for the ‘Sacred & Secular’ Category

This message was delivered at the Presbytery Conference of the Presbyterian Reformed Church on June 16, 2022. The audio is available here. Special thanks to Susan Abel for her selfless efforts in transcription!

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Isaiah 35:7-10, “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Revelation 21:1-3, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. Amen, this is the Word of the living God.”

Last month I had the personal privilege of going back to my old stomping grounds—at least, one of them— as a boy. I had not been to Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami, since I was about fourteen years old, not long after my father went to glory. It was a place, notwithstanding the bitterness of the memories of the loss of my father, [that] was overall a time of great delight: many good memories, especially on this particular street. And I am sure my children can tell you, that I would mention the many late nights when we would play a pick-up game of baseball, and take some charcoal and make some bases, and have an awful lot of fun. Well, as we drove up and came into the neighborhood, memories started flooding back—a lot of good memories. And finally I came with my wife to this home, and there it was, largely as I remembered it, although it had a new coat of paint. And much was the same, and much was so very sweet and so very special. I even got to meet the next-door neighbor whom I did remember as a boy (and I got to have a selfie with them!). So it was quite special.

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In the following quote, Chalmers explains how a territorial establishment, where parish missions bring the Gospel to every home and hearth, is a double blessing. Even if few souls are saved, the social and moral impact of the Gospel effort leavens the lump:

“And perhaps it will give in your eyes less of a Utopian, and more of an experimental character, to our anticipations of a result so general—if we ask you to consider the just observation of Mr. Wilberforce, on the effect of Christianity even beyond the circle of its own proper and genuine disciples. It elevates the general standard of morals, in every country or neighbourhood which it enters. Even though it should but spiritualize the few, it civilizes the many. Over and above its direct influence on those whom it converts, it has, through the medium of their example and their virtues, a reflex or secondary influence on the families of every little vicinity around them-insomuch that the sanctities and the extraordinary graces of a small number, with the influence of a purifying and preserving salt on the general mass, tell, by a certain overawing power, in restraining the profligacies, and so in raising the character for decency and morals of society at large. This will be remarkably seen in any parish that is under a reclaiming process from the out-fields of heathenism, if the experiment be but well and vigorously conducted. We do not say that the minister will Christianize all; or that he will introduce the worship of God, the voice of psalms, into every family. But the melody that is heard in the habitations of the righteous, will have a certain softening and subduing effect on the inmates of other habitations; and it will be found no romance, but in strict accordance with the realities of human nature, if-by means of his schools and of his other parochial institutes, and (of no small account either) if, by means of his own frequent and various intercourse with the people, and the dignifying effect upon all the householders of their personal acquaintance with the clergyman, and of the personal cognizance which he takes of them and of their families—he mollifies, and to a very great degree, the general aspect of that parochial community over which he presides ; and bequeaths to​ his successors a far blander and better generation, than he had to encounter himself at the outset of his great undertaking” (Works 14:334-335)

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A few striking observations from a favorite anecdote in John G. Paton’s autobiography, below. If I’m not mistaken, this would be referring to a cholera outbreak in 1832 in the U.K.

1. Healthy believers long for the courts of the Lord and don’t let lesser things get in their way. 2. However, it appears that godly Scottish Presbyterians in the early 19th century believed that public health crises could warrant church closures (or at least effectively cause them by population controls). 3. And apparently, the same believed that the state could mandate such closures (or at least effectively, etc.) in the interests of public health.

Not an argument that any of our churches must necessarily close under the present circumstances; just an observation to help put some strong opinions out there in context.

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Smellie, Thomas. “Fenwick Church.” 1905

During the recent COVID-19 crisis, many Christian churches have closed their doors, cancelling regular public worships services, though often utilizing telecommunications to facilitate God’s worship in private home contexts. What principles do confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian elders consider when making their decision? These are the ones that factored in to my mind.

1. Worship is priority number one. God’s honor comes before man’s honor, His being before ours. “Thy love is better than life.” We should sooner join the three Hebrew children and lay down our lives than surrender an inch of God’s worship. The First Table comes before the Second, and if there is an apparent conflict, the general rule is to surrender our own interests.

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The latest addition to the Chalmers audio library:

Rom. 14:18 – “The Influence of Christianity in Aiding and Augmenting the Mercantile Virtues”

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Lincoln_Proclamation_1863While listening to an excellent sermon by Rev. Bill Shishko of the OPC on days of prayer and fasting, I was struck by his final quote of the presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln for a national day of humiliation and fasting.  One can read it here.

I am hardly endorsing Abraham Lincoln’s personal theology and practice, much less making commentary on the merits and demerits of each side during the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you prefer).  But I cannot help but ask the modern (contra Melvillian) Two Kingdom advocates (1) whether this was, in the main, a good thing and not inherently a violation of Reformed principles and (2) whether it is ever commendable for a state or its elected officials to call for national days of fasting and humiliation.

I think that any simple Christian will read this and be impressed with how appropriate such a call was and earnestly sigh and cry that God might give us such magistrates again.  And more, for even better and more consistently Christian ones – who explicitly avow Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords.

At the same time, I would hope that it would give pause to the more thoughtful modern 2K advocates to ask whether their outlook may at least be somewhat misguided.   Are such national fasts, following Westminster and Dort, inherently flawed?  Is this not a fast that the Lord “has chosen” (Isa. 58)?  But sadly, I fear it will make no dent with the more trenchant ones.

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From "A Christmas Story" (1983)It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re among the very precious few nowadays who aren’t doing anything special. Though we are committed Christians, we don’t observe this holiday – though we love and embrace all sincere Christians who celebrate the God who entered our world of sin and misery through a virgin’s womb. Yet, unlike the masses both of saints and seculars, for us this is just another Monday. And tomorrow is just another Tuesday. (more…)

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