In January 2003, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Ruston, Louisiana, visiting with Jeff Steel and his family. Jeff was the pastor of the PCA in Ruston. While I was there, I also met a young man named B. J. Kennedy. For a while, B. J. had a blog, to which I linked, but one day the blog was no more.
Yesterday, I discovered that B. J. is back. His new blog is entitled Canterbury Trail. What’s more, Jeff Steel is also blogging. Jeff is now in Durham, England, preparing to start doctoral work on the Eucharistic theology of Lancelot Andrewes. Jeff’s blog will probably be more theological; his wife Rhea’s blog will probably provide more news about the family.
Welcome to the blogging world, Jeff and Rhea, and welcome back, B. J.!
This past weekend was very difficult.
On Saturday afternoon, we had our church picnic. Sometime after 4:00, Moriah and I arrived at Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, where several of the other members of the congregation were. We ate around 5:00, and then Moriah and I took a walk over to the nearby playground. Moriah and I took turns on the swing and then returned to the main camp area to get ready for a car rally and a scavenger hunt, which took up the rest of the evening.
Late that night, when we returned home, I was going to take a shower. I usually take off my wedding ring before showering (to keep it from getting soap scum on it). But on Saturday night, I reached for the ring and found nothing there.
I didn’t sleep much that night. The ring, we thought, must have fallen off at the park or at one of the stops we made on the car rally and the scavenger hunt or even at the place where we had the bonfire at the end of the evening. For that matter, it may have fallen off somewhere in the house, too. And I’m so used to having it on that I didn’t even notice when it fell off. In fact, even when I’m not wearing it, it feels as if it’s still there!
We got up early on Sunday morning, drove back to the park, and spent almost an hour combing the grounds in the cold rain, but to no avail. God gave me the strength and clarity of mind to lead two services and preach. And then, that Sunday afternoon, Moriah and I drove to Edmonton for her immigration doctor’s appointment on Monday.
The trip to Edmonton and back was enjoyable. We stayed with friends, Rob Betty and Arlette Zinck, who blessed us with their hospitality and with a beautiful wedding gift. On Tuesday, Arlette flew off to England to make a presentation on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress while her husband Rob headed out for a golf tournament. Moriah and I did some shopping, went to her doctor’s appointment, and then roamed West Edmonton Mall, before driving home. We arrived home a little before midnight.
As I said, it was a very enjoyable trip. Except that the ring was missing. In the midst of our enjoyment, we’d feel the ache of the loss.
This morning, I woke up, intending to drive back to the park and search again. Perhaps it could have fallen into the sink. If so, it would be in the trap under the sink and we might be able to retrieve it. Or perhaps it fell in the trash. Even then, we might still be able to search through it and find it.
Juanita Joosse, a member of the congregation, called this morning. She and her mother, Mrs. Barendregt, who is visiting for a while, offered to go with us to the park to help us look. Juanita picked us up at about 11:00 and drove us out to Leo & Yolanda Wattel’s place to pick up her mother and to look at the photos that were taken during the picnic.
And just at that moment, Mrs. Barendregt reached over my shoulder and handed me a ring box.
She and Juanita had gone out to the park on Monday. They dug through the trash. They hunted under the clover. They wandered over the grounds. And at last, forty minutes later, they looked near the swing. And there they found it. Both of them spotted the edge of it at the same time. It appears that it must have fallen off while I was pushing Moriah on the swing.
Needless to say, we’re overjoyed. The Lord has heard our cries and has answered our prayers. We’re grateful to him and we’re grateful, too, to Juanita and Mrs. Barendregt for searching and for all the others here who prayed and looked for it for us.
I recently read a quotation from Plato somewhere in which he said that for a righteous man laws are unnecessary. If, then, we had a society in which everyone was good, we wouldn’t need any legislation. Each would simply do the right and good thing naturally.
I’ve heard Christians express the same view. In heaven, they would say, we won’t need laws. No commandments will be necessary. We will all be good and just naturally do what is good. We won’t need rules. Rules, in their view, become necessary because of sin.
I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been reading Charles Williams recently (see my old entry from last October), but as I was driving around Grande Prairie I started thinking about what Plato said.
Consider traffic laws. Williams would see them as instruction in charity: I extend charity to you when I stop at this corner and wait for you to go first.
But would I know what to do at a four-way stop if it were not for rules? It seems to me that no amount of natural goodness would instruct you as to what you ought to do, even if you were approaching a corner on the new earth and there were no sin.
When you come to a corner, who should stop? You or the guy on the cross street? How do you know? Should you simply let him go, putting him ahead of yourself? Or should he let you, putting you ahead of himself? But if you both want to put each other first, and if you both took that to mean stopping to let the other go, you’d both end up stopped. And that, of course, would slow down all the traffic around you.
So what do we do? We put up a stop sign and we make rules. I stop because I have the sign, and no matter how much you want to put me ahead of yourself, you keep going because I have the stop sign and you don’t. And when we all come to a four-way stop, we follow the rules. If it’s your turn, you don’t defer to someone else and motion for him to go; you go. And when you do that, you enable everyone else to make it through that intersection smoothly and that is charity.
But in order for good people to show that kind of charity, we need rules. Rules aren’t necessary only because of sin. They won’t disappear in the new heavens and new earth. And therefore we shouldn’t view the existence of rules as a burden (though many rules are burdensome); they’re necessary aids to help us express love. Plato didn’t see that, but I suspect Charles Williams would have.
According to Proverbs 31, the husband of “a woman of substance” (in Hebrew, an isheth chayil) will rise up and praise her. And I am such a husband.
For the last month and a half, since moving Moriah and her belongings here, we’ve been getting settled in. At first, the house was stacked high with boxes but gradually order has replaced chaos.
When you move your stuff into an empty house, unpacking and settling in doesn’t take so long. You can simply plug things into empty cupboards and closets. But in this case I already had a houseful and so did Moriah â€” and we had wedding gifts, too! So we have (no: credit where credit is due) Moriah has been sorting through our old things, deciding what to keep and where to put it.
And to my delight, this house, which was always a bit plain, has been filled wth beauty. Against my neutral backgrounds fresh colours blossom. Bright tablecloths glow against the dark brown of the kitchen table. And my house has become our home.
And the food! I’m eating like a king, and even the leftovers (with which the Lord has blessed us) are delicious. I’ve been eating beef stroganoff, chicken curry, enchiladas with fresh homemade salsa, roast beef and mashed potatoes, tacos, roast chicken, and more fresh fruits and vegetables than ever before.
All of which confirms that what Scripture says is true: “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from Yahweh” (Prov. 18:22). Moriah,
Many daughters have done well,
but you excel them all.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears Yahweh shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates(Prov. 31:29-31).
Far from being a threat to justification by faith, I am becoming more and more convinced that a strong view of sacramental efficacy is necessary to maintain justification by faith. Can justification by faith survive the evacuation of the sacraments? The last few hundred years gives us little reason to think it likely.
Of course, it’s only a short blog entry and that whets my appetite for more from Leithart on the sacraments.
Recently, I was asked why we perform baptisms in connection with the call to worship. In many Reformed churches, baptisms take place after the sermon. Perhaps that’s because baptism is a sacrament and the sacraments go with the Word and so people conclude that both baptism and the Lord’s Supper fit best after the Word has been preached.
But the Word is not present only when Scripture is read and preached. The whole service is permeated by the Word, from the call to worship to the benediction at the end of the service. Thus, the close link between baptism and the Word does not determine where in the service baptism fits best.
While we think of both baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacraments,” we must be careful not to allow that way of describing them to blur the distinctions between them.
In the Old Covenant, Israel shared a meal with God â€” the peace offering â€” only after she offered a sin offering (which emphasized cleansing from sin) and an ascension or burnt offering (which emphasized consecration to God).
So, too, in the New Covenant, we eat the Lord’s Supper only after the Lord has called us to Himself, cleansed us from our sins, and re-consecrated us to Himself by His Word so that we can present ourselves and our offerings as acceptable sacrifices to Him. That’s why the Lord’s Supper follows the sermon, the congregational prayer, and the offering.
The Lord’s Supper is communion with Christ and it’s the climax of the service. But baptism isn’t the climax. Baptism has to do with beginnings.
The Sunday service is the assembly of the church, the body of Christ, and baptism is how we enter the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13; cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 74). In the whole service, we come to God in union with Christ. But how are we united to Christ? Paul says we are baptized into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).
God calls us to worship. But how can we draw near to Him with boldness? How can new converts come into His presence to worship? How can our little children come?
Hebrews 10 tells us: We enter boldly by Jesus’ blood (v. 19) and through His flesh (v. 20). He’s our High Priest (v. 21). And therefore, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
As the Old Covenant priests drew near to God after being washed, as unclean Israelites drew near after being washed, so do we. First comes God’s call. Then comes washing. Then comes our bold approach to God.
Baptism, therefore, fits best as part of God’s call to worship so that, having been washed with pure water, our new members may respond to that call and draw near to God, in union with Christ and with us as His body, to share together in the Lord’s service of covenant renewal.
Barb discusses this stuff on her blog, but I thought I’d mention it here as well, because some of the readers of this blog don’t read Barb’s but they do listen to The White Horse Inn. Furthermore, many of my readers are in churches that subscribe to the Belgic Confession, as do some of the guys on The White Horse Inn.
In the discussion entitled “One Covenant or Two,” the speakers maintained that grace is always God’s favour in the face of demerit. Therefore, they would say, there was no grace before the Fall since there was no sin before the Fall. One might speak of God’s goodness, kindness, and so forth before the Fall, but not of grace. Likewise, Jesus never received grace because He knew no sin.
It is interesting to note, however, that the Belgic Confession teaches that grace does not require the presence of sin. In Article 12, the Belgic Confession says about the angels,
Some of them have fallen from the excellence in which God created them into eternal perdition; and the others have persisted and remained in their original state, by the grace of God.
I wonder if one couldn’t find similar statements in other Reformed confessions, let alone in the writings of the Reformers.
Furthermore, lest someone claim that, even if the Reformers didn’t use “grace” to refer strictly to God’s favour in the presence of sin, the Bible does, I would point to Philippians 2:9, where Paul says about Jesus that “God .. has given him the name which is above every name.” The word translated “has given” here is not the word for a wage paid to a worker; it’s the word normally used for a gracious gift. It is, in fact, the verbal form of the noun charis, usually translated “grace.”
Moreover, in Luke 2:52, we read that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and grace with God and men.” The word is often translated “favour” (NKJV) or something like that, but again it’s the word charis which is the normal Greek word for what we call “grace.”
It appears, then, that this new definition of the word “grace,” which sees grace strictly as God’s favour in the presence of sin, isn’t the way the Bible uses the term nor is it the way the Reformed confessions (at least, the Belgic Confession) use the term. That’s fine. Theologians today aren’t required to use words only in the sense that they’re used in Scripture or the Reformed confessions. But it isn’t fine for theologians today to claim that people who do use the terms as Scripture and the Reformed confessions do are misusing them!