31 December, 2008

The Circumcision of Christ

In the Dutch Reformed tradition, New Year's Day was celebrated as the Day of the Circumcision. This day would have been the 8th day after Christ's birth and would have marked the beginning of Christ's sufferings and humiliation. According to the Law of Moses, new born boys were to be circumcised on the 8th day after their birth.

The circumcision of Christ is important to believers for this very reason- that cut would have been the first blood shed from our Savior. The first blood to flow towards the complete salvation of sinners.

We do not often think of Christ's circumcision, but it is a very important part of our redemption's accomplishment. Today Dutch Reformed Churches celebrate the New Year with a worship service- which is fine. But the redemptive nature of why they gathered on this day is lost in our current customs. On this New Year's Day, think of what Christ has done for you, if you are his. Think of blood lost.

Christ was circumcised for you. Even as an eight day old infant, Christ was actively working for the salvation of the elect.

Colossians 2:11 And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ...

27 December, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: What is Spiritual Deadness?

(1) Its nature pertains to spiritual matters.

(2) Such deadness and insensitivity is not a total deprivation of spiritual life and feeling, for spiritual life will permanently remain in believers. Rather, it is a partial deadness, as far as both measure and time are concerned. The one may recede to a lower level than the other, and the same person may at one time be more lifeless than at other times. Yes, there can even be brief intermissions in which someone, who generally suffers from deadness, can be very tender, sensible, and lively, and is thus of the opinion that he has been delivered from it. It is, however, but a ray of sunlight on a dark and cloudy day in order that he may be supported for that which he must still endure.

(3) This deadness does not consist in an absence of sensible emotions, but rather in the coldness and lethargy of the intelligent will. The person who suffers from deadness retains his spiritual knowledge; he perceives spiritual matters in their essential nature--however, from afar (IV: 268-269).

26 December, 2008

2009: The Bible in One Year and Calvin's Institutes in One Year

One summer while I was in college a number of friends decided to read the Institutes together. I think that me and one young lady were the only ones to complete the work.

Since 2009 marks the 500th birthday of Calvin, I think it would be wise to read the Institutes. I am sure that a lot of people will be doing it and discussing the reading. Here is a link for how to read Calvin in a year.

And, of course, the reading of Scripture is extremely important. I always recommend the McCheyne reading plan for reading the Scriptures in one year. You have four readings a day- and at the end of the year you have read the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, Psalms and Proverbs twice as well.

Enjoy! Let me know if you are planning on doing either!

25 December, 2008

Interesting Thought for Preachers On Christmas

At my Presbytery exams a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles I got a lot of pastoral advice.

My favorite piece of advice for today came from Pastor Don Piper from Seattle RPCNA. Pastor Piper said that when he was a young minister he would preach on the resurrection on Christmas day and then preach on Christ's birth on Easter.


He advised against it for me.

23 December, 2008

Of the Public Reading of Scriptures

The past couple of weeks I have been researching the differences between the 1645 Westminster Directory for Public Worship against the 1945 and 2009 RPCNA Directories. The continuity is great and it illustrates that the RP Church was merely updating the Directory in their labors. Today I have spent time in 'The Public Reading of Scriptures'. Here is the 1645 directions for your edification:

Reading of the word in the congregation, being part of the public worship of God, (wherein .i.we; acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one mean sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers.

Howbeit, such as intend the ministry, may occasionally both read the word, and exercise their gift in preaching in the congregation, if allowed by the presbytery thereunto.

All the canonical books of the Old and New Testament (but none of those which are commonly called Apocrypha) shall be publickly read in the vulgar tongue, out of the best allowed translation, distinctly, that all may hear and understand.

How large a portion shall be read at once, is left to the wisdom of the minister; but it is convenient, that ordinarily one chapter of each Testament be read at every meeting; and sometimes more, where the chapters be short, or the coherence of matter requireth it.

It is requisite that all the canonical books be read over in order, that the people may be better acquainted with the whole body of the scriptures; and ordinarily, where the reading in either Testament endeth on one Lord's day, it is to begin the next.

We commend also the more frequent reading of such scriptures as he that readeth shall think best for edification of his hearers, as the book of Psalms, and such like.

When the minister who readeth shall judge it necessary to expound any part of what is read, let it not be done until the whole chapter or psalm be ended; and regard is always to be had unto the time, that neither preaching, nor other ordinances be straitened, or rendered tedious. Which rule is to be observed in all other public performances.

Beside publick reading of the holy scriptures, every person that can read, is to be exhorted to read the scriptures privately, (and all others that cannot read, if not disabled by age, or otherwise, are likewise to be exhorted to learn to read,) and to have a Bible.

20 December, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: Spiritual Courage

The crown of glory must be worth so much to you, so precious must spiritual life and fellowship with God be to you, and such pleasure you must find in the will of God, that you will be willing to battle valiantly all the days of your life. Do not let this weigh heavy upon your heart, thinking, "Must I be in arms and engage in warfare my entire life? Must there be such an exertion of strength my entire lifetime? That is indeed a distasteful way and there is no way whereby I will persevere." Yes, heaven must be that precious to you; or else you must relinquish it (III: 342).

18 December, 2008

Reformed Presbyterian City Churches No Longer Part of Our Testimony

Today I was doing some research in the Reformed Presbyterian Minutes of Synod. I was in the old dusty copies- early 1900s through 1940s. What struck me was the number of congregations that used to be in, what are called, 'strategic' cities. I began to be curious about what some of these buildings looked like and began using 'Google Street View' to see some of the old buildings and neighborhoods that used to be RP strongholds.

Sadly, the RP Church no longer has a witness in some of the most important cities across the United States and Canada. I will leave it to the seasoned church historians to give all of the reasons why some of the oldest RP congregations are no longer with us. From 'white flight' to changing priorities in the denomination- many reasons have left some of the oldest congregations behind (along with grand buildings and hurting neighborhoods).

It is my prayer that we can again have a voice in these cities and neighborhoods. When will we see a congregation in New York city again? We used to have a large number of them. When will we see congregations in Portland, OR, or San Fransisco, CA, or Detroit, MI, or Kansas City, MO, or Miami, FL, or even downtown Pittsburgh?

Of course, it is not just the RP Church, but conservative Reformed Churches across the board. Many have given up on the cities and urban areas of this nation and Canada. Our churches thrive in suburbs and country areas. It does not have to be that way only. We can, once again ,seek out the urban areas for the cause of Jesus Christ. Reformation does not have to be in suburbia and in the pastures only (although those places are important too). I would like to see the cause of Christ advanced in the cites of this country- in the cities that used to have much light coming from thriving Reformed and Presbyterian Churches.

Below are some of the old RP Churches that have been lost to the denomination. I noticed that one is now Antioch-Baptist, one is African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and some are boarded up or torn down. These are just a few of the many former RP congregations.

Enjoy the tour, via Google Streetview:

First Boston RP Church
Warren Ave. and Brookline Street

Chicago RP Church

66th Place and South Normal Ave.

Kansas City RP Church
44th Street and Wyoming Street

Second New York City RP Church

308 West 122nd Street

Third New York City RP Church

1932 Walton Ave. Bronx

First Philadelphia RP Church
40th Street and Sanson Street

Third Philadelphia RP Church
Franklin Street and Dauphin Street

Portland, OR, RP Church
5935 North Minnesota Ave.

Toronto RP Church
754 Samman Ave.

16 December, 2008

Snow White

Below is a short meditation on the whiteness of snow by Dr. David Murray of Puritan Reformed Seminary.

Snow White from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

14 December, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: Do You REALLY Love Jesus?

Many know Jesus according to the letter, but not internally by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, such also have no love for Him. They do desire Him as a servant to protect them from hell and to help them get into heaven--of which they also have no correct perceptions. Beyond that they have no use for Him. There is no entering into covenant with Him, no surrendering to Him, no receiving of Him by faith unto justification and sanctification, no heart-union, and no exercising of fellowship with Him. They are neither acquainted with His presence nor with His absence. They are satisfied if they are but good church-members, partake of the Lord's Supper, live honestly, and have the illusion that they will be saved. On that basis they proceed--even though Jesus remains a stranger to them, remaining outside of their heart and thoughts. Since you are acquainted with human love, you will thus perceive that you have no love to Jesus, whom you ought to love more vehemently than men. You may say that you love Jesus. But then I ask you, "How is this evident? Is there esteem and reverence for Him? Do you grieve and long for Him? Do you endeavor to live in immediate union with Him? Is there a resemblance between your nature and His? Are you obedient and do you keep His commandments? Is there love for the most eminent among the godly? Is there an aversion toward the unconverted, of whom we have dealt with in the above, and of whom you yourself are convinced? If you consider your love toward men, and apply this to love toward Christ, then you must be convinced that you do not love Jesus--whatever good thought you may also have concerning yourself" (III: 278-279).

11 December, 2008

I Want A LITERAL Translation of the Bible

Many Christians want a literal translation of the Bible. This is usually the argument that so many Fundamentalists make for using the King James Version of the Bible. They argue that it is a literal version of the Scriptures.

Now, as much as I love the King James Bible (and other translations that follow the same translation philosophy: ESV, NKJV, NASB), the idea of a LITERAL translation is a myth. Let me illustrate:

Today, in my Hebrew studies, I translated this section from Psalm 118:23:

מֵאֵת יְהוָה הָיְתָה זֹּאת

The way that the text would be translated LITERALLY is:
From with the LORD, she (or it) was this.

Now, frankly I do not want a translation that does not clean a verse like this up for me. I do not want a translation that refuses to understand that readability as well as textual integrity are part of the translation philosophy. Of course, many translators understand this and they make phrases like this make sense by putting them in English that is read- not just garbled English words.

Here is how I translated it:
This is from the LORD.

Here is the KJV, NKJV, NASB:
This is the LORD's doing.

Here is the ESV:
This is the Lord's doing.

This, along with hundreds and hundreds of other passages in both the Hebrew and the Greek show us that we do not want a LITERAL translation of the Scriptures. What we want is one where:
  1. The translators believe that the Hebrew and Greek texts ARE the ACTUAL Word of God.
  2. Where the sentence is translated Word for Word- and at the same time readability is taken into consideration.
When the American Standard Version came out in 1901, Charles Spurgeon wrote a review of it. He was quite impressed with the faithfulness to the text, but found it VERY awkward to read. His quote is famous- "The ASV is good Greek and horrible English!" Of course, he was an Englishman commenting on the American tongue as well!

09 December, 2008

Who Needs Calvin's Commentaries?

Calvin's Commentaries on the Scripture are some of the best expositions that the Church has. My personal opinion is that a set should be in every Christian home for reference when a text is unclear or even for personal or family worship purposes. They are that good! Calvin is not the dry, dusty, overly-scholastic killjoy that some make him out to be. He is actually very warm, applicable, and pastoral in his exposition (something that many Reformed pastors could learn from!).

If you do not have these commentaries in your home, but agree that they would make a great addition to a spiritual library- then now is the time to add them. Christian Book Distributors has them for $99 right now (they retail at $1000... even though most get them for around $250 in the used market). $99 is unheard of though- with 22 volumes, I would imagine that the paper and ink are worth at least half of that!

Get em here!

Reformation Thoughts on the Role of the Government

I have always thought that the Belgic Confession, article 36 is the best summary of the role of the civil magistrate. It is a concise statement on the thoughts of the Reformers concerning the duties and benefits of the magistrate. Here is article 36:

We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, has appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose he has invested the magistracy with the sword, for the punishment of evildoers, and for the protection of them that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto, and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may be thus destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must therefore countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honoured and worshipped by every one, as he commands in his Word. Moreover, it is the bounden duty of every one, of what state, quality, or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates; to pay tribute, to show due honour and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers, that God may rule and guide them in all their ways, and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and in general all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates, and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God has established among men.

07 December, 2008

Sabbath a'Brakel: How to Attain Christian Joy

To that end you should first of all continually exercise faith in Christ, reflect upon the truths pertaining to the atonement and God's way in which He leads man to salvation, and put your trust in Jesus, leaning upon Him. To entrust yourself thus to Him, without seeing Him or apart from any feeling, is the way that leads to joy (1 Pet. 1:8).

Secondly, continue to read and acknowledge the Word to be what it really is: the Word of God. Acknowledge that it addresses itself at that particular moment to you. Search for the promises, deem them to be unbreakable, and when you apply them to your soul as such, you will experience joy. "For thy word hath quickened me" (Psa. 119:50).

Thirdly, pray much, and acquaint yourself with the Lord by praying to Him, communing with Him, making request to Him, and laying before Him all that you lack and desire, especially your desire for joy. "Make me to hear joy and gladness" (Psa. 51:8); "O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psa. 90:14).

Pursue the promise and lift up your heart to the truth that whatever you will pray for in Christ's Name, He will indeed give you. By being thus engaged in prayer the soul will experience more and more of this joy.

Fourthly, engage much in holy contemplation and meditation. Reflect upon who and what you are, the ways the Lord has led you hitherto, and upon your former mourning, seeking, and tears. Reflect upon the comforts and deliverances which the Lord has frequently given you, upon the benefits of the covenant of grace (each individually), and upon future glory and all that the soul will forever enjoy there. This is suitable to cause the soul quietly to rejoice. "My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD" (Psa. 104:34).

Fifthly, be much on guard against yielding to a sinful routine in your life. Even if there are no great falls, this yielding, this drowsy carelessness, and this departing from God will readily rob us of this joy. Rather, one ought to refrain from unrighteousness, and, upon falling, arise each time again and immediately run to the fountain once more; this will, time and again, quicken joyfulness. May the God of our exceeding joy gladden you! Amen (II: 466-467).

02 December, 2008

A Letter to My Readers

Friends and Family,

I wanted to let everyone know that I have accepted a call to pastor the Los Angeles, CA Reformed Presbyterian Church. I look forward to beginning the hard work of ministering in Southern California.

I have presbytery examinations on December 13th in Los Angeles and will be ordained and installed in the early part of February. The official move will be some time between those dates.

After being in Grand Rapids almost 11 years, I really have grown to consider Grand Rapids my home (and I know that Lydia feels the same way). The friendships and the relationships that have developed over these years are strong and will be missed greatly. Our college friends, seminary friends, congregation, and co-workers at Pine Rest will be missed greatly as we begin this new phase of life.

Lydia and I also want to acknowledge that it will be difficult to be so far away from family. Chicago and NW Pennsylvania are distant lands from the sunny hills of Los Angeles. We appreciate their understanding and support as we make this move. With the modern advances in communication and relatively inexpensive travel, we hope that it will not seem so distant.

Please be in prayer for us as we move our belongings, family, and most importantly- our ministry across the country. We will update you all as things progress.

With grateful hearts,

Nathan and Lydia Eshelman