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Articles posts of '2016' 'January'

Happy Anniversary, Reformed Fellowship and The Outlook

If you are reading The Outlook, this new year, 2016, is an important year in which to remember our Lord’s faithfulness and His blessings. On February 21, 2016, Reformed Fellowship and The Outlook will celebrate their sixty-fifth anniversary.

For many years Calvin Theological Seminary had been publishing a weekly magazine called The Outlook. As 1950 approached, a number of Christian Reformed ministers and laymen became concerned about some things that began appearing in that publication. It was then decided to form an organization that would publish an alternative magazine devoted to upholding and defending the Reformed faith. This would be an avenue to counter those things being published in The Outlook at that time that were contrary to the Scriptures and the Reformed confessions.

On February 21, 1951, by-laws were adopted for a new organization called Reformed Fellowship, Inc. The following is taken from the Reformed Fellowship Articles of Incorporation:

These Articles of Incorporation are signed and acknowledged by the incorporators for the purpose of forming a nonprofit corporation under the provisions of Act 327 of the Public Acts of the State of Michigan for the year 1931, as amended, known as the Michigan General Corporation Act, as follows:

Article I. The name of this corporation is Reformed Fellowship, Inc.

Article II. The purpose or purposes of this corporation are as follows: to study the Reformed faith and to develop its implications as it relates to all of human life and activity; to disseminate and defend the Reformed faith in opposition to all errors, heresies and trends of thought hostile to the development of a full-orbed and fully committed Christian life; to encourage and promote respect for the Reformed tradition by all lawful means; to publish Reformed periodicals and literature.

The men who signed that document were Herman Baker, Rev. Arnold Brink, Dr. P. Y. DeJong, Dr. John De Vries, Rev. Leonard Greenway, Rev. Edward Heerema, Marvin Muller, Rev. John Piersma, Dr. John Van Bruggen, Rev. Fred Van Houten, Rev. Henry Van Til, and Rev. Henry Venema.

Reformed Fellowship then began publication of a magazine called Torch and Trumpet. The verse chosen for the magazine was Judges 7:20: “And the three companies blew the trumpets . . . and held THE TORCHES in their left hands, and THE TRUMPETS in their right hands . . . and they cried, The sword of Jehovah and of Gideon.’”

In early 2000, the name of Torch and Trumpet was changed to The Outlook. The verse was changed to Jude 3: “Exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

In keeping with the stated purpose of Reformed Fellowship, to publish Reformed periodicals and literature, the publication of Bible study materials and books by Reformed authors was also eventually begun.

Over the years Reformed Fellowship struggled, and the minutes indicate times when even dissolution of the organization was considered. In December 2001, the minutes show that Outlook subscriptions were declining and RF was twenty-one thousand dollars behind. But at that very time a very sizable estate gift was received. That is how God continually blessed the efforts of this small organization in defending the faith in the midst of a declining appreciation and understanding of the precious truths that the forefathers so vigorously defended and preserved.

Reading through the organization’s minutes shows that many of the concerns and discussions presently facing the Reformed Fellowship board are much the same as those throughout the years. God is good, and He blesses. He has blessed the small efforts of Reformed Fellowship for sixty-five years. We give Him the praise for this milestone.

We live in a time that the proclamation and defense of the Reformed faith is needed as much as ever. May God continue to bless Reformed Fellowship to vigorously do so even as our forefathers did under God’s blessings for sixty-five years.

Mr. Myron Rau     
is the chairman of the board of Reformed Fellowship.

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This meditation was originally published in Torch and Trumpet, April-May 1951.

 
Shelter and Security Meditation of Psalm 91

A Psalm of the Sheltered Life

Multitudes today are shelter-conscious! Shelter from the A-bomb! Shelter from the H-bomb! William Faulkner, on his way to Stockholm last December to receive the Nobel Prize, paused in New York City long enough to remark to press reporters: “Man has only one question in mind: When will I be blown up?” Professor Henry D. Smith of Princeton University advocates underground cities and industries as the only means of survival. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation has been petitioned for a million-dollar loan to develop a twenty-six-mile-long cave in the Missouri Ozarks into “an underground ‘Noah’s Ark’” safe from A-bomb and H-bomb attacks. The cave would hide several thousand people “whose survival would be essential to future civilization.”

It is significant that the farther men get away from God, the more they feel compelled to go downward to preserve their lives.

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He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pesilence.

He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;

Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.

Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.

Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation;

There shall no evil befall thee neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.

Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him.

With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.

—King James Version

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A Psalm of Security

It is the sense of insecurity that is driving people into all kinds of excesses today. They have no peace of mind. Shortly before his death, Joshua Liebman, author of the popular, fast-selling book, Peace of Mind, was reported in one of our weekly magazines to have said to an interviewer, “The one thing I do not have is peace of mind.” Peter Edson, a respected Washington correspondent, declared recently, “Washington today is like a lost man at midnight in the dark of the moon, standing at the bottom of a deep pit, blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back, looking for something that isn’t there. That ‘something’ is, of course, peace.”

Helpless before our own defence we stand,

Turned by our strength into a cowering land.

For he whose weapon is the cosmic flame

Needs cosmic wisdom to direct the aim,

Or falls, self-smitten by his own blind hand.

Three voices speak in this psalm: the voice of the witness for God, the voice of the brother in peril, and the voice of God Himself.

The Witness for God

A sympathizing friend of the brother in peril speaks: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

Where is this secret place of the Most High? Within the veil, of course, whither Christ leads us from the cross, through the grave, to the right hand of God the Father Almighty. There by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving we may make our requests known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding guards our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, let us draw near with a true heart in fullness of faith. For we are no more servants merely, not knowing what our Master doeth, but we are friends of the Son,and as friendswe know the secrets of the Father. Is it not written, “The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant”?
(Ps. 25:14).

Your life is hid with Christ in God. Here is a home of full confidence, a dwelling where warm affection prevails. Here we acquaint ourselves with God and are at peace. It is a house with a great name: the Most High, the Almighty under whose protecting shadow the redeemed abide. Yea, the Lord Himself is round about us, as the mountains are round about Jerusalem. Here is real security. Thou art safe because God is true. His truth is a shield and buckler. It protects against the entrance of those doubts, those misgivings and fears which, like flying arrows, may assail you. Men may be false, but Cod is true. The heathen may rage, and the people may imagine a vain thing; still God is true. Thou art safe because He in whom thou trustest has all the elements of nature and all the angels of heaven as His agents and messengers, to do His pleasure in behalf of all who abide under His shadow. He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

The Brother in Peril

He says very little. But the little he says is much. It is very comprehensive: “I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

How promptly he replies to his sympathizing friend! In the sacred record it appears almost as an interruption of the testimony of his friend. This is faith in ready and deep response. A weary, war-worn believer quickly appropriates what only faith can appropriate: “I will say of Jehovah, he is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”

To say this is to say much. To say this is to confirm the gracious work of the indwelling Spirit. Not everyone says this. Not everyone can say this. For this is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The heart that speaks thus is not the heart that we have by nature. By nature we seek a defense againstGod. We seek a shelter fromthe true God. Indeed, there are forms of godliness that we put between ourselves and the Lord. When the Lord comes to reckon with us, we entrench ourselves in self-justification, self-righteousness. Nothing is more natural to sinners than the disposition to evade the living God who is offended by their sin.

If it is otherwise with us now, the explanation lies not with ourselves but with that very God from whom we seek to hide. His monarchical grace sweeps away our imaginary innocence. His Spirit punctures the sham of our imagined goodness and integrity. His sovereign invasion of our corrupt and barricaded hearts beats down every element of defiance. The Lord of Hosts by His Spirit and Word assails the bulwarks of sin, and the smitten sinner cries in penitence, humility, and gratitude, “Jehovah my righteousness! Jehovah my strength! My God, in whom I trust.”

It is the language not of faith only, but of love. Jehovah becomes more than an advantage, a convenience, an expedient. He is not merely prized as a shelter. In Himself He becomes precious to us. He is our portion, our all in all. He is my God, in whom I trust.

The Voice of God

Now God speaks. He always has the last word because He always is the First Word. “Because he has set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble: I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.”

His heart is mine, says Jehovah. He has set his love upon me. No, it is not a name for himself that the believer covets. He knows Jehovah’s name, and that name he will glorify. Such love itself the product of divine love; it will never be misplaced. It will never be ignored. Jehovah will honor them that honor him. “I will set him on high because he hath known my name.”

The heart that is set upon the Lord cannot be silent when the object of that love is near. “He shall call upon me.” It cannot but be so! Nor can it be otherwise than that the divine Lover will answer. “And I will answer him.” God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts that we may always cry, Abba, Father. And when we cry, He answers.

He answers, but not always by removing the trouble. Not always by removing the terror by night or the arrow that flieth by day. The pestilence that walketh in darkness may remain. The destruction that wasteth at noonday may not be taken away.

But He does reply. He replies by being with us in trouble.

And even in trouble He can satisfy. So marvelous is His transfiguration of the dark day that we do not fail to see His goodness. And seeing His goodness, we find fullness of life. Seeing His goodness, though we fall in the flower of youth or in the prime of manhood, we fall, still testifying that with long life the Lord has satisfied us. Even the youth of tender years, once he has known the Name, falling in death while spring is still green, dies as old as the aged Simeon who said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

 

At the time this article was written...

Dr. Leonard Greenway     
was a teacher of Bible and spiritual counselor at Grand Rapids Christian High School. Dr. Greenway was an ordained minister, holding an associate pastorship in the Burton Heights Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, MI. He has written Basic Questions on the Bible and Basic Questions on Christian Behavior and was a regular contributor to The Banner, the Christian Reformed denominational weekly.

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A good many people seem to think that every generation lives in a sort of intellectual watertight compartment, without much chance of converse with other generations. Every generation has its own thought-forms and cannot by any chance use the thought-forms of any other generation. Do you know what I think of this notion? I think it comes very near being nonsense. If it were true, then books produced in past generations ought to be pure gibberish to us.

—J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 91.

 
 
Finding God’s Word in Our Time

Shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, all these are an abomination before the Lord, just as gays are an abomination. Why stop at protesting gay marriage? Bring all of God’s law unto the heathens and the sodomites. We call upon all Christians to join the crusade against Long John Silver’s and Red Lobster. Yea, even Popeye’s shall be cleansed. The name of Bubba shall be anathema. We must stop the unbelievers from destroying the sanctity of our restaurants.

This is how the website godhatesshrimp.com tries to mock Christians for their belief that homosexuality is still a sin in the eyes of the Lord. If you’ve listened at all to the debate raging across North America, you’ve heard people on opposite sides claim to be followers of Jesus Christ and claim the Bible for their position either for or against homosexuality. There is mass confusion in our time, in the visible church, over whether God actually has spoken and if so, where has He spoken.

The Word of God as a topic of doctrine is fundamental to what we as Reformed Christians think about God (theology) and how we live a godly life. The Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) opens with an article about God (art. 1) and then six articles with how we know him in his revealed Word (arts. 2–7), summarized in this line: “We believe that those Holy Scriptures [of the Old and New Testaments] fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein” (art. 7). To this we say, “Amen!” But because this is such a given in our churches, we can take it for granted. We say the Bible is the Word of God, but do we know why? Then we hear the challenges to biblical faith every day from neighbors and in the media. Are we going to muster as soldiers in the army of the Lord to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) or lay down our arms before the pressure of the world?

It was only a few years ago that a fellow pastor in a nearby URC congregation renounced his vows to uphold Reformed doctrine and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. Then a year later, a student I knew at a local Reformed seminary converted to Roman Catholicism. Even more well known was that a popular PCA pastor whom I knew and whose blog was popular with many of my parishioners announced that he no longer believed the Protestant doctrine of Scripture but believed the claims made by the Roman Church. At this moment our classis has a study committee dealing with the claims of the Eastern Orthodox Church because several local congregations are losing young members.

These and other events and pressures should stir our passions to proclaim “the sum of your word is truth” (Ps. 119:160) and to defend that truth. As for me, I have sworn a solemn oath “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend” the doctrine contained in our confessional documents whether in preaching, teaching, or writing. I also have sworn that I “not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine . . . but that [I am] disposed to refute and contradict these and to exert [myself] in keeping the Church free from such errors” (Form of Subscription). Although you may not have taken that oath, I trust that you will stand with me and say that while the grass will wither and the flower will fade “the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8).

And so I plan to write to you a series of articles on our doctrine of Scripture. At the heart of why I will be writing is that too many of God’s people do not always have such assurance and confidence that their Bibles are the very words of God—what our forefathers called ipsissima verba. Because the sin nature we inherited from Adam is like a dead body that still clings onto us (Rom. 7:24), the doctrinal truths we affirm with our heads do not necessarily translate into the experiential reality of our hearts. Because of this I believe Scripture evidences that every generation of God’s people needs to appropriate for itself its truth as foundational and fundamental for saving faith. As our Heidelberg Catechism says, “true faith” includes “a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true” (Q&A 21). If we do not recommit ourselves to the Scriptures, I believe Scripture teaches that we will see a rapid shift from this generation into another “that did not know the Lord” (Judg. 2:10).

The Need to Find God’s Word

There is an urgent need to find the authentic Word of God in our time. While statistics can be misleading if they are abstracted from the moment they are calculated, they do give a glimpse of reality at that moment. Back in 2000 one survey revealed that 75 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “God helps those who help themselves.” Then in 2005 another survey revealed that 11 percent of “born-again” Christians said they did not believe the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings. These statistics go hand in hand with the sad anecdotal reality that many of us have that Americans as well as professing Christians are turning from the Word of God to alternate spiritualities, different religions, to themselves, or to no religion at all for their version of the truth. This evidences that we are in the same kind of famine the Lord once sent upon Israel: “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11). And sadly, we read that in those days “they shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it” (Amos 8:12). This describes the apostate church as it blindly wanders from the sentimentality of Protestant liberalism, to the so-called authoritative and immovable word of Rome or Orthodoxy, to the relativistic Emerging Church, to the skeptical Bart Ehrman, to the happy Joel Osteen, and the list goes on. There is a lot of searching but no finding.

People are asking in their own way, “Where can I find God’s Word?” We need to proclaim that God “makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word”
(Belgic Confession, art. 2), 

that is, in the inspired, infallible, and canonical Scriptures of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New Testament. This where the authentic Word of God to humanity is found. We need to proclaim this confidently. How firm will you be when co-workers tell you that they read the latest Dan Brown novel or saw the latest television program during Christmas or Easter season that said the manuscripts of the Bible contradict? How will you answer when you hear the assertion that the early church used power politics to decide what books were Scripture while leaving out other viable books?

The need of our time is no different from that of times gone by. In his second epistle to young pastor Timothy, Paul gives several characteristics of the “last days” (2 Tim. 3:1), that is, in the days since our Lord’s ministry on earth in his incarnation (Heb. 1:1–2), crucifixion (Heb. 9:26), and effusion of His Spirit (Acts 2:1–4, 17).

The first characteristic of the last days is that the church exists in an age of apostasy from the true faith. Paul says “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).

The second characteristic of the last days is that the church exists in an age of ungodliness: “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:2–5).

Now, stop and ask yourself this question: What is so different about Paul’s day and ours? The answer is absolutely nothing. I’m not arguing for “the good ol’ days” of the 1950s or 1550s. The church has always struggled with the struggle we are facing in finding the Word of God in our time. It is imperative that we to find God’s words so that we can speak them to the world. His words are like a beacon in the darkness of falsehood and like a light that exposes the darkness of our sinful hearts. And when we find the Word, we find an anchor for our souls in the midst of the turbulent storms of false theology and false piety that beat against our faith.

The Place to Find

Where can we find the true Word of God? The place to find it is in what we call the canon of Scripture. A canon was an ancient way of describing what we call a ruler. Our ancient forefathers adapted this word for describing the Word of God, saying that we have in the Old and New Testaments the ruler, the true measure of authentic faith in God and genuine life before His face. Later in 2 Timothy 3, Paul speaks of Timothy’s upbringing in the faith of the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:14, 16). Yet Paul’s statement that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” extends to the writings of the New Testament as well. For example, Peter equates Paul’s letters with the words of our Lord (2 Pet. 3:16). And our Lord’s words through His apostles have come to an end with the Revelation of John (Rev. 22:18).

The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are canonical because they are inspired, literally, “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). As Peter says, that breath of God carried along the writers of Scripture like a sailboat upon the water (2 Pet. 1:20–21). These Scriptures are also sufficient. They are what we need to be “complete” and “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).

“But how can I know this? There are so many religious books out there, after all.” The Westminster Larger Catechism (Q&A 4) gives us several basic reasons by which we know the Scriptures we have are the very Word of God.

First, they have the qualities of majesty and purity, as we would expect from the mouth of God. One reading of the Bible next to the Apocrypha, the Book of Mormon, or the Qu’ran will evidence this.

Second, all the different parts of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, in all the different genres of narrative, laws, poetry, prophecy, and letters, written over a vast expanse of sixteen hundred years, on different continents, in different languages have a consent in these various parts as well as a unity of purpose: “to give all glory to God.”

Third, they give light to the spiritually blind and are powerful to convert spiritually dead sinners. And afterwards, they are able to comfort and build up converted believers in their salvation.

Fourth, and most importantly, the same Holy Spirit who breathed them out (2 Tim. 3:16) also bears witness by and with them in our hearts that they are true (cf. Rom. 8:23–27). As God, the Holy Spirit alone is able fully to persuade us that these books are the very Word of God.

Conclusion

We live in that famine of the Word of God which the ancient prophet Amos spoke of (Amos 8:11–12). What are we to do as those made alive by the Spirit to know His Word? We need to reengage in the practice of finding the Word; and when we find it, continually mine it for its riches by meditating on it (Ps. 1:1–2; Col. 3:16), continually seek to conform our lives to it (Ps. 119:1–8), and continually express our utter thankfulness for it (Ps. 119:62; 164). And when we appropriate the Word for ourselves in this way, we will be equipped to contend for the Word (Jude 3), by preserving it as well as proclaiming it. May God help us to do so for our souls’ sake, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our churches.

Rev. Daniel Hyde    
is the pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad/Oceanside, CA.

 
“First the Blade, Then the Ear”

This past summer I worked at a once-common job that is becoming uncommonly foreign to twenty-first-century Americans: farming. I soon found myself pushed beyond the little previous experience I had in the field (pun intended), and realized that dedicated farmers need to possess not just certain skills but a certain view of life. As I learned the various tasks of farming, from planting to transplanting to watering to weeding to harvesting, I gained a greater appreciation for the significance of the Bible’s numerous agricultural metaphors. Here are five simple truths about farming with profound implications for the Christian life.

Farming Is a Post-Fall Vocation

Stand under a hot sun for a day attacking weeds or wrestling with irrigation hoses, and you will gain new insight into God’s words to Adam: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:19, ESV). As a middle-class American, I have the luxury of being a few steps removed from this reality. For me, farming was one of a great array of choices for work, something to provide money to help defray the cost of living. My day’s labor in the field was not the direct source of my next meal. For the majority of the world, however, it is a day-to-day reality that if you do not grow food, you will die. And sometimes you will die trying to grow food.

While farming is a post-Fall vocation, it’s not a result of the Fall. Before Adam and Eve’s sin, we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). We were created to work. The Bible’s pictures of lush gardens and bountiful harvests reinforce that working the ground can be a healthy and rewarding calling. But the effects of the Fall are visible in our work. Everywhere we look, thorns and thistles cause fatigue and frustration (Gen. 3:18). The only difference with farming is that the thorns and thistles are often literal.

To give just one example, my job included inspecting the tomato crop weekly for symptoms of late blight. For the past seven years, this fungal disease has been the bane of Long Island gardeners and farmers. Generating spores from rotten, moldy blotches on tomatoes and potatoes, late blight can spread quickly enough to ruin a crop in a just a few weeks. Other than a few preventative measures of varying effectiveness, there is no cure—other than to uproot and destroy any plant that shows any sign of the disease.

Whether or not you work outdoors, signs of the curse are abundant. In such a distorted world, it is easy to respond to these signs with an indifferent shrug or the comment, “That’s just the way things are.” Christians must rebel against this mindset. To grow complacent with the effects of sin on us and the creation is to downplay the salvation and restoration that Christ brings. Rather, in our vocations and daily living we must cry out for the complete redemption and renewal that Jesus will bring when He comes again. In the familiar words of the apostle Paul, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22–23).

Weeds Grow Exponentially Quicker Than Crops

Pull them, mow them, smother them, spray them—weeds are incredibly difficult to get rid of. If a tomato plant grows an inch in a week, weeds can grow a foot. Left unchecked, weeds can smother a row of seedlings in a matter of days. In one of His most familiar parables Jesus uses the metaphor of weeds to warn against worldliness: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). Jesus pictures the distractions of the world as deadly weeds that draw our energy away from pursuing the things of God.

Those who have followed Christ for any amount of time know that it is a daily struggle. Neglect the cultivation of your soul or the means of grace for even a few days, and you will find your spiritual walk suffering as a result. Like a fallow field or an unmulched row, your life will soon grow green with the weeds of worry and distraction. If we wish to be like Jesus, we must count the cost (Luke 14:25–33) and be willing to strive against sin even to the point of death (Heb. 12:1–4).

One of the most effective ways to fight weeds is to plant a “cover crop,” a thick planting of some benign vegetable that helps prevent sun and water from ever reaching weed seeds. This, too, is a helpful illustration for the Christian life. If we root out sin but put nothing else in its place, our fate will be like that of the man who swept his house clean but left it empty (Luke 11:24–26). Rather, we are to fill our lives with the fruit of the Spirit.

Watering Takes Time

We had a dry summer. The days are long gone when “a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). Post-Fall, crops need human intervention in order to receive enough water, often at great cost. Even the relatively small farm where I worked possessed miles of aluminum pipe and hundreds of sprinkler heads. I have no idea how many gallons of water the ground had to soak up in a single day just for the vegetables to survive.

At least field irrigation is mostly automated once you open the valves and start the diesel pump. Over in the greenhouse, the process of watering was much more laborious. For the first few weeks of my job I would often spend several hours with hose in hand, carefully watering several thousand tiny seedlings. There were entire days when all I did was water.

The time and effort involved in watering shed new light for me on Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” Ministering in the church, like watering, is no quick fix. It requires regular, continuous, committed involvement, and immediate results are seldom evident. Immense patience is required in order to be a pastor, elder, or church planter. The same applies to all Christians who seek to build relationships with unsaved family or friends. Like physical soil, the ground of the human heart needs to be cultivated and watered often, and for a long time, before a harvest can be reaped.

“For Dust You Are, and to Dust You Shall Return”

One of my daily chores was to put out the compost. While the concept of composting seems healthy and nutritious, dealing with rotten vegetables, fresh manure, and fish emulsion is anything but attractive. It’s a messy, smelly job. Compost is just one part of the death and decay present throughout the process of farming, from killed-off crops to groundhogs the dogs caught. Every day I, too, am drawing nearer to the time when my body will die and decompose, eventually becoming indistinguishable from the dirt around it.

Yet it never ceases to amaze me that compost, the product of death and decay, is a source of valuable nutrition for new plants in the fields it is spread on. God’s providence in using the rotting of old plants to provide nourishment for new ones is a powerful picture of how He brings life out of death.

Similarly, in order for a seed to fall to the earth and germinate, its parent plant must first wither and die. Jesus used this fact of farming to illustrate the benefits we receive from His death: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Jesus’ death brings us eternal life and the “fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). This is vividly illustrated for us in the Lord’s Supper, in which Christ “nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood” (Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 28, Q&A 75). In the death and resurrection of His beloved Son, as well as in the various afflictions and trials each of us continues to face, God proves that He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

God Gives the Growth

Farming is a humbling experience. Despite the patience, endurance, and hard work that go into the process, at the end of the day farmers are not in control. They can prepare for a drought and then have a hailstorm destroy a field. They can prepare for a tomato hornworm infestation and instead face the ravages of late blight. Their harvests can run the gamut from bountiful to nonexistent.

Sometimes the opposite is true, too. Sometimes the crops that have suffered the most neglect and abuse produce the best—the strawberries that had been forgotten, the tomatoes that grew from seeds in the compost pile. In good and bad circumstances alike, God takes the credit. Without His providential care nothing would grow at all.

As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:26–28). The kingdom of heaven is built not by mere human effort but by the care of a gracious God who finishes the good work He begins. In the midst of a post-Fall world, overgrown with weeds, parched for water, and painfully aware of death’s presence, believers look forward with certainty to the vision of the river of living water and the tree of life whose leaves bring healing to the nations (Rev. 22:1–5). Christians who diligently cultivate their walk with Christ will “still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (Ps. 92:14–15).

Let heaven and earth be glad; waves of the ocean,
Forest and field, exultation express;
For God is coming, the Judge of the nations,
Coming to judge in His righteousness.

—Psalm 96, Psalter Hymnal 187

Mr. Michael Kearney  
is a member of the West Sayville URC on Long Island, NY, and studies communication and music at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. He welcomes your thoughts at mrkearney@optonline.net.

 

Current Issue: November/December 2018
Volume 68 Issue 6

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Listen to a 42-minute audio lecture by Dr. Carl Trueman
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This lecture was given at the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship held November 7, 2008, at Trinity United Reformed Church, 7350 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Caledonia MI.

 

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