Holding Fast Our Profession
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. Hebrews 4:14
Young people today, more than ever before, are being tempted to leave what they profess. Quite often it is in the way of marrying someone from another denomination. The passion of love blinds one to the reality of the sin and danger of leaving the church in which the truth is preached and taught. In hard economic times a job in another part of the country is offered to us. We are tempted and so inclined to accept this offer. After all, jobs are hard to come by. One has to make a living and support a family. The things of the world appear to outweigh the things of the kingdom of heaven.
The writer to the Hebrew was aware of these temptations. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he gives us exhortations based on the truths of Holy Scripture. He says, “Let us hold fast our profession.”
It is good to be reminded just what that profession is. In the fellowship of the saints it is given you to know of the marvelous works of God, of the glory of his grace in the beloved, and the blessedness of salvation. This is redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and covenant fellowship with the triune God. It consists of what through the word, the Spirit of Christ dwelling in the church has revealed to you things that eye has not seen, neither the ear heard, nor has ever arisen in the heart of man. In the fellowship with the church in the world you embrace that truth by a true and living faith. It is the truth that controls and dominates your whole existence and very life in the midst of the world.
We look to the glorious truth that we have a great High Priest who sacrificed himself for your and my sins and obtained for us forgiveness of sins and righteousness. As High Priest he is also our advocate who intercedes with the Father for us. He knows and is acquainted by deepest experience with all our infirmities, sins, and weaknesses, trials, and temptations. He constantly prays for us with a prayer that is never denied. Indeed, he is great. All the Old Testament priests could only point to him, for they were but shadows. Christ is the reality who brought not the blood of animals, which could never atone for our sins; but he brought himself, the perfect sacrifice.
He is Jesus, the Son of God, the revelation of the God of our salvation. We had made ourselves incapable of doing any good and were inclined to all evil. God came in the person of his Son and joined himself so perfectly to our nature in the womb of the virgin that he assumed that nature in its entirety, though without sin. He came to do God’s will, to fulfill the law that we had transgressed and could not keep. Burned by the wrath of God, he satisfied the justice of God completely. What a Savior! Indeed, a great High Priest!
Having erased our debt and guilt completely He arose from the dead and ascended into heaven and came to sit at the right hand of God the Father. To this profession we hold fast.
Our holding fast means to take hold of and hold fast, never to let go. One cleaves with a firm faith, a lively hope, and an ardent love. It is to love the word of the gospel, and to cling to our High Priest with all the power of faith and child-like trust. That implies that you are zealous concerning the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, revealed in the Scriptures. You strive for the purity of the faith once delivered to the saints. Standing firm, you refuse to be tossed about by any wind of doctrine. It further implies that you appropriate this pure revelation of the living Lord by a true and living faith. You cling to it so that your mind is constantly enlightened by it as a certain knowledge, and so that your will is wholly controlled and determined by it, clinging to Christ in complete confidence. Living such a life, you will let your light shine, never hiding it under a bushel. Forsaking your old nature and walking in the new, you reveal yourself as being of the party of God, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This must be taken seriously, for it is a matter of life and death. You must be prepared fully, without wavering or compromise, to accept the word of the Lord: he who will save his life shall lose it, and he who will lose his life for my sake will save it unto life eternal. The world calls you to be tolerant of its ungodly ways and beliefs. They, of course, are most intolerant of any of your Christian beliefs. Do not be deceived by their pious talk, for that is all that it is. They have no intention of tolerating what you believe.
You must reject the other lordship in this world. It is of the man of sin, of the son of perdition, of the beast and of the false prophet. It too strives for your all and is wholly intolerant. It stands radically opposed to your profession and will not rest until all the world worships him. He will seduce you by false philosophy, even under the cloak of righteousness. He will tempt you to become unfaithful to your profession by offering you privileges of the kingdom of this world. He will threaten you with his furious wrath, cast you out so that you can neither buy nor sell, and put the sword power to your throat.
Your and my calling is to hold fast, looking unto Jesus, our ascended High Priest. Without that look of faith, that constant look upon him, you will be swallowed up by the waves of temptation and tribulation. But seeing him, you will be safe, without fear of wavering.
The encouragement that we are given here is that we have a High Priest who is favorably disposed to us (v. 15). Here we see that we do not have a high priest who is not able to be affected with respect to our infirmities, but he was tried according to all things in like manner as we are, though without sin. He knows exactly what we go through when our faith is tried, when we are surrounded with manifold temptations. He, the strong and sinless one, was tempted in all points as we are, but did not succumb. He knows that we are weak and sinful. He knows that we would not be able to stand for a moment without his sustaining and redeeming grace. Such a sympathetic High Priest we need. We still dwell in the body of sin and death that never delights to do the will of God, is still inclined to all evil, and still constitutes our greatest enemy. We constantly need this High Priest who sits at the right hand of God to pray for us to the Father.
We are called to come boldly to the throne of grace (v. 16). The Father’s grace is his attitude of favor that shines upon us through the face of Jesus Christ.
What you, as young people, and all of God’s children, must do is come to this throne of grace. We must acknowledge our own emptiness, our sin and death, and our need for grace and mercy. We must have a spiritual apprehension of his fullness as it is revealed in all its beauty in the face of Jesus Christ. There must be a deep longing for his fellowship. With the confidence of faith we must appropriate all the spiritual blessings revealed unto us and promised to us by the symbol of that throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace.
Mercy is God’s will to bless, for God is filled with a holy, eternal longing to lead his children into the glory of his everlasting tabernacle. Grace is the power by which all this is accomplished, the marvelous power by which He redeems us.
This we can do boldly, for our reception is assured. Christ is ascended as our High Priest who knows all our needs and fills them. This he does only as our ascended Lord. Hold fast to that profession!
R. Miersma |
The Lord Makes Good Wine
Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed. Jeremiah 48:11
The word of God has a fair amount to say about wine. We read throughout scripture warnings against consuming wine in excess. We are familiar with these passages concerning the danger of alcohol. However, we may be unfamiliar with the Bible’s teaching of the Lord’s making wine. I refer not to the first miracle our Lord Jesus performed here on this earth by turning water in wine (John 2:1–11). Instead, we will consider an Old Testament passage concerning the Lord’s work in making wine— good wine.
The prophet Jeremiah labored in the midst of Judah for forty years, from the time of King Josiah to the carrying away of Jerusalem into captivity (Jer. 1:2–4). The book of Jeremiah repeatedly proclaims God’s forthcoming judgment on his chosen people, calling them to turn from idol worship and repent. However, in the final chapters of the book, we read of the judgment of God reserved for the heathen nations that surrounded Judah. Specifically we consider the proclamation of God against Moab in Jeremiah 48.
Moab, as you remember, was one of the two sons born to Lot, the nephew of Abraham, when his daughters sinfully conspired to make Lot drunk with wine and then lie with him (Genesis 19:37). The resulting child gave rise to the nation of Moab who therefore had blood relations with the children of Israel. However, despite this common ancestry, these two nations stood at enmity with each other throughout their histories. Moab exerted great effort to plot against Israel. For example, recall the efforts of Balak, king of Moab, to summon Balaam in order to curse the Israelites as they journeyed to the doorstep of Canaan (Numbers 22:6).
In spite of their efforts to aggravate God’s people, Moab enjoyed peace and prosperity throughout most of its history. The prophet indicates this in Jeremiah 48:11: “Moab hath been at ease from his youth.” Evidently Moab did not experience times of great difficulty. All seemed well for this people despite their departure from serving the Lord. Thus Jeremiah can say they “have not been emptied from vessel to vessel.” What does the prophet mean by these words? In declaring God’s judgment on the nation of Moab, Jeremiah uses the illustration of making wine. In order to understand this text, we will need to explore this process.
To make wine, yeast is added to grape pulp to convert the sugars within the grapes to alcohol, a process known as fermentation. During the fermenting process, the yeast slowly collects along the sides of the barrel or vessel containing the wine. This yeast that collects on the side of the vessel is referred to as “lees.” If the wine remains in that same barrel or vessel for too long, the lees slowly begin to impart a bitter or sour taste to the wine. In addition, the lees hinder the wine from developing a sweet and pleasant aroma.
To prevent the wine from taking on these undesirable qualities, a skilled winemaker will pour the wine into a new barrel or vessel after a certain amount of time. This process serves to agitate the wine and unsettle the yeast. In addition, the wine no longer contacts any yeast that did collect on the side of the previous barrel. Therefore by emptying the wine from one vessel to another, a winemaker prevents the wine from becoming bitter or sour because it settled on the lees for too long. This process of emptying the wine from one vessel into another vessel must be repeated several times, until the wine has matured and can be placed in a glass bottle.
Now that we understand the process for making wine, we can return to God’s judgment on Moab. The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that Moab “hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel.” In this figure the skilled winemaker that we described depicts Jehovah, the vessels represent the different states or conditions of our lives, and the wine refers to the nation of Moab. We read that God did not go through the trouble of pouring the nation of Moab from one vessel and into another vessel. God did not utilize his might and skill to prevent Moab from becoming bitter or sour to the taste. Instead he sovereignly determined to let Moab “settle on his lees.”
What then do the lees refer to? The lees here refer to sins in general, but more specifically, to the sin of spiritual indifference and complacency. Therefore settling on one’s own lees represents our natural tendency to allow sin to remain undisturbed within our own hearts. This settling on the lees refers to times in our lives that we lose the sense of true sorrow for our sins that we ought to have, and instead become unconcerned about and even comfortable in our spiritual lethargy. This figure depicts the power of sin to cleave to the inner walls of our hearts, just as the lees to inner walls of the wine barrel, resulting in the whole of our life, as with the wine, becoming unpleasant both in taste and smell to God. This sin characterized the nation of Moab, which left off the service of the Lord because they grew comfortable in their spiritual indifference. God allowed this to happen; he allowed Moab to “settle on his lees.” Therefore Jeremiah brings a word of judgment against the nation in this chapter, for God will punish those who settle on their lees (Zephaniah 1:12).
In contrast to Moab, God did not allow his chosen people to settle on their lees. Throughout the Old Testament, we see God busy in the work of emptying his people from vessel to vessel. God used a famine to empty his people into Egypt; after delivering them from bondage, he poured them into the wilderness; once his people were brought safely into the promised land, God repeatedly emptied his people from vessel to vessel during the time of the judges. As the master winemaker, God did not allow Israel to be at ease for an extended period of time. In doing this, God prevented Israel from settling on the lees of spiritual apathy. God repeatedly emptied his people from a vessel that had become lined with the sins of idolatry and mixed marriages into a vessel that brought out the sweet scent of true repentance and faith in Jehovah.
That God dealt differently with Israel compared to Moab is brought out in the text when Jeremiah draws attention to the fact that Moab has not gone into captivity. Remember that Jeremiah lived and prophesied during the time of the captivity. No doubt, Jeremiah recognized the sovereign hand of the Lord in leading Judah into captivity as his handiwork in keeping his people from becoming bitter and distasteful. By leading Judah into the Babylonian captivity, God once again emptied his people from one vessel into another.
God continues his work as a master winemaker in the lives of all his elect children. He empties us by sending sickness and disease; he turns our plans for the future upside down through financial struggles; he upsets our way of life in the death of a loved one. When God sends trials, afflictions, or hardships, he is emptying his people from one vessel and into another. God does this repeatedly. Time after time the Lord disturbs our lives so that it seems to us that he will not let us catch a break. Therein lies the temptation to wish in our hearts that God would just leave us alone for a time. By nature we long for the ease and relaxation that Moab experienced. We say to God: do not upset my life; just leave it alone. However, we must recognize the purpose of God in all of this.
What then is God’s purpose in emptying his people from vessel to vessel? Negatively, he does not do this in his wrath and judgment upon us. This must be stated, because these massive upheavals that God sends upon us are very painful and unsettling. Thus, we are inclined to perceive this process as God’s disfavor toward us. However, in emptying us from vessel to vessel, God exhibits his grace. Remember, Jehovah does not do this for the Moabites, but only for his people. God displays his wrath and judgment by not performing this work. Therefore we must see that as God’s elect people, he desires to keep us from settling on the lees. God seeks to purify us from the sins of spiritual apathy and indifference. More clearly, in sending us trials Jehovah aims to sanctify his people. Figuratively, God desires that we taste and smell good to him.
The ultimate purpose of God in emptying his people from one vessel into another is to make us more Christ-like. All of our trials and afflictions serve this purpose: to make us more and more like God’s beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased. To use the figure of the text, Christ represents the finished and complete product of the winemaking process. The tribunal of God perceives the work of Christ on the cross as a sweet taste and a pleasant aroma. God desires that we also become desirable to the mouth and the nose. Therefore he faithfully prevents us from settling on the lees of spiritual complacency by emptying us from vessel to vessel through hardships of life.
The figure in this passage serves to remind us of God’s purpose in sending trials. Thus we are called to evaluate our lives in times when we recognize God’s sovereign and gracious hand emptying us from vessel to vessel. It may be that we have settled down onto certain sins. If so, this word calls us to repent and turn from them. This passage also provides great comfort to the believer. We know that the master winemaker, having begun a good work in us, will see through to our purification so we are made as good wine, pleasing to the Lord.
B. Lights Publication date: January, 2014 | Author: Matt Kortus
Diverse or Perverse? Today’s Diversity Agenda
Each era of world history has not only its own notable personalities and events, but also its own leading ideas. These ideas shape every sphere of man’s life in the world so that the religion, ethics, politics, literature, and music of each historical period are all governed by the intellectual side of man. We are well acquainted with the sixteenth century Reformation and how the recovery of biblical truth transformed both the religious and political life of Europe. Or we think of the seventeenth century Enlightenment and how European society was largely restructured according to the ideas of that movement.
The leading ideas of each historical epoch also have their own terminology. Widely accepted ideas must be formulated, and thus they come to be expressed in certain phrases and statements that assume universal form. For example, the leading ideas of the Reformation came to be expressed in such terms as justification by faith alone, the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers, to name but a few. Alternatively, one of the great terms or watchwords of the Enlightenment was rational enquiry (by which was meant that human reason alone would decide every question).
Our day too has its leading ideas with their own terminology. You know the terms; they include diversity, inclusiveness, tolerance, equality, and LGBT rights. These are the watchwords or slogans of the Western world today. It is my contention that as Christians we need to become a good deal more self-conscious about these terms; specifically we need to do so in order to appreciate the dangerous, deceptive, and wicked thinking that lies behind them.
Before proceeding, it is well to point out that we have no problem with such terms as diversity and inclusiveness in themselves. As Reformed believers we understand, for example, that in the very being of Jehovah God there is both unity and diversity: there is one divine being and yet three distinct persons. We understand also God’s command that man should disperse over the face of the earth, that there be a diversity of nations (Genesis 1:28). From this rich diversity our God gathers a catholic church. Oh yes, we believe in diversity. The diversity that God creates and which we see in the “one, holy, catholic church” is a beautiful thing. Neither do we have a problem with inclusiveness. We include in our fellowship all those who confess the truth and live a godly life. I am taking issue with the current use of such terms by the ungodly in the advancement of their anti-Christian agenda.
The terms mentioned above are applied to every aspect of life today. Public and national life, we are told, must respect diversity and promote inclusiveness. Thus, for example, the US military recently dropped its ban on practicing homosexuals and lesbians serving in its ranks. Thus a small bakery in one US state that refused to bake a cake celebrating a sodomite “marriage” was prosecuted and forced out of business. Recently on a Saturday the leading English soccer teams displayed the rainbow colors on armbands and boot laces as a very public display of support for LGBT “rights”.
All of these things have been done in the name of diversity, inclusiveness, and associated terms. Obviously such terminology is very powerful; after all, our whole society is presently being transformed in line with it. My reason for drawing attention to this is that these terms are not neutral. That is how those who promote these concepts like to portray things; and that is how, wittingly or unwittingly a majority of people in our nation have come to see things.
As Reformed Christians, however, we must subject all beliefs including their associated terminology to the judgment of the word of God. In doing so we will see that the terminology of our day and its application to every area of society is by no means neutral, but is the expression of a rabidly antichristian and wicked idea. The controlling idea behind every sphere of western society today is the philosophy of postmodernism. I have come to believe that postmodernism is one of (if not the greatest) of the devil’s lies. It may even be the culmination and goal of all Satan’s false ideas by which he deceives countless millions today.
If you are not familiar with the term, you are certainly familiar with the central claim of postmodernism: there are no absolutes. By this is meant there is no absolute right or wrong; everything is merely a matter of individual perception. You do not like same-sex marriage and may even think it wrong; I am completely fine with it; both are a matter of perception and therefore neither is right or wrong.
I would be confident in saying that every Protestant Reformed believer reading this article would recognize and reject the example I cited above. You would say quite rightly that same-sex marriage is contrary to the Bible and is therefore wrong; you would go farther and declare it to be grossly sinful, an abomination; and in this you would be absolutely right.
But let me take you to the college classroom, a far cry from the safe confines of your Protestant Reformed family. Or let me take you to your new job where you are surrounded by youthful zealots of postmodernism thoroughly indoctrinated by the public school system. When you let it be known that you believe same-sex marriage is wrong you are met with howls of protest and sentiments such as these: “What right have you to make such a claim?”; “you do not accept diversity”; “your position is bigoted and long out-of-date”; “you should really be ashamed of yourself and learn to be more tolerant.” How are you going to answer? In such circumstances, and let me tell you I have experienced them, we can easily be put “on the back foot” and become defensive.
And speaking of the college classroom, lest anyone reading this article is tempted to think that I am engaging in mere quibbles over words—that I am playing a game of semantics—let me take you to a college classroom in which at least some of you may even be sitting. Let me take you to Calvin College, Grand Rapids. If you go to their official website and open the page on “Diversity and Inclusion,” you will see the terminology of diversity that I have outlined; you will also see that this terminology has exactly the meaning that I described.
On one of the webpage links you may read a lengthy report adopted by Calvin College in 2014 which fully commits the college to the wicked diversity agenda. On page eleven, the report declares that a proper definition of diversity “should recognize the existence of differences other than race and ethnicity including difference of gender, ability, socio-economic status, and sexual identity.” Sexual identity refers to homosexuality and heterosexuality. And, of course, gender now refers not only to feminism, but also to trans-genderism.
It is clear from the webpage that Calvin College implements its diversity agenda across every aspect of college life. For Calvin College, diversity includes LGBTQ “rights”. This is clear from the report just quoted; but it is also clear—shamefully so—from the upcoming events listed on the webpage: there the college promotes “A Primer on LGBTQ” rights. This event, to be held on campus in March 2017 (and for which you may sign up on the webpage), will introduce participants to LGBTQ rights and assess how welcoming Calvin is for LGBTQ students. Does someone still say that I engage in mere quibbles, that I play a game of semantics?
It is my fervent prayer and desire that especially the youthful readers of Beacon Lights be able see today’s diversity language for what it is—a great delusion; or to put it even more simply, a big lie. To quote the writer of Proverbs: “For [as a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (23:7). If we think a lie in our hearts, we will also speak lies. The terminology of diversity is a deceit and is rooted in the false thinking (philosophy) of postmodernism. Hence, we need to be able to debunk this false thinking, showing that it is both intellectually incoherent and unethical.
Postmodernism is the idea that there is no such thing as truth. By truth is meant any statement or belief that is absolute and universal. Accordingly, truth is not and can never be objective; truth is always a matter of individual perception. Perhaps an example will help: recently I overheard a conversation between two people in which it was the burden of one participant to say that we really should stop arguing about Calvinism and Arminianism. Calvinism and Arminianism are both true; they are two sides of the one coin; one teaches the sovereignty of God, the other teaches the responsibility of man; they are merely different perspectives of the one truth. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth: Calvinism and Arminianism stand in a relation of outright contradiction, so that Calvinism is the truth and Arminianism is the lie. But the position of the debater described above makes truth relative—one may be an Arminian and hold to the truth, or one may be a Calvinist and also hold to the truth. The mind boggles, but this is precisely the kind of nonsense to which postmodernism leads.
Of course if there is no such thing as truth, then neither can there be any absolutes, for nothing is absolutely true (or false). It is not hard to expose the incoherence of this position: If there are no absolutes, then the statement “there are no absolutes” cannot be absolutely true! Postmodernist philosophy is logically absurd—it asserts there are no absolutes at the same time claiming that this assertion is absolutely true! And to think that all of this passes for the most profound wisdom—and is by far the majority opinion in every public college today—only shows how the devil has blinded the mind of those who believe not the gospel.
But postmodernism is not only intellectually incoherent (to put it simply, it is nonsense); it is also a wicked rejection of Almighty God and his truth. Postmodernism is no different from any other false philosophy in that it has its roots in the totally depraved mind of man: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” Genesis 6:5.
Furthermore, every false way of thinking and every rejection of God’s truth is implied in our first parents’ sin. The sin of eating the forbidden fruit was a sin of both mind and will. The devil appealed to the mental faculty of man when he suggested to Eve that by disobeying God’s command both she and her husband would “know good and evil” and that “your eyes shall be opened” (the eyes of their understanding). The devil is very clever, and he knows full well something that we ignore at our peril, namely, that the light of God’s truth enters a person via the mind. The mind is the faculty by which either the light of truth or the darkness of the lie dwells within the whole man.
In effect, the devil’s lie was that our first parents could have true knowledge of God and themselves in relation to God without divine revelation. In other words, they could dispense with the authority of God’s word and still have true knowledge of God and all things. By their own unaided reason they could investigate the world and themselves and thus create their own system of ethics (“knowing good and evil”). The knowledge thus acquired would be “truth” for them; but it would not necessarily be truth for anyone else; consequently truth becomes subjective—a matter of individual perception—and subjective truth is no truth at all. My point here is that postmodern thought is not new; it was essentially the lie of the devil already at the beginning: truth is not something absolute reflecting the mind of Jehovah God who has all knowledge and is thus the arbiter of truth, but is rather something subjective and relative.
Since the thinking that lies behind the terminology is incoherent, so also is the terminology itself. Those who promote such concepts as diversity and inclusiveness today like to make us believe they mean them absolutely. If you were to question such people about their advocacy of diversity as to whether they mean every religious belief and every sexual expression, none excepted, they would answer without hesitation, “Yes, of course! Every religious belief is equally valid and every sexual orientation is legitimate”. This all sounds very tolerant and broadminded. But what about biblical Christianity which holds that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that every religion that denies this is by definition false and is consequently under the condemnation of God? Is that view also “equally valid”? In other words, can those who promote diversity accept as equally valid that belief which alone claims to be right? Their answer will be “we cannot accept this belief because it denies diversity?” And so you see their high-sounding claim for diversity is a sham and a fraud: they loudly proclaim how they accept and tolerate every religious belief and yet here is one—biblical Christianity—they will under no circumstances respect nor tolerate.
Protestant Reformed youth are, thankfully, shielded from the wicked philosophy of postmodernism. Our churches still hold to the inspiration and authority of the Bible; for us the Bible is truth regardless what men may think of it: “thy word is truth” (John 17:17b). The same belief in the authority of Holy Scripture is held in our Christian schools and in our homes. For this we are thankful. We love the truth of God and are determined not to sell it. But our young people need to be prepared for the day when they will attend college and/or enter the workplace. There they will most certainly be confronted with the terminology of diversity and inclusiveness. I should rather put it more urgently: our covenant youth need to be readied for battle; we must see to it that they are skilled in wielding the sword. That sword is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
Protestant Reformed young people, make sure you are skilled in the use of that sword! You are going to need it. The battle lines are sharply drawn today. The wicked philosophy of postmodernism and its associated corrupt terminology represent a frontal assault of the enemy. The assault is all the more dangerous in the form that it assumes—it wears the garb of tolerance, diversity, and broadmindedness. Its disciples want you to think that any opposition to the diversity agenda renders you intolerant, bigoted, and narrow-minded. They mean to put you on the defensive; and in this way to have you give up the antithesis (the sharp opposition to the lie). You are engaged—as perhaps never before in the history of the church—in mortal combat for yourself, your church, and for the truth of your God. In the strength of our God, may you do exploits.
Author: Philip Rainey | Rubric: Christian Living