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Betrayed, sold and humiliated Joseph (Part 1) Page 8 Incarnation: John 1:1-18 Page 11 The
Betrayed, sold and humiliated Joseph (Part 1) Page 8 Incarnation: John 1:1-18 Page 11 The

Betrayed, sold and humiliated Joseph (Part 1) Page 8

Incarnation: John 1:1-18 Page 11

The Covenant of Works and the Christian Life (Part 1) Page 13

The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Gospel (Page 4) WINTER 2019 £1.75
The Westminster Confession of Faith
and the Gospel (Page 4)

Philippians 1 v 9-11

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First word


T he Westminster Confession of Faith and the Gospel


Betrayed, sold & humiliated. Joseph (Part 1)


Incarnation: John 1:1-18


The Covenant of Works and the Christian Life (Part 1)


From the churches


Praise & Prayer


Bookshop reviews


Best of the blogs


By the time that this edition of the Evangelical Presbyterian Magazine hits the shelves/pews, all the Christmas decorations will have been taken down and 2019 will be well underway. Perhaps, then, this is an appropriate time for us to consider one of the last glimpses Scripture gives us of Jesus whilst he was still in his infancy, just a few weeks after his birth in Bethlehem.

T he scene is the temple, in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus there in order for certain

customs of the Law to be attended to (Luke 2:22-24). During this visit, two godly saints of old will meet the Christ child: Simeon (v25-35), and Anna (v36-38).

Consider Anna: a godly, elderly lady whose life has been touched in a particular way by suffering and grief. Anna had been widowed in her early twenties, most likely, and had remained single for the rest of her life. We can perhaps think of older sisters in the Lord who are a bit like Anna: godly, advanced in years, and who have experienced many trials throughout their life, and yet who have remained faithful nonetheless. Give thanks for the Annas in your church!

The brief mention of Anna in Luke 2 highlights three ways in which she served her God:

1) Prayer

Anna “did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day” (v37b). What a remarkable ministry she had! Left alone as a widow, she channelled her energies into a ministry of relentless, heartfelt prayer, day after day, year after year. (Compare v37 with 1 Tim. 5:5. Did Paul have Anna’s example in mind as he wrote that verse, perhaps?)

Sometimes we think that, given the stage and circumstances of our life, there is little that we can do to serve God. Think again! Whatever age we are and whatever experiences we have been through, we can have a ministry of prayer. Through prayer, even “little old ladies” like Anna become fearsome warriors for God. Pray like Anna!

like Anna become fearsome warriors for God. Pray like Anna! 2) Thanksgiving When, along with Simeon,

2) Thanksgiving

When, along with Simeon, Anna was blessed with the opportunity to meet the Lord’s Christ, “she began to give thanks to God” (v38a). Anna’s heart was filled with thankfulness that the promised Messiah had arrived.

When you struggle to know what to pray, follow Anna’s example. Simply, give thanks to God for sending Jesus. Thank him that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. Thank him that Jesus lived, died, rose again and ascended to heaven for your salvation. Give thanks like Anna!

3) Encouragement

Remarkably, in this moment of joy and thankfulness, Anna’s thoughts turned next to her fellow believers – people like her, who shared her faith and hope and who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. Off Anna went, around the temple precincts, to speak to her brothers and sisters in the faith about the Messiah who had come. By pointing them to Jesus, she encouraged and built up their faith.

Ask yourself, what fellow member of your church is in need of encouragement at the moment? Who can you speak to this week, and seek to encourage them by speaking to them about the Saviour?

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Gospel

T he gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). It is the story of the whole of Scripture, and

the Westminster Confession of Faith is its greatest exposition. Gospel and salvation are not synonymous words, but because the gospel message is invested with the omnipotent power of God for salvation to all who believe, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) views it as accomplishing full salvation and it employs the word ‘gospel’ to this effect. Its 33 chapters progress through the gospel’s revelation, necessity, foundation, application, effects and consummation.

The Revelation of the Gospel (WCF 1)

Holy Scripture (1) asserts that while creation, providence and the light of nature reveal God sufficiently to leave individuals without excuse, they do not give “that knowledge of God and of his will that is necessary unto salvation.” God revealed it progressively and preserved it in the 66 books of Scripture. Scripture’s abundant internal evidence testifies to it as the Word of God and the only way of salvation, but full persuasion comes from the witness of God the Holy Spirit in the heart. So Scripture is the sole source of salvation knowledge.

The Necessity of the Gospel (WCF 2-6)

God and the human race make it necessary. WCF begins with God – his Word is necessary for salvation. God and the Holy Trinity (2) teaches that there is only one living and true God, eternal, infinite, perfect, a pure invisible Spirit. He is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and sovereign; loving, merciful, forgiving, holy and just. He is a trinity of persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; distinguished by personal properties and roles, each is equally and wholly God. To him is due worship, obedience and service from his creatures.

God’s Eternal Plan (3) is unchangeable and encompasses all events including the predestination to life and foreordination to death of every angel and person. The “elect” are predestined to life and eternally chosen in Christ,

by grace and not for anything in them – ‘Unconditional Election’. The non-elect are passed by and judged for their sin. Creation (4) is the primary way in which God implements his eternal plan. He created the world out of nothing by the word of his power, and perfected it in six days. His crowning creative act was one human male and female, the parents of the race. He made them in his own image, with immortal souls, with true knowledge of God, righteousness toward their neighbour and holiness toward God. He wrote his law on their hearts. God also fulfils his eternal plan by his all-controlling Providence (5). God is the first cause but he normally works through secondary causes like the laws of nature and human decisions. The sin involved is human, for God cannot instigate or approve sin, but he directs it to his purpose.

So the primary factor in the necessity of the gospel is God. He is the one with whom the human race has to do. No-one can escape personal accountability to him, alter the righteous criteria of his judgement, or avoid its everlasting consequences; he will not acquit the guilty. So this accountability and judgement must feature prominently in the offer of the gospel. But so must the mercy of God. He alone provides and offers salvation and he freely pardons all who genuinely seek him.

The human condition also necessitates the gospel. The Fall of Man, Sin and Punishment (6) explains that, by his own will, Adam fell from his created state of righteousness into a state of sin. His descendants by ordinary generation sinned and fell in him as their representative. They forfeited original righteousness and communion with God, became corrupted in every part of the human soul and body and incapable of anything meritorious towards salvation - ‘Total Depravity’. They incurred God’s wrath, the law’s curse, and death with all earthly and eternal punishment. The gospel is necessary for “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”

The Foundations of the Gospel (WCF 7-8)

Such is the distance between God and the human race that its members could not enjoy his blessings except by his condescension in ‘covenant’ grace. God’s Covenant with Man (7) begins with the Covenant of Works, promising life to Adam and his descendants on condition of perfect obedience. When the Fall made them incapable of life through this first covenant, God graciously made the Covenant of Grace in which he freely offers salvation by Jesus Christ. Scripture usually terms this covenant ‘Testament’ in reference to the death of Christ, the Testator, and the bequest of eternal inheritance. The Covenant of Grace was administered differently in the Old and New Testaments.

To implement the Covenant of Grace God appointed his Son, the Lord Jesus, as Christ the Mediator (8) between God and man. Christ became the God-Man at his incarnation by adding true human nature to his divine so that two distinct natures were inseparably joined in one Person, very God and very man. In his state of humiliation he perfectly fulfilled the law, was crucified, died and was buried as he bore God’s wrath for the sins of his people as their substitute and satisfied God’s justice – ‘Limited Atonement’. In exaltation he rose from the dead with the same body and ascended to God’s right hand with all power and authority. There he intercedes for his people. He will return as Judge of all people at the last day.

The Application of the Gospel (WCF 9-18)

God endowed the human race with Free Will (9). But when all ability to will any spiritual good was lost by the Fall, God intervened to free the human will from its natural subjection to sin. He accomplishes this by step one in the application of salvation – Effectual Calling (10) which incorporates regeneration or new birth. In it God enlightens the mind and renews the will so that sinners come freely to Christ of their own persuasion – ‘Irresistible Grace’.

Justification (11) is the next step. God justifies all whom he effectually calls by a judicial act in which he pardons all their sins, and accepts them as righteous by imputing Christ’s righteousness and satisfaction for sin to them. Justification is by faith alone but that faith is accompanied by other saving graces. Adoption (12) into God’s family as children of God and heirs of everlasting salvation follows, again by a judicial act of his grace. Sanctification (13) is first ‘definitive’ in that God breaks sin’s dominion and transfers the person from “the power of Satan unto God.” They have “died to sin”. (Rom 6.2) From then, sanctification is a progressive, lifetime work through the Holy Spirit.

Effectual Calling, Justification, Adoption and Sanctification are the divine activities (10-13). The human responses come next: Saving Faith (14) is a grace which the Holy Spirit forms in the hearts of the elect, normally through the ministry of the Word, enabling them to receive and rest on Christ alone for salvation. By it they believe and are nourished by the Word of God, sacraments and prayer. Through Repentance unto Life (15) sinners, seeing the guilt and danger to them of their sin, with grief and hatred for it turn to God with full commitment to new life in him. Good Works (16) are those God commands in his Word and are the fruits of true faith and progress in sanctification. Believers do good works entirely through the Holy Spirit’s influence but they must stimulate the grace within them.

Those effectually called cannot finally fall from grace but have Perseverance (17) in it. God applies the Covenant

of Grace but believers must contend with sin – the ‘Perseverance of the Saints’. The blessings of Assurance of Grace and Salvation (18) are normative for believers since salvation is founded on divine truth, but assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Believers may wait for it, contend with difficulties in securing it, and experience its weakening or suspension, but are never without grace and its fruits.

The Effects of the Gospel (WCF 19-31)

This is the longest section and it brings 9 of the 16 ‘gospel’ references in WCF to bear. The Gospel Effects are personal (19-24) and corporate (25-31). The personal group deals with living the Christian life. It begins with The Law of God (19). Believers cannot be justified or condemned by the moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments, for they are saved by grace alone, but it is vital for their sanctification in informing them of God’s will and their own duties. Law and Gospel harmonise as the Holy Spirit enables believers to do freely what the law requires. Christian Liberty (20) is a key Christian privilege. It consists of freedom from the guilt of sin and the condemnation of the law, of deliverance from Satan, his influences and a lost eternity, freedom from human tradition and of free access to God. God is Lord of the conscience. Liberty must submit to lawful ecclesiastical and civil authority.

Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day (21) is a fundamental part of the Christian life. Keeping the Lord’s Day holy requires preparation of the heart and the ordering of affairs to secure the devotion of the whole day to public and private worship. God specifies in Scripture how he is to be worshipped; all else is forbidden. Worship includes the reading of Scripture, preaching, attentive hearing, singing with grace in the heart and the proper administration of the sacraments; prayer with thanksgiving is a special part of it. Lawful Oaths and Vows (22), fasting and special thanksgivings are occasional acts of worship.

Civil Government (23) charges Christians with a special duty to pray for the government, honour its officials and to submit to its authority and lawful commands. Marriage and Divorce (24) specifies that marriage is the foundation of family life as a creation ordinance of God. It is monogamous, between one man and one woman. God ordained it for purity of life, the mutual benefit of husband and wife, for the growth of the human race and of the church with covenant children. Only adultery and wilful desertion of a believer by an unbeliever that cannot be remedied are sufficient grounds for divorce.

Part 2 of the Gospel effects looks at the corporate side – The Church (25). It is the house and family of God and the Lord Jesus Christ is its only Head. In its visible sense it

consists, under the gospel, of all throughout the world who profess faith in Christ, and of their children. To gather and perfect the people of God Christ has given to his church the doctrine of the gospel, the ministry of the Word and its ordinances, and he makes them effective by his own presence and Spirit. There will always be a worshipping church on earth. The Communion of the Saints (26) bases divine and human fellowship in the church on union with Christ and his Spirit. It is expressed in the worship of God together and in serving mutual spiritual and practical needs.

The Sacraments (27) introduces Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the only two ordained by Christ. They represent, seal and apply the benefits of Christ to believers, and engage them in serving God. Effectiveness depends on the work of the Holy Spirit, the authority of their institution and the proper use of the sign. The Old Testament sacraments, Circumcision and the Passover, are spiritually one with the Baptism and Lord’s Supper of the New. Baptism (28), a sign and seal of covenant grace and of commitment to a holy life through Christ, admits into the visible church. Its subjects are those, and the infants of those, who profess faith in Christ and obedience to him. The outward element, water, is properly administered by pouring or sprinkling. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper (29) is to commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death, seal its benefits to believers, nourish them spiritually by faith, express their renewed commitment to Christ and testify to the union and communion with and in him. It is administered with Christ’s word of institution, prayer and blessing of the bread and wine for holy use. The relationship of the bread and wine to Christ is sacramental only; in nature and substance they remain the bread and wine they were before.

Church Discipline (30) is a function of the government Christ has instituted in his church. Church officials use the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to shut out the impenitent or offenders from the church, and to open it to the repentant through the Gospel or fruitful church discipline. It is necessary to keep the church pure, to uphold the honour of Christ, the holy profession of the Gospel and to prevent the judgement of God. Synods and Councils (31) develop the church and its government in addressing ecclesiastical matters of doctrine, worship, conscience and church government. Synods or Presbyteries cannot determine faith or practice on the basis of their own authority. They apply the Word of God and when they do their findings must be received with submission and respect.

The Consummation of the Gospel (WCF 32-33)

After Death and Resurrection (32) first addresses the intermediate state. On death the souls of the righteous are made perfect in holiness and received into the highest

heaven to behold the face of God in light and glory; the souls of the wicked are assigned to hell and held there in anguish and darkness. In one general resurrection at the last day all who have died will be raised in their own physical bodies, but with different attributes, to be eternally re-united with their souls. The bodies of believers will be transformed to the likeness of Christ’s glorious body; those of the wicked will be raised to discredit and final judgement. Those alive at the last day will not die but be changed.

At The Last Judgement (33) God will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ. Every person who has ever lived will give an account of their thoughts, words and actions in life. God will display the glory of his mercy in the acquittal and salvation of the elect through Christ, and of his justice in the condemnation of the wicked. The righteous will enter into everlasting fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord. Those who do not know God or obey the Gospel, will be assigned to everlasting punishment, separated from God and his glory. Christ’s second coming is certain and should deter from sin, comfort the godly in adversity and make them vigilant and expectant in praying:

“Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.”

The application of the gospel has special significance for the church as the point of a sinner’s conversion. Our 10 Application of the Gospel chapters above come just before the mid-point of WCF so that everything else either leads up to it or follows from it. It is an oblique pyramid with the application of the gospel at its apex. And the fact that more follows application than precedes it, in the Effect and Consummation of the Gospel, is even more significant. But perhaps the greatest significance is that the Gospel, the omnipotent power of God for salvation to every nation, is what is unfolded fully and progressively in this unsurpassed Confession of the Reformed Faith.

in this unsurpassed Confession of the Reformed Faith. Ernest Brown grew up in the EPC where

Ernest Brown grew up in the EPC where he has served in various capacities. He has also written a book about our church history ‘By Honour and Dishonour’.

Betrayed, sold and humiliated

Joseph (Part 1)

T he story of Joseph is one of the most well-known and best loved stories

in the Bible. It’s a story we love to tell

to children in Sunday School, as it’s full of drama, betrayal, suspense, injustice and eventually reconciliation. It’s a story that’s still thought about – at least on a superficial level – in society. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was first performed professionally in 1972, and 46 years later is still selling out to West End audiences. Yet it is much more than an interesting and well-loved story. As we consider this story, we’ll see it’s a significant chapter in God’s unfolding plan of redemption. In this article, we’ll introduce the main characters and consider four lessons we can learn from Genesis 37, where the story begins.

See obedience…and pursue it

To say that Joseph was born into

a dysfunctional family may be an

understatement. His father Jacob had been tricked into marrying two sisters, Leah and Rachel. Intense sibling rivalry dominated this relationship and resulted

in Jacob fathering children by Leah, Rachel and their two maidservants. The outcome is seen in v.1-11 – a toxic family atmosphere marked by the foolish favouritism of Joseph by Jacob, and the hostile hatred of Joseph’s brothers towards him. This only gets worse when Joseph shares his dreams with his siblings, which suggest that he will one day rule over them. The tension is summed up in v.4, “his brothers…hated him and could not speak peacefully to him”. Against this background, we see a beautiful picture of wholehearted obedience in Joseph. The story begins with Joseph out tending the family’s sheep with his brothers (v.2). By v.12, things have deteriorated so much in the family that Jacob feels it is no longer safe for Joseph to be with his siblings. They’ve gone to Shechem to pasture the family’s flocks – a dangerous place for them to be because of a previous incident (see Gen.34). Concerned for their welfare, Jacob asks Joseph to go to the city and check they’re OK. At best this is an extremely uncomfortable family situation for Joseph. At worst it’s downright

dangerous for him to be there. But look at his godly response in v.13, “Here I am”. He’s ready to submit to what Jacob’s asking of him, even when it means he feels awkward, uncomfortable or fearful. He walks the 50 miles to Shechem, but can’t find his brothers there. As he’s searching the fields, a man asks him what he’s looking for (v.15). This little detail shows us how extensively he’s searching for his brothers, the Hebrew pronoun “what” rather than “who” is used. Presumably the man believes Joseph is looking for a lost animal – he’s checking every part of the fields for signs of his brothers. When he’s told that his brothers have travelled to Dothan – a further 12 miles away – he doesn’t return home and tell his father, “I did my best, I went to Shechem like you asked, but they weren’t there”. No. On he goes, another day’s journey in obedience to his father. What an example Joseph is to us, particularly to you if you are a young person. Are you wholehearted in your obedience of your parents? What about those times that obedience puts you in the uncomfortable position of having

to say no to your friends in school? Our culture is screaming to us that we should “follow our hearts” and “be true to ourselves”, even if it’s at the expense of something so trivial as obeying mum or dad. But God’s Word presents a different standard. “Obey your parents in the Lord,” says the Apostle Paul, “for this is right” (Eph.6:1).

See sin…and hate it

The second thing we have to notice in this passage is a horrifying picture of sin. We see one of the most awful conspiracies in the Bible – brothers plotting to kill their own flesh and blood! As we know, this culminates in Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. It’s a hideous crime. Yet before we point the finger at Joseph’s brothers, we have to acknowledge that their actions are flowing from sinful hearts, which all of us possess by nature. Let’s notice four things about sin from v.18-35.

a.) Sin lurks

Joseph’s brothers see him approaching Dothan. Presumably he’s still wearing the distinctive coat his father has given him, and they recognise him from a distance. “Before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him” (v.18). Just the sight of Joseph is enough to awaken the hatred that has been lurking and smouldering in their hearts! They’ve been holding on to bitterness and jealousy against him. Seeing him ignites this fire of rage. Don’t we see this characteristic of sin in our lives too? Perhaps we’ve had a disagreement with someone close to us, and we’re holding it against them. Their name comes up in conversation and we feel ourselves tightening, angry at the thought of what’s happened. Or maybe we’ve had a hard day at work, we’re stressed out as we pull into the driveway. When we open the door, the house is a mess and we explode. Where does behaviour like this come from?

James tells us in his epistle, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (Jam.4:1). Sinful desires are lurking in all of our hearts.

b.) Sin blinds

In v.21-22 Reuben, the eldest son in the family, convinces his brothers not to kill Joseph. “Why don’t we just throw him into a pit instead?” he asks. The brothers follow Reuben’s suggestion, abandoning Joseph in this cavern. Joseph’s life is in danger as there’s no water here, and the men are in a hot climate (v.24). We know from further on in the story that Joseph is begging his brothers to spare his life at this point (Gen.42:21).

But what are his brothers doing while Joseph screams and cries for mercy? v.25 tells us. They’re sitting down to eat a meal together. You see, their consciences have been hardened and blinded to how awful their actions are. They can’t see it! This is what sin has done to fallen human beings; it’s blinded our hearts to see its horror. We see it in the pro-choice movement, describing murder of the unborn child as a “medical treatment”. We see it in corporate greed where society’s vulnerable are exploited, all in the name of “maximising shareholder return”. But we see it too in our own lives when we dress up our pride as “ambition”, or our tendency to gossip as “just the way I am”. It ultimately stems from Adam’s fall into sin, our entire natures have been corrupted and we can’t see it without God’s grace. This is the estate of sin and misery into which the fall has brought us (SC Q17-18).

c.) Sin blinds

While the brothers are eating, they see passing traders. Judah speaks up, suggesting that they make some money from the situation and sell Joseph as a slave. The idea seems good to the others, so they sell Joseph into slavery. But what

are they going to tell Jacob? He’ll be heartbroken if he knows the truth. And so another plan is hatched. They’ll take the coat Jacob has given Joseph and stain it with blood. Then, they’ll return to Jacob and let him draw the obvious conclusion – Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

It goes exactly as they’ve planned. Jacob tears his clothes and wears the traditional clothing of mourners, sackcloth. Then these brothers add hypocrisy to betrayal, coming to comfort their father, when they know the truth that could stop his mourning!

You see, while we are not always aware of the extent of our sinfulness, when we do feel the guilt of our sin, we know it needs to be covered. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “we are all naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb.4:13). Our mistake is that so often – just like Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves – we try to cover our sin with respectability or good works. But God provided a covering for Adam and Eve, the skin of an animal whose blood was shed. And God has provided a covering for our sin, the precious blood of Christ.

d.) Sin opposes

Ultimately, at the heart of sin is opposition to God. That’s what we see from the motivation of these brothers in v.20. “Let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then…we will see what will become of his dreams”. This is why they’re so angry! They know that God has made wonderful promises to their great- grandfather Abraham. When they hear Joseph’s dreams, they begin to suspect that those promises will be fulfilled in him. The dreams Joseph received were God’s revelation. This is what the brothers hate: what God’s Word is saying to them.

This is at the root of all sin. When Satan came to Eve in Eden, it was in active opposition to God’s Word. “Did God actually say…”? (Gen.3:1). All sin can be traced to this way of thinking, as the Psalmist describes in Ps.2, “Why do the

nations rage?

his Anointed) bonds apart, and cast away their cords from us””.

us burst their (God and


When we see this awful picture of sin, it

should move us to hate it afresh. Like the Psalmist we should cry out, “Search me

O God, and know my heart…see if there

be any grievous way in me, and lead me

in the way everlasting”. Yet we shouldn’t

despair. God has made a way for sin to be dealt with. Christ has overcome its curse, power and horror.

See grace…and give thanks for it

Yet it’s not all gloom and doom as this story begins. As awful as this betrayal is, we see a wonderful picture of God’s restraining grace in the actions of Reuben and Judah. Neither is a godly person and the Bible highlights that. Reuben has already committed a brazen act of adultery with his father’s maidservant, Bilhah (Gen.35:22), and Judah will do the same thing with his disguised daughter- in-law, Tamar (Gen.38). Yet God uses the actions of these men to restrain the sin of the brothers. Without Reuben’s intervention, Joseph would surely have been killed. In fact, by the time Judah speaks up in v.26 it’s clear that the brothers are still planning to kill him. “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?” While Judah seems to have been motivated more by money than family loyalty, the result is that Joseph’s life is protected, and the brothers are stopped from acting as wickedly as they might. That is a picture to us of God’s grace. Perhaps we can remember our school days and seeing fights breaking out in the playground. Often, someone would step in and hold back those throwing

the punches. In a sense, this is how God operates throughout this world. He restrains evil and sin, holding our world back from behaving in as evil and wicked a way as we might. Theologians call this God’s common grace, as it operates in all people, believers and unbelievers. In particular, God’s common grace acts through two means – at a personal level it acts through conscience. God has written his Law on the heart of man to stop individuals from being as evil as they might be. At the corporate level it acts through authority. God has appointed rulers and governments in this world, to keep nations from becoming as wicked and godless as they otherwise would. That’s what Paul explains in Rom.13:4 when he is describing the Roman magistrate, “he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. We should give thanks for God’s common grace. It is part of his wonderful character that he pours out grace (Matt.5:44-45). It’s possible to ignore our consciences, or act against them when we ought to listen to them. Culturally, it’s become common to moan about the shortcomings of our government. Instead, we should thank God for them. Even the most godless rulers are “God’s servants to do you good”. One day, they will give an account to God for how they have governed. Our responsibility is to pray for them (1


See salvation…and embrace it

Finally, there is something bigger going on in God’s story of redemptive history here. Back in Genesis 15, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would possess the land of Canaan. Before that would happen, he’d said they would spend years in another country as slaves to foreign powers. Joseph being sold as a slave to Egypt

will ensure that God’s covenant family are provided for during a time of famine, and will eventually bring them to live in this foreign land, where they will become slaves to Egypt. Of course while he didn’t know it, Joseph’s experience is only a shadow of the One greater than Joseph who would come. Just as Joseph wholeheartedly obeyed Jacob, so Christ, having humbled himself to be born as a man, obeyed his Father’s law at every part. He could tell his disciples “My food is to do the will of him who sent me”. Why did he do this? Because of the picture of sin that we have seen. It had left his people with a broken relationship with God, at risk of his wrath and judgement. They needed someone to live the perfect life they couldn’t, and to offer an atoning sacrifice for their sins. This is what Christ has done, offering us not just God’s common grace, but God’s saving grace. How this should move our cold hearts, for just as Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his own brothers, so Christ “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him”. But John continues, “to all who did receive him…he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12). We must embrace God’s salvation with empty hands and thankful hearts!

God’s salvation with empty hands and thankful hearts! John Roger is the newly installed Associate Minister

John Roger is the newly installed Associate Minister at Stranmillis EPC. Last year, he completed his studies at the Reformed Theological College. He is married to Claire, and they have three children: Meredith, Ezra, and one on the way.

Incarnation: John 1:1-18

O ver this series of four articles we will trace some of the major ‘milestones’ in the life of Christ. We will begin with

his incarnation, before moving on in the subsequent articles to his crucifixion, resurrection, and finishing with his return in glory.

It is to the incarnation we turn now and to these very famous words in John chapter 1; the danger of them being so familiar is that we lose the wonder we should feel as we read them!

I want us to see three things:

i) The Pre-Existent One

ii) The Glorious One

iii) The Working One

The Pre-Existent One (read John 1v1-5)
The Pre-Existent One (read John 1v1-5)

As we begin we notice the slightly different emphasis that each gospel has in its account of the incarnation. Matthew, writing for a Jewish audience, traces Jesus’ ancestry, and Luke the historian records for us the conception and birth of John the Baptist as the forerunner to Jesus. John, however, goes beyond both of these authors and starts before time began with these very familiar words, “In the beginning…” As we read these words of course our minds instantly jump to Genesis 1 and those famous words, “In the beginning God ”

The point that John is making is that Jesus is the eternally pre- existent Son. He is eternal, just as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have no beginning and will have no end. Effectively, in this one statement John makes Jesus Christ equal with God.

Of course that is what our own confession teaches. WCF 2:3:

“In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity.” Jesus Christ is eternal, God the Father is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.

Yet, despite this similarity there is distinction as well. John tells us that as well as Jesus Christ being “in the beginning”, he further describes him as “the Word.” Again John is highlighting for us that Jesus Christ is God from eternity, and if he hasn’t

made that clear enough in v1 he finishes off by saying that “the Word was with God, and the word was God.”

Jesus Christ is the agent of creation; John highlights this for us in v3: “All things were made through him and without him nothing was made that has been made.” It is not surprising then that John goes on in v4 to elaborate that Jesus Christ brings life. Again, this is the story of Genesis isn’t it? God creates through his word all of the plants and animals and fish and birds, they are all living things.

However, the pinnacle of God’s creation is mankind, and it is into mankind alone that God breathes life, and it is mankind and mankind alone that bears the unique image of God. We need to bear this in mind as we face the world around us. As we see sin and the effects of sin in people’s lives we need to remember that however fallen we may be, mankind bears the image of God and therefore has worth and value.

It is therefore not surprising that Jesus Christ has life within him and that this light is further described as the light of men, this light which shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

But so what? Why does the Son’s pre-existence matter to you? It matters because it shows us our God as a relational God. It shows us that the Father has been in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. In this sense then our creation and salvation make sense. God creates us and saves us not because he needs us, but because he is a God of relationship.

The pre-existence of the Son therefore makes sense of God’s relationality. However, this passage also serves as a corrective to some dangerous theology. Arius, who gave his name to the heresy Arianism, taught that there was a time when the Son “was not”. John says, “No! The Son has always been!”

This also matters in terms of the Covenant of Redemption, which John’s gospel will go on to further highlight later. The idea of the Covenant of Redemption is that the Triune God

agreed in eternity past those who would be saved. This idea finds fullest expression in John 17 during the High Priestly prayer of Jesus, and in John 18 where Jesus, confronted with the guards, wants the disciples to be freed so that he would lose none of those the Father had given him.

If Jesus Christ were not pre-existent then this Covenant of Redemption would be impossible – for the simple reason that he couldn’t have been there in eternity past to make this covenant with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

The Glorious One (read John 1v9-13)
The Glorious One (read John 1v9-13)

John then moves from eternity past into the history. He starts with John the Baptist, who himself was not the light, but came to witness about the light. The true light which gives light to all men was coming into the world.

We see the glory of the Son because he made the world and the world was made through him, yet as v10 says the world did not know him. Here Jesus Christ is not undercover; he isn’t hiding. He is in the world, he is the light of mankind and yet the world didn’t know him. The world didn’t recognize him as the light.

It gets sadder yet because v11 tells us that Jesus Christ came to his own and his own people didn’t receive him. How should we understand this? Simply, Jesus Christ came to the Jews claiming to be the light, claiming to be the promised Messiah, and his own people the Jews would not welcome him - instead they sought ways to kill him.

Yet that wasn’t the universal human response. His own people may have rejected him, but in v12 there were some who did receive him. What does it mean to receive him? To those who believed on his name he gave the right to be called the children of God. This is truly breathtaking for us as Christians! If we believe in the name Jesus Christ then we have the right to call ourselves the children of God! Are you a child of God? Have you believed in the name of Jesus Christ? Have you believed that he is the Saviour? If you have then you can be sure that you are a child of God! You have been adopted into God’s family! Make the most of that assurance!

John has more to say about what it means to be the children of God. They are people who are born “not of blood, nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man.” Rather, these people are born of the will of God. We can say that we are in Jesus Christ because God has chosen us; we are in Jesus Christ because it was the will of God. We all have days when our faith is weak, yet our assurance on those days is that the will of God has chosen us.

The Working One (read John 1v14-18)
The Working One (read John 1v14-18)

Verse 14 is one of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture.

We have the assurance that the Word - the one who was the agent of creation, the one who is from all eternity God -became flesh. That in itself is simply a marvellous statement!

This one verse teaches us that Jesus Christ became flesh, dwelt amongst us and came as the one who was the embodiment of the covenant promises of God. That was the work of the Son.

John the Baptist testified about Jesus that he was the one who was before him, and was superior to him. Why? Because “from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” The idea is that from Jesus Christ we have received more than we need.

It is said that J.D. Rockefeller, quite possibly the richest man who ever lived, carried around a bag of shiny dimes which, as he travelled around, he would distribute to those who were less fortunate than he was. From the abundance of Rockefeller’s wealth others would benefit. In a much greater way, from the abundance that Jesus Christ has, we too receive grace upon grace.

The law came through Moses, says John, but grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. The old covenant law came through Moses but the true and final revelation of God, the covenant faithfulness shown in grace and truth, came through Jesus Christ.

The final work of the Son comes in v18: no one has seen God, but Jesus Christ came to make him known.

This is the work of the Son, but do you know the experience of receiving from his hand grace upon grace? Do you know what it is to be refreshed by the superabundance that Jesus Christ has? If not, then come to him and experience that grace. Do you know Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Father? We don’t have to guess at what God is like because Jesus Christ has revealed him to us; Jesus Christ is God in human form.

The incarnation is central to who Jesus Christ is. Is he just another man, born of the will of the flesh, or is he the revelation of God? John certainly wants us to think the latter.

of God? John certainly wants us to think the latter. Trevor Kane is Minister of Dumfries

Trevor Kane is Minister of Dumfries Free Church. He is married to Suzanne and they have three boys, Noah, Eli and Judah. In his free time he enjoys watching sport, especially football.

The Covenant of Works and the Christian Life (Part 1)

The modern era often tends to assume that ideas are not themselves useful, and that practicality is the real measure of truth. However, I don’t think that is always the case. Perhaps we should consider what might be the Apostle Paul’s most expressive exclamations of worship in Romans 11:33-36 though: ‘Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.’ Whatever else we might make of these verses, they were certainly heartfelt and full of passion! But what is striking is that this eruption of praise came in the wake of eleven very dense chapters of doctrinal explanation. Yes, it appears that doctrine moved Paul, and even caused him to rejoice. I propose, therefore, that maybe we need to be more open to extended and thoughtful explorations of doctrine, and that if we do give ourselves to this, we might in turn be led to more profound worship.

The doctrine that I intend to explore in a series of four articles is that of the covenant of works. If you don’t know what that is, not to worry, we will get there. But to outline this series as a whole, I intend to move from explaining some ideas in this article and become more and more practical in

each successive entry. What I hope we will discover together is that this doctrine of the covenant of works is richly biblical, but moreover it also provides an immensely useful category that can help us clarify how we think theologically about the work of Christ, and practically about everything from preaching to the Christian life.

The first task at hand is obviously to explain what this doctrine of the covenant of works is, and then I will move on to bring out the biblical evidence for this view. The covenant of works is an agreement that God made with Adam at creation, emphatically before the Fall, in which God offered blessings to Adam (and the human race in Adam) if he met the terms of this agreement. By summarizing things this way, I am trying to clarify that the possibly scary word ‘covenant’ does not really refer to anything more than a formal relationship that has conditions and offers benefits to at least one of the parties involved. Our Confession explains this doctrine in much the same way: ‘The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.’ (Westminster Confession of Faith 7.2)

We see in this statement from the Confession that God made a formal, or better a legally binding, relationship with

Adam as the representative of the human race, and this relationship was called a covenant. This covenant had the condition that Adam would offer ‘perfect and personal obedience’ and in return he would receive the gift of life, the implication being eternal life. What is so wonderful here is that we know Adam had to obey God just because he was God’s creature. So Adam as a creature already had to obey God, but God - because he is good - decided to make a covenant so that Adam could procure further blessing than all the goodness of creation simply by doing what he was already supposed to do. This situation is like how a parent might offer ice cream to their kid for cleaning up his or her room. Really the child should just clean up his or her room because it is space within the house the parent owns. Yet, a generous parent offers further reward simply for doing what was already a basic responsibility. This illustration I hope brings some clarity to how good God was in making this covenant, but I know that all the ideas of this doctrine still need further explanation, and most importantly, we need to see them in Scripture. So we should now turn to look at some biblical principles.

There are likely several questions that you might now have. Where in Scripture does it talk about or define this covenant with Adam? Maybe most especially, if Adam and Eve lived in a perfect Garden of Eden, how can we talk about them receiving further blessings than that? Would they not have just kept on living forever if Adam had not sinned? Those are good questions, and the Scripture has good answers, so let’s start with the notion that Adam could have earned further blessing through this covenant. Paul wrote a long discussion about the resurrection of the body in 1 Corinthians 15:35- 58. In this passage, he described how every Christian will be raised from the dead on the day our Lord Jesus returns and we will receive ‘imperishable’ bodies. We know that we will receive these glorified, incorruptible bodies because Christ Jesus rose from the dead and he received a glorified, incorruptible body. Since we will be made fully like him in the new creation, we can expect this same sort of body once Christ returns to install that new creation on earth in fullness. We understand that in these resurrected bodies, we will be totally sinless, and we will not even have the possibility of committing sin. We will be beyond it, and, as Paul said, ‘imperishable.’ In the midst of this discussion about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, however, Paul included mention of Adam. In 15:44-45 he wrote, ‘It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving Spirit.’ The simple point I want to make from these verses is that Paul said Adam had the potential to reach that spiritual, imperishable body that

Christ will give to us in the resurrection. Here ‘natural’ does not mean anything to do with sin, or even being physical. It refers to the human nature as God created it. But there was the possibility that Adam in this natural, created state could achieve a spiritual state: ‘If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.’ And spiritual here does not mean disembodied, but means that it will be glorified and beyond decay. It will be characterized by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ has won for us this glorified, imperishable body and he will give it to us when he returns, but this text teaches that Adam could have in fact also won this imperishable state for us if he had not fallen. We should think of this imperishable state as that reward that was offered in the covenant of works.

But still, where do we find discussion in the Bible about a covenant with Adam, and why would we call it a covenant of works? These questions push us to look at a few more biblical passages, but there are two types of biblical evidence here. There are the passages that more directly refer to the situation of Adam in the Garden, and then there are passages that discuss issues like the role of the law or the Adam-Christ parallel that are crucially relevant but are more indirect in regards to the covenant of works. The classic text for naming a covenant with Adam is Hosea 6:7:

‘But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.’ In this verse, God is describing the sins of Israel in breaking the Mosaic covenant. What is striking though is that God says that Israel broke the covenant “like Adam” had. There is a similarity between how Israel broke the covenant and how Adam broke the covenant. This similarity of covenant breaking, however, obviously requires that Adam was in a covenant relationship with God.

Some may find it questionable to appeal most directly to a passage in the prophetic books to prove that there was a covenant in Genesis 1-3, but that in fact should not be a concern. There is a pattern in Scripture of the narrative sections omitting reference to a covenant, but later books clarify that in fact there was a covenant made. For example, God made several wonderful promises to King David in 2 Samuel 7, but those promises were not called a covenant in that chapter. But in Psalm 89:3-4, the Lord said, ‘You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring for ever, and build your throne for all generations.’”’ In these verses, God identified the event in which he made promises to David as a covenant, and Scripture tells us this was a covenant after the fact. Again, and more directly about locating a covenant in Genesis 1-3, God said through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘The word of

the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the

night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers.”’ (Jer. 33:19-21) The crucial thing to note here is how God mentioned the covenants he made with the day and with the night. These covenants were apparently linked with the passing of time, that God would certainly uphold the natural succession of day and night. Of course we remember that God created day and night in Genesis 1, but there was no mention of a covenant between God and the day or night in Genesis 1. Yet here in later passages of Scripture, God identified a covenant. Lastly, Malachi 2:14 names marriage as a covenant, and we all know Adam and Eve were married. Even though their marriage was not called

a covenant in Genesis 1-3, we know from later Scripture that

in fact it was a covenant. So we see that Scripture makes a habit of later naming a relationship as a covenant even when the word ‘covenant’ was not used in the narrative section of Scripture when that relationship was formalized. We see this particularly with Adam and Eve’s marriage and God’s covenants with the day and night, which means there are several covenants in Genesis 1-3 that are only later named as such. That should put to rest any fears about legitimately using Hosea 6:7 to prove Adam was in covenant with God.

The last issue to discuss here in part 1 is why this covenant between God and Adam was called the covenant of works. We get this title from the conditions of the covenant. As we read in the Westminster Confession 7.2, this covenant was based ‘upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.’ Adam was to keep God’s commandments and if he fulfilled all righteousness, that would earn the blessings of the covenant. The most basic form of this works prescription appears in Genesis 2:16-17, wherein God commanded Adam, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,

for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ It is first noteworthy that Genesis 2:16 says God commanded this to Adam, which itself indicates the presence of law

– a commandment. And of course we know that laws are

supposed to be kept. This point immediately situates Adam’s relationship to God within the context of works. But further, we can gather from Romans 5:12-14 that Adam had the law that he needed to keep, if we pay close attention to Paul’s inspired reasoning there. ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned — for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam

to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.’ Many have thought this is a difficult passage to understand, but that is simply because Paul did not arrange his phrases in the linear fashion we expect as moderns. If we were to reorder his statements things become fairly clear. In sum, death is the consequence of sin, and sin is a transgression of the law, which means there has to be a law for someone to be counted as a sinner. Therefore, we can see from these verses that even though the law was not written down on tablets until Moses, the fact that people kept dying between Adam and Moses means they were sinners, which further entails that Adam and all after him broke the law. These observations situate Adam’s relationship to God in terms of the law. In this covenant, in which Adam could have achieved that higher state we saw in 1 Corinthians 15, his reward hinged upon keeping the law. It was about his works, which is why we term this doctrine the ‘covenant of works.’

Here in part 1, we have started to explore the doctrine of the covenant of works. We looked at how Adam could have reached a new level of existence had he kept the covenant of works. We also saw biblical evidence for saying God had made a covenant with Adam. Then we saw that we should call this doctrine the covenant of works because it hinged on Adam keeping the law. This has been a sort of biblical spadework to establish what this covenant was, and in part 2 we will turn to see why this doctrine is theologically important. The practical takeaway for now is that even though there have been some complicated biblical reflections here, that goes to show us how truly inexhaustible the riches of God’s Word are, and we should long give thought to its intricacies.

are, and we should long give thought to its intricacies. Harrison Perkins serves as assistant minister

Harrison Perkins serves as assistant minister at London City Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland. He and his wife Sarah are from Alabama, but the Lord moved them to the UK in 2016. While doing further studies at Queen’s University Belfast, Harrison served at a church in Northern Ireland, which quickly became and remains ‘home’ to him and Sarah, before taking the call in London in late 2018.


Official Opening of new church building Stranmillis EPC

It was with an air of anticipation that a large crowd

assembled in Stranmillis EPC on Saturday afternoon 29 September for the official opening of the new church building. Rev. Gareth Burke welcomed members and friends,

including folk who had attended in the early Botanic Avenue days of the church, and representatives of Like Architects and Leo Matheson Ltd. A special welcome was given to Rev. Dr Derek Thomas, former minister of the congregation (1979-1996), now ministering in Columbia and guest preacher over the weekend.

At the outset, gratitude was expressed to all who had

helped further the project. Tribute was paid to the significant contributions of the professional bodies, the Stranmillis deacons’ board and finance committee, the trustees of the Mackey estate and the Crumlin congregation, and

a generous brother in the USA who sent to us a very

significant gift. A short video account of the building project over the past 13 months was shown. Harold Gibson, clerk of session, presented a narrative of the events leading to the current situation. He spoke of significant growth in numbers from 2010 on, leading to a seating problem and cramped resources for youth activities. After much discussion, the preferred option was to rebuild on the present site, giving a purpose built facility with at least one extra storey and a more modern feel. With much

prayer and the regular, sacrificial giving of the congregation, the concept gathered momentum and was finally brought to completion. Heartfelt gratitude was expressed to God and the future use of the building and work of the congregation was committed to Him as ‘we seek to reach out with the gospel to a needy society, city and country.’

In his sermon, Derek Thomas directed his listeners to the

words of the Father at the transfiguration of Christ, when something of the presence, uniqueness and holiness of God was put on display. In conclusion, Dr Thomas declared that the Father’s words are to us an exhortation (to make our calling and election sure) and a comfort (knowing that when He does appear we shall be like Him). Following the service, presentations were made to Michael Martin, lead architect, and to Peter McMahon, site foreman. Many of those present would have been conscious of the absence of Neal Killen and Timothy McCormick on such an

occasion. It was fitting, therefore, that Gareth Burke spoke

of these two brothers in the Lord, until recently so much

part of the Stranmillis congregation and now promoted to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid facilities now provided.

to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid
to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid
to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid
to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid
to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid
to glory. Tea was served and gave opportunity to mingle with friends and view the splendid




Team to Moldova

In early July I was part of an Exodus team to Moldova for two weeks. Moldova is an often overlooked country in-between Romania and Ukraine. Moldova’s economy has struggled greatly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it was part: it is often said to be Europe’s poorest country. Moldova is also a hard place to be an evangelical Christian. Over 93% of the population identify as Orthodox Christians and so the Orthodox Church itself has great influence over Moldovan society. My team was made up of 11 teenagers and 2 leaders. In preparation for going out to Moldova in the summer, we met every week from the beginning of March to get to know each other, have Bible studies and make plans for the visit. This was great and meant that although I knew nobody on my team at the start of our meetings, by the time we were going out to Moldova we all knew each other very well. We flew from Dublin to the capital, Chișinău, and then made the long journey to the city of Bălți. We stayed there for the first few days along with another Exodus team, to get used to Moldovan culture and continue preparations for our work. After two days in Bălți, we then made a 5 hour journey along some very poor quality roads to the small town of Cantemir which was close to the border with Romania. Several of us on the team stayed with Pastor Boris, the local pastor, and his family. As a team we did a wide variety of things while

in Cantemir. This included cleaning and painting the inside of Pastor Boris’s church. Some time was spent digging deep holes behind the church that would be used for the foundations of an extra building for the church. We also made several visits to members of the congregation in their homes, taking food parcels for them, as many lived in poverty. At the end of our first week in Moldova we ran a youth outreach event in the church’s youth centre, followed by an outreach event for younger children in the local playground. Both events were well attended and great fun to be involved in.

In our second week we were involved in the running of a camp for over 100 children, nearly all of whom lived in poverty. Some had been victims of abuse. At the camp we ran a craft activity every morning and helped out with the sports in the afternoon. They had meetings in both the morning and evening. We taught the children some Christian songs in English in both meetings. In the evening meeting we did a quiz based on the Bible story they had learnt earlier in the day.

The two weeks in Moldova were definitely some of the best in my life and it was a very worthwhile experience! To see how much the people loved God, despite how little they had and the difficult situation they found themselves in, was amazing!

Calvin Birnie

loved God, despite how little they had and the difficult situation they found themselves in, was
loved God, despite how little they had and the difficult situation they found themselves in, was
loved God, despite how little they had and the difficult situation they found themselves in, was
loved God, despite how little they had and the difficult situation they found themselves in, was


FROM THE CHURCHES OBITUARY - Rev Norman Whitla Rev Norman Whitla (1936-2018) went to be with

OBITUARY - Rev Norman Whitla

Rev Norman Whitla (1936-2018) went to be with the Lord on 4 August after some years of declining physical health. Rev Prof Warren Peel conducted his funeral in Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church on 9 August 2018. The items of praise were Psalm 121, Psalm 23 and Psalm 40.1-5.

Norman joined us from the Free Church of Scotland, succeeding Rev W J McDowell as minister of our Ballyclare congregation, and served for five years 1981-86. During his time at Ballyclare a play group ran on three mornings per week and the Senior YPA organised a door-to-door Community Lending Library. One highlight was a John Blanchard-Peter Anderson mission in 1983. In addition, Norman was Interim Moderator of our Somerton Road congregation for one year, 1982-83, and convener of the Church Extension Committee 1984-86.

His son, Rev David Whitla, a minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and currently pursuing PhD studies at Queen’s University Belfast on Scottish Covenanter Theology and Spirituality, presented a tribute to his father at the funeral. We thank him for making the text available to us. Norman was born and grew up in Bangor, Co Down. His interests were drawn to mechanical things from his youth - steam ships and building and flying model aircraft – but he had little time for God. He lived in Canada 1959-63, where he was a draughtsman with Massey Ferguson and learned to fly.

In response to repeated invitations from a Christian friend in his digs he went to a Pentecostal service, more to cause shock and surprise to his friend than anything else, but he was suddenly and dramatically converted that night as God convicted him of sin.

From then he developed his interest in the reformed faith. On return to the UK he began studies in the Elim Pentecostal Bible College in London and there he met Diane Graham. They began to attend Westminster Chapel and Dr Lloyd-Jones married them in 1966. After service as EMF missionaries in Waterford, where Pauline and Karen were born, the family moved to Scotland in 1971 and Norman began studies in the Free Church College in 1972. His first charge followed in 1976 as minister of Dunoon and Strachur Free Church on the western shore of the Firth of Clyde. David and Stephen were born during the Dunoon years.

On leaving Ballyclare and the pastoral ministry Norman served with the Middle East Reformed Fellowship which required travel as far as Cyprus and Egypt. The family settled in Trinity RPCI and Norman became a regular preacher in RP congregations over the next 20 years. He and Diane also opened a family business, Heritage House Arts.

Norman’s final years were marked by spiritual vitality and as his death approached he embraced the change he knew was coming. The family sang his favourite Psalms at his bedside as he passed into the presence of his Saviour. David Whitla included in his tribute a summary of his father’s legacy – Christian, Artistic and Family. He concluded with WSC 37: “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.” We extend our sincere sympathy to Diane and to Pauline, Karen, David, Stephen and their families – they are not uninformed about “those who are asleep.” (1 Thess 4.13)



Licensing of John Roger

A large congregation gathered for the service of licensing for John Roger held in Ballyclare on Tuesday 18 September. The moderator of Presbytery, Rev. Gareth Burke, explained that licensing is a recognition by Presbytery that John has been called by God and gifted for the pastoral ministry, that he has met the required academic standards and that he is now eligible for a call to serve in a pastoral role. During the service, Rev. Sid Garland, convenor of the Training for the Ministry (TOMA) committee, gave a narrative of events leading to John’s licensing. He identified the contribution made by Presbytery, TOMA, the Reformed Theological College where John studied, the ministers and congregations within EPC where he had completed placements, and finally John himself. Following the narrative, John answered questions put to him by the Clerk of Presbytery and then signed the formula of subscription. Rev. Stephen Roger, John’s father and minister of Ballyclare, concluded the act of licensing with prayer.

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2Tim 2:1

Rev. Prof. Edward Donnelly, one of John’s teachers in RTC, preached from 2Tim 2:1 where Paul, writing to Timothy, directs the young pastor to be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Prof. Donnelly spoke simply on the need for strength in a day and place where the gospel is despised, the source of that strength, only and always in Christ, and the manifestation of that strength, not in noise and dominance, but in the fruit of the Spirit. Although the message was applied particularly to John at this juncture in his life, there was a message of comfort and encouragement to all present. It was a joy to see so many friends and family present from within and without EPC. All who spoke of John did so with deep appreciation of his gifts and godliness and with warmth and affection. The whole evening was conducted with a desire for God’s honour and a sense of thankfulness to him for his goodness to his people.

was conducted with a desire for God’s honour and a sense of thankfulness to him for


Save the date! Presbytery Day Conference 2019 Saturday 27 April, at Crumlin EPC Speaker: Ian
Save the date!
Presbytery Day
Conference 2019
Saturday 27 April,
at Crumlin EPC
Ian Hamilton
Booking Forms
will be available at your
church in February.

I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and

my supplications (Psalm 116:1) Praise God that

He desires fellowship with His people and that

He hears and answers the prayers of His children.

Pray that more people would want to attend mid-

week prayer meetings and that these would be

times of unity, encouragement and perseverance

in prayer.

Praise God that he calls and equips men for the

ministry. Thank him for each minister in EPC and

pray for them that they would continue to be

strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Thank God for the ordination and installation of

John Roger as associate minister at Stranmillis.

Pray for John and Claire that the God of hope

would fill them with great joy and peace as they

trust Him at the start of this new chapter in their


Give thanks for the Exodus team to Moldova last

summer and pray that there would be continuing

benefit to the Moldovan Christians they met.

Give thanks for young people who have a desire

to be useful in the work of God and pray that

there would be many such in our congregations

who will encourage one another in the Lord. Pray

for greater missionary interest among the next


Pray that young and old in our congregations

would be kept from the wiles of the devil,

especially in the area of sexual purity. Pray that

children and teenagers growing up in a world of

perverted norms would have God’s word hidden in

their hearts that they would not sin against Him.

Thank God for the monthly services which have

continued in Richhill and for the work of the

interim session. Pray that Presbytery will know

the will of God in planning for the future and that

the change to twice-monthly afternoon services

will result in local people attending in greater

numbers. Ask God to presence Himself with

minister and congregation each time they meet.

Please pray for camp reunion days and weekends.

Ask God for safety in all travel and activities, but

most of all that these would be times of spiritual

challenge, helpfulness and growth in young lives.

Pray for God-given strength and energy for all

who lead and teach.

Praise God for the completion of the Stranmillis

building project. Pray that the new facilities will be

used for the glory of God as the gospel is held out

to a needy society, city and country.

Thank God for the year that is past. Pray that

those who fear what 2019 will bring in terms of

health, employment, business or family matters

will cast all their care upon Him, knowing that He

cares for them.

In the face of political uncertainty give thanks that

the Lord is in His holy temple.

Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. BOOK REVIEWS Title: A Time


Title: A Time for Confidence:

Trusting God in a Post-Christian Society Author: Stephen J. Nichols Publisher: Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2016 Pages: 152 (Softcover)

Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2016 Pages: 152 (Softcover) Christians living in the west have felt the pressure

Christians living in the west have

felt the pressure of progressive

society at an increasing, and even

an alarming, rate for the past

several years. Of course, this

makes us uncomfortable when we have long appreciated having

a cultural dominance that made it easier to assume that people

would default to at least some sort of Christian values. It does,

however, appear that those days of cultural dominance are

behind us in the west, and that we now have to think through

how we relate and respond to a culture that increasingly finds

us odd, archaic, and strange. Stephen Nichols addressed this

topic head on in A Time for Confidence, and this reader thinks

this book is likely a must read for all who worry about the

church in societies that are less and less fond of us.

The beauty of Nichols’ work is not in bringing new

information. Likely all of the truths recounted in this book will

be familiar to readers of this magazine. The beauty of this little

volume is in how Nichols packages those truths to refresh

Christian courage and hope as we think about our relationship

to a deteriorating world. Because in this deteriorating society

that is self-consciously turning away from its long Christian

heritage, there are many responses we might have as the

church. We might be angry, and shift to an us-versus-them

mentality where we grow to hate the world and every

unbeliever in it. As tempting as that might be, anyone who has

read the Holy Bible knows that this mindset is not a legitimate

option for Christians. Jesus calls us to love the world even if

it hates us. Another possible response, and I imagine a far

more likely one, is to be afraid and frightened of the world

as it turns its back on Christianity, and looks for new and

progressive ways to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”

(Romans 1:18). But we also know that “God gave us

a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2

Timothy 1:7) So, we should resist letting ourselves fester in our

fear of what may or may not come as society becomes more

explicit in its dislike of the gospel.

That perhaps leaves only one other option for

biblically-minded Christians (as we must recognize that

biblically-minded Christians will not embrace progressivism as

a good thing since the murder of the unborn and the celebration

of immorality is not something we can endorse).

BOOK REVIEWS That other option is to have confidence in what God can achieve even


That other option is to have confidence in what God

can achieve even in difficult cultural times. Nichols makes a

powerful, but more importantly an encouraging, case that

this should be the response Christians have to the changes

in western culture. Although the book is written primarily

with an American audience in mind, the issues and difficulties

discussed there easily transpose into our own culture. Nichols

reflected on the book of Philippians and pointed out how there

were people “within Caesar’s household” who had become

Christians (Philippians 4:22). Now, Paul likely wrote this letter

during the reign of Emperor Nero, one of the most wicked

Caesars on record. But even in this season where Christians

might expect little ground to be gained in evangelism, even

people within Nero’s own house were turning to the gospel. The

account of the Philippian jailer is a case in point (Acts 16:25-40).

This man was likely part of the Praetorian Guard, and Nichols

described how these men were the special forces of their era.

We are always tempted to think there are people beyond the

explosive power of the gospel, but even this toughest-of-the-

tough commando was humbled by the message of Christ and

the walls of his unbelief were shattered by the power of the

gospel. The takeaway is obviously profound. The gospel has not

lost any power in our day, as it still rests on the sovereignty of

the Almighty God. We too can expect God to do good and great

things, even in this age when gospel results are unexpected.

God will have his glory, and we can count on that. And if you

would take up and read Stephen Nichols’ A Time for Confidence

you would be reminded of that wonderful truth and be

encouraged to have hope in your God in fresh ways.

Special offer for churches Each copy of A Time for Confidence? RRP: £8.50 Our Special
Special offer
for churches
Each copy of
A Time for Confidence?
RRP: £8.50
Our Special Offer:
for Confidence? RRP: £8.50 Our Special Offer: £5.00 own words. Title: In Their Own Words Author:

own words.

Title: In Their Own Words

Author: David B. Calhoun

Publisher: Banner of Truth, 2019 Pages: 232 (Paperback) RRP £6.25 Our price £5

Hundreds of biographies have been written of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox and John Bunyan. But there is something unique to be gained by listening to these men tell their stories in their

In Their Own Words is a collection of testimonial statements drawn from the writings of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and Bunyan. We see men who candidly confessed their sins and boldly testified to the grace, mercy, and goodness of God to them. Their testimonies illustrate the great truth stated by Paul that ‘where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21).

life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:20-21). Title: The Glory of Grace: An Introduction to

Title: The Glory of Grace: An

Introduction to the Puritans

Authors: Lewis Allen & Tim Chester Publisher: Banner of Truth, 2019 Pages: 167 (Paperback) RRP £7 Our price £5.60

Who were the Puritans? What did they seek to achieve? What were their successes and failures? Are they of any importance to Christians today?

Christians today need to discover the important story of how these men and women sought to follow Jesus Christ. Their convictions resulted in a brave and joyful faith, and the writing they have left us on the Christian life continues to be a rich resource for Christian discipleship. The Glory of Grace will introduce you to people who had a deep love for Jesus Christ and a great vision for the Christian life. We all have much to learn…

Each chapter contains a concise introduction followed by carefully selected excerpts from key Puritan works, together with suggestions for further reading.


Best of the Blogs

A selection of online blogs and articles to challenge and encourage you in your walk with God and his people…

Beginning Ministry and Family Life


The Pastor’s Family and the Church


These two blogs, both written by Drew DiNardo, are written primarily for pastors, but they will be helpful in terms of knowing how to pray and care for your minister and his family.

A Letter to the Inactive Member (Kyle Borg)

inactive-member/ “I’m not certain but I suspect that if you asked a pastor what discourages him most, a common answer given would be the inactive member. By inactivity I don’t mean only those who are habitually absent, but also the member who merely warms a seat but does little to participate in the life, service, and especially the worship of the church. But it’s not only a great discouragement for a pastor (and congregation), it is also a good reason for concern.”

Why Modern Christians Should Obey the 10 Commandments (Kevin De Young)


“In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says that he’s not come to set aside the law and the prophecies—to loose, destroy, or abolish them—but to fulfill them.”

Jesus: The Perfect Burnt, Sin, and Guilt Offering (Adriel Sanchez)

“The book of Leviticus opens up with a description of five different offerings for Old Covenant worship. These offerings are the burnt offering, the grain offering, the peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering. Three of these offerings relate in particular to sin and its effects. They highlight the different ways in which sin taints the worshipper, the place of worship, and the community.

In the New Testament, Jesus fulfills these three types of sin-sacrifices in a way that highlights the different facets of Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf.”

Word, Sacrament, and Discipline: Sacraments, Grace on Display

discipline-sacraments-grace-display “The Lord has given us the Sacraments to bless us, to build us up in the most holy faith. Let us see His grace, clearly on display, for us, as we see, touch, taste, and experience these pictures and promises for us in Christ.”

Why We Need Pastors (Fred Greco)

need-pastors/ “When someone begins to talk or write about the organization of the church, eyes often begin to glaze over and attention wanders. Church organization is not thought to be the most practical or ministry-minded topic. After all, who is excited to learn about committee structures or meeting minutes? But the reality is that the organization of the church is a means that King Jesus uses to disciple His people and to bring the gospel to a lost and needy world.”