Behind a Frowning Providence, He Hides a Smiling Face
“Ministers never write or preach so well, as when under the cross.”– George Whitfield
I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated toward those who’ve endured suffering—far and above those whose lives are generally considered perfect.
Whenever I’m in the presence of anyone who’s been forever altered by a life of suffering, I am inexplicably drawn to them. They are beautiful and they possess a depth to their souls that causes them to stand out in the midst of everyone around them—a depth that only profound suffering can produce. Even more precious to me among those who’ve suffered, are those who understand that their suffering wasn’t for nothing, but was for a greater purpose.
In William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, he penned this verse:
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”
A fragrance of suffering permeates those who’ve experienced great pain, loss, and trials, and is far more attractive than that of those whose lives have been defined by happy, clappy superficiality (and this is especially true when it comes to those who occupy pulpits).
Continue reading here.
For God’s Glory and the Church’s Consolation
A book review by Stuart Brogden
The subtitle of this book, 400 years of the Synod of Dordt, reveals the content thereof – the book is a collection of messages given in 2019 at a conference celebrating the Canons of Dordt, sponsored by the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. The seminary and the conference and the book reflect the Dutch Reformed view, which is in clear view throughout. While the truth of what is called Calvinism (God’s sovereignty in the salvation of sinners) is defined and defended, the traditional tenants of Reformed theology are presented as givens, without the pretense of providing biblical support. In the Editor’s Preface we read that “the Synod of Dordt was much more than the Canons of Dordt and the Arminian heresy. It dealt with the matter of a proper view and observance of the New Testament Sabbath, establishing principles that serve the church today.” (page viii) In the first chapter, Douglas J. Kuiper tells us “the delegates (to the synod) declared that they had reviewed the Belgic Confession and found nothing in it that conflicted with Scripture. They declared the same of the Heidelberg Catechism” shortly thereafter (page 7). These two documents have much within them to be commended, but they teach something not found in the words of Scripture: infant baptism, so-called, and they prop up the misguided notion that the Mosaic Law determines order in the New Covenant.
Kuiper goes on to say, “Reformed churches today must recognize the boundaries that the Reformed churches have previously set, and that Dordt declared to be fixed and unbending. They must love these doctrines and the confessions that contain them and be faithful to them.” (page 8) This view enshrines imperfect documents written by sinful men more than 400 years ago the magisterium for Kuiper and his fellows.
This is not to deny that the Canons of Dordt and the other referenced documents contain much rich truth that all who name Christ can embrace, such as “To go wrong in regard to these five doctrines (the substance of Dordt) will inevitably lead to error regarding many other doctrines as well.” (page 9) The current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, many of whom have long waged war against the Doctrines of Grace, serve as a current and graphic example of what Kuiper warned about.
In chapter 2, Angus Stewart reminds us that “main achievement of the synod … is the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation over against the heresies of Arminianism.” (page 23) And then we read, “Thus the five points of Calvinism, based on the Canons of Dordt, summarize the truth of God’s word, which is in accordance with the genius of John Calvin’s biblical theology.” (pages 26-27) At best this is a poorly phrased sentence; at worse it posits the Bible as subordinate to John Calvin’s theology (look up “in accordance with”). I would not have brought this up if this book were not full of deference to the Canons and other documents. No document written by man is ever worthy of such submission, but must be tested in light of Scripture at all points.
As a study on the Canons of Dordt, one would expect some examination of the theology of those who protested against the doctrines of grace. Brian Huizinga tells us, “The Arminians hated nothing more than sovereign predestination. … However, they said they believed in election, they used the term election, and they preached sermons on the doctrine of election, even as they used the terms grace and faith but gave to them different meanings.” (chapter 3, page 58) “The Arminians were so careful to sound Reformed and insisted that they believed the truth but only had different ways of expressing the truth.” (page 59) Note this last statement, see how it (claim to believe the truth but have different ways of expressing it) applies to so many who depart from the biblical truth in so many ways – including papists and Mormons.
Chapter 4 may be my favorite; Mark Shand presents a well-ordered presentation what the gospel is, combined with an equally well-ordered refutation of another error of the Arminians, one that has and still does afflict many within the wider circle of reformed/Calvinistic saints; that of the well-meant offer, so called. Shand points out the Arminians protested that, “if the atonement was not universal, there could be no general proclamation of the gospel. To call all men to repentance and faith when not all were encompassed by the atoning work of Jesus Christ was, said the Remonstrants, to render the call of the gospel insincere and hypocritical.” He answers this by rightly declaring, “The gospel at its heart is not an offer in the sense of an invitation or entreaty. It is the proclamation of a command, coupled with a promise.” (page 86) “The promise is not for all; it is only for those who believe on Jesus Christ.” (page 87) Many paedobaptists contend that the “promise” is for believers and their children, based on a faulty reading of Acts 2:39. In this passage, Peter spoke to unbelieving Jews – “men of Judah, men of Israel, all who dwell in Jerusalem.” These Jews asked Peter and the others, “Brothers (fellow Jews) what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41) The command – repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins; and the promise is for you unbelieving Jews and your children and those Gentiles who are far off – everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself. This passage has nothing to support “covenant children;” as Shand rightly observed – the promise is only for those believe on Jesus!
Douglas J. Kuiper returns in chapter 5 to discuss the view of covenant theology found in the Canons of Dordt. He asserts that these topics which are other than the answer to the 5 points of the Arminians are not secondary, but serve to support the doctrines of grace (page 99). Kuiper presents the mono-covenant so common in Reformed theology (“Inherent in the Canons’ use of the familiar Old Testament and New Testament is the unity of the covenant: it is one covenant” page 105). He asserts that the death of Jesus fulfilled “the Old Testament ceremonial laws” (page 102); while Scripture never says this (He fulfilled “the law”) nor splits up the Mosaic Law into Aquinas’ tripartite view. He wrote, “the covenant to which the Canons refer is the covenant of grace that God has established with elect sinners, with Adam after the fall, and with everyone who is included in the see of the woman (Gen 3:15)” This makes it appear that Kuiper thinks everyone in history is in the “covenant of grace” – making one wonder why such a covenant is needed, if everyone gets in. Later, Kuiper rightly sees the promise of salvation not given to “all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, not upon all that are baptized, but only upon the spiritual seed” (page 125). It appears our speaker was a bit sloppy in describing this extra-biblical covenant; one would think sticking with those covenants mentioned in Scripture would reduce this ambiguity.
Here is the danger of ignoring the biblical data on the Old and New Covenants, resting in and trusting in this ephemeral “covenant of grace” – “Because God continues his covenant with godly believers in the line of generations, “godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.”” (ending with a quote from Confessions and Church Order, page 106) The Old Covenant was established along line of human generations but those people were not required to believe on the promised seed. The New Covenant is, as Kuiper admits on page 125, made only with spiritual children, those who believe. The Bible explicitly teaches not to trust in human generations: And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9) Jesus came to bring division to earthly families as those who not His sheep would rise up against those who are (Matthew 10:34-37). This mythical mono-covenant conflates the old and new covenants and gives false cover to this specious notion of “covenant children.”
Note the confusion about the New Covenant in this system. Dordt declares, “being in the covenant, we do not doubt the election of infants of believing parents. This is not because the covenant determines who are elect, but because election determines who are in the covenant.” (page 109) He is emphatic that only elect (I would say only the redeemed) are in the New Covenant, yet he is just as emphatic that offspring of believers are in the covenant – while admitting not all of them are elect! Rather than be presumptuous that our children are elect, we ought to be diligent to teach our children the ways of God, preach the gospel to them, and pray for and with them in hopes that God would save them. In this chapter, Kuiper brings out some of the errors the Arminians presented regarding the New Covenant; our Dutch Reformed brothers have some things to work out themselves.
In chapter 6, William A. Langerak spoke on the polity contained in the Canons of Dordt, further revealing that the Dutch Reformed rest on their traditions and documents as much or more than they rest on Scripture for some doctrines. He declares, “the polity of Dordt is not just good; it is magnificent.” (page 128) He spends several pages summarizing the historical development of Dordt’s polity, saying “the Church Order of Dordt (1619) is basically that of The Hague (1586), which in turn is derived from church orders revised and adopted by two national synods …” (page 134-135) This run-on sentence fills up a paragraph of citations of the foundation of their polity but contains no references to Scripture, only to men and conventions of men. Langerak established their view of tight control over the local assembly of saints by ecclesiastical levels the Bible knows nothing about (pages 138-156), including dictating what songs may be sung, what holy-days are to be observed, what offices (they see three: ministers, elders, deacons; the Bible reveals two: elders and deacons) are to be the council of the church, how frequently the Lord’s Supper should be observed; all the while claiming “Article 30 of the Belgic Confession also establishes the principle of the autonomy of the local congregation as a self-governing church in its own right, apart from any federation with other Reformed churches in a denomination.” (page 146) These controls over the local congregation by the ecclesiastical hierarchy is needed, Langerak says, because they want to avoid “the lawlessness of the Anabaptists” (page 150). Those radicals had the notion that no mortal had authority aver the local assembly of saints; that each congregation answered to Christ. These men were obviously “lawless” – they did not submit to the law of man. One excellent practice embraced by our Dutch Reformed brothers is equality among the men holding each office (page 148); far too many of my fellow Baptists have drifted into serious error by having only one elder or singling out one elder as higher ranking than the others. This should not be! In all the discussion about church polity, not one word about the condition of membership – regeneration. Herein is a danger far beyond any “lawlessness” of refusing ecclesiastical hierarchy.
The last two chapters are very good, the 7th full of Scripture defending election and the flip-side thereof, reprobation, written by Ronald L. Cammenga. Many Calvinists deny this doctrine, but if you hold to God’s sovereign election of a limited number of people He chose, then He has also chosen those who will not be saved. Those He has rejected are the subjects of reprobation. This doctrine is seen in YHWH’s choosing of Israel (a nation He built up) and rejecting all other nations. Proverbs 16:4 and Romans 9:11-13; 21-22 all speak to His power and authority to do with His creatures as He wills. He accepted Jacob and rejected Esau; election and reprobation. God sends a strong delusion to some of those He has not chosen unto salvation to insure they will not come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Thess 2:11-12). The Bible is full of the good news that countless numbers from every nation, tongue, and tribe are His sheep. The only way to accept His choosing some is to recognize His rejection of others. The Bible tells us none seek God, so it’s not as though He rejects those who search for Him; He choose who He would save and the rest of mankind was “chosen” by being rejected. The gospel message is the good news of salvation by grace; there is no need to tell people they might be reprobates (a biblical word describing the subjects of reprobation!) and there is no biblical warrant to do so. But we also have no reason to claim God does not reject anyone, but merely allows them to go their own way. Man is, by nature, an enemy of God and will go to hell unless He intervenes; but the Bible also tells us God gives the reprobates a shove along their way – He gives them over to their sin (Romans 1:24). Reprobation is the bad news from Romans 8:1 implicit for all who are not in Christ Jesus – they are condemned.
In chapter 8, Barret Gritters shows us from Scripture how and why saints can enjoy assurance of the salvation. “Election is not merely God’s choice of certain persons to be saved but his choice to place them in the security of, and into organic connection with, the body of his Son Jesus Christ.” (page 206) Barret also rightly sees our nature – “I am “by nature neither better not more deserving than others.”” (page 207, quoting from Dordt) “The same God who elects, redeems, justifies, and preserves also assures his people of this. By his Spirit and word, God convinces me that of his love for me.” (page 212) Anyone struggling with assurance of salvation would be encouraged to read this chapter – it rests on bedrock: the nature and character of our Redeemer.
If you are like me, you’ve been familiar with the 5 points (commonly called Calvinism) which were drawn up to answer the 5 points put forth by the Arminians but maybe not as familiar with the other doctrines established or restated in the Canons. As a Baptist, I am informed by historic documents of the faith but I am not bound by them if I cannot find their doctrines in Scripture. So it is with much of the other things taught by Dordt. This is an interesting book, providing an in-depth look at what our Dutch Reformed brothers and sisters hold to.
Note: I was asked by the publisher, Reformed Free Publishing, if I would be interested in reviewing this book, which was generously provided by them to me.
My dear wife, Violet, has long been a person who spends far more time in prayer than I do. One of the areas that she ALWAYS remembers in prayer is the persecuted church.
In fact, it is through her devotion to the Lord and the concern that she has for brothers and sisters overseas that has helped me to be more consistently aware of those who are beaten, raped, and murdered simply because their faith is found in Jesus Christ alone.
A friend and past contributor, Sony Elise, writes encouraging posts, and in those encouragements often includes admonitions to pray for others. I am thankful for those who would be considered prayer warriors. These are people who give of their time and energy to remember the plight of others.
However, one of the areas in which I am often discouraged is the seeming lack of care, concern, and even love within the western church for these brothers and sisters. Too often, I have grown disheartened when I seek to remember those in places like China, Vietnam, Mongolia, and even in the heart of Muslim countries, yet most in the West live like these people do not exist.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
I have many times brought the matter up for prayer in church meetings only to be ignored even by church leadership. I can only conclude a couple of main reasons for why our churches do not remember the persecuted church, or if they do, it is on the rarest of occasions.
First, remembering those who are persecuted would mean a vivid reminder that we are one family in Christ Jesus. This means that we must strive to follow the command that Paul wrote in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Second, remembering those who are persecuted would cause us to have to examine our hearts and lives. I am afraid that in the western world, we are NOT ready for persecution. Our lives are filled with plenty and many of our churches resemble the church in Revelation that was found in the city of Laodicea.
Revelation 3:17 says that the church in Laodicea said, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”
Yet, Jesus Christ said that the Laodicean church was actually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
How sad that we live and prosper, yet compared to our brothers and sisters who languish in prison, we are poor and to be pitied. Our barns and presses burst full of wine, yet the wine is but the fruit of sour grapes.
A pastor in a persecuted country was asked about the things for which he and his people prayed. The western individual expected that to hear that they prayed for freedom of religion, freedom from persecution, and for better lives.
The westerner was visibly shocked when the old but wise pastor, who had spent many years in prison for his faith, responded with gentleness.
“Our church prays for grace and strength for our people to endure whatever will make us more like Jesus Christ. He suffered and died for us, so is it too much if He asks us to do the same for Him?”
“We also pray for the church in the West that God will bring our brothers and sisters times of persecution so that the true church will grow in its faith. When that persecution comes, we also pray that God will show His love and mercy by providing the same grace and strength to our Christian family in the west.”
Dear readers, our brothers and sisters do not want our freedoms. When the Iron Curtain crashed down, it is said that the struggling and persecuted underground churches dreaded what would come to their doors. Pastors would send word that they only wanted missionaries who would preach and teach them the truth of God’s Word.
I personally spoke with one pastor, who had been imprisoned in Romania for many years. He spoke words that have stayed with me for almost 30 years.
“When the freedom came, all the things found in western churches came to Romania. These were things we did not want. We did not want the entertainment, the worldly music, or the sermons with no real meat. But that is what many missionaries brought to us.”
“The underground church that grew under persecution has become cold. The focus is no longer on Jesus Christ, but on what we can do to draw crowds of unbelievers. Our young people sing all the popular songs from the West, but their lives have not changed. We are no longer ready for persecution and we are the poorer for it.”
What can we do? For too long, the church in the west has done a great disservice to the persecuted church. The call to action comes ringing across the waves from the great cloud of witnesses that cry loudly for the Lord’s return to bring justice.
Here are four areas that will help you and I – starting today!
1. CONFESS! If you do not regularly pray for or remember the persecuted church, seek forgiveness from the Lord. Ask God to help you overcome callousness of the heart and pray to become sensitive to the needs of our far-off family.
2. PRAY! Ask the Lord that our brothers and sisters will stand strong. Pray for their captors and those who persecute them that our God will be gracious and bring even some of “Caesar’s household” to Himself.
3. STAND! Stand with our brothers and sisters. Do not ignore their plight. Find ways to encourage others, especially those who put themselves in harm’s way to go to the persecuted church and try to be a blessing. Find others to meet with who have a similar passion and share times of worship and prayer together.
4. PREPARE! Persecution is promised to those who would live godly in Christ Jesus. Pray that God would help you and I to take our eyes off of the rust, moth-corrupted treasures of this world. Pray that we would heed the words of Paul in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds (affections) on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
My name is Saige Potter. I am a recent addition to the Truth in Grace team and have been asked to share some things about myself.
I am a homeschooling mom of four boys (ages 6 to 1) with one on the way. I have been creatively writing for most of my life, and began working as a professional ghostwriter and editor at the age of fifteen.
With a tumultuous history of involvement with Wiccanism, Buddhism, and the Lutheran church, I came to know Jesus Christ as my Savior after being introduced to Him by my husband, shortly after we were married in 2013. We are passionate about Scripture and pursuing objective truth. We live in the wonderful, windy state of Wyoming.
I look forward to sharing and discussing God’s Word with you all!
New Covenant Theology is not new theology about the covenants; it is theology about the New Covenant.
In this podcast, I was interviewed for the purpose of explaining what New Covenant Theology is to a brother who is exploring it to see if it aligns with Scripture.
It’s common, in the world of evangelical Christianity, to call everyone who is not redeemed, lost. Is that how the Bible uses the word “lost?” This word is found 14 times in the HCSB New Testament and three of them have nothing to do with being separated from God: Mark 2:22 is talking about mixing old covenant theology with new covenant theology, using wineskins as metaphors. Luke 22:18 shows the care of God in preserving His saints during trials. 1 Corinthian 3:15 reveals that some work done in this life by the saints will be burned up (lost) in the judgment.
What of the other 11 uses? They show up in 10 verses, each providing insight into who is “lost.”
Matthew uses this term three times, referring to those to whom Jesus was sent; no reference to those left to themselves. Jesus’ initial ministry was to national Israel, as these passages reflect. But God’s plan of redemption has always included people from every nation and tongue, as many passages reveal.
Matthew 10:5-6 Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Matthew 15:24 He replied, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Matthew 18:11 For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.
Luke uses the word 6 times in 5 places; in each case, the person or thing described as lost is that which was searched for and found. The parables of the lost sheep, coin, and the prodigal son all get summed up in the last passage. Salvation has come because Jesus had come to seek and save the lost! No mention of that which was lost staying lost.
Luke 15:3-7 So He told them this parable: “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.
Luke 15:8-10 “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.
Luke 15:31-32 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 19:9-10 “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
In John’s gospel we find this word two times, including the one use of “lost” to describe someone that was not sought out and saved; Judas was lost. As the Pulpit Commentary points out, Judas was a specific exception, having been appointed by God to serve his role as the son of destruction or perdition. Rather than having been lost then found, Judas was seemingly found and then lost. But as the second passage shows, Judas was not given to Jesus to be kept, because Jesus claims to have lost none – not even one – of those given Him by the Father. This is why the Pulpit Commentary is right and it explains why Judas does not provide grounds to call all the unbelievers “lost.”
John 17:12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. I guarded them and not one of them is lost, except the son of destruction, so that the Scripture may be fulfilled. The Pulpit Commentary: And I guarded (them) – ἐτήρουν signifies watchful observation; ἐφύλαξα, guardianship as behind the walls of a fortress – and not one perished – went to destruction – except that the son of perdition (has perished). Christ does not say that the son of perdition was given him by the Father and guarded from the evil one, and yet had gone to his own place; the exception refers simply to the “not one perished.”
John 18:8-9 “I told you I am ⌊He⌋,” Jesus replied. “So if you’re looking for Me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the words He had said: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”
Summary. This last passage does not use “lost” but it shows two things: First, Jesus came to do the Father’s will, which was stated Matthew 18:11 and in Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. Second, He will lose none of those given to Him by the Father. Every person who is lost will be saved; none who are saved will be lost. This does not say everybody will be saved, for not everyone is “lost” – only the unconverted elect are. Everyone who is not, today, a child of God is unconverted. Some of them are lost and will be found; the rest will face judgment without a refuge.
John 6:37-39 Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me: that I should lose none of those He has given Me but should raise them up on the last day.