The New Jerusalem (Bavinck)

Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.)

One great aspect of being a follower of Jesus is the fact that we have a great inheritance waiting for us in the new creation (1 Pet 1:4-5). The new creation itself will be an amazing place where God’s people will no longer have to worry about sin, sickness, evil, death, cancer, kidnapping, rape, divorce, pain, persecution, guilt, temptation, and so on and so forth. It’s a future so awesome that our imaginations cannot even grasp it (1 Cor. 2:9). In Revelation 21-22 John speaks figuratively about the new creation, the heavenly Jerusalem. Here’s how Herman Bavinck summarized it:

The description John gives of that Jerusalem (Rev. 21–22) should certainly not be taken literally any more than his preceding visions. This option is excluded by the mere fact that John depicts it as a cube whose length, width, and height are equal, that is, 12,000 stadia or 1,500 miles; still the height of the wall is only 144 cubits, just under 75 yards (21:15–17). By this depiction John does not intend to give a sketch of the city; rather, since he cannot bring the glory of the divine kingdom home to us in any other way, he offers his ideas, interpreting them in images. And he derives these images from paradise, with its river and tree of life (21:6; 22:1–2); from the earthly Jerusalem with its gates and streets (21:12ff.); from the temple with its holy of holies, in which God himself dwelt (21:3, 22); and from the entire realm of nature, with all its treasures of gold and precious stones (21:11, 18–21). But although these are ideas interpreted thus by images, they are not illusions or fabrications, but this-worldly depictions of otherworldly realities. All that is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable in the whole of creation, in heaven and on earth, is gathered up in the future city of God—renewed, re-created, boosted to its highest glory.

The substance [of the city of God] is present in this creation. Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the “bondage to decay” (δουλειας της φθορας, douleias tēs phthoras [Rom. 8:21]). More glorious than this beautiful earth, more glorious than the earthly Jerusalem, more glorious even than paradise will be the glory of the new Jerusalem, whose architect and builder is God himself….

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 719–720

 Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

In But Not Of This World (Epistle to Diognetus)

Lightfoot’s Apostolic Fathers in English

This is such a great section of the 2nd century Chrisitan letter called “The Epistle to Diognetus“.  It is good commentary on the teaching of Christ and his apostles that this present age, this present world, is not our permanent home (John 17; 1 Pet. 1:1, etc.).

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. 2For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practise an extraordinary kind of life. 3Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. 4But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvellous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.
5They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners;
they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers.
Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.
6They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring.
7They have their meals in common, but not their wives.
8They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh.
9Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.
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They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives.
11They love all men, and they are persecuted by all.
12They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life.
13They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich.
They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things.
14They are dishonoured, and yet they are glorified in their dishonour.
They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated.
15They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect.
16Doing good they are punished as evil-doers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. 17War is waged against them as aliens by the Jews, and persecution is carried on against them by the Greeks, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility.

 Joseph Barber Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 505–506.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Comfort for a Grieving Widow (Chrysostom)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume IX
Chrysostom (d. 407 AD)

A young Christian woman was grieving the death of her husband. It was a hard and heavy blow. John Chrysostom knew of her grief and wrote her a kind letter to direct her gaze heavenward, to the Lord. In this part of the letter (dated around 380 AD), Chrysostom echoes biblical teaching that “to die is gain” and that the glories of heaven are better than the glitters of earth:

Now if it is not the name of widow which distresses you, but the loss of such a husband I grant you that all the world over amongst men engaged in secular affairs there have been few like him, so affectionate, so gentle, so humble, so sincere, so understanding, so devout. And certainly if he had altogether perished, and utterly ceased to be, it would be right to be distressed, and sorrowful; but if he has only sailed into the tranquil haven, and taken his journey to Him who is really his king, one ought not to mourn but to rejoice on these accounts. For this death is not death, but only a kind of emigration and translation from the worse to the better, from earth to heaven, from men to angels, and archangels, and Him who is the Lord of angels and archangels. For here on earth whilst he was serving the emperor there were dangers to be expected and many plots arising from men who bore ill-will, for in proportion as his reputation increased did the designs also of enemies abound; but now that he has departed to the other world none of these things can be suspected.

Wherefore in proportion as you grieve that God has taken away one who was so good and worthy you ought to rejoice that he has departed in much safety and honour, and being released from the trouble which besets this present season of danger, is in great peace and tranquillity. For is it not out of place to acknowledge that heaven is far better than earth, and yet to mourn those who are translated from this world to the other? For if that blessed husband of thine had been one of those who lived a shameful life contrary to what God approved it would have been right to bewail and lament for him not only when he had departed, but whilst he was still living; but inasmuch as he was one of those who are the friends of God we should take pleasure in him not only whilst living, but also when he has been laid to rest. And that we ought to act thus thou hast surely heard the words of the blessed Paul “to depart and to be with Christ which is far better.”

John Chrysostom, “Letter to a Young Widow,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. W. R. W. Stephens, vol. 9, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 123.

Perhaps these words can be of comfort today for those who have lost a beloved Christian spouse, family member, or friend.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Arminianism and the Stage Coach Guard (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)Here’s a helpful illustration on the perseverance of the saints by Augustus Toplady:

Arminianism represents God’s Spirit, as if he acted like the guard of a stage-coach, who sees the passengers safe out of town for a few miles; and then, making his bow, turns back, and leaves them to pursue the rest of the journey by themselves. But divine grace does not thus deal by God’s travellers. It accompanies them to their journey’s end, and without fail. So that the meanest pilgrim to Zion may shout, with David, in full certainty of faith, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all my days, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Therefore, for preserving grace, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory,” for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

After God has led his people through the wilderness of life, and brought them to the edge of that river which lies between them and the heavenly Canaan, will he suspend his care of them, in that time of deepest need? No, blessed be his name! On the contrary, he always – safely, and, generally, comfortably – escorts them over to the other side; to that good land which is very far off, to that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 186.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Fairer Still Is the Maker of Heaven (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.8: Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms Many of us are familiar with the biblical truth that God is good, or benevolent, to all.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NASB).  “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9 NASB).  In his comments on Psalm 86 Augustine reflected on this truth and used it to remind Christians of the greater gift of God to his people:

Think, brethren, and reflect what good things God giveth unto sinners: and learn hence what He keepeth for His own servants. To sinners who blaspheme Him every day He giveth the sky and the earth, He giveth springs, fruits, health, children, wealth, abundance: all these good things none giveth but God.

He who giveth such things to sinners, what thinkest thou He keeps for His faithful ones? Is this to be believed of Him, that He who giveth such things to the bad, keepeth nothing for the good? Nay verily He doth keep, not earth, but heaven for them. Too common a thing perhaps I say when I say heaven; Himself rather, who made the heaven. Fair is heaven, but fairer is the Maker of heaven

The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo,  vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 412.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Rewards of Heaven (Hodge)

Below is a helpful way to talk about justification through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone and the rewards of heaven promised in Scripture (Mt. 6:4, Mk. 9:41, 1 Cor. 3:14, etc.).  They are not contradictory!  I appreciate the emphasis on grace and Christ’s work:

…Although Protestants deny the merit of good works, and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous, that the remission of sins, adoption into the family of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted to the believer, as well as admission into heaven, solely on the ground of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ; they nevertheless teach that God does reward his people for their works. Having graciously promised for Christ’s sake to overlook the imperfection of their best services, they have the assurance founded on that promise that he who gives to a disciple even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little, enjoy less. What a man sows that shall he also reap. As the rewards of heaven are given on the ground of the merits of Christ, and as He has a right to do what He will with his own, there would be no injustice were the thief saved on the cross as highly exalted as the Apostle Paul. But the general drift of Scripture is in favor of the doctrine that a man shall reap what he sows; that God will reward every one according to, although not on account of his works. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, pages 244-5)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

To Christians Who Suffer

Some Christians suffer more than others.  God, in his mysterious sovereignty, has given some of his children a more difficult lot and heavier load than others.  Depression, chronic illness, handicaps, intense family conflict, mental illness, and other trials are the hard lot of some Christians.

Abraham Kuyper reminds us that St. Paul had a very difficult lot as well.  The apostle called it a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  Kuyper says it was a trial that felt “as though a demon assaulted [Paul] and beat him with fists.” The thorn was given to Paul so that he might stay humble and also experience the sweetness of God’s grace.  Kuyper notes that Christians who suffer should remember from Paul’s experience that God’s fatherly plan for us in suffering is a gracious one.  This way we won’t despair when our prayers for relief are not answered in the affirmative.

Kuyper also writes that sometimes suffering is long, intense, and doesn’t let up.  It seems like suffering is our permanent state of existence.  To the sufferer,

“Every morning the affliction is new, and every evening he pours out again his complaint before his God.  Ineradicably the sense that we were not created to suffer continues to struggle against the pain that restlessly accompanies him upon his pathway through life.”

Often what happens at this point is that the sufferer looks around at others who are happy and healthy.  Then who can stop this “sad complaint” from arising: “O, My God, why am I not as they?”  On top of this Satan comes and tempts the sufferer to grumble: “If you are a child of God, where is your heavenly Father to help you?”  Satan mocks: “Where is your God?”  The suffering continues, and some believers at this point seriously backslide in the faith.

But Kuyper said it can be otherwise.  Sometimes the suffering child of God realizes that the Lord can use the suffering to “reveal in him the majesty of His grace.”  Prayers for deliverance continue, but the soul becomes convinced “that in such suffering God intends something different with us.”

“That such suffering does not come upon us by chance, but comes to us from Him, and that He chose us to bear this suffering, that in this our suffering it might become evident, even with suffering most prolonged and bitter, what sacred medicine of soul grace is.”

“And if the eye might but open to this, O, then each day brings experience of new grace; till finally the spirit made willing in us begins to cooperate with grace, to triumph over this suffering and to show Satan and the world, that the happiness God’s child enjoys, is too rich and too abounding to be shadowed even by severest suffering.”

“And so at times sufferers have been seen, who were so gloriously disciplined by grace and in grace, that at the last it seemed, as though they had become insensible to their trouble, yea, that they took pleasure in it, with a heavenly smile upon their face to mock their suffering.”

If you are suffering, I pray God gives you the eyes of faith to see that his grace is sufficient for you in your weakness even right now.  As Paul said in his trial, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Suffering is so hard; it is a heavy, heavy burden.  But God’s grace lightens the load, shines light on the path, and makes it possibly for us to joyfully make it through suffering.  And remember, your trial will not last.  When Jesus returns, he’ll renew your body and you will no longer have any pain, sorrow, trials, or tears (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).

The above quotes and thoughts are found in Abraham Kuyper’s 23rd meditation of In the Shadow of Death (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1929).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015