Appreciation for the Standard Bearer
The purpose of this letter is to express my appreciation for the continued publication of the Standard Bearer. The SB continues to give spiritual instruction in many areas where we need it. Of particular interest to myself and many of the readers is the continued articles regarding the doctrinal aspects of the controversy that has engulfed our churches for the past years.
I want to encourage the SB to continue to publish articles that help us maintain our balance as God’s people and as a denomination of churches. We need to read articles and hear sermons that remind us of the basis of our salvation, namely, the sovereignty of God and His grace to undeserving sinners. At the same time, we need to read articles and hear sermons that lay before us the calling to live according to God’s commands out of gratitude for what God has graciously given to us. As I reflect on the articles in the SB, every article has done that in one way or another.
I would like to encourage the SB to develop the idea of growing in godly piety as something that we as God’s people should earnestly desire and strive for. Scripture lays before us many examples of godly piety that we should be striving for in our life as God’s people—Ephesians 4:22-32, with its instruction of putting off the old man and living according to the new man; James 1:27, where we read of pure and undefiled religion, loving and serving those around us and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. These are just two of many examples.
Our confessions also give expression to this. In the Canons, Head III/IV, Article 17 ends this way: “For grace is conferred by admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is His work advanced; to whom alone all the glory, both of means and of their saving fruit and efficacy, is forever due.” We find here that all glory goes to God, and yet we have godly incentives placed before us as something we should pursue.
Especially in the days in which we live, where we find the world growing darker in sin and tempting us and our children to follow in their wickedness, we need to be reminded of our calling to live antithetically. The preaching must not be softened regarding our calling to live according to God’s Word and all of its exhortations, as if that would somehow detract from God’s work of saving us. And certainly, there are great blessings that come to God’s people in the way of a godly life. All of this to the glory of our God whom we love and want to serve.
May God continue His saving work among us as members of a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God give us wisdom to rightly understand His great gift of salvation and our calling to live in gratitude. May the Standard Bearer continue to be a means to convey these truths to God’s people around the world.
Byron Center, MI
Question on obtaining wisdom
Dear Rev. Slopsema,
I write this letter as I have some concerns about the meditation you wrote in the February 1, 2021 issue of the Standard Bearer, and it is my hope that you can lay them to rest. In this article, wisdom is defined as living in daily repentance (turning from sin unto God in Christ). Wisdom is seeing our own sins, repenting of them, confessing them to God, and then living a life of grateful obedience to God. Then this wisdom is described as the only way to escape God’s wrath on our sins and the only way to enjoy the riches of His gracious blessing.
Wisdom is something we obtain ourselves and something we are responsible for getting. It is something that we ourselves must do—“Wisdom is the ability to act according to reality so that we prosper” (emphasis added). Wisdom is an action by which we gain something— prosperity. Prosperity (enjoying the riches of His gracious blessing) is dependent upon our own wisdom (as a good work) and is the only way to escape God’s wrath on our sins.
How does this fit with the recent decisions of our broader assemblies? In the PRC Acts of Synod 2018 (pp. 73-74) we find this:
In conclusion: (a) Obedience—the obedience God requires [living a life of daily repentance and daily turning from sin—TH] and the obedience we gratefully give in a life of good works according to the power of His Spirit working in us—is never a prerequisite of, or a condition unto, or the basis for, or an instrument/mean unto or the way unto, but always a fruit in the covenant relationship [or enjoying the riches of His gracious blessing—TH], and as we walk in the way of obedience we experience covenant fellowship with God.
Also, the Belgic Confession, Article 24 states:
We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin.
A true faith, wrought in man by the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Ghost makes a man new, causing him to live a life of daily repentance. This is not antinomian, for the rest of the article goes on to dismiss this charge. A true faith, with no mention of wisdom, causes daily repentance.
And also Proverbs 2:6-9:
For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
True wisdom is given of the Lord, not obtained by man, and never earns anything for our salvation. But yet it appears we learn from the meditation that wisdom is something we have to obtain for ourselves (“The purpose of numbering our days is to obtain such a heart of wisdom”) so that we can act on it (“Wisdom is the ability to act…”) in order to receive something else (“… so that we prosper”).
So how does this wisdom as described in the meditation in question fit in with the quoted ecclesiastical decisions above, and (more importantly) with the confessions, creeds, and Scriptures regarding the place of good works in our lives?
Dear Travis, Perhaps we should get before us the passage upon which my February 1, 2021 meditation is based. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). In my meditation I suggested that a better translation would be, “So teach us to number our days, that we may obtain a heart of wisdom. Another translation has, “gaining a heart of wisdom.”
The essence of your criticism of my mediation is that it presents wisdom as something we obtain ourselves and are responsible for getting. Furthermore, escaping God’s wrath and enjoying the riches of God’s gracious blessing are dependent on our own wisdom as a good work. In other words, you see in my meditation the lie of works-righteousness. It seems to me, however, that your problem is really with Moses, the inspired writer who penned Psalm 90:12. The plain meaning of this passage is that we are to number our days so that we may obtain or gain something, that is, a heart of wisdom. Into that passage as I explained it you are reading all kinds of things that are not there.
Let me give a fuller explanation of this passage, in light of your concerns with my meditation.
You are correct when you write that true wisdom is given of the Lord. Your reference to Proverbs 2:6 is to the point. We may add that true wisdom is graciously given to the redeemed of God in the work of regeneration. However, because the work of grace is only begun in us, this gift of wisdom does not always control our hearts. Proverbs 22:15 teaches that foolishness is bound in the heart of a covenant child, requiring the rod of correction to drive it far from him. Psalm 90 was written to the nation of Israel in the wilderness. That sad history shows that foolishness was bound not just in the hearts of Israel’s youth but in the hearts of the vast majority of the nation. This brought the Lord’s rod of correction upon the entire nation through forty miserable years of wilderness wanderings.
The plain and simple teaching of Psalm 90:12 is that in the way of counting their days in the wilderness under the rod of correction the people of God would obtain a heart of wisdom. To put it differently, God would use their recollection of His chastening to drive the folly of unbelief from the hearts and to fill it with His wisdom. And so the prayer, “So teach us to number our days, that we may obtain (gain) a heart of wisdom.”
This explanation is in harmony with the synodical decision and the quote from the Belgic Confession you cite as well as all of Scripture.
In Christian love,
Rev. James Slopsema