More Editorials from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.
A NYONE with a degree of discernment must see that the present times are characterised by a spirit of rebellion. Lawful authority is everywhere despised and disregarded. No longer do people in general "Fear God" and "Honour the king" as the Bible commands. We seem to have entered those "perilous times" about which Paul warned young Timothy, when men would be "covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents" and much else besides, to their ruin and shame (2 Tim. 3:1-4).
What is astounding is that Scripture ascribes these sins, not to the openly profane but to those having "a form of godliness" (v.5.) In other words to religious persons, men with faith and zeal. Hypocrisy is a key feature of this disturbing age: "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." (Tit. 1:16). These blinded individuals neither love nor obey the truth and their lives show it. Their hearts are still governed by sin and their wills unrenewed. Religion to them is not the fruit of a regenerating power but a sop to their conscience.
Such poor souls are certainly to be found in the bewildering array of cults and sects, many of which lay claim to be the authentic church of Christ and sole mouthpiece of God. Their followers willingly "compass sea and land to make one proselyte" (Matt. 23:15), by fair speeches making prey of the spiritually unstable and gullible, cloaking themselves with a pseudo-piety as they go.
The religion which the false sects typically profess and practice is one from which the true gospel of grace has been removed and in which hell is emptied of all its inhabitants. It is one by which the glorious, living God is mocked and man magnified.
The same errors (and worse) have also entered the visible church – by which we mean the society of those who profess the true religion, with their children – all who "call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:2). Whole districts of the city of God on earth have been reduced to rubble, so to speak, as one great, historic denomination after another has succumbed to the destructive effects of modernism. What is theological liberalism but the sinful rising up of unsanctified intellects and wills against the authority of the Most High, enshrined in the Holy Scriptures? A bold defiance of the truth of God and the God of truth.
At the hands of some modern evangelicals the pure gospel has undergone something of a transformation too. Its rugged form has been pared down, rounded off and generally made more acceptable to carnal tastes. Today's calvinism is often of the "milk-and-water" variety dilute, insipid, providing little to sustain the exercised child of God. While key points of doctrine remain others are obscured. Challenging notes which should issue forth from the trumpet of truth are no longer heard. The offence of the cross has definitely ceased.
This is what professing people want when they are backslidden and "at ease in Zion." Like Israel of old they say: "Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits." (Isa. 30:10.) Do not disturb our peace – preach comfort to our souls! There are many preachers who misuse the medicine of the Saviour's precious blood, rushing to apply the balm to heal the hurt of sin, though there be no true sorrow or repentance for it. If the wall is continually daubed like this, the promises of the gospel being plastered as untempered mortar, it will surely fall in the day of Judgment (Ezek. 13:10-16).
The devil was the first preacher to proclaim smooth things, saying to Eve in the garden, "Ye shall not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). He made light of the word which God – that cannot lie – had already spoken (2:17). His servants do the same today, hiding the plain, unvarnished truth from men's consciences while appearing as ministers of righteousness. Their trademark is ambiguity, not clarity. They leave men wondering to themselves, "Yea, hath God said...?" (3:1).
When did you last hear a sermon which laid strong emphasis on the solemn subject of hell? We suspect that it was too long ago. Let no man say that such preaching is overdone today, or out of place! There is only one person who gains advantage when the pulpit falls silent on this awful truth and that is the devil himself. His work in this superficial age is to keep the lid on hell, such that its fearful reality will not be glimpsed by poor sinners, who might thereby be awakened to flee from the wrath to come.
Why, for instance, does a popular modern Bible translation (NIV) remove the word "hell" entirely from the Old Testament, replacing it with such misleading euphemisms as "the realm of death" and "the grave"? This is surely not done in the cause of transparency. Men would do better if they declared the doctrine of hell with certainty, knowing the terror of it themselves.
It is possible to so preach up the liberating truth of a free justification as to play down the necessity of sanctification for God's children. The idea of a 'convert' who 'believes in Jesus' but who will not follow holiness yet going to heaven is truly a doctrine of devils. Paul was persuaded that his ministry among the Thessalonians was not in vain, not on account of a bare profession of faith but by their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 1:3). Even then he would not let them rest on their laurels but spurred them on along the King's highway of holiness: "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (4:3). And he prayed for them to the same end: "the very God of peace sanctify you wholly" (5:23).
Let us beware of encouraging any in the folly and delusion of Balaam, who desired to "die the death of the righteous" (Num. 23:10) while at the same time he "loved the wages of unrighteousness" (2 Pet. 2:15). May the sermons we hear today be so searching in their content and application that we can never be "settled on [our] lees" (Zeph. 1:12).
Another smooth thing which is believed is that men may worship the Lord however they please – as long as they are sincere in doing so. Today's worshippers are not content with the robust Psalms of David, the hymns of the Holy Ghost; they must have 'smoother' compositions, with music to match. We should remember that "purity of worship" does not come from man and a desire to be "righteous over much" (Ecc. 7:16) but proceeds from the throne of God via the second commandment, and in the form of the regulative principle is the historic testimony of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.
Biblical praise is designed to glorify God and edify man. It is not a vehicle for the display of self. The Psalter's sobering themes of human wickedness and divine judgment, though not popular, must confront this rebellious generation.
The man of God in his work must follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who in His ministry was "a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth"(Isa. 41:15). The farmer of biblical times gained his crop only with great effort and diligence. A heavy wooden sledge fitted with sharp, cutting, spikes was used to separate the precious wheat from the chaff. With the mighty weapon of faithful preaching ministers must plough men's hearts and sow the seed of the gospel, keeping back nothing that is profitable. Only then may they thresh in real hope of harvest.