Those thinkers who are most widely regarded as the titans of classical Christian scholarship fall heavily on the Reformed side. I am persuaded, however, that this is a fact of history that dare not be ignored.
—R.C.Sproul, Chosen By God
In memory of Dr R.C. Sproul, tonight, I will listen again to Election, preached from Rom. 9 by Dr. James Montgomery Boice+ at a Ligonier conference; a message which finally shattered my resistance to Reformed theology and Calvinism. The intensity in Dr. Boice’s voice and the authority in his preaching was like a dagger driven into my heart. I will afterwards look for every message I could lay hands on preached by Dr. Boice.
One day, I was heart broken to have learnt Dr. Boice had long gone to be with the Lord. Perhaps, he would have been my favourite preacher if he were alive. Now God, through Ligonier, led by Dr. Sproul led me to the message which changed my life. Ligonier became a source of spiritual nourishment online. I subscribed to TableTalk Magazine, I registered as a student on Ligonier connect, I bought and read a number of books by Dr. Sproul (kindle editions) —What Is Reformed Theology?, Chosen By God, Everyone Is A Theologian, Essential Truths of The Christian Faith, Knowing Scripture (my favourite) and many of the free crucial question series. I also received as a gift, Reformation Study Bible from a St. Andrews Church member whose Pastor was Dr. Sproul.
Far away in Africa without the benefit of meeting Dr. Sproul or sit under his ministry in person, God’s providence made available to me through the internet Dr. Sproul’s rich, biblical expository preaching. At a point in his illness, I personally felt Dr. Sproul should stop preaching. But true to his words —“I’ll retire when they pry my cold, dead fingers off of my Bible ” — Dr. Sproul marched on with the gospel.
Dr. Sproul’s ministry has truly had profound impact in my life. Knowing Scripture, a book by Dr. Sproul opened my eyes to biblical hermeneutics. I learnt the difference between eisegesis—reading into the biblical text what’s not there—and exegesis; reading from Scripture what Scripture teaches. This man is the one who taught me —from a distance— how to properly handle Scripture. Though sad, as believers we know he has gone to be with his Saviour and Lord. He has by now heard the words ” Thou good and faithful servant.”
My prayer goes out for his family, friends, ministry partners that the Lord will comfort them. Amen.
Genesis is the first book of the Bible. It is also the book of beginnings because it tells us the origins of life and accurately explains the main problem of the world–Sin. From the first two chapters of Genesis, we are told of a Creator ―God― Who created the world and all that dwells in it (Genesis 1:1, 31, 2:26-27). After creation, God saw that everything He had created was good (Genesis 1:31).
But today, in contrast to Genesis 1:31, the world in its current state is not good. It is a world filled with pain, tragedy, wickedness, cruelty and every horror imaginable. How do we reconcile the current state of the world with God’s proclamation that “everything that he had made…was very good”. The answer is that sin entered the world. So;
What Is Sin?
Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God [a].Lev 5:17; Jas 4:17; 1 John 3:4
~Westminster Shorter Catechism Q14
In these words we see what sin is. Sin is breaking God’s law by omission or commission. In modern English, the words, “want of conformity” will read as “inability to conform to the law of God” or “failure to measure up to or obey God’s command”. In Greek, the word hamartia is used in explaining what sin is. Sin is “missing the mark” just like when an archer or bowman misses their target. And rightly so, we are all sinners because we have missed the mark of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23).
How did sin enter the perfect world God created one may ask? Again, we turn to the book of origins. In Genesis 2:16-17, we read of a commandment God gave Adam, the first created man, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “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”.
Fast forward to Genesis 3, Adam disobeyed God; he ate of the forbidden tree and by that act of disobedience, sin entered the world. Adam in the garden of Eden was acting as a federal head for all of humankind therefore his fall became the fall of all who will ever walk this earth: “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”(Romans 5:12).
Except Jesus who lived a perfect life without sin, all humankind inherited the consequences and effects of Adam’s fall; physical and spiritual death. Our nature was badly corrupted and we were alienated from God. The Psalmist said “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).
What he means here is that he was born with a sin problem. He inherited sin. We are by ourselves unable to please God: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:11-12). These words describe the helpless state of humankind without Christ. They are enemies of God, separated from Him and guilty of eternal damnation.
However God didn’t leave sinners to our fate to try to work our way to Him. God made the first move towards reconciling sinful humankind to Himself. If you read Genesis 3 again, we see that though Adam and Eve sinned, God’s mercy was manifested.
Firstly, God proclaimed what theologians refer to as protoevangelium–the first gospel. God announced His plans towards reconciliation. A curse was pronounced and a remedy for that curse was also revealed: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
The seed of the woman referred to here is Christ who the Bible speaks of by saying “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”(1John 3:8). The works of the devil is sin that separated us from God. And it is this, Jesus died to destroy. He took the punishment that belonged to sinners. He died in our place to appease for our sins and reconcile us to the Father. Our sin was imputed to Him. He became our substitutionary atonement (Isaiah 53:5-6, John 1:29).
Secondly, God covered the nakedness (guilt and shame) of Adam and Eve revealing a type of Christ’s imputed righteousness to those who will come to Faith through Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:21). Paul aptly captures this saying, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21).
Christ was murdered on the cross because of the sins of you and I. And He resurrected to give eternal life to all who will come to Him in Faith. This is the essence of what we celebrate as Easter. Christ dying for the sins of the world (John1:29). If you have not come to saving faith through Christ, you are condemned to eternal damnation and an enemy of God. One day, you will have to answer for your sins before a Holy God and nothing you will present will measure up to God’s Holy standard. Your good works outside of Christ are like filthy rags. Repent from your sins and turn to Christ for forgiveness.
It seems like yesterday when we entered the year 2016 and so soon September is here with us. That was fast.
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.¹
You made resolutions when we entered 2016,didn’t you? You may pause to ask “How well have I fared with my resolutions?”A new month presents us with an opportunity to make amends in particular areas of our lives. It was the Apostle Paul who wrote “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2Corinthians 13:5). Self-examination and evaluation is crucial in this life and the life after here. At the end of our lives this side of eternity, we will be called to account before God. Our life here therefore matters for eternity.
As we go through this new month, let us glean a few lessons from Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 which I trust will be valuable.
1. Seek God
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth…”(v.1a)
There are those who will do everything else but commit their lives to live and obey God. They don’t seek Him. Don’t be one of them. The days of your youth as used here by Solomon I believe indicates the days of strength, wellness and ability. Comfort and “good days” have the ability to blind us to spiritual realities and we must guard against this. Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
Solomon contrasts “the good days of strength (the days of your youth)” with the evil day when you have lost your strength: “…before the evil days come…” (Ecclesiastes 12:1a). There is a correlation between how we live our lives and what place God has in our lives in moments of prosperity, good health and comfort. The tendency to forget there is a creator is high. Thus, Solomon’s call to “Remember your Creator ”is appropriate as we go through the rest of the year.
2: Make Wise Use Of Time.
“…before the evil days come and the years draw near”(v.1b).
A transition from from youthful strength, opportunities and abilities will be gone one day. These won’t always be available. This obviously includes opportunity to live in submission and obedience to God. It is said that, “time waits for no man” and it is true. J. Oswald Sanders in his book, Spiritual Leadership, wrote that “Each moment of the day is a gift from God that deserves care, for by any measure, our time is short and the work is great. Minutes and hours wisely used translate into an abundant life— living a God pleasing life”. We will be held accountable for how we lived our lives and what we spent our time on.“Look carefully then”, Paul said “how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”.(Eph 5:15-16). Moses prayed: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”(Ps. 90:12KJV).
Will you make that your prayer?
3: Death, A Reality of Life
“…man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped , or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (vv.5-7)
We see death clearly spoken of here. Death is inevitable. We will all die, because “… it is appointed unto men once to die….” (Hebrews 9: 27). Death is a reality of life. Not only is death a reality, death points us to the brevity of life.“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls” (1Peter 1:24). Once we are born, we will die. Scripture tells us there is “A time to be born, and a time to die….” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). Every passing month and year brings us closer to the end of our days here on earth. We don’t get a notification when death will knock at our door. Death will not wait for you to accomplish your projects, dreams and desires. You are not too busy to die. You don’t have the luxury of postponing your death.
Have you considered the state of your soul? “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”(Hebrews 3:15).
4: Eternity–eternal life or damnation–Beckons.
“…man is going to his eternal home… and the spirit returns to God who gave it (vv5-7).
There is an eternal home for all of us. Either we will have eternal life or eternal damnation. As we begin a new month, and as you consider all that has been said in the previous points, bear in mind our life here is only temporal. Eternity awaits all of us and whether we will be in heaven or hell depends on what we do with God’s offer of eternal life. We are all sinners and until we come to faith in Christ, we are eternally separated from God. Don’t just embrace a new month, embrace also God’s gift of eternal life through faith in Christ:
For God so loved the world , that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Mourning with hope. How can mourning be hopeful? But the Bible says exactly that, believers must “sorrow not…as those which have no hope”.
…sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him (1Thessalonians 4:13-14).
Exactly a year ago, my dad, Rev. E.A. Mante died after a short illness. My dad is my hero. I learnt faith and perseverance from him as he endured through his life, a situation he himself called his cross. His dedication to the Lord’s vineyard was exceptional. There are many things to say of him, but for me personally, he believed in me and the gift of God over my life. While alive, he insisted I attend a seminary to build me up in serving the Lord well.
On the day of his burial also, I experienced something that left a lasting impression on me. While the family took turns to pay their last respect, I understood in a profound sense the scripture that says “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:4).
While I stood by my dad’s lifeless body, I was engulfed by this sense of peace which made me smile at him. Dada, as we affectionately call him was a christian who faithfully served the Lord. And that was a comfort to my heart . A comfort that gives me joy, knowing he is with the Lord.
This momentary joyful experience however didn’t take away the pain of death we experienced as a family. Death is a reality of life, as natural as birth is. Once we are born, we will die. “A time to be born, and a time to die…”(Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Now when someone dies we grieve and it is appropraite because the Bible tells us “…we should weep with them that weep”. (Rom12:12). But as we mourn our loved ones, God doesn’t leave us on our own in inconsolable sorrow.
For the believer, the Bible and our faith regulates how we must mourn the dead. From the text quoted above, we find this phrase “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope”, a phrase I believe teaches us a lot as we mourn our loved ones.
1: Sorrow With Hope
When Paul says “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope”, I believe he teaches a very crucial lesson. Our sorrow and mourning shouldn’t be characterised by despondency and hopelessness. For the believer, death is a departure from this fallen world and body into a far glorious place in eternity removed from the sorrows and pains of this world.
As painful as death is, it is also transition from this life into the presence of God. Psalms 116:15 tells us “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints”. Here is a truth so marvellous to ponder over despite the difficulty of the passing of loved ones. In death, God receives His children immediately into His presence of bliss where they will rest from their labour. Our hope is beyond this life. Even in death, we have hopes of an eternal life.
2: Sorrow Without Hope
Because Paul says “sorrow not, even as others which have no hope”, it is clear there are those who sorrow without hope. To these people, death ends it all. There is no hope for an after life. But that is not what the Bible teaches. There is life after death and the Bible’s teaching is explicit on that. For those who don’t believe in Christ, when they die, according to the Bible, they are carried to hell.
Death as stated earlier, is a reality we will all face. The death of another human being simply tells us one day we will all die. But death doesn’t end it all. Death ushers the soul into eternity, either eternal life or eternal damnation. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”(Hebrews 9:27).
These two forms of sorrow have two different implications. Those who mourn the dead with hope are those who have a hope of eternal life. However, those who think death ends it all must be ready for the reality of eternal damnation separated from God.
3: Ressurection of The Dead
In the text, Paul again teaches a very important lesson with regards to death: “The Resurrection”. He said “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him”. In these words is the gospel; the death and resurrection of Christ. If we believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, then in a similar fashion one day there will be a resurrection of all the dead. We will once again see our love ones who have died in the Lord.
Christ died for sinners and if you believe in Him, then your eternal life is guaranteed. If you don’t, the opposite is true. Your eternity separated from the glory of God is also guaranteed. Faith in Christ has a correlation to our eternal destination.
To all whose relatives have died in the Lord, if you are a believer, be encouraged. Don’t let sadness over shadow the joy that your loved one is in a better place and one day, you will be reunited.