The Whole Bible… in a Nutshell

4 05 2009

[Excerpted from The Art of Prophesying, by William Perkins]

perkins01The sum and substance of the message of the Bible can be summarized in an argument (or syllogism) such as this:

Major Premise:  The true Messiah shall be both God and man, from the seed of David. He shall be born of his heavenly Father’s bosom. He shall satisfy the law. He shall offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the faithful. He shall conquer death by dying and rising again. He shall ascend into heaven. In due time he shall return for judgment.

Minor Premise: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, meets all of these requirements.

Conclusion: Therefore Jesus is the true Messiah.

In this syllogism the major premise is the scope or principal burden of the writings of all the prophets. The minor premise is contained in the writings of the evangelists and apostles.

The death blow to atheistic evolution

27 04 2009


stag1At the conclusion of his masterful refutation of the evolutionary theory of atheistic materialism in The Sensualistic Philosophy, eighteenth century theologian R. L. Dabney sets forth this final argument:

“There is an argument, ad hominem, by which this discussion might, with strict justice, be closed. If materialism is true, then the pretended philosopher who teaches it is a beast, and we are all beasts. Brutes are not amenable to moral law; and if they were, it is no murder to kill a beast. But brutes act very consistently upon certain instincts of self-preservation. Even: they learn something from experience. But this teaches us that the propagator of these atheistic ideas is preparing intolerable mischief; for, just so far as they have prevailed, they have let loose a flood of misery upon mankind. Now, then, these teachers are venemous. The consistent thing for the rest of us animals, who are not serpents or beasts of prey, is to kill them as soon as they show their heads; just as whenever the stags see a rattlesnake, they cut him in pieces with the lightening thrusts of their keen hoofs. Why is not this conclusion perfectly just? The only logic which restrains it is, that Christianity, which says that we shall not shed man’s blood, ‘because in the image of God made He man;’ but which these men flout. The only reason we do not justly treat atheists thus is, that we are not, like them, atheists.”

Taking Our Medicine

11 02 2009

stimI ran across another fantastic piece on Voddie Baucham’s blog site. It’s not bound to be popular reading, because it deals with the cold, hard truth of the economic times we’re facing as a nation. But our problem runs far deeper than economics – ours is a spiritual crisis. We are a people who have become bent upon pursuing self-interest, comfort, pleasure and ease at the expense of godliness, wisdom, charity and accountability. The hallmark of our age is wreckless irresponsibility coupled with an absolute denial that our actions have consequences.

Yet, consequences, while they may be pushed back for a time, will inevitably come. God is not mocked. There ultimately comes a point where our efforts to deflect or postpone the consequences of our actions only exacerbate them and intensify our problems. Sometimes, the best and only thing that you can do is submit to the consequences of your actions, humble yourself, hold your nose, and take your medicine.

This is the backdrop for Voddie’s piece highlighting the sound wisdom of economic advisor Peter Schiff, who’s predictions about market trends in 2006 and 2007 won him the ridicule of his peers, but who is suddenly sounding very prophetic. Mr. Schiff speaks to the proposed “stimulus package” as a “depressant,” which it surely will be if our nation and its leaders continue to press on in the false hope that ignoring the consequences of our wreckless and selfish behavior, and wishing it away with more wreckless and selfish behavior, is the answer to the crisis we face.

Click here to check out Voddie’s excellent blog…

What is real?

9 12 2008

Here’s a great quote from Puritan preacher Thomas Watson:t_watson

“When a Christian loses those comforts he cannot keep, he keeps those treasures which he cannot lose… He who has spiritual things inherits substance. If you speak of true wisdom, it is to know God; if of true honor, it is to be born of God; if of true beauty, it is to have the image of God; if of true riches, it is to be rich in faith; if of true victory, it is to overcome the world; if of true delight, it is to have joy in the Holy Ghost; if of true happiness, it is to see God. Here is substance. This is that which will fill the soul eternally with wonder and delight…

The earth is the basest element; men tread upon it, yet they make that their god which they tread upon every day. Alas, how poor are these earthly things that men so throw away their hearts on! What are silks but the excrements of worms? What is a pearl but the disease of the fish? What is gold but the dregs of the earth? These things a man may have and go to hell. A pack horse carries gold and silver all day, and at night lies in the stable with a lame back. So a man may be laden with worldly riches and, afterwards, lie down in hell with a lame conscience.”

What Fellowship Hath Christ With Belial?

6 12 2008
An examination of the religious celebration of Christmas in light of the Scriptural duty of separation and the Regulative Principle of worship
by Douglas W. Comin


The following discourse was presented as a sermon to the congregation of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, PA on December 22, 1991. It was not an easy message to preach. It is never easy to re-examine practices and patterns of thinking that have been presumed and taken for granted for a lifetime. It is especially difficult when these practices are associated with intense emotional feelings and are bound up with deep-rooted family traditions. Such is the case with the subject of Christmas. To even call into question the annual celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ is inconceivable for most modern Christians. That anyone would even suggest that Christmas and its festivities have no warrant in the Word of God and should therefore be dismissed from the practice of God’s people seems the height of foolishness to our generation. The question which must be asked is, “Why?”

If the celebration we all know as Christmas is to be zealously upheld by the Christian Church, what is the reason? Do the Scriptures prescribe this annual Holy Day? Did Jesus Himself institute a yearly commemoration of the day of His birth to be kept by His disciples to the end of the age? Do the Scriptures even provide us with the date of our Saviour’s birth?

All practices and patterns of thinking must be subjected to the scrutiny of the Word of God. If we are unwilling to lay our personal views on the table beside an open Bible, then we are indicating more than we may think about our openess to conform our lives to the teaching of Scripture. This sermon seeks to examine one of our most cherished traditions by the light of God’s Word. The question of the propriety or impropriety of any practice must always be decided on that basis alone, and never on the basis of subjective emotion. Emotion has often led well meaning people down the wrong road. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. May God grant us the courage and character always to be willing to submit our personal viewpoints, on every matter of faith and life, to the scrutiny of His unerring Word.


This is one of the most difficult sermons that I will have preached in my career, short as it is, as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I feel the need to preface it by explaining that to you, because it is the result of some intense personal study – a study that has affected my life in a particular way, as you will see. And it has caused me to come to a conclusion that is not a popular conclusion among the majority of Christians today. And so I don’t imagine that I will be particularly popular after the preaching of this message. After all, the disparagement of such a precious tradition as Christmas is interpreted in our modern world as in poor taste, at the very least, and downright anti-Christian at the most. This would not have been the case 100 years ago, but things have changed.

In actuality, I wrestled long and hard with this topic before deciding to preach it to you today. And in the final analysis, my conscience would simply not allow me to avoid it. The Scriptures and the historical material are just too clear, and the willful blindness of much of the church is too painfully evident, as it was painfully evident in my own life and mind. And all the while, the holiness of Jesus Christ is being profaned. I believe this with all of my heart. I’ve been guilty of it myself, and it grieves me deeply. But I’m thankful to God that in His mercy He has redirected my thoughts to the standard of His Word which alone is the guide for all of our faith and practice. And I must share with you what I have seen there in regard to the current practice of many Christians, who in most cases have simply never bothered to ask the necessary questions.

I take some solace in the fact that these views which I will espouse have been held by such well respected men of God as the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who began a sermon on December 24, 1871 with the following words:

We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas. First, because we do not believe in the Mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung, in Latin or in English. And secondly because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour. And consequently, its observance is a superstition because not of Divine authority.

I take greater solace from the fact that these things are rooted and grounded in the very Word of God, which is always the guiding light for the path of the Believer.

If God’s Word can be shown to refute the contents of this message, then I will gladly and obediently retract every phrase. But if, by God’s standard, the message stands, then we are all bound to respond to it in humility of heart and consistency of behavior, lest we be guilty of the sin of being found hearers only of the Word and not doers. Therefore, I would humbly request that you give careful consideration to the contents of this sermon, as you would any other, and imitate the character of the noble Bereans, examining the Word of God to see if these things be true.

The Wonder of the Incarnation

Before proceeding into the negative aspect of this discussion it is necessary to affirm with the utmost fervency that the rejection of the observance of Christmas as a holiday is in no way a denial of the excellency of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is often implied, if not actually stated – that to deny this human innovation is to reject the wonder of the virgin birth of Christ in a stable in Bethlehem so many years ago. It would be equivalent to say that since Reformed Presbyterians do not allow the use of instrumental music in worship, that we therefore reject the beauty of all instrumental music, from Bach to Wagner. This is simply not the case, and it is also bad logic. The wonder of the Incarnation stands forever, regardless of whether or not Believers celebrate an unsanctioned holy day. The charge of denying the excellency of the Incarnation assumes that the observance of this holy day is instituted by God, for that is the only way that the ignoring of it could be an affront to the Incarnation. But where in the Bible is such an institution? Indeed, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is a wonderful thing. And we affirm most heartily the wonder of the Incarnation.

In the Incarnation we see, first of all, that we have a God who is capable of self-sacrifice for us. Philippians 2:6 describes Him who “being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” Isaiah 53:3 tells us that “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with suffering.” And, of course, the Gospel accounts reveal to us the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Savior of the world, surrounded by scandal and poverty, and the filth of a stable. All this the majestic and holy, unblemished Lamb of God was willing to take upon Himself, for the sake of helpless, lost sinners like you and me.

Secondly, in the Incarnation we see that Christ has set for us a model of humility. The description of His humiliation in Philippians 2, of course, begins with the controlling phrase, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” In a world in which everyone is clawing their way to the top, striving to gain prominence in the eyes of men, treading thoughtlessly over the weak and the oppressed, looking out for number one – Jesus, who could be exalted no higher than equality with God, willingly gave up His rightful place and took the place of a servant. Men cry out for personal success shouting “I have a right! I want what is mine!” And over the clamor of their selfish chorus is heard the cry of a tiny baby – the cry of the One who alone possesses any truly inalienable rights, but who counted His personal rights as nothing in the face of the desperate need of others.

In the wonder of the Incarnation we see, thirdly, that the depth of our self-sacrifice is to be no less than His. What was the extent of the love that Jesus exhibited for us? Did it involve only momentary discomfort, or light affliction? Was it only the enduring of ridicule and poverty? Again, Philippians is our guide: “And being found in appearance as a man He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” In Romans, Paul says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The extent of that example is emphasized in 1 John 3:16 where we read, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our life for our brothers.” Paul goes a step further in his love for his fellow Jews when he says in Romans 9:1-3, “I speak the truth in Christ, I am not lying. My conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit. I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, for I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.” In humility of mind, then, following the example of the incarnate Son of God, consider others better than yourself.

Fourthly, because of the Incarnation, He can sympathize with our weakness. This is the burden of the author of Hebrews, who tells us that because of the Incarnation of Christ – His being born as a man – we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. He then admonishes and encourages us to approach the throne of grace with confidence, that we may find mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. This sympathy of the Savior would not have been available to us apart from the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only in sharing our human nature was Jesus enabled to be this kind of a compassionate High Priest.

Fifthly, because of the Incarnation, we have the most precious gift of all. Certainly apart from the glorious fact of the Incarnation there would be no sacrifice for sins. We would still be eternally lost. He had to be made like us in order for the just penalty of the Law to be transferred to Him. Paul says that God made up in the person of Christ for what the Law was powerless to do. He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful men to be a sin offering and so He condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fully met in us. In other words, He who know no sin was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The Incarnation – the physical birth of Christ in human form – was necessary for this exchange.

All of this and much more can be said of the wonder of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The virgin birth is one of the magnificent pillars of our faith. The fact of the birth of Jesus ought to often be the subject of our preaching and our meditation and our discussion one with another. The example of His incarnation ought to be a conscious guide for our daily life and practice. We are far from disparaging the birth of our Savior.

The Blunder of the Church

But the wonder of the Incarnation has little to do with the blunder of the Church in having introduced a superstition into the practice of its members which Jesus Himself never ordained, nor did His Apostles promote or practice it. This, friends, is the fundamental question that must govern all of our practices. To the Law and to the Testimony! If they speak not according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

Let us be clear about our goal. It is my strong personal conviction, based upon the Word of God, that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation of men which has been instituted in the Church and is therefore contrary to God’s revealed will. And despite our intellectual efforts, we cannot relegate Christmas to the realm of personal or family tradition, for it has been instituted in history by the Church and as such it must be confronted. Before turning to the Scriptural material, it is appropriate to look at the historical considerations concerning this celebration, which in and of themselves are fairly breathtaking. And it seems to me that part of the difficulties that we face in the Church are the direct result of a lack, on our part, of looking back at the history of God’s dealings among His people. It is common to the generations of men to see their contemporary situation as the norm and to assume that what they have always known is right and good, or else they would not have known it.

Within the first generation of Israelites in the Promised Land following the death of Joshua the people, as a whole, had simply forgotten about the God of their fathers, who had delivered them from the hand of their oppressors by signs and wonders so dramatic that it’s difficult for us to comprehend their amnesia. Part of it was the fault of their fathers who neglected to pass down this knowledge to their children as they were commanded. Part of it was the fault of that generation which became so caught up in their own affairs that they didn’t have time to look back on the past. They were soon judged for forgetting their God. Let us not fall into their folly by assuming that our current practice is normative simply because we have known no other alternative. Our fathers did, as the historical record clearly shows.


The Testimony of the Word of God

 The first historical consideration in this topic is the Word of God itself. When we look there for a reference for the celebration of Christmas, we find that the Word of God nowhere commands it. Jesus did not admonish His Church to institute any feasts or holy days apart from the Sabbath. The holy days of the Old Testament people of God were typical in nature. They looked forward to Christ. They were fulfilled in Christ. And they were abolished and put to rest. Jesus did institute an ordinance for His Church to observe in remembrance of Him, but it was not Christmas – it was the Lord’s Supper.

The Testimony of the Early Church

What about the practice of the early church, then? Did the Apostles or their disciples over the next several hundred years begin the celebration of Christmas? A study of the early church reveals that these also did not observe it. Historical evidence supports the conclusion that the observance of Christmas was not practiced in the church at all until sometime during the fourth century. That’s four hundred years. Origen, who is a highly respected, though sometimes theologically strange authority, who lived in the third century of the church’s history, provided at that time a list of commonly observed festivals of his day and Christmas did not appear in that list. It was unknown to the early church. There were, however, various pagan celebrations which correspond seasonally to the current observance of Christmas. The winter solstice – the time of year in which the sun changes its course and begins to lengthen the day was a festive time for the pagan world. The Sun-god of Scandinavia was worshipped during this time in the feast of Yule, from which we derive our word “Yule-tide.”Here the imagery of trees was very prominent as with many cults. The god Saturn was worshipped in Rome during this time in the feast of Saturnalia. Listen to this description of the influence of paganism in the practice of the early church, offered by Joseph Duggan. He says,


One of the most prominent and popular of the pagan ceremonies was the Saturnalia running from the 17th to the 24th of December, followed by the Brumalia on the next day. It was a time of great celebration, merry-making and the giving of gifts. All this was to celebrate the victory of the unconquerable sun-god over darkness at the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point and the days begin to lengthen. It was one thing for the church, now popular and dominant in Rome to persuade the people to give an outward profession of her religion. But to persuade them to surrender age-old practices was another matter. The most expedient thing to do was to let the people keep their old pagan festivals while recasting them in an outwardly Christian form.

And so the imagery of Saturnalia was changed from the worship of the sun-god to the worship of the Son of God. The similarities were accentuated. The sun-god had been likened to a small child… perfect. The sun-god has been regarded as unconquerable… Gift giving was retained, but the gifts were now given in the name of Christ. All of this seemed harmless enough to the Roman Church. In fact, they were operating under what could be conceived of as a commendable motive: bringing the un-saved into the church. But the end does not justify the means, especially if the means are clearly condemned by the Word of God. In the end, principle had been compromised for the sake of expediency, and this is always a dangerous course.

The Testimony of the Reformation

As we move along through the history of the church, we come to the time of the great Reformation in Europe. We find there, concerning the celebration of Christmas, that the Reformers rejected it. There are some hints in the writings of John Calvin which indicate his opposition to the observance of all festivals with the exception of the Lord’s Day, which God had ordained. The chief opponent of these man-ordained holidays was the mighty spokesman of the Scottish Reformation, to whom we owe our very existence, humanly speaking, as a church. I am referring, of course, to John Knox. Knox from the very beginning placed a self-conscious focus upon the subject of true worship in his work for reformation. He held steadfastly to the principle which we also hold, that true worship must be instituted by God. Here is an excerpt from one of Knox’s debates with a representative of the Roman church:

That God’s Word damns your ceremonies it is evident for the plain and straight commandment of God is, “Not that thing which appears good in thine eyes shalt thou do to the Lord thy God, but what the Lord thy God has commanded thee, that do thou. Add nothing to it. Diminish nothing from it. Now, unless that ye are able to prove that God has commanded your ceremonies, this, His former commandment will damn both you and them.

The first Book of Discipline in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, which was drawn up in 1560 by Knox and several other leaders in the Church of Scotland clearly expelled the observance of ecclesiastical holidays from the Reformed Church. Part of its opening section refers specifically to the observance of Christmas as something which is not to be practiced in the church. The Reformation was a cleansing of the church from all of the pagan corruptions which had been permitted, or deliberately incorporated into the worship of the church by the hierarchy of Rome. Will we now reject the benefits won for us through the blood and toil of the martyrs of the Reformation, as though their efforts were really unnecessary? Will we return to the errors from which they sought to free us?

The Testimony of the Westminster Assembly

Following the Reformation, the church continued to grow and prosper in the grace of God. Many outstanding contributions were made for the clarity of the church’s doctrine and the definition of the Bible’s teachings concerning God and man. One of the products of this was the work of the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the mid 17th century. The document that they together contrived was a summary of the teaching of the Bible – a creedal statement for the church of Christ. It has been adopted by many Reformed denominations, including our own, as a subordinate standard – a faithful summary of the teachings of the Word of God. What was the position of the Westminster Divines concerning the celebration of Christmas? The Westminster Divines did not allow it. In the Confession of Faith itself, which we have been studying in our evening worship, the Regulative Principle of worship is clearly set forth in chapter 20, section 1. It says that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”The same position was confirmed in the Larger Catechism, which says that Scripture forbids any religious worship not instituted by God Himself and corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever. The authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith also drew up a document called The Directory for the Publick Worship of God and The Directory for Family Worship. And in the section titled, “Touching days and places for public worship”we find the following statements:

There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the Gospel but the Lord’s Day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called holy days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.

Those of us who subscribe to the Westminster standards as a faithful summary of the teaching of God’s Word ought not to take such statements lightly.

The Testimony of the English Puritans

Among those who were influenced by the work of the Westminster Assembly were the English Puritans, who later became among the first settlers in America. These people were staunch Calvinists. They ordered their whole lives in self-conscious obedience to the Scriptures, making every effort to live consistently with their convictions. They were not always successful, as none of us are, but they were more consistent than most in many areas. A study of the history of early America reveals to us that Christmas had no place among the Puritans. To the pilgrim settlers December 25th was just another day. Consider the following extract from the reflections of William Bradford concerning a mild conflict in 1621:

On the day called “Christmas Day” the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most part of this new company excused themselves and said that it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience he would spare them till they were better informed. So he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, they found them in the street at play openly, some pitching the bar and some at stool ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their implements and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it a matter of devotion, let them keep to their houses. But there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets, since which time nothing has been attempted that way, at least openly.

The assumption of Bradford and the Governor and the rest of the Puritans was that those who clung to such celebrations would forsake them when they were “better informed.” When the Governor saw that the man-ordained festival of these individuals was being used as an excuse to evade the God-ordained duty of productive labor for the sake of revelry, the God-ordained activity took prevalence.

The Testimony of Modern Church History

The history of our own nation since the time of its first Puritan settlers has unfortunately been marked by a steady departure from self-conscious obedience to the Word of God in the public sector. And most of the churches have followed the public trend. So in many ways it’s not surprising to find such things as the celebration of Christmas and other man-made holy days, which were firmly resisted by our Reformed ancestors on the authority of the Scriptures themselves, finding wide acceptance in the church today. What is surprising, however, is the late date at which these things began to be widely accepted. The acceptance of Christmas into the mainstream practice of Protestant churches is a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, a study of the history of the church shows that up until the turn of this century, even the Presbyterian Church in the United States, commonly known as the most liberal of the mainline denominations, resisted it. One Presbyterian Church Historian documents the fact that December 25th was not recognized as a day of any religious significance in the Presbyterian Church for a full generation after the Civil War. He quotes from a periodical, The Southern Presbyterian, an article written on December 22, 1870 which said, “if the exact date were known, or if someday December 25th had been agreed upon by common consent in the absence of certain knowledge, we would still object to the observance of Christmas as a holy day. We object for many reasons, but at present mention only this one: that experience has shown that the institution of holy days by human authority, however pure the intention, has invariably led to the disregard of the Holy Day, the Sabbath, instituted by God.”

Even as late as 1899, the General Assembly of the PCUS was steadfastly opposed to the observance of these man-made holidays in the practice of the church. Their Church Government had a section which read, “There is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, rather the contrary. And such observance is contrary to the principle of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So you see it has been within our own century that this custom has been widely accepted, and has become ingrained in the thought and practice of Christians in virtually every denomination. So thorough has this infiltration been that today it is considered blasphemous to even call the practice into question. But this was not the case one hundred years ago.

We’ve become like our ancient counterparts in the book of Judges, who within a generation after the death of Joshua simply forgot about the teachings of the Lord their God and turned to the practices of the pagan inhabitants of the land. We must not allow ourselves to blindly pursue current practices of our day without a careful examination of the teaching of the Bible and the practice of our forerunners in the faith. We do not live in a vacuum.


Most of the theological considerations have been alluded to already, in our historical discussion. Our ultimate guide for what we do must always be God’s Word.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

The first theological consideration in this discussion is the Regulative Principle of Worship. This is the guiding principle behind the practice of our denomination in matters of worship. Our worship is limited by what God has commanded. One of the clearest Biblical statements of this is in Deuteronomy 12:29-32:Deuteronomy 12:29-32

The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do the nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. Because in worshipping their gods they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. See that you do all that I have commanded you. Do not add to it, or take away from it.

The practices of the pagans are not to be incorporated into the worship of the people of God.

The Duty of Radical Separation

Secondly, what is the proper response to paganism? The operating principle of the Roman church in the fourth century was that the worship practices of the heathen could be sanctified in the name of Christ and blended with the worship of the Church. This is always the downfall of the people of God. No period in Israel’s history is more illustrative of this than the time of the Judges. Despite God’s specific warning in Deuteronomy, we find in Judges 2:10,11that “After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up who neither knew the Lord, nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord and worshipped the various gods of the nations around them.”Judges 2:10,11

Each succeeding section of the book of Judges begins with the same preface: “Then the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord and the anger of the Lord burned against them.” This evil that they did was the blending of pagan worship with the true worship of the Lord God. In each case, when God brought deliverance, there was a purification of worship. They were not to purify the practices of the pagans by consecrating them to the Lord. They were to completely destroy any remnants of pagan worship from their midst and return to the pure worship which had been commanded by God.

So Gideon in chapter 6 received a divine commission: “Take the second bull from your father’s herd – the one seven years old – tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole which you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” The altar to Baal was to be completely destroyed, and the wood from the Asherah pole consumed in the fire before the Lord. God was demonstrating His utter displacement of pagan worship from the midst of His people.

Sometime, re-read the book of 2 Kings. One by one you’ll notice that the wicked kings of Israel are described by God according to this standard, word for word: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, which he caused Israel to commit.” Who was Jeroboam, and what was his sin? He was the wicked son of Nebat, who became the first king of the northern kingdom following the division of the people. And 1 Kings chapter 12 describes his great sin:

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord Rehoboam, king to Judah and they will kill me and return to king Rehoboam.” After seeking advice the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan, and this thing became a sin. The people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. And Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even thought they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the 15th day of the 8th month like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the 15th day of the 8th month – a month of his own choosing – he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

From that day forward the kings of the land were judged by the Lord according to whether they followed after the practices of Jeroboam in combining pagan worship with the worship of Israel, or whether they turned away from it.

One such king, who did turn away from these things was Hezekiah. And in 2 Kings 18 we read of him that “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him. He kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.”

The similarities cannot be ignored. The worship of the gods of Canaan was not vastly different from the worship of the sun-god of Rome. Idolatry is idolatry, any way you slice it. And the combination of pagan elements of worship with the practice of the children of God continues to be a sinful abomination in the eyes of a Holy God. The elements of idolatry cannot be sanctified and incorporated into the Christian life. They defile pure worship. They pollute and corrupt. They always seem to be harmless enough to those who practice them, but they are not harmless if they are contrary to the directive of God. The Church is commanded, and has always been commanded, to purge itself of any traces of paganism.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and unrighteousness have in common? For what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a Believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you.

The standard is complete separation, not compromise.

The Influence of Roman Catholicism

A third consideration is the direct influence of Roman Catholicism. We are a Church with roots in the Reformation. The incorporation of holy days into the practice of the church in general was an innovation of the Roman Catholic Church. Even the name of the holiday in question, “Christ-mas,”is formed from the Roman Catholic terminology “Christ”and “mass”. The Reformers exposed the idolatry of the mass, along with the many errors of the Roman Church including the celebration of man-ordained holy days. We must not fall back into those errors. The basic error of Rome was the exaltation of the authority of the Church to an equal, if not greater, position than the word of God. It was this error which enabled them to introduce these extra-biblical holy days so easily into the practice of the church. But our heritage as a Reformed Church rests on the sole authority of God’s Word. “Sola Scriptura”was the cry of the Reformers. God’s Word alone is the standard of our faith and practice.

The Undermining of the Christian Sabbath

Fourthly, there is the undermining of the Sabbath of Christ. Some will certainly offer the complaint, “Are we saying that the Christian life is to be totally void of celebration? Take away the holidays and you take all of the fun out of our faith.”But this is far from the case. In fact, the basis of such a complaint is a misunderstanding of the holy day that God has given to His people. God is far more generous with us than we are to ourselves. We would make one or two days of the year special days of joy and celebration, but God has given us such a day every week. Fifty-two times a year God sets aside a time for worship and joy and celebration. The problem is in our perception of the Lord’s Day, which has been divinely instituted by God as the Holy Day for God’s people. Do we see God’s Holy Day as a bore and a drudgery, while those of our own invention are filled with joy and festivity? If we do, then we celebrate the Lord’s Day amiss.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, offers this promise to His people: “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day. If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s Day honorable. And if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” Calling the Sabbath a delight is what we are called to do.

The Pharisees had a faulty view of the Sabbath. They were rebuked by Jesus for worshipping according to the traditions of men rather than the commandments of God. They saw the Sabbath as a drudgery, and a day of rigorous anti-activity. And so they added to the commands of God a list of their own devising of things not to be done on the Lord’s Day. They indicated by this their basic perception of the Sabbath as a punishment rather than a blessing. Jesus reminded them that God created the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath.

God has given His people a day of great joy and celebration in the worship of His holy name. We need not invent our own imitations as though God’s gift is not sufficient. The addition of man-made holy days implies the deficiency of God’s own holy day. If we’re not fully satisfied in the Lord’s Day, then we ought to spend ourselves in learning to observe it correctly – to call the Sabbath a delight – rather than forsaking it in favor of our own celebrations.

A False Sacrament?

The fifth consideration is the adding of a false sacrament. The celebration of Christmas, in the context of the Christian Church, is an imitation of the Old Testament feasts and festivals. These Old Testament feasts were designed to point forward to Christ, they were typical. They were shadows of what was to come. They were fulfilled completely in Jesus and their observance was discontinued in the New Testament Church, with the exception of the sacraments which were instituted by Christ Himself, for the perpetual observance of His people, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Many defend Christmas observance by saying, “We’re only remembering the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. What harm can there be in that?”The fact of the matter is that Jesus has already given a memorial of His life and of His death and of His resurrection. He could have chosen to institute an annual birthday celebration for the Church, but He didn’t. Instead, He broke bread with His disciples and passed around the cup and said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”In the light of this, the edition of another memorial by the church constitutes a false sacrament. What Jesus has given is sufficient. Who will presume to add to it?

The Inconsistency of Christmas with Christ’s Humility

The sixth theological consideration is the contradiction of the humility of Jesus. Jesus was a simple man. He was born in a stable. He had no form or comeliness that we should be drawn to Him. He was not boisterous or flamboyant. But is the current observance of Christmas, which is supposedly done in His honor, really consistent with His own character of humility? Is Jesus pleased and honored by flashing lights and brightly colored wrapping paper? He was a model for us of humility.

I think further that it is quite significant that the single most exalted holiday in the practice of Satanism is one’s own birthday, not Halloween, as many people would think. This fits in perfectly with the self-exalting nature of the followers of Satan. It is the foundation of humanism. And in contrast to this, Jesus identified a symbol for His people – He gave them a holy day to keep from generation to generation – and the symbol which He instituted for His church was not the remembrance of His birth, though His birth more than any other is worthy of honor. It was the remembrance of His self-sacrificial death signified by the bread and wine of Communion. Jesus, to the end, was a man of deep humility.

The Promotion of Anti-Christian Values

Seventh, we must consider the promotion of anti-Christian values. The final consideration is one of practice. The observance of Christmas, even if originally implemented as a solemn and religious occasion, has degenerated into a pretense for all manner of anti-Christian attitudes and activities. Among them we might include: gluttony, drunkenness, greed, envy, covetousness, materialism, blasphemy, and assorted other vices. The Red Cross called me yesterday because there is desperate need of blood since the incidence of auto accidents rises so dramatically during this “sacred”time of year. So we might add murder and violence to the list. Go into a shopping mall and begin to ask people this question: “What is the real meaning of Christmas?”Very few will still remember.


The real meaning of Christmas is compromise – a sinful fusion between the worship of the true God and the worship of the pagan world that was instituted by a church which was not prepared to cast down the idols of the nations and burn the Asherah poles – or Yule logs – and enforce the pure worship of the God of the Bible. We must not join with them. We must not follow in the ways of Jeroboam, son of Nebat. We must not be yoked together with unbelievers. Let us reclaim instead the glory and delight of the Lord’s Holy Day and learn to call the Sabbath a delight. Let us rejoice together in the precious sacrament which Jesus has given to His Church as a celebration of His life, death, and resurrection. And in doing these things we are promised a blessing from God:

Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you and you will be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

A post-election reminder: King Jesus still reigns

5 11 2008

Daniel 2:20-21

“Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings.”


Isaiah 40:15-17

“Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.”


Proverbs 8:14-16

“Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.”

Redistribution – par for the course

4 11 2008



There will be MAJOR rule changes to the game of golf which may occur some time after November 4.


This is only a preview as the complete rule book is being rewritten now.


Here are a couple of basic changes.


‰Golfers with handicaps below 10 will have their green fees increase by 35%


‰Golfers with handicaps between 11 and 18 will see no increase in green fees

‰Golfers with handicaps above 18 will play for free and even get a check from the club/course played


The $ amount put in for bets will be as follows:


‰for handicaps below 10 an additional $10


‰between 11 and 18 no additional amount


‰above 18 you will receive the total amount in the pot and you do not even have to play.


The term “gimme putt” will be changed to “entitlement” and will be used as follows:


‰handicaps below 10, no entitlements


‰handicaps above 11 to 17, entitlements for putter length putts


‰handicaps above 18, if on green, no need to ever putt, just pick it up


These entitlements are intended to bring about fairness in scoring so that the final scores of all players will be about the same.


In addition, a Player will be limited to a max of one birdie and/or six pars, any excess must be given to those fellow players who have not yet scored a birdie or par. Only after all players have received a birdie or par from the player making the birdie or par, can that Player begin to count his score again.


The current USGA handicap system will be used for the above purposes but the term “net score” will be available only for scoring those players with handicaps 18 and above.  This is intended to “redistribute” the success of winning by making sure that in every competition the above 18 handicap players will post only “net score” against every other player’s gross score.


These new Rules are intended to CHANGE the game of golf. Golf must be about Fairness Only, it should have nothing to do with Ability.


Are the Vandals at the gate?

31 10 2008

[The following thought-provoking essay was written by a friend of mine, whose grasp of both doctrine and history always make me sit up and pay attention when he offers a viewpoint. Here are his thoughts on the upcoming election and his reasons for casting his vote for John McCain. As always, your thoughts and feedback are welcome.]


…The new dark age may already be upon us.   As an amateur historian, I am often impressed by observing that cultures and civilizations often meet their demise suddenly and (to them at least) unexpectedly.  Alexander and fall of Darius’ great Persian empire, Attila and his sweeties (Huns), the Vandals before the gates of Hippo (quick Augustine write a book explaining all this), the Byzantines and the Arab Muslim invasion (conquering from Iran to Spain in a century), Lindisfarne and the Vikings (it helps to have some berserkers),  the Mongols and the Khwaresmian Empire (just look it up – I like the part where the Mongols drank the blood of their horses from their flanks), Montezuma (a lot of good your revenge did you) and Cortez,  Hitler and his 1000 year Reich, Bill Maz (using hidden vigorish, not to mention the green weenie) and the 1960’s Yankees — are a few of the many examples in history when the world suddenly changes.  And the nice life of the losers ends.


Americans always presume that their comfortable lives will continue as things have for years.   History (and Scripture) teaches otherwise.  With the ascension of Obama, Pelosi and Reid’s supermajority will all that change?   With the most radical Socialist government since 1932, will we descend into a new dark age?  Will our speech be silenced?   Will preaching the Gospel be a hate crime as it is in Canada?  Will our guns be confiscated?   Will our children be required to go to government schools for indoctrination?  Will all the evils of paganism be forced upon us?  Will the economy crash?  Will we experience what Augustine and the monks of Lindisfarne experienced, the loss of civilization itself?


Is America doomed?  Europe is already doomed — with Europe’s welfare states dying both economically and demographically (quick, name the most common boy’s name in Belgium?  In Amsterdam?  In Malmo Sweden?  What is the fifth most popular name in the United Kingdom?  If you said Mohammad, give yourself a free beer!).  Europe, with a birth rate of 1.4 or less, is losing population.  It is tough to support the welfare system without kids!  European Muslims, with a birth rate of 3.5, are doubling in population.   Soon, Shria law will rule in Europe and America will stand alone.  And stand alone with what?  Obama?!   Am I wrong?   Well, check back with me at the end of Obama’s presidency in 8 years – if I don’t have a more bushy beard and 3 more wives, then I was wrong.


OK, so maybe I am over reacting.  Maybe things won’t be so bad.  Maybe only a few more thousands of babies a year will be aborted than under Bush (and what’s a couple of punctured heads to get upset about), maybe only a few more guns (like shotguns) will be outlawed.  Maybe the new Supremes will only seem to look like Janet Reno, maybe it will be good if our daughters are in the draft, maybe only normal homosexuals (like Patrick Elias) will be able to get married at Manchester RP, maybe I will like to belong to a union this time.  We can all adapt to that. 


So yep, I am voting for McCain.  I know many conservative Christians are sitting this one out with some waiting for the worst to happen so America and the Republicans can learn their lesson.  Except it took over 1000 years for western civilization to come out of the dark ages.  Augustine’s Hippo never recovered.  The problem was, Augustine’s Rome voted for Obama or stayed home or voted for the Constitution candidate (these guys felt good about themselves when the Ostrogoths wacked off their heads).


Certainly our refuge is in the Lord and His provision in Christ.  We must be like Habakkuk and live by faith (Hab 2:4) though the Chaldeans come.  But if Habakkuk had the vote, what would he have done (WWHD?)?

Decorum in the presence of the King

23 10 2008

I came across this little tract I wrote some years back to help my congregation to think through how we act when we are in God’s presence on the Lord’s Day. I hope it is helpful to you also. Let me know what ya’ll think…




Offered as a help to the congregation as they seek to serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.


By Pastor Douglas W. Comin


“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. . . Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:22-25, 28-29)


It is to be lamented that in our age the Church of God has lost much of the fear of the Lord in worship. Solemnity, reverence, awe, and humility have largely given way to familiarity, casual-ness, disorder, and even flippancy. That these ungodly qualities have not been the predominant features of the worship assemblies of our own congregation affords us matter for thankfulness to God, who has given us a measure of due reverence in His presence. Yet we must be ever diligent to heed the wise counsel of Solomon who said, “Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil” (Eccl. 5:1) In order to encourage you, therefore, in this most important matter, I offer these thoughts for your serious consideration, drawn largely from the passage appearing at the beginning of this pamphlet.


Remember that you are in the presence of MAJESTY. Most people would not dream of entering into the presence of a human dignitary, or even a pop culture icon, with the same carelessness in which they invade the courts of the living God. Let the consideration of God’s incomparable majesty result in the following practical behavior:


1. Fix your attention on Him alone, not casually conversing with those around you. There will be time enough for fellowship later, but it is insulting to God’s majesty to have His subjects chattering and whispering to one another when He has called for their attention.


2. Be on time for worship, which is a divine appointment with the King of kings. The whole service of worship, and not merely the sermon, is appointed by Him for your edification. Wandering in late or leaving early shows contempt for His glory.


3. Do not wander in and out of the service, as if you were at liberty to forsake His presence at your whim. There may be times of true necessity, but these should be rare. If you have small children, make a point of arriving early in order to see to their needs. Do all that you can to ensure that the Majestic God before whom you appear will have your undivided attention, as He deserves.


4. Show due respect before God with the posture of your body, as well as your heart. Just as the words of your mouth are the overflow of the heart, so “body language” communicates a great deal about the inward thoughts. Attentiveness, eagerness, respect, and reverence are not conveyed through slouching, yawning, or dozing.


Remember that you are before the THRONE OF GRACE. The worship of God is an unspeakably great privilege and a means of immeasurable blessing. Jesus Christ suffered and died to give you access to God’s throne of grace. He Himself presents you there before the Father and pleads for spiritual benefits on your behalf. The remembrance of this should move you to serious prayer as you enter the assembly of the saints.


1. Come with expectancy, praying in your heart that God will prepare you to enter into His presence. John Willison wrote: “The mariner who intends a voyage, not only provides for his tackling, but he is careful, before he sails, to put his ship off from the land, that he may catch the first fair wind. In like manner, Christian, if you would launch heavenwards upon a Lord’s Day, be concerned to get the vessel of your heart put off from the earth beforehand.”


2.  Seek grace through Christ to benefit from every part of the worship service. Not only the preaching, but also the prayers, psalms, Scripture readings and sacraments hold matchless bounty for your soul if only you would apply yourself to seeking them diligently.


3. As you hope to receive a blessing from the Lord in worship, determine to concentrate your full attention upon the matter. “Fix your eye on the minister, your ear on the word, and your heart on God.”


Remember that you are in the company of THE ANGELIC HOST. It is a peculiar privilege that is ours in worship, that we actually draw near to “an innumerable company of angels” and join our hearts and voices with theirs in pouring out praise to God. Respect for these heavenly beings is urged upon us in Scripture as a motive for hospitality, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2). How much more should our consciousness of their presence with us in worship incite us to take care in regard to our conduct in the heavenly tabernacle.


1. The angels are in awe of your salvation, for Peter speaks of the mystery of the Gospel as consisting in “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12). And would you be careless, as they look on, concerning the means of so great a salvation that are held before you in the ordinances of worship?


2. The angels are not distracted from the praises of God day or night, and yet they have not half the reason to rejoice in Him as we do. We are told in Hebrews 2:16, “He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.” Shall they which have never received the infinite gift of grace outdo us in fervency of praise and thankfulness to the God of our salvation?


3. The angels watch for order and proper decorum in the worship of the Church. Thus Paul, in arguing the propriety for the woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head in worship says that it is “because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10). Matthew Henry, referring this to the order that exists in the ranks of God’s hosts, says, “We should learn from all to behave in the public assemblies of divine worship so as to express a reverence for God, and a content and satisfaction with that rank in which he has placed us.”


Remember that you are in the presence of JUST MEN MADE PERFECT. In our worship assemblies we are transported in the spirit to the heavenly tabernacle, where we join in ascribing glory to God with the whole congregation of the invisible Church. By faith we acknowledge that the elect of God who have departed from this world have not passed out of existence, but into glory, and it is our great privilege to gather with them as we worship. Let this spiritual reality direct your thoughts in the assembly.


1. Heed the words of David, who is present with you: “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him” (Psalm 89:7).


2. Think of the prophets, who continually lifted up their voices to turn the people of God away from complacency and vain worship. Will you stand with them in the presence of the Lord and let your hearts wander after the worthless idols of the world?


3. As you begin to grow anxious for the conclusion of the service, consider the saints from Troas, who sat attentively listening to Paul until midnight. Or think of Amos, who chided the ungodly of his day for saying: “When will the New Moon be past that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” (Amos 8:5).


Remember that you are part of a BODY. We come to “the general assembly of the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.” One of the prevailing sins of the church of Corinth was that the people came together without regard for one another. They were individualistic in their approach to worship, just like much of the modern church. But God commands us in our assembling together to be conscious of one another’s spiritual interest. This is the rule that is to direct us when we come together as a church: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Romans 15:2).


1. Take care for the sake of your neighbor’s edification that you do not distract him in any way from his pursuit of spiritual blessing. If you or your children are disorderly in the service of worship, others will be hindered from concentrating upon the means of grace. Do not allow your little ones to wander away from you, or to fidget visibly in their seats, lest those around you be drawn away from fixing their thoughts upon the word and prayer. If they become restless, take your children quietly to the back of the meeting room, or just outside the door, and help them to compose themselves to return to the service. Make it your goal to train them to attend to the worship of God from the earliest age, for their spiritual growth cannot begin too early. Due solemnity in regular daily family worship will do much to prepare them for the corporate assembly.


2. See to it that you participate in all of the ordinances of worship, lest your neighbor be distracted by your awkward silence. John Willison offered a reproof to those “who sit dumb in the congregation, while their neighbors are praising God,” saying, “Think not this work below the greatest of you, for it is your honor. Excuse not yourselves by saying you cannot sing musically; for, if you had any delight in the duty, you would sing as you can.”



May this humble counsel serve to advance our experience of God’s presence, to the glory of Jesus Christ, before whom it is our exceeding joy to gather as a worshipping congregation.

18 steps in the progression of unbelief

14 10 2008



This blog comes from a sermon I preached awhile back on Numbers 13:1-14:4. If you haven’t read Numbers recently, I strongly recommend it. If you’re a pastor and you haven’t preached through Numbers, you really should. Numbers is the story of God’s people in the wilderness wanderings, when they were called to go up and take possession of the Land of Promise but failed because of their unbelief. The Apostle Paul tells us that the things that happened to them were recorded for our example, so that we might learn NOT to repeat their mistakes.


The big turning point comes when spies are sent into Canaan to bring back a report to Moses and the people. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, encourage the people to trust in God and claim His promise. The others are intimidated by the size and number of the enemy, and they convince the people to abandon all hope of entering Canaan. Numbers 13:1-14:4 records these sad events, and shows us how unbelief is planted, takes root, and springs up in the midst of God’s people.


Here is a step-by-step progression of unbelief that every believer should avoid…


Step 1: Hesitating in the path of obedience (Deuteronomy 1:19-21)


God gave a command to the people to go up immediately and take the land that He had promised to give them. The first step toward the ultimate apostasy of the wilderness generation was a false step… they hesitated instead of instantly heeding the command of the Lord. Stopping to consider whether or not immediate obedience to a clear command of God is necessary inevitably gives doubt a foothold. Consider the good example of Peter and Andrew recorded in Matthew 4:18-20: “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” In contrast are the hesitators, whose story is recorded in Luke 9:57-62:  “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’ And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”


Step 2: Rationalizing procrastination through “practical considerations” (Deuteronomy 19:22)


Of course, the people were ready to provide a reason for their lack of instant compliance with God’s command.  After all, God expects us to be realistic.  He doesn’t want us to take leaps of blind faith without carefully weighing all of the facts, right? Surely God would not have us go up to possess the land without doing a demographic survey first to determine what we are up against! The fact that God graciously and patiently condescended to their weakness does not make their hesitation any more defensible. The longsuffering of God is a testimony to His goodness – not a justification of man’s weakness. God also bore with the people in order to test them, and in the end their initial hesitation would prove to be the beginning of a steady slide toward hardened unbelief. We may try to rationalize procrastination in the course of obedience, but given the inclination of our hearts toward sin, it is invariably dangerous to allow “practical considerations” to exercise a controlling interest in our decisions. Besides, when did practical considerations ever dictate what God is capable of doing?  The testimony of the Scriptures is the triumph of God’s power in spite of “practical considerations.” We are able to devise all sorts of reasons to put off immediate obedience to God’s commands, but in the end they only amount to excuses for our lack of faith and trust.


Step 3: Prayerlessness


There is no proof text in the passage before us to establish that the lack of prayer was an integral part of the people’s slide into sheer unbelief. It is an argument from silence… but the silence is deafening. Nowhere in the whole course of the narrative is there the slightest indication that the spies sought the face of the Lord in prayer as they set about their mission. We may be sure that Caleb and Joshua approached their task prayerfully, but it is clear from the conclusions of the other ten that seeking the direction and wisdom of God never occurred to them. The weeds of doubt grow thickest in an atmosphere of prayerlessness.


Step 4: Elevating man’s judgment above God’s


With gracious forbearance, God agreed to the proposal of the people and commanded that twelve spies be appointed to go up into the land. In His wisdom, the Lord designed the mission in such a way that possible disputes over the results would be less likely. There was to be a representative from each tribe, in order to eliminate any charge of partiality or vested interest. Those chosen as spies were to be recognized leaders in their tribes, so that their judgment would be respected. The design of God in this arrangement was that spiritually mature and seasoned men from each tribe would act as His representatives, reporting on the circumstances and encouraging a response of faithful obedience. God did not design the spy party as a means for group deliberation over whether or not to obey His command. Sadly, fallen man has an unfortunate knack in distorting a God-centered design into a man-centered one. It is a subtle shift that transforms God-centered representation into decision by majority vote. But in the process of the shift, the judgment of man is substituted for the will of God.


Step 5: Failing to discern God’s purpose in preparing His people (Num. 13:17-20)


God graciously agreed to permit the people to send out a spy party. His design, however, was not for them to evaluate whether or not they would obey. He allowed them to see the blessings of Canaan, along with the obstacles, in order to strengthen their courage. When God allows His people to anticipate the difficulties of their appointed tasks, it is not to discourage them, but to spur them on to greater resignation to Him and deeper trust in His ability to fulfill His promises. Failure to understand God’s purpose in revealing the obstacles ahead of us is the result of focusing on ourselves and our abilities rather than on the power of God to fulfill His promises. When God charged the spies to “be of good courage,” He was not calling on them to summon up their self-esteem, but to remember as they observed the challenges ahead of them that the Lord was with them. Rather than being overwhelmed with fear that they were not up to the task, they were to be moved to humble reliance on the Lord and filled with confidence that no challenge is too great for Him.


Step 6: Going through the motions of faith (Num. 13:21-25)


The twelve spies dutifully went about their mission, examining the lay of the land and its cities, and bringing back some of its produce as they had been instructed. But their minds were really made up before they left the camp. Once they caught a glimpse of the descendants of Anak, the rest of their mission was a mere formality.


Step 7: Dwelling on Circumstances (Num. 13:26-29)


It is not surprising that the report of the spies lists the positive and negative observations they  made with regard to the land.  This is what they were told to do. What is striking is that this is ALL they reported.   There is not a single mention of God, His power or His promises in the entire report!


Step 8: Magnifying the obstacles (Num. 13:28-29)


Also notable in the report of the spies is the decided “spin” they placed on their observations. Those given to doubt will always accentuate the negative. The blessings of the land are altogether lost in the emphasis placed on the down side. Worse yet, the power of God to conquer the mightiest of enemies, which the Israelites had certainly witessed in their deliverance from Egypt, is brushed aside.


Step 9: Dismissing the exhortations of the faithful (Num. 13:30-31)


The words of Caleb break through the gloom of the spies twisted report like a bright ray of sunshine piercing through the dark clouds of despair… But his words go unheeded by the gloom-and-doomers, casually dismissed as the unrealistic and impractical observations of a dreamer.


Step 10: Categorically denying the promises of God (Num. 13:31)


The strong statement of the unfaithful spies in verse 31 is nothing more than a bold-faced denial of the sure and certain promise of God. As doubters gain the support of the people, they become more and more bold in their unbelief.


Step 11: Stirring up discontent (Num. 13:32a)


Not wishing to lose their momentum in convincing the multitude to join them in their mutiny against God, the spies laid aside all pretense of “objectivity” and gave the people a bad report. The word used here is “dibba,” which means “whispering.”


Step 12: Distorting the truth (Num. 13:32b)


As the tension builds, a blatant contradiction becomes apparent in the words of the spies. In their initial report, they had said, “We went to the land where you sent us.  It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” Now, as their personal stake in convincing the people to follow their wicked counsel escalates, they reverse their initial statement and assert: “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants.” In retrospect, their lie is transparent, for they go on to emphasize the “great stature” of the men who dwell in the land – far from being “devoured” by the land, the inhabitants seem to have been quite healthy. Notice too how it is now asserted that ALL the people of the land were of great stature! But the people, now being in a mode of complete panic, seem to have been unable or unwilling to discern the obvious inconsistency of these statements. What mattered was convincing the people that disobedience was in their best interest, and whatever lies or exaggerations were necessary to accomplish that end were fair game.


Step 13: Exalting the power of the enemy (Num. 13:33)


The next step in the progression was to focus on the apparent power and strength of the enemy. Once the power of God is factored out, and the circumstances are reduced to the appearances of the flesh, it is quite easy to become paralyzed with intimidation at the supposed advantages of the opposition. History abounds with examples of the successful employment of this strategy by the devil and his minions. In reality, the biggest giant we face is our own wicked inclination to doubt the power and goodness of God. When we see ourselves as grasshoppers in the sight of God’s enemies, it is because God is seen as less than a grasshopper in our eyes. David was certainly a “grasshopper” in the eyes of the Philistine giant, yet he boldly predicted Goliath’s defeat, announcing, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… whom you have defied!”


Step 14: Wallowing in self-pity (Num. 14:1)


Having quite convinced themselves of the hopelessness of their situation, the people resorted to their tents and further solidified their doubts by weeping and wailing in complete self-pity. They did not cry out in prayer, asking the Lord for faith and strength and wisdom. Instead, they assured themselves that all was lost, and mourned their wretched predicament. The more they cried, the more sure they became of their plight. Self pity is like that.  It only serves to strengthen doubt. Weeping is good when it is the weeping of humble conviction and repentance. That kind of weeping proceeds from a heart that is deeply troubled by the offense it has caused to God. But the weeping of self-pity proceeds from a heart that is deeply troubled by the offense that God has caused to me!  It is the weeping of sheer rebellion and selfishness, and the more it is indulged, the tighter the stranglehold of rebellion becomes. Self-pity is like an intoxicating drug.  It is addictive and captivating.  It provides a deceptive sense of relief, but it is the illusion of a depressant that produces a temporary euphoria in those who take it in large enough quantities.  It merely feeds the selfish desire for affirmation, while ultimately plunging the soul into deeper despair.


Step 15: Discrediting God’s ordained authorities (Num. 14:2a)


Having fully indulged their foolish doubts in a night of weeping, the people had to face reality in the morning. When they awoke, Moses and Aaron would be waiting.  As God’s spokesmen, their task would be to proclaim the Word of God, calling the people to forsake their sinful disobedience and take hold of the Lord’s promise by faith. There is nothing the heart bent on rebellion hates more than a faithful preacher of the Word, especially when he is specifically appointed by God as a direct authority in his life! The best weapon of self-defense against such meddlesome preachers is to discredit them in the eyes of the people. So the people began to complain against Moses and Aaron.


Step 16: Giving in to irrational despair (Num. 14:2b)


The first part of the complaint of the people recorded in Numbers 14:2 is a glowing example of the irrational nature of unbelieving despair.  The people said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in the wilderness!” This is not exactly a rational line of argumentation.  There is no reason given as to precisely how the people would be better off to have been killed by their Egyptian taskmaster, or to have dropped dead in the desert from plague or starvation. It is really pointless to inquire why death in Egypt or in the wilderness would have been better. There was no sound reasoning behind their statement.  It was the irrational expression of fear which had gripped the hearts of the multitude. At this point, they would have said anything to convince themselves that they were justified in their unbelief.  But what they did say amounted to this:  “We would be better off dead than trusting God to fulfill His promise to us!”  Truly, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  And the man who denies God in the face of opposition is a fool indeed.


Step 17: Seeking to justify disobedience (Num. 14:3a)


The next step in the progression of unbelief was to construct a rationale for the essentially irrational. Somehow, the people must convince themselves that the sinful course they desire to follow is really the way of prudence and responsibility. In his commentary on Numbers, Gordon Keddie aptly states:  “All unbelief comes down to this: a wicked and foolish decision is laundered by a show of rightness and wisdom.” And so the people come up with a justification for their cowardice. First, they imply that Moses and Aaron have obviously misinterpreted the will of God.  “Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword?”  Surely God would not do such a thing Moses!  You have clearly led us astray! Notice that by this point the people have firmly concluded that their entrance into the land of Canaan necessarily means that they will be killed.  There is not even a remote possibility in their minds that maybe… just maybe… they would prevail. Next, they concoct a high-sounding justification for their fear:  The truly responsible thing is to look out for the interests of our wives and children.  Those bent on pursuing a course of disobedience rarely come right out and admit it.  The heart is desperately wicked, and very adept at finding some plausible-sounding pretext to make foolish unbelief seem like the height of wisdom, and sheer cowardice seem noble.


Step 18: Formally rejecting God’s command (Num. 14:3b-4)


The course of self-deception being complete, it remains only for the people to formally announce their conclusion.  Having concluded that it would actually be “better” to walk in the exact opposite direction from the will of God, they said to one another:  “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” The majority voted to impeach God and His servant Moses. It wasn’t the last time that a faithful minister of God would find himself on the losing side of a vote cast by a rebellious congregation. Fear triumphed over faith in their hearts… unbelief dressed up as “practical wisdom” resulted in a formal repudiation of God’s promised inheritance. The lot was cast, and the plague of apostasy had smitten an entire generation.


The remedy is found in Psalm 27 and Romans 8:28-39