FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 18, number 31, August 1, 2019
“And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” -Ezekiel 11:19,20
The prophet Ezekiel, while living for twenty-two years in Babylonian exile, circa 593 to 571 B.C., records six major visions, structured around three themes-judgment on Israel, chapters 1-24; judgment on the surrounding nations, chapters 25-32; and future blessings for Israel, chapters 33-48. Ezekiel 11:1 states that the Spirit lifted Ezekiel up and brought him to the east gate of Yahweh’s house where he faced twenty-five wicked men who said to Ezekiel, “Is not the time near to build houses?” In other words, times are not so bad. The desolation has passed. We are looking forward to many years of prosperity. Then these wicked men said, “This city is the pot and we are the flesh.” Commentators differ on what this means, but I suggest the people are mocking Ezekiel. Jeremiah, in a word of impending doom, earlier refers to Jerusalem as a seething pot (Jeremiah 1:13). The remaining inhabitants of Jerusalem are convinced that since they are God’s people then they will escape the doom and gloom Ezekiel has been prophesying. They believe they are as safe in Jerusalem as the meat of a peace offering in a boiling pot. The fire cannot destroy the pot nor will the Babylonians destroy the people of God. As one would be destroyed by putting his hand in a boiling cauldron, so will anyone who comes upon the people of God. They are so secure. They feel so good about themselves. All is well with their souls. The dark days are past. The prophet is telling them that judgment in coming upon them unless they repent, but they blow it off. But the city of Jerusalem would in fact soon be a boiling cauldron and they would soon be the flesh thrown into the boiling water (v.7). They would soon face exile, just as their brothers who were then residing in Babylon.
From there Ezekiel tells us that while he was prophesying one of these evil men named Pelatiah died suddenly. Even though Pelatiah was wicked, Ezekiel nonetheless laments his passing, wondering if all the people left in Jerusalem will also be destroyed. And then from verse 14 to near the end of the chapter at verse 25, Yahweh gives wonderful words of encouragement to those who were presently living in Babylonian captivity. He makes six important promises to His covenant people in exile. He says that even though He had scattered them to many countries, He nonetheless has been a sanctuary to them and this was surely to continue (v.16). A sanctuary is a refuge, a place of security in the storms of their present lives. He promises to assemble them out of the countries and once again give them the land of Israel (v.17). Ezra speaks of the fulfillment of this promise concerning their return from exile, calling it a little revival (Ezra 9:8). He then says that they will remove all the detestable and abominable things from their worship of Yahweh (v.18). This speaks of repentance. And then Yahweh promises that He will give His people a new spirit, that He will take out the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (v.19). This is a precursor to His words in Ezekiel 36:25-27 on regeneration, a doctrine Jesus and the apostles fully develop (John 3:3, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:5,6, 1 Peter 1:3,4). In verse 20 the prophet gives the consequences of a new heart, that they will walk in His statutes and keep His ordinances. This is holiness of life. They will have the capacity to be obedient followers of the true and living God. And finally, Yahweh gives a word of judgment for those who continue in rebellious and prideful unbelief. He promises to bring their conduct down on their heads (v.21).
Now, what does this all have to do with the PCA in our present unpleasantness? My friends, I am certainly not opposed to working within the confines of the Book of Church Order and the Westminster Confession of Faith in hopes of turning back the homosexual agenda which is inundating us at this present time. By all means, let us leave no stone unturned in filing complaints against Missouri Presbytery and Teaching Elder Greg Johnson and working at the Presbytery level to forbid homosexual men from being or becoming Teaching or Ruling Elders in the PCA. As I have stated, however, over the last two weeks, I fear not much will come from our efforts. I hope I am wrong but even if I am wrong and even if we stem the tide seeking to wash over us, I hope we can appreciate the observation that these efforts are merely a “finger in the dike.”
What, then, is our only hope? The passage from Ezekiel 11 just mentioned lists six facets necessary for a mighty movement of God, and this my friends is our only hope, a mighty movement of God descending upon us in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Without revival in the PCA, without revival in our nation, there is no hope at all. Without it we will continue a slide from so-called “Side B” homosexuality (homosexual but celibate) very quickly to “Side A” homosexuality (accepting pastors and laymen who are engaged in homosexual acts). To believe Side B will not rapidly move to Side A is naive.
And what does this revival, this mighty movement of God look like? First, for those of us in exile, who sense that we are and have been losing ground in maintaining Biblical standards, God promises to be a refuge for us. He is a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore we should not fear. When the whole world is crashing down upon us, He promises never to leave us nor forsake us. He is a God to us, and we are a people to Him. Secondly, there is always hope in Jesus. He can bring revival. He can restore the years the locusts have eaten. He can turn the PCA around in an instant. He can save millions of people in no time at all. He has done it many times before, He is doing it now in Iran, India, China, and many other places, and He can do it in our nation and church. Revival is reviving, or resuscitating life which already exists. Revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon an individual, a family, a small group, a church, a community, a nation. Revival always manifests itself in renewed love for Jesus, His people, and the lost. It always brings great joy and boldness in the people of God. When revival comes God’s people are focused on the glory of Christ and this is evident in their being unable to stop speaking to people of all that they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
Thirdly is repentance. I will have much more to say about repentance next week, but in a nutshell, repentance means the Spirit of God brings profound conviction of sin upon the people of God. Their view of their own sin changes dramatically. They are pierced in the heart, about even the most minor or “acceptable sins” like obsession with work, diet, or exercise. They feel the weight of their sin and if it involves someone they have wronged, they run immediately to that person to confess their sin and to make restitution. There is a profound sorrow for sin which brings about a change of life, what John the Baptist calls “bringing forth fruits in keeping with repentance,” (Matthew 3:8). Fourthly, God promises to bring regeneration, true conversion to many people. I have stated many times before that the heart of our problem in the PCA is the problem of the heart. Though we have many professing believers and though we have solid theology, we nonetheless have failed adequately to preach, “You must be born again.” The new birth, the doctrine of regeneration as it was fully expounded by the evangelists of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries(1) through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, was the catalyst which brought revival. Thousands of people, most of whom had been churchgoers, were awakened from their deathly slumber and born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).
Fifthly, true revival always brings a revival of Biblical holiness. People see their own sin as an offense against the Holy God who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Because of the new birth, they have the indwelling Spirit who gives them the desire and capacity to obey the Law of God. This, of course, is never done perfectly but over a period of time, as believers attend the ordinary means of grace in public worship (the preaching of the word of God, prayer, confession of sin, songs of praise, and the Lord’s Supper) they begin to make progress in mortifying the deeds of the body and they grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And sixthly, there is the certain, terrifying expectation of judgment on all who persist in their rebellion against the one true Savior of sinners. They will be cutoff without remedy. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and this message must be consistently, humbly, boldly, and compassionately proclaimed to all men everywhere.
Again, in light of history we should note that whenever revival does come to a church or denomination, it always brings division and unity. On the one hand revival unites true believers across denominational, racial, and ethnic lines; but on the other hand, those within a church or denomination are divided about the viability and reliability of the revival. We saw this in the New Side, Old Side split in the early 1740’s. We saw it again in the Second Great Awakening in the 1830’s with Old School and New School Presbyterians. We saw it in Congregationalism with Charles Chauncy of Boston rejecting George Whitefield while Jonathan Edwards supported him. There has always been the church within the church, a faithful remnant of believers who hold fast to the faith, no matter what happens.
It seems to me then, one way or another, that a split in the PCA is inevitable. If revival comes then progressives who do not repent, will violently reject the revival which brings Biblical reforms, and probably leave the denomination. If revival does not come and the slide into Sodom continues relatively unabated, I cannot imagine Biblical, Confessional men, after they have exhausted all the means at their disposal to stem the tide of homosexuality in the PCA, having the stomach to labor in such filth. They will leave and begin a new denomination.
So, let us pray. Let us seek God while He may be found. Let us call upon Him in a time of trouble, believing that He will deliver us so that we may glorify Him. Let us draw near to God, believing that He will draw near to us. Let us believe wholeheartedly that if we seek Him then He will let us find Him, if we seek Him with all our hearts.
These are dire times, my friends. Our only remedy is a mighty movement of God in the outpouring of the Spirit which brings boldness and efficacy in our preaching, which yields many, many true conversions as we once again capture the full-orbed gospel of regeneration, justification, and sanctification (Ezekiel 11:19,20, 18:31, 36:25-27).
The question remains-are we willing to pay the price? Are we willing to pray, fast, repent, believe God for mighty things? Are we willing, under the direction and empowering of the Holy Spirit, to take the gospel to the streets of our communities, to open our mouths and to proclaim anywhere and everywhere that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinners? Are we willing to die to self and personal ambitions? Are we willing to be fools for Jesus’ sake?
Do not kid yourself, without a mighty movement of God revival will not come. The Lord Jesus Christ is our only refuge. He must bring regeneration, leading to repentance and faith. Only then will we see mighty conversions through regenerating grace. And only then will we see true gospel holiness sweep over our families, churches, and communities. Without this the judgment and wrath of almighty God will come down upon our nation in full force, not unlike what happened in Sodom, not unlike what happened in Jerusalem.
What will you do with what you have just read? Will it be business as usual, or will you seek God for a mighty movement of the Spirit?
1. Men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert and William Tennent, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, Asahel Nettleton, and Daniel Baker.