Jesus Christ: The Word Became Flesh

It would be disastrous to only affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, ignoring that the divine “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Scriptures affirm equally that Christ was both divine and human. For the Christian, Christ’s humanity holds tremendous significance, beyond even the supreme necessity of salvation. Indeed, as John Flavel notes regarding this doctrine, we can lay the world upon it.

Christ in His divine nature assumed humanity. This means He took upon Himself a nature that was truly human. He remained what He was (divine) while He took to Himself that which He had not yet been (human). He became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh in all respects, yet without sin.

The Scriptures reveal Christ’s real human nature from birth to burial.

  • He was born (Luke 2:7).
  • He grew to maturity (Luke 2:40).
  • He was hungry (Luke 4:2).
  • He labored (John 5:17).
  • He was tired and slept (Luke 8:23).
  • He ate and drank (Luke 24:42–43).
  • He was sorrowful and wept (Mark 14:34).
  • He experienced pain and suffering (Luke 22:44) both in body and soul (Matt. 26:38; 1 Peter 2:24).
  • He died (Mark 15:37) and was buried (v. 45–46).

There are at least six reasons why Christ had to become truly man:

  1. To meet the demand of God’s righteousness that the nature which had sinned must also be the nature to pay for sin.
  2. To be able to suffer and die for His elect.
  3. To be able to be our self-sacrificing and sympathetic High Priest.
  4. To be subject to the law in His obedience.
  5. To be our nearest Kinsman to redeem us.
  6. To be the Second Adam who restores us from our fall.

There are many applications of Christ’s incarnation for the believer. John Flavel in volume one of his Works outlines several of these affections for Christ the believer experiences.

  1. Adoration. “Adore the love of the Father, and the Son, who bid so high for your souls.” Flavel notes that the love of God is expressed chiefly in this: that Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant and became obedient unto death. The Father so earnestly “willed our salvation, that he was content to degrade the darling of his soul to so vile and contemptible a state” as humanity. The Son became of no reputation—“how astonishing is the love of Christ, that would make such a stoop as this to exalt us!”
  2. Wonder. Gaze at the wisdom of God at devising such a means for His people’s salvation. This even “chains the eyes of angels and men to itself” as unimaginable. That the Word should become flesh, and dwell among us—“oh, how wisely is the method of our recovery laid!”
  3. Delight. Taste the “incomparable sweetness” of Christianity that allows us to rest our “trembling consciences” upon a sure foundation. Though the misery of His state and the distress of His soul overwhelms him, the believer can safely rely on the incarnation. Christ united His divine person with our flesh; “hence it is easy to imagine what worth and value must be in that blood; and how eternal love, springing forth triumphantly from it, flourishes into pardon, grace, and peace.”
  4. Consolation. Assuming a human nature and experiencing the suffering and misery of humanity, Christ is now touched with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). He is a merciful High Priest (Heb. 2:17–18). Flavel writes: “God and man in one person! Oh! Thrice happy conjunction! As man, he is full of an experimental sense of our infirmities, wants, and burdens; and, as God, he can support and supply them all.”
  5. Happiness. Christ’s incarnation was to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). “Hence we see, to what a height God intends to build up the happiness of man, in that he hath laid the foundation thereof so deep, in the incarnation of his own Son.” The soul of man joys in salvation, but the body also will be glorified. Christ assumed the flesh to demonstrate “how God intends to honour and exalt it” in eternity.
  6. Comfort. Flavel concludes with this last point: “How wonderful a comfort is it, that he who dwells in our flesh is God?” The struggling Christian can say: “But let me be a sinner, and worse than the chief of sinners, yea, a guilty devil, I am sure my well-beloved is God, and my Christ is God. And when I say my Christ is God, I have said all things, I can say no more. I [wish] I could build as much on this, My Christ is God, as it would bear: I might lay all the world upon it.”

Jesus Christ, Our God and Savior

The nature of Christ is one of the most fundamental aspects of the gospel message. Scripture teaches that within His one person Christ possessed both a divine and human nature. His divine nature has no beginning, being from eternity. His human nature began when Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the virgin Mary.

For the believer, Christ’s divinity ensures that His sacrifice was sufficient. The ransom of a soul is costly—such a price is divine blood! The solution to the infinitude of sin was the infinite value of Christ’s obedience—infinite because of Christ’s divine nature. His sacrifice was of everlasting efficacy because He is the everlasting God.

Scripture presents many proofs of Christ’s divinity:

  • Scripture attests His divinity (Matt. 1:23; Phil. 2:5­–11; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8).
  • God the Father attests Christ’s divinity (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 9:7; 2 Peter 1:17).
  • Christ Himself claims divinity. He claims to be one with the Father (John 10:30, 38) as the Son of God (Mark 14:61–62).
  • Various other persons testify that Jesus is God, such as Thomas (John 20:28); Peter (Matt. 16:16); Paul (Acts 9:5); and even devils (Matt. 8:29).
  • Jesus attests His transcendence over men and angels. He transcends Jonah and Solomon (Matt. 12:41ff; Luke 11:31ff), Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4), David (Mark 12:36), and John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11); and Christ is superior to angels, who are His servants (Matt. 4:11; Mark 1:13), His army (Matt. 26:53), and those who do His will (Matt. 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38).
  • Attributes of God are ascribed to Jesus, such as eternity (John 8:58), omnipotence (Rev. 1:8), omnipresence (John 1:48), omniscience (John 2:25), and immutability (Heb. 13:8).
  • He is given honor that is only given to God, such as divine baptism (Matt. 28:19), divine benediction (2 Cor. 13:14), divine worship (Heb. 1:6), and divine honor (John 5:23).
  • He performs divine tasks, such as forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:10–12), creation (John 1:3), providence (John 5:17), resurrection and judgment (John 5:22), preservation (John 10:28), and redemption and grace (Eph. 1:7).
  • He makes divine demands, such as faith in His person (John 14:1; 5:24; 6:40; 8:51) and supreme love (Matt. 10:37, 39; Luke 17:33). He accepts religious worship (Matt. 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25).
  • He is given the names of God: Mighty God and Everlasting Father (Isa. 9:6), the Lord our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6), Lord and God (John 20:28), God blessed forever (Rom. 9:5), Lord of all (Acts 10:36), and true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20).

There are five reasons why Christ must be truly God:

  1. For the burden that had to be sustained and the battle that had to be fought, He needed divine power to be able to lay down and take up His own life.
  2. His divinity was necessary to obtain infinite value for His satisfaction to divine justice.
  3. Christ’s divinity allowed Him to merit everlasting righteousness.
  4. He needed to be divine to be able to apply the salvation He has merited.
  5. He must be divine to be an object worthy of our worship.

Thomas Watson in his sermon, “Christ the Mediator of the Covenant,” outlined four applications to the believer’s life of this doctrine of Christ’ divinity .

Use 1: Admire the glory of this God-man. Watson advised us to see Christ’s “Godhead shining through the manhood” (Rev. 1:16). Worship Him in the beauty of His holiness (Ps. 96:9)!

Use 2: Because Christ is divine, the believer must look to Christ alone for salvation. His divinity wrought the righteousness required for salvation. Watson said, “If we could weep rivers of tears, out-fast Moses on the mount, if we were exact moralists, touching the law blameless, if we could arrive at the highest degree of sanctification in this life, all this would not save us, without looking to the merits of him who is God.” Look unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2)!

Use 3: Because He is divine and human in one person, believers can have great comfort in knowing they are closely united to Him. Watson wrote, “All that Christ in either of his natures can do for believers, he will do.” “Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Isa. 26:4).

Use 4: Marvel at the love of Christ, who humbled Himself, though He was equal with God, to become obedient unto death. Believers should embrace Christ as their heavenly husband (Song 1:13). Watson said that every believer “should have Jesus Christ written in his heart.”

April 11–18, 2014, Wales Conference and Friends in England

Aber Conference

Aber Conference

(Written by Mary Beeke)

North Wales is very scenic. It has the same pastoral scenes that we saw in the Yorkshire Moors, plus steep and rocky passages through the mountains, many trees, and fast-moving streams tumbling over boulders next to the road. The Aberystwyth Conference had already begun when we arrived Monday evening. We met with friends Gareth and Ceri Edwards, then settled into our dorm room. This is Joel’s fifth time speaking at this conference, and my first. He treasures this conference because the people pray for God’s blessing during the entire preceding year. In a country that has small churches, and not many of them, it is amazing to gather with 1,200 people of all ages. The singing is hearty and inspiring. The whole group meets in the Great Hall for the morning “Bible Reading,” a sermon on the theme—this year it was D.A. Carson on Ephesians. The evening services are evangelistic. Joel took two of the four, “The Only Way to Live and Die” and “Gethsemane’s King-Lamb.” The crowd is a mix of believers and unbelievers. Throughout the day and late into the evening, different age groups meet together as well. Joel spoke at a seminar on the Puritan view of marriage and child-rearing, then to young people about praying like Jesus, and also to a group of people age 45 and older about contemporary issues on which the Puritans can serve as examples. I spoke to a group of ministers’ wives on “Little Things and Little Ones.”

Aberystwyth is a city of 14,000, and the university adds 10,000. It rates high in student satisfaction and safety. It overlooks the Irish Sea and is encircled by cliffs and hills. Our dear friend Geoff Thomas has ministered at Alfred Place Baptist Church for nearly forty-nine years. He is nearly finished preaching through the whole Bible. Joel has been invited for November, 2015 to preach his fiftieth-year commemoration sermon, D.V. Geoff and Iola also recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. We were delighted to be invited to join them and their family and some friends for a luncheon to celebrate the occasion.

You might remember past pastoral letters describing the Hackney Evangelical Reformed Church in London. My dear husband was used by God for the conversion of several young people there. They came out of the Pentecostal church and never looked back, except to bring more of their friends with them. The church is now nearly twice the size it was, and eighty of these beautiful friends were at the conference. It was a joy to be with them, to answer their questions, and to sense their energy and witness their zeal. They have not had an ordained minister for years, but a gifted young man, originally from Nigeria, has been preaching there. He is engaged to a young lady with roots in Zimbabwe.

Lake District of North England

Lake District of North England

On Friday we drove to the Lake District in England and stayed in Ambleside, along Lake Windermere, the biggest lake in England. We hiked up the Langdale Valley, climbing along a rocky stream to Stickle Tarn (a small lake nestled in the mountains). It was like climbing uneven stones for about an hour. We came down part of the way through grassy areas that were a little less steep, though soggy and slippery in places, then back to the stone-step areas. The weather was constantly changing, but we always had a breathtaking view. We paused to watch a shepherd and his dog moving a flock of sheep up the mountain. It was fascinating to hear the shepherd whistle and shout to direct the dog to keep circling and corralling the sheep to stay on the path. We couldn’t help but think about the Great Shepherd, his servants (sheepdogs), and us wandering, straying sheep. What an amazing Creator and Savior we have!

On Saturday we toured the Yorkshire Dales National Park. There were many signs of Tour de France recently coming through in its initial stage: banners, spray-painted yellow bikes, and bikers following their route. We stopped in Hawes for a lunch of fish ’n chips; then in Reeth to check in at the Old Temperance Bookshop, run by Pastor David Levell and his wife Elizabeth. There were a number of RHB titles there, including some of my husband’s books. It was a small store but every inch of space was used. Also in Reeth is the Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel in which I stayed with Arlene Southway and Ruthann VanDalen about thirty-three years ago when we biked through the Dales while touring the UK by train and bike. We also stopped to see Aysgarth Falls.

Fish and Chips with David Woollin

Fish and Chips with David Woollin

David Woollin was an awesome tour guide. He knows the geography, the culture, and the history, especially church history, including the facts of all the churches in the area. We stayed in Haworth at David’s in-laws, Mick and Gill Lockwood, for the last two nights.

Mick Lockwood is pastor of Hall Green Baptist Church. His calling is to nurture small, dying churches to health. He came here fourteen years ago when there were four people in the congregation. There are now sixty members, with nearly one hundred attending Sunday mornings, a wonderful variety of folks of different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. He said it is uncommon to have a traditional family walk in. Most often people come from dysfunctional families or have damaged themselves with sin or substance abuse. Joel preached in the morning and David in the evening. Joel was delighted to greet a fellow Puritan-lover, Alex, from California, who was in London for business and is touring the UK for a week.

The church that William Grimshaw served is only a few blocks from the Lockwood home, so we walked there. Grimshaw was one of the greatest preachers during the Great Awakening; God used him for thousands of people. Because his church could not hold the people, the church knocked out some windows, and put up scaffolding, so that he could simultaneously preach to a full church and a thousand or more people standing in the adjacent cemetery. When Whitefield preached there, four thousand people were in the cemetery.

From there, we walked to the Grimshaw homestead. There is a plaque on the side of the home stating that Whitefield, John Wesley, John Newton, and Henry Venn had all stayed in this home when they preached in this village. My husband found it all very moving and nostalgic.

The grand finale of our trip was visiting long-time friend Erroll Hulse. He lost his wife about nine months ago, then had a severe stroke while in South Africa. His left side is paralyzed, but his mind and speech are good. It was beautiful to see Joel and him conversing. Erroll is one of the most optimistic persons we know, though he is missing the felt presence of the Lord right now. He longs for the joy of it and relief from pain. He told Joel that he had to write one thousand pages on what the Puritans said about the subject! Even with a stroke, he directed the conversation and had a number of things he wanted to discuss. I am jealous of his zeal. Joel preached in Leeds Reformed Baptist church in the evening (Erroll Hulse’s former congregation).

Our homecoming trip was happily uneventful—God is good!

August 4–11, 2014, Norway and England

Our boat paragraph 2

(Written by Mary Beeke)

It’s a good thing our marriage is smoother than the beginning of our trip to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary! After thirty-one hours in Chicago, two canceled overseas flights (mechanical problems), numerous attempts to re-book via different routes, and much frustration, we were finally on our way. We missed Oslo, Norway, and the scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen. We flew to Copenhagen, then to Bergen and arrived with twenty minutes to spare to catch our boat. In all, it took us fifty hours to get from our home to our boat in Norway.

The Hurtigruten boats deliver goods to towns along the west coast of Norway. They are also outfitted for passengers to tour the beautiful fjords—inlets from the sea with high mountain walls. The Geiranger Fjord was the highlight of our trip. We took an excursion overland and were treated to a panoramic view from the top of the fjord, and later to a rushing stream that had carved its way through a narrow canyon. We saw mountain-top views with waterfalls and hairpin turns. After two nights on the boat, we disembarked at Trondheim, and spent the day in the city. Norway is booming economically due to offshore drilling for gas and oil. Its citizens earn high wages and can afford the high prices of goods there. Lutheranism is the predominant religion.

Breathtaking scenery paragraph 2

On Saturday, we flew to Copenhagen. We had a six-hour layover, so we ventured into the city on the Metro, and toured the city by canal boat. Sun turned to clouds, then rain. As we bought tickets, the girl said, “We don’t have any glass-covered boats today.” After one minute on the water, a glass-covered boat floated by—it was a different company! We bought plastic rain ponchos and weathered the wind and the rain. From Copenhagen, we flew to Manchester, England, where David Woollin (PRTS student and RHB employee—marketing and development) picked us up and drove us to the home of his parents, John and Ann Woollin, in Whitby. David was an immense help in arranging this trip around the Aberystwyth Conference as well as in driving us around the United Kingdom (UK).

At Whitby Evangelical Church, Joel preached in the morning, and David in the evening. On this trip to the UK we have sensed a shift in some of the churches. Instead of mostly gray heads, we saw families with young children, as well as middle-aged folks. Because of the non-religious nature of society, the church is very creative in evangelism. They do Vacation Bible School, youth camps, beach outreach (activities with town children on the beach for a week), food pantry, and “street angels” (retired couples wait outside bars Friday and Saturday nights until at least 2 a.m. and help drunk people by calming them down or driving them home). They are also on the lookout in their community for opportunities to do everyday evangelism. A couple years ago, an older lady fell in the store. A church member helped her and visited her later. The elderly lady was very lonely; she started coming to church, was saved, and is now drinking in the Word of God.

Ruins Where Synod Met

Ruins Where Synod Met

We walked around Whitby Monday morning. It was very busy because of a Regatta taking place. The Synod of Whitby met in the abbey in 663 AD—the ruins stand on a wind-swept cliff over the town. In the cemetery, a tomb memorializes a couple who were both born on September 19, 1600, married on September 19, 1620, and after having twelve children, died within five hours of each other on September 19, 1680. Many shipwrecks have taken place on this coast. Whitby Jet is petrified (tropical) Monkey Puzzle tree which washes up on the shore just outside Whitby. It is made into jewelry, and my sweet husband bought me a pendant for our anniversary.

John and Ann Woollin are very friendly, and John has quite a sense of humor. He said if we ever have trouble sleeping, we should lay on the edge of the bed and we’d soon drop off. He probably inherited his humor from his father. David says once when they lived in the country some hikers asked for directions and his dad told them to go left and then around the corner. He then cut through the woods to that spot, only to meet the hikers again, who asked for directions. He said they had perhaps met his twin brother who gave them directions. He uses his outgoing personality to talk to anyone, and to help whomever he can and bring the gospel whenever possible, including as a “street angel.” His prayers are serious and earnest.

By mid-afternoon, we set out for the Aber conference in Aberystwyth, Wales (a five-hour trek), driving through several quaint villages in the North Yorkshire Moors. Along winding, narrow roads we saw numerous sheep dotting the hills, green pastures framed by stone walls, and stone houses with bright flowers. All things bright and beautiful, the Lord God made them all.

Charlotte, North Carolina and Rhode Island (July 21–28)

This week I was privileged to teach a 30-hour class on Puritan Theology to ten D.Min. students at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. These were long days of lecturing, but also encouraging and joyful days as the students—nearly all of whom are ministers—were very responsive. Several of them told me that the class convicted them of their need for deeper spiritual maturity; one brother told me that the course transformed his life. He said, “I will never forget how God used you this week in teaching this course for my own soul. I don’t think I will ever be the same again.” Once again I experienced this week that sometimes it is good to minister to only a few handfuls of ministers at once, but to do so in depth.

Throughout the week, nearly all my mealtimes and evenings were committed to visiting. One evening was spent with Dr. George and Virginia Knight over dinner and afterwards going through his library. Another evening was spent with Dr. Scott and Susie Roberts for dinner and fellowship, with their boys, Nathan and Noah. Scott is a great friend for many years—also of our seminary. And yet another evening was devoted to having dinner and fellowship with the seminary’s president, Dr. Michael Kruger (NT professor), and three professors, Dr. Robert Cara (NT), Dr. Richard Belcher, Jr. (OT), and Dr. John Currid (OT). Other memorable mealtimes were shared with Dr. Don Fortson, professor of church history and practical theology; Mark Jones—a former student of PRTS who is now a student at RTS; and several meals with other RTS students. I enjoyed all of these times of fellowship, but it did make for an intensely busy week.

With Dr. William Young

With Dr. William Young

On Friday evening I flew up to Providence, Rhode Island. Bryant White, a single, 25-year-old brother, graciously chauffeured me around for the first day. I spent the morning in a local library catching up on scores of emails, then visited Dr. William Young—a friend of many years and now 96 years old!—in the afternoon, and to see his remarkable library. When I asked him what one piece of advice he would give our seminary students after so many decades of experience, he paused, and then said quite movingly just three words, “Look to Jesus!” I think he said it all.

On Saturday evening I overnighted with John and Phyllis Humphreys. John entertained me with a number of stories about how he has tamed a variety of animals, including a fox, screech owls, rabbits, etc. He truly sees God’s handiwork in nature.

On Sunday, I preached in the morning for Rev. Michael Ives at the Presbyterian Reformed Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, then fellowshipped with the flock, after which I gave a presentation on God’s work in the world by means of our seminary. From there Pastor Ives drove me to Grace Community Baptist Church, North Providence, Rhode Island where I preached on “Christ’s Tears and Ours” for pastors Rob Ventura and Jack Buckley. This church has grown considerably in recent years, and now contains a number of remarkable converts from a wide variety of backgrounds. We fellowshipped afterward for a few hours, then overnighted at the Ventura home after enjoying more fellowship. We were up at 5:00 a.m. to catch the early flight home where I faced the tyranny of catch-up even as I tasted again the joy of homecoming.

Dr. Conrad Mbewe at the Puritan Reformed Conference

Conrad Mbewe

Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary is excited to have Dr. Conrad Mbewe as its main guest speaker at this year’s Puritan Reformed Conference held at the beautiful Prince Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Mbewe worked as a Mining Engineer in Zambia before answering God’s call into the pastoral ministry in 1987. Since then he has been the pastor of the Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, which is currently overseeing the planting of about twenty churches in Africa. Apart from pastoring, he maintains an active preaching ministry around the world and edits Reformation Zambia magazine. He has authored a number of books, including Foundations for the Flock: Truths About the Church for all the Saints. He is the Chancellor of the African Christian University and the Principal of the Lusaka Ministerial College. He is married to Felistas, and has been blessed with three children plus two foster daughters.

Dr. Mbewe has been called by many the Spurgeon of Africa. In fact, a 2003 World Magazine article has suggested that the comparison may be because of a number of similarities with the 19th century British Preacher. Here is an excerpt:

Mr. Mbewe isn’t sure why listeners compare him to the British “Prince of Preachers.” Perhaps it is because Mr. Spurgeon too toiled to the point of collapse, ministering to a congregation of 4,000, delivering sermons 10 times a week, managing an orphanage, and running a preachers’ college—all of which culminated in exhaustion and gout.

Or perhaps it is because Mr. Mbewe shares Spurgeon’s love for writing. Spurgeon edited and wrote for his monthly magazine, The Sword and Trowel; Mr. Mbewe has been writing two columns a week for the last 10 years in the country’s Daily Chronicle newspaper. One is a sermon, while the other examines popular social questions and is tailored for the ordinary man, similar to Spurgeon’s selection of parables, John Ploughman’s Talk.

But where the Zambian pastor most resembles Spurgeon is in his challenge to the ‘mile wide and inch deep’ church in Zambia.

You won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear a truly gifted minister of the gospel at this year’s conference, August 21-23, on “The Beauty and Glory of Christ’s Bride.” For more information or to register, visit us online at www.puritanseminary.org. Visit soon. The early bird pricing of just $65 per person ends July 31.

Dr. Mbewe will also be preaching at Harbor Reformed Baptist Church in Holland, Michigan, August 24, at 10:45 a.m. and at 6:00 p.m. at the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Praying without Ceasing

Click here for a brief video where I explore what Paul meant when he wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Maragogi (near Recife), Brazil (June 30–July 5)

With Young Brazilians Hungry for the Word

With Young Brazilians Hungry for the Word

On Monday morning we got up at 2:30 a.m. to catch a 4:30 a.m. flight to Recife, then drove for two hours over bumpy roads and through beautiful scenery to finally arrive by noon at the Praia Dourada Hotel, Maragogi, in the state of Alagoas. Attendees were ministers, seminarians, elders, families, and young people, most of whom appeared to be hungry for biblical, Reformed truth. From Monday evening to Friday morning, the conference was packed with seventeen sessions, of which four were given by Brazilians, six by Dr. Jones, and seven by me. We repeated the messages given at Belem and then added more. Breno’s colleague, Rodrigo Brotto, the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Teresina and professor of systematic theology and philosophy at the Presbyterian Seminary at Teresina (where Breno also serves), joined Breno as another able translator.

Dr. Jones and I felt particularly helped at this conference. We did considerable pastoring between sessions as well, ranging from counseling a new convert, to counseling a woman whose husband left her and another man whose wife had left him, to a variety of questions on various doctrinal issues. Ten young people approached me to discuss questions about the love of God, especially wondering how God could love His people with the same love with which He loved His own unique Son.

Once again, I enjoyed my time Rev. Josafá Vasconcelos, pastor of the Reformation Heritage Presbyterian Church in Salvador. He has been a dear friend for years—I recently dedicated one of my books to him. Decades ago he was known as the “Brazilian Billy Graham,” but is now a solid “sovereign grace” man with a big heart for the Lord and the spiritual welfare of people. A gifted itinerant evangelist and conference speaker who has preached to as many as tens of thousands of people at once, he turned away from “free-will decisionism” a few decades ago largely through the Lord blessing the reading of Puritan theology to his soul. This brother is a precious, godly man who can articulate in broken English how he was converted in such a manner that it is difficult to remain dry-eyed. It was not easy for him to become an experimental Calvinist, but by the grace of God he has become a man of immense faith, notwithstanding the great price he has paid in his ministry. The crowds are now much smaller, but he is being invited to speak all over the vast country of Brazil. He told me that when the Lord finally persuaded him of the truth of sovereign grace, “it was both terrible and wonderful—terrible because of all the people I have deceived for years, and wonderful because I may finally bring a gospel message in which salvation depends upon God rather than upon man.” At this conference, he did a magnificent job at leading the conference in Psalm-singing—something that is quite new in Brazil. How I wish you could hear these people sing the Psalms with all their heart! And we think that we sing them heartily!

Numerous serious and informal conversations transpired throughout these busy conference days. Three young men met with me to talk about attending our seminary. All three have considerable potential and qualifications and seem seriously called to ministry, but once again, the problem is that we don’t have sufficient scholarship money to offer to all of them. As in most foreign cultures, Brazilians want the author to sign every book they buy. This opened the door for more conversations. We can only pray that these symposiums supply Reformed and Presbyterian believers with renewed hope for their church life and deeper insight into God’s Word, and that those who may yet be unsaved will be awakened and learn to flee to Christ alone for salvation.

On my long return flight, my name was called before take-off, and I was suddenly bumped up to a great exit row seat with leg room where I could use my computer to edit Anthony Burgess’s little book on Assurance of Faith, completing it by 2:30 a.m.Meanwhile, that opened the door for me to evangelize the Roman Catholic sitting next to me who had never heard of Martin Luther. When I explained that I was a Protestant minister, he said he had long wanted to know what the word “Protestant” meant but didn’t know who to ask. So we started at the beginning and talked about what Luther did, and how he saw the difference between salvation by works and salvation by grace, etc. He listened well but asked lots of such elementary questions that I realized I had to become even simpler. What privileges we have!

Once again, we were privileged to see how the Lord is working to bring needy sinners in another part of the world to faith in Jesus Christ. What an encouragement to come to know people who hold firmly with mind and soul to the teachings of Scripture, summarized in the Reformed Confessions! Earnest Reformed believers in Brazil are struggling to remain faithful as they wrestle with the erosion of preaching, man-centered worship, dysfunctional churches and leaders, and a cultural religion bound by superstition. But the differences, in comparison to our circumstances, are humbling. Our Brazilian brothers and sisters have few resources at their disposal, such small numbers amid the millions who struggle with poverty and crime, and such a pervasive need for good literature, competent leadership training, and an understanding of what Reformed experiential religion truly is.

With a Brazilian Brother who Translated Some of My Books into Portuguese

With a Brazilian Brother who Translated Some of My Books into Portuguese

Belem, Brazil (June 25–29)

Preaching in Brazil, with Translator Breno Macedo

Preaching in Brazil, with Translator Breno Macedo

Let me first give you a few facts about Brazil. With an estimated population of 180 million, Brazil ranks as the sixth largest country in the world. The majority of Brazilians live along the coastal region, with 81% of the total population dwelling in urban areas. These include the capital, Brasilia (pop. 2 million), São Paulo (11 million), Rio de Janeiro (6 million), Salvador (2.5 million), Fortaleza (2 million), and Recife (1.5 million). Portuguese is the national language, although the population includes a number of ethnic groups such as Italian, German, Japanese, and African minorities. About 80% of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Reformation reached South America around 1557, when a group of Huguenots sought to establish a new Geneva in Rio de Janeiro in 1557, but were martyred in 1558. In the early seventeenth century, Holland sought to colonize northeastern Brazil, an effort that included significant missionary activity. But after several decades, they were driven out by the Portuguese and the seeds of Reformed teaching and life were scattered among the native Indians.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, several American Presbyterian missionaries came to Brazil, including Rockwell Smith, a cousin of B. B. Warfield. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPB) was founded in 1859, and today has some 3,700 congregations and missionary groups, eight seminaries, and Mackenzie University, one of the largest schools in Latin America. Unfortunately, throughout the twentieth century, the IPB has come under the influence of various religious movements such as Pentecostalism, Dispensationalism, liberation theology, and theological liberalism. Infected with the toxins of lodge membership and doctrinal pluralism, the denomination has developed a strong hierarchy whose politics exerts a corrosive influence throughout the church.

The 24th Annual Puritan Symposium for the Puritan Project in Brazil took place this year in Belem (June 26–29) and Recife (July 1–4). The attendees in Belem numbered close to 500; in Maragogi, about 400.

Brazil, with Mark Jones and His SonThe trip to Brazil was a long but good one. In Detroit, I met up with Dr. Mark Jones, coauthor of our book, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, now to be co-traveler and co-speaker in Brazil. (He took Dr. David Murray’s place, as my dear brother has been suffering physically from blood clots in his lungs—please pray for his complete and speedy restoration of health.) A gracious donor allowed Dr. Jones to bring his six-year-old son Joshua with him. For all three of us, the ten-hour overnight flight from Detroit to Sao Paulo went well, as did the three hour flight back up north to Belem.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Dr. Manoel Canuto, Breno Macedo (a former student of PRTS), a brother named Julius (a pastor working on behalf of the Canadian Reformed churches in networking on various ministries in Brazil), the local senior pastor, Americo, and one of his elders named Kleos (who is also the principal of the local Christian school).

Dr. Manoel Canuto, a native pediatric surgeon, is a godly brother whose heart, in his words, “burns within me when I read the Puritans.” After reading some of the Puritans translated into Portuguese in the early 1990s, Dr. Canuto’s eyes were opened to understand and experience the doctrines of grace. He came to love the Puritan theology represented by his Brazilian Presbyterian Church’s official doctrinal statement, the Westminster Standards. Those standards long ago became quite neglected in the life of the Brazilian church. Understandably, he became burdened to pass on the Puritan heritage, particularly to the office-bearers and seminarians in his own denomination.

Dr. Canuto shared his vision of the recovery of Puritan theology with Olin Coleman, a former career missionary in northeast Brazil; out of their mutual concern, the Puritan Project was born. Since Olin passed away several years ago, his now 48-year-old son Michael (who has 1200 employees under his supervision as vice-president of a major communications company) has taken over his father’s role as the Puritan Project’s North American General Director. I got to spend treasured time with Michael later on in the second conference, and found him to have a huge heart for the cause of Reformed, Puritan, confessional truth—in fact, my visit with him was one of the highlights of this trip.

Most of the efforts of the Puritan Project are devoted to three areas in particular. First, a bimonthly theological journal, Jornal Os Puritanos (Journal of the Puritans), is edited and published by Dr. Canuto. Second, Puritan and Reformed works are translated into Portuguese. There are now several hundred sound Reformed books in Portuguese, though many major works remain untranslated. Third, annual symposiums are held throughout Brazil, featuring speakers from England and North America as well as Brazilians. These conferences have drawn an increasing number of participants during the past several years. This year they were held in Belem and Maragogi under the theme: “Pure Doctrine, Pure Life: Learning and Growing with the Puritans.”

Belem is warm and muggy, but happily, air conditioning is everywhere. And much more importantly, the people are spiritually hungry. Their hunger is nearly tangible; their questions, sincere; their worship, earnest. Over the course of three days, Dr. Mark Jones gave several addresses on Christ, from His incarnation to His beautiful heart in heaven for His people on earth. His talk on Jesus’ own religious and emotional life was superb. The addresses were packed with profound, beautiful thoughts about our glorious Savior which stirred up love for Him in the hearts of many. After an introductory message on the only way to live and die, I spoke on the Puritan view of various doctrines, including divine providence, the indwelling Spirit, and God’s love in heaven. Our translator, Breno Macedo, was superb—translating not only rapidly and accurately, but also with as much emotion and passion as we spoke with—perhaps sometimes even more!

Between the services I spent some time visiting with about fifteen members of the Davis families, who had driven many hours from the Amazon jungle to be present for this week’s Symposium. The Davis families are pioneer ranchers deep in Brazil’s jungle near the Amazon River. They donate to the Puritan Project and are avid promoters of the orthodox Reformed faith in both doctrine and lifestyle. They originated from Alabama some three decades ago, at which time their father went to the Belgian Congo as a missionary for six years with his family, then moved the family to these jungles as a missionary rancher. After he and two sons were murdered by the natives, the children decided to stay on the home ranch in Brazil and carry on their Christian witness in the jungle. They have established a chapel on their ranch and homeschool their children. Some of the husbands deliver their wives’ babies; the children learn to do everything that needs to be done on a large ranch. They have been receiving our literature and listening to our sermons for many years. Many of you will know them as the relatives of Rev. Johnny Serafini’s wife, Barry. I spoke at length to one of Barry’s cousins, a 35-year-old single woman, who lives far from civilization in the heart of the Amazon jungle, well beyond where the rest of her family is residing. There, all alone, among the wild animals and a few people in the area, she manages her entire farm by herself, ministers to river people, and perseveres in praying God to send a minister to come and serve these people! It was a joy to speak with these godly and interesting people once again.

Brazil, with Some Members of the Davis Family

With Some Members of the Davis Family

Other stimulating visits transpired, too. Two young men spoke to me about their sense of calling to the ministry and their desire to train at PRTS. And then, ten young men from a pentecostal church, who seemed eager to learn, peppered me with a variety of doctrinal and experiential questions.

On Sunday, Dr. Jones and I preached for the Presbyterian church that housed the conference. Because many of the visitors stayed, the church which holds about five hundred people was overflowing.

Here is an update from my nephew about his wife’s cancer treatment. Thank you for your prayers!

Greetings Friends,

We are thankful that Trichelle finished all her radiation treatments several weeks ago and is doing very well. Her skin is recovering very nicely and all the blisters have healed over. She no longer has much discomfort from the treatments.

Her energy continues to return, although she still quickly feels more tired when trying to do all the activities she used to do. She continues to receive Herceptin treatments every 3 weeks and also takes daily hormone treatment each morning.

We have been asked often when we will get some results from all of these treatments. The type of cancer that Trichelle was diagnosed with is not traceable through typical count method, and the known tumour and all of the lymph nodes in her arm pit were surgically removed. As a result, after all the treatments, we will need to wait and see if any new tumours develop which would be the obvious sign that the cancer is still there.

The Bible describes faith as the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb. 11:1). We have been called to trust our LORD in this journey and rest that He is in control. The Bible also assures us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

As a family we have been so thankful for the support given by some many.  Thanks for the stack of cards we have collected, the emails, the prayers, and the variety of other gestures of support shown to us. Each one has been appreciated.

With the school year coming to a close, as family we are excited about a planned camping trip coming up at the end of June.  The boys have been busy getting ready for this trip and checking out pictures of the grizzly bears, moose, and caribou we might see. Emilee has been busy changing her babies’ diapers in preparation for the trip. Daddy has a few birds in mind that he might see, and Mommy is busy doing one of her favourite activities—organizing!

We wish you all health and strength.

Thanks again,

Dave, Trichelle, Breyden, Quinten, and Emilee Beeke

http://www.joelbeeke.org/2014/06/1596/