Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration: A Message Delivered at the Grave-side Service for My Dear Mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout

Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration

Note: This is a revised version of the message I delivered on May 13, 2013 at the grave-side service for my dear mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout.  To read or print this message in a PDF file, click here. mom


Before I proceed to the reading of God’s Word, allow me to first commend my dear father-in-law for his forty years of faithful and patient love for his wife. Dad, thank you for the godly example that you have left to us your children. You kept the vow that you had made to mom on your wedding day: to love her in sickness and in health. I understand that without God’s grace, you would not have been able to love mom in this way. Therefore, I praise God for His grace upon you.

Let’s now read our text for this short meditation—John 20:24-28.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to    him, “My Lord and my God!”

Sadly, we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” But as Joshua Harris asserted, “God didn’t give the name ‘Doubting Thomas’, we did. God never defines us by our failures. He defines us by the perfection of his Son.” In the gospel God defines us not according to our sin, but according to His Son’s righteousness. You might ask, “What is the gospel?” Interestingly, in Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “repent and believe in the gospel” and you will be saved. Then when the Philippian Jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:30-31). Notice that Paul and Silas did not say, “Believe in the gospel,” but instead “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Observe also that Jesus says, “believe in the gospel,” and not “believe in me.” Here then we see that the gospel and Jesus Christ are essentially synonymous. The gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good news. He “came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10).

This afternoon, upon my mother-in-law’s request, I would like to proclaim this gospel to you. And I can only preach the gospel if I preach Christ to you. My mother-in-law would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon who rebuked ministers that did not preach Christ: “Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”

What I will do in this brief message is present the gospel by looking at Thomas’s life under three headings: (1) his dedication, (2) his doubt, & (3) his declaration. Let’s consider our first point.


I. His Dedication

In John 11 Lazarus whom Jesus loves is sick. Actually, as the story progresses we discover that Lazarus eventually dies. Jesus wants to go to Judea to revive Lazarus, but listen to what His disciples tell Him:

Then after this he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?”16 So Thomas, called the Twin,said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Please note Thomas’s remarkable dedication to his Master here. He is courageously willing to die with Jesus. He is loyal to the Lord’s work. To some extent my mother-in-law was like Thomas. She was also committed to the service of the Lord. Her passion was to serve others. In fact, even when she was sick, she was still thinking of how she could minister to others. When she became severely ill, she was greatly disappointed that she could no longer help others, especially Mrs. Lynn Krul from British Columbia who became like a mother to her. Everyone who knew my mother-in-law would not question her dedication to the Lord’s work. She evidently loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, like Thomas, although she had a strong commitment to Jesus, her faith in Him was weak. Like Thomas, she also struggled with doubt. This brings us to our second point.


II. His Doubt

In our passage the dedicated Thomas shows his doubt to the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Before Jesus died, He Himself had informed Thomas of His resurrection (Mark 8:31). Thus we learn that you can be dedicated to the Lord’s work and at the same time doubt His word.  Are you like Thomas—dedicated and yet doubting? You actively serve God, but doubt His promises. You faithfully attend church services every Sunday, but you doubt the gospel promise that if you believe in Jesus you will be saved.

Nevertheless, despite his doubt, Thomas is an honest seeker of truth. He does not want to remain in his state of doubt. He eagerly looks for the truth. Do you recall his dialogue with Jesus in John 14:5-6? In this passage the confused Thomas asks Jesus about the way to His Father’s house—the way to heaven:

“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas doubts, but he is not content to remain doubting. He wants to be certain, especially of matters pertaining to eternal life. Sadly, some Christians seem to be content to stay in the place of doubt or unbelief. They don’t seek the truth. Perhaps you are struggling with assurance of salvation. Well, seek the truth that will set you free from the bondage of doubt. Read books about assurance of salvation. Attend bible study where your faith can be strengthened. Learn more about the gospel promises. Attend a church where the gospel is preached faithfully. Charles Spurgeon once mentioned, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.” My friend, you do not need to live in the cottage of doubt. Leave that place and live in the mansion of faith. You might ask, “Can I really know if I am saved?” Oh, yes, my friend, you can! As John the Beloved articulates, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Take note, the Bible has been written in order for believers to have absolute knowledge of their salvation in Christ. Can you honestly sing with Fanny J. Crosby?

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Now I am not saying that once you become a Christian, you will never experience doubt. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his book Spiritual Depression, “Doubts are not incompatible with faith…. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith (as he panicked in the storm in Matthew 14)…. His faith was not gone, but because it was weak, doubt mastered him and overwhelmed him and he was shaken…. Doubts will attack us, but that does not mean that we are to allow them to master us.”

With love let me challenge then those of you who are like Thomas. Are you allowing your doubt to rob you of the joy of assurance of salvation? Are you allowing your doubt to keep you from growing in your faith in Jesus? Are you making an effort to stay away from the cottage of doubt? Again like Thomas, my mother-in-law struggled with doubt, but she strove for assurance. She wanted to be certain of her salvation. Thankfully, after a long struggle, she experienced full assurance of salvation and could echo Thomas’s declaration which we will consider in our final point.


III. His Declaration

Thomas doubted. But look what he declares in our text after he has been confronted by Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This confession is the clearest confession on the deity of Christ. Of all the Twelve Disciples, only Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God. In this sense, Thomas has surpassed his fellow disciples.

Notice the personal and possessive pronoun “my” in Thomas’s declaration: “My Lord and my God.” What Thomas is saying here is this: “Jesus is my Lord and my God, and I am His. Jesus belongs to me, and I belong to Him.” There is no more doubt here but assurance. I remember two days before my mother-in-law died, my wife and I skyped with her and sang for her the famous hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Despite her extreme fatigue, my mother-in-law still sang with us:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

For many years my mother-in-law had struggled to call God her Father. Now by God’s grace she could prayerfully sing with full confidence, “O God my Father!” What a confession! What an assurance! Can you say by God’s grace that God is your Father, too? John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Oh, I urge you, my dear friend, to receive Jesus by faith and you will be given the right to become a child of God. Are you His child, or the Devil’s? Remember what Jesus says to the proud and self-righteous Pharisees in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil.” They belong to Satan because they have not received Jesus. Have you received Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior? Think of the message that we have heard this morning—“Jesus receives sinners” (Luke 15:2), but you must receive Him, too.

On her death bed shortly before she died, my mother-in-law prayed with her hands lifted up toward heaven, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” My aunt Beth (the only sister of my mother-in-law) and Mrs. Jackie Mol (best friend of my mother-in-law for over 40 years) personally heard these words. Unquestionably, my mother-in-law borrowed her prayer from John the Beloved who pleads in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is a prayer of a true believer who longs to be with Jesus Christ. This was my mother-in-law’s last prayer.

Amazingly, my mother-in-law had a calendar that provides her a daily verse. And the verse that she was supposed to read on the day she died was John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans [or comfortless]; I will come to you.” Indeed, Jesus heard my mother-in-law’s request. He came quickly and gently to take her home to be with Him. What a comfort and joy to know that she is now with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! She is now free from sin and sickness. Also, it is a comfort to know that Christ bought not only her soul but also her body. As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states in response to the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil….Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

This body then in the coffin that we are about to bury is Christ’s. He purchased it and it will someday be changed into an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:51-54). On the great day of the resurrection of the saints, this mortal body will be raised from this cemetery to be with the Lord forever and ever and ever. It is with this glorious doctrine of the resurrection that the Apostle Paul exhorts us to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). Hence as we bury my mother-in-law’s body, we do not need to say goodbye but only good night to her, for we believers shall see her again in heaven. May the precious reality also that her soul is now in heaven sweeten our sorrow! She is now in a far better place than we can imagine (Phil. 1:23).



Let me close this message by simply asking you: Do you belong to Jesus? Does He belong to you? Is He your Lord and Savior? If not, I regret to tell you that if you die today you will go to hell and be there for eternity. Oh, once again I beg you to come to Jesus by faith and be saved. Jesus promises, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Therefore, with the words of the hymn writer Joseph Hart, I plead with you:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).



Death Funeral Gospel Sermon

“Which Disturbs You Most?”

I would like to share this thought-provoking piece—”Which Disturbs You Most?”—that I used last Sunday in my sermon on James 1:27b—“Keep Yourself Pure from the World.”  Our answer to this question will tell us something about our spiritual condition.


Which Disturbs You Most?

A soul lost in Hell…or a scratch on your new car?

Your missing the worship service…or missing a day’s work?

A sermon 10 minutes too long…or lunch half hour late?

A church not growing…or your garden not growing?

Your Bible unopened…or your unread?

The church work being neglected…or housework neglected?

Missing a good Bible study…or your favorite TV program?

The millions who do not know Christ…or your inability to keep up with the neighbors?

The cry of the multitude for bread…or your desire for another piece of German chocolate cake?

Your tithes decreasing…or your income decreasing?

Your children late for Sunday School and Church…or late for public school?

Which really disturbs you most?


—The Bible Friend

Sanctification Sermon Spirituality

The Ground of Our Gratitude (Part 2 of 2)

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love [mercy] endures forever (Psalm 118:1)

Do you know that if you and I are here today, it is because of God’s mercy alone? It is not because of who you are. It is not because of your education, or of the fact that you are a good person. No! Remember the words of Lamentations 3: 22 & 23: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.”

Oh, let’s praise the Lord for His mercies. When you wake up in the morning, you wake up to welcome these mercies that are always fresh, always new every morning. When you go to work, you go with God’s mercy. In your work place you work with God’s mercy. You come home with God’s mercy. You raise your children with God’s mercy. I preach with God’s mercy. You listen to God’s Word with His mercy. You sing with God’s mercy. It is all about the mercies of God! And, take note, according to our text, Psalm 118:1, this mercy endures forever. Once it has been bestowed on you, that mercy will remain in you.

There is a well known hymn based on Lamentations 3:23, the verse that I have just read before you—“Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” This hymn is by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960):

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not [We fail God, but His compassions will never fail.]: As Thou has been Thou forever wilt be. Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; [My friend, do you see the mercies of God every day, every morning? When you woke up this morning, did you feel those mercies? Did you see them? Did you say, “Lord, I thank You for Your morning mercies?”] All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

My fellow believers, we see this mercy displayed at Calvary when God sent His precious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be our mediator, to die for our sin, to redeem us from the curse of the law. That’s the mercy of God. And, the psalmist says in our text, give thanks to the Lord, not only because He is good, but because His mercy abides forever. So, here we have the ground for our gratitude. This ground is not man-centered, but gospel-centered, God-centered. Again, as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, let’s remember the goodness of God and His mercy. And, let’s learn to trace all our blessings back to God, back to the cross, to give Him thanks. Amen!


Note: This is a slightly edited excerpt from the Thanksgiving message, “The Ground of Our Gratitude,” delivered on November 22, 2012 at Dutton URC. You can listen to the message here (Part 2) and here (Part 1).

Great Is Thy Faithfulness Sermon Thanksgiving Day Thomas Obadiah Chisholm

The Ground of Our Gratitude (Part 1 of 2)

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love [mercy] endures forever (Psalm 118:1)

The ultimate ground of our gratitude is not our circumstances, but God’s character. The ultimate ground of our gratitude is not our mood, but the fact that God is good. You see, it is easy for us to thank the Lord when we are in a good mood, when we feel good. It is easy to thank the Lord when we receive blessings from Him. But, according to our text, thanking God has nothing to do with what we receive from God. Give thanks to God. Why? Because He is good. Period! The fact that God is good is enough for us to thank Him regardless of our circumstances.

The Psalmist is calling us to thank the Lord for the fact that God is good. And, because God is always good, we always have a reason to thank the Lord. Even if the Lord stops pouring out His blessings on you, on your family, still you have a reason to thank Him because He remains good. However, the problem today is that even in our gratitude we tend to be man-centered.

Now, take note that the psalmist does not say, “Thank God for the many good things He has done to you or for you.” So, thanksgiving does not depend on God’s action, but on His attribute.You don’t say, “Lord I am going to thank You if You do this to me; Lord I am going to give You thanks if You answer my prayer; Lord I am going to give You thanks, I am going to praise You if You heal my sickness, if You provide for my needs.” My friend, even if the Lord does not hear you, He deserves your gratitude because He is good. His goodness is enough for us to glorify Him, to praise Him.There is song that says,

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered, Thanks for what Thou dost deny! Thanks for storms that I have weathered, thanks for all Thou dost supply! Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure, Thanks for comfort in despair! Thanks for grace that none can measure, Thanks for love beyond compare!

God is good. Let us learn this. Let us cultivate this kind of attitude, to thank the Lord. The second ground for thanking God is also found in verse one: “Give thanks [or hallelujah to Jehovah—it is a command, it is plural, everyone is commanded to do this. Why? Why thank God?] for He is good.” And then secondly, and the last, “because His love endures forever,” or, in ESV, “His steadfast love,” or in King James, “His mercy.” I like the word “mercy.” I think that is closest to the original. His mercy is everlasting.

You see, sinners, we need God’s mercy every day, every hour, every minute, every second. Why? Because we sin daily. How good it is to know, how comforting it is to know, that God’s mercy does not stop. God’s mercy is everlasting. It endures forever. God’s throne of mercy is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any time, even in the middle of the night, you can come directly to God’s throne of grace and mercy and say, “Lord, I need Your mercy; Lord I have sinned against You; Lord please cleanse me from my sin.” We need to thank the Lord for this kind of mercy.


Note: This is a slightly edited excerpt from the Thanksgiving message, “The Ground of Our Gratitude,” delivered on November 22, 2012 at Dutton URC. You can listen to the message here.

Sermon Thanksgiving Day

A Puritan’s Perspective of Galatians 2:20


It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.[1]

Galatians 2:20 is one of “those” verses, and the Puritans are some of “those” people.  They are both difficult to put in neat structured categories and tend to invoke interesting reactions.  Galatians 2:20 provides a concise, mysterious, and powerful picture of the Christian life incorporating within one small verse elements related to justification and the spiritual life that flows from one who has been reconciled with God in redemption.  The Puritans, on the other hand, were a group of religious non-conformists seeking to remove the lasting elements of Catholicism from the church.  As a group, they loosely began in the early to mid 1500’s and were, as a recognized group, essentially over by the late 1600’s.[2] As Lea aptly admits, “Just as it had a vague beginning it gently slides into obscurity.”[3]

In light of those observations, the purpose of this article will be to summarize and critique William Bridge’s (1600?-1671) perspective of Galatians 2:20[4] as presented in a series of five sermons preached over eight weeks in 1648.[5] Before beginning, a couple of qualifications need to be made.  Constructing someone’s exegetical thoughts from a sermon is generally a challenge.  This work proves to be no exception.  Since the Puritans were so keenly focused on application, care must be taken in this reconstruction, because their sermons are not intended to be read as exegetical commentaries.   Additionally, this article will seek to focus on those exegetical insights that are granted to the reader verses Bridge’s points of application.[6]


The article is by Adam McClendon, a Ph.D. student in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Click here to read his entire paper.

[1]The Holy Bible : English Standard Version.(Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Gal 2:20b.

While most English translations place “I have been crucified with Christ” at the beginning of verse twenty, most commentators place it at the end of verse nineteen.  Bridge alludes to the implications of the believers having been crucified in Christ throughout sermons one and two, specifically in his discussion related to justification.  Nevertheless, it seems that he understood this phrase to belong to verse nineteen which is why it is not formally mentioned in relationship to the text of 2:20.  As a result, “I have been crucified with Christ” is not included in this citation.  For discussion concerning whether it should be included with nineteen or twenty see Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 41 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990, 92).

[2]Both a concise definition concerning who the Puritans were and clear dates concerning when they may have begun or ended are beyond the scope of this paper.  Nonetheless, a few comments seem warranted here.  The beginnings and ending of Puritanism as well as what parameters define the category itself are difficult to determine.  They are a people passionate for purity in the Christian life who regularly demonstrated a heart devoted to God and his word.  For the Puritan, no authority equaled that of God’s, not the King’s and certainly not the Pope’s.

Two brief complications in providing a specific definition of the group will be mentioned.  First, one has to determine whether Puritanism should be seen foremost as a political, theological, or spiritual movement. (See Stephen J. Yuille, Puritan Spirituality: The Fear of God in the Affective Theology of George Swinnock [Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2007], 8-17.)  Certainly components of all three can be seen.  Second, the word “Puritan” was generally not self-descriptive but was used pejoratively similar to modern day terms such as “bigot, killjoy or extremist.” (John Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” in The Advent of Evangelicalism, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Steward [Nashville, TN: B&H Academics, 2008], 255.)  Puritans were in a variety of churches and many if not most of their leaders were pastors.  There were no “First Puritan Churches” or “Puritan meetings”; rather, the term described a group of people from a variety of backgrounds over an extended period of time who were functioning in various locations and vocations from Old to New England.

Concerning their dates, because of their separatist leanings and the persecution they endured, some might argue that the Puritans as a group ended in 1689 with the passage of the Act of Toleration; however, at minimum, it should be acknowledge that there were a variety of theological elements that brought cohesion to those who would be within this group that did not immediately dissipate with the passing of the Act of Toleration.  For a basic, but incomplete, list of some of those characteristics, see Kapic, Kelly M. and Randall C. Gleason, eds., The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23-32.

For more information concerning these and other difficulties see “Puritanism: The Problem of Definition” in Basil Hall, Humanists and Protestants 1500-1900 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990), 237-254; Coffey, “Puritanism, Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Protestant Tradition,” 255-8; Kapic, The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, 16-8; Thomas D. Lea, “The Hermeneutics of the Puritans,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (1996): 271-2; Barrington R. White, Barrington, ed. The English Puritan Tradition (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1980), 12.

[3]Lea, “The Hermeneutics of the Puritans,” 272.

[4]For another extended treatment of this passage by a Puritan, see Richard Sibbes, “The Life of Faith,” and “Salvation Applied,” in Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander B. Grosart, vol. 5 (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 357-408.

[5]See “Background” below for more detailed information concerning the sermons.

[6]One of the real treasures of Bridge’s sermons is his application.  While these are not examined in this article, here are a few specifically related to Christ in the believer.  1. Christ in us results in a deep satisfaction in life.  2. Christ in us results in an inseparable communion with Christ.  3. Christ in us results in a life that we proclaim to others.  4. Christ in us results in a forgiven and forgotten past.  5. Christ in us results in finding our identity in Christ.  6. Christ in us results in a “more blessed and glorious Communion with Christ than the other way.  For Union is the root of Communion…” (Bridge, 84.)  7. Christ in us results in the ability to “come with boldness unto the throne of grace, and with unlimited expectations of mercy from God…” (Ibid., 86.)  8. Christ in us results in the experience of “life, growth, and conviction” (Ibid., 15-20.)  9. Lastly, Christ in us results in the ability and responsibility to follow God’s law.

Piety Puritan Sermon Spirituality William Bridge