Welcome to this assembly of the Anselm Presbytery. You men are leaders among the churches of God, and you have been selected by your respective churches to gather together like this to consider matters of common concern, and to do so in accordance with the customs we have established.
Some of these customs are just that, customs. Others of them have more force because we have bound ourselves to them constitutionally and covenantally. This means that we have obligated ourselves beforehand to function in a particular way. This is all good, and we believe that God has called us to it. But with this in mind, and all these things as given, I want to take just a few moments to exhort you.
In the Church of God, the more responsibility you have, the more necessary it becomes to put on tender mercies. We sometimes are tempted to think that the more responsibility we are given, whether in the local assembly or here, or at Council, the less realistic it is to expect that tender mercies can cover all that we do. It is quite true that the more pressures and responsibilities there are, the more we are tempted to feel this. But tender mercies are not an extra burden, on top of everything else. They are the strength given by the Spirit; they are not extra weight for the flesh to carry. Tender mercies are the demeanor of a Christian man, whatever his level of responsibility. They are the true uniform of the true Calvinist, the one who knows that all things are from God. If that is the case, we can afford to trust Him, and can afford deal with our responsibilities the way He said to do.
We meet as fallible men. When we are preaching from the Scriptures, the infallible Word of God, we are doing so as fallible men, but at least we have the traction of an absolute Word to push against. We come up against passages of Scripture that are apparent discrepancies, and yet we know that there is a godly harmonization of these apparently discrepant elements, and we know this because God’s Word is sure. But then we sometimes come to our own documents, whether the Book of Procedures or the Constitution, with this same assumption, which can lead to problems. This is because there could easily be genuine contradictions or tensions in the documents that we wrote. And if we encounter a brother who is reading the other half of the contradiction, we can regard him as committing the same error that is committed by the Pelagian. But this is not necessarily the case at all, and we need to return to the first point—and in our debates, put on tender mercies.
And last, we are heirs of many of our fathers who have gone before us. We are also the men who will bequeath something to those who come after us. We sometimes think of this reality in terms of the writing on paper—what we do with the Constitution, and so on. But always remember that there is a always a deeper right than being right. Put another way, being right always brings terrible temptations with it. There can be something profoundly wrong about how we are right. And if we get the right thing down on paper, but we do it with bad attitudes, or pride, or vainglory, we must not make the mistake of thinking that all we are bequeathing to subsequent generations of the CREC is the “substance” of our amendments and motions, and not the substance of our hearts. For example, John Frame has rightly warned the Reformed world of the legacy of Machen’s warrior children. But this very real problem in our midst is a cultural problem—a heart problem. It was never moved, seconded, and entered into the minutes of any Reformed body that I know that we will be consistently cantankerous. This has been a cultural, attitudinal legacy. All this is to say that how we do our business here will contribute as much to our future identity as the CREC as what we do. And this too brings us back to the first point. Therefore, as the elect of God, put on tender mercies.