Learning from A Twenty-Five-Year-Old Reformer

It was just over twenty-five years ago that Pilgrim Covenant Church held its first worship service on the Lord’s Day of the 4th of July 1999 at 10:30am on level 7 of Skyline Building (near Bugis MRT station). The Lord has been pleased to preserve and sustain our congregation over these past two and a half decades, for which we are very thankful and grateful.

Twenty-five years is quite a long time and many things have happened since we began. But in terms of a person’s age, twenty-five years is not considered old. In fact, we would consider a man who is twenty-five years of age to be a young man. Similarly, we can think of our church as a young church, still in its early adulthood. We have, as a church, acquired some experience and history but we still have many things to learn and be reminded of, and to do. As we commemorate our 25th Anniversary today, I’ll like us to consider parts of 2 Chronicles 29 in order to learn some lessons from a young Old Testament Reformer by the name of Hezekiah.

2 Chronicles 29:1-2 says, “Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty five years old, and he reigned twenty nine years in Jerusalem… And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.”

Out of the twenty kings of Judah, only three of them are compared to David, who was the best human king in the history of God’s people. David was the gold standard of kings and Hezekiah is only one of three to be likened to him – the other two being Jehoshaphat and Josiah. As one commentator noted, “There is no greater tribute that the Chronicler could have paid to a king than to compare him to David.”

And what was the first thing that this young godly king did when he came into power? Verse 3 says, “In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD, and repaired them.” Hezekiah wasted no time in reopening the temple, which had been shut for much too long during the days of his wicked father, Ahaz.

The reopening and restoration of the temple was very high up on his to-do list. He saw this as a matter of great urgency, and when the first opportunity arose, he laid hold on it. The temple represented God’s presence among His people and it was very central to the means of grace in the Old Covenant. Without it, the spiritual health of the entire nation was compromised and in jeopardy. And so right from the very word “go,” Hezekiah gave priority to the things of the Lord, focusing on the house of the Lord. And his subjects would have immediately recognised that their new king was very serious about his faith.

What about us? What do we give priority to? And can the people around us see it, especially our own family members? If someone were to ask your spouse or parents or siblings or children what they think your great goal or chief priority in life is, what would they say? Your work? Your studies? Your hobbies? Your vacations? Your entertainment? Or your God?

And what about us as a Church? When others observe and think about Pilgrim Covenant Church, what would they say are the things that we value very much and give priority to? Let us take time to reflect on this and to pray that the Lord would open our eyes and show us those areas of our church life where we are lacking, and enable us to serve Him more faithfully in the years to come, if He be willing.

Next, we read that Hezekiah assembled the priests and Levites to speak to them. He saw that these ministers of the temple needed to consecrate themselves. It was not enough that they were lawfully ordained as servants of the Lord, they had to be fit servants, ready and set apart for the master’s use.

The Apostle Paul echoes this in 2 Timothy 2:21, where he tells Timothy, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet (or useful) for the master, and prepared unto every good work.” It is only when the servants of the Lord have properly consecrated themselves that they are ready to do the work of cleaning up and consecrating the house of the Lord.

Elsewhere, Paul tells Timothy, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1 Tim 4:16) Did you notice the order? Timothy and all servants of the Lord are to first take heed to themselves and then to their doctrine. Yes, doctrine is very important and we must never minimise it. But even more important than doctrine is the minister’s own life – his walk with the Lord and his life of holiness and godliness. One older commentator wrote about the minister, “His teaching will be of no avail unless his own life accord with it…”     

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, please remember to pray regularly and earnestly for the pastors and elders and deacons of this congregation and other faithful congregations, that they may not only be sound in doctrine but especially that they may be holy in their lives. Satan will seek to destroy a servant of the Lord either by corrupting his doctrine or else by messing up his life. Let us take careful heed to the warning of God’s word.

But holiness of life is not only important for the officers of the church, it is also important for every member of the church. The words sanctify and consecrate appear no less than 10 times in this chapter in relation to worshipping and serving the LORD. Quite clearly, the chronicler is giving emphasis to the fact that those who would worship and serve the LORD acceptably must first set their lives in order. In particular, they are to put away sin and seek to be holy and righteous in their hearts and life.

Some of the priests were unfit for service because they did not sanctify or consecrate themselves. In contrast, the Levites in those days were far more enthusiastic and eager to prepare themselves for the work of serving the Lord in His holy place. The Levites, even more than the priests, understood the words of David in Psalm 24:3-4, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart…”

These words, no doubt, point us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is truly clean and pure, and those who would come into God’s presence must come through Him. This, however, does not mean that Christians can come carelessly and without first dealing with sin in their lives and without seeking to purify themselves, even as Christ is pure (1 Jn 3:3).

Then besides holiness of life, we see, in this chapter, the importance of gladness of heart and gratitude in worship. Verse 30 says that the Levites sang the Psalms with gladness and verse 36 says that Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced before the LORD. 

In verse 31 and onwards, we read of Hezekiah calling upon the people to bring their sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord and the people responding with much enthusiasm and gratitude such that there was an abundance of sacrifices in those days.

It is true that one of the emphases of this chapter is on making sure that worship was conducted in the right way according to the commandment of the Lord, which is very important. But what must never be forgotten is that the mere outward form of worship is not enough. The Pharisees and Jews were very good at getting the outward form right, but they lacked holiness of life and especially gladness and gratitude of heart.

Truly Reformed worship is never content with just getting the outward form of worship correct. It is also very much concerned with an attitude of gladness and gratitude in those who worship.

Psalm 2:11, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD… Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing… Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”

As we commemorate our 25th Anniversary, may we, as a church, learn from young Hezekiah the lessons of giving priority to the things of the Lord and the importance of holiness of life and gladness of heart in worship.

But most of all, may we direct our eyes and hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the true Re-former of the church and may we be re-formed after His image and likeness, to the praise and glory of His Name. Amen.

—Linus Chua