The Church has a Debt Problem
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
8 Jun, 2021

Problem debt in society is only increasing in our culture. Future generations will also incur significant national debt as a consequence of current decisions. When we think of the church having a debt problem it is something other than financial. In spiritual terms, we owe a debt of glory and love to God. We owe a debt of truth to others in testifying to grace and the revealed will of God. This is something required of us as individuals as well as a body. We owe it to everyone now and in the future, indeed if we fail to do it properly now it will affect coming generations. We need to present this to them in the most faithful, winsome and compelling way we can. That is a debt of vast consequence, and have we even maintained the minimum payments on it? Ignoring this debt will not make it go away, in fact, it will only increase.

If you have a debt problem the advice is sound and clear. First, make a list of all you owe; second, list them in order of importance and third, start to work out how you can pay them off. Although it is different, the same advice is sound for the spiritual debt we are thinking of. Robert Fleming explains more in this updated extract about what this spiritual debt involves and how we are to pay it.

1. We Owe a Testimony to the Gospel

It is clear, that those who believe and receive the testimony of Jesus Christ, set their seal to it to certify that He is true. They subscribe (as it were) to the truth and doctrine of the gospel (John 3:33). There is a special debt on each Christian to bear witness that God is true. Those who have an assurance of grace confirmed to them owe a special debt to the truth and faithfulness of their God (often confirmed to them) to give Him the glory of His faithfulness (Psalm 89:1).

2. We Owe a Testimony in Our Lives

It is also clear that manifesting the power of godliness and the virtues of He who has called them is required through the whole course of a Christian’s life as a living and visible witness to these things.

3. We Owe a Testimony to Others

The converted person with their new discovery of the truth on first entering the Christian life is like someone who has come into another world. They have a special call and advantage for engaging in such a duty. They can commend by testimony to others what God has so marvellously commended to their own soul? They lack no opportunity to let the world know and wonder at such a change. Though once they were blind, now they see. They know assuredly that the truth is the power of God to salvation, not just through the report and testimony of others since now they see it with their own eyes. Their duty after being converted is to strengthen their brethren (Luke 22:32).

4. We Owe a Testimony from Experience

When a Christian has received a new seal of the faithfulness of God they have a new debt to give a good report and witness to the truth especially if they have harmed it in any way by fearful doubts and fainting from it. Their testimony will have the special benefit of confirming others in the way of the Lord because their formers fears were so obvious. Hezekiah after such a remarkable fall and fainting testifies in this way (Isaiah 38:15) as does David (Psalm 31:22).

5. We Owe a Testimony When the Truth is Attacked

There is a debt to the least truth of Scripture owed by those who profess it. This is especially so in a time of suffering when they have a special opportunity to witness to it and confess it by adhering closely to it. Some have a more special call and greater opportunity to do this than others. But sealing and confirming the truth is like a great public treasure store and the least Christian does not lack an opportunity to cast into it their mite. When we see atheism abounding public and the truth and faithfulness of God are challenged, this calls loudly to the godly person to attest it by some more obvious testimony than at other times. When it is the lot of a Christian to be amongst a generation of mockers, they will not lack opportunity and a special call to own the truth by a Christianly weighty and prudent witness. They are obliged to seal the truth even though no one else will. It is a call when the faithfulness of his God so often proved in their experience is brought into question by others. To David, this was like a sword that thrust him through, and he could not bear it when they said unto him, “Where is your God?”

6. We Owe a Testimony After Trials

After a time of remarkable trial, when the Christian comes safe to land after a storm, there is a new debt to bear witness to such a new manifestation of the truth and faithfulness of God. They make known the benefit received by the affliction and by their testimony may endear the way of the Lord to others. Job, after a long-continued storm of being afflicted, comes at the end to pay his debt to the truth by his seal and testimony (Job 42:5). Many after the storm can testify to the help of the Lord (Isaiah 48:21).

A Christian’s experience of the faithfulness of God is a special trust and debt owed to the truth, a talent put in their hand to manage (Psalm 66:16). This practice would greatly enrich Christian fellowship (Malachi 3:16) in mutual joy and establishment in the truth in a time when the benefit of serving the Lord is in question. We should not be hindered from it because others do it with an empty show and counterfeit.

When we have experience manifold trials and troubles we must let others who observe us know that we are satisfied with God and can rest securely on His Word when we have no resting place elsewhere. The apostle pays his debt in testifying that he is “persecuted, yet not forsaken; cast down, yet not destroyed” and saying “having nothing, I possess all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

7. We Owe a Testimony in Death

This Christian is specially called to this duty at the close of their days. Then they must pay this debt by commending the way of the Lord and confirming others in it. Would it not be an excellent appendix to the last will and testament of a dying Christian to seal with their last breath the faithfulness of God. Their words carry more weight then than at other times. They can witness that through the various steps of their life they know that God is true and has helped them until now. It is the last service of a dying Christian to their generation, to deliver to them the truth received and often proved. This is an excellent legacy to bequeath to others.

8. We Owe a Testimony to God’s Faithfulness

Christian wisdom can direct us on how to testify as we have an opportunity in our present circumstances. But is certain that each Christian is a witness on behalf of the faithfulness of God, to attest that God is true. There is an implicit seal by believing, but something more explicit is called for in times when the reality of godliness is so explicitly assailed as fanaticism. Throughout Scripture, believers are concerned to maintain a remembrance of the faithfulness of God and convey a lasting testimony to it (1 Samuel 7:12). No mercy is so small that God’s faithfulness is not engraved on it (Genesis 32:10).

9. We Owe a Testimony in Suffering

When the Christian is called to suffer for a particular truth they are also called to confess the faithfulness of God. They bear witness to the world that they are not ashamed of the cross of Christ because they know whom they have believed (even though others may choose sin, rather than affliction and so make God a liar).

10. We Owe Future Generations Clear Truth

There is a public debt on the Church in every generation to seal the truth to the ages to come and witness to the faithfulness of God. Scripture is clear on this and explicitly prophecies that it will happen (Psalm 145:4-6). One generation after another should seal the truth to another and thus carry forward a witness to it. Each time has some special debt to pay to posterity arising from a new addition to the great and remarkable works of the Lord. The greater the things witnessed by His works for the Church in one age more than another, the greater the debt. The Church must record and transmit the works of the Lord and the memory of His goodness to future times.
This is even more so when we live in times in which many seek to shake and unsettle people as to this great foundation. It would be desirable if the records of every age as they concern the Church, were clearer in recording a history of the verification of the truth and the way in which Scripture has been notably confirmed. In this way, one age would declare its faithfulness to the next, an excellent service if it is done carefully and wisely.

11. We Owe Future Generations Pure Truth

The Church owes posterity a debt to transmit the truth purely without damaging it. The oracles of God are committed to the Church and she is responsible for this in every generation. The truth of God has been more sharply assaulted with the greatest opposition and this makes this debt the greater. In every age, there are some to testify to the truth and each Christian is bound to do so. But no private activity can make up for a public witness. The enemy is not private but public and so a more solemn, authoritative and united testimony is then called for by the Church. This witness will be of benefit to the generations to come to see how their fathers held out and wrestled to keep their ground in defence of the gospel. It is like setting up another barrier to guard against a further breach when the enemy comes in like a flood. The confessions of the Church in every age in giving public testimony to the truth, although followed by clear danger and suffering have been more effectual in conserving the truth than all disputes. They overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:7).

12. We Owe Future Generations the Whole Truth

The Church also has a special debt to posterity to contend for the truth once delivered to the saints (which cannot be altered during this period before the second coming). This is not only true concerning more fundamental matters, we cannot profess such a zeal to these as makes us indifferent to other concerns of the truth. Can a piece of truth held forth in the Scripture be of such low value, to warrant abandoning or surrendering it if brought in question? One line of the truth is of more inestimable worth than the crowns and sceptres of all the monarchs of the earth. God who declares heaven and earth should fall before one tittle of his word perish gives it a different value. Can those be faithful in greater things who are not in those which are little? It is all too clearly seen, how a small surrender makes a great breach. Truths which are comparatively small may be great in their own time when they are the word of Christ’s patience. The lesser its value is with many, the greater testimony required by a Christian’s adherence to it. The truths of God declared in Scripture are so closely connected together that one part cannot be attacked without special harm to the whole. Every corruption of the truth aims at the very soul of religion.

13. We Owe Future Generations True Godliness

The Church has a debt to transmit truth and godliness to posterity not in a bare form only, but in with its life and power. Throughout a large part of the reformed Church the truth once shone brightly with much glory and warmth in many places. The truth and worship of God may still indeed be professed there, but the power and spirituality of it is a strange and unknown thing. We might ask whether the influences of the Holy Spirit are experienced there. Is there such a thing as real fellowship and converse with God in public and private worship?
There is great cause to fear that the shadow and form will soon be gone when the power of it is so great a mystery. The tide seems to have gone back so far with little expectation of its return. Only the faithfulness of God gives us hope for the Church of Christ. Fervent prayer in the most dark and dismal times of the Church’s condition has brought marvellous help in extremity. The least of the saints have an opportunity in this way to do great service to the whole Church and to seek to recover the power of godliness now so far gone.

Conclusion

Prayer is essential to seek wisdom to identify the opportunity and manner in which we ought to testify to God’s truth. We also need wisdom to see any ways in which we are passing by the opportunity to give clear witness on the Lord’s behalf. Although we may never meet them, we owe future generations in Christ’s Church a debt to convey to them as much as we possibly can of the truth and reality of the faith. That is a very large debt but there is sufficient grace in God to meet its demands. 

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