Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life

Preventing Patterns of Spiritual Harm in Church Life
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
25 Feb, 2020

Controversy has been swirling around the recent term spiritual abuse. It’s about the spiritual harm that comes from misuse of spiritual authority. This may mean using spiritual motivations to manipulate and coerce behaviour. Clearly it is wrong and against Scripture to manipulate. But with such a loose definition, some may perceive spiritual abuse in the plain communication of law and gospel or the biblical exercise of church discipline. If we only identify spiritual harm taking place where an individual has a perception of being abused spiritually, we may also be ignoring the bigger picture. Great spiritual harm comes from the neglect as well as the misuse of authority. Others question whether it is fair to spotlight emotional and psychological coercion and control in a spiritual context more than elsewhere. Even experts on “spiritual abuse” say a separate category is not needed. Whatever we make of the term spiritual abuse, spiritual harm is real. Rather than the framework being set by the secular definition of spiritual abuse we need to think about this issue biblically.

Without minimising the distress of those who have been in situations of coercion, we need a wider view of the subject. No-one includes under spiritual abuse teaching that condones a sinful lifestyle (Jude 1:4) or preaches a false gospel. Yet these cause the greatest spiritual harm. Spiritual relationships can also be misused in many ways. Sometimes there are harmful pressures and unbiblical expectations that congregations use to control their pastors. Or there may be harmful interactions between fellow church members that may or may not lead to extreme situations. If we think that spiritual manipulation couldn’t take place in our own context we only need to look at similar types of churches when it has.

Scripture rejects manipulative teaching (2 Corinthians 4:2). It warns against leaders who impose burdens for their own benefit (Matthew 23:4) and those who use their status for personal gain (Ezekiel 34:1-3) or lust (1 Samuel 2:22). There are harsh words for those who make the church their own empire and abuse their position (3 John 9-10). But spiritual harm is also connected with sheer neglect of duties (Ezekiel 34:4-5; Matthew 9:36). We are not dealing with outward things but the lasting good of souls that will never die and have an eternal destiny. Neglecting to care for souls is the most serious neglect there is.

How do we prevent such patterns marring the life of the church? It is a very large subject. For now, however, we can focus on biblical teaching that sets the right standard for those in positions of spiritual authority. Everyone can learn from these principles and apply them.

The apostle Peter speaks of the duties of those who have the oversight of the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2-3). They are to feed the Lord’s people with His truth and rule them by His discipline. In order to do this, they need to pay diligent close attention to the condition of the people and their way of living. He urges them to take the oversight willingly not as if they were forced to it. Rather it should be from an inward inclination to serve their Master and profit His people not their own personal gain. They should do their work with a ready mind and heart prepared by Christ.

They must not pretend to have any dominion over the Lord’s people. Instead, their whole way of life should provide an example of holy humility. It is a passage that emphasises humble service for Christ and His people’s sake, not serving self by lording it over the flock. This example helps provide a model of how we should relate to one another and so prevent patterns of spiritual harm. Alexander Nisbet draws some practical principles from it in the following updated extract.

1. Feed Christ’s Flock

Every minister of Christ ought to be able to feed His people with His saving truth (Jeremiah 3:15). It needs to be rightly divided and applied (2 Timothy 2:15), to every one of them, according to their varying conditions (Matthew 24:45). This is no less necessary for cherishing and increasing their spiritual life than ordinary food for their bodies at the right time (Job 23:13). They need wisdom, authority and equity for ruling the Lord’s people by the right exercise and application of church discipline. Feeding and ruling are expressed by one word in both Hebrew and Greek, to signify that they are equally required of every minister. Their duty is mainly emphasised here when it is said “feed the flock”.

2. Watch Over Christ’s Flock

It is not enough for the ministers of Christ to declare sound and saving truths to His people in their teaching and rule them by church discipline. They must also pay diligent close attention to how their live and their varying conditions and needs. They do this by frequently conversing with them and visiting them. This is what “oversight” means. They cannot apply either the truth or discipline to the flock of God as they ought without this.

3. Remember it is Christ’s Flock Not Your’s

Ministers should be stirred up to greater faithfulness and diligence in their calling when they consider that the people for whom they are responsible are the flock of God. He will provide for them (Isaiah 40:11) and be fearful to those who neglect or wrong them (Ezekiel 34:2,10 etc)..In order to stir elders to be faithfulness and painstaking in their duty, the apostle describes the people they have responsibility for as “the flock of God”.

4. Serve with Earnest Spiritual Desire

Anyone with a sense of their own weakness and of the weighty responsibility of caring for souls will be reticent in one sense to thrust themselves into that work (Exodus 3:11, Jeremiah 1:6). Yet once they have been called to it and engaged in it, they should not carry out the duties constrained by their fears. They may be fearful of revealing their own weakness, or lest they fall under the censure of others. They may also fear that their own conscience may trouble them for neglect of their duty. The apostle is aware of this danger and seeks to dissuade them from it because it would harm the way in which they go about their duty without a sense of constraint or compulsion.

Every faithful minister should have a strong inclination and inward desire in his spirit towards his duty. There should be so much love to Jesus Christ arising from the sense of his personal obligation to Him (2 Corinthians 5:14) that it produces this. His desire for the salvation of souls (1 Corinthians 10:33) should also be so great that he is not motivated by any outward consideration of gain or glory etc. These desires will keep him in the work and not allow him to neglect it.

6. Do Not Serve for Personal Gain

Christ’s ministers have His authority to receive from the people (according to their ability) a sufficient means of outward subsistence, (1 Corinthians 9:14). Yet for any of the ministers of Christ to make worldly gain their great incentive to undertake that calling, or their primary motive for its duties is a shameful and filthy frame of mind. This is most obvious when they exert themselves to the utmost to please those most from whom they expect most gain (Numbers 23:1). It can also lead them to oppose and discourage others from whom they expect least (Micah 3:5). This evil is abominable to God, detestable to faithful ministers, and something that disables them from doing their duty in the right way. Thus, the apostle warns them against filthy and shameful gain.

7. Be Prepared for Any Duty

A minister of Christ who seeks to carry out his duty in the right way must wait for every opportunity for doing it. He must keep himself in some fitness of spirit for every part of his calling. He should be ready whether or not the opportunity of fulfilling specific duties are immediately available. This is implied by the requirement that they should be of a ready mind, eagerly awaiting opportunities.

8. Do Not Usurp Christ’s Lordship

All faithful ministers should abhor the idea of usurping amy lordship over their fellow-labourers (3 John 9) or over the people under their charge. This is apparent whent they seek to compel rather than persuade the people to be obedient to the gospel. This is contrary to the apostles’ practice (1 Corinthians 4:21,2 Corinthians 12:20). It is also shown when any make use of the Word, or discipline, to pursue their own private revenge or to achieve their purpose through mere force and wearing down those who oppose them (Ezekiel 34:4). This is contrary to the apostle’s commandment (2 Timothy 2:24,25). They are not to be “lords over God’s heritage”.

The church and people of God are His inheritance. He has purchased them to Himself with His blood (Acts 20:28). He is the only Lawgiver within it (Isaiah 33:22). God will never therefore cast off or hand it over (Psalm 94:14). This should make everyone afraid to lord it over His people. Neither should they call themselves alone “God’s heritage” since it is a name given here to all the Lord’s people. [Nisbet refers to the word kleron here which is translated heritage or charge. The word “clergy” was derived from this and applied to ministers alone to distinguish them from the laon – the people or laity. Nisbet and his contemporaries objected to these terms as unbiblical]. This is given as a motive to overseers to be diligent and to avoid usurping dominion over them.

9. Be an Example of Humble Self-denial

Ministers of Jesus Christ are complete when they have an attractive outward life combined with their abilities to teach and rule and other inward qualifications. Such a pattern of living allures the flock to follow them because they see it as worthy of imitation. Their behaviour should demonstrate the graces of God in their heart. These include faith and love (1 Timothy. 4:12) and patiently enduring personal wrongs (1 Corinthians 4:16). They should demonstrate humility and self-denial for the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:33). They are to be examples to the flock and all the rest of the apostle’s counsel to elders depends on this.

Conclusion

Patterns of spiritual harm can be prevented the more that positive examples of doing as much spiritual good as possible are displayed by those with oversight of the flock. The more humble self-denial and focus on the spiritual good of others there will be, the less spiritual harm will take place. The greatest spiritual harm happens when we want ourselves to be heard and obeyed more than Christ and when we refuse to submit to His authority and Word. What spiritual good indeed would be evident if we were content to decrease in order that Christ might increase?

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure. It shows you how to support your minister through prayer. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons for ministries ending are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

 

 

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
23 Aug, 2019

If a fulfilling life is a degree of success and a certain standard of living why are those that have achieved this still unhappy? It seems that the more happiness is pursued in itself, the more unhappy people become.  Moments of happiness can be elusive. It’s clear that meaning and purpose are necessary for a fulfilling life–something that is higher than ourselves. It cannot be merely self-defined. But unless that ultimate purpose is the right one it will not truly fulfil our reason for living. How can we know?

Our ultimate authority for answering this must be in God’s Word, which is Truth (John 17:17). Ecclesiastes is the Bible book that deals most with true and false approaches to meaning and purpose for life. There is a contentment in outward things that goes along with the soul enjoying good as coming from “the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

He goes on to speak about other gifts that God gives to the man who is good or pleasing in His sight.  These include wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Only those who are freely pardoned and made righteous in Christ are pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. These gifts of wisdom and joy do not just relate to outward things of this life but spiritual things also. Spiritual joy flows from being accepted in Christ. But those who neglect God and rebel against Him continue seeking true happiness in the wrong way and the wrong things. For them there is unsatisfying toil and an absence of meaning and fulfilment.

In the following updated extract James Fergusson draws out the implications of this for a fulfilling life as defined by God.

1. A Fulfilling Life is Found Through Understanding God’s Ways

Everyone should be moved to choose God’s way of seeking after happiness when they consider how He gives this freely and abundantly to His people. This description of God’s generosity in giving such blessedness to His own is intended to be a motive for others to seek His way to happiness. God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are good and pleasing in His sight.

The blessedness of God’s people and the misery of others are best seen when they are compared together. One is illustrated by the other here in terms of God giving wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are accepted in His sight but futility and lack of meaning to the sinner (Ecclesiastes 2:26). (The word “sinner” is used here in contrast with those who have been declared righteous by God in a similar way to 1 Peter 4:18).

2. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Acceptance with God

Before someone can expect that full and satisfying provision which God gives to His children they must first be made good in God’s sight. This is only by reconciliation with Him, having Christ’s righteousness imputed, and the renewal of their nature. This is necessary so that they may aim at what is well pleasing in the sight of God.

3. A Fulfilling Life is Found through God’s Free Grace

Whatever the best of men receive from God has not been procured by them or merited by any goodness they have. It is all a free gift. This is true even of these who are accepted as righteous in His sight and whose character and way are most sincere. For even those who are good in God’s sight are given wisdom. Every further degree of grace is a new gift to such a person.

4. A Fulfilling Life is Found through the Wisdom Given by God

There must be wisdom and knowledge before there can be true comfort. People must see their misery and peril together with the remedy provided and how to make use of it. They need to understand their duty and how to fulfil it. They may then be sure that joy will result from such practical knowledge which affects the heart.  There is a relevance in the order in which these gifts are mentioned: first wisdom, then knowledge and joy.

The wisdom and knowledge God gives relates not only to spiritual things but also the ability to manage outward things aright. It is not confined to the first saving grace received, it includes the principles of all grace and every act of grace. It does not just include the things that bring comfort and joy, but joy itself, or the ability and desire to take joy and comfort. These things are a free gift of God. The wisdom, knowledge and joy here include all kinds of approved wisdom, every degree of knowledge and grace. It includes God’s gift of the ability to take comfort in what we know to be true. This provides reasons for rejoicing.

5. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Fellowship with God

People will never find what they are seeking for in earthly things, even though they weary themselves in the pursuit. These things are only truly found in God. Solomon has shown before that during his estrangement from God he was seeking satisfaction for his mind in the study of wisdom. After this he was seeking it in an abundance of earthly pleasures. But he declares that he has been disappointed by all of this. He did not find satisfaction till he came back to his first love, who gives him (and promises to others who choose His way) wisdom, knowledge and joy.

6. A Fulfilling Life is Not Found in Outward Things in Themselves

Those who seek happiness in earthly things may have success in getting an abundance of them: we are told here that they do gather and heap them up.  Yet they are still as far from satisfaction as they were before. They are constantly toiling in gathering and heaping up but never attaining to contentment.

The great toil in obtaining worldly things, the great agony of spirit which results from seeking happiness in them and the great disappointment of not enjoying true satisfaction in them should draw our hearts away from them. This way of life, labouring to gather and heap up, is condemned as futile. It fails to deliver that which those who are accepted before God enjoy.

Those who seek their happiness in things other than the Lord imagine themselves the only free men and that they have much joy in their way of life. But the truth is they are merely slaves to Satan and their own lusts and lack true comfort. The travail or task they have literally means the work and affliction of a slave.

Conclusion

We must not settle for anything less than the fulfilling life that God holds out to us in the Scriptures. When we seek first His kingdom and righteousness all other things will also be added. It does not guarantee a trouble-free life not does it guarantee prosperity. But it supplies the only meaning and purpose that makes life worth living.

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The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
28 Jun, 2019

We live in a look-at-me culture where image is everything. Many are encouraged to be obsessed with how they appear to others. Thinking less of ourselves in these ways is not humility but another symptom of self-obsession. Our culture generally celebrates pride as though it was a virtue. There are many ways in which we need to resist these pressures but we need to begin within. The Bible tells us that all Christians need to be concerned about how we clothe our minds, our words and our behaviour. There is something that should be worn by every Christian in this sense. That garment is humility.

This is especially emphasised in 1 Peter 5:5, “all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility”. It is striking that when Peter points out the responsibilities of Christians, he speaks of submitting to and serving one another. He shows how congregations should display humility in relation to the authority that Christ has established in the Church. He even singles out the younger members of the flock who may be more tempted to show disrespect.

Christians all ought to think about themselves less. They should adorn themselves with this humility. The word “clothe” in Greek literally refers to an item of clothing that was specific to slaves and this emphasises the aspect of mutual service. God opposes pride but has a special regard for those who take a lower place. Humility is so important and such a hard lesson to learn that Peter continues to press this point home in the next verse (1 Peter 5:6). In this updated extract Alexander Nisbet shows what it means to clothe ourselves with humility.

 

1. Humility Must Be Worn in All Our Interactions with Other Christians

Every one of the Lord’s people owe mutual subjection to one another. This involves giving and accepting loving reproof for faults (Leviticus 19:17; Psalm 141:5).  It also includes instructing and admonishing one another in relation to our duty (Colossians 3:16). They must humbles themselves to carry out all the duties of love they owe to one another (Galatians 5:13).  All this is included in the requirement given to the members of the church in relation to their fellow-members: “all of you be subject one to another”.

The lost may glory greatly in their pride and violence as something that adorns them (Psalm 73:6,18-19). The grace of humility gives a Christian a lower esteem of themselves as a result of the sense of their own sinfulness (1 Corinthians 15:9) and the undeserved goodness of God (2 Samuel 7:18,20). As a result, the Christian is inclined to honour others before themselves (Romans 12:10). They do not seek more esteem from others than God allows them to have (1 Corinthians 3:5 and 4:6). The Christian also accepts all God’s chastisements as less than what they deserve (Ezra 9:13). Humility is the thing that adorns Christian most. They should tie it around them and delight to wear it (as the word here literally means). They should be just as ashamed to appear before others without it as they would be ashamed to appear without their clothing.

 

2. Humility Must Be Worn in Everything a Christian Does

No duty that the Lord’s people owe to anyone can be properly discharged without receiving this humble spirit from God. The exhortation to be clothed with humility is clearly to be understood as a means for carrying out the things previously required as duties for Christians.

 

3. Humility Must Be Worn to Please God

The Lord may permit proud sinners to prosper in their sins for a time (Psalm 73:4-5) but He still declares war on them. He stands against them in battle array (as the word translated “to resist” literally means). He will take the most suitable opportunity to bring down all who live in the sin of pride. This sin is most obvious in neglecting to pursue reconciliation with God through Christ (Psalm 10:4). It is also obvious in when things that are clearly urged and required by the Word are left undone (Nehemiah 9:16-17,29). Unthankfulness to God for His mercies is another notable kind of rebellious pride against God. (2 Chronicles 32:25-26).

When we consider the way that God opposes pride it should make the pursuit of humility lovely to us. It should make pride hateful to the Lord’s people since they do not want God for their enemy. For this reason, he urges humility, because God resists the proud. Every humble sinner may expect evidence of God’s favour and the increase of the graces of His Spirit. This should commend the grace of humility to them and make them strive to exercise it. The fact that God gives grace to the humble is an encouragement to adorn ourselves with it.

 

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How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way

How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way

How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
29 Mar, 2019

Is it okay to enjoy this life? Some people assume, perhaps without expressing it, that Christians are not meant to enjoy earthly things. Perhaps they feel guilty as though they are always on the brink of idolatry (which is of course a real temptation). We are speaking of enjoying them in a legitimate God-honouring way. Scripture tells us that God has richly given to us all things so that we may enjoy them (1 Timothy 6:17). God has created the senses and the intellectual capacity to appreciate these things. Christians can in fact take a greater delight in what God has provided for them. This is because they see more in them not less. They see the glory, wisdom and goodness of the One who has provided them. They don’t abuse them, expecting the wrong things from them or solely using them for personal pleasure. How do we get a spiritual perspective on the things of this life?

Ecclesiastes has much to teach us about a right perspective on things “under the sun”. It shows that when these things are pursued in themselves and solely for our own pleasure they lose their value. But they can be enjoyed as a gift from God. We can glorify God in all these things, even eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes 2 surveys different ways in which the best possible things of this life can be amassed. Yet it is all unsatisfying in itself. Earthly things cannot satisfy the spiritual needs of the soul. In verses 24-25 this is qualified by the teaching that we are able to enjoy the things God has created. We are told clearly what is good for us in this life; the goal that was sought in Ecclesiastes 2:3. Alexander Nisbet explains how these verses teach us in relation to happiness in this world.

We are to enjoy created things not in excess but in a moderate and holy way. Eating and drinking is what Scripture calls this “our daily bread”. Our “soul is to enjoy good” and this must be what truly satisfies it spiritually. It must mean the sweet fellowship that reconciled souls have with the Lord, while they walk in fear and obedience towards Him. This is emphasised at the close of this book. This is the goal of all eating, drinking and using all the lawful blessings of this life. The grace to use them so as to advance the soul’s good helps us to find sweetness in them. It is all “from the hand of God”. God graciously gives these things and His powerful blessing enables us to use them in this way (see Psalm 104:28). Thus, he shows that happiness is not enjoying outward comforts alone in themselves. It is only in enjoying them in a holy way to help the soul’s good, which consists in fellowship with the Lord. Religion is a friend both to our bodies and spirits.

 

1. We Must Value Earthly Blessings

It is a great blessing from God both to have plenty of created comforts and to be able to make use of them and find sweetness in them. Some are restrained from this by inward and spiritual trials (Job 33:19-20). These may include the Lord withdrawing the felt comfort of His presence (Psalm 102:9 and Psalm 42:3). Others have outward trials that embitter their spirit and take away the pleasure of created comforts (1 Samuel 30:26-27). Other things that may hinder our enjoyment include extreme fears of outward dangers (Psalm 107:18), ungrounded scruples of conscience (Acts 10:13-14) or by miserliness.

The generosity of a good God provides the outward comforts of this life and the capacity to use them and find sweetness in using them. He also gives grace to use them to advance the good of the soul. It is all from our Father’s allocation, our Redeemer’s purchase and our Comforter’s presence and teaching. It is all from the hand of God (verse 24). The name God is plural reminding us of the three persons of the blessed Trinity.

 

2. We Must Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

If we were to consider the opening words of the verse “there is nothing better then that a man should eat and drink” without considering what follows it might seem to be gluttonous pleasure seeking. But if we join it with the expression immediately following this about the soul enjoying good we understand it in the right way. We see that the eating and drinking commended here are not without regard to the spiritual and eternal good of our souls.

Eating and drinking is no part of our happiness at all, unless the soul is enjoying the good that is appropriate for it. Solomon commends eating and drinking yet not in itself, but as it ushers in and advances some true good to be enjoyed by the soul of man. “There is nothing better than that a man eat and drink, and make his soul enjoy good”.

The right use of created comforts (such as food, drink and the like) is not only consistent with but subservient to the soul enjoying suitable true spiritual good. This is when we are in using these things led to think on and long for better and receive strength to praise and serve the Lord. The eating and drinking commended here advances the soul enjoying spiritual good. If we eat and drink and neglect to make our soul enjoy good we are worse than the beasts that perish.

 

3. We Must Not Despise Earthly Blessings

When ministers refute the abuse of lawful things and excessive affection for them they should also assert and make clear the lawful liberty Christians have. Otherwise hearers are ready to go from one sinful extreme to the other (either sinful excess or neglecting the body). Some may mistakenly think that religion is an enemy to their bodily health but this is contrary to Proverbs 3:8. After Solomon has condemned the excess of delighting our senses he commends using them in the right way to assist the soul in enjoying true good in fellowship with the Lord.

The soul and its concerns should be primarily and principally cared for (Matthew 6:33). It is not the Lord’s intention that seeking the good of our souls should make us careless about our bodies. We should rather (out of respect to our soul and our soul’s good) respect the good of our bodies in a moderate and holy manner. We must respect the body and care for it in reference to the soul. Thus, the body may assist the soul in serving its Creator. We ought not to indulge the body so as to neglect the soul or any duty relating to its welfare. This is that golden path in which we may expect some measure of the happiness which the Lord gives His children in this life.

 

4. We Must Teach Others How to Value Earthly Blessings Spiritually

Whenever the Lord makes any of His servants to excel in outward enjoyments or privileges, they should strive to teach others from their own experience. They can teach them how to use these outward advantages for the spiritual good of their souls. People who place their happiness in these things are ready to think that if others would not undervalue them if the knew from experience their imagined worth and sweetness. Solomon seeks to convince everyone that there is no true happiness in making use of these things, except to serve the soul enjoying true spiritual good in fellowship with God. He asserts this truth as someone who was second to none in having plenty of outward comforts and ability to enjoy them.

 

Conclusion

We can avoid the extremes of wanting either to starve ourselves of enjoying created blessings or overdose ourselves on them. We do this with a right perspective that enjoys them in the light of God’s goodness and grace. They can in fact help us to love God more. It’s not easy for us to enjoy earthly things in a spiritual way but Nisbet shows us that God gives grace to be able to do this. And as in so many other things we need to pray for that grace. When we are those who have been redeemed at infinite cost we can see that even our everyday blessings are enjoyed as those who belong body and soul to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

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Appealing Our Injustices to the Most Supreme Court

Appealing Our Injustices to the Most Supreme Court

Appealing Our Injustices to the Most Supreme Court
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
11 Oct, 2018

“I want to start by thanking God”, Daniel McArthur said after the court victory. “He has been with us during the challenges of the last four years. Through the Bible and the support of Christians he has comforted us and sustained us. He is our rock and all of his ways are just.” There is a great deal more behind this than evident depth of experience and relief. The Bible directs us to look to and depend on God whenever we suffer wrong or injustice. It is not only a matter of faith but conviction that He is the judge of all the earth. Ultimately, they were looking to a court more supreme than the Supreme Court or any earthly tribunal. Yet we also use means to seek justice and lawful protection. “We always knew we hadn’t done anything wrong in turning down this order”, Daniel said. “The Supreme Court has now recognised that and we’re very grateful. Grateful to the judges and especially grateful to God.” This was a case of compelled speech. The force of law was being applied to Ashers Bakery to force their conscience to endorse a message they knew was wrong. The consequences of this precedent were ominous indeed. How does the Bible give practical help for specific situations like this?

 

Ecclesiastes 5:8 speaks of this kind of situation. Oppression, particularly through the courts, and “violent perverting of judgement and justice”. But it reminds us to take strength from the fact that there is One who is “higher than the highest” who is taking account of these things. We are to submit to the powerful providence of God who orders all such sad events for the good of those who fear Him. Alexander Nisbet draws out the meaning of this verse and its practical implications in the following updated extract.

The verse speaks of the how God’s people (who may or may not be poor in this world) can suffer grievous oppression from the world. They can have what is their right taken from them. The word oppression in this verse means abusing justice and law. The injustices they experience are increased in the very place where the oppressed might expect redress of the wrongs they have experienced.

The same verse dissuades us from marvelling or being astonished at the perverse will and purposes of those who drive on such oppression and injustice. Neither should they marvel at the wise and good will of God in permitting and ordering this for good reasons. They are not to fret or be anxious by being ignorant of the  Lord’s wise purposes in permitting it.

The verse gives three reasons for not being discouraged: (a) The Lord is supreme in His power, justice and other perfections, He is far above the highest oppressors on earth. (b) The Lord watches over all their wrongs to defend, preserve and reward those who hold fast to His way despite such opposition. (c) The Lord has a great multitude of means that He can use against proud and unjust oppressors.

 

1. Believers Can Expect to be Wronged

Those who walk most closely by the rule of the Word may expect the worst treatment in the world. They may be robbed of their outward comforts or else kept from possessing what belongs to them by right. Sometimes when they have recourse to those in power they see no hope of getting relief from them. Instead they have the wrongs done to them increased. They may get new wrongs from those who should be providing redress. This may happen in every place (“province”) of the country where they live.

 

2. Believers Tend to Be Astonished When they are Wronged

The Lord gives us forewarning of this in the Word (see Hebrews 11) and comforts us by telling us why it is permitted (Psalm 92:7; Romans 8:28). This gives us no reasons to marvel at such trials. His forewarnings are heeded so little by the best, however, because they promise themselves ease and prosperity (Hebrews 12:5; Psalm 30:6). They are so little acquainted with His wise and gracious ends in sad trials that they become astonished and perplexed, not knowing what to do (Psalm 36:6). Their proneness to be so affected with sad trials is implied in this counsel that we are not to marvel when we see oppression.

 

3. Believers Should Look to God When they are Wronged

If we want true peace and quietness of spirit we must be resolved to follow our duty despite the various injustices from the world then we do. Believers must learn to equip themselves with such thoughts of God’s greatness and care for His people as will help them not marvel at but manage their sufferings.  True contentment comes from guarding the heart with suitable reasons from being encouraged in the face of the opposition they meet with in the world.

 

4. Believers Should Bear Such Wrongs Patiently

Believers are to bear such wrongs patiently in doing what is right, they are to honouring the Lord and submit to His gracious purpose. They should do this without being perturbed or marveling at them. This is a mark of a right worshipper of God acting out of the principle of the fear or God’s name. In the previous verse the fear of God and right worship in public and private is emphasised. This verse provides further evidence of those who worship God aright.

 

5. Believers Should Trust that God Takes Account of Such Wrongs

The godly who are oppressed are not ignored by the Lord, though they may be tempted to think otherwise (Isaiah 49:14). He watches (as the word “regard” means literally) carefully over all their wrongs so as to rectify them (Psalm 10:17-18). He watches over their oppressors to restrain and punish them (Psalm 76:10). He also watches over their patiently continuing to do what is right while suffering. He will graciously reward it in due time (Revelation 3:10-12). He who is higher than the highest takes account of it all.

 

6. Believers Should Trust in God’s Greatness

The Lord is incomparably eminent in all His perfections: His power, wisdom etc. This is strengthening to His People but intimidating to their enemies. He has the highest on earth under His feet as grasshoppers (Isaiah 40:22-23) and can easily bewilder and crush them with a look so that they will trouble His people no more (Exodus 14:24). Comparing God’s greatness against the lowness of the greatest on earth should sustain the hearts of those who know Him. It should keep them from sinking under discouragement and fainting in fear of trouble from the greatest. This high and lofty One has humbled Himself to become their’s by covenant; They should not fear men because He is “higher than the highest”.

 

7. Believers Should Strengthen Others with These Comforts

When we experience such comfort in trials we should comfort others with the comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4). Such comfort drawn from the Lord’s greatness and concern for His suffering people has already been experienced by Solomon himself in the same situation (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17). This should guard the hearts of God’s people against temptations and discouragements in their way.

 

8. Believers Should Not Forget God’s Greatness in the Midst of Trouble

When the Lord’s people are troubled by oppression and harsh treatment in this world it is because they do not consider God’s greatness and care for His people as they ought. Both of these are meant to guard them from being astonished, this implies that they are ready to forget or fail to consider them believingly. When this happens, it causes their trouble and astonishment.

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Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

Why Do We Fear Missing Out?
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
16 Aug, 2018

It’s a modern fear apparently, fed by a constant awareness of what is happening in the lives of many others. It’s the anxiety that others elsewhere are having more rewarding experiences from which we are absent. It is often aroused by social media posts. So people may check their phones compulsively in case they miss what is going on. But there’s a deeper fear of missing out where people compare their boring lives to the carefully curated portraits they consume. They fear they are missing out on a better life altogether and they grudge others having it. Why? It’s Social Media Envy.

That answer may be a little shocking but there’s nothing new about it. Envy breeds discontent with the life and circumstances God has provided for us. We can be envious of very good and right things, even the best things. It’s something observed in Ecclesiastes 4:4 “I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit”. In this case it is just someone doing what is right and good. They are following the calling God has given them. They may do this by maximising their skills, raising a family and enjoying time with them, loving their wife etc. But these right works can be the cause of envy in others. Alexander Nisbet explains the meaning of this in more detail showing how this envy can get a hold in our hearts.

The word “travail” means the hard work in which men engage in things that are right and approved in God’s sight. He shows what reception this sort of work has in the world: “for this a man is envied”.  The better a man’s actions are, the more he is hated by those who cannot do similarly.  This may be even by his closest friend (this is what the word “neighbour” means here).  This is vanity, sinful vanity on the part of the envious who are grieved at what they ought to rejoice in (others doing well). There is also vanity in the sense of disappointment on the part of the envied, who look for better reception for their right works. This can create anxiety. Since it may happen to us, as the envying or the envied, it is man’s wisdom to seek his happiness elsewhere.

 

1. Envy Can Affect the Best Actions

The best and most upright actions may not be approved and honoured by the wicked world. On the contrary, it may be expected, that they will the object of envy in those who are so greedy of vain glory for themselves. Those who care so little about God’s glory are grieved to see others made the means of  glorifying Him (John 3:26-27).  So for “every right work…a man is envied of his neighbour”.

 

2. Envy Can Affect the Closest Friends

Envy is so great an evil that it does not only make people grieved at the success of strangers and enemies.  It vents itself mainly against someone’s own companions or equals when they get the approval that the envious are hunting for. For a “right work, a man is envied of his neighbour”. The word neighbour here means an equal, or close friend and companion.

 

3. We Will Be Disappointed if Seek Approval From Others

This envy for the good actions of others proves how far we are infected with the vanity that has resulted from the Fall.  It is is also a just rebuke to those who look for the praise and approval of others as the great encouragement in their work. They will be disappointed in this and may experience the envy rather than the praise of others. The “vanity” of disappointment and frustration this verse speaks of relates to both the envious and the envied. The envied who expected the approval of others as their reward are disappointed. “This is also vanity”.

 

4. We Should Seek Approval From God Not Others

By nature we overvalue the praise and approval of others and strive very little to draw our encouragement from God’s approval. Thus, when we meet with envy instead of praise our spirits are easily eaten up with anxiety. When a “right work” is envied by others it produces not only “vanity” or a disappointed expectation but also “vexation of spirit”.

 

5. We Must Not Neglect Our Duty Because of Envy

Some may abandon the duties of the ordinary calling or spiritual duties due to the envy of others. The following verses (verse 5-6) go on to describe this temptation as folly. They fold their hands together in idleness and discouragement (see Proverbs 6:9-10; Hebrews 12:12). Those who desire peace of conscience and to have true contentment must keep going in their duty despite envy and oppression from the world. He who forsakes his duty because of fearing the envy of others is a fool in God’s esteem. The Lord’s approval and reward, is more than able to make up for all that the envy of others can bring on us.

 

Conclusion

The more God-centred we are in our attitudes and desires, the greater contentment we will have. We need not be paralysed by the fears of missing out and the insecurity that others have a better life than we do. The Apostle Paul speaks very often about being approved by God. The motive of pleasing God in doing our utmost for His glory by His grace takes away the disappointment and frustration of focussing on others. Whatever we do therefore (even in the smallest aspects of life) let us do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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Looking Beyond this World’s Obsolescence

Looking Beyond this World’s Obsolescence

Looking Beyond this World’s Obsolescence
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
10 Aug, 2018

Many products we buy have been designed with planned obsolescence. They have an artificially limited useful life so that when it becomes obsolete you have to buy a new one. Such are the empty and lying promises of consumerism. It’s not just man-made products, all material creation is wearing out and passing away: including us (1 Corinthians 7:31). The things on which we spend so much time literally perish with the using (Colossians 2:22). While we value what God has given us richly to enjoy, we recognise that this points us beyond. The more that we are conscious of the change and decay around us, the more we value the things that will never deteriorate or end.

In contrast to such decay Peter points us to “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled”. This cannot wear out or fade away. It is an inheritance “reserved in heaven” for those that are united to Christ by faith (1 Peter 1:4). As Alexander Nisbet observes, this is “a matchless inheritance to look for beyond time, which is both excellent in itself and made very sure for them”. There are three ways in which it excels any earthly inheritance by far.

  1. It has nothing in itself which makes it liable to any decay.
  2. It cannot be affected by any outside source that would stain its beauty and excellence.
  3. It keeps the same perfection throughout all eternity.

These excellences are sweetened further by the fact that it is safely kept for the regenerate in a place beyond all danger. Nisbet draws these thoughts out further in what follows.

1. Heaven is Difficult to Describe

That blessed state which the regenerate have good ground to hope for is so matchless and excellent that it cannot be described by anything in the here and now. The best inheritance here is liable to decay, it is still defiled and fading one way or other. But this “inheritance is incorruptible, and undefiled” and does not fade away”. Even if we many words we cannot commend it sufficiently. A number of words are used here and they are all metaphorical and negative. This tells us that we may more easily conceive and express what it is not and what it is like, than what it is.

2. Heaven is Useful Here and Now

Thoughts of heaven are necessary if the Lord’s people want to keep their hearts in a spirit of praise. If they want to be constant and cheerful in holding fast to the truth of Christ, despite sufferings they need this. They must have their hearts greatly taken up with considering the excellence of the inheritance which is made sure for them beyond time. This will enable them to undervalue afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:17,18) and even rejoice in going through them (Romans 5:2,3). This will help them despise the pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:25). It will help make their painstaking efforts in the requirements of holiness sweeter (2 Corinthians 5:8,9). The apostle Peter seeks to put those who read into this frame of spirit. He commends the excellence of their inheritance, that it is “incorruptible, and undefiled” it does not fade away.

3. Heaven is Enjoying Christ

The regenerate are born again to receive this inheritance and they have good reasons to hope for it. The inheritance is nothing else except the Lord Himself who is blessed forever. They enjoy Him as their inheritance for all eternity. The qualities of this inheritance as described here are elsewhere in Scripture attributed to Him. He is the inheritance of His people (Psalm 16:5,6), incorruptible (Romans 1:23), undefiled (Hebrews 7:26), and He does not fade away (Psalm 102:27).

4. Heaven is Freely Given

This heavenly inheritance of the saints does not come to them by their own purchase. It is by virtue of their sonship (Romans 8:17). They have this inheritance immediately on receiving and believing on Christ (John 1:12). It is something purchased for them by their father (Ephesians 1:14), who has left it to them as a legacy (John 17:24). He lives forever as the executor of His own will and testament (Hebrews 7:25). Rather that being merited by any of them, it falls to them by lot, as with Israel’s inheritance in Canaan. The apostle alludes to that in using the word inheritance. He speaks of everlasting blessedness by this word inheritance, which means something received by heirs, left in legacy or by lot.

5. Heaven is Guaranteed for Believers

This blessed state is made very sure for the regenerate. It has been decreed from eternity to be theirs (Matthew 25:34). It has been secured to them in time by the promise of the faithful God (John 6:40). It is now possessed by their Surety and Head in their name (Hebrews 6:19,20). Thus, the apostle says, it is reserved in heaven for them.

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Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World

Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World

Valuing God’s Gift of Sleep in a Restless World
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
1 Dec, 2017

Sleeplessness is something of a modern epidemic. In general we are sleep-deprived with the average person losing the equivalent of an entire night of sleep every single week. In general, this seems to be caused by the stresses of modern lifestyle and the erosion of a 24/7 online world into the domain of nightly rest. Man seeks to conquer time itself but is overmastered by his own needs. For some of course, sleep is not yielded voluntarily; it is a persistent concern or symptom of deeper health troubles. Insomnia can seem like the hole through which our life is draining away. The need for sleep is not just a divine reminder of our frailty. It also points us away from seeking true rest in this world.

The stresses of a consumer society and its frenetic gathering as well as spending are not uniquely modern. Scripture speaks of how “the abundance of the rich” robs him of sleep  (Ecclesiastes 5:12). We must be diligent in our calling and outward concerns but not in such an excessive and anxious way. Those with responsibilities in the Church or a desire to study God’s Word more may find that it encroaches on their necessary rest. So much more knowledge is available to us in an internet connected age that we may be tempted to spend excessive time in it.

We have the gift of sleep from God to relieve our anxieties and remind us to commit matters in faith to Him once we have done our duty (Psalm 127:2). Perhaps sometimes we need to better appreciate the gift. We pray “give us this day our daily bread”, which includes the ability to get it and all the outward necessities of this life.

Sometimes we cannot give ourselves sleep and it is a severe trial. Our rest is still in the only One who does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4). We may seek to draw near to and meditate on Him in the night watches (Psalm 119:148; Psalm 63:6).

If we seek our best portion in an abundance of the things of this world we will suffer by it. The “rich” referred to in Ecclesiastes 5:12 are not just those who have considerable wealth.  Scripture provides examples of godly rich men such as Abraham and Job who experienced rest in body and soul. It is the covetous that are in view who through excessive love to the world and anxious care about keeping and fears of losing, deprive themselves of what the Lord gives to us. It refers to the ordinary course of events. The Lord may of course try His own dearest people with a lack of rest and may sometimes plague the rich with false peace and rest of body and mind.

Ecclesiastes 5:12 also speaks of a labouring man whose sleep is “sweet”. Alexander Nisbet provides a fuller explanation.  It is someone who despite all his labour has little of this world but is also labouring for the true riches. This must be the case; if he were covetous his anxiety to get would make him as restless as those with abundance. Moderate diligence about our outward calling and seriously seeking the true riches gives sweet sleep and rest both to body and spirit. Diligent labour and a good conscience makes sleep refreshing.

 

Rest is a Gift from God

Natural rest or sound sleep not interrupted by troubles of body or soul is a sweet mercy from God. It separates us from seeing and feeling the miseries of this life. When rest is sanctified we are refreshed by it and recreated in body and spirit for the further service of the Lord. It is a sweet blessing to the labourer that fears God.

 

Diligence and Rest Go Together

Ordinarily, the busier we are in honest and moderate labour in our callings, the sweeter will be our rest and sleep from God. Diligence disposes our bodies for rest. Moderate, honest labour prevents the reproaches of conscience that would mar our rest. We should digest the efforts of lawful diligence and beware of gorging ourselves on it. Beware also of marring peace of conscience and the sweetness of the rest and sleep given by God. The one who labours diligently and moderately has sweet sleep.

 

Moderation and Rest Go Together

Anyone should take a moderate portion of outward things when (in God’s providence) they have less or when calls them to distribute a share to others in need. At other times they may be more liberal (but not excessive) when the Lord blesses their labour with greater success. Their bodies must be upheld for their labours and strengthened by created benefits. Solomon here supposes the labourer to eat more at some times and less at others. He says his sleep is sweet, whether he eats little or much.

The Lord can strengthen their bodies and spirits whether they have little or much to eat.  Their rest and quietness of spirit does not come from how much they have but from God’s blessing. The light of God’s countenance makes their sleep sweet and sound (Psalm 4:8).

 

There is No Rest to the Wicked

Eternal torment and unrest awaits those who have chosen their portion in this world. They often have the down payment of that everlasting unquietness given them in this life. There are many unquiet nights and vexing thoughts about how to keep and increase what they have. These are many messengers sent to warn them of their folly in having chosen such a god to serve that cannot give his worshippers a sound and sweet sleep. They are foolish in neglecting to serve He who will give “his beloved sleep” when it may be good for them. “The abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep”.

Covetousness Steals Rest

It is evident that mammon is the idol of those whose hearts are so preoccupied with such thoughts that their rest is stolen. Their abundance is a curse and snare to them when their hearts are so distracted with cares and fears about worldly things. They are deprived of the ordinary rest and refreshment which God gives to the children of men in the night time. Solomon identifies this characteristic of the covetous; “his abundance will not suffer him to sleep”.

 

Our Study Must Not Rob Us of Rest

It is not just those who serve mammon and their lusts who are excessive in their efforts and may be cruel to themselves out of love to their idols. Even the best of God’s children in their best studies, are sometimes in danger of exceeding their efforts. This may be partly out of a love for their own honour and partly due to lack of humble dependence on God. Such dependence would abate any such anxiety and sweetens their study. Ecclesiastes 8:16 speaks of the danger of this; seeking to know wisdom and denying ourselves sleep night and day. It implies excessive effort  seeing that night is appointed for our rest when the Lord gives his beloved sleep. It seems that Solomon himself engaged in excessive study in this way.

 

Conclusion

We ought to have great sympathy for those who suffer from chronic sleep loss. Sleep is God’s gift to both our souls and bodies. We can’t do without it. Lack of sleep drains our physical resources and immune system. It can have the same impact spiritually and morally.  Nightly rest is also a daily reminder of our dependence on God’s sovereign care (Psalm 4:8). We are able to glorify God by night as well as by day through humble dependence on Him. “Oh, we are little with God! and do all without God! We sleep and wake without Him; we eat, we speak, we journey, we go about worldly business and our calling without God!” (Samuel Rutherford). Modern lifestyles devalue God’s gift of sleep as we fail to observe both the moderation and diligence that Scripture counsels. May we find that our need for rest makes our lives yet more God-centred.

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Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload

Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload

Overcoming Spiritual Information Overload
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
24 Nov, 2017

Sometimes it’s called infobesity. Constantly force fed hundreds of messages through all kinds of media, we are unable to digest information. Even if we could digest it, would it nourish our life and soul? We are drowning in information but starved for wisdom. Information overload paralyses our ability to think, make decisions and identify priorities. It’s a spiritual issue of course. What if all the information we consume makes us less able to “receive with meekness the engrafted word”? Everyone has an opinion to share online and they multiply exponentially. Even in the best things this can become spiritual information overload as we seek to stay afloat in the torrent of new material.

This is not a new problem. Ecclesiastes 12:12 warns “of making many books there is no end”. The technologies may have increased but the problem is the same: words being endlessly multiplied. When we understand these words in their context we can see that he is contrasting these things to “the words of the wise” (v11). We are to be “admonished” he says, and instructed by the words of the wise. The word “admonished” means enlightened or informed.  The key truth to grasp is that it is possible to go astray in seeking wisdom (as we see in the earliest chapters of Ecclesiastes). We need to be careful and cautious so that we do not mistake the true way to true happiness.

The danger of inertia due to information overload is a spiritual problem. Bewilderment and distraction concerning all the opinions swirling around us are also spiritually damaging. Many opinions only muddy the waters as opposed to creating clarity. We need the discernment to identify “the words of the wise” that agree with Scripture and those that do not. If we are looking for “words of the wise” that will feed our souls it is helpful to mine the riches of the spiritual wisdom of the past. If we turn to writers saturated in Scripture we will find that they draw us closer to the book of books, the Scriptures.

Alexander Nisbet comments on these words from Ecclesiastes. He identifies the words of the wise with every message of any sent minister of Christ. They come from “one Shepherd” (v11). There is a  key warning to be drawn about many books being endlessly made. If we are not satisfied with the admonitions of this book (and the rest of Scripture) we will become vain in our imaginations. Everyone will imagine a new and nearer way to happiness. Out of their boundless desire for vain glory they will make no end of their enquiries. Rather, they will spend the best of their time and strength to vent their own ideas. They will devote themselves to commending their vain imaginations about the way to true happiness and refuting others.  Many of the most intelligent have done this in many written volumes.

Thus, it is clear that this verse does not condemn writing or studying other books besides the Scriptures as long as they agree with it. It is a warning against those books that oppose Scripture, in so far as they pretend to point out a way to happiness contrary to what the Bible teaches. Our souls can never have true rest or quietness until we embrace the truths declared in this book. These truths are like nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. They fix and establish the hearts of those that receive them concerning this main question: where their true happiness can be found.

When the verse goes on to say that “much study is a weariness to the flesh” it is speaking of every study opposed to the study of the truth commended in this book. Anyone who applies themselves to any other study to attain true happiness may well weary his flesh. They will do no more good to themselves than this, weary the body. They will bring no true profit or satisfaction to their soul. Every child of wisdom must apply themselves to make use of these truths.

Nisbet applies this verse by showing how we must isolate the Bible and biblical teaching from everything else and approach them in a unique way. This helps us to avoid spiritual information overload.

 

1. We need to Value Scripture as Enough in Itself

Scripture is perfect compared with all other writings in the world. Every part of Scripture contains a perfect rule of faith and practice. No other writings besides or contrary to it are necessary to supply any deficiency. Solomon here assumes that though only a small part of Holy Scripture had been delivered to the Church at that time, it was still enough. What he and others before him had written was enough to admonish about duty and warn of dangers in attaining true happiness. This is why he says “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

2. We need to be Admonished by Scripture

In studying Scripture we should not only aim at our comfort. Our main concern should be to receive clear information and warning about our sin and peril, the only true remedy to deal with this and how to attain it. This is one main use to be made of this book, and thus, the rest of Scripture, “by these…be admonished”.

 

3. We need to Approach Scripture as Children

Some of those who hear the gospel may be strong men compared to others who are but babes (1 John 2:13-14). All should come to Scripture as children to hear the Lord’s mind with meekness. They must come in submission to the reproofs and warnings of the Word. They must also come with love to their teachers in Scripture, desiring the sincere milk of the Word from them. Ministers should also exercise tender fatherly affection toward the people with whom they deal. Solomon therefore speaks to every hearer as a son, “by these, my son, be admonished”.

 

4. We need to be Warned About False Wisdom

There are those who will never make an end of seeking out many inventions to attain their imaginary happiness. They are so carried away with their desire for vain glory ( Job 11:12) that while they have time or strength they will begin one book after they have written another. They seek to show themselves wise in discovering the way to happiness. Yet it is so empty that until they take the new and living way to happiness which the Scripture reveals, they will meet with nothing but endless labour and continual disappointment. They will never have any true rest or quietness for their minds. Thus, Solomon says concerning such writings that ignore the Scripture’s way to happiness. “of making many books there is no end”.

 

5. We will Find Rest and Sweetness in Studying the Truth

Studying saving knowledge may prove wearisome to the flesh. This is due to our being slow to understand, lacking confidence of being successful and acquaintance with the basis for receiving comfort. It is also partly because the Lord intends the flesh to be wearied in that study in order to divert the heart from sinful delights. Such study is in fact, sweet in itself. It is the very rest and refreshment of the soul, it is health to the spirit and marrow to the bones. In comparison to this,  all other studies are wearisome to the flesh. This study must be rest and sweetness, it is only concerning other studies that Solomon says, “much study is a weariness to the flesh”.

 

 

Conclusion

Spiritual information overload leaves us with inertia, indigestion, frustration and confusion. When we submit to Scripture and the words of the wise, we will have clarity about how God wants us to glorify Him. We will also be warned about our urgent priorities and find true spiritual rest and sweetness in the truth. May the Lord help us draw such benefit from Scripture that we are able to discern the words of the wise that will only increase our understanding of and love for God’s Word.

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Your Best Excuses Against Personal Witnessing Answered

Your Best Excuses Against Personal Witnessing Answered

Your Best Excuses Against Personal Witnessing Answered
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
15 Sep, 2017

It’s not difficult to make believers feel guilty as soon as certain subjects are raised. Personal witnessing and private prayer are perhaps the most obvious examples. It’s not uncommon for people to find it difficult contemplating sharing their faith. From one point of view, this is not surprising as it certainly takes us out of our comfort zone. Very few people find it easy to speak with people about their eternal destiny and the truths of God. Yet these are the things that matter most. We have friends, neighbours, relatives, co-workers not to mention strangers that we encounter in providence and we fail to speak to them about their soul. If we don’t who will? This does not mean abusing relationships but it does mean praying for opportunities to arise and being ready to take them when they do. Let’s consider some of the excuses we have against this.

In all honesty, a lot of what holds us back from witnessing is related to self. It may be our pride (in relation to how others perceive us). Perhaps we are simply absorbed in our own lives and interests (we fail to take to heart those perishing around us). We may also be retained by unbelief (we refuse to think that God could or would use us). There may be other difficulties more personal to our situation, we have to speak in general about the issue. Scripture understands our fears and meets these with valuable counsel.

Alexander Nisbet provides some useful comments on 1 Peter 3:15 that can be connected with such excuses. This verse says that must always be ready to answer everyone that asks us to give a reason for the hope we have. We have real hope and reason for real hope; they do not. We have to do this not with arrogance and superiority, but “with meekness and fear”. Something else we must do is “sanctify the Lord God” in our hearts, this will help us to speak to others faithfully and with humility.

The context of the verse relates to the trials and persecution these believers were enduring. Peter is counselling them about the right spirit and conduct they ought to have in their sufferings. The fear and reality of persecution was not a valid reason to hold back from answering everyone that asked them to give a reason for their hope. We must prepare ourselves beforehand with clear knowledge of the truth. We should be able to show from the Word of God reasons for what they believe. Their testimony for the truth was to be seasoned with meekness even towards persecutors and opponents. It was right that they should have in their hearts a holy fear of giving that testimony in a wrong way.

1. It might invite trouble

In the midst of their troubles, these believers were to maintain in their hearts a felt sense and acknowledgment of God’s holiness. God is matchless in holiness (1 Samuel 2:2). He can have nothing added to that or any other of His infinite perfections by any creature (Romans 11:35-36). Nevertheless, He esteems Himself sanctified in His people’s hearts when they (in view of His holiness) submit to the hardest of ways in which He orders their experience (Psalm 22:3). They are afraid to offend so holy a majesty (Isaiah 29:23). They are strengthened by this to believe that He will fulfil all His promises (Psalm 111:9) and His threatenings against His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12).

In such circumstances of trial God’s children may be perturbed in spirit. They may be in great danger of forgetting God’s sovereignty over them (Isaiah 51:12-13). He can use them as He pleases for His own glory. They are in danger of having thoughts in their hearts inconsistent with the holiness and purity of His nature. The apostle says: “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”.

2. I couldn’t do that on my own

The godly ought not to be anxious about knowing what to say in a time of trial (Matthew 10:19). Nevertheless, they ought not to neglect ordinary means of preparing for trials. Such means of preparation include drinking in the solid and clear knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 6:19). They must maintain the presence of that Spirit who reveals truths yet unknown and brings known truths to remembrance when it is necessary (John 14:26). In this way, they may be able to defend the truth by holy reason drawn from the Scripture. They can make a defence or apology for it (as the word means here), Thus they can answer objections that may be made against it (Proverbs 15:28). They are to be always ready to answer everyone that asks them for a reason for the hope that is in them.

3. I don’t know the right words to say at the time

There are circumstances where the Lord’s children may safely answer their adversaries with silence. For instance, when they have testified sufficiently and frequently to such truths before (Matthew 27:12,14). Sometimes questions are only put to them by wicked men out of scorn (Proverbs 26:5) or idle curiosity (Luke 23:8,9,11). Perhaps the questions they face are intended to ensnare the godly (Isaiah 36:21).

Even still, they ought to keep themselves ready to defend the truth and give a reason of what they hold. They need to be prepared for occasions when the glory of God and edifying others requires it. God makes known the time and way of doing this to every humble believer that waits on Him (Luke 12:11,12 and 21:14,15; Habakkuk 2:1). The apostle does not direct them here to answer always everyone that asks them but to be ready always to answer everyone that asks a reason.

4. I might get a question I can’t answer

The Lord’s children ought not to satisfy themselves with any confidence or persuasion concerning the truths of the gospel which is not clearly and reasonably grounded on the Word. They must have the kind of persuasion that may not only convince themselves but others also when they called to give them a reason. They are to be ready to give “a reason” to everyone that asks.

5. I don’t have the right temperament for it

Every testimony that God’s people give to His truth before those who oppose it ought to be seasoned with meekness of spirit. This should be evidenced in their conduct toward their persecutors by avoiding all signs of carnal passion and revenge against them (1 Thessalonians 5:15). They must use respectful and sober language towards them (Acts 26:25). This may be blessed by God to reduce their troubles (Proverbs 15:1).  The wicked may be convicted of the just character of the cause that they persecute. The  following verse shows this. They must be ready to give a testimony to the truth “with meekness”.

6. I’m scared

The fear of man mars confidence and peace in the heart. It is contrary to the spirit we ought to have (the fear of God) which is “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”. We may have, however, a holy fear that we will fail to act aright in trials and difficulties by denying or concealing any necessary truth. We may have a fear of speaking necessary truth at the wrong time or mixing our own passions with our testimony to the truth. This holy fear is a prime qualification of a right witness for Christ and His truth. This verse says that we should be ready to bear testimony to the truth “with fear”.

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How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials

How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials

How True Faith Rejoices in Christ, Even in Trials
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
11 Aug, 2017

Trials do more than cast a shadow, they often bring us into periods of darkness. It seems that, as Rutherford says, Christ’s purpose is to have joy and sorrow equal sharers in the life of His people.  As though “each of them should have a share of our days, as the night and the day are kindly partners and halfers of time”. To some it may seem that they have more sorrow than joy. Rutherford says that even though “sorrow be the greediest halfer of our days here, I know joy’s day shall dawn, and do more than recompense all our sad hours”. In the midst of trials and darkness the light of joy is sown for the righteous (Psalm 97:11). Faith brings Christ near and His presence floods the dark room of sorrow with the light of joy.

This is expressed in 1 Peter chapter 1: it is possible to “greatly rejoice” even though we “are in heaviness”  through the trial of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). We should not forget that the Christian has spiritual trials and afflictions that every bit as real and troubling as their outward trials. Of course they may, and frequently do, come together. We can even have joy during such trials. Those to whom Peter was writing had never seen Christ in the flesh, but by faith they loved Him. They could “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). This is a remarkable joy, even in the midst of trials, its nature and extent cannot be fully expressed. It is the beginning of the joy that glorified spirits have in heaven. The following updated extract comes from Alexander Nisbet’s reflections on these words in 1 Peter 1:8.

1. Where There is Faith in Christ, There Will be Love to Him

True faith in Jesus Christ always has love to Him flowing from it. This will make the soul hate everything it knows to be contrary to His nature and will (Psalm 97.10). It will constrain the soul to endeavour everything it knows will please and honour Him (2 Corinthians 5:4). In this verse love to Christ is the effect of faith that has been proved genuine by trials.

2. This Brings Joy, Even in the Worst Trials

Faith which has love to Christ flowing from it will bring much joy into the soul of the believer even under sore trials. They may have sore heaviness of spirit as a result of these trials. Faith is the grace which secures the soul’s chief good (Song of Solomon 2:16). It lets the soul see clearly through present afflictions to a certain and blessed deliverance (2 Corinthians 4:18). Love to Christ is also a clear proof of the love of God to us (John 16:27).  True faith not only has love to Christ flowing from it but also produces joy.

3. Faith Makes Christ Real and Present

They who heartily embrace Christ offered to them in the Word by faith, will love Him and rejoice in Him as though they had seen him and conversed with him bodily. True faith makes the thing it lays hold of spiritually present to the soul (Hebrews 11:1). Thus suffering believers are commended in that they loved and rejoiced in Jesus Christ though they had never seen him as the apostle had i.e. in the flesh.

4.  We are to Consider Ourselves as Joyful Even When we Struggle

Many true lovers of Jesus Christ have now and then a good measure of spiritual joy in Him, but they do not consider and appreciate this as they ought. They do not, therefore, persevere so cheerfully in their trials as they otherwise would. The Spirit of the Lord directs the apostle to lead suffering Christians to reflect on themselves as those who did love Christ and rejoice in Him. This implies that they needed this pointed out to them. It also indicates that if they considered themselves to be such, they would be greatly encouraged to cheerful perseverance under their sufferings.

5. Christ Notices our Trials and Will Reward Them

Christ takes great notice of any difficulty a believer experiences in exercising any grace. This will be to the great benefit of the believer when Christ and he meet. The difficulty that these sufferers experienced in exercising their love and faith is twice expressed, implying that the fewer conscious helps faith has (besides the Word) the more highly it is esteemed by Jesus Christ. So much the more also it will “be found to praise and honour and glory” (1 Peter 1:7) at His appearance.

6. Inexpressible Joy is not Impossible Amidst Trials

It is not impossible for a child of God to rejoice in the midst of many trials and discouragements. Even though they may have nothing that can give them comfort except the Word of the Lord. They may have their heart now and then filled with such a joy as can hardly be kept within doors. It may be such a joy that no tongue nor words can sufficiently express. By faith the believer lays hold of God as his father in Christ. He views by faith his spiritual privileges, such as the certainty of his perseverance and the excellence of his reward. The apostle affirms that these suffering and sad-hearted exiles rejoiced in believing. The word used means the kind of joy that breaks out in outward expressions, yet it cannot be sufficiently expressed – it is “joy unspeakable”.

7. Lively Faith Experiences Foretastes of Glory

Lively exercise of faith will sometimes give the soul some foretastes of the first fruits of glory. It may, for instance, experience that sweetness in communion with God which those in glory live on. The believer may have in his heart the well-grounded assurance of the ultimate full possession of this (Romans 5:2, 8:38). This will enable the soul humbly to glory over all possible difficulties, while it takes hold of that power which is committed to carrying it through (1 Peter 1:5). Thus, the apostle affirms the joy which flows from believing, to be “full of glory”.

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Challenging the Deceits of our Youth-Obsessed Culture

Challenging the Deceits of our Youth-Obsessed Culture

Challenging the Deceits of our Youth-Obsessed Culture
Alexander Nisbet (1623-69) was a Covenanting minister and Bible expositor in and around Irvine in Ayrshire. He was ordained in 1646 and was removed from his church in 1662 for refusing to comply with the re-establishment of Episcopacy.
4 Aug, 2017

It’s not just that our culture only seems to celebrate youth as successful – it makes it everything. Deep down there is a desperate fear of aging, losing our material pleasures…and of death. We live in a culture that wants to keep us in a state of perpetual adolescence. That way we will be more impulsive and self-focussed and therefore buy more. Social media (misused) often seems to feed the desire to be the centre of attention. Frequently it promotes immature use of language, reason, truth claims and emotion. Scripture makes a clear distinction between being childlike and childish. Do we know what that is?

Our culture doesn’t want to “put away childish things”: it wants to carry on speaking and reasoning in a childish way. This is of course the opposite of what the Apostle Paul says should happen (1 Corinthians 13:11). There are indeed spiritual characteristics similar to being childlike (Matthew 18:1-4). Yet these are quite different to childishness. One passage in Ecclesiastes speaks directly to the young in relation to matters of eternity and ultimate significance. Given that our culture keeps us from advancing beyond adolescence, it is a very appropriate message for us to hear.

There is an irony in Ecclesiastes 11:9 when it calls on the “young man” to “rejoice” in his “youth” and let his heart bring him hear in the days of youth. Walk according to the ways of your heart and as seems good in your own eyes, he says. It as though he says “follow your dreams and desires…but” and then introduces an unexpected and shocking warning. “Know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement”. As Alexander Nisbet says, Solomon is applying his exhortations about preparing for death and eternity to the young because they are most prone to put these thoughts off. They are most bent on their earthly pleasures and so he labours to stop them in their violent pursuit of them.

He is not encouraging them in their sinful pleasures but using a kind of holy scorn that mocks their carnal merriment.  He is speaking to those who rejoice in their foolish youthful lusts and provoke each other not to deny themselves any possible satisfaction in them. They make their own desires the rule of their lifestyle and so justly deserve to be given up by God to their own heart’s lusts. They think that they will “remove sorrow” by their sinful pleasures but they are only increasing grief and wrath for themselves. They must “put away evil” from their “flesh” and forsake these sinful pleasures. At the end he warns them that “childhood and youth are vanity” (verse 10). Of course this can only be done by grace through faith in Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Here is a resounding (albeit sobering) message challenging the deceits of our youth-obsessed culture.

1. If We Give Ourselves to Sinful Pleasure, God May Leave Us to it

Those who give themselves up to their sinful pleasures may justly fear that God will also give them up to follow their own way to their eternal ruin. If they scorn His efforts and often mock His messengers, He will ultimately mock them and scorn the scorners. This holy irony is intended to produce fears in their hearts, lest God give them up utterly to themselves.

2. By Nature We Want to be Unrestrained in Sin

Where God’s powerful renewing grace has not visited hearts, they will not only take pleasure in sin but provoke themselves to more and more wickedness. If their conscience suggests reluctance they will spur their hearts over its belly. They will withhold themselves from nothing which gives immediate satisfaction. It does not matter how dishonourable to God and destructive to their soul’s peace and happiness it may be. This ironic speech expresses what a bold sinner’s heart says to himself.

3. Great Earthly Pleasures Banish Thoughts of Eternity

When people have abundant earthly pleasures and are capable of enjoying their sweetness, they are in danger of banishing all serious thoughts of death and the last Judgement. But they do need to be reminded of this, as this verse warns.

4. Considering the Day of Judgement Restrains Sin

Serious and believing consideration of the Great Day of Judgement, is a special means to abate our eagerness in pursuing carnal pleasures.  Ministers ought therefore to be frequently and seriously stirring people up to consider it. The Spirit of God finds this to be a most appropriate bridle in the jaws of brazen youth, to restrain it from excess in carnal pleasures.

5. We Will Not Avoid Judgement

There will be no avoiding appearing at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Everyone must appear not matter how unwilling they may be. God will bring us “into judgement”.

6. Our Desires will be Judged as Well as Our Actions

The last Judgement will be so exact that not even the least sinful motion of wicked men’s hearts will pass without notice and deserved punishment. Everyone must not only give an account there of the gross sins they have committed, but also how they have inwardly encouraged their hearts to follow these sins. In speaking of young men cheering their hearts in their wicked ways, and in the sight of their eyes, he says that “for all these things” God will bring them into judgement.

7. Delighting in Youthful Lusts only Increases Sorrow

Deluded sinners dream that delighting in their lusts and banishing the thoughts of future judgement to come is the best way to remove sorrow from their hearts. The truth is, however, that by doing so, they are contracting sorrow and heaviness. They are depriving themselves of their true spiritual comfort and joy. They provoke the Lord to wrath against them. They are drinking down that sweet poison that will shortly  bring much sorrow to their heart (unless they vomit it again by sincere confession). He speaks to someone who in verse 9, cheers his own heart in his sin and banishes thoughts of judgement. The same person in verse 10 is said to have much sorrow of heart, i.e. much guilt which will end in sorrow. He also gives great cause for divine wrath against him. The word translated sorrow means this also, and this is why he is exhorted to remove sorrow from his heart.

8. Sorrow and Sin Cannot be Separated

“Flesh” here indicates the corrupt nature of man (often called flesh in Scripture) that incites to sin as well as the outward body that puts these desires into action and accomplishes them.  Putting to death and forsaking such evils may seem to them the most unpleasant and painful activity in the world. Yet they are in effect the only way to remove sorrow, and consequently bring true joy and peace into the soul. Putting away evil from the heart is the way to achieve removing sorrow from the heart.

9. The Sinful Delights of Youth Will Soon Vanish

The sinful delights of youth are transitory; those hot furious motions of passion, lust etc. will soon vanish. Considering this fact should move us more promptly to put sin to death and leave our lust before our lusts leave us.  For “childhood and youth are vanity”. The vanity spoken of primarily the transitory nature of soon vanishing of youthful pleasures. This is used as an argument for repentance.

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