Why are we still waiting for the second coming?

Why are we still waiting for the second coming?

Why are we still waiting for the second coming?
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.

The first coming of the Lord Jesus was unobtrusively in Bethlehem, some two thousand years ago. He then died at Calvary and ascended up to heaven, promising to come again. There are plenty people who entirely miss the point of His first coming and entirely ignore what He achieved on the cross. If the thought of Him coming back again ever crosses their minds, they only scoffingly dismiss it. But even the Lord’s people sometimes flag as they wait for Him to come again. We know He will “come again, without sin, unto salvation,” but it seems to be taking such a long time. In his commentary on 2 Peter, Alexander Nisbet reaches the point where Peter has countered the foolish opinions of those who mocked at the idea of Christ’s second coming. In the following updated extract, he explains Peter’s three reasons why the godly do not need to worry about the apparent long wait. Instead, the certainty that it will eventually happen should inspire us to persevere in Christian living in preparation for it.

The Lord’s eternity should mould our perception of time

The first reason, which is in verse 8, is that the delay ought not to be judged of according to our sense or apprehension, but according to the duration of God. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v.8).

The godly to whom Peter is writing either had taken, or were at risk of taking, some bad impression of God from the bold assertions and apparent logic of the mockers. There is so great affinity between the hearts of the godly, who are but in part renewed, and the vilest temptations to the greatest blasphemies or errors, that when these errors are expressed boldly with pretence of reason, there is great risk that there be some impression left on the hearts of even the godly, inclining them to these errors.

It has pleased the Lord to condescend so far to our shallow capacity as to set forth His duration to us in Scripture in our own terms, and to give us leave to describe it in our own terms, while He calls Himself, “Yesterday, and today and for ever” (Heb. 13:8), “He which was and is and is to come” (Rev. 1:4), “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), “He whose years have no end” (Psa. 102:27). Yet all these differences of time, which to us are longer or shorter, are all alike to Him, whose duration admits of no beginning, succession, or ending. Instead it consists in a constant presentness of all that seems to us past, or future. “For one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Ministers of Christ ought to have a far different view of those who mock at the truth of God and scoffingly vent their errors contrary to it, and of those who through infirmity may have some inclination toward error and therefore stand in need to be guarded against it. Accordingly they will behave differently toward the one and the other. Of the one the apostle spoke with indignation and contempt (as they deserved), calling them “scoffers, walking after their ungodly lusts” (v.3). But to the other he speaks with love and tenderness, calling them “Beloved,” and advising them, “Be not ignorant of this one thing…”

Some things revealed in Scripture concerning the Lord must be understood by faith, even though they cannot be comprehended by us to the satisfaction of our shallow reason. We should not be ignorant of this one thing, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” yet this is a truth that no one within time can well comprehend. Only faith can assent to it and make use of it, in judging as He judges, that many years’ delay to us of the performance of a promise is but a very little time compared with eternity. It may though foster a holy longing to be with Him, when we shall partake of His duration as well as of His glory, when there shall not be such a thing as any sad reflections on past sweetness, or any painful langour for sweetness to come, but a constant present possession of it.

The Lord’s patience takes time to accomplish His purposes

The second reason to reassure the godly concerning the delay to Christ’s second coming is that this delay does not proceed from any such thing in God (whatever may be thought) as usually makes people slow in performing their promises, but only from His patience toward His elect, whose temperament requires time and effort for working grace in them, that they may be fitted for glory. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v.9).

We ought not to frame our thoughts of God as we do one of another, especially when we think of how long it takes for Him to perform His promises, as if that delay flowed from lack of foresight for possible difficulties, weakness, forgetfulness or fickleness — the reasons why there are ordinarily delays among us. All such thoughts of Him, though our hearts are very apt to entertain them (Psa. 50:21), we ought to remove far from us, and to persuade ourselves of the opposite — that He is most mindful of His promises (Psa. 111:5), and so swift in performing them, that He will not wait a moment after He has wrought what is necessary before the performance (Mal. 4:2). Constructions like this, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise,” which deny something about God, in Scripture convey both that we are wrongly apt to imagine this about Him, and also that the contrary of what is denied is superlatively true. The Lord is the opposite of slow about His promise.

The true and satisfying explanation for the delay to Christ’s second coming is the Lord’s longsuffering toward His own elect. In order for them to be converted they must be dealt with in a way suitable to their temperament. It requires time and pains to work on each elect soul who comes into the world, and to the years of discretion, by commands, threatenings, promises, and alluring motives, every one of these being multiplied after another. By these same means, every elect person is brought to that measure of grace which God has determined to work in the converted, in order that they may be fitted for glory. The Lord does not soon or easily win His point even with His own elect, but after many refusals of His renewed offers and slighting of His pains. His love is patient and powerful and overcomes all opposition in them eventually.

The Lord’s day will come when least expected

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also and the works that are therein shall he burnt up.”

The day of judgment will be very unexpected and terrible to complacent sinners, just as the coming of a thief in the night brings sudden terror to a sleeping family. On that day there will be a great change and the dissolution of the whole frame of nature, and of all the things in which most people place their happiness. The inference from this is not stated explicitly but we can gather it — that it is the wisdom of the Lord’s people to prepare for that day, rather than to complain of the delay, or to be anxious concerning it.

Christ’s coming at the last day will be a great surprise to the majority of people, who refuse to be wakened out of their complacency by the Word in order to make preparation for it. Scripture does speak of prior signs that this day is coming, such as the destruction of Antichrist, the conversion of the Jews, etc. But some of them may be done in so little time, and so immediately before the judgment day, and others of them may be so little noticed, or recognised as signs of that day, that, notwithstanding them all, the majority shall be surprised at it

That day of judgment will be a most terrible day to all who do not expect and prepare for it. There will be a strange sight, and a dreadful noise, when the great workmanship of all creation, being on fire, shall all rush down, and all the delights of wicked men shall be burnt up before their eyes. By this the Lord testifies His displeasure against people placing their happiness in these things, and defiling them by making them subservient to their lusts, while at the same time signifying His purpose to give a more cleanly and glorious mansion to His own to dwell in. “In that day the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up.” Rather than raising questions about this, it is much safer for us to direct our time and energies towards being found of Him in peace at that day.

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The hollow core of human flourishing

The hollow core of human flourishing

The hollow core of human flourishing
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.

The secularism of our age makes a virtue of, not exactly excluding God from our lives, but confining Him to the parts of our lives where we find Him useful in our pursuit of personal human flourishing. But the seemingly valuable goal of personal flourishing, pursued in its own right, does not lead to actual flourishing, where we find real satisfaction and fulfilment in our lives. Instead it leaves us with a nagging sense of emptiness and futility. The perfect life, the perfect artwork, perfect happiness is always just out of reach. Why is this? We can’t lay all the blame on other people, or structural barriers to our personal fulfilment. Such things may frustrate us but ultimately the problem is that we are looking for fulfilment in the wrong place. The things around us and within us are simply incapable of meeting our deepest desires and needs. In the following updated extract, Alexander Nisbet draws on the wisdom of Ecclesiastes to make this point. When we sideline God in our lives, or make Him subservient to our own self-directed goals, we doom ourselves unavoidably to futility and emptiness.

The preacher says, “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). All created things, and all human endeavours related to them, are insufficient for yielding any true contentment. “All is nothing,” it could be translated, or “empty of any virtue as to the effect of making us happy.” This includes created delights such as riches, honours, and worldly pleasures, particularly as they are abused, and “subjected to vanity” (Rom. 8:20), by people seeking their chief good from them. Also “vanity” are all the efforts we make by human power or skill to make ourselves happy, or contented, whether in the contemplation or the enjoyment of created things. These are vain because they are unable to afford any thing but disappointment, and disappointment in the highest degree, “vanity of vanities.”

Spiritual beings need spiritual fulfilment

There are earthly and tangible delights which are in themselves good, and in their right use lawful, and subservient to us for attaining true happiness. Yet even these prove altogether unprofitable, and unsatisfying to us, if we seek to enjoy them as our chief good. They are so disproportionate, so inadequate, to the human soul. The nature of the soul is spiritual, and the soul is capable of enjoying an infinite good – God reconciled to through Christ as our portion. This is why our souls can never be satisfied with these fading and transitory things. All temporary delights, mainly because they are fading, and unable to satisfy the immortal soul, are here pronounced to be vanity of vanities.

The “just a bit more” fallacy

Solomon continues, “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). While people are pursuing earthly contentments as their chief good, they foolishly imagine that if they just had a bit more of them, they would then be satisfied. Yet, pursuing earthly things as our best portion always ends in dissatisfaction, not only in the pursuit but also when they are attained, as if by drinking you only become more thirsty. All the toil and wearisome labour that people have in pursuing these lying vanities, and all the dissatisfaction and even disgust they feel in consuming them, never in the slightest diverts them from spending themselves yet further in the pursuit! They still keep gazing at these unsatisfying sights, and still listen greedily to the voice of temptations and corruption, expecting to find happiness in these things. Even when their efforts are unspeakable weariness, yet still they labour in the same way.

The “now we know better” fallacy

In fact, people persist in this, so entranced with the apparent sweetness of earthly things, as if nothing like it had ever been tasted by anyone who ever lived before. It is as if they had found out, or could find, new ways of achieving happiness, and get more fulfilment than anyone ever did before. “There is no new thing under the sun,” Solomon says. “Is there anything of which it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–10). This refutes anyone who thinks that previous generations were short-sighted in finding happiness in earthly things, and that now we will easily find out new and more excellent delights, and new and more effective ways of attaining to them. The Holy Spirit contradicts this. Whatever methods they invent are only the same as others have tried before. They are unsatisfactory, and have a sting in their tail.

The “then my worries will be over” fallacy

Solomon had all possible advantages to allow him to enjoy as much as anyone could from all the choicest flower of created things. In Ecclesiastes 2:4–8 he mentions, for example, his stately buildings, the paradise-like orchards he planted, his numerous attendants, his great herds of cattle. He also had great plenty of the best sorts of jewels, and variety of excellent music.

But so empty are all created things, and so unable to give satisfaction, that when you have your eyes filled with the most delectable sights that they can afford you, and your taste and smell refreshed with the most delicious of them, and your future secure with the abundance of all sorts of riches – even then, your heart will readily be frequented with sad thoughts, in the midst of it all. Many cares and fears will readily mix themselves with all your enjoyments.

The “following my heart” fallacy

In verses 10–11 Solomon confesses that he threw himself into finding joy in life’s pleasures. Although he was a true child of God, yet he gave himself permission to pursue happiness in earthly things and gorge himself on whatever his eyes desired or his heart rejoiced in. Yet, reflecting later on that period in his life, he can only conclude that he had met with nothing but emptiness, and disappointed of any true satisfaction. His soul was gnawed away with the tormenting challenges of his conscience for pouring out his delight so much on these things; this is the “vexation” he speaks of. In his final analysis he says there was “no profit” in all these things. He found nothing remaining over and above, besides disappointment and vexation.

When the Lord is not made the prime delight of our souls (as He alone deserves to be; Song 2:3), we are at the mercy of whatever represents itself to us as desirable or fulfilling. Whatever it is, we are ready to give ourselves up to it! We have God’s restraining grace to thank, if we are kept back from the most heinous wickedness in this pursuit.

People often think it is a good enough reason to continue in their sinful way, to say that their heart prompts them so to do, and that they can take joy in the way they are going. Yet when the Lord awakes the conscience, they will realise that, far from being a warrant to go this way, it only increases their grief that they had the kind of heart that rejoiced so much in this sinfulness! “My heart rejoiced in all my labour” (v.10) was the reason that prevailed with Solomon to abandon himself to his earthly pleasures, but now he sees it as something that aggravates his guilt and increases his grief.

The bitter emptiness we feel should prompt us to pursue God instead

By verse 17, Solomon has related disappointment after disappointment from his attempts to find happiness in natural things and intellectual things. He has heaped up to himself all possible variety of earthly delights, but in the end he finds he “hates,” that is, “loathes, or despises” all these ways of living. Instead of finding fulfilment in estrangement from the Lord he has nothing but a gnawing of spirit.

Even as one of God’s people, it was a difficult thing to bring Solomon back from seeking fulfilment in earthly things once he had let himself go. Neither the voice of God’s Word, nor the voice of conscience, nor the influences of the Spirit, were sufficient to awake him or reclaim him. It wasn’t until the Lord sent this bitterness on his spirit, and made all his idols bitter to him, that he was brought to repentance.

All of us are naturally so wedded to our own will that as long as Christ’s sanctifying Spirit is not swaying our will in the right direction, we will rather desire not to live at all (even though we also have sneaking fears that things will not necessarily go well with us in the afterlife), than to be disappointed in what we have set our hearts on as a piece of happiness in this world.

When the Lord makes our life bitter to us, and other things grievous, while we are living at a distance from Him, then, especially if we are one of the Lord’s people, we should be far from taking it as a token of his wrath, and a sign that His purpose is to destroy us. On the contrary, take it as an evidence that He is preparing you for a new manifestation of His favour, after this time of being humbled. It is when our hearts are ravished with delight in any thing under the sun, more than with delight in God, that we are clearly under His displeasure. Then we should be afraid in case He abandons us to rejoice in this sinful way until we perish. In Solomon’s case, sensing the bitterness and vanity of earthly things became the means of his renewed repentance and faith in the Lord, and so spoke of God’s love and mercy towards him.

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Something worth hoping for

Something worth hoping for

Something worth hoping for
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.

Laying a loved one’s body to rest in the grave brings to mind all sorts of contrasts and a sense of inescapable change. Reflecting on the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth, so much that was familiar is no longer here, and we are reminded that however gilded anyone’s life here has been, they still encountered difficulties and sorrows of one form or another. So is that the end, or are things any better in the afterlife? The burial service of the Church of England commits the deceased’s body to the grave, “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Who can legitimately take comfort from this “hope,” and what are we “hoping” for anyway? In the following updated extract, Alexander Nisbet reflects on the words of the apostle Peter in his first letter to distressed believers. To encourage and motivate them Peter tells them, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for His people.”

Not death and despair, but life and hope

When we are regenerated it is “unto a lively hope” (verse 3). Before the Lord makes this powerful change in sinner, we are altogether without any true or well-grounded hope of a better life than this. But those who have been born again – given a new life and new nature from the Lord in regeneration – they have been given with it this grace of hope. This is what allows them to keep up their hearts in expectation of all that the Lord has promised.

If we have been born again, we have a “lively” hope – a hope that enlivens us to use all the means to attain what we hope for, and to keep ourselves free from everything inconsistent with being born to such great hopes. And the basis for this hope is “the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (verse 3). What keeps our hope alive is that after Christ died for us, He rose again as a conqueror. His resurrection is a testimony that He has fully discharged all our debt, and a guarantee that we will rise with Him and share with Him in the possession of all that He has purchased in our name.

Not uncertainty and futility, but a guaranteed inheritance

All who have been born again have a matchless inheritance to look for at the end of their lives. It is both excellent in itself and guaranteed to them.

What are its excellences? One is that nothing in itself is going to allow it to decay. A second is that nothing from outside it can stain its beauty. And the third is that it will remain to all eternity in all its glory. It is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and fadeth not away” (verse 4). All of these are sweetened by the fact that it is safely kept in store for them, in a place beyond all hazard. Its is “reserved in heaven for you” (verse 4).

So if you want to keep your heart in a praising disposition, and if you want to be steady and cheerful in adhering to the truth of Christ notwithstanding sufferings, then you must have your hearts absorbed with considering the excellence of the portion which is coming to you beyond time. In this way you will pay less attention to the afflictions that come by the way, and you will despise the pleasures of sin, and you will be able to stomach all the difficulties involved in holiness.

Not a thing, but a person

And what is this inheritance anyway? It is nothing else but the Lord Himself blessed for ever, enjoyed by His people to all eternity. He is called “the inheritance” of His people (Psalm 16:5-6). He is “incorruptible” (Romans 1:23). He is “undefiled” (Hebrews 7:26). He “fadeth not away” (Psalm 102:27).

Not earned, but a family inheritance

This heavenly inheritance does not come to the regenerate by their own purchase or procurement, but by virtue of their sonship. They are made sons as soon as they are united to Christ (John 1:12). This has been purchased for them (Ephesians 1:14), and He has left it to them in legacy (John 17:24). He lives for ever to be the executor of His own testament (Hebrews 7:25). So far from being merited from any of them, it falls to them by lot – it comes by heirship, left in legacy.

This blessed state is made very sure and certain for the regenerate. From eternity it has been decreed by judicial sentence to come to them (Matthew 25:34). In time it has been secured to them by the promise of the faithful God (John 6:40). And even now it is possessed for them in their name by their surety and covenant head (Hebrews 6:19-20). It is “reserved in heaven for them.”

Not yet fully in possession, but ready to be revealed

As the inheritance of the regenerate is kept in heaven for them, so they are “kept by the power of God” for it (verse 5). The power of God in making them persevere works principally by giving them faith to rest on His word (the word of Him who is faithful and able to save to the uttermost), and keeping this faith in life and exercise, providing it with necessary supplies. The power of God keeps believers “through faith.”

Because it is not yet apparent to the saints what a blessed inheritance is coming to them. The reason why they do not now have their inheritance in full possession is not because it is not ready for them (for it is purposed for them, Matthew 25:44, and brought to them, Ephesians 1:14, and possessed by Christ in their name, John 14:2) but because they are not ready for it.

Indeed, they will not be ready until the full number of the elect are brought in (Revelation 6:11), and every one of them brought to their full stature in grace (Ephesians 4:13). Both these things can be furthered by the prayers and endeavours of those who long to be in heaven.

But the particular time when they shall be put in possession of their heavenly inheritance is fixed. The marriage day between Christ and His bride is fixed, and it will take place at the time that is fittest and happiest for them. The day cannot be far off now, for these days of ours are the “last times” (verse 5). The bodies of the saints who are alive now will not have to sleep long in the dust.

Not heaviness, but great rejoicing

Sad-hearted sufferers the regenerate may sometimes be. But Peter provokes them to more spiritual joy and praise, noting that already they are rejoicing from considering their beautiful inheritance and their other spiritual privileges, and exhorting them to continue in it. “Wherein ye do (or, do ye) greatly rejoice” (verse 6).

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Can anything make me happy?

Can anything make me happy?

Can anything make me happy?
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.

According to a recent study, one of the questions that plays most on the minds of younger adults is, “What will make me happy?” Happiness for many people is very fleeting and usually just out of reach. Whether we seek it in impressive achievements, extravagant experiences, or just the simple things of life, lasting and life-impacting happiness eludes the majority. So maybe happiness is being sought in the wrong places? In this updated extract, Alexander Nisbet draws on the wisdom of Ecclesiastes to turn conventional thinking on its head. Real happiness is possible, but possibly where you least expect it.

The purpose of the Spirit of God by Solomon the Preacher in Ecclesiastes is to point out to miserable fallen sinners the way to recover our lost happiness. He first aims to convince us where it cannot be found, and so he sets out the proposition, “All is vanity.” By this is meant that all created things, and all human endeavours about them, are insufficient for yielding any true contentment. As the word signifies, it is all “nothing,” or “empty” as far as any virtue towards making us happy.

The good things in life cannot make us happy

This expression, “All is vanity,” is not to be understood of any thing that God has made in respect of its existence as such, since all things considered in that way are “very good” (Gen. 1:13). Nor is it to be understood of the right use and enjoyment of created things, i.e., using them in such a way that we are led by them to our Maker, and engaged to fear and obey him, for in this way all things are holy and good to those who use them (Titus 1:15; 1 Timothy 4:4). Neither yet does it refer to anyone’s lawful diligence and efforts in their lawful calling and employment, as if that was vain (1 Timothy 5:8).

Instead, “all is vanity” is to be understood firstly of all created delights, such as riches, honours, worldly pleasures, and particularly as they are abused and subjected to vanity when we seek our chief good from them, and place our happiness in them, while at the same time neglecting the question of reconciliation with God, and of living in his fear and in obedience to him. This is what Solomon recommends to us as the only way to true happiness (Ecclesiastes 12:23).

And “all is vanity” is to be understood of all the efforts a person can make by virtue of any human power or skill to make themselves happy, or contented, whether in the contemplation of created things or the enjoyment of them. All things of this nature Solomon proclaims to be “vain” in this sense, unable to give us anything but disappointment, and that in the most extreme degree (for this Hebrew form of speech, “vanity of vanities,” expresses the superlative degree).

It takes a lot to convince us of this

And to help this truth make the deeper impression, Solomon propounds it by way of exclamation. “All is vanity!” It is as if he is wondering at – and pitying – the madness of poor humanity, so ravished with glimpses of happiness in what is really only a vapour (as the word translated vanity can also mean).

This same truth he repeats frequently, to show not only the certainty of it (Gen. 40:32) but also people’s unwillingness to consider it (Jer. 22:29), and the difficulty of believing it John 5:2, 4; 6:37). It shows also how deeply he himself is affected with the folly and vanity of his former sinful ways, now that he is penitent, and how extremely he now detests them (Gal. 1:8-9). And because when people hear such teaching, they often treat it as only another human opinion, and so esteem it as only vain words.

This language of the Old Testament is the same in substance with that of the New. For example, “Doubtless I count all things loss and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:8). So transported are all of us naturally with the thought of happiness in earthly things (Jer. 2:24), and therefore so unwilling to hear of anything to the contrary (Zech. 7:11), that someone like Solomon who wants to convince people of the vanity of these things and of the folly of their way in seeking happiness in them, has to go to the effort of finding the most attractively persuasive way of appealing to their hearers. They have to be very instant and frequent in inculcating on their hearers the baseness and vanity of their idols and their sinful ways, and to lead up their minds to God, the one who is higher than themselves, in whose name they speak.

These words flow from the sense of penitent Solomon’s heart, marvelling his own madness in seeking happiness in such vain things as he had done during the time of his estrangement from God, weighted with grief for his so doing, and earnestly desirous to reclaim other perishing sinners from such vain ways. He longs to allure them to come and taste of the sweetness in fellowship with God which he now enjoys.

Counter-intuitively, religion will make us happy

Throughout Ecclesiastes 2 and 3, Solomon is working towards the point that the highest happiness attainable in this life is a cheerful and ready following of the duties of religion toward God, and righteousness towards others, even in all the vicissitudes of our lives.

This is the best we are capable of enjoying in time. And seeing we must once leave, and not return again (after death) to see or to enjoy these outward things, it is therefore our wisdom to use all our outward comforts as encouragements to give willing and cheerful obedience to God (Eccles 3:22).

From all this it is evident that we are not to seek or expect true happiness in any outward enjoyments, but in the favour of God through Christ Jesus, and following our duty in obedience to the command of God. Subservient to this, we are obliged to pursue a silent and conscientious submission to and contentment with all the various providences that pass over us in the world.

The way to achieve happiness

At the end of Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon urges us to take heed of the truth of God’s words. In studying the Scriptures we should not aim only to get comfort, but mainly to receive clear information and warning of our sin and danger, the true remedy for our sin, and the way to attain to this remedy. This is the main use to be made of the book of Ecclesiastes, and consequently of the rest of Scripture.

By nature people are so transported with a desire of vain glory, especially what they imagine they get by their own wisdom (John 11:12) that while they have time or strength, they will never make an end of seeking out many inventions by which they think to attain to their imaginary happiness. After they have written one book to show how wise they are in discovering the way to happiness, they will begin another. Yet so empty are all created things, and so futile are all the ways that people interact with them, that till people betake themselves to the new and living way to happiness which the Scripture reveals, they will meet with nothing but endless labour and continual disappointment, without any true settling or quietness to their minds.

The pursuit of saving knowledge may prove wearisome to the flesh, partly by reason of our slowness to learn, and unacquaintance with the grounds of consolation and confidence of success, and partly because the Lord intends that the wearying of the flesh in this way should be a means of promoting mortification and of diverting the heart away from sinful delights. Nevertheless the pursuit of saving knowledge is sweet in itself, and it is the very rest and refreshment of the soul. Indeed, it is health to the spirit, and marrow to the bones. In comparison with it all other studies are exhausting and wearisome even to the flesh.

Happiness springs from having the right attitude to God

Solomon concludes, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This is our main task, a compendium of all that God requires and works in His own people, and what they should be wholly taken up with all their life-time, as they desire to be truly happy here and hereafter.

Anyone who wants to see good days and live in the light of the Lord’s countenance must learn to be in the fear of God all the day long, entertaining the faith of His greatness and goodness, so that they may be kept from these things which impede their fellowship with Him, which is what their happiness consists in. For, when Solomon sums up his directions for attaining to true happiness, after proving that it is impossible to be found in earthly things, and only to be had in fellowship with God reconciled in Christ, he gives this as one of the two principal parts of that summary, “Fear God.”

And our true happiness is only to be found in keeping of the commands of God. We cannot expect a sweet meeting with God (Isa. 64:5) nor the comforting manifestations of His love (John 14.21:23), except in that way. This is the other part of the summary of Solomon’s directions for attaining to the true happiness which consists in communion with God: “Keep his commandments.”

The fear of the Lord is the root and principle of all right obedience to him, without which we cannot act acceptably in any commanded duty. This is why Solomon presses us to the fear of God in order to have acceptable obedience. And where the fear of God is in the heart, care to keep His commands will also be manifested in the practice. That fear will evidence itself by some endeavour after a suitable walking according to His commands. Keeping the commandments as urged on us here may be looked on as the evidence and fruit of the fear of God.

Contrasting views of the way to happiness

Those who seek their happiness in this earth look on the study of the fear of the Lord and obedience to the Lord as no part of their business in order to attain what they imagine is happiness, but rather an impediment in the way to it (Mal. 3:14). Yet this same blessed study is the great end for which man was made, and the only study that is worthy of having anyone’s spirit wholly exercised about it, so as all their other studies are subordinate to it.

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What happens when you die?

What happens when you die?

What happens when you die?
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.

It’s coming to all of us. Young or old, whether we’re in the prime of life or feeling a bit past it, eventually our lives here will come to an end. And then what? A recent survey of attitudes to Jesus in the UK found that across all age groups, one of the big questions people have is, “What happens when you die?” The options are stark but we all need to confront reality. Death is not the end, because our souls will all live on. But what kind of existence will it be? And what can we do about it before we come to die? Alexander Nisbet sets out the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes in the following updated extract.

Dying means going to our long home

As King Solomon puts it in Ecclesiastes 12:5, we are all going to “our long home,” or as the original is, to “the house of eternity,” meaning the state where the soul will be eternally, without any further change.

It is our wisdom therefore, before this time comes, to make sure that we are reconciled to God in Christ. That will provide some suitable consolation for our souls, while our bodies will be [laid in the dust].

Therefore, while we are fit and healthy, we should employ our strength well, to make sure we are at peace with Him who is most high, so that He will not be a terror to us in the evil day (Jer. 17:17). If we have faith, then things that may present themselves as terrifying to others, will be no cause of fear to us.

Some people think that the best they will ever get is in this present life, and they promise to themselves that they will enjoy things on earth perpetually. Yet they shall find themselves after a little while miserably disappointed. They shall find that this is not their home. It would be wiser for them instead to look on their mansions here as short-stay residences, and to think of themselves as strangers and pilgrims, that so they would give all diligence to ensure they will have everlasting habitations.

After death there is no change of the state of souls as to their misery or the blessedness. They must remain for ever either with Satan in his prison, or with Christ in His Father’s house.

Death affects both soul and body

Solomon summarises our future state after death, making reference to both body and soul, the two principal parts of which we are made up: “Then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccles. 12:7).

The body, Solomon calls “dust,” because it was formed out of the dust (Gen. 2:7). When the body is separated from the soul, it is the most vile and loathsome piece of dust of all. He says it “returns to the dust,” because it is ordinarily buried in the earth, to remain there till the resurrection, and because it is in effect the same substance as the dust of the earth.

The more noble part is the soul, here called the “spirit” because it is immaterial, and because of its resemblance to God, the Father of spirits. The soul “returns to him who gave it.” This does not mean only the souls of the godly, but rather it is the common state of the souls of all humans after death. Every soul is said to return to God, because in the very moment of its separation from the body, it must appear before God as the supreme judge, for Him to settle our eternal state. This will be done according to the state of the soul at death. Surely then we will timeously make our peace with God, so that He will receive our souls favourably at death, and so that we may lay down our bodies in the dust in hope of a glorious resurrection.

From this we see that although our bodies have some beauty and majesty imprinted on them while the soul resides in them and activates them, yet in themselves our bodies are only dust, and when the soul is separated from them they will look like very loathsome clay. The thought of this should keep us from being proud of our bodily strength or our physical looks (Jer. 9:23). It should also make us admire the Lord for condescending to have anything to do with such dust (Gen. 28:27), and for His marvellous skill and power in framing so beautiful a piece of work as our bodies just out of dust (Psa. 139:24). But especially it should make us admire Him for taking so frail a being as a human body into a personal union with the deity (Psalm 8:4). Yet we can also make use of this fact as a ground of confidence that we can obtain pity and help from Him to frail dust (Psa. 103:14). It should also make us careful to get the ornament of His grace, which makes base dust truly beautiful (1 Pet. 3:4), and it should make us long for the time wherein Christ shall change our vile bodies, and make them like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

Unlike our souls, our bodies do not go to the state they will be in eternally. Instead, as they were at the first taken out of the earth, so they must go back there for a time, while we believingly await the resurrection.

Unlike our bodies, our souls do not die, or decay away. Instead they subsist after their separation from the body. This fact alone should make us careful to see to the eternal well-being of our souls.

As our souls came to us as God’s free gift, so, when our souls go out of the body, they will appear before Him. He will throw the spirits of the wicked into the lake that flames with fire and brimstone, and He will bind up the spirits of the godly as his jewels in the bundle of life.

After death comes the judgment

Solomon finally says, “God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

The last judgment is both certain and exact. At this time, both our more open and visible actions, and our more secret plots, and closest contrivances, of whatever sort, good or bad, shall be brought forth to be sentenced, either to reward or punishment, according to their nature. If we desire to be truly happy here and hereafter, we must leave off the pursuit of earthly vanities and sinful delights, and apply ourselves to this blessed thing, to “fear God and keep his commandments, which is the whole duty of man.”

So exact will the last judgement be, that no action or purpose shall escape the cognisance and sentence of the judge in that day. People’s public sins will then be published to all, and their secret sins, even the sins of their hearts, which they had altogether hid from the eyes of the world (and which they tried all along their life to hide from their own consciences, neglecting to confront them and mourn for them) will then be laid open.

The very best actions of the godly, considered in themselves, cannot abide the trial of God’s judgement by reason of the sinfulness mixed in with them. Yet considered as they are perfumed with Christ’s merits, and made perfect by him, they shall be brought forth to judgement to receive the reward of grace which the righteous judge shall give in that day.

All people’s evil actions, which they now refuse to look in order to mourn for them, and make use of the blood of Christ for cleansing them, shall in that great day be set out clearly and made patent, to their shame and terror. They will receive for them deserved wrath to the utmost. They should consider this when they are tempted to sin, and when, complacent and impenitent, they make light of the wickedness they have done.

This last solemn action, the last judgement, will be in a sense between time and eternity. It deserves our most frequent and serious consideration. Otherwise we will never get our hearts properly alienated from pursuing perishing vanities and sinful delights, as if these were our chief good. Nor will we be properly committed to pursuing true godliness. It should be much in the thoughts of the Lord’s people, who should live in such a way as that they may daily desire to see this day. “Even so come Lord Jesus.”

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Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others

Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others

Help to fulfil your good intentions of helping others
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.

How do we respond to the sins and miseries we see all around us in our communities and society at large? There may be lots to say by way of lamenting the situation and bemoaning how things are going. Yet from another point of view the needs of others are opportunities for Christians to show mercy and do good to those around us. But often we hesitate to get involved and we let opportunities slide past. Recently “the world’s largest study of kindness” created by a University of Sussex team summarised their findings. One of the things that most stopped people from showing kindness was fear of their actions being misinterpreted. Others spoke of not having enough time. There may be many other excuses we would add. Perhaps there are local causes dear to our hearts yet we feel these works are better left to other people. Maybe we admire the spirit of self-sacrificial giving while trying to keep our own bank balances in good health. We know we should be showing love to our neighbour and we have good intentions to help others, but why do we not follow through? Here is some help towards that.

The beginning of Ecclesiastes 11 urges us to be charitable towards others and do as much as we can for their good. But we often come up with objections to excuse delaying or completely neglecting this duty.  In this updated extract, Alexander Nisbet draws lessons from this passage to help us to put our good intentions into action by helping others in practical ways.

1. Objections that hinder good intentions

(a) “Our resources are limited” 

One kind of objection comes from what we imagine is the likelihood that we will bring ourselves into need if we give to the poor as the Word of God presses us. But Solomon quotes a proverb about a foolish farmer, which amounts to this. If the farmer holds off from sowing or reaping every time it looks like rain or wind, he will never actually get round to either sowing or reaping. Likewise, if you look at all future contingencies which may discourage or hinder you in your duty, you will probably never set about it at all. Particularly if we neglect charity to others, when God calls us to it, because of every suggestion that our own resources will soon be exhausted, then we will never “cast our bread upon the waters” (verse 1). Then too we will never reap the reward promised to those who perform this duty.

(b) “Nothing much will come of it”

Another kind of objection is that there is no point because the likelihood of success seems very small. For this, Solomon uses an argument taken from the unsearchable depth of God’s wisdom manifested in his ordinary workings. He is aiming to show that our ignorance is no reason for us to despair of God doing what he has promised! Solomon’s examples come from two things very familiar to everyone, and yet clearly understood by none. For one thing, we “know not the way of the spirit” (verse 5). We are ignorant of how our own souls are formed and united to our bodies, how they exist and act while they are in the body, and when they are separated from it. And for another thing, “none knows how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child” (verse 5). No one understands that wonderful work, the forming of our own bodies in the womb.

If we do not understand these things, how can we distinctly conceive the way that God works to make good his promises to those who venture to do their duties, even when there is no probability of reward for so doing?

And to help us the more confidently expect the promised reward of duty, even though there appears no likelihood of it, Solomon reminds us that the Lord is the Creator, who gives a being to things that have no existence. He is “God who maketh all” (verse 5). Therefore we may cheerfully follow our duty to him, and, in particular, give for relief of his poor people, even supposing we see no probability of recompense for so doing.

2. Helps to follow through

(a) Act in obedience rather than on probabilities

In fact, we may expect that, on the balance of probability, it will look like very poor chances of success in the way of duty, and very small chances that promises made to doing duty can ever be fulfilled. But this only gives an opportunity to manifest the sincerity of our respect to the command, and the liveliness of our faith in believing the promise of reward. For just as the farmer will see many unseasonable days to hinder him from sowing and weaken his hopes of a good harvest, so many things will appear to hinder us from the duty of charity (and the same holds true of all other duties) and to weaken our hopes that promises about them will be fulfilled.

(b) Keep difficulties in perspective

Our problem is that we have so much natural aversion to our duty, and so much unbelief about the promised reward, that we are ready to make every appearance of a difficulty a sufficient reason to quit. For the weather will often be lowering, and the air tempestuous, when a little while afterwards, the season will be favourable enough! Yet we are very apt to be hindered from doing our duty by such small appearances of difficulty.

(c) Tackle duties when opportunities arise

If we earnestly set ourselves to give obedience to commanded duties, or want to see the fulfilment of the promise made to such obedience, we must not pounce on every possible difficulty from afar off, or search out reasons to discourage us in our duty. Nor must we pay overmuch attention to difficulties when they are suggested to our minds. Instead, when the season and opportunity of duty comes, we must set to, whatever appearance of bad success there be, otherwise we will never be able to advance God’s honour in carrying out our duty.

(d) Be aware of your priorities

If we applied the same logic in matters relating to our duty to God, and our eternal welfare, as we ordinarily do in the matters of this life, we would not be so often hindered from our duty or discouraged in it. But sometimes, the reasoning which carries no weight with us in things of earthly and small concern, can seem very powerful when it comes to the greatest matters, to do with our souls and the life to come. We do not not ordinarily see the appearance of rain or wind as a reason to neglect to sow or reap, or other things, otherwise we would seldom or never do what we normally never neglect.

Conclusion

It is only right that our love for the Lord and for our neighbours will spill out in practical kindness, works of mercy, and acts of generosity and liberality. If God has given us more than we need, then we are well placed to help someone else who has less than we have. We shouldn’t be so discouraged by the fact that we can’t do everything that we don’t try to do anything. Neither should we worry that we or our families will lose out if we are too generous in sharing what we have. Those who “cast their bread on the waters” and who “give a portion to seven, and also to eight” (verse 1), will not fail to be recompensed by the Lord, in either temporal or spiritual rewards or both.

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Will Friendship Be the Same Again?

Will Friendship Be the Same Again?

Will Friendship Be the Same Again?
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.

The last couple of years has altered friendship according to a number of studies. 56% report their friendships changed and 20% have become more distant with close friends due to the pandemic according to the UK YouGov Friendship Study (USA data is similar). The drifting has come from isolation, distancing, differing views or changed rhythms in daily life. Experiences vary and no doubt some bonds have been strengthened, but it is the ties with those beyond the very closest of friends that have mainly become weaker. Does it matter that some friends have disappeared from our lives while our world has shrunk? Why is friendship important and what is it for? Scripture helps us answer these questions.

It is worth also observing that modern life has greatly changed relationships and that this is not without theological significance. Exactly 40 years ago John Stott wrote: “It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today. We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power. Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary. In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen. In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.”

Unless you happen to be related to most people in your church, it is the main place where we encounter those beyond our inner circle and work life. Christians and churches should be marked by the determination to offer true, open friendship and to work hard at it. The church is a key place to restore friendship and build fellowship. Job had cultivated good and close or, as he calls them, “inward friends” (Job 19:19).  Sadly, however, in the time of difficulty they not only deserted him but turned against him. In Job 6:14 friendly pity is closely connected with the fear of the Almighty, so we ought to extend and make use of godly friends as much as we can.

Alexander Nisbet shows how Scripture emphasises this in commenting on Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Christian society should be a contrast with the selfish isolation of those who live only for the things of this world (Ecclesiastes 4:8). The benefits of companionship are clearly commended here and as Nisbet observes, while this can be applied to any kind of lawful society it is delivered by a preacher to the church. Therefore, it is helpful to apply the teaching and the various comparisons to Christian society. “Two are better than one”; when two or more engage in any commanded duty they have more benefit and success that either could alone.

The first metaphor speaks of fellow-labourers engaged in the same work. They have a good reward for their labour though their mutual help and encouraging one another. Their work succeeds better. This is true in spiritual things also; their reward from grace shall be greater than if each of them had been wrestling alone in their duty, neglecting help each other.

There is another advantage; if they fall, one will lift up the other. If either of them falls into trouble, or by the power of temptation into any sin or error, the fallen may recover by the blessing of God upon their right use of Christian society. Or if they both fall, it will not be equally hurtful, one may soon recover and help up their companion. But woe to the person that is alone, they are in a dangerous and sad condition when they fall into trouble or sin. They have none to help or attempt their recovery, especially if for sinful reasons they have voluntarily chosen to be alone.

The second metaphor portrays fellow travellers on the same journey, as all Christians are. Two travellers lodge together all night and are able to give comfort and strength to one another. Christians are able to help each other in afflictions. But how can one be warm alone? It will prove a great difficulty for someone to have comfort or encouragement if they have none of the Lord’s people to assist them.

The third metaphor pictures fellow-soldiers engaged in the same warfare. If any Christian is prevailed against in their combat against temptations, or wrestling through difficulties, they may expect help and victory by the blessing of God on their use of the society of others. The joint strength of Christians is not easily prevailed against. Alexander Nisbet goes on to apply this teaching in the following updated extract.

1. Godly Friendship is a Great Benefit

It is always much better to be alone than in wicked society (Psalm 1:1). Sometimes it is also better to be alone than in the society of the best e.g. when we are called to devotion in secret (Matthew 6:6).  The society of the godly is a great advantage in carrying out weighty duties and bearing great difficulties with greater ease and success. 

The Lord alone is self-sufficient, and He has not given to anyone such a measure of light or strength, that would make them have no need of making use of others. He intends everyone to seek help from and everyone to be willing to give help to, others. “Two are better than one.”

2. Godly Friendship Brings Special Blessings

No lawful work engaged in the right way lacks its own reward, the Lord’s people may consider this for their encouragement in doing their duty. Making best use of Christian companionship to succeed in duty has a special reward, not only afterwards, but even in this life. The Lord’s people may expect to be sharpened, and have an edge put on them in their duty by it (Proverbs 27:17). They may also . have encouragements from others against their difficulties (1 Samuel 23:16). Their mutual prayers draw fresh help from heaven by the Spirit for each other (Philippians 1:19). Their work is furthered and their future reward ensured by this: “they have a good reward for their labour.”

3. Godly Friendship Helps Us Overcome Dangers

None of the children of the Lord are beyond the danger of falling either into sin or sad afflictions in their journey to heaven. Their fall (of whatever sort) must not make others of His people desert them. They need especially to prove their affection to them at such a time. They do this by striving to support or restore them. It is a great mercy for someone who has fallen into sin or misery, to have one who will endeavour to lift them up again. The danger of falling is possible for any of the Lord’s people, thus the duty they all have to each other is clear also.

4. Godly Friendship Helps Restore Us

The Lord alone ultimately preserves His own from falling and restores them after their falls (Psalm. 145:14). Yet He makes use of some of His people to restore others who have fallen beside them. Our awareness of being prone to fall and often unable to recover ourselves without help makes us of a more unifying and sociable spirit. The children of the Lord are never left all alone since they have His presence even under their falls (Hebrews 13:5). They cannot be other than blessed therefore even when they lack human help yet ought they to consider being deserted by His people as a great disadvantage. They should therefore be stirred up to make sure His favourable presence is with them and to make use of the help of others when they may have it.

It is a sad judgment on wicked men to be left alone under their falls. This may be the case when they have rejected helpful society in the day of their prosperity. Or it may be when they have conducted themselves or carried themselves so immorally that the godly abhor their company. Or they may have provoked the Lord not only to leave them destitute of His own presence, but to take away all pity towards them from others. “Woe to him that is alone.”

5. Godly Friendship Helps Our Spiritual Life

The children of the Lord should cherish His Spirit and labour to have His graces: love, fear, etc. in such vigour in their hearts that they may impart heat and warmth to others, even when they are in the saddest possible condition. It is implied here that if they are together, they warm one another.

The Lord may, and ordinarily does enliven the hearts of His people by keeping His graces lively in them. Thus, He gives them much comfort in the solitary afflicted condition with which He tries them (Psalm 63:1, 3). Yet if they neglect to make use of Christian society, when they have it and when He allows them to draw comfort and encouragement from it, they may expect their condition will be very sad, when they are deprived of it.

6. Godly Friendship Helps Us Withstand Spiritual Attack

The children of the Lord may expect many assaults in their Christian course, and may also sometimes be prevailed against. Those who have any strength, therefore, are obliged to use it to relieve others who are in combat, and likely to be defeated. They ought not to desert their fellow-soldiers who are engaged in a good fight against spiritual or outward enemies, even though they prove to be weak (2 Samuel 10:11 or Galatians 6:1). It is assumed here that they will be assaulted and prevailed against, and that the duty of others to withstand the evil one, or any of his means, is also shown to be an advantage of Christian company.

The union of the children of the Lord among themselves should be so close that their adversaries lose hope of breaking one of them, unless they break them all. Thus, when the Lord unites them, and keeps them unified, it is no easy matter for their most powerful enemies to prevail against them. This proverb shows that Christian unity and society, contains great benefit.

CONCLUSION

Will friendship be the same again? It is more important than ever that we understand what it truly means and what the best kind of friendship is. We can help others in the best and most important things. Whether we have identified and practiced this before or not, it is a priority. 

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When is Nostalgia Sinful?

When is Nostalgia Sinful?

When is Nostalgia Sinful?
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.

Perhaps especially when there is so much unsettling change it’s easy to feel nostalgic-even for 2019. A recent scientific study identified higher happiness levels “during the early days of the pandemic” arising from feelings of nostalgia. For some, reaching out to simpler and less complex times has been a coping mechanism. This sentimental longing for our own past or some period in history can be beneficial if it draws us towards things that are of value. Yet nostalgia often paints a rosy picture of how it used to be compared to now. No doubt at some point we will be nostalgic for lockdowns. Dwelling on the past obsessively can be unhelpful and unhealthy but can it be sinful? It was for Israel of course as they looked back to Egypt with mournful regret. Nostalgia makes it hard to look ahead with the right attitude of hope and expectation since we are always harking back (Philippians 3:13). Surely we need hope more than ever in the current context rather than a wistful longing to be comfortable? Ecclesiastes 7:10 warns us in relation to nostalgia. It doesn’t say that it is wrong and sinful in itself. Rather it says that there is a subtle and dangerous temptation that can accompany it. We can be drawn into a distorted perspective inclining us to question God’s providence and purpose. In our discontent we begin to dispute the way things are. Why are we left in such a situation? Can any good come out of it? Such an attitude is neither wise nor right.

Alexander Nisbet shows how Ecclesiastes 7:10 guards us against quarrelling with the Lord’s dealings in this way. We are not to question why He should do this and complain at His appointing a hard lot to any of us. Neither are we to be so swallowed up by lament for the times that we fail to highlight what is positive and what may be the purpose behind it all. There is a danger of making such an absolute comparison between our times and the past that we feel the present is hopeless. This is a verse that needs to be understood and applied carefully and Nisbet helps us to do that in the following updated extract.

1. It is not sinful to recognise that times have become worse

This is not to be understood, as if the present times were not often worse than the former in many respects, seeing that is foretold (Matthew 24:12; 2 Timothy 3:1).

2. It is not sinful to ask why the times have become worse

It is not that the Lord’s people must not search into what sins people have committed to cause the change of times to the worse. Nor are they forbidden from lamenting the defections or miseries of their times. Both of these are duties for them (Lamentations 3:40). It is the duty of the Lord’s people to search out the sinful causes which provoke the Lord to change times to the worse. We are to enquire into the wise reasons He has for doing so and to bewail that later times have degenerated so far from the purity and holiness of former periods.

3. It is sinful to be discontented that the times have become worse

It is, however, a great sin to quarrel with Providence, or to enquire concerning this matter with a fretting discontentment of spirit. It is as if we were saying that things are not well ordered by Divine Providence, if we do not have as much peace and prosperity and as great freedom from outward trouble as those who were before us have had. For this is the evil here dissuaded from: to ask the cause why the former times were better than these.

We should not quarrel with God’s providence for appointing our lot in more troublesome times, and under more grievous oppressions than have been formerly. We should avoid speaking as if there were no cause why we should submit to a change of times from better to worse. The Spirit of the Lord does not give particular reasons of such changes here. There are many obvious reasons given in Scripture which are sufficient to satisfy us in relation to this. Rather, He prohibits and rebukes such boldness and gives a general reason of the dissuasive, that these inquiries flow from men’s ignorance of the Lord’s sovereignty and wisdom, who works all for His own glory, and the good of His people.

4. It is sinful not to submit to God’s purpose that the times have become worse

To fret and repine that the present times are worse than the former shows us to be void of heavenly wisdom. This teaches those who have it to adore the righteousness of God in all His dealings. They do this even though they do not see the particular reasons for them (Jeremiah 12:1).

5. It is sinful to ignore good things, even though the times have become worse

Such submission often leads them to satisfying reasons clearly held forth in Scripture, namely that God in wisdom uses certain times to reveal men’s perversity which at other times He sees fit to restrain. At times He chooses to advance by sore trials the faith, patience, and other graces of His people, which at other times He advances without such trials (Daniel 12:10).

This quarrelling with the Lord is evidence of great presumptuousness arising from an ignorance of the true condition of both the present and former times. This makes them fail to consider the good of the present times, which often exceeds that of the former as far as the evils and troubles of the present exceeds those of the former. Solomon says that in such a spirit we do not enquire wisely (or as it is literally in the Hebrew original “by wisdom”) concerning this matter. The expression intends more than is expressed.

Conclusion

Nostalgia may have its benefits as well as its pitfalls, but it cannot really transform. It can bind us to the past in ways that debilitate us in the present. It recalls a past that cannot be recovered. Hope on the other hand, is always transformative. In some ways we could think of hope as nostalgia in reverse, a longing for our future home (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). Hope does not unsettle us, it anchors us (Hebrews 6:19). This kind of nostalgia in reverse is not sinful, rather it purifies us (1 John 3:3; 2 Peter 3:14). It strengthens us with patience (Romans 8:25). Surely we need to cultivate it more?

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Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick Culture

Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick Culture

Finding True Beauty in a Beauty Sick 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.

An objective survey of our media, advertising, social media and popular culture reveals a culture obsessed with physical beauty. It is so obsessed with it that beauty has become everything and important things are neglected. When it reaches this point it is according to psychology professor Renee Engeln, a “beauty sick” culture. It amounts to a society-wide psychological illness. What we see in the mirror consumes so much time, attention, and emotional resources that becomes harder see other aspects of our lives. How we look (often measured by reactions on social media) is more important than who we are. The ugly truth about such beauty sickness is that it is physically, mentally and spiritually harmful. Anthropologists observe that obsession with physical beauty is a common phenomenon of societies in decline. Cultures have been here before and the Bible has great insight about such tendencies of the human heart. It points us away from beauty sickness to true beauty.

In 1 Peter 3:3-4 there is a contrast between spiritual and outward adornment. Following on from 1 Peter 3:1-2, the apostle gives two further directions to believing women for attaining the way to live that through the Lord’s blessing, might prove a means of gaining their unbelieving husbands. The one is negative, that they should not be too obsessed with adorning their outward person. The other is positive, that their great efforts should be to have their inward person adorned with the grace of God, especially meekness and a peaceable spirit in relation to their husbands.

Peter also urges that this is an ornament that will not grow old and decay as others do. It is also in very high esteem with the Lord, and therefore as they desire to gain their husbands by their outward conduct, their great care should be to attain to a right condition of spirit within. This does not mean that our outward appearance should be despised or that we should pursue an odd way of presenting ourselves but rather that it should not divert us from the main things. In the following updated extract, Alexander Nisbet explains further the nature of true beauty and why we should not be diverted from pursuing it.

1. True Beauty is Not Obsessive

Even the children of the Lord can be in danger of offending Him and others, in the matter of their clothing. This may involve pursuing novelty or strangeness whether in the type of clothing or in our way of using of it (Zephaniah 1:8). Or it may be when much time and expense are wasted concerning clothing, as is meant in the apostle’s words here. In all of this and similar ways, the Lord’s people are ready to offend in the matter of their clothing. and that because there is in them much unsubdued pride and vanity which is ready to manifest itself in that way (Isaiah 3:16, 18 etc) and because they forget, that clothing is given to make them ashamed in remembrance of their sin (1 Timothy 2:9, 14). The danger of offending (by wasting both time and expense) is meant by the apostle in dissuading them from outward adorning.

2. True Beauty is Not Excessive

The Lord allow those in eminence above others to have ornaments beyond necessity (Isaiah 22:20-22) and others to have more than ordinary at some special occasions (Genesis 24:30) and all of His people to conduct themselves in an honourable and decent way (Romans 12:17).

Yet, when any professing Christian becomes excessive in using their liberty in these things, they will be so far from commending religion to others that their practice will rather be a hindrance to others. They may or will readily take occasion to think that Christians have no better things to take themselves up with, than these on which they waste their time, effort and expense.

The apostle here dissuades Christian women from this evil if they wished to gain their heathen husbands. He implies that their vanity and excess in the matter of their adornment would rather hinder them than gain them to fall in love with Christianity.

3. True Beauty is Spiritual Beauty

They that would by their outward conduct, commend religion and win others to fall in love with it, must have their prime care exercised about their heart. If it is adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in life and practice, the conduct cannot but be lovely to all rightly discerning onlookers. Having told those believing women before that it was their actions mainly which would gain their husbands, Peter now further explains the way of attaining such conduct.

Those that waste much time, effort and expense, in adorning their bodies, ordinarily neglect their souls, leaving these in a disorderly, sordid and filthy condition. In dissuading from the one, and persuading to the other, the apostle implies the inconsistency of such an adorning of the outward person, with the adorning of the inward.

4. True Beauty is Meek

That which mainly makes the conduct of a professing Christian a means to gain others to Jesus Christ is the exercise of the graces of God’s Spirit within, especially meekness and quietness of spirit. By meekness they keep down their passions from rising against others that wrong them or against the Lord’s dealings that seem harder towards them than others (Numbers 12:2-3). It also prompts them to all amicable and loving ways of reclaiming such as wrong them, before they go to the rigour of justice (1 Corinthians 4:21).

By quietness of spirit they do avoid all needless contradiction of others (Isaiah 53:7); all rashness in their actions; (Acts 19:36); all meddling with things not belonging to them (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and all expressions of discontent with that lot the Lord has appointed for them (Psalm 131:2). All of this is here required of Christian women bound to unbelieving and ungodly husbands, as a special means of gaining them to Christ. He exhorts them to put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit in order to gain their husbands.

Where such a gracious frame of spirit is within, it will have visible effects that may be discerned without. The apostle exhorts Christian wives to the pursuit of meekness and quietness of spirit, as a means to gain their unbelieving husbands, which it could not achieve unless the effects were visible in their conduct.

5. True Beauty Does Not Fade

The grace of Christ is such an ornament that having been put on the soul, never fades or grows old altogether. This consideration should make Christians more careful to have it in exercise in their hearts, than to have on the best of their ornaments which will soon wear out and grow old. In urging Christians to put on this adorning of God’s grace, the apostle affirms it to be that “which is incorruptible.”

6. True Beauty is Esteemed by God

Every grace is the Lord’s own free gift (James 1:17) and the most gracious cannot properly be profitable to Him (Job 22:2). Yet, He is pleased to esteem His own grace and graciously reward those to whom He gives it, as if it were of great worth to Him. This consideration should increase the esteem of grace in our hearts and stir us to effort for getting and increasing it. The adornment of a meek and quiet spirit is commended from this that it “is in the sight of God of great price”.

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Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction

Biblical Help for Job Satisfaction
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.

A recent survey focused on questions of work and identity found quite a high level of dissatisfaction with employment. Only 16% said “I feel that in work I’m doing things that are really meaningful”, and just 10% “I believe my current work is part of my calling and vocation”. 30% said “I feel insecure about how long I will be able to hold on to my current job.” (January 2021 YouGov Poll for Theos). It is easy too make too much or too little of gainful employment. Job satisfaction is a modern concept in many ways but that is not to say it is not to some extent a biblical principle. Work is positive but it is still under the curse of the Fall and provides much weariness and vexation of spirit. Our problem is that we often tie our identity and status to our work, and this adds to our troubles. We need to find our satisfaction and contentment in working to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Ecclesiastes shows the trouble that work along with other things can bring. When we seek our ultimate purpose in these things in themselves, we are quickly disappointed and frustrated. It presents these truths to wean our hearts from finding our highest good and purpose in the things of this world. But the book also presents a positive message of resting satisfied in living our lives before God to His glory. One of these passages is in Ecclesiastes chapter 3. Amid the changing events of God’s providence, we can steer a steady course by seeking contentment in submitting to His will and doing all to His glory. Even the best circumstances should encourage us to follow our duty to our Maker and live for eternity in the midst of time. In Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 we are to respond to God’s goodness towards us by rejoicing in His gifts with a spiritual joy. We should enjoy God’s blessings (including work) as the good of all our efforts in our labours and we should do good (that which is well pleasing to God). Even this ability to enjoy them is the free gift of God (see How to Enjoy Earthly Things in a Spiritual Way).

In Ecclesiastes 9:10 we are counselled to pursue the duties of our calling vigorously in the appropriate time and way. This comes in the context of pursuing life to the glory of God, including a lawful vocation (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). We are to exert the utmost of the ability which God gives, using the strength and comfort received by the use of His benefits to carry out our personal duties and responsibilities. Since time is short and we cannot pursue these things to the glory of God once body and soul are separated in death, we should make use of all strength and comforts to follow our calling now. Since our opportunities for work are limited we cannot make it our ultimate purpose for living. Rather we must make it serve our ultimate purpose, which is to glorify God.

Whatever our hand finds to do, we must do it with all our might. It is not about whether we find work that enhances our self-worth but about how we can best glorify God in all we do. We can do that now and do not need to wait for an opportunity to come up that we feel would better help us to maximise our gifts. That is true job satisfaction. Alexander Nisbet applies these principles further to gain the right Godward perspective on our calling in the following updated extract.

1. Job Satisfaction is the Gift of God

We should make best use of the Lord’s generosity in the variety of the outward comforts of this life. This is by being serious and diligent in the duties of our calling, watching every opportunity and exerting all the strength and cheerfulness of spirit acquired by the good things of God in doing Him service. If we do not do this, our table will become a snare to us and our comforts will be turned into curses. This is inferred from urging us to make cheerful use of the generous provision from God mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9:7-9.

2. Job Satisfaction IS IN EVERY OpportunitY

Men often have both the opportunity and power to do good but through neglect and carelessness are ready to let it slip. This is a very bad return to God for his generosity.  The Spirit of God therefore finds it necessary to stir us up to take hold of every opportunity of duty, as a proof of our thankfulness to God for His bounty.

3. Job Satisfaction is in Exerting Our Utmost

The utmost of our ability is to be shown in the discharge of every commanded duty, considering the danger of doing the work of the Lord negligently (Jeremiah 42:10). The more fervent, serious and vigorous we are in walking in the ways of the Lord, the more our strength will increase (Proverbs 10:29).

4. Job Satisfaction is in Glorifying God Now

The opportunity for these duties in which we can honour God and advance our own and other’s salvation is confined within the bounds of this life. Considering this should sharpen our minds to devise ways of honouring God and doing good to our own souls and others with the utmost of our abilities. This is a reason for diligence in our duty, while we have opportunity. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.”

5. Job Satisfaction Has an Eternal Perspective

Everyone is in a continual journey towards their long home. Whether we are active or resting we are hasting towards that. We should see ourselves from this perspective and be moved to employ our time and strength to the utmost, in honouring God and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. This verse speaks of everyone as being in a constant motion towards their grave. There is “no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave” to which they are going or hasting (as it may be translated).

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How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile Culture?

How Should Christians Respond to a Hostile 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.

The recent public burning of a stack of Bibles in Portland, Oregon indicates an increased degree of hostility to Christianity. Cultural change is accelerating. Surveys show that the majority of those who want to own the Bible’s authority consider their beliefs are now in conflict with mainstream culture. We are also all too conscious of ways in which the Christian voice and Christian values are being forced out of the public square. Christians may be tempted to respond by retreating; whether that is diluting their message or seeking to hide. Yet we still need to be salt and light in such a culture and to hold out the gospel of hope. How do we do this? What does it mean for our everyday lives? What hope can encourage us in such times?

Living in such a culture is not new for Christians, it is often the norm. It was the context of the New Testament. In Philippians 1:27-28, Paul counsels Christians not to be intimidated into withdrawing. They should not become less steadfast or bold in their zeal for truth. They should not be divided but stand fast together for the gospel. Rather they should live lives that adorn the gospel and testify courageously to the truth of God’s Word.

Peter also speaks to Christians about how they could suffer for doing good (1 Peter 2:20) be exposed to abuse and insult (1 Peter 4:4 and 14). They must respond by living such lives that glorify God and may even bring others to glorify Him. In this updated extract Alexander Nisbet shows how 1 Peter 2:12 can encourage us to live for Christ in a hostile culture. Peter stresses the importance of holiness in our outward living despite those who may want to slander them as evildoers. This may not just silence them but even result in their conversion, and consequently bring much glory to God.

1. The More Holy Our Life, the More Real Our Profession

To the extent that the power of sin is weakened in the heart, there will be beauty and loveliness in our outward life. The apostle has said they must abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11) and now speaks of honourable conduct before the Gentiles. Christians proclaim the praises of God by this more than by a fair profession or good expressions.

Such honest or honourable conduct is made beautiful and lovely (as the word literally means) to on-lookers. It is made beautiful by the right ordering of all aspects of it in duties to God and others (Psalm 50:23). It is also beautified by showing wisdom and meekness (James 3:13) in these things but especially by faithfully discharging the duties of our particular calling and relations (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; Titus 2:9-10). The apostle brings in this as a means to attain to manifest the praises of God as he had urged previously (1 Peter 2:9).

2. The More Unholy Society Becomes, the More Holy Believers Must Become

The more wicked the society with whom believers must interact, the more should they be stirred up to the pursuit of honourable conduct either to win or convict others. The apostle urges these Christian Hebrews living among heathen people to pursue holiness of life. Sadly, many nominal Christians resemble such Gentiles in living without respect to the law of God (Romans 2:14) and pursuing strongly their idols like heathen people (1 Corinthians 12:2). They are as unacquainted with the privileges and duties of the covenant of grace as heathens are (Ephesians 2:11). They are also like the heathen often ready to persecute all that do run to excess in the way that they do (1 Peter 4:3).

4. The World is Unworthy of Those It Thinks Unworthy of Living In It

Those of whom the world is unworthy are often characterised to the world as unworthy to live in it, by those whose dishonourable ways are reproved by their honourable conduct. Although these believers are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood etc they are spoken against as evildoers.

Those that are without God in the world are often enemies to and slanderers of those who will not run to the same excess with them. This is how the Gentiles are described here.

5. Untrue Slander is Best Silenced by Unblemished Living

Honourable conduct is the best way for Christians to stop the mouths of slanderers. Without this any other means will prove ineffectual for maintaining their reputation. The apostle prescribed a holy walk to Christians as a means to put their very enemies to activity inconsistent with slandering the godly. Although they speak against them as evildoers they may by beholding their good works, glorify God.

6. Unblemished Living May Convert the Unregenerate

The Word accompanied by the powerful blessing of God is the principal means of converting sinners (Romans 10: 15 and 17). The Lord may, however, make use of the very conduct and visible actions of His people to draw wicked men to fall in love with God’s ways. Such conduct includes integrity in their dealings (even with their enemies), patiently bearing wrongs and continuing to express love and respect to their enemies despite such treatment.

Wicked men may be brought to give Him the glory that He ever sent and blessed to them such a means for reclaiming them from the way of perdition. It is God’s work to visit them in His power (Psalm 110:3) and love to make the change (Ezekiel 16:8). In order for such a change there must be a “day of visitation”, a visitation in special mercy that brings sinners to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Our chief motive is not glory to ourselves but glory to God (1 Samuel 2:30), that others might be moved to glorify God in the day of visitation.

7. Undiminished Hope for the Greatest Enemies

The Lord’s children should lose neither hope nor endeavours of winning to Christ the greatest enemies (whether to God or themselves) among whom they live. They have hope when they consider how soon and how easily the Lord can change them. The apostle urges them to consider those who were speaking against them as evildoers as such whom God might visit in mercy. They might even be instrumental in their conversion.

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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.

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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