What to do in a minority

What to do in a minority

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

Today’s church finds itself not only exiled from places of prominent usefulness, but also under attack from multiple sources. At the same time, it is itself beset with many vulnerabilities. Low levels of commitment and spirituality within its members and leaders, coupled with inarticulateness in proclaiming the gospel message, mean that the church is ill equipped for the pressures and assaults of an increasingly aggressive secular society. Although unlike Covenanting times, when the threat of armed physical violence was real, there remain ways in which our situation today echoes David’s experience in Psalm 86, where he describes many strong enemies assembling against his small forces and poised to destroy him. “O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul …” (Psalm 86:14). In a sermon on this prayer of David’s, the blind Edinburgh preacher Archibald Skeldie brings God’s perspective to bear. In the following updated excerpt, Skeldie discusses the significance of the numerousness of David’s enemies in God’s sight, before offering suggestions as to how to respond as a threatened minority.

David says that his enemies “assemble themselves together.” He mentions their “assembling” for two reasons.

The numerousness of enemies is no match for God’s power

First, for the glory of God’s power. The weaker the defending side, and the stronger the assailing force, the more obvious is the power of one who defends the weaker against the stronger. The power of God Almighty is manifested, when His saints and servants are brought to such extremity that they can neither help themselves, nor find help from others, against their many and mighty persecutors. He who manifested His power in Paul’s weakness in the hour of temptation, declares His power by protecting His saints in time of persecution. As one commentator says, “The Lord will not deny His safeguard to His saints while they are straited with necessity.” Instead He graciously helps them.

Remarkable is the example of Hezekiah and his people. The army of the Assyrians was known to be great, Hezekiah was conscious of his weakness, and that weakness was not unknown to his enemy, who told him that he had neither riders for horses, nor counsel for war. The power of God who protected Hezekiah was manifested, not only in promising him security, but likewise in actually ensuring his safety in the destruction of his enemy. Hezekiah, so weak in the sight of Sennacherib, seemed foolish in holding out a walled city against him. He would have judged him mad, if he had ventured to come in open field against him. Yet the power of God was magnified, whose bridle was always in Sennacherib’s lips, so that he could not go beyond His permission, just like a horse can only go where his rider wishes. The church of God complains in the 83rd Psalm of the confederacy of many enemies, who not only sought the ruin of God’s people, saying, “Let us root out Israel from being a nation,” but broke out in pride against the Lord Himself, saying, “Let us take for our possession the mansions of God.” The church requests their destruction by humble prayer so that God would be magnified in His glorious power.

The numerousness of enemies is an opportunity to trust God more fully

The second reason for David to mention the “assembling” of his enemies is to declare his trust and confidence in God. The multitude of his enemies is so far from chasing him away from God, that it maketh him run all the more to God, by earnest prayer and settled confidence. As by His power He is able to protect him, so by His mercy He will compass him (Psalm 32:10).

David well knew how powerfully this argument would prevail with God, that the one who is pursued by many enemies, and trusts in God, should be protected by the power and mercy of God. Basic humanity will teach people not to betray but rather to protect to the utmost of their power those who commit their lives to their care. Much more will the tender mercy of our gracious Lord move Him graciously to protect all those who “put their trust under the shadow of his wings.”

How to respond to being outnumbered by enemies

Various things are set out in Scripture for us to take note of.

Every one of God’s people should well observe what unique experiences they have had of God’s favourable protection. What makes David unafraid of the multitude of his enemies is when he considers how he has previously been delivered from the fury and rage of his enemies. Basil summarises David’s position in a similar psalm (Psalm 27), “Because I have received so great experience and proof of divine help, then, albeit twice or thrice so many press to overwhelm me, yet being guarded by this hope, I will withstand all those evils with invincible courage.”

The Lord Himself exhorts His people to trust in Him, with a promise of security and safety. “Trust in the Lord, and ye shall be established; believe his prophets, and ye shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).

Don’t be deceived by appearances. If we look at the experience of His saints, it may justly be said, “None of them that trust in him, shall be desolate,” because those who trusted in Him were always delivered: “Our fathers that trusted in him were not ashamed.” We must not withdraw our confidence from God, when we see no appearance of help at the hands of men! Instead we should all the more rely on Him, with trust and confidence. He usually sends His relief when there is least appearance of it.

Mutual enemies can agree in opposition against God. Although the enemies of David were proud, and their pride and ambition caused them dissensions and strife amongst themselves, yet they can combine themselves to be David’s persecutors. It is the nature of proud men, so far as they are proud, to presume on their own worth, and think all others contemptible. They presume on their own wisdom, so they think nothing done well other than their own words and works, or else what somehow or other takes their fancy. They are so concerned about their own honour and wealth that they care nothing if others are brought to ruin and disgrace. It is a wonder then that they can assemble with others for one united purpose! Yet we see that though Pilate and Herod were mutual enemies, they can be friends when Christ is to be crucified. Though there is mutual hatred betwixt the Pharisees and Sadduces, they can conspire together when Christ is persecuted. The proud persecutors of the saints of God are set to work by Satan for one end, to destroy the kingdom of Christ, even though those who have a hand in the business all have their own worldly, devilish and other motivations, ambition, cruelty, and covetousness.

How to act in view of imminent threat

When the Covenanters of Britain and Ireland hear of the assembling of enemies from various quarters, there are three things which they should earnestly lay to heart.

Carefully strive to keep peace amongst yourselves

First, Covenanters should labour to be of one mind in the essentials of religion, and in the service and worship of God. They should mutually defend one another, according to thair Covenant. They should remove from themselves all excuses which may hinder them from advancing the cause of Christ — none who has power should claim to be weak, nor should those who have wealth claim poverty, but every zealous Christian should count it his honour and happines that God has furnished him with ability, and by His providence offered him opportunity, to honour Christ and advance His kingdom.

Christians are called to peace, in one body. They should let the peace of God rule in their hearts at all times, but especially when their peace is troubled by cruel persecutors. Abraham thought it not time to argue with Lot, when they were in the land of the Amorites. The Athenians and Thebanes had their mutual jealousies, yet they packed up all their dissensions when they were invaded by Philip, King of Macedonia, the enemy of the liberty of all Greece. This is especially important when you remember that usually distraction is a dolorous omen of destruction. Union makes strength, but division brings weakness. If we are true to ourselves, and keep that peace which we have sworn in our Covenant, and which is required of the disciples of Christ, we will have less need to worry about all the enemies of the cause of Christ.

Do what you can to hinder enemies assembling

Secondly, when the people of the Lord hear of their enemies assembling, they should labour as much as in them lies, to hinder them coming together. It was wise of the Romans to fight with the army of Hasdrubal before the army of Hannibal. It is a great deal safer to deal with the individual parts of an army than the complete body. In the time of Edward I of England, one of the Scottish noblemen, with 8,000 of our people, vanquished in one day 30,000 of the English, who were divided into three bands. It would have been more difficult, if they had all been joined together.

Humbly entreat the Lord to be here to help

Thirdly, when we hear of the assembling of various people from various quarters, our humble prayer should be to the Lord, “That he would be present in the assembly of his saints,” that so they would be protected and defended against the assemblies of their cruel enemies. “If God be one our side, who is against us?” Abijam was more encouraged that God was with his people than he was afraid of the huge number of Jeroboam’s army against his people.

But while we entreat the Lord by prayer, we must look well to two things.

For one thing, we should not be excessively afraid, or fainthearted, when we are fewer in number, seeing it makes no difference to the Lord to vanquish by few or by many. There are frequent passages to this effect in the Book of Judges, and in the Books of the Kings.

The other thing is, even if in God’s providence our numbers are greater, yet we must not lean on the strength of man, but to the help and assistance of God. Neither the greatness of number, nor the goodness of the cause for which they fight, will make people prevail aginst their enemies if they have greater confidence in their own strength than in the help of God. I actually think that when Jehosaphat was threatened by his enemies, he could have raised a greater army than all the kings who were his enemies, and yet he says, “Lord, we know not what to do, but our eyes are towards thee.” “Chariots and horses may run to the battle, but the Lord of hosts giveth victory.” If we find access to God by prayer, then any time we are threatened by our enemies, we may expect His protection and deliverance, according to David’s observation, “When I cry, then mine enemies shall be turned back; this I know, for God is for me.”

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Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ

Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ

Five things to do when everyone else despises Christ
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

Although it remains a fact of history that after Christ died He rose again, yet at some times more than others, the wider relevance of this fact seems non-existent. For all the interest people take in Him, He might as well still be buried in the grave. His followers have little influence and little prestige, and He and they are more or less dismissed with a sneer everywhere. In times like this, what can Christ’s followers do? The Covenanting minister Michael Bruce gave five pieces of advice to hearers in his day. Observing the behaviour of the women in Matthew 28 over the period while Christ was in the grave, Bruce identifies five activities that believers can keep busy with, when Christ and His cause are at their most beleaguered.

When the world has done their worst to Christ, and can do no more to Him, still the people of God always have work to do with Him. You can see in this chapter that Christ is dead and buried, and left alone, and yet for all that, there are some poor women who haven’t quite given up on Him. These poor people will not quit with Him.

So there is a huge difference between Christians looking at a buried Christ, and the world looking at Him. The world sees no beauty in Him, but Christ is always beautiful to the believer, whatever the world might do to Him.

In fact, poor redeemed sinners will always be following Him, whatever condition He is in. These women have a work to do with Christ when the world have done their worst with Him.

There are five pieces of work we have to do with Christ when the world has done their worst with Him.

Keep love burning

Keep love burning in our hearts to Him. O friends, is there any love to a buried Christ among you? You see how love was still burning in these women’s hearts always. Remember this piece of work you have to do, to keep much love in your heart to Him. When curates, malignants, magistrates, prelates and backslidden clergymen have done their worst to Him, you must love Him as much as ever you did.

Keep company with Him

Keep company with Him. As soon as the sabbath is over, these women run away to keep a dead and buried Christ company. If you spend time with Christ in a day like this, surely you will not keep company with those who betray Him.

Do what you can for Him

Whatever seems to be Christ’s need at the moment, you must labour to meet it. Although there was a mistake in these poor women, yet they were right in the main thing. Christ’s broken body seemed to be them to be in need of embalming, so they prepared spices for that, although the mistake was that they did not believe He would rise again so soon. Still, there was something about Him that looked to them like something He needed, so they prepared a supply for that.

O how our blessed Lord Jesus in His members needs someone to speak a word for Him these days! But He cannot get a hearing! Some people will do nothing but swear and forswear, and play fast and loose with Him. He comes to some and asks a lend of their houses and lands a year or two, but they will not grant it. He comes to some and seeks a horse and saddle, but they will not give that. The disciples did not let Him go without a horse when He called for one, nor yet a saddle, even if the saddle was just that they spread their garments on it. But nobody takes an interest in the needs of Christ in His members these days, either to identify a need or supply it.

Refuse to take offence at Him

Guard against being offended at Him. This was the thing He wanted from His disciples. “Blessed are they that shall not be offended in me.” All He desires from you is that you would not be offended at Him. Supposing He meets you with a violent death, do not be offended at Him. If for a long time He lets some enemy or other always have the upper hand over you, this is a piece of the work He calls for from your hands when His back is against the wall.

Love His despised people

Do not let any of His suffering followers have less of a place in your heart on account of them backing their Master and getting suffering for their pains. “Am I naked? Then clothe Me,” He said, “and I give you this encouragement, that whatever you do for one of these suffering little ones, you do it to Me.”

O friends, are you done with Christ just because the people of the world are done with Him? It’s a black mark against professing Christians, that just because Christ is buried, they think they have nothing more to do with Him! It’s a black mark against our clergymen, that when Christ is buried, there’s almost never one of them who asks how He lies. O Christians, have you really nothing more to do with Him when the most of the world has done with Him? There is never less interest in Christ than when His back is to the wall, and O but you are ashamed people who do not take an interest in Him now, when He seems to be in His grave.

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What is our honest reaction to the gospel?

What is our honest reaction to the gospel?

What is our honest reaction to the gospel?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

Hearing about what Jesus did on the cross forces a confrontation. When the gospel of God meets our sinful hearts, what is our honest reaction? There can only be acceptance or rejection, and there is both sin and terrible danger in sidestepping the demands of the gospel even for the time being. John Welch of Irongray, reaching the end of a sermon on Isaiah 53, insisted that his hearers faced up to their response to the news of Christ crucified. As the following updated extract shows, his questions, posed in the consciousness of God’s presence, are very pointed. Will we prefer our sins to salvation? Or will we entrust ourselves to the Saviour?

Now I come to ask what you have to say to the gospel. What do you say to it? Do you have something to say against what I have been telling you? Do you have something to say against what Christ suffered? or against what He did after He suffered, when He said, “Thrust in your hands into my side, and be not faithless, but believing?” Or will you be like Thomas and say, “My Lord and my God!” Friends, what will you do? Tell me what you think of all that has been said of a suffering Christ today. What effect does it now have on you? And what effect will it have afterwards? Will you leave this place without closing with Jesus Christ? What do you say to it? Do you have any objections?

“Yes,” says someone, “I have three objections that hinder me.”

I have too many doubts

“I have many doubts in my heart, so that I dare not presume to come to Christ.”

But why do you not dare?

“I have been such a great sinner.”

I tell you then, sinners, in the name of the Lord, you who have these fears and doubts, come on, and do not let that hinder you. Instead let it put you to make all the more use of the Lord. Come away to Him. Though your sins were as scarlet and as crimson, ye shall be made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). You have God’s command for it, and you have God’s warrant for it, and you have God’s revelation, and these are His revealed duties that He bids you do. Be serious in going about what is revealed in the Word of God to be your duty (and that is all that the gospel calls for), and unite with Jesus Christ.

Or are you saying, “I would love to go to Jesus, but I’m afraid of breaking up with Him again.” Only resolve in Christ’s strength, and He will keep you, and all the devils in hell shall not get you to break off. “But I have made so many promises, and I have broken them all, and I fear that I will do so again.” I say, you must resolve again in Christ’s strength, and as His hand lays the foundation, He shall finish the work. “Turn again unto me,” saith the LORD, “and I will heal your backslidings.”

I can’t do it

Someone is saying, though, “I can’t. You tell us to embrace Him, but we cannot. It’s as impossible for us as to touch the sky. We can’t even begin.”

What did the Lord say to the poor man who had the withered hand? He told him to stretch it out. “I cannot,” he would say, but yet what does the Lord say? “Stretch out thy hand” (Luke 6:10).

I tell you in His name, make an attempt, and show your goodwill, and He will help you to do it. If only you would give it a try, and just say, “Lord, I believe with the faith that I have, and as far as I can, I believe — Lord, help my unbelief.”

It’s a strange thing, friends, that you won’t even try. The man in Luke 6 might have said, “What’s the point of me stretching out my withered hand? I know I can’t.” But yet Christ tells him to stretch it out as he can, and He makes his attempt effectual. You who say you cannot do so much as to make an attempt, just make the attempt, and God will make these attempts effectual, and you will find Him.

Therefore, if you don’t dare to venture, or think you cannot get a grip of Him, yet will you give Him a look? “Look unto me all ye ends of the earth, and be saved, for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22). This is all that He requires — that you would give Him a look.

I don’t want to

Are there any other objections? “I don’t want to.”

That is the truth of the matter. “I don’t want to part with the world; I don’t want to serve Him; I don’t want to obey His commands. I am not resolved to do that yet. I don’t want to leave the world that I’ve got so much advantage in. No, no, I don’t want to come to Him, say what you will.”

Woe is me, that is a terrible thing. You don’t want to have Him? Let ministers say what they will, you don’t want Him? What’s the reason for that? He is able to declare of Himself that it is not His fault that you are unwilling.

“O,” you say, “He is a hard master, there is no living with Him. I won’t get my idols entertained in His service. I couldn’t cope with it. I can’t part with my lusts, and with my sin. If you want the plain truth of it, I don’t think there has ever been a man or a woman that ever had a happy day serving Him, and therefore I have to go my own way at my own risk. Whatever comes on the back of it, I must sin, and I must not miss out on my opportunities in the world.”

Well, friends, I say there is much more advantage to be had in coming to Christ.

But this is your opportunity

Friends, we have encountered a strange piece of providence. I had planned to have preached elsewhere today, but against my own expectation I have been brought here again.

So it’s by chance that we are here today, and I have been presenting to you a bloodied, wounded, bruised Christ. He is all crushed with the wrath of God. He was forced to cry, “What shall I do? My soul is sorrowful, even unto death, and what shall I do?” This wounded Christ has purchased salvation to sinners, and has sent me here this day as His ambassador to make offer of Him. Have I made any impression on you? I have come in His name and I may not leave you like a knotless thread, a pointless waste of time.

It is in His name that we come here, and I summon and charge you all — as you will answer before the great God, and as you would want to be found of Him in peace, and as you would want one day to look Him in the face, and not call the hills and mountains to fall on you — I summon you to embrace Him!

I charge you by the love of Jesus Christ that put Him to suffer all those things. I charge you by the torments of hell that surely shall follow on those who disobey. I charge you by the love of Him who was dead and is now alive, and lives for evermore. I charge you by Him who has the keys of hell and death, and the keys of heaven.

Come and tell me what you plan to do. Or are you resolved to live as you have done? Do you live prayerless and godless? Will you leave off that? Are you drunkards? Will you leave off that? What are you going to do? Do you swear? Will you keep swearing more?

Are you repenting? Or have you decided to live a while longer in your sins? Will you continue in these things, and keep your idols, and your corruptions? Have you resolved to do that, or this? Will you come today and give up everything to the Lord, and embrace this suffering Christ, before His wrath comes upon you? Have ye drawn back? Will you draw back more? Or will you come to Him?

How will you respond?

What do you say to it? I offer Him to you. I lay the offer at every individual’s door, and to every individual’s conscience, and I command and charge you to come and embrace Him, and I desire the Lord God of heaven that He would confirm this.

Now what do you say to it, you who have had so many preachings preached to you? I beseech you, give an answer. Come and take Him, and embrace Him today. For you cannot tell if you will ever have the offer again. I cannot tell if I will ever have the opportunity to speak to you again. What do you think, is it for nothing that we come out to preach, when we are at such high risk, and when we are seen as traitors and rebels in every one of these meetings? It’s not a small business, this. God calls us to be serious, and not to trifle. Therefore, men and women, will you come and close with Him?

Dear, beloved friends, will you let Christ’s death and sufferings persuade you to take Christ’s offer? I long for you to come to Him, for your own life and salvation. I press it on you, and as He is offered, so take Him. Dear friends, give your answer! Say it to Him — it’s not me that wants your answer. Say something to the Lord, for as the Lord lives, you must say something, yea or nay. As you don’t want God to speak in wrath to you, friends, say that you will be the Lord’s! Say that you will enter into an everlasting covenant with Him, never to be forgotten! Or as the Lord lives, these trees, and this water, and that brae, and the earth that you sit on shall be a witness against you eternally, and this tent, and I, and these clouds above your heads.

Therefore now, come, and take the offer, and tell God that from this day forward you resolve to be for Him. Old men, and young men, will you close with Him? Young bairns, the youngest of you all, will you close with Him? Say, “Lord, I would be content to close with Him.” Will you say this, old women and young women? Answer God, who is bidding you come to Him. Say with good David, “Thou art my God and my king … Thou hast made with me an everlasting covenant, well-ordered in all things, and sure.”

I would gladly fall down on my bare knees in front of you if that would get you to say the thing. O friends, give an answer! Say what Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” and say with David, “O God, thou art my God,” and say with the church in Jeremiah 50:5, “Come, let us enter ourselves into an everlasting covenant with God …”

We must leave you, friends, and yet how can we think of leaving till you come to Him? Take heed what you are doing. Go to Him, and close with Him.

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Six features of an attentive minister

Six features of an attentive minister

Six features of an attentive minister
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

The work of the ministry requires constant care and attention. Yet there are plenty reasons why a pastor might lose heart in the work of the ministry, since discouragements are many, and personal corruptions are active. The Covenanting minister William Veitch (1640–1722) was aware of these burdens. He identified Archippus as a minister who seems to have flagged and even become lazy in the work. Paul sends Archippus a brief word of exhortation in his letter to the Colossians: “Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it” (Col. 4:17). Veitch, speaking as a minister to fellow ministers, deduces that great attentiveness is required in ministers if they are to carry out their ministerial responsibilities rightly. In the following updated extract, Veitch gives six features of the attentiveness which Paul urged Archippus to show in his work.

Wisdom

The first thing necessary to enable a minister take heed to his ministry is wisdom and knowledge, not only in the doctrinal but also the practical part of religion. I think both of these are needful to make a minister “apt to teach,” or else his ministry will be more art-work than heart-work. The ministers of Christ must be men of knowledge, for they are watchmen, and watchmen must have eyes in their head. They are to point out to the people their way, their danger, and their duty. If they are blind, what hurt comes to the church! “The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed” (Isaiah 9:16).

Ignorance causes error, and error destruction. That is why the apostle said to the elders of Ephesus, “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost made you overseers, to feed them,” i.e., with knowledge and understanding, so that they may be soundly principled and right in the faith. The reason is, “for grievous wolves will enter in among you, speaking perverse things to corrupt your people, and to draw disciples after them” (Acts 20:28–30).

Ministers should be like the creatures around Christ’s throne, full of eyes within and without, before and behind. Within, looking to the frame and constitution of their own hearts. Without, to the duties they ought to perform and the snares and dangers they must beware of in following their duty. Before them to God, for counsel and direction. Behind them, to the flocks which they lead. “The priest’s lips should keep knowledge,” says Malachi, and so every minister is (as it were) the treasurer of the place where he is. If ministers lack this treasury of spiritual knowledge and wisdom, they will not be able to distinguish rightly between truth and error, sin and duty. They cannot instruct the ignorant, resolve doubts, quiet the troubled conscience, feed the hungry, and comfort the discouraged. Let Antichrist have blind and ignorant watchmen: our Lord Jesus Christ should have ministers who are thoroughly furnished for every good work.

Diligence

For a minister to discharge his office rightly, he needs painstaking diligence. Knowledge must flow into action . Ministers are called “angels,” and angels are not only full of eyes, but also full of hands and wings (Eze. 1:5). Therefore, “they rest not day nor night” (Rev. 4:8). They know much, therefore they act much.

The heathen could tell us that unpractical knowledge signifies nothing. The Egyptians painted a tongue with a hand under it, to show that knowledge was good when practiced. The blessing is not promised to the bare knowledge of commanded duties, but to the practice of them. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them” (John 13:17). “Blessed are they that do his commandments , that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates unto the city” (Rev. 22:14). Ministers are spiritual harvesters, and the crop is very precious. If it is lost by our sloth, we will pay dear for it.

Faithfulness

How much we need to take heed that we do our ministerial work faithfully! Faithfulness is a proportioning of our obedience to the command, or being impartial in all the ministrations of the house of God. See what a charge the Apostle Paul gives Timothy. “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing of partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). We see that the one who is partial cannot be faithful. An unfaithful minister is perfidious both to God and man. It says in Zephaniah 3:4, “their prophets are light and treacherous persons,” and “treacherous persons” means prevaricating persons who violate the trust due to God and the people alike. It is the highest treachery that can be, to be false to God and rob Him of people’s souls. What is recorded in Ezekiel 3:20 is worthy of our attention. “Because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, but his blood shall I require at thine hand.” If a minister may perish for not warning sinners, much more for encouraging them to sin, by corrupt doctrine, and a lewd life, for if there is death in an omission, much more must it be things that are positively evil.

Let me add one word more on this point. A faithful minister must be a fearless minister. He must not be afraid of the faces of men, when he is to deliver the truths of God. Four times in one verse, the Lord forbids the prophet to fear: “Son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briars and thorns be with thee , and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Eze. 2:6).

Prudence

If we are to “take heed to our ministry,” we also need prudence. This is necessary to direct us in the dexterous management of all the parts of our work, and especially as to the methods by which, and the times in which our work may be done to the best advantage. Of all the parts of our ministerial work, none requires more prudence in order to handle it rightly than reproof, i.e., to do it so as it may be accepted as a kindness by the person reproved, and as an excellent oil that will not break the head, as the Psalmist expresses it (Ps. 141:5). For while faithfulness and wisdom ponder the necessity of the duty, prudence considers the fittest time, and the best manner of application with respect to the person. See in 2 Samuel 12 the prudence and dexterity with which Nathan prepared David in the parable, from verse 1 to verse 6, before he comes to touch him in the quick with “Thou art the man!” in verse 7.

Earnestness

We must be sincere and serious (Eccles. 9:10). It is not likely that we will seriously press gospel truths and holiness home on others, until we know the sweetness and good of them ourselves. The apostle tells us that sincerity in our work and walk will be no small ground of our rejoicing, when our consciences within, and observers without, can testify that we endeavoured sincerely and carefully to manage this trust committed to us (2 Cor. 1:12).

Ministers need to take heed to this, since their work has to do with spiritual things, and so they are more apt to be deceived by hypocrisies creeping in both to their hearts and their duties. Many a time the frequency of these duties almost takes away the fervency of them. Ministers should therefore often think of what Paul said, to keep themselves diligent at their work, “Lest when I preach the gospel to others, I myself be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Perseverance

This “take heed” includes constancy and perseverance. We must not imagine we can do this work by fits and starts, nor be like these foolish Galatians, who began in the spirit, and ended in the flesh. We must not put our hand to the plough and look back, for you know what Christ says of those who do so, “They are not fit for the kingdom of God.” They are not fit for managing His kingdom aright in this world, and if they don’t do that, they may have reason to fear being shut out of His kingdom in the next world.

 

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Facing death with clarity and anticipation

Facing death with clarity and anticipation

Facing death with clarity and anticipation
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

People’s priorities change as they move through different stages of their life. What sort of things weigh most heavily when we are forced to think most seriously about death? Betrayed after years on the run, now severely wounded and on death row, John Nisbet of Hardhill (c.1627–1685) wanted his friends to know that he was facing his end with a clear sense of God’s love for him — so much so that he could hardly wait to get to meet Him face to face. Nisbet dictated his testimony from prison, shortly before he was executed at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. As the following abridgement shows, he is full of thankfulness to the God of all grace for introducing him to His saving truth and granting him firm commitment to it, as well as full of concern for the holiness and integrity of the Christian friends he leaves behind.

Reasons for writing

I have always thought that to live for Christ, and die for Christ, is a sufficient testimony for truth; yet now when I am within a few hours of eternity, to prevent mistakes, to satisfy my dear friends, and let them know how it is with me, and to let the world know what I die witnessing for, and testifying against, I judge it proper to leave a few lines behind me.

The Lord’s superabundant goodness

As for myself, it pleased the Lord Jehovah, of his superabundant goodness and infinite mercy, powerfully to determine my heart to close with and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, as He is made offer of in the everlasting gospel, for my king, priest, and prophet.

The Scripture has been to me from my youth the living oracles of His divine and sacred lips. When I was crying, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ and saying, ‘How shall I know the way of the Lord, that I may walk therein?’ then His Word was a light to my feet and a lamp to my path, exhorting me, ‘Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price …’ (Isaiah 55:1–8). When I was grappling with sin, Satan, and the world, and my own wicked and deceitful heart, the enemies of my salvation, His words were as props and pillars to me. It is by Him that I have fought the good fight, that I have finished my course, and that I have kept the faith. It is by Him shining in His Word that I know all my manifold sins and transgressions are freely pardoned, and that I have a just right and title to what is expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:30.

No room left to doubt

So that now, the guilt and condemning power of sin being fully pardoned by a judicial act of God’s free and sovereign grace, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially applied and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit, on and to my spirit, there is no room left me to doubt any more of my being freely justified by Him, of my being in union with Him, and in a state of grace. Nor of the power, dominion, and filth of sin, original and actual, being subdued, taken off, and washed away by the virtue of the Spirit of sanctification, or of being created anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, and being sanctified throughout in soul, body, and spirit, and made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light by Him who loved me, and gave Himself to the death for me, and redeemed me by power and price.

Longing to go to Jesus

Now, being in such a case of communion with Him, I am pained till I be freed of the remains of a body of sin and death, till I be freed of the world and all things therein, and also of this natural life, and be possessed of Himself, and with Himself, in His eternal inheritance, which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away, a place which He hath provided for all whom He hath chosen, all whom He hath called, for all whom He hath justified, for all whom He hath sanctified. O to be there, where I shall sin no more, neither feel any more of the withdrawings of His Spirit’s presence, and light of His glorious countenance, but shall be ever with Him, see Him as He is, and serve Him for ever and ever.

Appeal to Christian friends

Now, my dear friends in Christ, it is the unquestionable and indispensable duty of all who have any love to God, to His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, to the thriving of His kingdom, to their own soul’s salvation, and to the following generation, to act a close, constant and needy dependence on the Lord Jehovah’s all-sufficiency, for light, for counsel, for direction, for strength and ability, to make conscience in bearing testimony for Him, for His persecuted truth, work, and interest, in these lands.

O that in this all could act a faithful part for Him who has done so much for poor wretched us! When we were lying, dying, and rotting in our blood-red sins, He passed by us with His love and life-giving visit, saying to us, ‘Live, live!’

And on the other hand, to witness faithfully, constantly, and conscientiously against all that the enemies have done, or are doing, towards overthrowing the glorious work of Reformation, and banishing Christ out of these lands by robbing Him of His crown rights (for He, and He alone, is head of His own church), and by burning the Covenants, and persecuting His gospel ministers and members. Even though ministers and members may be turning their backs on Christ and His cross, reproaching and casting dirt on you and the testimony of the day, yet do not let this weaken your hands, stumble or discourage you from going on in the strength of the Lord your God, to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and witness a good confession for Him and His cause, resisting unto blood, striving against sin.

Leaving and adhering

But, my generation-work being done with my time, I go to Him who loved me, and washed me from all my sins — to Him who has counted me worthy to suffer for His name. If only I had many lives to lay down for Him, and much blood to seal His noble and honourable cause with! — He who graciously pitied me, and has now given me the full assurance of being a member of His church triumphant, the new Jerusalem, the city of the living God!

I die adhering to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the undoubted Word of God, an unerring rule of faith and manners, and a firm foundation for principle and practice in the ways of godliness and true holiness. And the Confession of Fatih, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as agreeable to them and safely founded on them. Likewise the Sum of Saving Knowledge, and the Directory for Church Government, in her doctrine, worship and discipline. I confess all the attained-to pieces of reformation in the Church of Scotland, particularly between the years 1638 and 1649, the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant, the Acknowledgement of Sins and Engagement to Duties.

Last request

It is my last request and my soul’s desire that, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, you would set apart much time, and mourn, and afflict your souls for your original sin, heart plagues, sins of persons and families, sins of kings and kingdoms, and for all the dreadful apostacies, hateful compromises, and sinful sidings of ministers and people with the enemies of God and godliness. Mourn that there is not more faithfulness and zeal for the cause of God amongst His people.

My dear friends, give up your contentions and censuring one of another. Sympathise with and love one another, for this is His commandment. Keep up your sweet fellowship meetings. What is proposed for continuing a testimony for truth and against defections, let it be done with Scripture light for direction, and with zeal tempered with knowledge, and with the spirit of meekness accompanied with patience and humility. Be always ready to give a reason of your faith, and be much denied to the world, to yourselves, and to your natural life, and when God in His providence calls you to lay it down for Him, do it cheerfully, and embrace the cross of your sweet Lord Jesus with open arms, for He will not send any on a warfare on their own charges.

Don’t take fright at His sweet, lovely and desirable cross. Because of the wounds I received when I was captured, I have not been able to lift up or lay down my head without someone helping me, but yet I have never been in a better place in all my life. He has not challenged me for a single thing since I came to prison, small or great, but on the contrary, He has so wonderfully shined on me with the sense of His redeeming, strengthening, assisting, supporting, through-bearing, pardoning and reconciling love, grace, and mercy, that my soul longs to be freed from bodily infirmities and earthly organs, so that I may flee to His royal palace, the heavenly habitation of my God, where I am sure of a getting a crown put on my head, and a palm in my hand, and a new song in my mouth, so that I may bless, praise, magnify and extol Him for what He has done to me, and for me.

So I bid farewell to all my dear fellow-sufferers. Farewell, my children. Pursue holiness in all your ways, and praise the Lord for what He has done for me, and tell all my Christian friends to praise Him for this too! Farewell, sweet Bible, and wanderings, and contendings for the truth! Welcome, death. Welcome, the city of my death, where I shall see Him, and be enabled to serve Him eternally with full freedom! Welcome, blessed company of angels and spirits of just men made perfect! But, above all, welcome, welcome, welcome, our glorious and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou art worthy. Amen.

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Four good responses to the good news

Four good responses to the good news

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

When the Lord Jesus came to do His work of redemption, it cost Him dearly. He suffered in His body and in His soul and indeed died for the sake of sinful people like you and me. Preaching on Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities …” John Welsh of Irongray showed first the depth of Christ’s sufferings. He then asks, how should we respond? The following updated excerpt gives his four suggestions as to appropriate responses, concluding with a reminder of who should especially recognise themselves as summoned to act on the gospel call.

Now that I have spoken of the suffering Saviour, I desire this of you. Rouse yourselves up to be suitably affected with what I have spoken from these truths. There are three or four ways you should respond.

Wonder

And the first thing I would exhort you to be taken up with is wondering. What man or woman is there among you that can hear these things spoken of, and not wonder at it? That Christ should have suffered all this for the like of you and me! That He who is the Son of God should have quit heaven, and that the Son of God should have become man, that He should have been put so sore to it as to die — for sinners!

I cannot tell what calls for wonder from us, if this doesn’t. O the height! O the breadth! O the length! O the depth of this mystery! That the Son of God should have been put so sore to it as to die for sinners, and not only to die, but to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath! Who can hear this declared, and not wonder at the hearing of it? O wonder! O wonder at it! Wonder at the hearing of it!

Detest sin

Did our Lord Jesus Christ have to suffer such great sufferings? Well then, see how you should look on sin. Should not sin be very detestable to you, and very abominable? Should not be at very much pains to forsake sin, when it was sin that brought our blessed Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings, sufferings which would have brought you to such sad condemnation, and to lie under the wrath of God eternally and eternally?

Sinners, I think that supposing there was nothing else to motivate you to forsake your sins, and to hate every false way, and to hate the very least word and thought of sin, that this might be a motive — that it brought our Lord Jesus Christ to undergo such great sufferings.

Love to Him will call for this. “All ye that love the Lord, hate evil” (Psalm 97:10).

Don’t disappoint Him

Our Lord Jesus Christ was brought to so many and so great sufferings. And He has undergone them so cheerfully. Has He not? And He is satisfied to see the travail of his soul.

O do not yet then do what you can to disappoint Him, while He is making offer of His blood to wash you! Do not do anything that will make Him regret that He shed His blood for the like of you! For when you do not give him a suitable meeting, you give him good reason to regret it, for you are doing what in you lies to make His sufferings of none effect.

Believe

But what I mainly want to exhort you to is what our Lord Jesus Christ exhorts you to. Remember, after His resurrection, when He came out of the grave, when His disciples were gathered together in a room for fear of the Jews, He came in there among them, and said, “Peace be unto you” (John 20:21). Remember that in the beginning of that chapter there was some word of His resurrection. Some of them affirmed that He was risen, yet others still thought it was only imaginary and a mistake. (Although angels came down from heaven and gave testimony that He was risen, yet some of them could not believe that!) When He comes in among them, what does He say to Thomas? Just the same as He says to us today. He holds out His hands and the hole in His side, and says, “Be not faithless, but believe!” That is the thing. “Reach hither your hands into the hole in My side, and be not faithless, but believe.”

That is the thing I have come here for today as a messenger of the living God. It is to let you see this day the wonderful, condescending love of Christ, and to say to you, “Reach hither the hand of your faith, and take a look at this bloodied Saviour who was crucified. Come, put in your fingers, put in your hand in the hole of that bloody side of His, and be not faithless, but believe!”

That is the great thing that Christ calls for. That is the great reason why He wants His sufferings told us. Why? So that it would bring His people to unite with Him — to give Him credit, and to believe in Him.

That is why I now come here, and say this to you, and bid you reach hither your hand, and be not faithless, but believe. The great reason why He wants His sufferings told is — so that you would close with this suffering Lord Jesus Christ. Come to Him, and be no more faithless, but believe! Say with Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!” As soon as Christ’s hands and His side were presented to him, Thomas could no longer stand out. If the same argument does not prevail with you, I wonder what will! Thomas said, “My Lord and my God! I can stand out no longer, for now I have seen the wonderful love of God! Now I see the wonderful love of Christ, which made Him undergo all these great sufferings! Now I have seen the wonderful excellency of the Saviour!”

Remember who this message is for

Allow me to emphasise this a little here, for this is the great goal which Christ has in mind in keeping up the preached gospel — so that you would believe, so that you would be saved, and brought to close with Jesus Christ.

So I here summon all of you, of all ranks of persons, to a serious frame. Compose your spirits suitable to the message that I am to declare to you. Men and women, I come to you now, and I present before you a bloody Christ, a suffering Saviour. I come to you, as He did to His disciples, and I say to you, “Reach out your hands to a bloody Saviour. Take a look of Him believingly. Look to Him, and close with Him. Look to Him. He has said, ‘Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved!’ O come and take a look at this suffering Christ! Take a look at Him!”

You older people, maybe you have even been professing faith all your days, yet you never actually closed with Him. You have even thought it fashionable to believe in Jesus Christ, and yet to this day you have never done it. I summon you this very day at this present time to come and take a look of this suffering Jesus Christ, and stretch out the hand of your faith and close with Him, and come and say, “My Lord and my God!”

Secondly, I summon those who are outside of Christ — those who have never yet been hankering about to do it, and those who have made many attempts, but never came cleanly off in the doing of it. I summon you to come here, and stretch out your hands, and be not faithless, but believe. I summon you, whoremongers, adulterers, drunkards, or whatever you may be. Come to him, sinners! Come here and reach in your hands, and be not faithless, but believe, and close with this suffering Jesus Christ.

Will you let Him go away and not take the offer off His hand? and give Him no thanks for it? Shall He have that to say, that you would not take the offer, and that you would not give Him much thanks for His sufferings? Will you not take the benefits that He offers to you by His sufferings? I come here in His name, and offer you peace — will you not take it? I offer you healing in His name, and will you not take it off His hand?

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When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

When heathens were fervently praying to their false gods, who couldn’t possibly help them, Jonah, the servant of the living God, was fast asleep. The Covenanting minister Alexander Wedderburn draws on this historical event to reflect on how the Lord’s people can be put to shame by the diligence and commitment of idolaters to their false worship. The following updated and abridged sermon is on the words of the ship’s captain to Jonah. “The shipmaster came to him, and said, What meanest thou, O sleeper?” (Jonah 1:6).

Jonah prophesied in the days of Jeroboam II. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, where he is called a prophet and servant of the Lord. Though he prophesied of prosperity, yet it was with small success in such a corrupt time. So the Lord sends him to Nineveh, the chief city of the Assyrian empire. This he is loath to do, and resolves to flee by sea to Tarshish. But the Lord follows him with a storm. Then, when all in the ship are busy praying to their gods, he is asleep. For this the captain strongly rebukes him, saying, “What meanest thou, o sleeper?”

Although these are the words of a heathen, yet they contain a deserved rebuke of a prophet of Israel. “What meanest thou?” A short, emotive utterance, expressing anger in the speaker, and unreasonableness in the one he is addressing.

How do we treat our God?

The worshipers of the true God are sometimes outstripped in worship, and may justly be criticised for their neglectfulness, by idolaters.

How much reverence?

Their gods were no gods at all, but devils, falsehood and vanity. They had eyes and could not see, ears and could not hear, yet they highly esteemed them, and reverenced them. They “walked in the name of their God” (Micah 4:5), and they boasted and triumphed in their gods. The Ephesians all with one shout cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19). Idolatrous Micah, though he made his god himself, yet he called it “my god,” and said, “What have I more?” (Judges 18:24).

Now compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Who triumphs in God, or makes their boast of Him? Do we exalt Him as God? Do we confide in Him as God? Do we walk in the name of our God?

How much diligence?

As they revered their idols, so they were painstaking in worshipping them. Jeremiah notices their diligence. “Whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …” (Jeremiah 8:2). So many words to express their unwearying idolatry.

Compare this with the worshipers of the true God. Certainly our principles teach us the necessity of diligence in worship. But who runs, strives, fights, labours, according to their principles? Of whom can it be said in reference to God, “whom ye have loved, whom ye have served, whom ye have worshiped, and after whom ye have gone …”? It is just some feckless thing we do, and rarely we do that.

How fervent?

As they were diligent in their worship to their gods, so they were very zealous and intent on it. In Isaiah 57: 5, Israel is challenged for, among other things, inflaming themselves with idols. The ancient Greek religious leader Pythagoras forbade sacrifices to be offered when doing or thinking about any other thing.

Although we should be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, yet how often our heart in His worship goes staggering between that and something else! In worshipping Him, we are like someone looking at a star through a telescope with a shaking arm — sometimes he has a glance of it, and straightaway loses it again. Who prays as if they were making intercession for their life? or hears as the hungry man eats his food? Who sings, making a melody in their hearts to the Lord?

How self-sacrificial?

The idolaters prioritised the worship of their gods over their dearest and sweetest enjoyments. They made their children pass through the fire to Molech. This was a dreadful thing. Certainly, these parents were not lacking in natural affection to their young ones, yet they postponed that to the worship of their gods.

Compare this to the worshipers of the true God. A tiny speck appears an insuperable mountain in the way of His worship! Some will not come because they have a yoke of oxen to look after, etc (Luke 14:16-21). What would we risk for His honour or worship?

How much reliance?

The heathen depended heavily on their gods for everything. If they were at sea, they had a god to depend on for safety; in their harvests they had a god to depend on for fruitfulness. The Romans went never out to any war without multiplying sacrifices.

Do we acknowledge the true God in all our ways, that He would bring it to pass? Do we in everything make our requests known by prayer and supplication? What a sweet life we would lead, if every difficulty gave us an errand to Him with a petition, and every deliverance a song!

Why should we outdo the heathen?

If idolaters may justly reprehend the worshippers of the true God, it serves for lamentation and self-humbling. Especially if we consider things like these.

The excellency of our God

Our God is the Lord who made heaven and earth. Our God is in heaven, and does whatsoever He wills. Who is like the Lord among all the gods? Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands, but how excellent is our Lord’s name through all the earth! So excellent a God and yet worse served, how lamentable this is!

The infallible certainty of our principles

The basis on which we walk, and which obliges us to diligent, zealous worship of our God, is infallibly sure. Whatever human ingenuity could imagine, to demonstrate the certainty of our principles and obligations to worship, we have it. The Son coming down from the Father’s bosom and revealing our duty to us. A voice from heaven witnessing to the truth of His being His beloved Son. So many miracles, and such divine doctrine, proceeding from Him. It is ridiculous to hear of the origin of some of the heathen gods, to whom they offered sacrifices. Often they were the work of their own hands, or some of the creatures which God had made to serve them!

The sweetness of our duties

An idol signifies sorrow, but the duties we are called to create a bit of heaven on earth. “In keeping of thy commandments there is great reward” — not only for keeping them, but in keeping them. What ease to a burdened mind is prayer! What joy in praises! What refreshing consolations from meditating on God as reconciled through a mediator! Similarly in all other parts of worship. “I rejoiced when they said unto me, Let us go unto the house of the Lord.”

The greatness of our debt

It never entered the mind of idolaters to worship their gods for the reason that we owe worship to ours. They thought they gave them corn and wine, and victory over their enemies, yet they never even claimed that any of them died for them, to prevent their eternal ruin. But this is the unspeakably great obligation we are under to worship. When our loss was desperate, He was broken for our iniquities, and in His stripes we are healed, and one of the goals He had in this was that we would be zealous worshipers of Him (Tit.2:14). “Ye are bought with a price, and are not your own, therefore glorify God in your bodies and souls” (1 Cor. 6:20).

The eternal weight of glory ahead of us

We have encouragements in our worship from the expectation of a far more excellent reward than idolaters could ever dream of or hope for. The philosopher Seneca comforted himself with the Elysian fields as he was dying. These were only imaginary, but supposing they were real, what a low reward they are when compared with the excellent, exceeding great, and eternal weight of glory that awaits the worshippers of God!

The assistance we are given

The heathen never dreamed that their gods would give them assisting influences to help them at their worship. All they did, they did in the strength of inherent virtue, either natural or acquired. Philosophy might make you patient and bear reproaches — or despise riches and delight in poverty. Aye, but we have the influences of assisting grace secured to us by the word of Him who cannot lie, to help us at our worship. If we do not know how to pray, or what to pray, the Spirit helps our infirmities. There is a spirit of faith, and a spirit of love, and a spirit of a sound mind. Idolaters get their water out of broken cisterns, that can hold no water, but the Rock follows us, and the Rock is Christ.

How can we outdo the heathen?

Some things about their worship, we should imitate.

Awe

They were kept in much fear and awe of their gods. They were constantly afraid that if they neglected their worship, their gods would avenge it. It is true, this is too servile a principle of gospel worship. Fear should not be the pace that should make our wheels go, it should be love (“If thou love me, keep my commandments”). Yet where fear is lacking, usually worship is lacking also.

Dependence

Also, they judged that they had need of their gods for everything they enjoyed — corn, wine, water, success in war, peace, childbirth, wisdom, or whatever else — and therefore had a god for each of them. This impression would contribute much to help us in worship. If we seriously believed that both our doing and our receiving depended on Him, our addresses to Him could not but be more frequent and fervent.

Receptivity

They were also much heartened in their worship by the responses they had from their oracles. These responses were often ambiguous, so that whatever way things fell out, the response could be made to hint at it. Certainly, if we took notice of the answers God gives to prayer, we would have more delight in it.

If we could imitate them in these things, we would readily outstrip them.

I shall only add two things they omitted, which make our worship, not only in its nature, but in its manner, far exceed theirs.

Grace

Though they were diligent and intent in their worship, yet they never dreamed of any gracious qualification in the person who presented the worship. Nature’s ladder was too low to scale the fort of a natural heart. But if you can be born of water and of the Spirit, it will give your worship a lustre theirs could never have.

The Mediator

Though their sacrifices were numerous, and sometimes costly and cruel, yet they never dreamed of a high priest who stands with incense in His hand, which is the prayers of the saints.

This is the great ground of a believer’s hope in Christ, that He sits a high priest, not only to make intercession for the iniquity of his holiness, and to cover the imperfections of his worship, but to present it, and to second it before the throne of God. He knows that broken words and groans and such-like sacrifices, performed with the incense of righteousness of such a Mediator, can have acceptation. Therefore to outdo them, put your sacrifice always in Christ’s hands, pray in His name, praise in His name, and do all through Him.

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Three things to realise from the transfiguration

Three things to realise from the transfiguration

Three things to realise from the transfiguration
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

We naturally shrink away from embarrassment and shame, both when it threatens ourselves and when it comes to those we love. The disciples were very unwilling to accept that Jesus would die, far less that it would be by the shameful death of the cross. However, ahead of the crucifixion, the Lord was transfigured (Matt. 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). In a glorious display, His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light, and the Father announced that He was well pleased with His beloved Son. Alexander Wedderburn, a respected Covenanting minister at Forgan and then Kilmarnock, returned to the transfiguration again and again in his preaching. His daughter eventually had his sermons published in a book titled Heaven Upon Earth. In the following abridged and updated sermon, Wedderburn identifies three things which Christ wanted His disciples to realise from the transfiguration. The shameful treatment meted out to the undeserving Saviour should not obscure His real and transcendent glory.

Let us consider the transfiguration not only as it relates to the work of the mediator, but in reference to what Christ intended to achieve by it.

To show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven

Christ intended to show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven, and particularly the glory of His person in his coming the second time to judgment. Prior to this He had promised that they would see His glory before they tasted death.

The glory of Christ at His second coming shall be great. “He shall come in the glory of His Father.” Not only will He be glorious in regard of His train and His throne, but in His person.

Theologians give some reasons for this transcendent glory. One is because His coming to judgment is the height of His exaltation. That’s why it says in the Creed, “… from thence shall He come to judge …” as the last step of His exaltation. The highest step of His exaltation must be full of glory.

Another reason is that it is fitting that those by whom He was despised and rejected should see Him as eminently glorious. At the Great Day that they are most afraid of His face. “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the Lamb,” is their cry to the hills and mountains — not so much to be hidden from hell, as from His face.

The third reason is for the comfort of His people. They have forsaken all for Him, and the wisdom of their choice will be commended (in the judgment of their enemies) by this, when He shall appear in the brightness of His Father’s glory.

All this should stir us up to look on Christ as one who is in transcendent glory now (as well as that He will be seen to be so at His second coming). This is advantageous in several ways.

  • It guards us against stumbling when we encounter all the ignominious reproaches that attend us when we follow Him here. He was, and His followers still are, a sight for passers-by to wag their heads at. Yet, above, He is the temple, the light, and the admiration of all who behold Him.
  • It allows us to discern that not only our nature but our persons are advanced in Him as the second Adam, and the one head of all believers. By Him they are all represented. However despicable they may be in themselves, yet they are glorious in Him.
  • It reminds us to be humble. Though we are warranted to come with boldness to His throne of grace, yet still we are to remember His glory, and what a vast inequality there is between us and Him, seeing we are base and polluted, and He is the glorious Lord.
  • It will make us love and long for Him to come. Though many still cast His cords from them and despise His yoke, yet He shall then be exalted even by His enemies, who shall tremble at the sight of His transcendent glory.

To give His disciples a view of the glory of the saints’ bodies

The second aim which Christ had in mind in the transfiguration was to give us a view of the glory which the bodies of His saints (who will be conformed to His image) shall have in heaven from His transfiguration. Not only shall their souls partake of excellent glory, but their bodies shall be changed, and made like His glorious body.

Here we do not need to go into the many unprofitable speculations and foolish fancies about the glory of the body. I will, only briefly, set down these three positions about the glory of the body which, I judge, are sufficient for us to rest content with.

  • This same body individually which we have shall be raised up into glory, and not another (Job 19:16, 27). This body was redeemed, and God was glorified by it. Shall it not be glorified? It was the same body of Christ that suffered that was raised up, and shall not the same body of the saints be raised too?
  • All imperfections shall be removed from the body. Some suggest that the marks received by the martyrs in their bodies shall remain. What purpose would that serve, though, since many suffer no less for Christ, who are starved, or frozen, or burnt to ashes, and can have no marks at all? Even those who say these marks will remain, however, think that, as the print of the nails in the hands of Christ remain, so shall these marks remain only in order to advance the glory of the body. However, any thing that may suggest the least infirmity or imperfection shall be removed.
  • In the place of the imperfections we now have, glorious properties will be communicated to the body. This mortality shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption. Whereas the body is now gross [material, bulky, corporeal], it will then for spirituality, agility, and beauty be transcendently glorious. Neither will it need sustenance from food and drink to preserve it like this. Indeed, there is no perfection which the body can be capable of that shall be lacking. It shall shine like the sun, and indeed, it shall be changed, and made like to the glorious body of Christ (Phil. 3).

This serves to teach us the right way to adorn the body and make it good. Some beautify themselves, some toil for food to strengthen themselves, and some spend great sums for medications to preserve themselves. But those who pursue holiness not only consider the good of the soul, but they take an effective way to have the body eternal, beautiful, strong, free of all perfections. All our toilings for it cannot make it exceed the lily (as Solomon did not, in all his glory), but the way of holiness leads to make it like the sun.

It also serves to comfort those whose bodies are continually their burden. Can any two people ever meet together but either their head or their back or their belly is their complaint? Either they’ve got something wrong with them now, or they’re afraid they’re coming down with something. But here is the privilege of the saints — their flesh rests in the hope that before long, the body shall partake of as complete perfection as it can be capable of.

Only let me add three directions so that you can make the more use of this point.

  • Do not on this account idolise the body. Necessary provision for it is lawful, but when our main work is to make provision for it, it inevitably means that we fulfil its lusts.
  • While you have opportunity, glorify God in your body. You have a tongue to speak for God, and hands to act for him. Be glorifying Him with these! If He calls you to offer up your body in a sacrifice, see this the way the apostle did, as “reasonable service.”
  • Answer all the objections against the glorifying of the body by the power of God. People have racked their brains to put up objections against the glorifying of the body, but “the mighty power whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil 3) is a sufficient answer.

To show them that a crucified body can be a glorified body

The apostles, especially Peter, did not like Christ speaking of the cross. All the Gospel writers prefix the account of the transfiguration with how Christ foretold them of the cross. So that they would see that a crucified body was consistent with a glorified body, before He is crucified, He is transfigured before them.

From this we see that however ignominiously the body may be treated here, yet this is not inconsistent with its glory in the future. Though Abel’s blood was spilt on the ground, it was no detriment to the glory of righteous Abel, who by faith offered acceptable sacrifice to God.

Indeed, there is nothing reproachful which the wit of man could devise, which has not been meted out to the bodies of the saints. “The bodies of thy saints they cast out to be food for the fowls of heaven” (Psalm 79:2–3). Yet the shameful treatment of the body here cannot impede it being glorified in the future. Instead, the more ignominiously the body is treated here, the greater will be its glory hereafter. All who overcome shall “walk with Christ in white,” but those whose blood is shed on the earth for the testimony of Christ have “long white garments.” It is no paradox among theologians that the martyrs have greater degrees of glory than others.

The glory of the saints will be measured out according to the promises, which are often along the lines, “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him; if we abide with him in his temptation, he appoints us a kingdom;” and suchlike.

How we should use this teaching

Are you concerned about the base and low condition of the body in the grave, and how base and loathsome death makes even beautiful bodies? But all this cannot hinder the glory of it. How low and despicable Job’s body was, when he talked of seeing God in his flesh! Yet for all this, he says, “Iin this flesh I shall see God.” “He will change our vile bodies …”

Are you afraid of what you might suffer in your body? Well, supposing the evil you fear comes upon you — supposing your blood is spilt on the ground like Abel’s, and your head presented in a charger, like John the Baptist’s, to a Herodias — yet all this is no detriment to the future glory of this body. Only make sure that your sufferings are for righteousness, otherwise you are expecting glory for the body without a promise. You should also think often of how Christ’s body was so ignominiously treated, yet by His sufferings He has made reproach less reproachful under the New Testament than it was under the Old. If He was reckoned among the transgressors, can you not endure it? Think also of the future glory of the body, like Christ did. For the glory that was set before Him, He endured the cross, and despised the shame. After right counting, the apostle likewise reckons the afflictions of this life not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed.

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What does redemption cost?

What does redemption cost?

What does redemption cost?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

The gospel provision, available to any sinner, includes peace and healing — peace with God, and healing for our sin-diseased souls. These blessings are given freely to anyone who comes to Christ for redemption. But what did it cost the Lord Jesus to be able to provide these things? John Welsh of Irongray preached a sermon on Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” In the following updated extract, Welsh shows the depths of Christ’s atoning sufferings by referring to the desperate depths of our lostness and the magnitude of what needed to be done to rescue us. In this way Welsh lays the doctrinal groundwork for summoning all who hear the gospel message to embrace Jesus Christ by faith without delay.

Why do we need redemption?

By nature, elect sinners just like others are in a very sad, lost state. It’s not only the world that is called transgressors and enemies, but also those whom the Lord has chosen out of the world to save. Even the elect are by nature lying in a very deplorable condition.

I have often spoken of the sadness of their case, and therefore shall be very short on it now. Yet I must mention the great corruption of our whole nature, as well as our actual transgressions, by which we are defiled, enemies to God, liable to His curse and wrath to all eternity. This is the case of all the elect, men and women. There is no basis then for a sinner, to whom God has shewed mercy, to boast, if they look to the rock from whence they are hewn. Our state is just the state of the wicked world, that gets hell in the end. It is only free grace that has made the change, for in ourselves there is no difference.

What was the cost of redemption?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, undertook many a great suffering in order to bring healing and peace to sinners.

This is a vast subject. To go into details I would need to tell you what He suffered in His conception, and what He suffered when He was brought forth into the world in His childhood, and what He suffered before He entered on His public ministry. I would need to tell you what He suffered when He was taken and arraigned and brought before the judgement seat of Herod and Pilate, and condemned; and to tell you what He suffered on His body, and what He suffered on His soul. I say it would take very much time, and I would only spoil it in the speaking too. I recommend to you the last chapter of Matthew, and the last chapter of Luke, and the last chapter of John, and what is here recorded of Him by Isaiah.

Still, I shall tell you of some things which make it clear that His sufferings were very great (I pray you, take heed).

So many people

Consider what was the debt that He undertook to pay. It was not the debt of one or two, but of the whole elect, men and women, many thousands and millions of them, that cannot be counted. What He suffered was what they should have suffered through eternity.

So many sins

Consider that He suffered in order to satisfy the justice of God. Divine justice was up in arms and set against the Son, in order to revenge a broken law and a broken covenant. The Son of God had the justice of God to satisfy for the original and actual transgressions of all the elect — for all the breaches of the commands of God, for that person’s breaking of this command, and for this person’s breaking of that command, and each one’s sins are more than the hairs of his head for number.

Such divine attributes

Consider this, to see that it must have been great sufferings that He underwent — because His sufferings were as much to manifest a just God, as the creation of the universe manifested a powerful, almighty God. His sufferings do as much to manifest a powerful and omnipotent and just God.

Such depths

Consider the distress to which His sufferings brought Him. For they were such as put the Son of God so sore to it, that it put Him to a strait, as it were. It put Him into a distress like someone who was charged for a great sum. Our Lord was put to such distress that He cries, “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I do?” And He was put to pray to the Father.

So many details

Consider how hard were the sufferings that He undertook in particular, and you will see that they were very many and great. Look at His sufferings in His incarnation — He did not have a room to be born in, He had to be brought forth in a stable, and all He had for a cradle was a horse manger. Look at His sufferings through all His lifetime — how many times He lay outdoors, with only a stone to lay His head on, and how many times He was hungry and weary. Look at His sorrow, what grief of mind He had, to see people crying out against Him, just in the midst of His sufferings, and to see Peter deny Him even when He was suffering for him. Look what He suffered in the garden, when He drank the cup that made Him sweat the great drops of blood that came trinkling out of Him. He did not have only outward sufferings but inward also. He was bearing the wrath of God on His soul. That was what made blood and sweat come out of him, and made Him so faint that He could not carry His own cross, but had to get help. Then look at what a shameful death He was put to, what a painful death, and what travail of soul He was put to (not only travail in body, but travail in soul), that made Him cry out with strong cries and tears unto Him that heard Him. He was made to cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Who benefits from it?

When you look at Isaiah 53 as a whole, you clearly see who it is that He suffered for — it was the elect world. You see that Christ suffered for those who gave Him no thanks; He suffered for those who helped on His sufferings. He was despised, and counted smitten of God. They thought nothing of Him; they saw no beauty nor comeliness in Him. These are the ones for whom He suffered.

Those for whom He suffered, included many that had pierced and crucified Him. “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10; John 19:37). It was for those who gave Him no thanks for His sufferings. He suffered for those who said He deserved it, and for those who looked upon Him as despised and rejected of men. He was a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.

For whom did He suffer? For those who had denied Him, and like the disciples turned their back upon Him. He was killed for those who esteemed Him not, though smitten and wounded. It was for those who were like sheep going astray. It was for sinners and transgressors that He suffered all this, a company of poor men and women who were so far from giving him thanks for His sufferings, that they helped on His sufferings, and some of them added to these sufferings.

Why did He suffer like this?

Why was it that He suffered? In brief, it is to tell you how holy a God He is, and how just a God He is, and how faithful He is in the execution of His threatenings, that He will not pass by one sin unpunished. He said, “In that day thou eatest thou shalt surely die the death” (Gen. 2:17), and He will have this fulfilled, either in the one who has eaten or in their surety substitute.

What does He provide to us?

What are the benefits that redound to us by His sufferings? Two are mentioned here — peace with God, and healing to our souls. What do sinners get by Christ’s sufferings? They get both the feud that is between God and them taken away, and they get healing to their transgressions. They are not done away without His blood purging them away, but we may be purged from all our sins by His blood. Sinners must have clean water to sprinkle them, and to cleanse them from all their transgressions. He gives them peace with God through His suffering, and peace, everlasting peace, in their own consciences — a peace that passeth all natural understanding.

What was the underlying reason?

How did His sufferings come to be brought about? How did it come about that the justice of God falls upon Him? This leads us to the great contrivance of the covenant of redemption, in which this matter was contrived in the counsel of God from all eternity. Christ was to have a considerable number of lost men and women, and He was to satisfy for them for a broken covenant, and He was to keep them from the wrath of God that would otherwise come on them by right for breaking His law. All this was done by His sufferings in their nature for them.

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The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

When sin entered human experience, it didn’t take God by surprise. Within the Trinity, arrangements had already been made to save some sinners. Patrick Gillespie (1617–1675) wrote at length on the subject of how God’s covenant undergirds the redemption of sinners. In the following updated extract, he shows how Christ, God the eternal Son, was involved in drawing up the covenant arrangements. As the Son He was not subordinate to the Father but freely consented to take on the work of redeeming sinners. As Patrick Gillespie takes us through the various aspects of the covenant arrangements, it helps us to realise what while salvation is free to us, on the Saviour’s side it was a costly, effortful work. We can also use these details as so many prompts to marvel more at the love which motivated Jesus Christ to take on this work so voluntarily.

He was under no obligation

Christ was not compelled to be our Redeemer. He was not under any necessity repugnant to his free and willing acting, when he took on the various offices, trusts, and relations of the covenant.

1. There was no compelling necessity, as if when someone is bound hand and foot. There was no such necessity on the Lord to send Christ, to lay these offices on Him; for He is a most free sovereign agent – above counsel, much more above compulsion. “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” (Isa. 40.13). “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psalm 135.6). He was not bound to change the law dispensation into a new dispensation of grace. Neither was there any necessity on Christ to take these offices and employments. He could not be compelled to lay down his life. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of my self: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10.18).

2. There was no natural necessity, such as the necessity of the sun to give light, and the fire to give heat. God did not by any natural necessity send forth Christ; nor was the Son of God under any natural necessity to undertake the work of our redemption. God could have done things differently – He could in justice have prosecuted the covenant of works. There was no kind of necessity on God to send, or on Christ to go, on this errand.

3. There was no moral necessity, not so much as any command, motive, or inducement without Himself, either on God to lay this employment on Christ, or on Christ to take it on, and to undergo the work. God could have sent His Son or not sent Him, as pleased Him. There was not so much as a moral cause inducing him to it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3.16) “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.6,8). And Christ could have refused to undertake the work, or agreed, as pleased Him; for who could have laid a command on Him, if the purpose of love that was in His heart had not led Him to consent? “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2.6,8).

He was involved in drawing up the agreement

Whatever different features different covenants may have, it is essential and common to all covenants that they are agreements. This covenant is an eternal transaction and agreement between the Father and Christ the Mediator about the work of our redemption. Let us inquire a little into the various eternal acts of the will of God that concurred to make up this agreement.

(1) Designating a person to do this work

There must needs have been a person set apart and designated from eternity to do the work of redemption, and this person was the Son only, not the Father or the Spirit: “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1Pe 1:20).

(2) Equipping that person to do the work

The person set apart to take our law-place, so that justice would smite Him in our stead, was prepared and fitted for this work. It was decreed by an eternal act of the will of God that the Son of God should be “Immanuel” — “God with us” or “God…manifest in the flesh” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; 1Tim. 3:16). To this grand qualification He was destined beforehand, so that He would be in a capacity to do this work. “A body has thou prepared me” (Heb 10:5).

(3) Calling the person who had been designated

Calling is a different act from designation — it is something further. Christ was by an eternal act of God’s will called to this work, long before He came into the world. “Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people” (Psa 89:19). And, “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” (Isa 42:6). “So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee” (Heb 5:5).

(4) Giving the person the powers needed for the work

The designated person was invested with offices, powers, and authorities for the doing of this work. By an eternal act of the will of God, He was set up and invested with these offices and powers from everlasting. He had the glory of the designated, called, invested Mediator, as He plainly implies, speaking as Wisdom, “I was set up from everlasting” (Pro 8:23). Several expositors render it, “I was called,” or “anointed.” “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).

(5) His mission

Christ was sent to do this work by an eternal act in the counsel of God. He had a solemn, eternal, authoritative mission, a command to go, and was bidden to go. He had the will of God by an eternal act or commission given out to Him concerning all this work, long before He was actually made under the law (which is what He references when He says, “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God” (Heb 10:7). That will of God was in the book of His eternal decrees: “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me” (John 6:39), and, “This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:18).

He willingly consented

For His part, Christ concurred with this agreement with an eternal, personal consent to all these eternal acts of the will of God. For Christ, as God, equal with the Father, does not begin to consent and agree unto anything in time, nor can the eternal Son of God will anything in time, which He did not will and consent to from eternity. Christ was present with the Father and from eternity He consented and agreed to these eternal acts.

(1) He consented to be the person that would satisfy the justice of God. He heartily acquiesced and offered Himself. He said, “Lo, I come to do thy will” (Heb 10:5,7). He poured out His soul unto death (Isa 53:12).

(2) He consented to putting Himself in the low capacity that this work required. “Thou madest him a little lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). He consented to leave the throne of glory and come down to His footstool, there to be in disgrace. The Lord of the law consented to be made under the law. The Holy One who knew no sin consented to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh. (Rom 8:3). “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phi 2:6–8).

(3) He consented to the eternal act of His calling to this work. No sooner was it His Father’s will that He should travel in the business, but it was His will also. He was like a ready servant. “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isa 50:5–6).

(4) He consented to take on the offices that the work of our redemption required. There was no force nor constraint on Him, no necessity of nature that He should step in between the disagreeing parties, that He should step into the fire that we had kindled, that He should make Himself a sacrifice for our sins; but frankly and freely He consented to do all these things. “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself” (John 10:18). “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” (John 17:2). “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Prov. 8:23).

(5) He consented to His Father sending Him [on this] mission and was well content to do that errand. Indeed, so hearty was His consent that He took delight in it: “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:8). “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).

To all these things He gives a personal consent from eternity, and with so much delight that He solaced Himself and took pleasure in the future accomplishment of these eternal acts of the will of God concerning the sons of men: “I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was … Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:23, 30–31). This is the nature of this eternal transaction.

 

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When knowledge misses the point

When knowledge misses the point

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

We all need to be instructed in the truths of the gospel, because that is the way that we grow spiritually. But both preachers and hearers can be busy around the truth without really getting to the heart of the truth. John Carstares was a ministerial colleague of James Durham and wrote an extended endorsement of Durham’s book, The Great Gain of Contenting Godliness. Carstares picks up on Durham’s theme of “exercising yourself unto godliness” and points out that there are various ways in which we can be active and energetic – full of zeal – but it’s misdirected even though we have flickers and flashes of truth in our view. In the following updated extract, Carstares picks out some ways in which – whether as preachers or hearers – people miss the point and truth and godliness slip away from them.

We should exercise ourselves to godliness knowingly and solidly, having a right understanding of its nature, and a thorough grasp of what it consists of, so that we do not make a mistake about it, as many do who claim to have it, to the great harm of their souls, if not their utter ruin.

There is a “zeal that is not according to knowledge,” and zeal about what is not good (Romans 10:2). Then the more zealous and exercised someone is, and the faster they run, the further they go wrong and out of the way. The greatest zealots in unwarrantable things readily become the most dangerous. “My son,” said dying David to Solomon, “know thou the God of thy fathers,” while to Israel he said, “Keep and seek for the commandments of the Lord your God.” Remarkable words, keep and seek, plainly implying that there can be no keeping of God’s commandments without seeking to know and understand them well. Little knowledge of God, of the nature of godliness, and of the principles of religion, with this wrong kind of zeal, have produced much damage to the gospel, and brought it under great contempt.

Since it is those, and only those, who keep His commandments that have a good understanding (Psalm 111:10), we should by all means strive to have our practice marching side by side with our light, and not to have any of our light detained in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), made a prisoner under a guard of corruptions to keep it from shining out and influencing our practice.

Seeking knowledge for its own sake

There are many who seek to know only or mainly so that they would know, and make others know that they know. In religion they are all notion without motion, having a head full of light and a heart void of all life. They talk all their religion and do not walk it. Their knowledge aggravates their guilt and heightens their damnation.

Avoiding knowledge of the most important things

There are some on the other hand who become weary and almost sick of things that are preached or written with the aim of familiarising them with the form of sound words and the principles of religion. They would prefer only and always to have something spoken to some case of conscience, or some doubt or some spiritual exercise. Of course Christians should covet to have their souls’ cases and their present spiritual exercise spoken to, and their doubts cleared. I do not deny this, but willingly and readily grant it. Our blessed Lord Jesus by His learned tongue loves to speak words in season to weary and seriously exercised souls.

Yet these people should also like having their judgment well informed in the principles of the religion which they profess. Otherwise, by their ignorance in these matters, they risk keeping themselves in an inextricable labyrinth of puzzling and perplexing scruples, doubts and difficulties about their own soul’s state and condition. Not only so, but they also expose themselves as a ready prey to be caught up by seducers and erroneous persons, especially those who claim to have more than ordinary victory over sin, more than ordinary spiritual insight, and special strictness in their walk. At the same time these puzzled and vulnerable souls, because of their great ignorance, expose the practice of godliness to reproach and obloquy.

Prioritising peripheral points

There is a third sort that have a liking only to hear of something controversial. Even if it is only debated amongst truly godly churchmen, and even if it is the kind of topic where both sides may retain their different opinions to their dying day without the least risk to their salvation — or for that matter, something which doesn’t in any way prevent God accepting and blessing their service. By comparison with these disputed points, these people loathe the great and substantial truths of the gospel. For them it’s as if all religion is rooted in these debatable and peripheral things, so that they are drawn out from the heart and vitals of religion to the extremities and outskirts. These souls greatly endanger the power of godliness, and its very soul and substance of godliness, both to themselves and others also.

I do not for all this (God forbid I should) condemn seriously and soberly manifested dislike of sinful silence as to anything that is indeed contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness (anything that is certainly displeasing to God and that may be a reason why He has a controversy with us, even if it is found in those who are truly godly and otherwise faithful). Nor do I mean that we should in the least involve ourselves in so much as the constructive approbation of anything we judge to be sinful; or that we should behave lukewarmly and unconcernedly in even the lowest concerns of Jesus Christ and of religion. In all of this, both preachers and professing believers are not a little blameworthy. Only I do not want all religion and serious godliness swallowed up in the gulf of endless debates and disputes about more remote and less momentous things, when they are points of difference amongst those who are truly godly.

While some hearers like this kind of preaching too much, it may also be the case that some preachers preach like this too much. Their sermons are at best jejune and lean, when compared with the great and substantial truths of the gospel. Maybe in a whole sabbath, or in a whole sermon, the poor people have got little or nothing to feed on but bare, barren and dry debates, or invectives against owning the authority of lawful civil rulers, or declamations directly or indirectly against hearing faithful ministers of the gospel because of some lesser differences, whether in judgment or practice. Some are so taken with these discourses that they say, “O! such a blessed day of the gospel! We never saw such a day of the gospel!” Yet in fact very little of the gospel was preached. Little was spoken to commend Christ and serious godliness — little to provoke us to the exercise of repentance, mortification of sin, humility, self-denial, heavenly mindedness, tenderness, and other graces and Christian duties. Instead the things that were only or mainly emphasised had little genuine and native tendency either to the conversion or building of souls. That is after all the great end of preaching. “Whom we preach,” says the apostle, and, “I determined to know nothing amongst you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Correlating our zeal with spiritual value

As it is good to be always zealously affected towards things that are right, so the zeal of ministers and individual Christians ought to be suited and proportioned to the nature of things. Then the whole or greatest part of their zeal would not be permitted to be spent on things more debatable (especially amongst the knowledgeable and godly), and things that are further removed from the heart, soul, life and power of religion, while in the meantime little zeal is reserved for the most necessary momentous and substantial things.

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Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

At times when believers are put under pressure because of their biblical convictions, it is both stabilising and comforting to realise that God’s normal way of working is to use troubles to bring His people into greater holiness and usefulness. It’s in the wisdom of God that the pathway of growth in grace which leads to glory deliberately includes more struggles for us than self-indulgences. This was realised individually by Rev John Livingstone and Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. These two were close friends. They were both involved in the remarkable revival at Shotts in June 1630. Elizabeth Melville spent three hours praying ahead of the service at which John Livingstone preached, when it was estimated that 500 were converted. However, that wonderful time of spiritual prosperity was quickly followed by a time of severe testing. John Livingstone was deposed from the ministry for nonconformity in late 1631. The correspondence between these friends around this time includes the following updated and abridged letter, where Elizabeth Melville intersperses hearty exhortations with gentle encouragements and includes some of her own spiritual experiences to reinforce them.

My very worthy and dear brother,

I received your letter, and had no time to answer you as I’d have liked. I thank the Lord who upholds you in all your trials and temptations. It is good for you to be kept in exercise, otherwise I would suspect that all was not well with you. God is faithful, as you find by experience, and will not test you above your strength. Courage, dear brother. All is in love, all works together for the best. You must be hewn and hammered down, and dressed, and prepared, before you are a “living stone” fit for His building!

God’s way of working

And if He is minded to make you fit to help repair the ruins of His house, you must still expect other kinds of blows than you have felt so far. You must feel your own weakness so that you may be humbled and cast down before Him, and so that you may pity poor weak ones who are borne down with infirmities. And when you are laid low, and made vile in your own eyes, then He will raise you up, and refresh you with some glimpses of His favourable countenance, so that you may be able to comfort others with the consolations with which you have been comforted by Him. This you know by some experience (blessed be God), and as strength and grace increase, look for stronger trials, fightings without and fears within, the devil and his instruments against you, and your Lord hiding His face, and deep and almost overwhelming troubles and terrors.

Yet out of all this misery, He is working some gracious work of mercy for the glory of His great name, the salvation and sanctification of your own soul, and the comfort of His distressed children here or there, or both, as pleases Him.

Our way of persevering

Take heart, then, and prepare for the battle. Put on the whole armour of God. Though you are weak, you have a strong Captain, whose power is made perfect in weakness, and whose grace is sufficient for you. What you lack in yourself you have in Him, for He is given to you by God to be your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, your treasure and your treasurer, who keeps everything in store for you. The capital stock and the interest are both in His own hand, and He drops down drop and drop as you have need, and when you go without for a long time, you will get a double profit, and in the end the whole sum, so that you shall be rich for ever.

Since He has put His work in your weak hands, don’t expect ease here for long. You must feel the weight of that worthy calling, and be weighed down by the sense of your own weakness, so that He may show His strength in due time. A weak man, and a strong God. He will not fail nor forsake you, but will equip you with strength, and gifts, and grace, according to the employment that He puts into your hands. The pain is but for a moment – the pleasure is everlasting. The battle is short, your captain fights for you, therefore victory is certain, and the reward glorious. A crown and a kingdom is worth the fighting for, blessed be His name who fights all our battles and works all our works for us! Since all is in Christ, and He is ours, what do we want to have more of but thankful hearts, and grace to honour in life and death Him who is our advantage in life and death, who guides with His counsel, and will bring us to His glory? To Him be all honour, power, and praise, for now and for ever, amen.

Our escape from the labyrinth of crosses and comforts

Now, I have stolen this time from my sleep. I have no time to tell you my situation. Cross upon cross – the end of one is only the beginning of another. But guiltiness in me and mine is my greatest cross. Many times I’m about to faint and fall down, but my Lord puts His hand under me, and sustains and upholds me by His secret strength, and often He is closest when He seems to be furthest away, and sometimes He seasons bitterness with some sweetness. No creature has more cause to complain when I look to myself. No one is so unworthy, no one has such great cause to rejoice and be thankful.

For when I look at His crosses and comforts – and what He has done, is doing, and will do – and the least persuasion of His unchangeable love – and how He takes such pains to drive me out of myself, out of all creatures and means under the sun. Many times He seems to drive me away from Himself, but when He pushes me back by appearance, He is still drawing me forward – when He strikes with one hand, He sustains with the other. The greater misery I find in myself, the greater mercy in him, and the greater mercy, the greater guiltiness when it is abused. Then when sin and misery abound, there grace and mercy superabound! So I am in a labyrinth. How can I get out? Only this is my comfort, that mercy shall prevail. Our sins are finite, but His grace is infinite. Our guiltiness is great, but His goodness is greater, and exceeds. The rage and malice of our enemy is cruel, yet it is bounded, but the love of Jesus passes bounds, is incomprehensible, overcomes everything. To conclude, our miseries will end shortly, but His mercy endures for ever.

God’s spiritual gold worth working for

When I begin, I cannot end! […] O watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation. Seek early, and you will find better than gold, pearls and precious stones – the gold is better won early than late. If you make a habit of getting a penny when you should rest, and sleep when you should rise early to your work, the gaining of that penny may lose you a pound. Therefore, sleep at the right time, and wake at the right time, and set to work in due season, and you shall find by experience the truth of His precious promises. Therefore strive against sluggishness, I charge you. It’s just a habit. Work early, and you shall get enough to make you rich. Assume that He has arranged to meet you, read the Proverbs, and you shall find that He calls you instantly and earnestly to seek Him early and you shall find.

Tell me to do as I say! Alas, I fear I have let the moment slip, but yet I would try to do better next time. Lord, help, and draw us with the cords of love, and make good the new covenant, and do all things for us when we can do nothing, and accept our weak endeavours in the merits of Him in whom only Thou art well pleased!
Now I have forgotten myself. I fear I’m losing my sleep and the gold also. Send me something therefore with the first reliable carrier to recompense the loss. Write something on some good subject – the last verses of Isaiah 40, which you taught in Culross, or the Song of Zachariah, or anything you like. Now laugh at my short writing! Help me and mine earnestly with prayer and praises. Never such need. Give my hearty greetings to all our dear friends. Especially remember my love to Mr Robert Blair, and his kind wife. Remember me heartily to Mr Robert Cunningham, Mr Josiah Welsh, Mr George Dunbar, Mr Edward Bryce, and to all the rest of the pastors, and to all their wives.

The powerful presence and blessed Spirit of Jesus Christ be with you all, and comfort and encourage you as He knows your need. Now, I leave you in His arms.

Yours ever in Christ,
Elizabeth Melville
At midnight, 10th December, 1631

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