10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times
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.
5 Oct, 2021

The word crisis is attached to many things and events these days. It signals alarm and urgency and often a perceived lack of leadership. Crisis is originally a Greek word that speaks of using one’s judgment to make a decision at a particular turning point. We have been placed in a particular generation with particular advantages and challenges. It is pointless wishing it was any different, we need to understand our times to serve our generation (Acts 13:36). In our time of crisis, we need those with wisdom to discern our time (Ecclesiastes 8:5-6) and avoid its particular pitfalls (Ecclesiastes 8:12). We need those like the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Taking the pulse of the times helps us remain watchful to take proactive or evasive action as we discern their impact and influence on the Church.

Robert Fleming said that it is possible to take the pulse of the times just as you can monitor the body’s heart rate, it makes us aware of the current condition of the Church and how it is responding to health threats. He was particularly concerned with the dangers that any particular time may present. We can have a blind spot for either the unique advantages or threats for the Church at a particular moment in time. It is important not to lose sight of the opportunities and reasons for encouragement and we hope return to this another time, but sometimes the threats of our times are less obvious so we need to know how to discern them. Fleming gives his counsel as to how to identify particular snares for the Church in the following updated and abridged extract.

1. When Suffering is Unavoidable

Each time has its unique diseases and dangers accompanied with special power and prevalence. The godly must observe this watchfully. The temptations of the time go along with the diseases that reveal themselves either by a hot boiling fever or a deadening lethargy. The temptations follow the diseases that are in that time most contagious. These are those which carry away the multitude and are incubated under the warm favour of those who are influential. Yet their greatest assault is on the godly. The danger lies in the evils which promise some outward advantage and security from trouble when the choice is between sin and suffering. This is where the present snare lies. The godly have a special duty to keep their distance from acceding to it in the least way. Next to the salvation of their soul, they must be solicitous to have their garments kept from the smallest stain and spot. A touch, a small defilement from a publicly prevailing evil can impact more deeply on the conscience and be more difficult to escape than that of many other personal failings.

2. When Truths are Questioned

There is some aspect of the truth of God in each period of the Church, that is more questioned and debated than at other times. This helps us know with greater clarity where the danger lies. Error will direct its aim at the godly man to assault and entangle them in his duty to contend for the truth. If one keeps their eye well on their present duty, they will find out more easily where the particular snare of the time is and how it seeks to obstruct them from doing that duty.

3. When Duties are Questioned

We may also discern a danger that is prevailing and gaining ground by the increasing tendency in a day of testing, to question and make new investigations about duties that were once clear and unquestionable. They were not questioned in the past because their opinions were not influenced by any outward pressure. This questioning suggests they are looking for a sad reason to be rid of their conscience. Seldom do any take this course without succeeding all too visibly in it to their further ruin. Balaam tried this and was successful in it. Hesitation and fainting in the heart due to lack of resolution to suffer for the truth will not long lack a doubt in the head to begin a debate about. It is then easy for a snare to enter. How tenderly we should guard the light of truth; it is like the apple of the eye which may be hurt by the least thing and not easily healed. People easily find the previous strong impressions about matters of duty without realising. Before they are aware have their judgment by a judicial stroke determined in that, which was before their desire. Those who are not jealous concerning a change of convictions in an hour of testing know little of the depth of the heart. The natural tendency is to spare ourselves at such a time.

4. When the Godly are Divided

We may also discern a snare by the way the adversary uses it to his advantage to divide the godly. It is easy to enter through such a division and throw the bait into such muddy waters. It is far too obvious how far a snare can prevail where jealousy and bitter strife and quarrelling between individuals take their eyes off the public danger. It also blunts the edge of contending for the truth in their smiting one another. There may often be a necessity for the godly to withstand their friends to their face. It may even need to be done to the most eminent in the Church such as Peter (Galatians 2:11) when the truth is concerned. But this should be done with the greatest caution and tenderness to avoid a division or quarrel which is like a flood (Proverbs 17:14).

The adversary is watching and waiting to get his advantage at such a time. It is all too sadly known, how a small wedge driven in with this tendency makes way for a further snare to come in (see 1 Corinthians 11:16-19). What a sad connection there is between a time of division in the Church and a further departure from the truth. But we must always take heed, that we pursue union among ourselves in such a way that Christ and His cause are not left alone [i.e. we do not abandon His truth].

5. When Enemies Change Tactics

Present danger may be seen by the sudden change of known adversaries and the friendly insinuations of those who previously threatened. There is an ambush in this, it is merely a change of weapons for advantage. This should be grounds for fear and caution and being much alone with God to know the voice of the shepherd, lest they follow after a stranger. It is more usual to be swept off our feet in calm weather than blown down by a storm. It is hard to stand before the flatteries of men where that sweeter peace with God is not maintained in the soul. It is a special means of making the ear deaf to the most charming voice of the enchanter. It is often obvious that adder’s poison is under their lips, while wrath is boiling in their heart (Psalm 140:3-5). The cruel man can change his demeanour when it is convenient to lay a snare, and like Joab embrace those in their arms whom they intend to smite under the fifth rib.

6. When Fear of Man Prevails

A snare can be discerned by the degree to which the fear of man prevails in that time. It has an unusual command at particular times over the spirits of even those whose former zeal and resolution for the truth have been prominent in other times of testing. There is cause for watching at such times for there is a snare in the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) which will take its advantage when it finds people now fleeing men. The godly have a breastplate, but no piece of armour for their back when their turn their face from resisting. It is sad when the adversary is taught to pursue us by our fainting. It is sad also when the spirit that seems to be on the ascendant in the world prevails even over the spirits of the godly. It then makes them debased and contemptible in the eyes of those enemies whose hearts would have previously trembled at the authority of God evident on them. This becomes too obvious in a time when the Church is humbled and tried until the hour of her trial has passed.

7. When Sin Succeeds

A snare is to be feared and watched against when success accompanies a sinful course; especially when this lasts for some time. New queries will then be raised and strange reports spread undermining the Lord’s way with great subtlety and seeking to make the godly question it. The Psalmist found it was not easy to stand before this. It made him begin to debate his principles and the benefits of his convictions (Psalm 73:13). The adversary knows how to assault the followers of the truth and attack them at their weakest at such a time. The scandal of the cross causes many to offend. It is hard for those to suffer who do not know the fellowship of the cross of Christ which is part of the greatest and closest fellowship with Him on earth. The Church may endure more danger from some of her friends than from the professed adversary at such times. It is often in this way that a prevailing snare is assisted. It cannot but be a searching and dangerous time when many are turning aside. Even some who have understanding may be permitted to fall and be ready to press their sin on others as their duty. Such seldom fall away without being more active to engage others in the same course. Sometimes they are more energetic in this than they were in holding their former integrity to the truth. We have seen this and it happens, let us, therefore, hear this and be aware of it for our good.

8. When the Church is Harmed

A snare of the times may be discerned by its tendency to produce corruption in the Church. It still produces the same effects, whatever people pretend, when it manifests itself by the hands of Esau though it has the voice of Jacob. Does not the ruin of many who have been dashed on such a rock, put a sad marker on it? Scripture and observing the Church’s experience show us warning beacons that (unless we shut our eyes to it) will make any snare obvious. We can see clearly what a sad tendency had for making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. It is also clear how hard it is to dance about the fire and not be burned or to stand in the way and counsels of ungodly men and not be ensnared.

9. When Circumstances Alter

A snare seems to be threatened when people enquire about the duty of the times without considering it in the light of present circumstances. A snare can be in things that are at other times indifferent, yet in other circumstances neglecting them may mean abandoning duty. Or by the same token doing something indifferent which is lawful in other circumstances may be morally wrong in other contexts. Something indifferent in itself which is merely around sacred things and the worship of God may be required by civil government by virtue of their sole command. This may bring the godly into subjection in things in which they are not to be subject and harm the separate jurisdiction of the church. To enquire into this as a general principle without making particular application to the present complex situation is dangerous.

It may be said a snare is entering when the prophet’s consideration “Is this a time for such a thing?” (see 2 Kings 5:26) is not regarded much in the present questions. It was innocent in itself for the disciples to refresh themselves with sleep, but that they could not watch at that one hour with their Master in His sufferings must of necessity alter the situation since it was in that case deserting Him.

10. When Spirituality Declines

Is it not evidence of a snare getting an advantage when private concerns and outward interests have a prevailing influence on our spirits? A snare does not come in without an opportunity and its greatest strength and advantage is within us. Conformity to the world together with an unperceived decline in tenderness of soul too often breeds a tendency to conform to an evil course in a downhill motion. The snare will follow in after this worldly conformity that has the mastery over them. How many in embracing the world have fallen from the truth at the next step? No weapon has ruined more and has been more made use of against the Church. Where other snares have killed their thousands, this has slain its ten thousands. Where this appears at a time of testing for the Church it is like the appearance of grey hairs. It is not easy for any to stand, resist or keep their feet from a snare when they gone backward so far that the truth has ceased to have command over their heart.

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Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation
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.
17 Jun, 2021

Meaningful, in-person interactions have certainly been less plentiful in recent months. With some exceptions, it seems like maintaining conversations has been a challenge in the distancing circumstances. Quite a few report they now feel more awkward in interacting in this way. Having less to talk about and difficult issues to navigate does not help greatly. Arguably this was difficult enough before in an increasingly fragmented community. The most meaningful conversations are those that build us up and help us make progress in the Christian life. It may be a good time to remind ourselves how important those interactions are and how we can make best use of this kind of fellowship.

In the past godly conversation was given greater emphasis. Private gatherings took place where people discussed spiritual things and offered advice to help each other grow in grace. People like Richard Baxter were very practical in offering conversation starters. It might be a sermon heard, something read, some difficulty or other experience. James Durham said that Christ’s worth was a great subject to be taken up with by Christians in their fellowship together “to be spending their mutual conferences on that subject for one another’s instruction”.

Such conversation was encouraged by men like David Dickson, Samuel Rutherford and John Livingstone. During the times of persecution in Scotland people could only attend field preaching when it was available but at other times they might gather in societies of up to a dozen people. Here they could discuss spiritual things as well as read and pray. One student for the ministry, Walter Smith drew up some guidance for these gatherings and the following is an updated extract. present Some of this is still helpful more generally for spiritual fellowship. It is notable that when he was put to death on the scaffold, the very last word he spoke was one of mutual encouragement.

“I have one word more to say, and that is, to all that have any love to God, and His righteous cause, that they will set time apart, and sing a song of praise to the Lord for what He has done to my soul, and my soul says, to Him be praise.”

1. EDIFYING Conversation is Required

It is the duty of private Christians to meet together for their mutual edification by prayer and conferring together (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:24-25). This has been the laudable and much commended practice of the people of God in all ages, both under the Old and New Testament. We find it in Malachi 3:16 and it seems to have been the practice of the Lord’s people in their captivity at Babylon (Psalm 137). For what other purpose did they go and sit by the rivers of Babylon but to remember Zion, both in their prayers to God and in their conversation?

Likewise we find frequently in the Acts of the Apostles that it was practised by the earliest Christians. Beyond all question this duty has been attended by remarkable benefits both to the work of God publicly and to the private condition of individuals. They have found to their comfort many blessed fruits and effects following upon their conscientious performance of this duty. It has frequently been observed that true and serious religion thrives most in the places within the churches of Scotland where this duty is most practised. Such individuals are ordinarily the most useful members both in Church and community.

The wilful neglect of this duty is no small sin therefore. Such a neglect tends very much to discourage those who are seeking to do this duty conscientiously. It is greatly to be wished that both ministers and experienced Christians, were more active in stirring up themselves and others to do this more diligently and constantly. This is especially necessary in such a day of trial, in which the Lord, by His holy and wise providence is giving His people very loud calls to be serious and diligent in all commanded duties.

2. EDIFYING Conversation is Easily Diverted

Beware of being diverted from this by talking about worldly affairs or public news, except as it may be useful for stirring up to prayer and thanksgiving.

3. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Dismissive

All undervaluing or giving the least appearance of slighting others in their conversation must be carefully avoided (Philippians 2:3). A person may be weak in knowledge and other things yet more real and solely devoted to God’s glory in their heart, this is what is most acceptable to God. Beware in particular of disdainfully slighting any answer given to a question event though it may be weak and not so . but let the more judicious and expert make the best use of it they can, for the person’s and the rest’s edification.

4. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Controversial

(a) Let nothing be brought up which tends only to satisfy curiosity.

(b) Let no question be brought up about any high point of theology, in which there are great difficulties, such as the decrees of God, predestination, election.

(c) Be very sparing in asking questions about the exact meaning and interpretation of Scriptures, especially passages which are harder and more difficult (2 Peter 3:16). It is the role of ministers to expound or explain the Scriptures and individual Christians should not presume to do this (Hebrews 5:4). Christ has appointed pastors in His church as a distinct office for interpreting and applying Scripture for the people’s edification. Where individual Christians have sought to be expositors it has brought dangerous consequences, including error, contention and division into the Church of Christ. Yet it may tend to promote knowledge and understanding if everyone imparts any light they have received either by reading, hearing, or in any other way. This will serve for the mutual good and edification of the rest by way of conversation. They should still beware of getting entangled with obscure passages of Scripture.

(d) Beware of bringing up any subject for discussion about this that are a matter of controversy among godly ministers and professing Christians.

(e) Let nothing be brought up that may cause needless animosities, contentions and debates. These tend mar love and edification. Rather make the questions such as concern practical matters and how to order our lives. They will then be holy and not a stumblingblock and have the greatest tendency to stir up the grace of God, put to death corruptions, and preserve each other from snares and temptations.

5. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Contentious

If contention or debates are likely to arise about any subject you converse about, it is dangerous to persist. It is rather the best godly prudence to stop and go to prayer.

6. EDIFYING Conversation is Faithful

There is an expectation that those who profess more than others should do more than others. Therefore, our lives must be consistent with the gospel and our profession. This will commend the way of God to those with whom we have everyday contact and discourage sin. In particular, guard against vain and idle conversation (Colossians 4:6) which is very stumbling and hardening to the wicked and tends very much eat out the life of religion. If someone needs a timely reproof from another for any fault they may be guilty of, it is certainly their duty to take the reproof kindly (Psalm 141:5).

7. EDIFYING Conversation is Discreet

Beware of divulging or revealing anything said or done to the offence or prejudice of another Christian. Rather we ought to sympathise kindly with one another (Ephesians 4:12; Romans 12:15-16).

8. EDIFYING Conversation is Prayerful

But more especially, they should love, sympathize, and pray for one another in secret and weep when anyone weeps, and rejoice with all such. They should be importunate with the Lord to go with them and meet with them before they meet together, that it may be for the better and not for the worse.

The Lord in His sovereignty manifests Himself to whom He will, when, where, and as He will. Sometimes He will withhold the influences of His Good Spirit, so that there is a darkness in their minds, and deadness upon their spirits, that the duty of prayer and conversation is not refreshing to them. Let everyone earnestly search out the causes; be humble and mourn, long and pray for His return.

At other times the Lord may be pleased to manifest himself and give light, life and liberty so that prayer and conversation are refreshing and reviving to them. They should then be humble, and express their great thankfulness, and bless his gracious name and pray for it to be continued. They should seek to steer a steady course at all times, places, situations and company, abounding in all the duties of Christianity so that all may notice that they have been with Jesus.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?

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The Church has a Debt Problem

The Church has a Debt Problem

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

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

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

1. We Owe a Testimony to the Gospel

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

2. We Owe a Testimony in Our Lives

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

3. We Owe a Testimony to Others

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

4. We Owe a Testimony from Experience

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

5. We Owe a Testimony When the Truth is Attacked

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

6. We Owe a Testimony After Trials

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

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

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

7. We Owe a Testimony in Death

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

8. We Owe a Testimony to God’s Faithfulness

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

9. We Owe a Testimony in Suffering

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

10. We Owe Future Generations Clear Truth

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

11. We Owe Future Generations Pure Truth

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

12. We Owe Future Generations the Whole Truth

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

13. We Owe Future Generations True Godliness

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

Conclusion

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

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How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it
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.
20 Apr, 2021

It was an uncompromising conscience that compelled Luther to stand alone in courageous faith before the mightiest people of the day. This was where he stood 500 years ago on 18 April 1521. He was not driven by personal hubris but constrained by something higher. His conscience, he declared, was captive to the Word of God. And it is “neither safe nor advisable to do anything against conscience”. It would have been easy to outsource his conscience blindly to the teaching authorities in the Church, even when he understood them to contradict Scripture. In our generation there are many influencers in society and media seeking to shape a collective conscience. Suddenly people trip over themselves to signal their newly-discovered virtues. Brands now have a conscience that they must advertise. It is easy to allow our conscience to be formed by all kinds of authorities and individuals, whether they have the hard power of government or the soft power of influence. We can even relinquish our consciences to other Christians in certain matters rather than having them bound to the Word of God. It is vitally important to know how to nurture rather than outsource our conscience.

What do we mean by outsourcing conscience? After all we yield our consciences to God and His Word. Outsourcing in general is when we hand over our responsibilities or tasks to others who will do them on our behalf. In terms of outsourcing conscience this means not taking responsibility for cultivating conscience and exercising it in the right way through having it properly informed by God’s will. We simply hand over this responsibility to others to do it for us. In the following updated and abridged extract, the Covenanter preacher John Carstairs shows what it means to maintain our conscience in a God-glorifying way.

1. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Been Renewed

Above all things make sure to have a good conscience, not only morally (when it submits to God’s revealed will for its rule and constrains a person to act and will according to it that rule) but also graciously. This presupposes a state of regeneration when the heart by faith (the gift of God) seeks to have the blood of sprinkling which both purges and pacifies, cleanses and calms the conscience. It speaks better things than the blood of Abel and can out-cry the loudest cries of the most clamorous and guilty conscience (Hebrews 12:24). It is the only way for all accusations for sins to be safely put to silence and so drowned that they will never surface again to the final sorrow and shame of those who are led by grace. Any other way of silencing such accusations of conscience will most certainly end in their rising again at last to speak loudly against them, never any more to hold their peace from grievously bitter and gnawing accusations. For to the unclean and unbelieving nothing is pure, but even the mind and conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15).

2. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must Be Maintained

If the conscience has been made good in this way we must endeavour by all suitable means to keep it so. This will give us good grounds to say with the apostle that we have a good conscience in all things, willing to live honestly (Hebrews 13:18). The conscience of the Christian may, however, become defiled and wounded by newly contracted pollution and guilt. When accusations begin to arise and disturb the peace and sweet rest of the soul we must at all times make fresh believing application to the blood of sprinkling. The heart may be sprinkled from an evil conscience and the conscience purged from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 10:22) in this way. Renewed endeavours should be made in the strength of grace to walk more tenderly without offence toward God and men (Acts 24:16).

3. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must be Well-Informed

We must strive to have our conscience well and thoroughly informed. This means intimate acquaintance with the mind and will of God revealed in the Scriptures of truth as to all things that we are called to believe and do. This makes conscience able to discharge its office and duty aright, whether in prescribing, testifying, or judging. An ill-informed conscience (especially where there is any zeal or forwardness) strongly pushes and furiously drives people to many dangerous and destructive practices. Has this not driven men to kill the servants of Christ (as He himself foretold) and in doing so to think that they did God service? Did this not hurry on Paul, before his conversion, to persecute those who called on the name of the Lord Jesus and make havoc of the Church, by dragging the disciples (both men and women) bound to prison and by cruel persecution compelling them to blaspheme?

4. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Only One Lord

We must seek to have the conscience deeply impressed with a due and deep veneration, awe and dread of the majesty of God who is the supreme Lord of and great Law-giver to the conscience. Only His laws and commands properly, directly and immediately in themselves oblige it to obey. The consciences and souls of men are properly subject to God alone. The law of God written in the hearts of men and in the Scriptures is the only rule of conscience. No one else can immediately judge the conscience and know its secret operations. Only He can inflict spiritual punishment on the sinning conscience. All human laws and commands (in whatever capacity) only oblige the conscience to obey indirectly. They are obligatory only in so far as they are consistent, compliant and agreeable with the laws and commands of the absolutely supreme law-giver, or not opposed to them.

God has not permitted any power on earth, civil or ecclesiastical, to annul His commands or to require obedience to commands that are contrary to, or inconsistent with His own. His commands are inviolably binding on the consciences of authorities even though they are the greatest rulers on earth as well those subject to them. All without exception are subject to Him. All human laws that enforce or declare the commands and law of God and provide for them to be conserved and observed are obligatory on the conscience. This is because such laws derive from the nature and force of divine law.

The law of God commands us to be subject to those powers in authority over us. There may be unjust laws and those that are opposed to or inconsistent with divine laws. If we must refuse obedience, we must not do so out of any contempt for lawful authority. Such contempt of lawful authority would be a stumbling block to others and both of these are sins against the law of God that we must avoid. But we must remember that no mere human laws bind the conscience directly, immediately and in themselves. God has not given a power to any of the powers and authorities on earth to require obedience to commands that are opposed to His own injunctions, which all are obliged to obey by necessity.

We cannot yield our conscience without question to be ruled by the public conscience or laws of the Commonwealth. This would suppose that the public conscience is always infallible. Absolute obedience and resigning oneself entirely to the conduct of another in matters of faith and conscience is a duty that we cannot lawfully render to anyone except God. He is the first truth and the first principle of all justice and none can claim these without usurping the just right of God. The conscience is immediately subject to God and His will, it cannot subject itself to any creature without idolatry. To do otherwise would be the quickest way to drive all conscience out of the world. It would mean that Christians are not at all to trouble themselves to search the Scriptures to inform their consciences and be fully persuaded in their mind or conscience (explicitly required in John 5:39. and Romans 14:5).

As Edward Leigh says in his book Body of Divinity, this would make “subjects beasts and the magistrate [ruler] God”. It would imply that authority can require anything of us and we are free from the guilt of any sin because it was only done in obedience to authority. The divinely inspired apostle teaches us entirely differently that we must all appear (or be made manifest) before the judgement seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body (whether commanded by superiors or not) according to what they have done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every one of us shall give an account of himself (not another for him) to God (Romans 14:12, see also Galatians 6:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 3:8).

5. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive

Do not carelessly neglect and slight the rebukes and accusations of conscience in lesser things, or in matters of comparatively smaller significance. Conscience is as much concerned with these as in all our moral actions. This can weaken the voice and rebukes of conscience in more momentous matters and may incline it to be careless in those too.

The accusations of conscience may be smothered for the time being yet may rise up again many years afterwards. This was so with Joseph’s brothers, it was twenty years at least after their pitiless, cruel, unnatural and inhuman treatment of their poor innocent younger brother. God may be provoked to leave our conscience to be silent for a while in relation to our sins. A silent bad conscience is amongst the worst of bad consciences, in some ways it is worse than a roaring bad conscience because it inclines the soul to think that God is silent too and has forgotten these sins. Even the godly themselves may by something of this guilt, raise great storms of trouble and disquiet in their own consciences.

6. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Respectful

By all means guard against going contrary to the plain dictates of your consciences, especially when clearly informed by the Word. This is a daring, despising and disowning of God’s deputy; violently removing conscience from the judge’s bench. This hardens conscience and makes a person bold against God in sinning, it makes the heart harder than an adamant. Such will not be ashamed or so much as blush.

7. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Fully Persuaded

Do not do anything with an unclear, hesitant and doubting conscience. Anything not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23); anything must be done in the faith and persuasion that it is right to do so. If our conscience is mistaken it must be well informed so that the error is realised. But if we do not have our conscience rightly informed, it will still be sinful to go against an erring conscience.

The consciences of others are no rule to ours, their conscience is not infallible. God has put a conscience in everyone as His deputy. We are to pay careful heed to its dictates. God has not made the conscience of any one individual or group of individuals His deputy over all the consciences of other people. Those who are more spiritual and conscientious than ourselves may be clear in their consciences that such and such a practice is permissible. We are then called to impartially examine the reasons for their clarity and examine our own hesitation or lack of clarity carefully. We must be much in earnest prayer to God for light and guidance. But if despite all this my doubt still remains and other godly individuals are also doubtful and unclear I cannot surrender to be blindly ruled by the conscience of others, whoever they are or whatever my respect for them. I cannot act with a doubting conscience without sin. If I can do this why may I not do another more serious thing doubtingly and then another and another. Where will I stop? In things that are doubtful it is safest to abstain.

8. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive to the Conscience of Others

Although we may be clear and fully persuaded of our own Christian liberty in certain things that are indifferent, we must be very sensitive towards the consciences of others who are not. We do not want to offend and wound their conscience. By nature we are ready insensitively and uncharitably to give and to take offence. Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8, 9 and 10 are uniquely useful chapters in restraining us from this. 

9. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Does Not Pretend to Have Scruples

Believers should not pretend it is a matter of conscience to abstain from certain practices if it is just because there has been a long custom of doing so, or because they are following the example of others or do not want to displease them. Are you ready to undergo any considerable suffering for what you claim is a matter of conscience. If not when we forsake it we will bring great reproach to true religion and conscientious godliness. If conscience is pretended in petty things but not the weightier things of religion, we are like the Pharisees. We are like them also when we appeal to conscience for tenaciously adhering to human traditions.

10. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Not Rash

Do not rashly enter into any action (especially if it is of great moment) before seriously consulting conscience and endeavouring to have it well informed by the Word. This can either result in an accusing conscience or the temptation to bypass conscience and justify whatever we have done. The only person who walks surely, is the one that walks uprightly, in unbiased compliance with the dictates of the Spirit of God in the Scriptures and their own conscience informed by that.

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Contending for the Truth Lovingly

Contending for the Truth Lovingly

Contending for the Truth Lovingly
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.
13 Apr, 2021

We are not to be doctrinally indifferent and anaemic but neither are we to match false or unloving ways of maintaining the truth (Ephesians 4:14-15). True love rejoices in the truth, but it does not rejoice in the sin of anger and bitterness (1 Corinthians 13:6). It is essential to contend for the whole truth (Acts 20:27) but if we lose love in our valiant defence we have lost too much (Revelation 2:2-4). We show our intense love for the truth and for the souls of others when we maintain what is right with compassion. We need constant reminders of this sadly and the following words by the field preacher John Blackadder show that it was even needed during times of persecution.

That holy and necessary duty of faithfully and zealously bearing testimony to the truth and ways of God, and against error and sinful courses, is such a duty as needs to be managed with as much solidity, circumspection, fear, and trembling, as any I know. For the truth is greatly concerned in this, especially when we have to contend with such (of whom several are and otherwise have been) eminent and pious. The conduct of some who are pious and well-meaning has in various things more irritated and stirred up strife than edified. The church in former times has and will have, so long as she is the church militant, many imperfections. In such times of trial she has had, and readily will have, some that, either out of ignorance, carelessness, or worse, go to extremes and excesses on the right as well as the left hand. There is great need, in our days also, to take heed that the way of God and that which is our good, is not evil spoken of.

– John Blackadder

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Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials

Being Delivered From a Cascade of Trials
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.
11 Feb, 2021

Trials are never far away, but sometimes we experience them in multiple form in what we might call a cascade of trials. Afflictions or other events in providence descend on us one after the other in successive stages. That may be true of us individually or as churches. It may be that medical, family, employment afflictions all come together. In the nature of things, afflictions seldom come alone. When one thing happens after another in that way it can feel as though the load is heavier and more difficult to bear.  It can seem as though the period of trial will not end. We cannot bear them ourselves, but Christ can bring us through them. As we reflect on what we still receive from God’s goodness we see another cascade descending on us which is full of mercies. There is still further hope and comfort amid many trials as we will discover.

Psalm 66 expresses thanksgiving for God’s people being delivered from various trials which were intended to try and refine them like silver (v10). One severe calamity after another came upon them as is described in verse 11. They were brought into the net like beasts who are hunted down and then killed. Affliction was laid on them like a heavy burden. Men were able to ride over their heads, trampling them down in an oppressive subjection to their will. They also had to go through fire and water. In Scripture, this refers to exceedingly great troubles of all kinds as these two represent all sorts of extreme miseries and dangers. But there is a deliverance out of all these troubles and afflictions. In this updated extract Zachary Boyd helps us understand further what we can learn from this.

1. God’s People Have Many Trials

The troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). When they have passed through the fire, then they must also pass through the water. The ending of one affliction is only the beginning of another. This made Jacob say to Pharaoh when he enquired of his age, “my days have been few and evil” (Genesis 47:9).

Let God’s Church learn that when one trouble is past, they are not to be complacent. If they have passed through the fire, they must also pass through the water. We have passed through many troubles in past years. Well may we say, “we went through fire and through water.” We must not dream of being the church triumphant here where all tears shall be wiped from our eyes and all troubles from our heart. Only a foolish pilot thinks that because one storm is past and the weather is now fair the winds will not blow any more and that the surges will never again be like mountains and make them reel and stagger (Psalm 107:27).

2. God’s People Endure Despite Many Trials

This is the stability of the Church, they abide both the fire and water. Eleazar showed the men of war how to purify the spoil they had taken from the enemy. He ordered that such things as silver and gold that might abide the fire to go through the fire and also be purified with water (Numbers 31:23). But that which could not abide the fire, would be made to go through the water. The godly here (Psalm 66:11) went both through fire and water. They abide all sorts of trials because the Lord upholds them. Observe here that the Church is pressed under a great number of afflictions, yet passes through them all. But the wicked perish by the way, whether in fire or water. Pharaoh and his army sank down like lead in the water (Exodus15:10), but Israel passed through. Nebuchadnezzar’s executioners that cast God’s servants into the fiery furnace were consumed by the flame of fire coming from the furnace (Daniel 3:22). But Shadrach and his companions went through. If the wicked escape one fire, they are consumed by another (Ezekiel 15:7).

3. God’s People Have Comfort Despite Many Trials

Let this comfort God’s children in their greatest calamities, the Lord shall give them a pass. Either He will make judgments pass over them, as He made His destroying angel pass over the Israelite’s houses marked with blood (Exodus 12:23); or He will make His servants pass through the danger, as here (Psalm 66:11).

Only God’s children come out of their troubles. In the Revelation John saw a number all clothed in white robes. While he looked, one of the elders said to John, what are these (Revelation 7:13)? John could not tell. Then the elder said, these are they which came out of great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). They came out and went through fire and through water. The end of the righteous is always peace (Psalm 37:37), they pass through at last.

4. God’s People Are Delivered Out of Many Trials

The distresses of God’s people are described in four ways in this verse but there is also a most thankful acknowledgement of God’s most merciful deliverance. They are brought into a wealthy place overflowing with abundance as David experienced (Psalm 23:5). After many troubles and calamities they have all sorts of comforts in great abundance both spiritually and outwardly. When the Lord makes a land spiritually rich, whatever outward things they have, it may indeed be called a wealthy place. There is no wealthy place except where the Lord is in mercy.

Wealth is no wealth where God’s love is not present. Bags of silver and gold without His grace are merely burdens of dirt on the back. ·But whatever the righteous man has with God’s blessing is wealth. His dwelling place will be found to be a wealthy place. The Lord shall make his cup run over so that he has no lack of anything (Psalm 23:1). That which seems little in a worldly person’s eyes is wealthy for a godly man because the little has possesses has a blessing on it (Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 17:1). Continue in serving God even though it means many losses and afflictions. The Lord who is God all-sufficient will still provide.

Ordinarily God’s people have hard beginnings, but at last they get a peaceful conclusion. Their life is like Isaac’s three wells. The first was called Esek, that is strife, because the men of that place strove with him (Genesis 26:20). The second was called Sitnah, that is hatred because the men of that place continued to strive with him (Genesis 26:21). The third was called Rehoboth, that is room. The Lord made room for him so that they would be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:22). They had now come to a wealthy place.

This should teach us not to be displeased when we meet with hardship at the beginning in God’s service. We must drink of the well of Esek and Sitnah before we look for room at Rehoboth. It is true that the troubles of the righteous are many (Psalm 34:19). But this is as certain, the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34: 17). It may be the lot of God’s children to weep in the evening, but God will send comfort to them at the dawning of the day (Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 17:14). God’s children come through fire and water and then at last come to their wealthy place. If any do not experience that here their loss will be made up in heaven which is properly speaking the only place of wealth where there is nothing lacking for soul or body (Acts 3:19).

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Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living

Advice About Christian Living
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.
1 Sep, 2020

Concise wisdom can be an invaluable guide for Christian living and experience. We can return to it regularly. Sometimes the counsel offered can be general and contain broad principles to apply. Other times it’s helpful to have some specific directions about common situations that we may experience and encounter. It can be helpful to draw from advice given by various writers and learn from their own experience.

This advice is an updated extract taken from some counsel written to a lady by William Traill of Borthwick. There is no clear order to the advice and no doubt much of it is related to the individual addressed particularly.

1. Advice About Soul Trouble

As to your frame of mind. Labour to escape from soul trouble, not so much because it is terrible as because it is sinful. Seek to have the heart established by grace and to maintain an equal, constant frame of mind, that you may not be soon cast down and frightened by an unexpected affliction, nor be suddenly puffed up by unlooked-for success.

2. Advice About Conversation

Guard against all anger, and speaking hastily and unadvisedly. Think for a while on the thing that vexes you before you utter your mind upon it. When you do speak, do not say everything you think (Proverbs 29:11). Be sure not to make the worst of a matter, this only inflames the heart (Proverbs 16:23).

3. Advice About Providence

Put a hopeful construction upon those providences that appear to be sad, dark, and threatening, and do not suspect the kindness of God when cross dispensations occur. Believe that Christ has “done all things well,” and “that all things work together for good to them that love” him. Remember that “all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his counsel and his testimonies.” (Mark 7:37; Romans 8:28; Psalm 25:10).

4. Advice About Following Christ

Follow Christ, by taking up the cross that he has appointed for you, and by faith lean upon him for strength and succour, to bear you up under its burden from day to day.

5. Advice About Warring Against Sin

Observe your daily deficiencies and short-comings and press forward so that you may know more of the spirit, life, and power of every duty.

Keep constant watch against your easily besetting sins, and take heed that, by a sudden surprise attack, they do not prevail against you.

6. Advice About Self-Examination

Often, with all solemnity, put your heart into your hand, and pray that God will not permit you to deceive yourself, nor provoke Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). And when you seek to try the sincerity of your faith, love, and other graces, remember to distinguish between the marks of strong faith and of true faith (however weak).

If in self-examination your mind is dark and your decision difficult, do not lose time by trying to settle the truth and sincerity of your experience in former times, but exercise faith in Christ Jesus directly: choosing Him, and depending upon Him as a full, sufficient, and only Saviour for poor lost sinners. Seek to realise anew your own sinfulness and misery, and with a humbled and penitent heart cast yourself again at His feet.

Remember your dependence on the Holy Spirit, and seek “a supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:19) to work fresh and large revelations of sanctifying and saving grace, and to refresh your soul amidst all the labours and sorrows of this militant state.

In particular, enquire:

  • whether you are not tempted to unbelief and calling in question almost every truth
  • whether you are not sinfully jealous about whether the love of God is shown to your soul after multiplied evidence of His care
  • whether affected diffidence, impatient haste, rash and uncharitable censures of others are found in your heart
  • whether you regard the proper season for every duty and daily labour to “redeem the time”
  • whether in circumstances of difficulty you ask yourself “what would my Lord and Saviour have done in this situation?”
  • whether you keep in mind His own blessed rule to do to others what we would have them do to us.

7. Advice About Eternity

Learn to remember your latter end, “to die daily”. Venture on nothing but what appears to be your duty, both lawful and timely, and such as you would venture on, if you had only a day to live.

If you would like to read the full originally published guidance, click here. For more about William Traill listen to this episode.

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5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for Christ

5 Ways to Grow in Love for 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.
19 Jun, 2020

People often speak about spiritual growth, but what does it look like? Words and activities are easy. Love in the heart and in outward expression and obedience is what Christ looks for (Revelation 2:4; John 14:15). Love to Christ makes us want to be like Him. Where does that love come from? Love comes from love. Our love can be kindled and increased from His own love towards us. How do we grow in our love for Christ? He uses means such as prayer and the Word to strengthen this love. We must take time to consider deeply the Saviour and His love and seek to draw close to Him. Here are five ways in which Christ makes the flame of love in His people burn stronger and brighter.

In preaching on John 17:24, Robert Traill gives some clear and helpful advice on increasing our love for the Lord. Christ’s heart is set on having His people where He is. Surely, we ought to love Him in return. Most of those who lay claim to the name of Christian, think they make some conscience of loving Christ. They think it to be an entirely just debt and duty to Him and are ready to say with Paul, “If any man love, not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema, Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:22). But just as the love that Christ bears to His people, is not so well known and believed as it ought to be; so the love His people owe to Him, is not as well paid as it ought to be. Previously, we have considered 9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ. In the following updated extract, Traill shows us five ways to increase in love for Christ.

1. Consider Christ and His Love

Take a serious view of the lover, the beloved, and of the love, He bears to them. Consider Christ who loves, His people whom He loves, and the love He bears to them. These three must be seen by the eye of faith in the light of God’s Word. The glory and greatness of the One who loves, the vileness of those whom He loves and the greatness of the love He bears to them. When this is considered two thoughts will rise in the heart.

(a) His love is great

How marvellous, that such a person as He is should love such people as we are and in such a way.

(b) Our love should also be great

How great our love should be to Him in return. What is the cause of this usual and fad remark, Worldly sinners reckon it an easy thing to believe that Christ loves them, though they never tasted of His special love. Yet many sincere Christians find it difficult to believe Christ’s love to them. Even though they dare not deny they have sometimes tasted that He is gracious (1 Peter 3:3). They find it hardest to believe it at the times when they see either the divine dignity of Christ or their wretchedness (these usually go together).

It is because this love of Christ is so mysterious and wonderful, (as the lover Himself is Isaiah 9:6). We find it difficult therefore to think that Christ loves any except those who are like Him in some way. We fail to recognise aright that Christ can and does love those who are not like Him. He loves them so as to make them like Him by His love. His love always has this blessed effect in everyone on whom it rests.

2. Believe Christ’s Love

Usually, we want to have His love proved and manifested to us. But I advise you to take this way instead – get your faith fixed on Christ’s love. Do not think that I am persuading you to conclude rashly that Christ loves you. Take Christ’s love-letters and Christ’s lovely picture in the gospel (the New Testament is full of them). Believe them and love them, and then use them to believe and love Him. Behold Christ crucified (Galatians 3:1); behold Him dying and redeeming by His blood in sheer love to the redeemed. Read His love-letters filled with gracious calls, offers, and promises. All these letters are sealed with His blood which was shed in love. This is a blessed activity you will soon benefit from.

3. Pray to Experience His Love

Pray much for His love to be manifested to you. You are to give Him glory by believing His love-letters and His beautiful picture in the gospel and increasing faith and love using those helps. But you may also beg Him to manifest His love to you. See His promise in John 14:21-23). These words are more precious than fine gold. When one of His disciples asks (either in ignorance or wonder) how this could be (verse 22), our Lord answers that He and the Father will come and make their abode with those who love Him and keep His words (verse 23). The language is very similar to His words in Revelation 3:20. Thus he manifests His love (1 John 4:12,15). Our love is “made perfect” but how did it begin and how is it advanced? Verse 19 tells us that “We love him because he first loved us.”

What are Christians doing? How poorly they do it. Where is the person who is sick with love for Christ? This blessed disease (or soul’s health, rather) is twofold. It is pining hunger either for His love being manifested (Song 5:8) or for the overwhelming sweetness of His love when it is manifested (Song 2:5). If you know nothing of either of these, your bodies may be well, but your souls do not prosper.

I do not think there ever was a poor believer who breathed after Christ’s love for long before they felt it. Most people do not care about it, so they do not seek it and therefore they do not find it. Some of them may say (like those who had not heard of the Holy Spirit, Acts 19:2), “we have not felt any of the love of Christ; we know nothing of it except what is said of it in Scripture, and as it is to be enjoyed in heaven.” But sadly, few feel how it burns like a hot fire in the heart even on earth (Song 8:6-7).

4. Kindle Your Love from Christ’s Love

When Christ has manifested His love kindle your flame of love from the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Kindle your love to Him at the fire of His love to you. No other fire will kindle true love to Christ except the believing and feeling Christ’s love to you. What made Paul such a fervent lover of Christ except knowing that Christ loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20)? No wonder he said, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). “Christ died at Jerusalem for my redemption; and will I not die there for His glory, if He calls me to do that?”

5. Let Your Love Burn for Christ

When you have kindled your love to Christ from His love to you let it burn in serving and praising Him (it grows by burning). Use and exercise that love in all holy worship, and all gospel-obedience. The best worship and most acceptable obedience are done out of love for Christ. This love constrained Paul to excel in living for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). If our working and running only comes from the spur of the law constraining the conscience, it is of no account in the sight of God.

Faith in Christ increases love for Christ. Faith and love together enliven us in all holy obedience and spiritual worship. The Christian then reads and hears the word of Christ, because they love to hear His voice. They pray because they love to speak to and pour out their heart to their best friend. They sit down at the Lord’s table because they love to see and draw spiritual strength from their slain Saviour. They hate evil because they love the Lord (Psalm 97:10). They keep Christ’s commandments because they love the One commanding (John 14:15).

Be assured of this, you have not yet got into the right way of Christianity in which you can be hearty, sincere, and constant without fainting until you get into the power of the love of Christ. You will then be carried along sweetly in all your ways and His ways. The one who believes and loves Christ may then say, “Let the Lord lead me where He pleases; I am still going to heaven. I am in the river of life, that is the love of Christ, that began (if we can speak like that) in eternity and carries me through time to the eternal enjoyment of the same love in heaven.”

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Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?
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.
22 May, 2020

This seems an almost ludicrous question. Evangelicals scarcely stop talking about God and do so much for God. How can you call that forgetting God? But it depends on what you mean by forgetting God. We can talk much about the things of God. Yet do we talk more about our work for God, ourselves and each other than about God Himself? How much do we engage with God directly? Has there been a subtle change from the vertical to the horizontal? We may come to think that the end of serving God justifies the means of doing what we want. This often means doing what we want to do rather than being concerned about what God wants us to do. Is God something of an after thought? It is possible to pursue a certain type of experience or spiritual feeling for our benefit rather than focussing on God Himself. Let’s consider this question positively and indirectly by asking another one. What does it mean to set God always before us?

A recently published book asks When Did We Start Forgetting God? The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future. Mark Galli has written this book from the perspective of having edited for many years the leading evangelical periodical Christianity Today. No doubt, like everyone, he has his own bias but it would be foolish to jettison such a fundamental question because we don’t like the messenger.
Galli speaks of forgetting God as maintaining activity for God without a single-minded desire for God. We can have words, activities and doctrines that all relate to God but not this passion that should energize all we do. This desire for God did indeed characterize the evangelical movement in the past. Today evangelicals are known for our activism, social values, mission, focus on conversion, church planting techniques and so on. Yet while the passion is here and there in some individuals, it’s not what we are known for. We live in a world that excludes the transcendent, there could not be a greater tragedy than to become of that world without realising it.

There are many in the world who reject or merely neglect God altogether. They do not consider that God is all-present, all-just, all-holy and all-powerful. They do not set God before them; they do not remember God as they ought. But this may also be true in a measure of those who profess God.

We cannot hope to consider the full extent of practically forgetting God and its impact. Perhaps it is something to return to on another occasion. We can, however, address some basic considerations. What then does it mean to set God always before us in our everyday life? In this updated extract, Archibald Skeldie briefly covers some valuable points in relation to this.

1. Set God’s Will Before You as the Rule of Your Actions

Those who set God before them look to the will of God as the rule of their actions. As many as follow this rule will have mercy and peace on them Having regard to God’s will involves the following noteworthy things.

(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man

A Christian should so look to please God that they have no regard to pleasing man. That is to say, they must not do anything offensive to God in order to please man. They must not omit anything that may please the Lord even though by doing it, they greatly offend man.
It would have been good for Joab if he had so deeply considered the matter of Uriah as not offend God in order to please his king. This was better considered by Peter and John, who asked the Jews to judge whether it was better to obey God, than men. For seeing none can serve two masters, it is the best and wisest course to serve the best and worthiest master. The early Church father Gregory asked how can you give like service to those that are so unlike each other; mortal men and the eternal God?

(b) Seek to Conform Your Will to God’s

Those who do the will of God and makes it the rule of their actions, should not be desirous to conform God’s will to theirs. Rather they should strive to conform their will to God’s will. If this is how earthly employees should conduct themselves towards their earthly masters, how much more ought it so to be towards God, their heavenly Master. Augustine says that we are God’s true servants if we are ready to will what we hear rather than hear what we will.
A Christian must carefully consider this, not only in abstaining from things that ought to be avoided, but likewise in doing things that ought to be performed. They should avoid the one because they are forbidden and do the other because they are commanded of the Lord. By this means a Christian gives testimony of sincere obedience in the sight of God. Augustine also said that they are truly obedient who do not enquire into what sort of thing is commanded but are merely content to know that it is commanded.

2. Set the Glory of God Before You as the Goal of Your Actions

In order that a Christian may set God before him, it is not only required that they consider the will of God as the rule of their actions. They must also consider the glory of God as goal of their actions. This manifests the faithfulness and sincerity of God’s servants. They are those who will obtain their master’s approval in the day of reckoning. A Christian may be said to set the glory of God before them as the end of his actions, when they are so zealously protective of the honour of God, that they will not do anything to dishonour Him. Even though it would bring them the greatest profit and benefit possible they will not do it. Neither will they omit anything by which God should be honoured, even though by doing so they would incur both harm and shame.

In the parable of the talents, they servant respected their master’s honour so much that they gave into his hands both the talents they had received and those they had gained. They left the distribution of their rewards to their master’s discretion. Happy is the Christian who can say with Christ that, in finishing the work which God has given them to do, they have glorified God on earth. They may be well assured, that just as those that dishonour God will come to shame, so those that honour Him will be honoured by Him (). Augustine says, in commenting on John 12:26, that the Father of Christ will honour the servant of Christ with that great honour, that they will be with His Son. This happiness will never fail or fall away.

3. Set the Light of God’s Word and Spirit Before You, to Lead You

Those that set God before them must be led by the light of His Word and Spirit. The Word of God is a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths. It gives light to those that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. David requests the Lord to teach him His ways and to lead him in a right path, because of his enemies. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is the anointing that teaches us all things. He leads us into all truth. This is not to be understood of extraordinary but ordinary revelation. This is when by illumination He makes us understand the true meaning of the written Word of God so that we may flee the evil to be avoided and follow the good which is commanded.

4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You

Those that set God before them must remember God in His attributes of being all-present, all-just and all-powerful. They must consider that God is present everywhere, to take notice both of the inward and outward conduct of all people, whether it is good or evil. Augustine says that God is all eye, to see all things; all hand, to work all things; and all foot, to walk everywhere.

You must likewise remember that the righteous Lord will not allow neither the evil doings of individuals to be unpunished, nor the good doings of individuals to be unrewarded. The Church says in the book of Lamentations, “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled” (Lamentations 1:18). The apostle says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love” (Hebrews 6:10).

Remember also the power of Almighty God. He does whatsoever He wills in heaven, and earth. Indeed, He can do all that He can will, without limitation. He can punish sinners for their iniquity no matter how great they may be and no matter how great a multitude they join with in sin. By His power, God protects His Saints in their greatest danger and difficulty. He comforts and strengthens them in their greatest trouble and calamity and is able to satisfy their desire exceeding abundantly.

Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?

There are three reasons why a Christian should carefully strive to set God before them in this way.

(a) This is the great evidence of God’s people

Spiritual people like David always set God always before them, but the wicked and worldly, like the enemies of David, do not set God before them at all. They live in the world without hope, and without God, and by their conduct they declare to the world that they are devoid of the fear of God. Yet when Christians set God before them, it is evidence of their effectual calling. They have been turned from the power of Satan to God and from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. They are called out of darkness into the marvellous light of Christ.

(b) This is the great happiness of God’s people

Consider the happiness of those who set God before them against the misery of those who do not set God before them. The happiness of the one is that as they set God before them, so He sets them before Him. In those things which are mutually done by God to man and by man to God, the Lord is always the one who begins. If we do our part, we may know for certain that God will do His. There is mutual love between God and His saints, but God begins first. As the apostle John says, “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). And those that love God may know that they are beloved of God. God has already chosen the person for His portion that chooses God for their portion. God seeks us before we can seek Him.

The Lord sets before Himself anyone who sets God before them by doing His will, seeking His honour, following His light and remembering His attributes. He sets them before Him by a high estimation of them; tender and earnest love towards them; and by a fatherly, providential care about them (Isaiah 49:16).

But the misery of those who do not set God before them is correspondingly as great as the happiness of those who do. In a word as they were careless about walking as in His presence while they live, so they will be for ever banished from the presence of God and the glory of His power.

(c) This is the great activity of God’s people

This is required in relation to our living and walking in a spiritual way. Christians must not walk like the Gentiles who do not know God (Ephesians 4:17). Rather they must walk like Zachariah and Elizabeth in all the commandments of God (Luke 1:5-6). This is called walking worthy of the Lord, walking in the Spirit and after the Spirit. It is walking with God, as Enoch did. It is walking before God, as Abraham enjoyed (Genesis 15:1). It is impossible for anyone to walk in this way unless they set God before them. Only by this will they know the path in which they must walk, the way they should walk and the destination towards which they ought to walk. In all these respects we may make conscience of walking in the sight of God by walking in His commandments with a perfect heart. Such walk from strength to strength towards Zion where they will see the Lord of Hosts. They walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, seeking to be fruitful in good works and increase in the knowledge of God.

Conclusion

Skeldie expresses the desire: “May God in His infinite mercy bring all our souls, for the sake of Jesus into this heavenly and holy condition”. This is what we should want for ourselves and for othersfor the glory of God. We need to set God in Christ before us in everything. The engrained habits of virtually forgetting God are not easily broken. They have influenced so much of what we do and think but setting God constantly before us helps to address the problem at its root.

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Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it
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.
7 Feb, 2020

Many believers have at times experienced a prolonged period of being spiritually cast down. It’s different from depression in a medical sense. It has mainly spiritual causes and relates to spiritual things. The delight and joy that they experienced in spiritual things seems almost a distant memory or at best an infrequent reality. Perhaps it is due to the inroads of sin and guilt or a weakened sense of assurance. Or it may be in relation to afflictions and sorrows that we or the Church experience. Elijah and David are prominent examples of this in Scripture. We need to understand why it takes hold and how, by God’s grace, the cast down can be lifted up again.

Perhaps the most well known statement of spiritual depression in Scripture is David’s cry of dejection in Psalm 42:11. David was mourning his enforced absence from God’s public worship (Psalm 42:2-4). He was cast down with a sense of the sin he had committed against God its effects. He felt a sense of an absence of God’s love and favour (Psalm 42:9). He also laments oppression by the enemies of God’s people (Psalm 42:4). He was more grieved by sin and the blasphemies against God (Psalm 42: 3 and 10). No doubt the activity of the evil one was in it too.

Christopher Love notes that in speaking to his soul David is reproving himself (Psalm 42:11). In asking the question he finds the reasons for being cast down in himself rather than elsewhere. He was in trouble because of persecution from wicked men and sorrows about the state of the Church of God. But he says to his soul, why are you casting yourself down? He is speaking to his soul about its troubling thoughts rather than listening to them. There may be many other factors in being spiritually cast down but sometimes we ourselves are part of the causes.

Spiritual depression is not the same as clinical depression and other related illnesses. It is related to spiritual things and has spiritual causes. Some connection where people are prone to clinical depression or similar ailments is, however, possible.

Like other puritans Love understands the physical factors that accompany spiritual depression. There can be physical causes that are companions of troubles of conscience, doubts, and spiritual distress. There is such a natural connection between the soul and the body, that lack of health in the one, causes trouble in the other. If there is a natural tendency to despondency, there will be trouble in the soul that is experiencing trouble of mind.

Love preached seventeen spiritually beneficial sermons on Psalm 42:11. In this updated extract, we can draw from this rich biblical counsel. He addresses the helpless condition that those in a state of spiritual depression often find themselves.

In emphasising that there are things that we can actively address, he is not promoting an unspiritual and legalistic dependence on our own works. Everything depends on grace and the working of the Holy Spirit but there are means that God has appointed for us to use in seeking more grace and the blessing of the Holy Spirit.

1. Causes of Spiritual Depression

(a) Cherishing sin in the heart. Nothing in the world will keep the soul from the assurance of God’s favour more than indulging the soul in any known sin (Psalm 66:18). While David harboured sin in his heart and hid his sin from God, he lost the shining of Gods’ face on his soul. He prays to God to restore to him the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51:12). Righteousness and peace belong together (Isaiah 48:18; Ezekiel 14:4-5). Those who indulge sin in their heart will have no peace in their conscience. They will not enjoy the smiles and light of God’s face, but the sense of his wrath, much anguish, and sorrow, and perplexity of mind for sin.

(b) Failure to exercise grace. Little activity in grace will produce little evidence of grace. Strong comfort of God’s love goes along with exercising grace (John 14:21). Peace be multiplied If you do not multiply your graces, God will not multiply your peace. if you do withdraw the exercise of your grace, God will withdraw the comforts of your grace.

(c) Laziness in holy duties. If you are a spiritual sluggard who is not willingly performing your duties towards God, (Proverbs 18:9) you can be assured of having enough spiritual poverty in your soul to produce a lack of comfort. When you deny God your obedience, God is perfectly just to deny you the peace and comfort of His grace towards you. Grace is most noticeable in the soul when it is living and active.

(d) Looking for comfort more than grace. Some lack more comfort then they need to. They look more for marks of grace that may tell them what they are, than for commandments which tell them what they should do. When Christians seek privileges more than duty, it is just with God to keep their comfort from them. When Christians seek more to know that they are in a state of grace, rather than to use those means that are prescribed to get grace it may be why God keeps the comforts of the Spirit from them. (The means of grace are the Word, prayer, hearing the Word preached and other ways in which graces like faith, love and hope are strengthened).

2. Causes of Spiritual Depression We Can Remove

(a) Spiritual pride. Pride is the bane of grace and comfort. God resists the proud (James 4:6). The Greek word literally means that He sets Himself in battle array against it. If ever you would regain the certainty and assurance of God’s love, remove pride (Job. 33:17).

(b) Deadness of heart in holy duties. Comfort is diminished when we are less spiritually vigorous and lively in spiritual duties. Little duty, and small comfort go hand in hand. When the affections are dead, the heart constrained in duties, evidences and comfort of grace will be eclipsed. Careless spiritual activities are rewarded by God’s frowns, not His smiles.

(c) Worldly delights. Worldly joys debilitate spiritual joy. They take away the heart (Hosea 4:11). Those who are overwhelmed with worldly delights will never have joy in the Holy Spirit.

(e) Things that grieve the Spirit. Take heed of grieving the Spirit if you wish to have the comfort of the assurance of God’s love (Isaiah 63:10). If you grieve God’s Spirit, He will grieve yours. If you grieve the Spirit, by resisting the way He moves you towards holiness you will never regain the comforting work of the Spirit.

(f) Lack of compassion to others who are troubled in mind. A herd of deer abandon the wounded deer to fend for itself alone. Christians often abandon troubled souls to themselves in this way. They lack compassion and tenderness towards them. Pitying such will help you regain comfort for your own soul.

(g) Lack of fear towards God. If God always displayed smiles, it would breed contempt. God’s majestic sovereignty shows displeasure so as to correct the spirit of carelessness in His people.

(h) Worldly-mindedness. If your hearts are filled with the world you will never enjoy the comfort and assurance of God’s love. A worldly-minded man, can never be strong in assurance.

3. Recovering From Spiritual Depression

(a) Exercise grace constantly. Exercise grace, and it is then with God to give you comfort (2 Peter 1:5). God promises that He will multiply your peace if you increase your grace (Isaiah 32:17; Psalm 119:165; Psalm 50:23). Some Christians who lack assurance spend more time in complaining they lack comfort than they spend in exercising grace (e.g. faith, hope, love, repentance etc).

(b) Keep a clear conscience. This is the way to quieten the guilt of conscience (Job 11:15). Do not indulge the guilt of any known sin.

(c) Remember past experiences of God’s love. This is what David does (Psalm 42:6). Think of old mercies and loving kindnesses. This is the way encourage the heart (Psalm 77: 10-11).

(d) Argue by faith against your feelings. Abraham would never have believed God’s promise, if He had not used arguments of faith against what he felt and saw.

(e) Base your comfort on the unchangeable Covenant. If Christians build their eternal comforts on their changing feelings, their comforts will be up and down, ebbing and flowing; Sometimes their feelings are hot as fire, other times cold as frost. Base comforts on an unchangeable Covenant to regain and attain everlasting comforts.

(f) Seek counsel from others. Ask experienced Christians about your condition. Sometimes it is better to trust the opinions of others than our own.

(g) Never use wrong ways of pacifying the troubles of your mind. Some immerse themselves in wordly delights and affairs. If we are inflamed with a sense of God’s wrath and run to sin, it only increases the heat. It is like someone rubbing themselves with nettles to deal with a bee sting.

(h) Pursue duty more than comfort. Many Christians spend more time in fruitless complaints, that they lack comfort, then in holy endeavours to perform duties. If we spent more time in performing duties than in pursuing comfort, comfort would sooner be gained. When a house is on fire, the urgent work is to put out the fire not enquire how it happened. We are to engage with God not merely complain of a loss of comfort. David cried to God in prayer when He hid His face from him (Psalm 30:7-8).

(i) Spend more time strengthening than doubting grace. Focussing on the threatenings rather than the promises of Scripture will only weaken your comforts than strengthen them. If you cannot find comfort from acting grace, consider your general inclination. Perhaps you cannot pray well, but why are your praying? Is not to get more communion with God and more power against sin?

 

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God is Still a Consuming Fire

God is Still a Consuming Fire

God is Still a Consuming Fire
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.
25 Jan, 2019

Many people are ready to embrace the idea that God is love, if they themselves can define what that means. Perhaps they want it to mean that God affirms them no matter who they are and what they do. Or that God is there for us when we need Him. It fits in well with a therapeutic culture that focuses everything on the self. But it doesn’t fit with the biblical view of God as transcendent and glorious in holiness. It is true that God is love and He is good but God is also holy. He is a God of both mercy and justice. He is described as a consuming fire in the New Testament as well as the Old.

​What does this mean? In both Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29 it speaks of God’s holiness, justice and jealousy for His worship. We ought to worship Him with a deep, spiritual sense of His holiness and greatness. We need grace to approach His worship in the right way. The particular grace mentioned is fear, a spiritual awe and reverence. As is clear in both Deuteronomy 4 and Hebrews 12, this also includes a loving carefulness in relation to God’s worship. We must confine ourselves to the ways He has appointed for us to worship Him (Deuteronomy 4:2; Leviticus 10:1-3; Exodus 20:5). Taking Hebrews 12:29 seriously means recognising both that God is still a consuming fire and that this still requires of us the same reverence and fear.

Robert Traill notes that the Bible frequently says that true religion begins with and is summed up by the fear of God. In this updated extract he draws out the implications of Hebrews 12:29. In the first place he deals with common objections to the idea of fearing God.

 

1. Should We Really Fear God?

There are various false objections against this precious and necessary grace.

(a) Isn’t God All Mercy and Goodness?

The first carries away thousands to destruction; it is the idea that God is all mercy and goodness. It is true that His mercy and goodness are infinite; yet, so is His justice. We will not stop to show why this is mistaken or discuss it further. It is enough that the Holy Spirit declares the awesome majesty of God, in this figurative expression “our God is a consuming fire”.

(b) Isn’t This Just an Old Testament Idea?

Some think that the New Testament does not require the fear and dread of God in the way that the Old Testament did. They draw a contrast between law and love and punishment and mercy. The apostle clearly corrects this mistake in Hebrews 12:18-29. He both compares and identifies the differences between the two eras.  In verse 28 he concludes that all the love and mercy revealed in the gospel must produce worship with fear. He supports this in verse 29.

(c) Doesn’t Salvation Remove Fear?

Others acknowledge that God is still holy and just in Himself. Yet they say that when we are saved and in Christ all such dread and fear is removed. Salvation requires nothing but love, and delight, and familiarity. The Holy Spirit corrects this mistake by declaring, that even “our God,” our covenanted God, is a “consuming fire.” As consuming fire is a dreadful thing, so when God is described in this way we are to take account of His dreadful nature and majesty.

(d) Isn’t this Legalistic?

Some are ready to object that serving God with fear is inconsistent with the boldness in approaching God that His people are privileged to have. Deep heart-reverence and holy awe is not legalistic or the opposite of faith and love. Serving God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear because He is a consuming fire does not imply unbelieving fear.

Sometimes is difficult to be filled with joy and holy fear together; this is due to our weakness. But this does not mean that the two graces are opposed to each other. Sometimes we are indeed called to exercise either reverence or love more than the other. A despondent soul should meditate more on the mercy and love of God to stir itself to faith and love. But a backslidden believer should meditate on God’s holiness, majesty and hatred of sin to stir themselves up to repentance and returning to God. 

 

2. God is a Consuming Fire in Himself

(a) There is an infinite distance between Him and us and every soul that truly considers this must be filled with dread. No one can see God and live.

(b) God is holy in His nature (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Only God is holy (Revelation 15:4). He is of purer eyes than that He can behold iniquity. How then can a sinner not fear?

(c) God is just. He sits on His throne judging right (Psalm 9:4). We are breakers of His law from the womb to the grave. How dreadful is this attribute of God!

(d) God is infinitely faithful and irresistibly powerful in exercising justice. No creature can either by subtlety or strength escape His hand.

 

3. God is a Consuming Fire in His Works

The way that God orders and maintains all creation, and how He accomplishes all His purposes according to His wise decrees should make us tremble. Heaven and hell are fearful things, and should awaken our hearts to greater fear.

Yet how much of His fearful glory is to be seen in His church and ordinances. He is terrible out of His holy places (Psalm 68:35; Genesis 28:17). In His ordinances this consuming fire draws near to us and we to him, though with offers of mercy and salvation. Yet to those who abuse them there is a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries. In prayer, we speak to Him. What fear Abraham, Moses and Jacob express in prayer!

 

4. God is a Consuming Fire in Covenant

Even God in covenant with His own is to be feared (Deuteronomy 28:58). Why is this?

(a) Because they know Him, and none can know Him without fearing Him. It is natural to have a holy fear when God is revealed to us (Job 37:24). Lack of fear shows lack of knowledge.

(b) Because He is still the same God. It is true that His justice satisfied in Christ will never break out against them to destroy them. They can consider all the attributes of God (even the most terrifying) with comfort and delight. Yet all those things in Him which produce fear and reverence are still in our covenanted God.

(c) Because we still have unholiness within us. It is true that there is a change in the state of believers in justification and adoption. A change in their natures has begun through sanctification; yet still they are creatures. And there is still much unholiness in their hearts and lives. All sin in itself is equally hateful to God and contrary to His holy nature. They are still under His holy law and bound to obey it not as the way to life but as a rule of life. They will still be chastised for disobedience.

(d) Because we have experience of being chastised. This was so eminently with David, (Psalm 51:5). The saints fear God’s goodness, love, pardoning and healing mercy (Hosea 3:5, Psalm 130:4).

 

5. We Should Serve Our God with Fear

(a) In Our Lives

Careful walking with God, keeping a watch over the heart and edifying conversation are only theoretical to most Christians. This comes from an ignorance of Him with whom we have to do? How rarely does the power of religion shine in the lives of Christians.

(b) In Our Worship

When many come to pray, they rush into it irreverently as though they were coming to talk to someone just like themselves. How rarely are hearts deeply impressed with the sense of the majesty of the one whom they address. Many listen to sermons as if the purpose was to weigh up the gifts of the speaker or to get more brain-knowledge. Few take heed how they hear. Few come to get a message delivered to them from the living God, and tremble at the Word.  This is due to the lack of a proper fear of God. Many approach the Lord’s Table without proper preparation and so eat unworthily. They do not consider that it is one of the most solemn approaches that the Lord makes to us, and that we make to Him. We would prepare far differently if we feared to take His name in vain in that ordinance.

(c) In Our Hearts

Are you careful to maintain constant communion with God. Do you live as though you were in His sight? Do you take His law for your rule in all your ways? Is godliness no more than being outwardly respectable and attending church? This is a serious mistake. What do you with the convictions of your conscience? Do you quench them or consider them? What do you give your affections to throughout the day? What do you think about first in the morning and last at night? Is it God? How can the fear of God be in us?

 

Conclusion

We must seek to know God more and have deeper views of His majesty. We need to maintain our sense of both His holiness and love together without losing either. Let us meditate on Him more and pray that He will manifest more of His glory to us. This will help stir up this holy fear and reverence within us.

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The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China
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.
12 Dec, 2018

China detained Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church and more than 100 of the church’s members in a raid at the end of 2018. Wang Yi has vocally resisted the Chinese government requirement for all churches to be registered with the government and come under their regulations or be shut down. The purpose is to make sinicise or make all religion conform to the government ideology. Resistance to this is essential for Wang Yi. He  has written: “I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience. In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement”.

​Wang Yi wrote in his defence before he was imprisoned: “I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians”.

These arguments remind us of the principles for which the Covenanters suffered in Scotland and which may yet be needed in more countries than China. The following is from James Stewart’s classic book Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ (1667).

Christ is Head over His Church

Jesus Christ Himself and not the civil government is the author and fountain of Church power and government. The apostle tells us, that Christ and not the civil government is Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22 and 5:13). He not only spiritually communicates inward grace to the members, but
governmental power and direction for the outward regulation of the whole body. How then can the civil government be Head of the Church, or supreme governor in all ecclesiastical matters? Must the Church have two Heads, or a Head above a Head? Let Christ be still Head of the Church. And as such. You will find Him, and not the civil government instituting all Church ordinances for:

  • administration of the Word and Sacraments (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23);
  • excommunication and absolution (Matthew 18:17-18) and all other acts of government and discipline.

You will find Him and not the civil government instituting Church offices. He gave (Ephesians 4:11) and set in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28) apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers etc. And who will dare alter by adding or diminishing? You will find Him and not the civil government authorising these officers to exercise the various acts of the power of order and jurisdiction (Matthew 28:19).  You will find Him and not the civil government equipping these Church officers, with gifts and graces for their work. None go on their own expenses. Can any civil government breathe the Holy Spirit as Christ did on His apostles (John 20:22)? In His name (not the name of the state) they must perform all Church acts. They must assemble (Matthew 18:20); baptise (Matthew 28:19); excommunicate (1 Corinthians 5:4); and do all in His name.

Christ, not the state makes laws absolutely and primarily obliging the Church and Church officers. He is therefore called the lawgiver (Isaiah 33:22; James 4:12). He, and not the civil government will call Church rulers to their final account.  They must give an account (Hebrews 13:17) to their judge who gave them their commission (Isaiah 33:22).

they are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man

In recognition of all this, the apostle Paul acknowledges that the Lord Jesus, and not the civil government gives ministerial power and authority (2 Corinthians 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 13:10). And because of this, they are called the ministers of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:1) and Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) not for the state.  They are His servants and therefore should not be pleasers of man nor of the government (Galatians 1:10).

Thus, Church power and government are distinct from civil government. Jesus Christ and not the state is the author and fountain of that government. Therefore, it evidently follows that it is not subordinate to the civil government.

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