Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

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

We are all buyers and frequently we also seek to sell things. Whether this is part of our work or personal life, we need to consider what Scripture says. It is easy to be drawn into separating matters of faith and finance. Perhaps especially during a time of financial pressures we may be tempted to increase our personal benefit at the expense of others. What can we do to keep integrity in our spending behaviour? According to research done at London Bible College in recent years the pressure to be dishonest is also one of the greatest on Christians working in secular business. Subtle deception and concealment can be ordinary tools of the trade in some places. Taking a stand in that context can mean employment prospects suffer. There are limits to what we can honestly and honourably do in our financial transactions, whether we are buying and selling items or services. 

Such concerns are not new, they are as old as buying and selling themselves. We can learn a great deal therefore for biblical principles on the subject. In this updated extract, Christopher Love sets out some scriptural principles to follow, whether as businesses or individuals. It would be a mistake to avoid having our conscience informed by Scripture in these matters for any reason. No doubt a very great deal more could be said and further qualification, explanation and application is needed but there is much here to prompt our reflection. 

BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES For HONEST Buying

1. Honesty about value. If you are about to buy something, first take heed that you do not talk it down, in order to bring down the price, and get it for less than it is worth. In Solomon’s time, people were so wicked that when they came to the market to buy anything, the buyer would criticise the commodity, saying it was nothing, when it was in fact very good and saleable. Then when the seller was gone, the buyer would boast of what a good bargain he got (Proverbs 20:14).

2. Honesty about what you will pay. If you are prepared to pay a certain sum, do not make protestations that you will give no more than what you have first offered, when you know that afterwards you will give more. It is a very common thing for the buyer to say he will not give a penny more, and for the seller to say he will not take a penny less, and yet in the end both the buyer gives more, and the seller takes less. So this is nothing other than a palpable and downright lie.

3. Honesty about currency. If you know you have counterfeit money about you, or worthless coins (perhaps in a foreign currency), and yet use it to pay for commodities, you sin in doing so – even if you yourself were given it as part of your payment. When Abraham was to buy the field of Ephron the Hittite in Machpelah for a burying place, he said he would give ‘four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant” (Genesis 23:16).

4. Honesty about value. If you attempt to acquire something for less than what you think in your conscience is its due value and worth, this is an open form of oppression. When Abraham was to buy the cave in from Ephron, he said he would give ‘as much money as it is worth’ (Genesis 23:9). Similarly, when David was to buy the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he said, he would buy it at its full value (2 Samuel 24:24).

5. Honesty about debts. If you are already able to pay for what you have bought, do not take a long time to make the payment. There is an excellent saying for this in Proverbs 3:27-28. This text refers to works of mercy, but it is also relevant to buying and selling and trading in the world. If you owe someone money for something, you ought to pay him. Do not let him come day after day for it and go away without it, when you have it by you (2 Kings 4:7). In Scripture it is the badge of a wicked man that he does not pay his debts (Psalm 37:21).

6. Honesty about monopolising. Do not buy up all of a commodity so that it all comes into your own hands alone, if you are intending to sell it at your own, inflated price. This is sheer oppression, destructive to society, and to all trading. Scripture condemns this in Proverbs 11:26. When corn was cheap, they would go and buy all the corn in the country, and then sell none till corn was very dear. It is no sin in itself to engross a commodity in order to sell it the cheaper, but to engross it merely to raise the price is such an oppression that the people shall curse whoever does it.

7. Honesty about mistakes. If the seller has made some mistake or oversight, do not take advantage of them. For example, you might go to a shop to buy so many yards of cloth, and the seller perhaps gives you more than you have paid for, or takes less money than is his due. You should take no advantage of him in such a situation, but restore it again. If you take anything more from him than you bought from him, it is theft; and if you give any less for the commodity than you bargained for, it is theft. When Joseph’s brothers found their money in their sacks again, their father Jacob told them, ‘Go back again and take double money in your hand, and the money that was brought again in the mouth of your sacks, carry it again in your hands, for peradventure it was an oversight’ (Genesis 43:12).

8. Honesty about the Lord’s Day. If it is the Lord’s Day, do not buy anything. It is true, in urgent situations to maintain life either in man or beast, this is lawful, but to buy anything that you can easily go without till Monday, is sinful. ‘And Nehemiah entered into an oath, and the people with him, that if any of the people of the land brought wares, or any victuals to sell on the Sabbath day, that they would not buy it of them’ (Nehemiah 10:31).

9. Honesty If the seller is poor and in need of the money, do not exploit their desperation. It is a great sin in those who know that a poor person needs money, and has to sell his wares otherwise he cannot buy food for his family, and therefore they refuse to buy the commodity unless he will sell it cheaper then he can afford. This is a great oppression (see Leviticus 14:25).

10. Honesty about lawful goods. If something is not fit to be bought or sold, do not buy it. For example, do not buy stolen goods. If you know they are stolen, they must not be bought but restored. As the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the buyer is as bad as the thief. Also, do not buy idolatrous or superstitious things, such as crosses, rosary beads, images, crucifixes, and the like. And do not buy people for slaves, for the Lord reproves this in Amos 2:6 and Deuteronomy 24:7.

Biblical Principles For Honest Selling

1. Honesty in salesmanship. Do not multiply words in selling. When Ephron told Abraham that the piece of land was worth four hundred shekels of silver, Abraham presently gave him that much (Genesis 23:15). God Himself takes upon Him to be a seller. ‘If you think good,’ says God, ‘give me my price; if not, forbear’ (Zechariah 11:12); multiplicity of words is needless.

2. Honesty in trade descriptions. Do not over-praise a commodity, when you know in your conscience that there is a fault in it.

3. Honesty in weights and measures. Do not sell your commodities by false weights or by false measures. This is condemned in Amos 8.5, ‘They make the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsify the balances by deceit’ and also in Proverbs 10:20. The Lord gave a special law for this in Israel (Deuteronomy 25:14-15; see also Micah 6:10).

4. Honesty in bargaining. Make sure, not only that you do not speak falsehoods, but also that you do not speak in an equivocating manner. Commenting on the words, ‘Let no man defraud his brother,’ Luther observes that there are many shopkeepers who will not lie, but they will equivocate. To sell off a commodity a tradesman will offer one person a certain amount for it, and then he will tell the next person that comes that someone offered him so much for it. Or they will say it cost them a certain amount, when maybe they bought other things along with it of a greater value and price, and maybe they had a great deal of time given them to pay for it, whereas the buyer is paying ready money. Equivocating is as bad as lying.

5. Honesty with everyone. In selling a commodity, do not take advantage of the ignorance or naivety of anyone who comes to buy it. If you discern him to be unskilful, treat him better rather than worse. God says, ‘I will punish all those young men that leap on the threshold, which fill their masters’ houses with violence and deceit’ (Zephaniah 1:9). ‘Let no man (says the apostle) go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter, for the Lord is the avenger of all such’ (1 Thessalonians 4:6; see also 2 Peter 2:3).

6. Honesty about quality. Do not debase a commodity from its original worth and goodness, and yet sell it at the full price, as if it were good, just to get the more by it. This the Scripture condemns in Amos 8:6, ‘They sell the refuse of the wheat,’ referring to the practice of those who picked out the best of their wheat, and yet sell the worst at the full price of the best. Likewise in Isaiah 1:22, ‘They mingle wine with water, and dross with silver.’

8. Honesty about the fourth commandment. Do not be so eager to sell your commodities that you cannot content yourselves to sell on the six days of the week, but you must sell on the sabbath day likewise. Do not be like those in Amos 8:5, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over, that we may sell corn, and the sabbath be over, that we may set forth wheat?’ See also Nehemiah 13:15. Many think nothing of selling small trifling things on the sabbath day, but this is a great sin.

9. Honesty about failures. If you are found out to be deceitful in your dealing, do not justify your deceit. Many, if you come to them, and tell them that they sell dearer then their neighbours, will tell you that they do not. Or if you tell them that the commodity you bought from them has some defect, they will say it is as good as they can afford for the price, or something similar. Ephraim is condemned for this in Hosea 12:7-8. ‘Ephraim is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand.’

 

 

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7 Anchors for Stormy Times

7 Anchors for Stormy Times

7 Anchors for Stormy 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.

Everyone acknowledges many varied troubles and considerable volatility at present from inflation to conflicts. At the forefront of our minds is also the devastating effects of a large-scale military conflict with all the catastrophe for the nation involved. But it has wider shockwaves to the whole geopolitical framework we have been used to. A bloody conflict involving a nuclear-armed power could easily develop into something larger. The Church is not exempt from its own trials and troubles from within and without. What if heavier storms are to expected in the future if the Church becomes the target of great opposition? Individual believers also have their times of trial and heavy affliction. Just as some of us have been battered by physical storms we need resources for safety, stability strength to endure whatever. It is found abundantly in the Word of God, here are seven anchors that will help you hold fast when storms arise.

In a sermon on Psalm 140:12-13, the Covenanter Michael Bruce gives us seven anchors from the Scriptures that can keep us stable in stormy times. He notes how at the beginning of Psalm 140 the Psalmist begins with his own particular case and condition, and then considers the wider state and situation of the Church of God. Bruce draws comfort from this, that even in the worst of times, there is always some truth that a Christian may make use of as a firm foundation, they can, as it were, drop down their anchor and fix it on these foundational truths. Psalm 140:12 contains such a truth on which a poor believer may anchor, God will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor. Many a poor person says: “do you not see our cloud growing very dark? Do you not hear the loudness of the wind whistling on all our trees? Do you not see the greatness of our waves so high above our head and will we not be made ship-wreck of them?” No, in the worst of storms and times, we have an anchor to fix on all through the storm.

Bruce identifies seven foundations on which a Christian may fix their anchor. The Psalmist drives his anchor on a sure foundation and fixes on it, it is that the upright will give thanks to God’s name and dwell in His presence (v13). Even though we were kept weeping all our days under the felt sense of many losses, we shall get home to God at length and dwell at last in His presence.

It is a sermon with its own poignancy as it was preached in the Tolbooth prison of Edinburgh while Bruce was incarcerated there in 1668. He had received a sentence of banishment to Virginia and so the trials he speaks of were very real to him. “I know though I should be banished to Virginia, and never see that cause maintained, yet God will maintain it”. The king ordered him to be sent to London where he was then sentenced to be exiled to Tangier, Morocco. While imprisoned in London he continued to preach. His sentence was changed to a place of exile that he preferred and he chose Killinchy Woods where he had been ordained as a minister. He was able to preach here but also travelled to Scotland to preach in the fields. He was “of extraordinary zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls; much given to meditation and secret prayer: a thundering, broken-hearted, and most affecting preacher”.

In the following updated extract, Bruce gives us seven anchors to fix on in time of a storm. They are particularly helpful when we face opposition. Do you know these seven anchors? There are also ten brief things that we need to remember in our trials and difficulties.

1. There is a Reward for the Righteous

The first foundation on which I will drop my anchor is in Psalm 58:11, that there is a reward for the righteous and God is the judge of the earth. The men of the world say, “What will you get now, by sticking to a work of reformation? We will get as much for deformation, as you will get for reformation, we will get as much for dishonesty as you will get for honesty. We will get as much for perjury as you will get for covenant-keeping”. Yes but if they get it, they get vengeance with it, if you get a heavy and full purse for perjury and arresting honest men you will get the heavy wrath of GOD, to weigh it down with. If we have the light purse, we have God’s blessing with it. Judge which is best a light and empty purse with God’s blessing or a heavy and full purse and God’s curse with it.

This is one truth we will fix on, there is a reward for the righteous, God is the judge of the earth. What do you think of the reward we have received from the Council [government] for the work of our ministry? They have sentenced us with banishment, that is our reward from them, yes but we will get another reward from our Master: there is a reward for the righteous. We will get another reward from GOD, than what we have received from the [governing] Council of Scotland, we will get another judge of our cases than the Council after they have judged us. We will get another that will judge us according to the highest rule of rectitude and whose judgment is just. We will have another judgment day with another judge for all that has come and gone, there we fix.

2. Christ Has Overcome the World

Christ says, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and there we fix. Our enemies are a defeated company. Let them agree as much together as they like in taking the blood of the saints and sentencing us with banishment, they are merely a defeated enemy.

3. Christ Was Hated by the World Too

If the world hates you, Christ says, “it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master” (Matthew 10:25). He is not above Him but the more afflictions you bear, the more you are like your Master. He was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. If the world shoots the artillery of hatred at us, it shot it at Christ before, therefore the brunt of it is broken before it comes to us. The world hates us and casts us out but it dealt in the same way with Christ before it dealt with us.

4. God is Greater than the Greatest Troubles

The Lord is mightier than the billows of all our troubles (Psalm 93:4). The poor soul may rest on that in the greatest of troubles. You may say, “my trouble makes much noise; it comes upon me wave upon wave, like the billows of the sea”. But however great they may be you can say, “God is mightier by far”, and so you may slip in under the shelter of your Master and until the calamities have passed over.

5. The Lord Will Be With Us

The Lord will be with us while we are with Him (2 Chronicles 15:2). We fear the Lord may not be with us in our trouble but we are to make sure our duty and be assured that God will do His part. Some say they do not know if God will own His work and people in Scotland anymore. But even though few will own His work and cause yet according to His promise, He will be with them while they are with Him. If He is with us, the fire will not burn us, and if He is with us the water will not drown us. If He is with you a fiery furnace will be a palace, and a lion’s den a place of wonders. What do you want more than that?

6. The Lord Will Keep Us in Trouble

When everything seems to be trodden and beaten down by a flood of wickedness and persecution go to Revelation 3:10. O what a noble promise. The worst prison is a heart in bondage to sin, the wrath of God and an evil conscience. As long as I lack these three, have the peace of God and a good Conscience, I will never have a bad prison put me where they like. Though we have received the sentence of bondage from man, yet we have received the sentence of life and liberty from our Master. There is no death but only life here, there is no bondage but only liberty here.

7. Christ is Our Shelter

There is a seventh anchorage on which we may fix and cast our anchor. It is in Isaiah 33:2 and speaks of the shadow of a great rock in Christ. The Christian is well for evermore who is fixed on some word of Scripture in the day of their affliction. Have you got any words of the Bible to hang on yet? When all the world looks down on us, words of the Bible will look up on us, when all the World frowns on us, words of the Bible will smile on us.

Conclusion

Bruce preached another sermon on these verses at the same time. In it he speaks of ten things we must know in a time of trouble.
(1) God exercises lovingkindness in the earth (Jeremiah 9:24). This is one thing we must know, and never let the impression of it wear off our soul. Whatever troubles God’s people experience on the earth, God exercises lovingkindness towards them.
(2) God’s counsel stands forever, and He brings the counsel of the heathen to nothing (Psalm 33:10-11). When we have received our sentence from the world, we will appeal to another court above them which will see it righted. It is His counsel that stands forever, and the thoughts of His heart to all generations.
(3) I have committed my soul and everything to God (2 Timothy 1:12). I can commit all to God, and He will give me a good account of all in that day.
(4) God is Governor of the world not men (Daniel 4:38).
(5) Not one jot or tittle of God’s word will pass away until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). I know that I must obey whatever has been commanded, and I know that whatever He has threatened on His enemies will be accomplished. Whatever He has promised to His friends will be made good.
(6) The Lord will not remove His lovingkindness from us (Psalm 89:33). And since I know that, why should I be discouraged and cast down?
(7) All His paths are mercy and truth to those that keep His testimonies (Psalm 25:10). If I am a keeper of His covenant, my Master will put mercy and truth into all His dealings with me, and that will sweeten everything.
(8) There is faithfulness in every affliction (Psalm 119:75). There is as much faithfulness in every rod that laid on my back as there is in every experience of comfort.
(9) The Lord is God and not man; therefore, we shall not die but live. He has ordained us for correction, but not for destruction (see Habakkuk 1:12).
(10) Christ is refining His people (Malachi 3:3). Christ sits as refiner so that we may offer unto Him the sacrifice of righteousness.

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Is There Encouragement in Times of Decline?

Is There Encouragement in Times of Decline?

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

We all know that things are not as they used to be in society and the church. We have witnessed a moral and spiritual decline. Pews have emptied and a basic understanding of Christian truth and values has ebbed away. And in all honesty, the lives and spiritual temperature of believers are not as they should be either. How should we respond? Do we chase and follow the culture whatever that means? Some are in denial partial or otherwise, they point to exceptions that prove the rule. True, people may still be religious and curious, and it is also fair to say that the decline is not universal within the church. Perhaps nominal, cultural Christianity is a liability as much as a benefit and it is better if profession has a cost attached to it. Yet we all know things are not what they should be. Others feel unable to do much more than lament in paralysis what we have lost while awaiting the inevitable. Another response is paranoia where the threat of further decline lurks behind everything no matter how promising. Clearly the response we need is one of faith. But could there be one of encouragement too that is not wishful thinking or denial but takes full account of evident decline?

Robert Fleming wrestled with this question in seeking to discern the times with wisdom. He puts it in the following terms. What can the righteous do when there is growing darkness coming upon the Church and the very foundation is likely to be shaken? In such a time the hearts of many get so far down that they are likely to loose their hands from their duty too and give up. It is no small thing to manage matters well in such a time of trial for the Church. In such a sharp storm we need much ballast. But we know that Scripture is near, and this remains a good and safe guide for our conduct. It shows us how to steer our course in the darkest night. Scripture makes it clear that one thing is our great duty in such a time. We must hold fast to our ways and seek to grow stronger and stronger in the way of righteousness despite all the difficulties we encounter (Job 17:9). In the following updated extract Fleming shows how to use Scripture for our encouragement in times of decline.

1. Encouragement from God’s Eternal Counsel

All is well and nothing can go wrong whilst the foundation of God (His eternal counsel) abides sure (see 2 Timothy 2:19). Though other foundations may be shaken, the godly man has a safe anchor here in a stormy day. His great eternal concern is beyond being endangered even though more than an immortal soul were at stake. His heaven is sure even though things on the earth seem most uncertain. Must it not therefore be well with the Church too? Even if it was sinking into the grave the Mediator will bring it up again. The evil eye and cursing of mere man cannot damage or destroy that possession which God has blessed (Numbers 23:23).

2. Encouragement from God’s Self-Attesting Word

Does the Christian not have such a clear knowledge of the truth and the great benefit of godliness that it needs no testimony from others or motivation from their example? It witnesses its reality to those to whom it commends itself. It does this even though it should be opposed by the whole generation amongst whom they live. A true Christian must know the truth and be so established that they can be supported despite the greatest possible falling away of others. This is possible even though no one else in the whole world were to walk in that way and they were left alone. There is such a great and certain revelation of the truth to be known by the soul that they can say with Joshua, “as for me I will serve the Lord.” O to see a generation of men with this mettle. Those who with resolution would forsake all others to follow and serve the Lord without company if necessary.

3. Encouragement from God’s Providence

We have grounds for being established in the darkest time when we can strengthen ourselves by making best use of the things that happen. Even matters that shake everything most can strengthen their hand in the way of the Lord when many stumble at such providential dealings. It is strange, to observe what questions and accusations some have concerning the truth on the basis of things which in their conscience they must admit are a convincing witness to it.

4. Encouragement Even if the Number of Godly People Declines

We should not question the truth because the number of those who follow it and are seriously pursuing godliness seems so small. We must either abandon Scripture or admit that the way to life is indeed narrow and few enter it. The small convoy the truth has in the world is an explicit verification of it. Is there the least warrant to make the choice of the multitude a test of the way of the Lord? We can certainly show to the contrary that the Lord’s followers are a select number, chosen out of the world. Otherwise, the Scripture would not be fulfilled. The falling away from the truth of many guarantees it no less than that of others coming to embrace it. The excellent way of holiness is better and more clearly known by the fact that it is everywhere spoken against.

5. Encouragement Even Though Godliness is Despised

The fact that such great contempt and reproach accompanies the truth and practice of godliness in our day should not prejudice against it. Rather it should be a further reason to strengthening the Christian in holding on in their way. This is because this has been foretold, it is only what the most excellent of the earth have had to deal with in their time. They were esteemed as the filth and offscouring of the world. The truth has not lacked such an assault in any generation nor has it lacked a triumph over such attacks. The greatest reproacher has sometime been forced to make a retraction concerning what he scoffed at. When God comes near in judgment the proud change the way they speak especially when faced with the dreadful appearance of death. But this also witnesses what a marvellous thing true religion is. It loses no weight with those who know it when it comes under the greatest cloud of detraction and contempt: For Christ is still precious then and His way desirable to those who believe.

6. Encouragement Even Though Wickedness Prospers

The fact that the sentence is not speedily executed against an evil course of action makes the world more desperately wicked. But is not this also a seal and confirmation of the truth? It is grounds for being established in the way of the Lord since it verifies what Scripture says (Ecclesiastes 8:11). We may see that a short reprieve from punishment is no pardon nor acquittal whilst sin to a later reckoning. Judgment deferred, when it is accompanied by hardening threatens greater judgment than a quick and immediate response. This shows that the judgment will be the greater when it comes. In fact, if this did not happen, that the world takes such advantage in abusing delayed judgment, it might make us question the truth, since not one syllable of it can fall to the ground but all must be fulfilled.

7. Encouragement Despite Ungodliness Within the Church

The great abounding of ungodliness within the Church is an undeniable seal to the verity of the Scriptures and should help the godly man hold on in his way. This is because it is unanswerably clear that there could be no darkness if there were not such a thing as light. Folly cannot exist if there were no wisdom. In the same way, excellent holiness is evidently made known by its opposite, which it could not have if it were not most real itself.

8. Encouragement Even Though Error Prevails

The truth is greatly entangled in a confusion of contrary doctrines and unceasingly pursued by error. It is attacked by those adversaries who in every age seek to darken it. But this can be no grounds for prejudice against the truth or wavering. It should strengthen the godly in their way and help them to grow stronger when they have Scripture fulfilled so explicitly before their eyes. The Lord has made His way plain, nor does that blessed record of truth give anyone grounds to turn aside to crooked paths. Men themselves created the clouds that tend to darken the truth. The truth is in all ages surrounded by error, which (when there is any brighter revelation of it) breaks out like a thick fog though they can never unite any more than gold and clay can. It is clear that it is inconceivable that error could exist if the truth did not have a certainty and real being. It serves to aid its further triumph. People should pursue earnestly a solid persuasion of the truth of Scripture so that their souls come under the power and authority of the truth as the word and testimony of the living God. This would prove to be a more effectual cure to the dreadful disease of error in the Church than all the debates of the time though they also have a special use.

Here are some further ways in which this serves to confirm the truth.
(a) No error or false doctrine assaults the Church which is not opposed and predicted in Scripture. The Word is written and directed in a special way to every period of the Church and especially suited also to all later trials and assaults. It was written in such a way by He who knew and foresaw what opposition His truth would encounter in later times. There is no poison or corruption in doctrine which infests the Church which does not have its proper antidote provided in Scripture.
(b) Even the astonishing depth and power of error and delusion exactly confirms the testimony of Scripture thence most exactly confirmed (2 Peter 2:17). It is astonished to see how people are turned mad by to embrace the most absurd notions. We see how tenacious and violent they are in it even when silenced with the clearest manifestations of the truth. It is strong delusion and deception (2 Thessalonians 2:12).

Conclusion

Encouragement despite decline is not fantasy, it considers the reality of the situation. But when we see things in stark relief, we are able to see the glory of God and His truth in a clearer way. Our trust is not in our own resources or of those around us but in the one who never fails. It is not a way to pretend all is fine when it is not, rather it is to focus on our only hope. He has placed in these circumstances for a reason. This gives strength and motivation to do all we can while we can for His glory.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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