The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

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

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

He was under no obligation

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

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

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

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

He was involved in drawing up the agreement

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

(1) Designating a person to do this work

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

(2) Equipping that person to do the work

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

(3) Calling the person who had been designated

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

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

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

(5) His mission

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

He willingly consented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

When knowledge misses the point

When knowledge misses the point

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking knowledge for its own sake

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

Avoiding knowledge of the most important things

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

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

Prioritising peripheral points

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

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

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

Correlating our zeal with spiritual value

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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

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

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

My very worthy and dear brother,

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

God’s way of working

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

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

Our way of persevering

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

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

Our escape from the labyrinth of crosses and comforts

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

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

God’s spiritual gold worth working for

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

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

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

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



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation

Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation

Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation
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.

John Welsh was in real earnest when he pled with his hearers and urged them fervently to unite with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith. The text of his sermon was Isaiah’s description of the Saviour suffering, bleeding, dying for sinners. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This is not a Saviour to despise – this is the glorious Redeemer conquering sin and death by suffering and dying. The only hope of a sinner is to embrace Him by faith on account of His work on the cross. The following updated extract from John Welsh’s sermon, where he draws out the urgency of believing in Christ for salvation and the many incentives we have for doing so.

How should we receive Christ?

What way we are to close with a suffering Christ?

First, you must do it timeously. You must close with him instantly. At this very moment you must close with him. You must not stop to ponder what He has done for you, and what He has suffered for you, and how that is that you are made partakers of the benefits that He has purchased by His sufferings.

Secondly, you must close with Him deliberately. You may not do it in a sudden fit. A sudden dash at it will not do the turn. It must be a resolved business, after serious deliberation. So you must do it both instantly and advisedly, and the reason is, because I know that if you do not do it resolutely and deliberately, you are taking the best way to fall back again, and to turn your backs on Him when you meet with the cross.

Thirdly, as you must close with Christ deliberately, so you must not take him by halfs. You must take all Christ, as He offers Himself. He makes offer of Himself to be a king, and to be a priest, and to be a prophet, and you must take him for justification, and for sanctification. You must take him for a physician, and for a husband, to be a guide, to be a saviour and to be a redeemer – to be all things that you stand in need of.

And then, fourthly, you must close with Him cheerfully. You must close with whole Christ, with your whole soul. The whole soul must give its consent. You must not close with Him with your conscience only, and with your affections only, but you must close with Him with your whole soul.

On what terms should we embrace Christ?

And then the next thing is the terms upon which you are called to close with Him. I shall give you these two or three words that set out the terms.

The first you will see in Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

You see another in Hosea 3:3: “Thou shalt abide for me for many days: thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another: so also will I be for thee.” You must abide for Him for many days; you must not turn to other lovers, but you must say that you are wedded to Him as your husband, and you must prefer Him above all others.

And then thirdly, you must close with His cross. If you are going to close with Him, you must take Him and His cross. O sirs! You must take Him and His cross. If any resolve to close with Him, you must also resolve to take Him with His cross, and to follow Him whithersoever He goeth, and to sell all, that you may follow Him. These are the terms in Psalm 45:10: “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thy own people, and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty.”

What are some motives for uniting with Christ?

The next thing that I am to speak to is the motives which we want you to be pressed with to close with Christ.

To receive peace and healing

Maybe this would be a reason to move you to close with him – the great benefits that He has purchased to those who will close with Him, i.e., both peace and healing.

If this does not prevail with you, I don’t know what will. O sirs, shall I go away and leave you this day? Dear friends, I do not leave you until I have pressed on you these motives to close with Jesus Christ. I long to bring you to close with Him, for you shall get both peace and healing in time, and peace after time.

You will get peace with God, and peace with your own consciences. You will get peace to your own souls, perfect peace. That one shall be kept in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon Him, and why? Because He has purchased that to those who close with him.

Poor backslidden sinners, who are ashamed of your backslidings, and hard hearted sinners, who are ashamed of your hard heartedness, will you come to Him? Will you close with Jesus Christ, and take what He has purchased with these wounds? If you would come and close with Him ye shall get healing.

To avoid being rebels against God

Here is another motive. As you would not want to be found traitors and rebels against the great God of heaven, you must close with Christ on pain of rebellion. “This is his command, that ye believe on the only begotten Son of God.” He commands, and therefore we command and charge you in His name, to close with Jesus Christ, on pain of eternal damnation, on pain of being found disobeyers of the gospel, and on pain of all the punishments that shall otherwise come upon you.

To give satisfaction to Christ

Close with Him, also, because He is a God who is greatly satisfied to have the benefits that He has purchased applied to sinners. He is greatly satisfied to have sinners making application of these benefits by closing with Him. If you want to give Him satisfaction for His benefits, and if you care about pleasing Him who is offering them, this is the way to satisfy Him, to close with Him.

To be responsive to all the calls you are getting

Many things call you to close with Him. You are called by your frequent sick-beds, whether sickness in your own persons, or sickness in your families. Also plenty other things are calling you too. The mercies of God are calling you. The judgements of God are calling you, and the torments of hell. You own unbelieving, sinful hearts are calling you, and your backslidden hearts. What then? Will you not give up your lusts and close with Him, and embrace Him? The angels are calling you, for they rejoice at the conversion of one soul. And you have the devil by all his temptations calling you. You have all these many calls to close with this suffering Lord Jesus Christ.

To be welcomed by Him

Why else should you close with Him? Because He takes it as a great proof of your sincerity, even when once you begin to say, “My Lord and my God.”

To honour the blood of the covenant

Close with Him then, as you do not want to be found guilty of trampling underfoot the blood of the covenant, and counting it an unholy thing. It is the very blood by which sinners are to be saved.



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Stepping towards assurance

Stepping towards assurance

Stepping towards assurance
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.

Jesus once raised the alarming possibility that some people who claim to be on good terms with Him are actually complete strangers to Him. We do not want to be in the position of thinking we have a relationship with God when in reality it is only one-sided, not reciprocated on His side. But David’s confidence was not misplaced when he said, “God hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure …” (2 Samuel 23:5). How does the Holy Spirit lead us to have an equally well-grounded assurance that we are one of the Lord’s people? In the following updated extract, Alexander Wedderburn identifies some of the steps that the Holy Spirit takes with us.

What is the way and method by which Christians can be able to say, “The Lord hath made with me an everlasting covenant”? How does the Spirit bring them to this?

I will offer these steps by which the Spirit customarily brings the elect to affirm it as confidently as David does, in fact when he was dying, which was not time to dissemble. How does the Spirit bring the elect to this ground of assurance, to be able to affirm that God has made the covenant with them?

I confess, it’s a great privilege, and if it is your privilege, you have a great charter – the promises of this life, and of that which is to come. A little time will show this to be no fancy, but something surer than the covenant with the sun and the moon.

The Holy Spirit removes self-confidence

Ordinarily before the Holy Spirit brings the Lord’s people up to be assured that the Lord has made a covenant with them, He takes down their natural assurance. It’s like someone who has to build on an old foundation, and finds it rotten, and thinks it best to take it down to the bottom before he can build the new foundation.

Often in the beginning of the Spirit’s working, a person can readily give no account of the Spirit’s working, neither what He has done with the old foundation, nor the new. If I ask you your case, you can readily give no account. You dare not build on the old foundation, and you dare not say that you have a new work. This is very frequently a step in the way in which the Spirit brings the soul to say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” They can neither build on the old ground, nor dare they say they have a new ground. This ordinarily has a tendency to clarify that someone does have a share in the covenant. They don’t know what to say, they are so confused, the Spirit has taken away the old ground, but for all they know, the Spirit has not yet laid any new foundation. That case looks likely to be the beginning, which will come to some day in the week when you will say, “The Lord hath made with me an everlasting covenant.”

The Holy Spirit assists ordinary diligence

Where the Spirit is leading, so as to clarify that someone is in a personal covenant with God, ordinarily He prompts them to duty, and assists all diligence.

We are not to expect assurance with raptures of joy and consolation and delight in God. Many a time we are like the Syrian leper who said, “I thought he would have come out, and called on his God, and laid his hand on the place!” We think that, except we get a remarkable elevation of peace and joy in prayer, we can never have peace. But we must not limit the Lord. If He takes that way, all well and good. But the ordinary way He uses is simply that He helps us at prayer, and stirs us up to delight in Him. Or another time, He withdraws Himself, and makes the desertion your burden; for the complaint at His absence may be as sweet a mark as the pleasure of His presence; the heart that complains of His absence may have their assurance confirmed, as well those who enjoy His presence.

Now when the Holy Spirit has pulled down the old rotten wall (– although possibly He has not yet brought the new structure above ground), yet He is assisting you in prayer, in believing, in repentance, in mortification of lusts – then He is about to bring you to say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” It’s near the break of the day, it’s not far from the dawn. He who has helped you to diligence is not far from bringing your consolation. Even though it may seem to be the darkest time of the night, yet if the Spirit is helping you at duty, and bearing you up in your situation, the day is near breaking with you.

The Holy Spirit gives recognisable characteristics

The Spirit also guides us to assurance by giving us true marks that God has made a covenant with us. A person may say, “I have made the covenant with Him, and have vowed and promised and subscribed with my hand, but how do I know if He has made a covenant with me?” Here I shall enquire what the sure marks are, by which an individual may analyse whether God has made the covenant particularly with them.

The business is not so difficult to know, if you are diligent, and not a hypocrite, playing the cheat in your religion, but conforming your heart to the gospel, and wrestling with all the nonconformities of your heart. I have searched the opinions of many, how to come to reciprocal marks, i.e., how to know if He has made a covenant with us when we think we have made a covenant with Him. There have been so many fine distinctions and strong objections raised about these marks, that theologians add in so many restrictions and limitations that it’s difficult to give a reciprocal mark on which a Christian may rest. However, I will offer you the three things on which I lay the greatest weight myself.

Habitual preference for Christ’s priorities

Richard Baxter has often repeated this mark: a habitual preferring of Christ’s interests to the interests of the flesh. That is indeed a great mark that God has made a covenant with you, when you habitually prefer Christ’s interests to all the interests of the flesh.

To elaborate.

When God enters into covenant with a person, they take up sin as an enemy. They hate it as an enemy. They have joined in league with the opposing forces. They identify sin, especially presumptuous sin, as an enemy, and treat it accordingly. They avoid any company that may bring temptations to it, for they have made a league with its greatest enemy, Christ. Shortly after Paul became a convert, he says, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” He was angry at the very existence of sin, and could not tolerate even the smell of it, whatever the sin may be – not only presumptuous and gross sins and neglects of duty. If you have entered into covenant with God, you have broken the covenant with death and hell. It gives you good ground to say, “The Lord has made a covenant with me,” if you take up sin as an enemy, and deal with it accordingly.

Also, the soul goes against sin as an enemy unitedly. The understanding says, “I should leave this sin.” The conscience says, “I will leave this sin.” The will and affections say, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity, for I have kept the commandments of my God.” They turn that sin out of doors. If your understanding, will, conscience and affections unite against sin as an enemy, you may be sure you can say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” The bargain must be driven by both parties. So if you have grown complacent, and neglect duty, and treat sin as a friend, perhaps you may say, “I have made a covenant with the Lord,” but you cannot say, “The Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant.”

Pursuit of holiness

Those who have made a personal covenant with the Lord, and He with them, have a second mark – they follow the design of the covenant, which is holiness. “Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1).

Therefore, look to the holiness of your heart and life. Someone may make the claim, “I am holy in my desires, and holy in my delights, I have a holy joy, and a holy peace,” but if they do not have a holy walk, that person cannot readily say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” He may have made a covenant with God, but he cannot say, “God hath made a covenant with me.”

Besides, not only must there be holiness be in the life and in the heart, but we must be careful to prefer the design of the covenant to all other things. What if the Lord was to give you the offer that He made to Solomon at Gibeon, “Ask of me riches, or honour (and the many things He named), and I will give it to thee”? As Solomon preferred wisdom to them all, so someone who is in covenant with God would prefer holiness to anything that God could offer.

It’s worth noticing Psalm 119:111: “Thy testimonies have I chosen as an heritage for ever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” What did he choose? God’s “testimonies,” which is a general word. It’s not only “Thy promises,” but “Thy testimonies,” which includes God’s commands. And what did he choose them for? “My heritage.” Why did he choose them? “For they are the rejoicing of my heart.” “Whatever I encounter, I get no true joy from it, and so I have chosen God’s testimonies; it is exclusively God’s testimonies that rejoice my heart.”

So the way to ascertain whether God has made the covenant with you, is, if you have come to see sin as the enemy, and deal with it accordingly, and if you have taken holiness, not only in your heart and life, but as your choice for your heritage, because it rejoices your heart.

Experience of covenant blessings

Thirdly, you may know if God has made the covenant with you, by the fact that He accomplishes the covenant in your experience.

If He has begun to fulfil the covenant, then certainly He has made the covenant with you. Experience is a notable ratification of the promise. Those who believe have a witness within them that Christ is the Son of God – they have the Spirit within them, and none can send the Spirit but the Son of God. Take a view of the promises, and sort them, so that you may go to some specific promise when you encounter challenges, or come into deadness and desertion. It’s a dreadful thing when all the Bible is alike to us, and when we do not have some passages of the Bible that we may say of them, “These are my scriptures.”

Go and charge your heart and conscience, “See thou tell me nothing but the truth.” If these marks do not correspond with your characteristics, then whatever you say of making a covenant with God, I defy you to say, “God hath made a covenant with me.”



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Discerning a call to secular service

Discerning a call to secular service

Discerning a call to secular service
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.

There are various resources which can be used by those who are wondering whether they have a call to preach. Perhaps less is available for those who are discerning that they do not have a call to the gospel ministry. It can sometimes seem as though, if a young man has a pressing desire to serve the Lord, the only way to do this is to preach. However we still need to recognise the validity and the value of secular callings and the work that can be done for the Lord outside of the gospel ministry.
Someone who initially struggled to recognise their calling was Archibald Johnston of Wariston. A gifted young lawyer who desperately longed to devote his whole life (and death) to the Lord’s service, he wrestled earnestly with the problem of whether he was being called to the gospel ministry or to continue in the legal field. He kept a detailed diary of his spiritual and psychological turmoils, including how he came to the clear view that his calling was not the gospel ministry. The various aspects of his decision-making process are still appropriate today, as can be seen from the following updated extracts from his diary for August 1633. Setting aside time for prayer and fasting, he coordinated the advice of wise friends, helpful contemporary writers, and the teaching of Scripture in his analysis of his own inclinations and gifts and the requirements of a gospel minister. Wariston went on to have a stellar career in law and politics, making huge contributions to the good of the Scottish church. In the end he was executed by hanging for remaining true to his principles.

My brother-in-law exhorted me to settle my resolutions concerning my calling, and gave me reasons to continue in what I had begun, letting me see my impatience for catechising on the one part, and on the other part the possiblity of serving God and doing good as an advocate.


On Monday, after praising and praying, I resolved to keep a private fast to God all this week for my deliverance from my troubles, fears and perplexities, and for God assisting me against temptation and directing me in my confusions, chiefly concerning my calling. In this I prayed the Lord of heaven that He would direct me in choosing my calling, and bless me in what He made me to choose, and enable me in and by it to glorify Him, edify His servants and my friends, and the poor people, and to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. (Lord, hear and direct for Christ’s sake!) I remembered how last Saturday night the Psalm which happened to be read was Psalm 127, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it,” and I applied this to my calling.


On Thursday I heard Rev Henry Rollock preach on Genesis 2:2, where he argued that we should imitate God’s example and rest on the Sabbath day, “but,” he said, “it is most commendable to labour in our particular calling all the week.”

After the sermon I looked at William Perkins’s treatise on Callings (having first prayed to God to direct me and settle me in my calling, and reiterating all my vows to Him) [Perkins, A Treatise of the Vocations or Callings of Men (1603)]. When I read Perkins, and finding my mind much settled by it, I resolved to follow his rules of choosing a calling, and to examine myself by his signs. Perkins directs us to examine what calling God calls us to, 1st, by our affection and inclination, and 2nd, by our gifts.

Then I spent all afternoon testing by both tests whether I should apply myself to the ministry or to law.

First, I found that I truly respected and honoured more in my mind the ministry than law, but that my affection and resolution constantly carried me to the law. This was partly because I saw that my mind could not be bent to religious exercises constantly, but fainted if it was not sometimes diverted to secular things, and partly also because I did not dare to take on the burden of more souls than my own – for I found it genuinely difficult for my own soul alone to work out its salvation in fear and trembling. So I found that my inclination was always to serve God in this, fearing lest I would be diverted from it to something else.

Secondly, I found my gifts not so fitted for the ministry as for law. My gift is dialectic rather than didactic – fitter for disputing pro and contra than for teaching solid grounds. Also neither my invention, judgment nor memory was in favour of handling such deep mysteries. Again, in the judgment of all, I have no gift for speaking, and would have no utterance at all in preaching. I was never a good linguist, either in Scots, French or Latin. However, the main point of the calling to the ministry lies in catechising, and this I am utterly incapable of, due to my natural hastiness, crossness and impatience.

As for law. My affection. My continual resolution since my childhood. My plying of my studies to that end. The manifold opportunities of making progress in it. My gifts being disputative, and therefore naturally fitting me for it. Also, chiefly, the warrant of the apostle, commanding me to remain in the calling in which I was called (1 Corinthians 7:20); the commentators Bolton, Pareus, and Perkins on that text all advise against an unnecessary or rash change of calling.

All of this greatly settled my mind, and made me resolve that, having craved God’s direction in my choice and then His blessing on my choice, I would fall to my book next week.

My resolution was confirmed by reading Genesis 3:19 (“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread …”) and Matthew 25 (about the servants who received the talents). Also Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter?” from which Perkins says that Christ used carpentry as His particular calling, and Exodus 20, “Six days shalt thou labour,” which according to Perkins is a command. Also 1 Corinthians 12:28, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, gifts of healings, helps of governments.” Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Colossians 3:22, “Servants, obey in all things your masters, and, whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not unto men, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance, for ye serve the Lord Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. Now them that work not at all, but are busybodies, we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.”

My mind was strongly prompted by these passages to be settled in a calling, and was then confirmed in my first resolution by Perkins’ rules of examination, but especially by 1 Corinthians 7:20, and I blessed God heartily for settling my mind so well.


I remembered how I had presented to God as my greatest request that He would be well-pleased to settle me in a particular calling, in which I could glorify Him, edify His servants, and work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. This made me confident of the general principle that assuredly God would bless me in my calling. I also remembered how, having craved God’s direction concerning my choice of a calling, I got the same passage, 1 Corinthians 7:20, brought to my memory in my prayer as an answer.

Also, God answered all the objections that I could bring against my calling to law. The first objection was that God seemed to thwart me in the study of this calling. Answer: It was because I had not till now sought God’s direction and blessing so urgently. Now, after being so urgent with God, I can say with David, “The Lord hath delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the jaws of the bear, he will deliver me also out of the hand of this Philistine.” So the Lord who protected me in my travels [to France] and directed me in my marriage, will bless me also in my choosing and in my calling. All the more so, since on the one hand what I am praying for now tends more to His glory and the good of His servants and my salvation, and on the other hand the manner of my praying is [by His help] more humble, more frequent, and more fervent than before.

My second objection was that I would shame myself by something I said. Answer: That would be to distrust God’s assistance, which He will not refuse to any who truly desires it, not only in divine discourses, but also secular discourses tending to His glory and the good of the commonwealth.

Thirdly, I had a doubt about the distractions associated with law. Answer: My devotion, not being continually bent [towards spiritual things] would be the benter when it was [from time to time] employed in God’s service.

Fourthly, I had a doubt about the temptations associated with law. Answer: Those temptations are less dangerous than either medicine or theology, for there they endangered either the soul or the body, but with law they only endanger the purse. Also, those temptations would be like so many pricks in my side to keep me awake all the time, and to hold God’s graces in exercise, and to maintain my tenderness of conscience (which, if never stirred, would grow obdurate).

Then, for my greater confidence of a blessing, I remembered how all my prayers run on this line, that God would glorify Himself both in my life and in my death, and that He would send either life or death as He thought fittest to His glory, the best interests of church and commonwealth, and my own salvation. So that, seeing God now sends life, I may be confident that He has some work to do with me yet for His glory, the wellbeing of His servants, and my own good.

Thereafter I spent that night in confessing, praying, and praising for all His mercies, and in particular for settling my mind so well that day in my particular calling. Blessed by His name for it, for now and for evermore!

Archibald Johnston of Wariston kept a diary for many years. Extracts have recently been republished in a book titled, ‘For Christ and Covenant: The Spirituality of Archibald Johnston of Wariston,’ edited by Ruth E Alcalay.


Read more articles from the Covenanters blog




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How to defy discouragements

How to defy discouragements

How to defy discouragements
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.

Much as we would like to start a new year with a sense of optimism, sometimes the outlook only seems forbidding. January blues may conspire with nagging feelings of being spiritually in a low place to make Christians discouraged. The Covenanting minister John Welwood (1649–1679) was aware of many reasons for pessimism, yet in the following updated letter he wrote of ways to turn every possible discouragement into a reason to take comfort.

8 July 1675

Dear sister,

We have to live by faith

If I had things according to my own wishes, I would have the light of the Lord’s countenance shining over on me, and the upper hand over all my enemies. But when I was restless in this way and unsatisfied, I was taught to live by faith – a very profitable thing for us, and pleasing to God, but we are so backward to it, because we do not want to believe until we can see.

Yet the Lord is much displeased when we doubt His love, especially since we have so many evidences of it, since He has often manifested Himself to us, and worked in our souls. Unless He is actually smiling, we will not believe that He loves us! If He dandled us in His lap for twenty years, and then hide Himself from us, we would instantly be suspicious whether He had ever loved us at all. But it is much more pleasing to Him, and profitable and comforting to ourselves, to venture to believe that He does love us. He does not play tricks on His people. We may build on His Word and His work in our souls, for Christ is no dissembler.

I know nothing that should discourage a Christian. There is not one discouragement in all the Word of God, but many are His encouragements. But through our folly and unbelief we lose the comfort of them.

We don’t need to be discouraged by guilt

Should guilt discourage us? God “hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him.” Christ says to the Father, “If the Christian owes thee anything, put that on my account.”

Or by God’s wrath

Should wrath discourage us? “He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” and, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”

Or by our ignorance

Should our darkness and ignorance discourage us? He is continually with us, and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but His. Even if we are foolish, or pilot is skilful and careful.

Or by our sinfulness

Should a body of sin and death discourage us? We certainly have good reason to cry, “O wretched ones that we are!” It deadens and deceives us, and holds us back from duty. Yet His grace is sufficient for us. Not grace within us, but grace outside us is where our safety lies. He is the one that keeps us from temptations and delivers us from evil.

Or by our small progress

Should our little growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? Indeed it is our great complaint, “Our leanness, our leanness!” It’s fitting that folk grow downwards in low thoughts of themselves, for He dwells with the humble. The more folk have of grace, the more they see of corruption, and the more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief.

But perhaps we make an idol of grace, and prize it more than its author, the Lord Jesus. He may well say to us, “Am I not worth more to you than never so much grace?” The God of all grace is ours – the fountain is ours – we are complete in Him, and He is fit to hold the purse-strings for us. It is better that He should hold our treasure than we ourselves. We would want to have as much as would serve us for all our journey right now. This is always the aim of our hearts. We want to have a stock of grace inside us, so that we would not need to rely on Christ, or be beholden to Him, for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars, but that’s because we think that what’s in our hand is surer, and will more easily be effective, than what is in Christ’s hand! But Adam had his stock in his own hand, and see how quickly he went bankrupt.

If we had never so much grace, we would ruin ourselves if Christ’s grace were not daily and moment-by-moment keeping us. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, but the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He chooses to keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content, and not fall out with Him because He will not fill our purses with money – after all, we have access to the treasure house!

Or by a sense of distance from the Lord

Does a sense of desertion discourage us? Sometimes there are many fogs and clouds in the air, but it is all bright above. Though to our senses His love changes, yet with Him there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. He loves us just as much when He hides His face as when He smiles, and He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to ballast us. Also they purge out our sins and make us partakers of His holiness. They keep us waking and watching.

Our Lord will not leave us nor forsake us. We may be sure of victory. And what an inheritance we are predestined to! It sits all wrong to be unthankful and discontent when the Lord has showed us that mercy, to teach and instruct us that we should not walk in the way of the world. He could have left us to run to the same excess of riot with them, to forget God and our own soul altogether. Is not God our Father? Is not Christ our husband? Is not the Spirit our constant companion? Are not angels our attendants? Are not the devil, the wicked, sin, death, and hell all under our feet? Is not the creation all working together for our good? And heaven our home?

Satan and our folly combine together to make us pore over the things that will sadden us and keep us from seeing our privileges. Here is our duty: to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue instant in prayer.


Now as for your situation, cast all your care upon him, for He careth for you. To trust Him honours Him greatly. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and do nothing to offend Him. He is a shield to them that trust in Him. Remember also that afflictions are the gateway to heaven. Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your mind.



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Eight things love will do for Jesus

Eight things love will do for Jesus

Eight things love will do for Jesus
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.

Everything about the way that Jesus was treated in His trial and death was calculated to bury Him in shame and disgrace and make His followers too frightened to keep up their association with Him. Confusion, fear and sorrow were prominent in His erstwhile followers. Yet as Mark 16 indicates, something burned in the hearts of the women – the two Marys and Salome. They couldn’t stay away from Jesus’ grave and nothing could stop them showing Him the highest respect even in these circumstances. Michael Bruce asks us how we behave towards Jesus Christ in times when He is largely treated with scorn and contempt and when His cause seems to have no prospects.

Bruce (1635–1693) was familiar with such times. Ejected from his pastorate, he preached in fields and barns to those who dared to attend, then was wounded when captured and sentenced to banishment. The authorities had no respect for Christ or His church and any individual’s commitment to Him seemed certain to end in failure and embarrassment. But in the following updated extract from one of Bruce’s sermons, Bruce identifies a powerful burning love as the motive of the women who refused to turn their backs on Jesus at this time of His great humiliation.

How pleasant is it for men and women to have love-warm exercise on their hearts to Christ at a time when He seems to be in a low condition, with His back to the wall. There is love-warm exercise here in these women’s hearts, dark and cold as the time was.

1. Love makes you miss Him when He isn’t there

The first love-warm exercise on these women’s hearts is that Christ is missed, and when missed, there is much din made for Him. These poor women had had His company before, and now they lack it, and o the fuss and din that they make for it! Is there any life among you, friends? Or is the exercise of seeking Christ missing and away? O! it’s a dreadful business in many Christians and ministers, that Christ is away and He is not missed, Christ is away and there is no din made for Him.

2. Love makes you stop caring about anything apart from Him

Where love-warm exercise is on someone’s heart, it will disrupt their rest, it will break up their sleep, and they will be up before dawn to get at Him. Do you have anything of that love to Christ that keeps you awake when other folk sleep, fasting when others are feasting, weeping when others are laughing, still at it when others are at ease? Love will make you run over the mountains after your Beloved, and put you in pursuit after Christ before other folk have hardly rubbed the sleep out of their eyes. Tell me, friends, is there warmness in your pursuit after an absent Christ among you now, when He seems to be in His grave? There must be a warmness in the heart, when the pursuit of an absent Christ comes between poor bodies and their food, sleep and rest. It is heart-warming when, whatever be the poor body’s hardships, yet it will be after a buried Christ. This is the thing you must resolve on, if you follow Him.

3. Love makes you use every opportunity God gives to meet Him

It came naturally to these women to make a good use of the sabbath day. Wherever there is a love to Christ, there is a congenial respect for the sabbath. The women make the sabbath, as it were an usher to bring them to Christ. Many, when the sabbath is done, quit Christ till the next week, but where there is love-warm exercise in a someone’s heart, the sabbath will be an usher to conduct you to Christ.

4. Love makes you bring something useful with you

When those who love Christ go to visit Him, they always prepare something to take with them, that they think will be needful. The women prepared spices to embalm Christ’s broken body (Luke 24). Always take something with you when you go to Him, even if it is nothing more than all the empty dishes in your house for Him to fill. If you want to be welcomed when you come in the day of trouble, bring with you to Christ’s grave emptiness and spices too.

There are four sorts of spices that Christians are now to bring to Christ’s grave.

One is a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51). Such he will not despise, for it has a pleasing smell to Him.

Another thing to bring is your soul and body a living sacrifice to Him. This, says the apostle, is your reasonable service, and nothing smells sweeter to Him, than when soul and body both are given up to God, and put at His disposal.

Thirdly bring the spices of fresh praises of His name. “Who offereth praise glorifieth me” (Psalm 50). Praises to Him in such a day as this, is a sweet relish to God. For a Christian to sit down on Christ’s grave, and sing over His praises and commendations, how acceptable it is!

Fourthly, bring lively mortification of sin and lively deniedness to the world and the flesh and the lusts thereof. It is something Christ relishes, when, for all that has come and gone, you keep thinking less of the world.

But I’ll tell you four sorts of spices that ought not to be brought to Christ’s grave. Rehashes of old arguments, long since resolved. Natural and carnal fears, which God’s Word puts paid to. Lame sacrifices, which we think good enough for Him now His back is to the wall. Ill guided complaints that cast reflections upon God.

5. Love engulfs all difficulties in the way

These women set a meeting with Christ above all difficulties in their way.

1. They have no one to join with in what they do. There were very few of their friends to press for it and fewer to praise it. “Why are the disciples not going to visit Christ’s grave?” someone might query. “Is it really right for you to go before the disciples?”

2. There was a number of soldiers around the grave with their orders and commission. “What you are doing is rebellion,” might be one objection, “and besides, think of what the soldiers might do to you!” But they swallow up these difficulties in hope of meeting with Christ. “What are they but flesh? We want a meeting with Jesus!”

3. There was a great stone upon the grave. “Who will roll away the stone?” they said. But they face this down also. “So what if we get all our backs broken rolling away the stone, if we could only get a meeting with Jesus!”

4. It was not yet full day when they set out. “Wait till daytime,” someone might have said, “and then you will see to go: you don’t know what you may meet with, and you won’t manage to keep to the path.” But love is so bubbling up in their hearts that they cannot wait any longer till they get to Him. Christ and a meeting with Him swells larger in their hearts than all difficulties.

There is such love-warm exercise in their hearts that difficulties are so far from holding them back from visiting Christ’s grave that they make use of them all as stepping stones to walk on. “What matter if we are reproached as fanatics, if only we can get to Him! In any case, duty is ours and the outcome is the Lord’s.”

“We would like to go to Christ if we dared,” some say. “But if I am known to follow Christ the influential people in my community will go ballistic and my neighbours will all deride me.” Will they? “Yes, they will, and if I grow zealous in any way and become straight in my principles and practice I will be a marvel to all around and I don’t want to stand out.” Well, I cannot persuade you, but I’ll tell you news. Love in a Christian’s heart always produces these two things. It makes encouragements as broad and as wide as God has carved them out to be. Burning love will make nothing of a cold blast or a dark night for meeting with Christ. And love always looks at the bonny side of its object, its preciousness and all its beautiful colours. Love makes Christ so lovely that it engulfs all difficulties between Him and it, and makes them as it were die out and vanish.

6. When difficulties increase, love increases too

The love-warm exercise in these women’s hearts is that as their difficulties grow, their ardency and diligence to find Him keeps growing too. In times of difficulty it is good to see Christians growing in diligence, and a foul shame to see them slacking because of difficulties. The two Marys, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James, would put all Scotland to shame today if they were amongst us. They put to shame all the disciples in that time of difficulty. Worldly folk might have told them there was not much prudence in their undertaking. Sometimes indeed the undertaking of Christians is accompanied with prudence, yet I always love it when what is lacking in prudence is made up for by pure zeal, honesty and sincerity. Zeal and honesty in God’s people makes up for many defects and is preferable to the shirking kind of prudence that many these days lay much weight on.

7. Love risks everything to do Christ a good turn

These women venture themselves and all that they have for Christ. They lay life, name, fortune, credit and all at the stake for Christ. If they can just get the spices put on Christ’s body they will think all has gone well. For all these poor women knew, they might have got a gibbet or a prison cell from the higher powers and clergy for owning Christ’s grave. “Gibbet here, gibbet there, prison here, prison there, I need to see Him. Fines and penalties here, fines and penalties there, I must do this good turn for Christ. I will not be hindered, whatever it costs.” There is warmness indeed!

8. Love keeps looking for a rising Christ

The final piece of love-warm exercise among these women is that they keep seeking news of a rising Christ. Something in their hearts wants to have Him up again. That is why they march over all difficulties, to see what word there is of Him. Love is healthy where there is a warmness in it and where Christ keeps growing in the heart, and where this is there is always many visits to Christ’s grave and much enquiry made about when He will rise again.


Read more articles from the Covenanters blog




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Five things Jesus teaches us about prayer

Five things Jesus teaches us about prayer

Five things Jesus teaches us about prayer
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 transfiguration was a special event in the life of Jesus. Shortly before His crucifixion and death, He had this time of encouragement in a special display of His Father’s love and then the Father’s special announcement of His delight in Him and His redemptive work. But as Alexander Wedderburn points out in one of a series of sermons on the transfiguration, before this time of blessing, Jesus prayed. Why, Wedderburn asks, did He usher in the transfiguration with prayer? Whatever it meant for Him directly, there are certain things He wanted His disciples to learn from it. In the following updated extract, Wedderburn sets out five things Jesus teaches us about prayer.

1. Whatever you do, begin with prayer

We find key figures in Scripture, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and others doing this. Why?

For one thing, this is the way to keep all our actions regulated and warranted by the Word, when we dare attempt nothing but what we can recommend to God by prayer. Joshua’s worst failure was in the covenant he made with the Gibeonites, when he did it without asking counsel of the Lord. Many strive for the things of the world in a measure that they would blush to pray for.

Also, this is the way to attain the thing desired with a blessing. ‘In all thy ways acknowledge God and he shall bring it to pass.’ What excellent success Jacob got, when he had to do with his brother Esau! He prevailed with God and then prevailed with men.

But perhaps we do not receive the thing we ask for. Still prayer is a way of quieting us, for, like a supplicant at court, as long as he gets a sight of the king, his efforts have not been in vain. If Jacob had got nothing more than his new name ‘Israel’ for his wrestling, it would have been worth it.

From this we can see that although God has declared and promised things, yet He wants us to come to Him and ask. So our first concern should be the matter of our prayers (the things we pray for). Then we should be fervent in prayer. And we should be diligent in prayer, every family apart (Zechariah 12:9–10).

2. Special sights of God are to be expected chiefly when we are doing our ordinary duties

As Christ prayed, He was transfigured. Likewise Daniel had his special visions when he was praying. It was the apostles after the resurrection were keeping the sabbath, that Christ came in their midst.

We must not expect special manifestations of God when we are sleeping but when we are doing! Just as God commands us to do things above our power in order to make us pray, so one reason promising special acts of grace is likewise to make us pray.

This reproves those who complain that they don’t get enough experiences of God at the same time as being negligent about their duties. There is no spiritual condition where some duty cannot be done. If you cannot rejoice, still you may trust. If you cannot trust, you may still desire to trust. If you cannot desire it, at least you may complain of your lack of desire. So there is always some form of duty to be done – and when all of them are neglected, no wonder there is no sense of God’s grace.

Therefore, if you want to be rich in experiences, follow your duty.

Yet, do your duty with these directions.

(a) Do not limit God to blessing you in any one particular duty. David found God in meditation, the Ethiopian in reading, the disciples going to Emmaus in Christian conversation, Cornelius in prayer in his own house, and so on.

(b) Do not idolise any duty so as to rest on it or expect a visit from God because of it.

(c) Do not undervalue any duty, however small. The child that Jesse thought least of was the Lord’s anointed. It may be a duty where you have often sought the Lord and not found Him, yet do what Peter did with his net, ‘Nevertheless at thy command I cast it down again.’

3. Even the things we know God has resolved to do, we must pray for them

Christ knew what God had decreed, yet here He prays for it. When Daniel understood by books the length of the captivity and what Jeremiah had prophesied, then he set himself to prayer (Daniel 9:1–3). When Christ tells the church, ‘Behold, I come quickly,’ they answer, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’

By prayer we submit to the order which God has appointed in His covenant, of making prayer a means of obtaining lawful things. The more faith we have of the thing we pray for – the nearer it comes to a well grounded assurance – the more acceptable is the prayer. ‘Believest thou that I am able to do this?’ is one of the things Christ searches for in the supplications of His people. ‘Let him ask in faith, nothing doubting.’

This is why we are wrong to think, ‘God will certainly do such and such things whether I pray or not, because He has promised.’ Yes, but you should take the promise and turn it over in a prayer. Even when your bread is in your cupboard, still pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ It is an acknowledgement of your dependence on God, and a ready way to engage your heart to prayer.

4. Humiliation is the way to exaltation

Christ is a supplicant immediately before He is transfigured – first He is humbled and then He is exalted. Job 22:29 and 1 Peter 5:6 are clear proofs of the truth of this: ‘When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person;’ ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.’

Though there is nothing meritorious in our humiliations to draw blessing after them, as the needle pulls the thread, yet in ordinary providences this holds true. The more humility, the more sincerity. The one whose heart is lifted up in him is not upright. God has a special delight in sincerity, ‘the upright man is his delight.’ This is the way He takes both in promises and providences, to ‘lift up the humble’ and ‘relieve the spirit of the humble.’ If we were humbled, who knows how near our deliverance would be. Many think of humility as the way to make us contemptible, but in the view of God it is not so. Never was Christ lower than the day before He arose again.

5. The Father and the Son mutually exalt one another

The Son by prayer first confesses His dependence, and confesses the omnipotence of His Father, that He was the only true God, that His deity is immutable, that He is faithful in promising, etc. And then the Father glorifies Him in the hearing of all on the Mount of Transfiguration, ‘This is my Beloved Son!’ No one ever lost anything by exalting God. Those that honour Him He will honour, just as He will forsake those who forsake Him.


Read more articles from the Covenanters blog




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

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. 


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.’





Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

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.


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.



Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

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).


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.


Read more articles from the Covenanters blog




Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.