Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?

Are Evangelicals Forgetting God?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
22 May, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

(a) Seek to Please God Rather than Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Set God’s Divine Attributes Before You

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

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

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

Why Should We Strive to Set God Before Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it

Spiritual Depression and Your Soul’s Recovery From it
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
7 Feb, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Causes of Spiritual Depression

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

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

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

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

2. Causes of Spiritual Depression We Can Remove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Recovering From Spiritual Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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God is Still a Consuming Fire

God is Still a Consuming Fire

God is Still a Consuming Fire
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
25 Jan, 2019

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

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

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

 

1. Should We Really Fear God?

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

(a) Isn’t God All Mercy and Goodness?

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

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

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

(c) Doesn’t Salvation Remove Fear?

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

(d) Isn’t this Legalistic?

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

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

 

2. God is a Consuming Fire in Himself

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

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

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

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

 

3. God is a Consuming Fire in His Works

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

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

 

4. God is a Consuming Fire in Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

 

5. We Should Serve Our God with Fear

(a) In Our Lives

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

(b) In Our Worship

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

(c) In Our Hearts

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

 

Conclusion

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

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The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
12 Dec, 2018

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

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

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

Christ is Head over His Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope

Abandoning Optimism for Real Hope
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.
23 Aug, 2018

Hope is essential. But hope is not a gut reaction, mere wishful thinking or putting a positive spin on events that seem negative. Hope and optimism are positive about the future but for different reasons. Abraham had a spiritual hope that was certain, when a hope that is of the flesh would have evaporated. Abraham “against hope believed in hope” based on God’s promise (Romans 4:18). The secular idea of hope involves people planning ways to achieve their chosen goal. But Abraham couldn’t do this. Optimism ignores negative circumstances but hope takes full account of it. Hope has a reason to depend on God working out the future, that reason is His promise.

It’s been said that we “can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”. Hope is the oxygen of life. John Nevay (d. 1672) observes that “it is as necessary as breath: we cannot live or work without it”. Nevay was minister of Newmilns in Ayrshire. Along with hundreds of other ministers he was forced out of his charge by the government in 1662. Never was also cited before the Privy Council and then banished from the kingdom for refusing to own Charles II as head over the Church. He went on to minister to Scots exiles in Rotterdam, Holland. Even there, Charles’ government used their influence to try to get him expelled from Holland along with other Scottish ministers.

 

1. What is Hope?

Hope is a certain and patient expectation of things not seen which are from God and promised by Him (Romans 8:24). Hope, like faith, looks to the promise (Galatians 5:5). Whatever may appear to the contrary, it hopes against hope (Romans 4:18).

Hope rides out all storms. It is the anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. Its object is God in Christ (Jeremiah 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:1). Its operation is an earnest and patient expectation (Philippians 1:20; Romans 8:25). Its means of strength are the promise and Christ (Acts 26:6; Colossians 1:27). Its effects are establishing and quieting the soul (Psalm 42:5,11). It also purifies the heart (1 John 3:3).

 

2. What Makes Hope Attractive?

(a) It is an excellent grace. Scripture commends hope as good (2 Thessalonians 2:16); better (Hebrews 7:19); blessed (Titus 2:13); living (1 Peter 1:3); sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19). It is a sure possession of things not seen.

(b) It is focussed on excellent things. It is focussed on God Himself (Psalm 33:22); His mercy (Psalm 147:11); God’s Word, especially the promises (Psalm 130:4). It is also focussed on Christ and the gospel (Colossians 1:23).

 

3. How Does Hope Help Us?

(a) It Helps When No Other Grace Can. When God has withdrawn His presence, David can still hope in God and praise Him (Psalm 42).

(b) It Helps Us Joy and Delight in God. There is a rejoicing in hope (Romans 12:12 and Hebrews 3:6).

(c) It Helps Us Be Encouraged. It does not disappoint or put us to shame (Romans 5:5).

(d) It Helps Us Have Courage and Strength in God’s Work. The knowledge that labouring in the Lord’s work is not in vain is the knowledge of hope, which gives steadfastness (1 Corinthians 15:58).

(e) It Helps us Have Patience. There is a patient waiting for Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Patience makes us rest quietly on God (Psalm 37:7).

(f) It Helps Us Endure All Spiritual Warfare. It is the helmet of salvation which guards and raises the head (Ephesians 6:17).

(g) It Helps Us Find Help in God. Hope makes us take refuge in God. Hope and help in God go together (Psalm 146:5).

(h) It Helps Us Hope for Heaven. Salvation and eternal life come to us by the hope of salvation and eternal life (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It is the hope laid up in heaven (Colossians 1:5).

(i)It Helps Us in Life and Death. We can see the excellence and blessedness of this hope when we consider the misery of those who live and die without it. To be without God is to be without hope in this world (Ephesians 2:12).

 

3. Where Does Hope Come From?

(a) It Comes From God. David credits God for his hope (Psalm 22:9).

(b) It Comes From God by Grace. Hope is from and through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16). That which is of grace is by the promise (Romans 4:16; Titus 1:2). Our God is the God of Hope because He is the giver of Hope (Romans 15:13). Hope is amongst the gifts of the Holy Spirit (compare l Corinthians 12:31 with 13:13).

(c) It Comes From Christ. Christ is our Hope and the Author of Hope as well as Faith (Galatians 5:5; Hebrews 12:2). Christ was raised from the dead and exalted that we might have hope (1 Peter 1:21).

(d) It Comes From the Gospel. The gospel as the grace of God brings a better hope (Hebrews 7:19; Titus 2:11).

 

4. What Distinguishes True Hope?

(a) It Looks to God Alone. God alone is our hope and portion (Lamentations 3:24).

(b) It Trusts in Christ Alone. It places no confidence in the flesh but rejoices in
Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3). Its expectation is only in free mercy.

(c) It is Certain. It leans on the undoubted truths of God revealed in the Scriptures. These bring comforts and are the grounds for the Christian’s hope (Romans 15:4). It is true that the believer’s hope may be shaken (as anchors often are) but the result is that it is fastening more securely than before.

(d) It Keeps the Soul Close to the Truth. This is so even during great opposition by others (Psalm 119:23, 81-82, 161; Isaiah 8:17).

(e) It Expels Vain Hopes. It presents the things it hopes for as so great that it makes all other hopes seem an empty thing. It purges the heart from all its love and desire for vain hopes.

(f) It Revives the Soul. It revives the soul with fresh strength in God when other things fail (Psalm 73:26).

(g) It is Lasting. It is sober and hopes to the end (1 Peter 1:13). Thus, the righteous has hope in his death (Proverbs 14:32).

(h) It Arises from Spiritual Experience. A rooted and well-grounded hope is the daughter of many different spiritual experiences (Romans 5:4).

FURTHER READING

Nevay’s 52 sermons on the Covenant of Grace are well summarised by Edwin Nisbet Moore in the book Our Covenant Heritage: the Covenanters’ Struggle for Unity in Truth. It also summarises a memoir of the Covenanter James Nisbet of Hardhill and draws lessons from the historical experiences for today. For more information and to purchase see here.

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The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual Discouragements

The Complete Remedy For Overcoming Spiritual 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.
25 May, 2018

Many things around us seem to conspire to bring us down to the depths of discouragement. We can see plainly that things are not as they ought to be. Perhaps we look for fruit from our patient efforts to sow seed with others and it doesn’t appear even promising. So we become weary in well-doing. Ministers are easily tempted to discouragement in the midst of their labours. It’s also not difficult to become discouraged due to things within, especially our spiritual state and progress. How do we get out of being sucked into the spiral of despair? The only all-sufficient source of help is in divine grace.

John Welwood (1649-1678) suffered much though he was only in his twenties. The following extract is from one of the many letters he wrote during his trials and persecution. He was moving from place to place all over Scotland, preaching as he could. (More information about his life can be found at the end of this article). He was an especially powerful preacher and his sermons were said to have “a fiery earnestness”.

 

1. Nothing Should Discourage a Christian

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

 

2. Our Guilt and Ignorance Should Not Discourage Us

Should guilt discourage us? He has made Him “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ says to the Father that if the Christian owes anything to Him, “put it on my account”. “The blood of sprinkling speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24).

Should wrath discourage us? He has “redeemed us from the curse, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Should our ignorance discourage us? Though we are as beasts before Him, yet he is continually with us and leads us like a flock. Our safety lies not in our wisdom and leading, but in His. Though we are foolish, our pilot is skilful and careful.

Does a body of sin and death discourage us? Indeed we have reason to cry out, “O wretched ones that we are!” “Who shall deliver us from it?” (Romans 7:24 and 8:2) It deadens us and deceives us, inclining little to what is good but a lot to what is bad. It makes us disinclined and slow to do our duty, and puts us out of the right condition for it. And if we say, we will be wise, yet it is far from us. Yet His grace is sufficient for us.

 

3. Sufficient Grace for These Discouragements

Our safety does not depend on grace within us, but grace outside us. If He would leave us to ourselves for only a day, how far wrong we would go. He has given us this promise, that his grace shall be sufficient for us. It is by this grace that we stand. It is by this that “we are made more than conquerors” in all the assaults and temptations that come from without, from Satan and from the world. It is He who keeps us from temptations and delivers from evil.

We should not therefore be discouraged by a body of sin and all the enemies that join with it. We should “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might”. He is with us as a mighty One.

 

4. Our Poor Growth in Grace Should Not Discourage Us

Does our small growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ discourage us? That is indeed our great complaint “our leanness, our leanness”. It is 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. The more they have of faith, the more they see of unbelief. It is fitting that folk have such workings within them, to keep them watching and wrestling. What an evil condition we find ourselves in when we have no such work to do. Besides, many times we make an idol of grace and prize it more than the Lord Jesus as the author of it. He may say unto us, Am not I worth more to you than however much grace? The God of all grace is ours. The fountain is ours; we are complete in Him.

 

5. Sufficient Grace is in Christ Not Us

It is fitter that He has our treasure than we should have it ourselves. We would desire to have all at one everything we need for the whole journey. This is still the aim of our hearts, and we would have a stock of grace within us so we would not be beholden to Christ for continual supply. We think it a poor life to live like beggars and to be like minors that must have a tutor.

We think that what is in our hand is surer than what is in Christ’s hand. But Adam had his stock in his own hand and he soon played the bankrupt. Though we had as much grace as possible we would undermine ourselves if His grace were not keeping us each day and moment. It is not our grace and worthiness that commends us to God, only the righteousness of Christ. We are obliged to God for the grace we get, not He to us. If He will keep us with little in hand, we ought to be content and not fall out with him because he will not fill oure purses with money, since we have access unto the treasure house.

 

6. Our Lack of God’s Felt Presence Should Not Discourage Us

Does God’s withdrawing discourage us? Sometimes there may be many fogs and clouds in our world below when all is fair weather above. Though our feelings say that His love changes there is “no variablness, nor shadow of turning” with Him. He loves us when He hides His face as well as when He smiles. He has many wise and holy purposes in all the afflictions we meet with. They are to be ballast for us. One would think it strange to see sand bags being cast into a ship but it is necessary for the ship would be blown over without this. We would go wrong if we lacked the ballast of affliction. Our hearts are ready to become unwatchful in a fair day. Afifictions give us the experience of God’s power, love, wisdom, and faithfulness in bearing us up under them, ordering them for our advantage and delivering us out of them.

 

John Welwood

After hiding in Moray and Fife and other parts of the country, Welwood was banished to Perth in 1679. Sadly he only survived in Perth for three months before contracting an illness and dying at the age of thirty. During his short time there he continued to preach, mostly to families who would come to visit him in the place where he was staying.

On his death bed he said that such was his assurance that he had no more doubt of being in Christ “than if I were in heaven already”. At another time he said: “Although I have been for some weeks without sensible [felt], comforting presence, yet I have not the least doubt of my interest [salvation] in Christ”.  

The morning he died, when he observed the light of day, he said: “Now eternal light, and no more night and darkness to me”. His gravestone had the following inscription: “A follower of the Lamb through many tribulations”.

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Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
15 Mar, 2018

​In a world constantly seeking the retreating mirage of satisfaction in the things of this life we need to know where to find true spiritual satisfaction. Samuel Rutherford said that seeking such satisfaction in this world is like digging into cold ice expecting to discover warm fire. Spiritual satisfaction is in Christ and what He has done alone. As Calvin put it: “The whole of God is found in him, so that he who is not satisfied with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.” Not to be satisfied with Christ involves “detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection”. They are “ungrateful” who “seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ”. It is vital therefore to rest in this satisfaction. How can we assure ourselves that we are those who are only satisfied in Christ?

This is a question that Thomas Hog of Kiltearn (1628–1692) sought to answer for the benefit of others. He does not give an exhaustive but rather a helpful and suggestive answer. The eleven observations he makes are worth pondering further and comparing with Scripture and our own experience. Hog was imprisoned several times including on the Bass Rock. Here he had some time for prayerful reflection as he suffered for Christ. These points have been transcribed from a manuscript in the National Library of Scotland with a little updating of the language.

 

Marks of those who, being lost in themselves, are fit for the consolations of Christ

1. They will acknowledge and not extenuate sin.

2. No earthly comforts can satisfy.

3. Searching sermons are most acceptable and searching Scripture texts are most sweet.

4. No creature can satisfy (no not even an angel) until Christ Himself comes.

5. They all think that they themselves are the chief of sinners.

6. They would take peace with God without all external comfort, indeed they would take Christ with all external crosses and troubles.

7. The least relationship to Christ and benefit from Him will be more sweet and acceptable than to be in any relation but His.

8. The least appearance of opening a door of mercy humbles and melts the heart more than any other thing.

9. They do not doubt Christ’s power, but because of their unworthiness as to whether He will have mercy.

10. All earthly contempt and crosses [trials] are thought light and easily borne. The saddest afflictions are thought nothing in comparison of their [formerly] lost condition.

11. They will not be content with peace without grace, with justification without sanctification.

 

About Thomas Hog of Kiltearn

Hog was a Highlander who also ministered in Ross-shire. Forced to leave his congregation in 1662, he moved to Auldearn near Nairn, where he continued to minister in private. In 1668 he was  imprisoned for some time for preaching at “illegal meetings” or conventicles.

After his release he continued to preach but was arrested in 1677 and imprisoned in the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. When he sought release due to his poor health Archbishop Sharp had him put in the lowest and worst dungeon in the place. Yet his health recovered in these circumstances.

After a later release he had further periods of imprisonment until he was banished from Scotland in 1684. In 1691 he was able to return to the parish of Kiltearn but only for one year. He was buried underneath the threshold of the church door. He also requested the following inscription: ‘This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring an ungodly minister in here.’

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Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
13 Mar, 2018

They were on a Scottish hillside in fear of government troops arresting or killing those at this “illegal” worship service. Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews?

It was 11 July 1680, a Lord’s Day. The government was hunting Richard Cameron, just 32 years of age, across the moors and hills of Scotland. His crime was that he would not submit to the government total control of the Church. To worship in secret was considered rebellion and there was a high price on his head.

Within eleven days he would suffer a bloody death at the hands of soldiers. Was he aware of that? Yes, to some extent, he was. He had spent the previous day in prayer and meditation and told one lady gloomily “my carcass shall dung the wilderness, and that within a fortnight”.

Now he was ready to preach to the gathered people on the border of Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire. It was a powerful sermon on John 5:40, one of his favourite texts. Nearly fifty years later, it remained fresh in the memory of those that heard it. There was much emotion for both preacher and congregation. During the sermon Cameron was overcome and “fell in such a rap of calm weeping, and the greater part of that multitude, that there was scarce a dry cheek to be seen among them”. This obliged Cameron to pause and pray. He “continued long praying for the Jews restoration and ingrafting again” amongst other things.

 

1. The Background

Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews? It was not in fact so unusual. The Church of Scotland had a guide to worship called a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The section on Public Prayer before Sermon advised that prayer be made “for the conversion of the Jews”. Besides the Shorter Catechism they also had the Larger Catechism, which, amongst other things, expounded the Lord’s Prayer. In relation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come” it said:

We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming

These documents were produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was attended by Scottish representatives. All of these, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford referred to the future conversion of the Jews in their preaching. Many of Rutherford’s famous letters contain desires for the restoration of the Jews.  There are a large number of these prayers but we can only consider a few.  In 1631, for instance, he wrote:

I have been this time bypast thinking much of the incoming of the kirk [church] of the Jews. Pray for them. When they were in their Lord’s house, at their Father’s elbow, they were longing for the incoming of their little sister, the kirk of the Gentiles…. (Song 8.8). Let us give them a meeting… That were a glad day to see us and them both sit down to one table, and Christ at the head of the table. Then would our Lord come shortly with his fair guard to hold His great court.

It was a theme that Rutherford was going to return to again and again in his sermons, letters and other writings. He writes with rapture about what he was looking for by faith: “I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Song 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world”.

The Jews must “renew their old love with their first Husband, Christ our Lord! They are booked in God’s word, as a bride contracted unto Jesus! Oh for a sight, in this flesh of mine, of the prophesied marriage between Christ and them!” Rutherford was drawing from passages such as Zechariah 8:23: “There is a day when ten men shall take hold, out of all nations, of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; we have heard that God is with you.”

 

2. The Biblical Basis

Which other passages of Scripture gave ground for this hope? There is a hint in the following:  “O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, Thee and Thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

Rutherford is echoing Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jews would be as “life from the dead”. The Scottish minister and commentator James Durham considered Romans 11 to be undeniably clear on this point.

they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us

Another minister, John Brown of Wamphray produced a commentary on Romans in 1666 that expands further on Romans 11:15:

If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the Church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days through the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? Will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?

The Jews were to be grafted in once more because God had not forgotten his covenant and promises. “Though now the people of the Jews are at a low pass, because of their unbelief, and contempt of the gospel; yet the covenant made with their fore-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” is not forgotten by God, but is in force; and by virtue thereof, they have some room in God’s affection yet: They are beloved for the father’s sake”.

As David Dickson, another commentator put it: “The Church of the Jews is the mother-church, whereof Abraham and the godly Jews yea and Christ himself were Members; The Church of the Jews is the Olive-tree, whereunto all the converts of the Gentiles are ingrafted, gathered, and made one people with Abraham and the faithful among the Jews”.

 

3. What about the Land?

James Durham also addressed the question of whether the Jews would be restored to the land they had once occupied. He did not wish to be absolute about it but pointed to Scripture passages and promises that seemed to indicate that this would be so such as Ezekiel 37:20-21, Amos 9:11-15 and others. If Paul spoke of them being grafted in as they were broken off it seemed to suggest some national state. He also took into view the promise of the land and the fact that in God’s providence the Jews were still a distinct people even though scattered amongst the nations. Another commentator George Hutcheson also considered it possible for the Jews to return to their homeland in the last days.

David Dickson was slightly more cautious when commenting on Psalm 69:35. This verse shows that God will always “maintain his Church, his Sion and his Judah”. We can find “special evidence of this care among the Jews” no matter how far “they may at some times be from all appearance of his respect to them”. The promise in this verse expressly uses the name of Judah, “He will build the Cities of Judah”. “What outward testimonies of Gods respect to the Jews for Christ’s sake shall be given unto them, after the destruction of their cities…we must leave it to God, to be in due time by his own works interpreted, and to be made out according to what here is said; that the cities of Judah shall be built, that they may dwell there and have it, (i.e. the promised land,) in possession”.

 

Conclusion

Overhearing the prayers of the Covenanters ought to inspire us to pray and long for this great event. “Oh, what a heavenly heaven were it to see them come in”, said Rutherford. John Brown of Wamphray observes that we can draw great encouragement from this teaching. God is “unchangeable in mercy and power” and so “it is not impossible that the Jews shall be recovered, because the Gentiles who were once as evil as they are now, were recovered”. “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). We should never despair of anyone being converted.

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Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble

Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble

Spiritual Rest During Outward Trouble
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
22 Sep, 2017

We can’t escape troubles in this world. Whether it is the heartache of suffering and loss or the storm of calamity and opposition; it touches us in different ways. The brokenness of this world leaves its mark on us. It may be so deep an anguish and trouble that we cannot put words on it. Christ told us that in this world we would have “tribulation”, but in the same breath He directs us to find peace in Himself (John 16:33). This is genuinely possible, despite all that is going on around us.

Hugh MacKail (1640/41–1666) was going into the ministry when the storm of opposition was rising. He was scarcely twenty-one when he took the opportunity to preach on the last occasion before the faithful ministers of Scotland were deposed. It was a spiritual and attractive sermon but he did not avoid reference to the times however. MacKail boldly observed that “the people of God had been persecuted by a Pharaoh on the throne, a Haman in the state, and a Judas in the church”. Everyone believed this was a reference to the main rulers in the land and the next day soldiers were sent to arrest him. He managed to escape and the next four years of his life were spent in hiding. The following brief clip explains more about this.

MacKail returned to Scotland at the time of the Pentland rising in 1666. While he joined the march for some time he was forced to withdraw due to ill health.  On his way home, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was interrogated under torture, his leg was so badly mangled from this that he could not walk or stand. He was sentenced to be executed but endured all these things cheerfully.

He prayed on the scaffold before ascending the ladder, and then said that every rung of the ladder brought him “a degree nearer heaven”. His composure was another fearless sermon in itself. It made a powerful impression on all who witnessed it. His last words were:

Farewell father, mother, friends, and relations; Farewell the world and its delights; farewell meat and drink; farewell sun, moon, and starts; Welcome God and Father; welcome sweet Jesus Christ the mediator of the New Covenant; welcome blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation; welcome glory, welcome eternal life; welcome death!  Into Thy Hands I commit my spirit.”

Let’s take a closer look at MacKail’s sermon which caused all the controversy. It does not seem to have been reprinted in the past 300 or so years. It was on Song of Solomon 1:7 and spoke much of the spiritual rest that God’s people have in the midst of troubles. The following is extracted from that sermon in updated language.

 

There is Rest in Christ Even in the Midst of the Hottest Trials 

Where he makes the “flocks to rest at noon”, there is not only feeding for their necessity but also a comfortable rest for their satisfaction. The ground of a believer’s satisfaction is beyond the reach of earthly troubles. Whatever commotion may arise ,it cannot touch their foundation. Believers are compared to a house built upon a rock (Matthew 7:24). In Proverbs 10:25 we read that “the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” He is compared to a tree in Psalm 1:2,3 and his root shall never be moved.

Outward advantages are only like beautiful pictures or other adornments of a house, which may be blurred or removed without affecting the building. They are like fair-feathered birds chirping melodiously upon the top of a tree, which may suddenly fly away without any disadvantage.The solid adornment of the image of God cannot be defaced by any outward event. It is rather rendered even more illustrious and clear by tribulation. The fiery furnace did not hinder the three children from praising the Lord. Nothing can hinder their obedience to God’s command, and one great command is “rejoice evermore.” There are four things involved in this rest that the followers of Christ enjoy in this time of tribulation:

 

1. Rest from Sin

All the force and fury of temptations cannot constrain them to sin against the Lord. Though a messenger of Satan should buffet them, yet there is a grace sufficient for them (2 Corinthians 12:7 – 9). I believe the malice and fury and craftiness of the devil transcends the malice, fury and craft of human enemies. Though he used his utmost endeavour to try to make Job to curse God and die, yet patience eventually triumphs over temptation. Affliction is the Lord’s furnace where the more they are tried they more purified they come forth. In Job 36:8–10, we read that affliction reveals to the righteous their sin.

The conclusion of a believing soul under affliction is, if God punishes me this sharply for sins that I have already committed against Him, will I not receive greater if I revolt further? This is the conclusion of Ezra (Ezra 9: 6, 7, 13, 14). So, afflictions disengage a believer from sin. It is a dreadful thing to be uncorrectable despite judgements,. If we consider the solemn consequences in Pharaoh’s case, it should bring all such to fear God’s judgements (Psalm 119:120).

 

2. Rest through Peace with God

This peace is through Jesus Christ. This is a shadow from the scorching sun, under which a reconciled believer may sit and the Lord’s fruit be sweet to his taste. No worm can come at the root of this gourd to make it wither. Enemies may do much to secure enemies for the people of God among men on earth, but they can never cause them to have enemies in heaven.

The Lord will not be bribed by their gifts, for all the beasts of the field are His, and the cattle on a thousand hills. He will not be allured by their pleasures, for at His right hand there is fullness of joy and rivers of pleasures forevermore. He will not be deceived by their craftiness, nor constrained by their power to side with them against His people, for He is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who ever hardened themselves against Him and prospered? How unreasonable it is then to turn aside from Him by the flocks of his companions. The whole world cannot make God your enemy when you follow Him in turning aside from them. But if you follow the world and forsake Him, he can make all the world your enemies or destroy you and the world both.

 

3. Rest through Peace of Conscience

This peace passes all understanding and is a continual feast. Better that every creature sets itself in array against a man, than that his sins set themselves in order before him. Better one handful with quietness then both hands full of vexation of spirit. Better to be scorched in the hottest furnace of tribulation, than to have the heart and soul burned up with the unquenchable flames of a self-tormenting conscience. Blessed therefore is that man, even in the midst of outward misery, who retains a good conscience. This cannot be reached by any weapons of devils or men.

O, that these foes, whose hearts are perpetually in the house of mirth, would consider their latter end. The beginning of a sinner’s day may be sweet but their end is bitter as wormwood. Men may hoodwink their conscience all the days of their life, but O, how dreadful is it when death begins to draw the veil and represent things as they are in themselves. I think I hear the screeches and howling of a damned spirit in prison when I read the woeful expressions of an evil conscience in Proverbs 5:11–13.  There we are warned away from sin, lest we “mourn at the last”  when flesh and body are consumed and we say “how have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!” When a man through heat of persecution is drawn to turn aside from God he runs out of a spark into a flame. God then becomes your enemy and at last you will become an enemy to yourself.

 

4. Hope of Eternal Rest

There is a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9). The sure hopes of this rest will not only render all tribulation tolerable, but even desirable. They are but light and momentary. They work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Both the good and evil of the world vanish from view for that soul that has its eye fixed upon the recompense of reward. Christ’s promise that he would be with him in paradise that day (Luke 23:43) made the penitent thief’s cross preferable to all the crowns of the world. The hope of this rest is a helmet of salvation, keeping the head from being wounded. Enjoying this rest places a believer beyond the reach of all tribulation.

Heaven resembles the court of Ahasuerus–none may go there clothed in sackcloth. The Church is beneath the sun here and therefore prone to being scorched but there she is above the sun. The sun shall not light on her, nor any heat (Revelation 7:16). This is the motive the Lord Himself uses to urge steadfastness in Revelation 2:10; “a crown of life” for those who are “faithful unto death”.

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Are Christians in the West Really Being Persecuted?

Are Christians in the West Really Being Persecuted?

Are Christians in the West Really Being Persecuted?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
8 Sep, 2017

The Christian religion is certainly the most persecuted worldwide. But some people feel that, despite growing hostility to Christian values, it is going too far to speak about persecution in the West. Others speak of an evangelical persecution complex. We tend to associate it with physical violence but persecution actually extends to thought control. If it is impossible to be in a particular job with certain biblical convictions (even unexpressed) then those beliefs are certainly being persecuted. When we turn to Scripture, it is in fact clear that all Christians should expect persecution to some degree.

Christ says, “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  The context of this verse shows that such persecution arises from contempt for the teaching of faithful and godly ministers. A media culture that attacks and ridicules every area of Christian values is one that is constantly both excluding and targeting the Christian conscience. The secular inquisition seems relentless.

Recently a Middle Eastern underground house church leader was quoted as follows: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment…American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.” It echoes what Francis Schaeffer once said: “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”

Scripture also says “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). As David Dickson comments, “it is the common lot, not only of pastors, but of all Christians, to suffer afflictions and persecutions for the gospel’s sake”. If they are living godly in Christ Jesus, Christians in the west are experiencing some form of persecution and should expect it. Persecution of various kinds has been the normative experience of the Church down through the ages. Perhaps we need to dwell on these considerations a great deal more than we do. If persecution increases in the future, will we have a theology of suffering for Christ (as it were) that will sustain us? In the following video clip we have an example of when believers suddenly needed to put their theology of suffering for Christ into practice. 

 

Robert MacWard (1633–1687) knew what it was to suffer for Christ. In 1661, in the midst of preaching he solemnly protested against the way in which Charles II’s government were forcibly overturning the Second Reformation. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Tolbooth on a charge of treason. He was sentenced to be banished and spent the remainder of his life ministering in Holland. He wrote and published books to strengthen those suffering in Scotland, including Samuel Rutherford’s letters. One of these was called The Poor Man’s Cup of Cold Water ministered to the Saints and Sufferers for Christ in Scotland, who are amid the Scorching Flames of the Fiery Trial; it was printed in 1676. MacWard was speaking to people who were suffering in the extreme. MacWard speaks of their “huntings, harassings, and hidings”. Those who attended the conventicles faced heavy fines, exile, slavery and even imprisonment. Ultimately summary execution was used against them with abandon. MacWard earnestly encouraged them that God could be very near to them they were forced to “lie as among the pots, and are black with the smoke of that fiery furnace, heated seven times beyond what you or your fathers have found, or could have feared”.  The following updated extract speaks about suffering for Christ being something that the faithful Christian cannot avoid. A Christian was forced to choose “he must either go with the drove of those who depart from the living God” or stand out in adhering to God and departing from “these workers of iniquity…[and] opposing their Christ-opposing courses” despite their fury.

 

1. We Cannot Avoid Suffering for Christ

The true reason why there is so little of real Christianity to be found among Christians, is that we do not consider that Christianity is the soul shaped by the blessed mould of non-conformity to the world and conformity to Christ. Bearing His blessed name does not only mean association with Him, it also obliges us to be conformed to Him. Without this we will not have benefit from Him and can never make it apparent that we share the anointing that bearing this blessed name implies.  Few who profess Christianity strive to know the excellency of this condition – its special comforts and duties – and how closely these are connected.

You are not of the world. Since there is so great a change made in your condition and in your conduct in contrast with the world do not think these fiery trials strange. You must go through such until you get through the world. He who does not look on suffering as his daily work, has not received Christ Jesus aright. Whosoever would be the disciple of Christ must take up his cross daily and follow Him. This cross must be what Christ chooses and is pleased to lay on us. The cross is the necessary concomitant of a Christian. Sharp conflict must take place before the conqueror’s crown is obtained. We must expect to meet with such fiery trials as will consume our darling idols into ashes for some means must be used to removed our right eye and right hand that have made us offend. We must and may expect to meet with the saddest trouble and the most intolerable sharp trials from an unexpected source and direction. The people and things which should give the people of God most comfort often prove the source of the calamities they endure and the means by which they are afflicted.

We still think there is a way (because we desire it and often make a way where God has not) to evade these hard sayings, shun these heavy things and yet come to heaven. We imagine it is possible to pass through the world with the world’s good will and be religious too. But this is to be wise above what is written. The devil must first cease to lie, murder and way-lay those that are going to heaven. The enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, must first be abolished, or changed into perfect amity (which shall never be). All this would need to happen before the day could dawn that the traveller to heaven did not need to reckon on meeting with trouble in the way.

 

2. The World Hates Godliness

The wicked have such complete hatred for God that they hate His image in His children.  They do not like but rather hate even the (so-called) godliness of a hypocrite. They do so, not because of the evil that lies below the surface, but because of the good that appears outwardly. There is a light in the Christian’s life who walks as a child of light, which exposes the blemishes of the profane world around him. This light also has a heat which scorches and troubles their conscience. This is why they cannot endure them but take every opportunity to deal with them as if they are come to torment them before the time by their shining and burning. This ought to fortify us in being resolved to prepare for the worse the world can do.  This must be so, for all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

 

3. Persecution Must Increase as Apostasy Increases

It is madness to think otherwise, since our time is a time of defection and shameful apostasy and this has always been found to be a time of hot persecution. The practice of apostates has always been to hate as hell those that stand fast in owning the cause of God which they have relinquished. They treat them like the worst of men. A man who resolves to keep his conscience void of offence towards God must take his life in his hands. He must be ready to part with it when his lot is to live in a time and place where those who have made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience are in power.

Apostasy is the special sin of devils. Satan is the great apostate who hates all that set their faces heaven-ward and are servants of God. They seek God and that blessedness from which he for his apostasy is everlastingly banished. Anyone whom Satan draws away from the ways of the Lord into the guilt of apostasy are by him driven into the same sin of hatred. They persecute those who hold on their way, adhere to the precious truths they have forsaken and are followers of God as dear children. This should alarm everyone into watchfulness against the very first and smallest degrees of defection from the good old ways of God.

 

4. Watch Against the Least Defection

It is dangerous for someone (though mainly sound) to slip from one degree of their zeal and integrity (even merely omitting to stand up for defence of the gospel when assaulted by enemies). They can quickly slide, before they are aware, into censuring and despising fellow believers who will not do the same. Such frequently become more active and industrious to draw others away than to strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die in a time of decline.

The enemies of God have not yet finished and therefore you are best to prepare for new assaults and make provision against the evil day. Blessed are those, who in this dismal day, will not be offended in Christ, but will endure to the end. Expect the worst that violence and enmity armed with power and enflamed with revenge can make you suffer. If we have such foresight and preparation we will not be amazed or taken off guard when we meet with what we were expecting.

 

5. Hold Out and Hold On

Hold out and hold on in firm resolution, even though it comes to resisting unto blood after you are robbed and spoiled of your goods. There is nothing in all these fires and waters, dangers and deaths you have to pass through which can make a soul that knows in whom they have believed go back from his master and walk no more with him. When Christ asked whether the disciples would also leave Him they answered with fervent resolve. They could not for He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). No matter who else would leave, they were forever tied to continue with Him. Eternal life which is in Christ, is to be had by abiding with Him. We must forsake all in following Christ, and be willing to be forsaken of all.

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How We Can Have Holy Boldness in Prayer

How We Can Have Holy Boldness in Prayer

How We Can Have Holy Boldness in 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.
26 May, 2017

Frequently distracted, pressured for time or feeling prayerless: it may be that private prayer sometimes feels like an uphill struggle. Anything else seems easier. Few activities are more humbling. Yet what privilege could be greater than to have constant access to the throne room of heaven? We have boldness to enter into the holiest of all (Hebrews 10:19). What will help us to express ourselves in true holy boldness?

Christopher Love in his series of sermons on holy importunity in prayer gives some helpful counsel.

 

1. Get True Fear Towards God

Possess your heart with a lawful fear of Almighty God. This was the ground of David’s appeal in Psalm 5:3 and 7. You will find this holy fear at the bottom of it. David came to this duty with a strong sense of God’s greatness and dreadfulness. If we would serve God acceptably, we must do it with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). It was said concerning Luther: “that he prayed with so much confidence as if he had been speaking with his friend and yet with great reverence, as one that considered the great distance between God and himself”. Someone who is fearless of God will quickly be careless in prayer (Job 15:4). Someone that casts off the fear of God soon ceases to pray to God. He that fears God most will certainly pray to God best.

 

2. Meditate on God

Collect your thoughts by holy meditation before coming to this weighty duty of prayer to God. We find meditation and prayer put together in Psalm 5:1-2. David’s prayer is ushered in with meditation. The same word in the Hebrew means both to meditate and to pray. Isaac went out into the fields to meditate, or as others translate it -to pray (Genesis 24:63). It is likely he meditated first then prayed. Be much in meditation, if you would have your hearts much enlarged in prayer.

(a) Meditate on the One into whose presence you come, what a glorious God He is, before whom you are to appear.

(b) Meditate on the name by which you are to come and pray, by whom you must have access to the throne of grace.

(c) Meditate on the main mercies you lack, and are to beg. Meditate on what grace you need strengthened, what lusts you need quelled, what doubts you need satisfied, what sins you need pardoned, in a word, what blessings you need God to bestow on you. Meditating on these things must stir up our affections in prayer.

 

3. Avoid Distractions

Recall your thoughts from worldly and distracting cares when you come to prayer. The apostle exhorts the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:35 to free themselves from and rid their hands of the cares of the world so that they may attend upon the Lord without distraction. The cares of the world will eat out that good that is in the hearts of men. They will rob a man of that freedom and enlargement that otherwise he might have in prayer. You must labour to free your selves from these encumbrances. You must do as Abraham did, when he went to sacrifice, he left his servants and cattle at the bottom of the hill. So when you go to offer to God the sacrifices of prayer, you must get above the impediments and distractions of this present life.

 

4. Watch the Heart

“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). There is a watching to prayer, and a watching in praying. A watching to prayer is, when a man watches his heart and sees that he does not omit duties. There are four enemies that you must watch against in prayer.

(a) Watch against drowsiness of body. This is a great impediment of prayer, and we have great need to watch against it.

(b) Watch against a deadness and dullness of spirit and a flat and low condition, this is a great hindrance of importunity.

(c) Watch against the suggestions of Satan. Satan is always ready to assault you, he watches to disturb and molest you in your prayers. You need watch in order to counteract him.

(d) Watch against secular distractions.

 

5. Stir Up Your Affections

If you would get this holy importunity, you must labour to stir up all your affections when you come to pray. This was David’s practice (Psalm 103:1). See how he musters together all the faculties of his soul. He calls up all his strength, all that he is or can do to set forth the name of God. Peter exhorts those to whom he writes, to gird up the loins of their minds (1 Peter 1:13). A Christian going towards heaven is compared to a man going on a journey.  He girds up his clothes so that nothing may hinder him in his journey.

It is also what a master says to a servant (Luke 17:8). God is our master, we are His servants and we are to do His work while we are in the world. Let us gird up our loins, let us gather our affections together so that we are more fit for and more vigorous in the work. An ungirt mind is not fit for prayer. Many pray but do not give attention to prayer. Many pray, as if they did not pray. If we will truly pray we must give attention to it, we must stir up all within us, to call upon the name of the Lord.

 

6. Store Up Material for Prayer

If you would get this holy importunity you must store your hearts full of material when you go to prayer. It is emptiness of spirit that causes deadness of heart.

 

7. Bemoan the Deadness of Your Heart

Bemoan your deadness and dullness of heart. This was the course David took (Psalm 38:9). God loves to hear His people bemoaning themselves (Jeremiah 31:18-19). God loves to hear His people mourning over, and bewailing their wants and weaknesses. Bewail your dullness. Without this holy importunity, prayer is like a messenger without legs, as an arrow without feathers, an advocate without a tongue. Bemoan your lack of importunity.

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Can Unanswered Prayer be a Blessing?

Can Unanswered Prayer be a Blessing?

Can Unanswered Prayer be a Blessing?
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
12 May, 2017

It seems so obvious to us that our prayers should be answered. They are things we long for and about which we are burdened. Surely they are good things and would bring glory to God. Why doesn’t God answer? Such questions put faith and patience to the test especially when we reach the point of desperation. There is a deep mystery here that may be very painful. But we must also recognise that there may be a purpose of mercy when our desires are not fulfilled.

There are some especially helpful insights in a series of sermons preached by Christopher Love on refusing to give up in prayer. Christopher Love (1618-1651) was born in Cardiff, Wales. He was converted at the age of 15 and later became a puritan minister in London. He held firmly to the engagements of the Solemn League and Covenant and was arrested together with other puritans such as Thomas Watson on a charge of treason. It was alleged that they were plotting to bring Charles II to the throne. After being imprisoned he was executed under Cromwell’s government on 22 August 1651. His speech before execution and his final letters to his wife are especially moving.

 

What God Looks for in Your Prayers

Love observes that Luke 11:8 speaks of the request in the parable being answered not because of the state of friendship but because of the importunity. He notes that sometimes it is not enough that we are reconciled to God and are His friends for certain requests to be answered. We must keep going and not give up. Yet, even when we persevere in prayer – we may not experience the fulfilment. Not only this but prayer must be engaged in by a person in a right relationship with God, in a right way and manner and with a right end in view. God does not say that he will hear our prayers no matter how we pray. This would make us careless.

God requires that prayer is done with feeling, fervency, faith, fear, and reverence. It must be done in a right manner.

There are five things that God requires of us in accepting your prayers.

  1. Your heart must be prepared (Psalm 10:17)
  2. Sin must be removed (Job 11:13-15)
  3. Your affections must be raised (Psalm 25:1)
  4. Your mind must be fixed and not distracted (1 Corinthians 7:35)
  5. Your desires must be enlarged after God (Jeremiah 29:13; Psalm 81:10)

 

When Does God Refuse to Answer Your Prayers?

1. When you indulge sin

Indulging and approving sin in your heart provokes God so that He will not give an answer to your prayers (Psalm 66:18).

2. Asking for things for sinful reasons

We must not seek for mercies from God which we will make fuel for our sin (James 4:3; Matthew 20:21).

3. Asking for things you will not use in the right way

Perhaps God sees that enlarged gifts would make you proud. In Genesis 26:1-2 God denied Isaac from going to Egypt during a famine but in Genesis 46:3 He commands Jacob to go there. Isaac was weaker and would have fallen into the sins of the land. But now Jacob is stronger in grace and would resist their idolatrous ways and not be guilty of their sins.  If God denies you something, say to yourself, “this denial is in mercy, for He did not think me fit for it”. This would silence all the murmurings of our hearts against God.

4. Asking for things in a cold and careless way

God promises to be found, if we seek Him with our whole heart. But if we are regardless ourselves how can we expect that God will regard us?

 

 

When Can it be a Blessing for God Refuse to Answer Your Prayers?

God does not hear the prayers of the wicked but denies them in wrath. He only denies His people’s prayers in mercy. This is so in the following situations:

1. If it is something sinful in itself

God will not always give His people what they pray for but what is best for them. If God gave His people all they ask for, they would be undone. It is mercy to deny a mad man a sword, for he would cut his own throat with it or to deny a child a knife, for he would cut his fingers with it. In Luke 5:8 Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. If Christ had granted Peter his request, he would have been undone forever.  This denial was in mercy.

2. If it would cause us to sin

A man may ask God for wealth but God sees that having wealth would make him proud. Such denial is mercy.

3. If He gives something better in exchange

Moses desired to go into the land of Canaan but it was better to him to go to the heavenly Canaan.  God therefore took him there. The apostles asked Christ to tell them when he would restore the kingdom to Israel. He would not not tell them but gave them a greater mercy, He gave them the Holy Spirit. David prayed for the life of his child but God took away the illegitimate child and gave him Solomon. As Bernard of Clairvaux says, God will either give us what we ask or what He knows to be better for us.

4. If He intends to increase your desire for it

God may deny us in order to increase your desires and affections in prayer and make you more eager in pursuing mercy. God often denies what we seek for not because He is unwilling to listen but to see how your heart will be drawn out towards Him in prayer. He wants to make you more vehement and importunate in your desires.

You find this in the woman of Canaan (Matthew 15:22). Jesus Christ takes no notice of her; He answers her not a word (verse 23). That is discouragement. One would have thought she would desist, but she prayed again, and the disciples besought Him to send her away. That is another discouragement, which would have knocked off many; but she continues her request still. Jesus Christ Himself answers her, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” That is a third discouragement; and yet that does not cool her affections, but she comes afresh to Christ, and worships Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” She found yet another repulse, and that worse than the former (Matthew 15:26). Christ calls her a dog but she takes encouragement even from this discouraging answer. She was resolved not to give up till she got what she came for. The denials and discouragements God’s people meet with make their desires stronger and their affections to burn hotter.

God was angry with the prayers of His people (Psalm 80:4) so that they might be more fervent. Anselm says that God does not delay to hear our prayers because He has no intention to give but so that our desires may be kindled. This gives Him a reason to give more plentifully.

5. If He sees that we have an excessive desire for it

It may be merciful for God to deny us something in mercy if we set our heart on it too much. If we love it too much in asking we will be excessive in having. Rachel was better to lack children than to desire them with an impetuous desire and rash words (Genesis 30:1). She had a child and died in child-bed. God turns mercies desired too passionately into curses and snares to us, or else takes them away from us.

 

Other Considerations

1. God gets glory even by denying your prayers.

It is better that God should be glorified than that we have what we ask for when we want it (John 11:3-4 and 40).

2. If you do not listen to God’s commands, no wonder if He does not listen to your prayers.

It may be God has been calling you to repent and believe for many years – to be reformed, to forsake the evil of your doings, yet you have not heeded His call. Is it not just for God to let you call and He not hear you? (Micah 3:4; Zechariah 7:13).

3. If you ask coldly.

Do you think God will listen to that prayer which you yourself do not listen to? Do you think God will accept a prayer in which your yourself do not know what you are saying?

4. Perhaps God has given a blessing that you do not acknowledge.

God may have answered your prayers, yet you have not taken any notice of it (Job 9:16-17).

5. Perhaps you are not ready for the answer.

God is always ready to give an answer to our prayers but we are not always ready to receive the answer. God may deny us so that we open our mouths wider (Psalm 81:10).

6. God’s people may wait long for an answer.

It was fifteen years from the time of God’s promise of a child to Abraham until it was accomplished. Zachariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child and while God heard their cries and prayers He did not answer until they were old. So it is often for the Church (Lamentations 3:8 and 44; Habakkuk 1:2).

7. Sometimes God is angry with His people’s prayers.

God may not only defer or deny an answer but even be angry at some times and in some situations with His people’s prayers (Psalm 80:4; Job 30:20-21).

8. God may accept you and listen to your prayers but not grant your request.

In one sense this was even true of Christ in praying for the cup to pass from Him (Matthew 26:39) yet He was heard in that which He prayed (Hebrews 5:7). Moses was a godly man and prayed to see the promised land and go over Jordan to possess it. But God was angry with him and commanded him to pray no more (Deuteronomy 3:23-26).

9. God may give you something better.

Abraham prayed that Ishmael might live before God. God did not hear his prayer as Abraham desired but gave him Isaac and the covenant which was a greater mercy.

10. God may deny your request because to grant it would be a token of wrath.

This would be so if someone asks for something sinful in itself, or that which would be an unavoidable cause of sin or for sinful reasons.

11. God may answer someone else’s prayers for you even if He does not answer your own.

This is a great comfort to every poor weak Christian in the world – they have a stock of prayers going for them to the throne of grace. God forbade Job’s three friends to pray but told Job to pray for them (Job 42:8-9).

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