When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

When idolaters are better at devotions than believers

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

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

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

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

How do we treat our God?

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

How much reverence?

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

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

How much diligence?

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

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

How fervent?

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

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

How self-sacrificial?

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

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

How much reliance?

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

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

Why should we outdo the heathen?

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

The excellency of our God

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

The infallible certainty of our principles

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

The sweetness of our duties

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

The greatness of our debt

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

The eternal weight of glory ahead of us

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

The assistance we are given

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

How can we outdo the heathen?

Some things about their worship, we should imitate.

Awe

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

Dependence

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

Receptivity

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

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

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

Grace

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

The Mediator

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

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

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Three things to realise from the transfiguration

Three things to realise from the transfiguration

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

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

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

To show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we should use this teaching

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

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

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What does redemption cost?

What does redemption cost?

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

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

Why do we need redemption?

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

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

What was the cost of redemption?

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

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

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

So many people

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

So many sins

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

Such divine attributes

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

Such depths

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

So many details

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

Who benefits from it?

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

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

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

Why did He suffer like this?

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

What does He provide to us?

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

What was the underlying reason?

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

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The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

The willingness of the Lord Jesus to be our Redeemer

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

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

He was under no obligation

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

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

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

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

He was involved in drawing up the agreement

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

(1) Designating a person to do this work

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

(2) Equipping that person to do the work

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

(3) Calling the person who had been designated

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

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

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

(5) His mission

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

He willingly consented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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When knowledge misses the point

When knowledge misses the point

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking knowledge for its own sake

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

Avoiding knowledge of the most important things

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

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

Prioritising peripheral points

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

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

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

Correlating our zeal with spiritual value

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

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Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

Finding our way through the labyrinth of providence

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

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

My very worthy and dear brother,

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

God’s way of working

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

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

Our way of persevering

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

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

Our escape from the labyrinth of crosses and comforts

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

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

God’s spiritual gold worth working for

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

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

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

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

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Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation

Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation

Why We Should Embrace Jesus Without Hesitation
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

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

How should we receive Christ?

What way we are to close with a suffering Christ?

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

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

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

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

On what terms should we embrace Christ?

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

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

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

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

What are some motives for uniting with Christ?

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

To receive peace and healing

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

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

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

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

To avoid being rebels against God

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

To give satisfaction to Christ

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

To be responsive to all the calls you are getting

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

To be welcomed by Him

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

To honour the blood of the covenant

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

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Stepping towards assurance

Stepping towards assurance

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit removes self-confidence

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

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

The Holy Spirit assists ordinary diligence

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

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

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

The Holy Spirit gives recognisable characteristics

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

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

Habitual preference for Christ’s priorities

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

To elaborate.

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

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

Pursuit of holiness

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

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

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

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

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

Experience of covenant blessings

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

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

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

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Discerning a call to secular service

Discerning a call to secular service

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

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

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

Monday

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to defy discouragements

How to defy discouragements

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

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

8 July 1675

Dear sister,

We have to live by faith

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

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

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

We don’t need to be discouraged by guilt

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

Or by God’s wrath

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

Or by our ignorance

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

Or by our sinfulness

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

Or by our small progress

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

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

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

Or by a sense of distance from the Lord

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

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

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

Advice

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

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Eight things love will do for Jesus

Eight things love will do for Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Love makes you bring something useful with you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Love engulfs all difficulties in the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. When difficulties increase, love increases too

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

7. Love risks everything to do Christ a good turn

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

8. Love keeps looking for a rising Christ

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

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Five things Jesus teaches us about prayer

Five things Jesus teaches us about prayer

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

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

1. Whatever you do, begin with prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, do your duty with these directions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Humiliation is the way to exaltation

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

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

5. The Father and the Son mutually exalt one another

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

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