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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Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

Engaging Conscience in Buying and Selling

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

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

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

BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES For HONEST Buying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biblical Principles For Honest Selling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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7 Anchors for Stormy Times

7 Anchors for Stormy Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. There is a Reward for the Righteous

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

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

2. Christ Has Overcome the World

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

3. Christ Was Hated by the World Too

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

4. God is Greater than the Greatest Troubles

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

5. The Lord Will Be With Us

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

6. The Lord Will Keep Us in Trouble

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

7. Christ is Our Shelter

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

Conclusion

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

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Is There Encouragement in Times of Decline?

Is There Encouragement in Times of Decline?

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

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

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

1. Encouragement from God’s Eternal Counsel

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

2. Encouragement from God’s Self-Attesting Word

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

3. Encouragement from God’s Providence

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

4. Encouragement Even if the Number of Godly People Declines

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

5. Encouragement Even Though Godliness is Despised

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

6. Encouragement Even Though Wickedness Prospers

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

7. Encouragement Despite Ungodliness Within the Church

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

8. Encouragement Even Though Error Prevails

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

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

Conclusion

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

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10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

10 Ways to Take the Pulse of Our Times

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

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

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

1. When Suffering is Unavoidable

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

2. When Truths are Questioned

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

3. When Duties are Questioned

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

4. When the Godly are Divided

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

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

5. When Enemies Change Tactics

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

6. When Fear of Man Prevails

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

7. When Sin Succeeds

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

8. When the Church is Harmed

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

9. When Circumstances Alter

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

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

10. When Spirituality Declines

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

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Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

Help to Recover Meaningful Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

1. EDIFYING Conversation is Required

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

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

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

2. EDIFYING Conversation is Easily Diverted

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

3. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Dismissive

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

4. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Controversial

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

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

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

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

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

5. EDIFYING Conversation is Not Contentious

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

6. EDIFYING Conversation is Faithful

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

7. EDIFYING Conversation is Discreet

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

8. EDIFYING Conversation is Prayerful

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

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

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

Political Power and its Limitations

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

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The Church has a Debt Problem

The Church has a Debt Problem

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

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

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

1. We Owe a Testimony to the Gospel

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

2. We Owe a Testimony in Our Lives

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

3. We Owe a Testimony to Others

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

4. We Owe a Testimony from Experience

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

5. We Owe a Testimony When the Truth is Attacked

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

6. We Owe a Testimony After Trials

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

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

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

7. We Owe a Testimony in Death

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

8. We Owe a Testimony to God’s Faithfulness

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

9. We Owe a Testimony in Suffering

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

10. We Owe Future Generations Clear Truth

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

11. We Owe Future Generations Pure Truth

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

12. We Owe Future Generations the Whole Truth

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

13. We Owe Future Generations True Godliness

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

Conclusion

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

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How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it

How to Truly Nurture our Conscience, not Outsource it
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.

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

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

1. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Been Renewed

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

2. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must Be Maintained

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

3. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Must be Well-Informed

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

4. A Truly Nurtured Conscience Has Only One Lord

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

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

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

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

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

5. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Sensitive

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

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

6. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Respectful

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

7. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Fully Persuaded

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. A Truly Nurtured Conscience is Not Rash

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

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