The heavenly wisdom of a soft answer

The heavenly wisdom of a soft answer

The heavenly wisdom of a soft answer
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

In Prince Harry’s recent memoir we can see the effect of the insatiable voyeuristic appetite for celebrity gossip. We no doubt feel sympathy for those whose lives are picked over endlessly by commentators who seem to say what they like with little fear of contradiction. Perhaps we have all felt the impulse sometimes to tell our own side of the story, take control of the narrative, speak our own truth. There are more wise and less wise ways of doing this. Laying bare your heart does not necessarily lead to acceptance and respect, it can sometimes give more fodder for ridicule. Worse, telling your story may involve you in making accusations against other people. Now you have also shredded other people’s reputations. So the drama rolls on and the prospects of reconciliation fade further away. And it’s all words! The consequences of our words can sometimes be enormous, as the apostle James pointed out long ago. In the following updated extract, David Dickson explains James’s insistence on the need to bridle our tongues. It is impossible without God’s grace, yet the counterintuitive act of responding with meekness when we are provoked is the way of heavenly wisdom and it leads to peace and righteousness. Christians should strive by God’s grace to be people of integrity – like a fountain which sends out one consistent stream of water, not alternating between the pure and the defiled – and so show who really is in control in their hearts.

James chapter 3 contains two pieces of advice. The first is for governing the tongue (verses 1–13), and the second is to do with the meek wisdom which assuages the evils of the tongue, and avoids strifes and contentions (verses 14–18).

Control your tongue and you control your whole self

James tells us to bridle the tongue, that is, to hold back from invective, and rigid rehearsals of other people’s vices or infirmities. “Be not many masters,” he says (verse 1), i.e., do not arrogate to yourselves the authority of a master over others, and too much liberty to carp at things (as many do), but instead bridle your tongues.

One reason for this is because those who unjustly censure others will suffer heavier judgement from the God who avenges injuries (verse 1). Also, seeing we all have many failings (“in many things we offend all,” verse 2), it is better for us to deal more diligently with the infirmities of others, not to arrogate the authority of judging without a calling, or to be unjust in judging.

Anyone who knows how to govern their tongue shows the sign of being “perfect,” someone who can moderate all their actions (verse 2). Anyone who cannot moderately rule their tongue, but in all things carps at other people’s behaviour, has the sign of being a hypocrite.

If you are guiding the horse’s bridle, you have control of the horse; and if you have your hand on the rudder, you are steering the ship. Even so, if you have your tongue under control, you rein in your whole body, and keep your outward actions in check (verse 3–5).

Great care is needed in governing the tongue, because of how gloriously it can boast. It can on both sides perform much good – in speaking the truth, in constancy, in letting things slide, in courtesy, and so on – and it can do much evil, in lies, reproaches, calumnies and so on (verse 5).

Let fly with words and you stir up a world of evil

As a small fire can kindle and devour may things, so the tongue, unless it is appeased and bridled, can stir up a world of evils, and create infinite sins (verse 5–6). Although it is a small part, it is nevertheless a part of the body, which means it can involve all the other members of the body in what it does. It can defile the whole body with wickednesses, and with its wickedness set on fire the wheel of all our natural faculties.

When the tongue is ready to serve the devil in this way, there is some affinity between the evil tongue and hell (verse 6). From the devil the tongue can send out enough flames of lies, slanders and quarrellings to burn the whole world.

There is no kind of animals, but may be tamed by human reason or skill, and experience teaches that some of all kinds have been tamed (verse 7). But the tongue can be tamed by no human reason or art. It is an unquiet and an unruly evil, full of deadly poison, by which it is ready to bring, and does bring, deadly mischiefs to others (verse 8). Therefore you must by God’s supernatural grace diligently endeavour to bridle the tongue.

Be honest in your words and you show you have supernatural grace

The tongue is mutable, deceitful, crafty. One minute it makes itself out to be very good, blessing God, the next minute it openly shows its real nature, by cursing other people (and indirectly God, according to whose likeness people are made). This it does from the same mouth, sometimes sending forth blessing, sometimes cursing (verse 9). But this is absurd and monstrous, and must in no wise be tolerated by those who belong to Christ (verse 10).

James then uses four similes – a fountain, a fig-tree, a vine, and the sea (verse 11–12) – arguing from these natural impossibilities to expose this irrational incoherence in our practice. It is simply not natural that sweet and bitter water should flow from the same channel of the fountain, or that a fig-tree should bring forth grapes, and a vine figs, or that the same sea should yield both salt water and sweet. So reason will not allow us to think that it is the tongue of someone who is regenerated, which, although sometimes it blesses, yet being unbridled, it otherwise curses – for a bad tree does not bear good fruits.

This is why it is so important for the regenerate to follow the simplicity of holiness in speech, and to endeavour to bridle their tongues.

Wisdom consists in avoiding contention

In the second part of the chapter, James gives another piece of advice. He exhorts us to wisdom joined with meekness, which is the remedy for the evils and jealousies of the tongue. If anyone is going to show themselves a prudent Christian, they ought to show it in innocence and meekness.

Laying aside meekness, and instead cherishing contradictory vices in the heart, such as jealousy and contention, is no matter of glorying, but rather of shame (verse 14). Indeed, it is effectively lying against the truth – falsely boasting yourself to be spiritually wise (or, Christians) but in fact showing yourself to be wicked. This is why we must make an effort to strive after the wisdom of meekness.

Wisdom does not lead to vengefulness

The wisdom of contention, envying, revenging of personal attacks, is not the wisdom which descends from heaven, from God. Instead it is earthly, sensual and devilish (verse 15). Its origins are in fallen nature and the devil. Where there is not wisdom with meekness, but envy and contention, there tumults, seditions, and every wickedness reigns (verse 16). These are more reasons to pursue the wisdom of meekness.

Wisdom makes peace and is peaceable

In verse 17, James gives eight characteristics of heavenly wisdom, the wisdom which is joined with meekness. (1) It is pure and chaste, i.e., it holds fast truth and holiness, lest it be in any way polluted. (2) It is peaceable, avoiding contentions. (3) It endeavours after equity. (4) It easily gives place to right reason. (5) It is full of mercy towards those who err and sin. (6) It is full of good fruits, omitting nothing of those things which are fitting in those who are good and pious. (7) It does not enquire suspiciously into the blemishes of others. (8) It is without hypocrisy, with which chiefly carnal wisdom is delighted. All these are reasons why we ought to endeavour after wisdom joined with meekness.

Those who endeavour after this wisdom joined with meekness, simultaneously endeavour to make peace, or to be peaceable themselves (verse 18). They are in peace. They work righteousness, or increase their holiness. They sow to themselves for time to come, and for life eternal, so that they may reap the fruit of righteousness in due time.

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Six things to pray for in the new year

Six things to pray for in the new year

Six things to pray for in the new year
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

As a new year opens, what will the future hold? What are we justified to hope for, and what is realistic to work towards? In the prayer of Moses the man of God, we get an insight into what a bright and desirable prospect would look like for a believer and the church collectively, and what we can legitimately throw our energies into striving for with the Lord’s help and blessing. Time seems to be passing so quickly and there are so many things that cause grief even at times when we are conditioned to take an optimistic view. In this light David Dickson comments on the six things Moses prays for in Psalm 90 in the following updated extract.

1. Wisdom for eternity

In the concluding part of Psalm 90, Moses prays for six things in response to the short and sorrowful life of the Lord’s people. The first petition is for wisdom to provide in time for the remedy of sin and everlasting misery, before this short and uncertain life ends. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (verse 12).

Although our life is both short and uncertain as to how soon it may end, yet our tendency is to look on its indefiniteness as if this meant its duration will be infinite and our years innumerable. When Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days,” it implies some acknowledgement of this.

It is easy for us to calculate how many of our days are already past, and easy to consider how few there are to come by the course of nature (or God’s ordinary providence), yet this lesson must be taught by God before we can make any profitable use of it. “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

The only remedy for sin, and the wrath of God, and the misery of mortal humans for sin, is the wisdom which is taught by God in the Scripture, i.e., that sinners should seek reconciliation with God through the sacrifice and obedience of Christ, and keep friendship with God by the power of His spirit.

The right use of the things we see manifested in our lives of sin and wrath and judgments is to deal with God by prayer, not only that He would inform us of our danger and duty, not only that He would reveal to our minds the mystery of grace and reconciliation, but also that He would effectually move our will, heart and affections by faith which worketh by love, so that we would make application of the remedy for ourselves. “So that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

2. Comfort from God

The second petition is that God would not only remove the evidences of His displeasure against His people, but that He would also now at length show Himself to be reconciled by changing His dealings with them in a course of comfort. “Return (O Lord), how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants” (verse 13).

Although the Lord does not go away from His people (He always remains with the in one or another gracious working) yet in terms of His comforting presence He may turn away until His people request Him to return.

When the Lord does withdraw His comforting presence from His people, however short a time it may be, it sems a long time to us in this short life. “Return, O Lord, how long?”

Although the Lord does not change His affections or repent like a man, yet He can change His dealings, like a father who commiserates his child’s affliction, and tries to cherish and comfort him after disciplining him.

“Let it repent thee concerning thy servants.” Although we are very slight servants, and sorely smitten for our disobedience, yet we should not cast away our calling, nor act as if our relationship with God has been dissolved. Instead we should cling to Him in any way we can. Here they still call themselves His servants.

3. Spiritual refreshment

The third petition is for some spiritual comfort and refreshment to their souls, which would keep them in good heart and in hope of eternal salvation. “O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad in our days” (verse 14).

When a soul is conscious of God’s wrath, he or she has as great a hunger for spiritual comfort as a famished man has for food. “O satisfy us!” The renewed confirmation of God’s mercy, pardoning sin and giving us a clear sight of our reconciliation, is able to comfort us in our greatest sorrow. “O satisfy us with thy mercy!”

As physical hunger cannot tolerate delay, so neither can a sense of God’s wrath, or the desire for favourable acceptance long endure the absence of consolation. After a night of trouble they earnestly expect a morning of comfort. “Satisfy us early!”

A poor hungry soul, lying under a sense of wrath, knows it will be happy for ever if only it can find again what it felt before – one sweet fill of God’s mercy made known to it. “Then we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

However great our trouble, and however long it lasts, the renewed sense of God’s reconciliation to us seasons and sweetens all our trouble, recompenses all our losses, and makes our situation in this short and miserable life very comfortable. “Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (verse 15).

4. God’s work to grow

The fourth petition is that God would continue the work of building and enlarging His own church, and of glorifying Himself in their sight, and in the sight of their posterity from generation to generation. “Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children” (verse 16).

The building, purging, enlarging and propagating of the church, and the manifesting of God’s care for it, is the Lord’s own proper work. He will not give it up. Although He may hide His activity for a time, yet He is still at work, and His people should pray for and may expect the manifestation of it.

As it is the glory of the Lord to manifest His grace and mercy to His people, or the visible church, so correspondingly it is the desire of the Lord’s people to have Him glorified, no less than to have themselves preserved or comforted.

The church in every age should have a care that their posterity would participate in the same merciful work of God which they have themselves experienced, and that their children would profit by how their predecessors were corrected.

5. The beauty of the Lord

The fifth petition is that God would beautify His people. He beautifies them with His holy ordinances, with order and unity and peace, with a holy lifestyle, and with the evidences that He is dwelling among them as His own covenanted people, proper subjects of His kingdom, and those who belong to His own family.

God is the glory of His people – their beauty and ornamentation is in Him. This is how they are made honourable in the sight of all nations, as the bride is made beautiful by her clothing and ornaments. This is how His people should think of Him, and value Him, and love Him. They should remember Him and seek their beauty in Him.

The time when the beauty of the Lord is on His people, and seen to be on them, is when they are behaving like His covenanted people – when they are walking in faith and obedience before Him, and is showing Himself to be their covenanted God, protecting and blessing them.

6. A blessing on what we do for God

The sixth petition is that God would bless the endeavours of His people for promoting God’s work among them, and for transmitting His ordinances and truth to their posterity. “Establish thou the work of our hands” (verse 17).

If we pray for the Lord’s work to progress in His church, we must resolve not to be idle, but to commit ourselves to endeavour, in our places and callings, according to our ability, to promote His work, just as His servants and instruments should be doing.

When we do go about building the Lord’s church and promoting Christianity, we must acknowledge that the success of our labours depends only on God, who must be entreated for the blessing.

Our work is so mixed and defiled with imperfections and sins that God would only be just if He withdrew Himself from it. We must therefore all the more earnestly deal with Him to keep His own hand on His work, and keep our hands in it.

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Four comforts as time passes

Four comforts as time passes

Four comforts as time passes
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

As humans we are constrained by time. The passing of one year to the next is something entirely out of our control – all we can do is mark dates and recognise milestones. The only constant from one generation to the next is God. He is outside of time, because time is something that He created. The amazing thing is that as He stands outside of time and remains entirely unaffected by the passing of moments and millennia, He has chosen to make Himself a safe haven for sinful creatures vulnerable to change and decay. This thought was a tremendous comfort to Moses, the man of God, in his prayer to God in Psalm 90. David Dickson in this updated extract identifies the four sources of comfort that Moses draws from God’s unchangingness and unchangeableness for sinners who are reconciled to Him, especially when they may be wrestling with the swift passage of time and difficulties and sorrows in life.

It is sin that has procured the shortness and the miseries of this life, as Moses lamentably sets out before the Lord, who is full of pity. But his prayer opens with a fourfold comfort for the church against temporal troubles and this world’s miseries.

1. The Lord’s kindness to His people in all ages

The first comfort is drawn from the Lord’s kindness to His people in all ages. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1)

When we pray therefore, we must lay hold on the offer of God’s kindness according to the covenant of grace, and look on God as gracious to us in Christ. Moses here, and others elsewhere, when they come as supplicants in prayer they begin with renewed acts and expressions of faith.

God’s people in any given place and age are one body with God’s people in all ages preceding and following. They may lay claim to all the privileges of God’s people before them. Here the church in Moses’ time joins itself with all the Lord’s people in former times, for the use of succeeding ages which were yet to come. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”

The Lord’s people are strangers in the earth, partly because they have no certain residence in this world, and partly because they have such a poor reception among the people of the world, but especially because at heart, in their affections, they are pilgrims in this world. However, this does not mean they lack a resting place. They have a dwelling in heaven, that is, God Himself, in whom they dwell by faith. They find in Him rest, and food, and protection, and comfort. In fact, in His heart they have had a lodging “in all generations.”

The troubles and miseries of this life make the godly to search out what participation they have in God, and another life. What pinches them on earth makes them seek their abundance in heaven.

2. The decree of the eternal covenant

The second comfort of the believer against the miseries of this short life is taken by Moses from the decree of their election and the eternal covenant of their redemption, settled in the purpose and counsel of the blessed Trinity for their advantage. In this covenant it was agreed before the world existed that the Word to be incarnate would be the Saviour of the elect. Moses says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (verse 2).

Here the asserting of the eternity of God is with reference to His own chosen people. To say, “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations, and Thou art God from everlasting to everlasting,” is effectively to say, “Thou art from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God in purpose and affection toward us Thy people, and so Thou art our God from everlasting in regard of Thy eternal purpose of love electing us, and in regard of appointing redemption for us by the Redeemer.”

When we discern God’s goodwill to us in time, we may arise to God’s goodwill to us before time. From the grace showed to us in time, we may conclude that grace and goodwill were purposed toward us and ordained for us before time. This is what the psalmist is teaching us. When he has said, “From generation to generation, thou hast been our dwelling place,” that is, “in all time past Thou hast been our God,” he subjoins, “Before the mountains were brought forth … Thou art God,” that is, “the same God unchangeably in Thy purpose and love toward us before time, from everlasting.”

Also, from special love shown to us in time, we may conclude not only that His love has been toward us not only before time from everlasting, but also that it shall continue towards us in time to come for ever. “Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,” he says, that is, “the same strong God, immutable in Thy purpose and love toward us first and last.” Indeed faith cannot fix itself till by the warrant of God’s Word and feeling of His gracious working in us in time, it joins God’s work of grace and His purpose of grace together.

This is why the apostle Paul leads the believer in Christ to election in Christ before the world was, and to predestination to adoption by Jesus Christ according to His good pleasure before the world was (Ephesians 1:1, 3, 4, 5). Similarly in 2 Timothy he leads us to a completed covenant before the world was made, between God the Father and God the Son, according to which all conditions required of the Redeemer are settled, and all the elect, all the redeemed, are delivered over to the Son, the Word to be incarnate, the intended Redeemer, and all saving grace is given over into Christ’s hand, for the sake of the elect, to be let out to them in due time: “Grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).

The nature of God which is to be one and the same, unchangeable from everlasting to everlasting, is the solid ground for faith to reason things out in this manner.

The knowledge of God’s eternal goodwill to us is a sufficient cordial to soften and sweeten all our grief and affliction in this life. The very reason why this doctrine is prefixed to what follows in the psalm about temporal miseries, is to comfort the Lord’s people against all the troubles of this life.

3. The resurrection of the dead

A third comfort Moses mentions is from the resurrection of the dead. “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children of men” (verse 3).

Although God puts into effect the decree which has appointed all men once to die, yet He has also appointed a resurrection, by which He will powerfully recall and make to return from death all Adam’s posterity. “Thou turnest man to destruction,” and so all must die, “and sayest, Return, ye children of men,” and so all must rise again.

It costs the Lord but a word to make the dead rise again, or to make those that are destroyed to return again. “Thou sayest.” His word has already gone out about the resurrection, and it is altogether operative. It will prove fully effectual at length.

4. The shortness of time until the resurrection

The fourth comfort is drawn from the shortness of the time between anyone’s death and their return from the dead in the resurrection. Perhaps someone might object that it is a long time since the resurrection was promise, till the time that it will be really accomplished.

But although it may seem a long time between a person’s death and their resurrection, yet before God it is only a short time. For that matter it is nothing in comparison with eternity. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (verse 4).

Unless we reckon time as God reckons it, we cannot but be weary and think it long, and wonder at the delay in the performing of His promises, and so fall into temptation and unbelief.

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How to achieve authenticity

How to achieve authenticity

How to achieve authenticity
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

Authenticity is highly prized in our culture, both in society and in the church. Nobody wants to be fake, everyone wants to be true to themselves. The difficulty is discerning what our true inner selves are really like. We all want to be the best version of ourselves, but lurking inside the deepest core of our being is something unpleasant. We don’t want that to be expressed to the world. More than being true to our real selves as sinners, what we need is truth in our inner selves. Certainly what God desires is for us to have truth in the inward parts, in our innermost being. God Himself is true through and through. Correspondingly, the Bible, His Word is true and reliable, and He transforms His people so that they have real integrity in their deepest places of their hearts. In this updated extract, David Dickson shows that when our hearts are open to being searched and shaped by God’s Word, we become more and more true to Him. Then our renewed selves become really worth expressing honestly and consistently to others.

The hidden intentions of our hearts matter

The writer of Hebrews has just reminded his readers of the warning that was given to the people of Israel, that unbelief would prevent them from obtaining the blessed rest that God promises His people. Now, lest any should shrug off this warning, as something that expired with those to whom it was first spoken (or else cloak their sins and their intention to defect from the faith when the time seems right), he lets them know the power of the Word, and the power of God who they are dealing with. “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

We must therefore carefully study the use, extent and nature of God’s Word, lest through misunderstanding it or being ignorant of it, we might misapply or misinterpret it.

God’s living Word strikes a chord deep in our hearts 

The first attribute of the Word is that it is “quick,” or living, alive. It does not die when those to whom it was first directed die, but it endures, speaking on with the same authority, to all who hear it, in all times after. The Word is not a dead letter, which expired in previous ages. It is the same to us as it was before to others – fit for working, and working the work for which it is sent, whether for convincing or converting the hearer, always.

God’s powerful Word makes changes deep in our hearts 

Again, the Word is “powerful.” It is not only fit to work, but active and operative in effect. It actually binds the conscience to obedience, or judgement, whatever opposition the sinner may make. If the hearer believes it, it sets working immediately to clear his mind, rectify his will, reform his life, and to bring about his good and safety. If a hearer does not believe it, again it sets to work, there and then binding him guilty to judgement, and augmenting his natural blindness, and his heart’s hardness, bringing on some degree of the deserved punishment on him (although of course it does not do this of its own nature, but rather by the disposition of the object on which it is working). So, the Word does not lack its own effect, whenever it is preached. Always it either helps or harms the hearer, according as the hearer yields to it or rejects or neglects it. We therefore do well to observe what sort of work it does on us personally (seeing it must have some effect), so that we may be framed to the better by it.

God’s Word reaches the deepest core of our being

Another property of the Word is that “it is sharper than any two-edged sword.” It pierces speedily through a brow of brass, and a dissembling countenance, and a lying mouth. It thrusts itself, without any resistance, into the conscience of the most obstinate, with a secret blow, and makes that obstinate one guilty in his own heart.

Preachers should therefore not think their labour is lost, when they are engaging with obstinate sinners. The stroke is given at the hearing of the Word, and it will be found uncured after. On the other hand, dissemblers should not please themselves with good appearances, as if the Word did not touch them. Rather, they should give glory to God, at the time when they are pricked at the heart. For if they carry on ignoring the wound they have received from this sword, the wound shall prove deadly.

The Word also “pierces even to the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit.” The most secret devices and plots of the mind or spirit, and the most hidden affections of the heart or soul towards any forbidden evil, this Word will find out. It can even divide asunder the soul and the spirit, the heart and the mind, and tell the man how his soul or heart cleaves to that sin, and how his mind plots pretences to hide the evil of it from himself and from others, even in those sins which have not broken out, but lie concealed in the mind, like the marrow in the bones. And it can put a difference betwixt the purposes of the heart and the thoughts, how to contrive the scheme, and how to disguise the behaviour. Or those ways how the sinner beguiles himself, and seeks to conceal things from the eyes of others, the Word deciphers, and distinguishes all the things which self-deceiving sophistry wants to keep tangled up.

Clearly then, secret purposes fall under the jurisdiction of the Word, as well as practices performed. And pretences and excuses will not put off the challenge of the Word. Nothing remains then except for us to give ourselves up to the governance of the Word, fleeing from what it forbids, and following what it commands.

God Himself sees who we really are

Finally, to confirm the power of the Word, the writer brings in the nature of God whose Word it is. He sets up the sinner’s secret thoughts in the sight of the all-seeing God, with whom the sinner has to do. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).

God is the one with whom the hearer of the Word has to do, the one with whom he has his reckoning to make – not the preacher. God himself joins with His Word, and gives it that searching, and discovering and piercing power.

God’s omniscience, and all-seeing sight, should make us look to our inward disposition. This is how this, and other similar exhortations and warnings, shall have better effect and fruit in us.

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Why reading the Bible leads to conversion

Why reading the Bible leads to conversion

Why reading the Bible leads to conversion
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

In the right hands, the Bible is a powerful tool for bringing sinners to salvation. When the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the truth, reading the Bible leads to conversion. A recent UK study which investigated the key influences that led to people coming to faith in Jesus has found that one of the biggest influences, second only to growing up in a Christian family, was reading the Bible. In fact, for younger people (aged 18-24) Bible reading is the single biggest influence in bringing people to follow Jesus. As the authors of the study comment, this should encourage us to keep making the Bible as available and accessible as we can. The Bible is designed and provided by God to teach us the truths about Jesus that we need to know for salvation, and the Spirit makes the preaching and even the reading of the Word effectual in conversion. In the following updated extract, David Dickson reflects further on the beautiful characteristics of God’s Word. These are set out in Psalm 19, which opens by showing how God’s works of creation and providence give us true and important but limited information about God’s greatness. The Psalm dwells on the characteristics of God’s special revelation, the Bible, which make it necessary and sufficient for conversion.

Psalm 19 is a sweet contemplation of the glory of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness shining in the works of creation (v. 1-6), and of the glory of His holiness and rich grace shining through his Word and ordinances in His church (v. 7-10).

God’s glory is displayed in creation and providence

Although the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord, yet any portion of it will absorb your meditation when you begin to think of it. Here, the psalmist focuses his meditations on the heavens, and the alternation between day and night, and the light of the sun. The invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead, and His glorious attributes of wisdom, goodness, and majesty, are to be seen in the works of creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work” (v1).

Yet, although His glory is shown to all, yet it is only the child of God, who has been illuminated by God, who can observe it. In substance the heavens declare that they are not their own maker, but that they are made by one, infinite, incomprehensible, omnipotent, everlasting, good, kind and glorious God. And the “firmament” (which I take is the region of the air, and the place of the stars) declares how skillfully and intricately God can adorn the work of His hands, and how powerfully He can put abundant glory on the creature, even though it has nothing in itself to make it glorious.

The message of creation and providence is plain

Next, the psalmist listens and hears what day and night speak. All that they say, he calls “knowledge” (v2). The day tells us that we live in time, that our days are numbered, that our days go away quickly, that time is precious, and cannot return when it is gone, and that as long as it lasts, it allows us to view the works of the Lord as we go about our own necessary labours. The night says that in ourselves we are weak, and cannot endure long toiling in labour; that as some little short rest is necessary to the labourer, so it is prepared for him, that he may lie under a curtain, and sleep a while, and so be fitted for more work; that he may now quietly review what he has been doing, and may commune with his heart and be still; and that if he does not do what he has to do in time, “the night cometh when no man can work.”

There is no people nor country, but the speech of these created things speaks convincingly enough to them to make them inexcusable. Even if not everyone learns wisdom by them, yet the “voice” of the works of creation and providence is heard everywhere in some measure: their line and direction has gone out “through all the earth” (verse 3-4).

For salvation we need the Bible

The next part of the psalmist’s contemplation is concerning the glory of the Lord declared in His Word and Scripture. This light is more necessary for our blessedness than the sun’s light is for our bodies. So the psalmist extols this point of God’s glory (far above what shines in the work of creation) from the perfection, efficacy, infallibility, and various other properties of it.

The Bible tells us all we need for salvation

The doctrine of life and salvation is set down to us in God’s Word, as a “law” to us, and a rule of faith and obedience. It does not need to be decked with human traditions; it is sufficient in itself, and lacks nothing necessary to salvation. “The law of the Lord is perfect.”

No doctrine, no word, other than this divine truth set down in Scripture, is able to reveal either man’s sin and misery, or the remedy and relief from it. No doctrine other than this alone can effectually humble a soul, and convert it to God, or make a soul aware of what loss it sustains by sin, and restore it to a better condition than was lost by sin. It is the property of God’s law to “convert souls” (v7).

The Bible is reliable

Anyone who hearkens to this Word can be satisfied about what is the Lord’s mind and will in all matters of religion, i.e., everything to do with God’s service and our salvation. It is after all “the testimony of the Lord” (v7), where He sets out His will about what He approves and what He disallows. We understand it rightly when it is compared with itself, one part with another, and using other means that God has appointed. Then we may rely safely on it and it will not disappoint us. “The testimony of the Lord is sure” (v7).

The Bible is accessible

Although there are many deep mysteries in God’s Word, which may stretch the greatest intellects, yet for the points necessary for the salvation of every soul, it is so plain and clear that it may be understood by persons of very ordinary intellectual abilities, and it may make those who are otherwise dull of understanding to be “wise to salvation,” for it is a testimony that “makes wise the simple” (v7).

The Bible gives us reasons to rejoice

Nothing is commanded by God in His Word apart from what the illuminated soul must subscribe to, as equitable in itself, and profitable to us. “For the statutes of the Lord are right” (v8). Equally, consenting to and following the Lord’s directions given to us in His Word is a sure means of getting comfort and joy in our conscience, “for the statutes of the Lord rejoice the heart” (v8).

The Bible illuminates us

“The commandment of the Lord is pure,” (v8), meaning that there is no mixture of error, no dross nor refuse, no deceit in the Lord’s word.

Also it enlightens or “illuminates the eyes” (v8). By the Word of God we may clearly see ourselves blind and naked, and wretched and miserable, and also by the Word, by coming into the grace and mercy offered in Christ, we may see ourselves entered on the only safe way of salvation. By the Word of God we may see every thing in its own true colours, seeing virtue to be virtue, and vice to be vice and vanity.

The Bible deserves our obedience

The way of worshipping, fearing, and serving God, set down in His Word, is holy, and in substance the same in all generations, and always unalterable by man for ever (v9).

The doctrines set down in the Word of God are all decrees of the almighty law-giver, issued from His own court with authority uncontrollable. All of them are true and worthy to be obeyed, for “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (v9).

The Bible is infinitely enriching

The Word of God is able to enrich you more than all the riches in the world, because it is able to bring you to an everlasting kingdom. God’s judgments, being able to determine all necessary truths and controversies about saving truth, are “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold” (v10). There is more sweet comfort and true pleasure to be found in the Lord’s Word than in any pleasant thing in this world. They are “sweeter than the honey and the honeycomb” (v10).

The Bible is endlessly rewarding

David adds this commendation of God’s Word from his own experience, “Moreover, by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (v11).

As the Word of God is able to make you wise to salvation, so it is also able to make you wise in the way you live, not only to avoid sin, but also inconveniences as well. It warns you away from the snares you might fall into through imprudence.

When we have said all we can to commend the Word of God, we are unable to say it all. We have to conclude with some generality, because the benefits that come from observing the Lord’s statutes and commands surpass our reach. David can only conclude, “In keeping of them there is great reward” (v11).

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A throne that lasts for ever

A throne that lasts for ever

A throne that lasts for ever
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

Queen Elizabeth was a constant in the lives of so many of us, a reassuring continuity in a rapidly changing world. She has been referred to as the rock on which Britain was built. Many have spoken of their unexpected surprise at her death, saying it was as if they had somehow thought she was going to carry on for ever. Her self-sacrifice was exemplary and her devotion to duty inspirational.

Yet if she was a rock, she still needed her own rock. She was conscious from before she was Queen that her life could be long or short. And although she acted with royal dignity, she was content to live frugally and took an interest in the ordinary people she met. As we reflect with thankfulness on her life of service, our thoughts cannot but turn to the king of kings and the ultimate prince of peace. King Jesus shows that the greatest are not diminished by hard work and self-sacrificial service. But more importantly, Jesus Christ personally invites people into His kingdom, not only bestowing the legal rights and privileges of a citizen of heaven but also naturalising every citizen so that each is prepared in the heart and from the heart to live with Him in glory for ever. Their biggest problem is sin, and this is exactly the problem He actively solves on their behalf and in their lives. This servant king laid down His life for His people and as a consequence He lives for ever to reign in their interests.

A figurehead, a rallying point, a monarch may usefully be in today’s United Kingdom, and their rule seems to work best when they are conscious that their authority depends on popular consent. By contrast, Jesus Christ wields unlimited power unabashed, conquering their sin and vanquishing the reign of death. In the following updated extract, David Dickson reflects further on the kind of king that Jesus Christ is, based on Hebrews 1:8-12.

A king with an everlasting throne

In order to show the glory, majesty and grandeur of the Lord Jesus Christ, a quotation is brought in from Psalm 45. “Unto the Son he [the Father] saith, ‘Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever…’” (Hebrews 1:8). Christ is God, and so He is fit to reconcile us to God, and able and all-sufficient to accomplish our salvation – a rock to lean on. Christ is also a king enthroned – not only over the world, but in a gracious manner, over the church. That is why His church has direction and protection from Him. And as He has a throne for ever and ever, so His kingdom, the church, will endure for ever and ever.

A king who rules in righteousness

King Jesus has a sceptre to rule with, signifying His power and authority over both His subjects and His enemies. His sceptre is “a sceptre of righteousness,” because He cannot abuse His power to do wrong to anyone. He will do right to all. He leads His subjects to the righteousness of faith (to justify them before God) and the righteousness of life (to adorn them before others). “He loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity.”

A king who has been anointed to the work

“Therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (verse 9). Christ’s God has anointed him. Christ is God Himself, and in regards to the office He holds in His humanity, He is also under God. Also God is “His God” by covenant.

He has been anointed with the oil of gladness. This refers to the Holy Spirit, who brings joy to him and to all His subjects. Christ conveys to them “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” His covenanted people are anointed along with Him, yet they receive the Spirit by measure. Christ is anointed “above” them – the Spirit is not given to Him by measure, but to dwell bodily, or substantially, so that of His fullness we may all receive grace for grace.

In fact, the reason why He has been anointed is “because he loved righteousness.” The righteousness of Christ is the procuring and meritorious cause of this joy to Him and His subjects.

A king who reigns for ever

Another testimony about King Jesus is given in verses 10-12, in a quotation drawn from Psalm 102. In that Psalm He is expressly called Jehovah, God in essence, the same God with the Father and the Holy Ghost. He “laid the foundation of the earth, etc.,” and by consequence, He can create in us a right spirit, and make sons of us wicked sinners.

The heavens and earth will not continue. “The heavens … shall perish, … wax old … be changed” (verses 11-12). Yet Christ remains. “Thou remainest … thou art the same … thy years shall not fail.” He is eternal. Our mediator cannot be missing, cannot die. He is constant and immutable. He cannot change His purpose of love to His people, whatever changes may happen to them.

This is the rock of our comfort, when we look to our own frailty and changeableness.

Image source: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/her-majesty-the-queens-90th-birthday-prime-ministers-humble-address

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Faith and fear

Faith and fear

Faith and fear
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

David had many reasons to be afraid. More than once in his life, he was stalked and hunted and had to run for his life. Still today, many believers across the world live under constant harassment and persecution from those who hate them and their Lord. Where there is less fear of physical attack believers can still feel threatened by an atmosphere of hostility to Christian teachings and fearful of consequences for their jobs and social standing if they articulate biblical principles too freely. What can sustain God’s people in such fear-inducing situations? In the following updated extract, David Dickson traces David’s faith in his urgent prayer of Psalm 56. Faith expands our horizons so that, beyond the very palpable fears, we see the almightiness, goodness and faithfulness of our Saviour God. Having faith doesn’t mean we don’t feel afraid, but focusing on God by faith fortifies us so that we do not need to be sunk by our fears.

From the title of Psalm 56 and its opening verses we see that when David fled from one enemy, Saul, it was only to fall into the hands of another enemy. “The Philistines took him in Gath.” Then all men and all means failed him, and he saw no one but wolves and lions, ready to devour him. Bloodthirsty persecutors followed hard in pursuit of him without intermission, like dogs after their prey. “Mine enemies would daily swallow me up.” If there was one ringleader there was a multitude running with them. “Many are they that fight against me.”

Yet faith gets the victory over fear. In verses 3-4, David’s faith gets the victory by setting God’s Word against all difficulties, whether within or without him. As a consequence, David defies what man can do to him.

Faith does not eliminate fear

Although the godly are not so brave in their trials as not to feel their own infirmity, or not to be afraid, yet they are kept from fainting in their fear, by faith in God. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”

Also, although faith does not always exercise itself, yet when fear assaults the most, then faith in God manifests its force most evidently; for then especially by directing the person’s eye towards God, it settles a troubled mind, strengthens weak courage, and relieves the oppressed heart.

Faith fights with fear

Faith becomes valiant in fight. It may begin like a coward, and stagger in the first conflict, yet it grows brave, and pulls its adversaries underfoot. “In God I have put my trust, I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.”

Then, when faith prevails, fear ceases, and all the opposition of enemies is despised. “I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.”

Faith sees beyond the situation

The best hold that faith can have of God is to take Him by His Word, whatever His dispensation in providence seems to be. This will give satisfaction at length. To say, “In God I will praise his Word,” is as much as to say, “Even supposing He withholds comfort and deliverance from me, so that I cannot find what I want, yet let me have His Word, and I will give Him the glory of all His attributes.”

Faith anticipates the eventual deliverance

By verses 9-11, David is confident of routing all his enemies by prayer, and confident enough to defy all mortals by faith in God’s Word.

Laying out our cares and fears before God in prayer is a way to get a satisfactory deliverance by faith, even before the actual literal deliverance comes. “When I cry unto thee, then all mine enemies turn back.”

Faith fixes on God

If someone is reconciled to God, then when they pray to God in a good cause, they may be assured that God will own their quarrel, and give them the victory. David says, “This I know because God is for me.”

The special attribute of God which faith meets with, and which allows it to attain to rest and contentment in God, is His truth and fidelity in His promises. “In God I will praise his word.” Even if there is no sign of the promise being fulfilled, yet God’s Word is sure enough to fix upon.

Faith keeps growing

The grounds of faith are the more sweet and satisfactory, the more they are examined and looked at and compared with their effects. David is not content to say just the once, “In God I will praise his Word,” but with comfort and confidence he renews this commendation of God’s Word (verse 4, and twice in verse 10), as well as the benefit he has by it. “I will not be afraid what man can do unto me” (verse 4 and verse 10)

Our faith in God gets a reward from God

As it is necessary for our justification to believe in God, so is it necessary for our consolation to observe that we have believed. When we can do this, then we may promise to ourselves all the blessedness which belongs to the believer. For when we thus resolutely set our seal to God’s truth, believing, and asserting our believing, then He sets His seal to our faith, in comforting and relieving us.

Faith gives thanks

The psalm concludes with David, having now obtained deliverance by faith, obliging himself to thankfulness. He wishes to be preserved by God and enabled by God for the very purpose of giving God praise (verses 12-13).

As God puts the duty of glorifying Him on the supplicant, when He promises delivery to him, so may the supplicant put the obligation of glorifying God on himself, when he is praying for delivery out of his trouble. David says, “Thy vows are upon me, O God, I will render praises to thee.” An honest heart is no less desirous to perform the duty of praise to God after delivery, than he was ready to make his vow and promise before his delivery.

As deep dangers serve to uncover our weakness and our need of God’s help, so a well-seen danger makes clear the greatness of the deliverance. In turn, the greatness of the deliverance deciphers the wisdom, power and goodness of God to us, and of our obligation to Him. “I will render praises unto thee, for thou hast delivered my soul from death.”

Faith fortifies itself for the future

The right use of past dangers and deliverances is to prepare for new dangers and difficulties (for when one danger is past, this does not mean that all perils have past!). In so doing we renounce our own wisdom and strength as insufficient to preserve us from ruin either of soul or body, we give up ourselves to God’s guiding and preservation, and to depend on God, and we stedfastly hope to be directed and preserved by Him. All this is included in David’s words, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death, wilt thou not preserve my feet from falling?”

What we intend in our desires to have deliverances and benefits from God should be that we may spend our life, and the gifts bestowed on us, sincerely in the service of God, for the edification of His people. “Wilt thou not preserve my feet from falling? that I may walk before God in the light of the living.”

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It Is Possible To Love Your Enemy In Polarised Times

It Is Possible To Love Your Enemy In Polarised Times

It Is Possible To Love Your Enemy In Polarised Times
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

We live in increasingly polarised times. Divisions along political, ethnic and generational lines are becoming more and more entrenched. Sometimes we find ourselves picking a side and adopting an attitude of hostility against those on the other side. Or you say something unwittingly and find yourself the target of fierce opposition. Polarisation creates not just a division but attitudes of disgust and hatred against those on the other side of the divide. We huddle with those who are similar to us avoid engaging with alternatives or complexity. We imagine that “they” are our enemies and to a greater or lesser extent treat them as such.

Not every kind of division is problematic, of course. The solution to polarisation is not to sink all our differences in an ambiguous fudge, because as Christians we owe total loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, even in polarised times, there is a distinctively Christian way of interacting with those who are different from us and even those who regard us as enemies. We have to love our enemies! The following updated extract from David Dickson provides us with five motivations to put this counter-cultural command from the Lord Jesus into practice. 

The commandment to “love our neighbour” is seriously distorted if it is understood as requiring love only toward our family, friends and acquaintances, and especially if it is taken to mean that it is lawful to hate anyone who is our enemy. Our Lord vindicates the commandment from this false exposition.

Out of obedience to God, as well as pity to perishing souls, we must have love, even to those who are our personal enemies. That is what Christ has commanded in Matthew 5, saying, “Love your enemies.”

Love to our enemies must be demonstrable to God. We prove our love to our enemies by pleading with God to give them mercy, contrary to what they deserve. This is why Christ says, “Bless them, pray for them.” This is a task to exercise our obedience, and to prove our sincerity.

To persuade us to obey this commandment, our Lord gives us five motives.

1. Loving our enemies shows that we are the children of God

Loving our enemies makes it apparent to others (and to our own hearts also) that we are the children of God, who extends his generosity to give his gifts to his evil and unjust enemies.

By imitating of the generosity of God, we shall grow more and more like him, and we shall make it more and more apparent that we are being renewed into the image of God. “Love your enemies, … that ye may be the children of your Father” (Matthew 5:45).

We should not lightly overlook the common favours which God bestows, such as the benefit of the sun, and rain, but we must observe the goodness of God towards us, in making his sun to rise, and his rain to fall, on the unjust.

2. Loving our enemies will get God’s reward

Unless your love extends itself to your enemies, in the obedience of God, you can expect no reward from him.

If we refuse to love our enemies, this only shows that the love we bestow on our friends it itself no acceptable service to God, for, “if ye love them only which love you, what reward have ye to expect?” (verse 46) If we love only to be loved, we serve self only, and not God; and where there is no service, there is no reward.

3. Loving our enemies is more than the unregenerate can do

The vilest and most odious sinners in the world equal you, if you love only those who love you, and do not also love your enemies. To stop at the measure of love which a wicked man may attain to, is nothing that God esteems. “If you love only your friends, do not even the publicans the same?” (verse 46)

4. Loving our enemies is distinctively Christian

As Christians, there must be more in you than the civility, courtesy, and humanity which prompts you to give expressions of love to your friends. Compared to those who are not renewed by regeneration, Christians should be doing more. Why? Because we are born of God, equipped with His Spirit, and committed to God with special obligation. We must therefore behave accordingly. “What do ye more than others?” (verse 47) We must make it a matter of conscience to love our enemies.

5. Loving our enemies is not too much to aspire to

God’s children must aim at perfection in all graces, including having perfect love, love which extends to their enemies. “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (verse 48).

Of course Christians cannot fully attain perfection in this life, yet they are called to perfection. As Christians – those whose Father is perfect – we must aim at it, to come more and more near to it. God only is the pattern of perfection we must set before our eyes. He displays himself to us in His Word, and in His Son Jesus Christ, the express image of his person, to be imitated by us.

Conclusion

Let us then follow the pattern set by our Father in heaven, who is perfect. He sends His sunshine and His rain indiscriminately on the righteous and the unrighteous. Let us grow more into the likeness of our Elder Brother, Christ. He calls us to something unexpectedly different from what our unregenerate instinct would dictate, something that requires His supernatural help to do. “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who persecute you.” Loving only those who love us back is only basic human decency. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter in our heavenly family, we can and should do much more than this.

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A prayer for renewal

A prayer for renewal

A prayer for renewal
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

Although there are plenty reasons to be thankful when we look at the church, it is also easy to identify difficulties and problems. The church seems to be to sinking increasingly into irrelevance and embarrassment. When we analyse carefully, we have to recognise much sin and failure in the church too. It is not just a question of credibility and acceptance in wider society, it sometimes seems that the Lord is holding back from sending his own believing people the blessings we might normally expect. Yet this is not unique to our generation. The prophet Jeremiah mourned a similar situation in the church in his times. In this updated extract from David Dickson’s commentary on Lamentations, we can borrow Jeremiah’s words of prayer to the Lord for help, and turn others of Jeremiah’s words into material for prayer. Repentance and renewal are things we can ask the Lord to gift the church in our own context.

Pray that the church would live up to its spiritual status as victors in Christ over sin

Jeremiah refers to the Lord’s people’s “crown” (Lamentations 5:16). The crown was their exclusive privileges in church and state, which they had beyond other people on the earth. God’s people are a royal people beyond all nations. All others are drudges to their own lusts, but God’s people are kings and conquerors, triumphing over principalities and powers, the world, and their own lusts and passions.

Use your spiritual privileges then, and be a crowned king over all that opposes you. Otherwise the royal crown will be taken off your head and you will be made an outcast. “The crown is fallen from our head” (verse 16). Of all men the most contemptible are you whom God would lift up and yet you are determined to make yourself base. Therefore, enjoy your kingship over sin, Satan, the world and your own lusts, in order that one day a crown of perfect gold may be set on your head.

Pray for a true sense of sin

The Lord’s people in Jeremiah’s time said, “Woe unto us, for we have sinned” (verse 16). Here they acknowledge that sin was the cause of all their misery and disgrace. Sin is the cause of all the trouble that comes on us. It defaces all our privileges and makes a people the tail and not the head (Deut. 28:44). If it was not for sin, God’s people would not need to lose their blessedness with anything.

The church cries, “Woe to us that we have sinned,” and not, “Woe unto us that we are miserable.” Sin is a greater evil than any misery, if only we were conscious of it, for we may blame ourselves and our sins for all our misery and for the feeling of our misery. Misery should turn all our grief against sin. If you tend to cry, “Woe is me because of my affliction,” learn to say instead, “Woe is me because of my sin.” Be more sorry for sin than for the judgment it has drawn down on you.

Pray for an appropriate dread of the consequences of our personal and collective sin

“For this our heart is faint,” they say (verse 17). The reason for their grief and faintness of heart is both that God’s temple, which was the place of their comfort, is laid low and desolate and waste, and also that they were the ones who had moved God to cast it down. Now it has become a den for foxes and other wild animals. It shows that people’s sins not only draw wrath on themselves but also on the church and commonwealth of which they are members. So, in order not to bring a plague on church and state, put away sin.

Pray for a sympathetic attitude for the troubled church

Their grief is “because of Zion” (verse 18). We should be more grieved for the church drawn on by sin than for any other cause. The church’s grief should go nearer our heart than our own. If we lay God’s glory to heart, we will be more grieved for the evils that have come upon the church than anything that can happen to ourselves.

Pray that in our sympathy we would take God’s side against our own sin

“Zion is desolate, the foxes walk upon it” (verse 18). This is not to be understood of crafty, wily men, but of wild animals who are now haunting it. It is righteous with God to make his abused temple a den for wild animals.

Pray to be able to find hope in who God is

Then the prophet takes heart, and refreshes himself a little in the midst of his grief with the consideration that the Lord remains forever. “Thou, O Lord, remainest forever” (verse 19). Although Zion, the temple and all are gone, and the commonwealth is decayed, yet he says, “the Lord remains forever,” to right all wrongs and to take amends of all oppressors. The Lord can yet set in order all things that are currently in disarray.

From the fact that after a long time’s lamentation he takes a view of God’s goodness, mercy and unchangeableness, lest he should be swallowed up of too much despair and sorrow, we see that even if the church provokes God to change her state from prosperity to adversity, yet the Lord remains still unchangeable, and as kind and loving to those who seek unto Him as ever He was. Change in the church does not mean any change in God. He remains the same, both when He plagues sinners and when he pities them. “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore you sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6).

The fact that the prophet takes comfort from God’s unchangeableness and hopes for deliverance, shows that God’s unchangeableness is a basis of hope for the restoration of the church, and a basis of hope that the church shall be changed from this bad condition to a better one. If you feel a change in yourself between better and worse, let it send you to God who is unchangeable, and you shall find help.

The unchangeableness of God is also a reason to believe that the church shall remain stable. Although He may correct the church, yet He will still raise up a new generation to serve Him. He may fleece His sheep, but He will not flay them. From age to age He shall have a kirk as Himself, enduring forever.

Pray for sensitivity to the presence or absence of the Lord

They ask the Lord, “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever?” (verse 20) How could they say this seeing the captivity was newly begun, or only getting started? Because the Lord’s wrath began twelve years before the city was taken, and before there was a great decay in the kingdom of Israel. Many heavy plagues were looking likely to come on them. Their sun was going down and the Lord was looking likely to flit from them. So in regard of the long continuance of the Lord’s wrath, and the apparent likelihood that he would depart, they ask why God forsakes them. God has taken a long goodnight of them, and this makes them think that He has forsaken them forever.

When a people have long provoked God and He has withdrawn, they are in danger of being left even further. When people do not return to God, either by benefits or by rods, it is righteous that He goes further away. We see also that when He departs a little, we have reason to fear that He will depart further. Therefore let us turn unto God in time.

Another reason why they said that God had forsaken them is because when you are in trouble, even a short time seems long. When God forsakes, a short time feels like a lifetime. Supposing the times of trouble were never so short, yet we cannot help feeling it long if God withdraws. Therefore, when you think the time long, draw near to God, so that under the trouble He may give peace and joy. If your affliction is wearisome to you, strive against this feeling and resolve to bear it patiently.

When the prophet pours out the matter to God, and tells Him that he thinks He has forsaken them, it shows that when we think that God has forsaken us we may tell Him and pray Him to help us. If we lament the ill which has made Him withdraw, He may return again.

Pray to God to return and show His lovingkindness as before

When God’s people are driven away from God, they may pray to be brought back from their exile, and they may pray that God would return and show His former loving kindness. “Turn us unto thee, and we shall be turned” (verse 21).

They pray, “Renew our days as of old,” as if to say, “We were thy people of old, but now we are shut out from thee. In great mercy turn us, O Lord, out of this misery, and let us enjoy and rejoice in the joy, peace, favour and prosperity which we used to have.”

Our turning from God is the cause of God’s turning from us. The first to leave is always the sinner, not God. So do not leave God, lest He leave you next. “While ye are with me,” says the Lord, “I am with you, but when ye forsake me, I will forsake you” (cf. 2 Chron. 15:2).

Although we can turn ourselves away from God, we cannot turn ourselves home again. Both our first conversion and our subsequent conversions are from God – our first coming out of nature to God is from God, and when our affection cools, it is God who brings us back again. Therefore, let God have the praise of all.

If they had been turned in their person and affections to God, it would have been easy to turn their prosperity. So, if anyone wants the tokens of God’s anger to be taken away, and themselves turned to God, and His loving countenance shown, let them turn from their sin. “Renew our days as of old.” Their prayer was not lacking in a basis for being restored to their former estate, for the fact that they had previously been in a good state gave good grounds to look to be restored after repentance. When God gives repentance to an afflicted church or person, He can make things as good as ever they were before. God can repair all the church’s ruins and wash the dirt off her face and rub away her shame. So if we have had good days in the past, let us pray for them to be restored.

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You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace

You Need to Value the Covenant of Grace
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

We know that saving grace brings us into a relationship with God. But what is the nature of that relationship? We don’t understand that properly until we grasp the significance of covenant, a word and idea that carries forward the progress of God’s purposes of grace in the gospel and salvation. Covenant is the way that God relates to His people and makes promises to them. It helps us understand the full depth and riches of what God has planned and provided for His people.

David Dickson explains more of the rich blessing of the Covenant of Grace in this updated extract.

1. The Covenant of Grace Runs Through Scripture

Immediately after the breaking of the covenant of works by Adam, it pleased the Lord to lay that new ground of a new covenant of grace in His Son, in that promise in the garden. The seed of the woman shall tread down the serpent (Genesis 3:15). And God renews the promise in form of a formal covenant to Abraham and his seed which is Christ, and all the faithful through Him (Genesis 17:7). The same covenant is repeated in the person of David and his seed (2 Samuel 7:14-15).

This is more fully explained Psalm 89:3-4. Where the Lord swears to the throne and kingdom of Christ who was to come from David unto all generations, and under the type of David and his successors, and his children, that is, all those that believe in Christ:

  • protection and defence against all evil;
  • provision of strength for every good employment;
  • freedom from the voluntary slavery of sin;
  • turning of everything to our good;
  • fighting for us, against our foes;
  • giving us all the good things that He promises to us;
  • to forgive us our sins;
  • to make us partakers of His eternal kingdom:
  • faith itself and the spirit of adoption, whereby we may call God, “Abba Father”. And
  • last of all, which of all is most wonderful, although the devil had so far prevailed as to make them forsake the law of God, and neglect the commandments, and transgress the statutes and ordinances; yet if you return to the Lord your God, and lay hold on the covenant, you may well be plagued with worldly judgments for your correction, but you shall not be excluded from the mercy of God, and His loving kindness. “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.” (Psalm 89:30-32). But observe that which follows: “Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.” (Psalm 89:33-34), etc. O the wonderful love and goodness of our God in His Son Christ towards poor sinners! who, although we change every moment, He never changes.

This is the new covenant which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself did preach, and sealed with His blood, and left in legacy to us, under the broad seal of His own sacrament. For the last cup that ever He drank, He took the cup and giving thanks, He gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink ye all of it: For this is my blood of the new covenant, or new testament which is shed for many, for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). This is the covenant in which all the promises of grace are contained both in the Old and New Testament; for this cause it is called, the New Covenant of promises.

2. The Blessings of the covenant of grace

The excellence of it shall appear in considering its properties.
(a) It is a new covenant, for that it makes us free from the covenant of works; yea now under the gospel twice, because it makes us free from the ceremonies of Moses’ law, with which the children of God were burdened before the coming of Christ (Hebrews 7:22).

(b) It is a complete covenant of all mercies and graces in abundance (Isaiah 55:1 and Isaiah 44:3). For what spiritual graces you stand in need of, you shall find it promised here. Faith, repentance, remission of sins, sanctification, the spirit of prayer, knowledge, the fear of God; and in a word, all is promised here.

(c) It is a free covenant, wherein (i) all is freely gifted, without money or price on our part; (ii) The most miserable and unworthy sinner that desires to be reconciled to God, is not excluded from it; but the poorest and most needy, hungry, thirsty and beggarly souls are most welcome to have it. (iii) Whatsoever it craves of you who lay hold on His covenant (Isaiah 56:1-2), it also promises to you e.g. faith, repentance, sanctification, etc. . “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.” (Hosea 14:4).

(d) It is a sure covenant and firm, because it is not grounded upon anything that is in us, or can be in us, but upon the free love of the unchangeable God, and the truth of God’s Word and the oath of God, who has sworn to keep it “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David” (Psalm 89:34-35 and Genesis 17:7). It has Christ Jesus for the Mediator of it. “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” (Hebrews 9:15). And likewise, He is the preacher of it. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1). The witness of it, “Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, etc.” (Isaiah 55:4). The surety and guarantor of it (Hebrews 7:22). And the sealer of it by His blood unto His Father (Hebrews 9:14), and His sacrament, and Holy Spirit to us (1 Corinthians 11:25).

(e) It is an everlasting covenant enduring forever in the Lord’s part, which of all the rest is most comforting: For howsoever our part of the covenant be broken from time to time by our manifold transgressions. Yet the Lord keeps His part whole, and does not take away His loving kindness from us, but gives us liberty to renew our part of the covenant by daily repentance; and to come to that fountain that is opened up in the house of David for sin and uncleanness, that we may wash and be made clean (Zechariah 13:1). “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” (Isaiah 55:3). “I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (Genesis 17:19). “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40 and Ezekiel 16:60).

If this covenant pleases you well and your heart receives it, both to be saved and sanctified by it, and you are content to enter into this covenant with the Lord, of purpose to pursue the promises of sanctification no less than the promises of justification and salvation: In a word, if you say with your heart to the Lord, “Lord, I embrace the offer of Christ Jesus and all His graces, Lord I embrace this gracious covenant offered unto us all in the gospel, that I may be sanctified and saved by it,” and will follow unto it by the Lord’s grace, believing in His goodness and truth; then blessed are you, and more and more blessed will you be daily.

The Lord Himself  called them blessed that lay hold on the covenant (Isaiah 56:2, 4-7), whether you be rich, poor, man, woman, were you never so great a stranger from God, and has no grace in your own estimation, were you like a dry tree empty of all sap, that is void of all goodness and grace in yourself, you shall get a place within God’s house, and an everlasting name that shall not be cut off (Isaiah 56:3-4, 9). You shall be joyful in the Lord’s house of prayer, and your sacrifice and service shall be accepted of the Lord (Isaiah 56:7).

3. Make Use of the covenant of Grace

It remains only to make use of the covenant in all your life, that you may live the life of faith, and Christ may live in you: and out of Christ, by virtue of his promises, you may draw every grace which your soul desires.

And to this end, look what necessary grace you would have. Search to see if there is a promise for it in the Scriptures, in which the main parts of this covenant are written. Labour to believe humbly the promise when you has found it, and in that measure of faith which the Lord bestows upon you, present your supplication in the name of Jesus for that necessary promised grace which you would have, patiently pursuing your request from day to day, till God satisfy you, which He will not fail to do in His own time. Only believe, and you shall see the glory of God; for faithful is He who has said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9-10) For if men who are evil, can give gifts to their children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? (Luke 11:13). He that has given his Son to death for us, will He not with Him us all things also? (Romans 8:32). 

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7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked

7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked

7 Reasons Cross Bearing Must Not Be Shirked
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

Christ’s call to deny ourselves and bear the cross is hard for us to hear. Especially in a culture where a great deal of emphasis is placed on the self and being comfortable. Yet the Saviour makes it an essential part of discipleship, indeed the call to cross bearing is repeated five times in Christ’s teachings (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27). We want to limit self-denial to denying ourselves this or that thing, while safely preserving the rest of what we enjoy. But the inconvenient truth is that it does not merely mean denying ourselves things, it means denying self. Bearing our cross does not mean any kind of hardship or inconvenience we have to bear in life. Our blind self-love does not want it but taking up the cross means willingly enduring any and every kind of shame and loss for the sake of Christ if it is necessary. It is the ultimate test. By nature, we want to shirk rather than embrace dying to self, but it is unavoidable. Here are seven compelling reasons that Christ gives us not to avoid the cross.

Cross bearing is not just the test of discipleship but of piety too. It enters deeply into our Christian experience. John Calvin points this out, that it stirs our hope beyond this world, trains us in patience and obedience and chastens our pride. David Dickson opens up the fuller implications of Christ’s call in Matthew 16:24-28. The Lord Jesus Christ speaks of His own resolution to suffer the shameful death of the cross and exhorts His disciples not to be ashamed of suffering for His sake. If we are not resolved to suffer for Christ we cannot be His disciples. This is hard.

Dickson acknowledges that self-love controls us, we want to be well esteemed in this world. “A man’s own self is a bundle of all sort of idols which we must either renounce and be content to have them mortified, or else we cannot follow Christ”. Cross bearing helps us advance in self-denial and the Lord gives His own a cross that they are to bear suited to their own needs and condition. This cross must not make then forsake following Christ; but rather draw nearer to Christ and follow Him. The cross forces them to deny themselves by taking from us and giving to us what we would not otherwise accept. Self-denial bows the back to willingly take up and bear the cross. In the following updated extract he explains the seven reasons Christ gives in this passage to dissuade us from avoiding bearing the cross.

1. Seeking to Save Your Life is the Very Way to Lose it

Avoiding the cross to save your life is the very way to lose your life, therefore resolve to bear the cross. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it”. 1. The love of this temporal life makes people deny Christ. Christ will, therefore, have us to be resolved about this life. Whoever will save their life by denying Christ, is a great fool. They lose that eternally which they seek to save for a time, by avoiding Christ’s cross. “Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it” (Matthew 16:25).

2. Resolving to Lose Your Life is the Very Way to Save It

To resolve to lose your life for Christ’s sake is the way to keep it; therefore, resolve to bear the cross. Our greatest wisdom is to be resolved to lose life and all rather than deny Christ or any point of His truth. Those who make least account of their life and of all things belonging to it, in comparison to serving and confessing Christ, is a wise person. In effect, they gain forever that which they risk temporally for Christ. “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

3. Denying Christ to Gain the Whole World Means Losing Everything

Those that refuse to bear Christ’s cross in the hope of gaining by it will be disappointed. They will lose their own soul and so gain nothing though they seem to gain a world. Resolve therefore to bear Christ’s cross.
It is a severe temptation when the cause of Christ cannot be maintained without bearing the cross yet hope of worldly gain is offered if anyone will stop supporting Christ’s cause. Christ’s question in answer to the temptation implies this. What does a person gain in this situation? Those who refuse to maintain Christ’s cause out of fear of losing or in hope of gaining some earthly thing lose more than they can gain even though it were a kingdom. They lose their soul and what profit do they have even if they gain the whole world and lose that? (Matthew 16:26).

4. Abandoning Christ is Abandoning the Only Redemption of Your Soul

Nothing on earth can redeem the soul of those who have abandoned Christ for fear of the cross or hope of gain. Therefore, resolve to bear Christ’s cross rather than deny Him. If any deny Him there is no ransom for a soul other than in Christ. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Foreseeing our irreparable loss if we deny Christ is a special means to strengthen us against the fear of bearing the cross for Christ’s cause. We should say to ourselves, “what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

5. Although Despised Now, Christ Will Ultimately Be Glorious

Though Christ may seem poor and demeaned in that His followers are made to bear His cross, yet He will be found the glorious Son of God who is worthy to be suffered for. Therefore let no one think of Christ’s cross with shame. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father” (Matthew 16:27).

6. Your Cross Bearing Will Be Assessed at the Final Judgment

The fruit of bearing Christ’s cross or of refusing it will be seen at the day of judgment when He shall be judge. He will reward the backslider with deserved judgment and crown the grace of suffering for His sake with the reward of life. The fruit of everyone’s works, whether good or evil, will be found at the second coming of our Lord. “He shall reward every man according to his works”.

7. You May See Christ’s Glory in His Church on Earth

Christ promises a view of the glory of His kingdom. He will reveal to them as much as may encourage them and all His other followers to endure any cross for Him. Therefore, they should be resolved to bear the cross. He gave a little view of His glory shortly after this at the transfiguration. But this was not the main fulfilment. His coming in the power of His kingdom was made more evident after His resurrection. He declared Himself Lord and King in establishing His church with all her officers where He pleased, in subduing Jews and Gentiles to Himself by the power of His Word and Spirit, in separating His church and people from the world. This Kingly power was seen most evidently by those of the apostles who lived longest. His coming in the power of the gospel is a guarantee and evidence of His future coming to judgment in the glory of his Father.

Whoever gets a right view of the glory of Christ’s power in converting souls as well as establishing and governing His church with all His ordinances will not refuse to bear his cross. This promise is made to encourage the disciples to bear the cross.
Christ’s power and grace manifested in the conversion of souls and setting up of the Church in the days of the apostles is a demonstration of Christ’s kingly power and an evidence of His future coming to judgment. He said that some present would “not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).

Conclusion

A final thought from John Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms. The more we come under the influence of that portion of Scripture, the more we will have of the spirit of self-denial and cross-bearing and manifest true discipleship.
“Although the Psalms are replete with all the precepts which serve to frame our life to every part of holiness, piety, and righteousness, yet they will principally teach and train us to bear the cross. And the bearing of the cross is a genuine proof of our obedience, since by doing this, we renounce the guidance of our own affections and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving Him to govern us, and to dispose of our life according to His will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from Him.”

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A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians

A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians

A Psalm for Ukraine’s Christians
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.

The invasion of Ukraine has shocked many and brought heartbreaking devastation into the lives of countless innocent civilians. At a time of fear and confusion, with dreadful forces moving in ruthlessly, where can stability and a sense of peace be found? Where can the believers there look as they face their world torn apart? There is encouragement in Psalm 46 for Christians in Ukraine, as indeed for our brothers and sisters in Syria and other war-torn parts. This encouragement goes hand in hand with (and informs) the practical help we offer. We do what we can to help because we are confident that the Lord is their-and-our refuge and strength. If we struggle to know how best to pray for them, we can make use of the words of this psalm.

From the 17th century, David Dickson’s comments on Psalm 46 speaks to the current situation to point out that even when tragedy and appalling injustices come into the experience of the Christian church, the Lord is our refuge. He is always acting one way or another in the interests of His people and always ensuring that His people suffer no eternal harm.

Perhaps too when people are alarmed at the thought of potential nuclear conflict there is much that can be drawn from the psalm. The psalmist can say that even though the earth was removed, and the mountains sunk into the sea they need not fear. Even supposing the whole framework of the world was changed, and the whole work of creation was either dissolved or confounded, yet faith finds a foothold in God Himself (v2). In the following updated extract, Dickson applies the Psalm to the severe troubles that may afflict Christians in this world.

1. God is our refuge

From the knowledge that God has defended His church in the past, the Lord’s people can strengthen themselves in the faith of God’s word concerning His care for His people. On this basis they guard their hearts against the fear of all possible trouble in time coming (verses 1-3).

Even if the church was destitute of all human strength within herself, and forsaken, and even pursued by all kings and princes, yet she has God for a hiding place, and for providing what is sufficient for her subsistence. “God is our refuge and strength.”

Although the Lord will not exempt His people from trouble, yet He will be near them in trouble. When they discover their weakness, then He will help them, and will not delay His help too long. He will give help in time of need effectually; for God is to His people “a very present help in trouble.”

Nothing can guard the heart of God’s people against the terror of possible or imminent troubles, other than faith in God. When the Lord’s people have fixed their faith on Him, they draw this conclusion, “Therefore will we not fear.”

The touchstone of confidence in God is the terror of apparent trouble. A fixed faith looks on the greatest dangers and troubles that can be imagined, with resolution to adhere to God and to whatever truth persecutors oppose, whatever may come. “We will not fear, though the earth be removed.”

2. God is our helper

The church looks on the Lord’s word and ordinances joined with the blessing of His Spirit among them, as a sufficient consolation against whatsoever trouble can be imagined.

Trouble without comfort may fall on those who do not know God, yet believers within the church can have no trouble in which they may not find consolation and joy to uphold them against all causes of sorrow (v4). The consolations which God provides within the church are not like the consolations which the world can offer, which are in all respects insufficient to overcome trouble. Like a river of refreshing water, the consolations of God are abundant, constantly running, ready at hand, able to make us effectual conquerors over trouble, and able to make us rejoice in the Lord in the midst of trouble (v4).

God will never forsake His people who seek Him, but where they are following His ordinances in any measure of sincerity, there will He be. “God is in the midst of her.” As the consolation of the church depends on God’s settled residence in it, so also does the church’s stability, and its continuance from generation to generation. “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” (v5).

God’s presence among His people will not exempt them from trouble, but it does exempt them from perdition in trouble. He will not spare the bush from burning, but from being consumed. “For God shall help her” (v5). The Lord may not appear at the point of time when we would like, yet He shall come and help in the time of need most timeously or “right early” (v5).

3. God is with us

The psalmist refers to an experience when God took steps to deal with the enemies of the church, at a time when in great confluence and power they made assault against her.

It is no small indignation which the world holds against the Lord’s kingdom, His people, and work among them, nor is it any slight power from which the church is in danger of suffering hardship. Rather, the church must expect to encounter fury in its height, and force in its farthest extent. “The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved” (v6).

It is not the worldly power of the Lord’s people which can sustain the assault of their raging enemies. Rather, God Himself must take her side against her oppressors. And that is what the Lord does. He steps in for His people. “He uttered his voice.” It does not cost the Lord much to dispatch the enemies of His people. Let Him but say the word, and they are gone. As snow before the sun, or fat dropped into the fire, they are consumed. “He uttered his voice, the earth melted.”

Any experience of the Lord working for His church is enough to confirm the faith of His people that He is perpetually present in His church to assist His people in their difficulties. “The Lord of hosts is with us.” Whatever the Lord is, in wisdom, power, and other attributes, the church may apply that to herself, and may be sure to have the fruit of it as her need requires. If hosts of heathen and huge armies of whole kingdoms come up against His church, yet still we may be sure that God, the Lord of Armies, will stand up against them, and for His church. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v7).

The covenant of God made with the church in former ages is good enough security to the church in subsequent times, for obtaining whatsoever benefit His covenant includes. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v7). The rights which belong to the church corporately, are just as good a security for the use of every particular believer as if they were made out personally to every member by name. Wise citizens reckon as belonging to them whatever they can claim by their town charter, no less than their own private possessions. Likewise, whatsoever the believer can claim by virtue of the great charter made to the church, he should reckon it as sure to be his as if his own name had been specified in the promises. Because God is undoubtedly the God of Jacob, and the refuge of His children, therefore He must undoubtedly be the God and the refuge of those who are members of that city and family.

4. God is working

When God does works of wonder in favour of His church, perhaps the majority do not even recognise that it is the Lord’s doing. Such is their indifference, ingratitude, unbelief and perverseness, that either they think very little of His work, or they ascribe the praise to the instruments God has used, or some other thing besides God. This is why there needs to be a call to set people to their duty, “Come and behold the works of the Lord” (v8).

When God enters into judgment with the enemies of His people, He pours out on them astonishing calamities. What they intended to do to His people, He does to them (v8). When it seems good to the Lord, He can give peace universally to His church, and a breathing space from the trouble of outward enemies. He makes “wars to cease to the ends of the earth.” (v9).

Long preparations for war, and building up stores of arms and ammunition, may well have been made against God’s church with great labour and expense. Yet the Lord can soon make short work of them. He can make them completely useless when he pleases; breaking the bow, cutting the spear and burning the chariot (v9).

At a time like this, people’s passions are raised, and their minds are in tumult, busy with many things and distracted from what is most necessary. They can hardly understand what they are doing or what their duty is. Therefore it is good for them from time to time to gather in their straying thoughts, and silence their agitation, and humbly compose themselves to observe whatever God requires of them. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It is better to be wise and acknowledge the Lord by the words of His instruction, than to learn it by doleful experience and danger of destruction. Nothing is more effective for the Lord’s people as a way of quieting their minds against the fear of trouble and persecution, than to settle their faith about God’s taking care of His people and of His own cause, and about His mind declared against His and their enemies. “Be still, and know that I am God” (v10).

The Lord will lose nothing by the opposition of his enemies. He will not fail to enlarge His glory, the more people go about to suppress it. He will make inroads on His adversaries’ lands, and make them know Himself to be God, if not by their conversion, then by their confusion and destruction. “I will” (He says) “be exalted among the heathen.”

Even in the church, little notice is sometimes taken of the majesty of God, and outside the church He is always disregarded. Nevertheless, He will see to His own glory, not only in the church, but also among the enemies of the church – and not only among those who have actually invaded His people, but also among those far and near who have taken no notice either of Him or of His people. “I will be exalted in the earth” (v10).

Whatever manifestation of God’s power is made in the world by His judgements against His enemies who do not know Him, yet He is always exercising His power for His church, and not against her. “The Lord of hosts is with us”. The church of God need not care how many are against them, seeing they have more for them then can be against them, namely, God, and all creation at His command. “The Lord of hosts is with us” (v11).

The strength of the church stands in renouncing her own, and fleeing into God’s strength, and not in opposing their enemy by strong hand, but by falling back on God. “The God of Jacob is our refuge” (v11).

We need to make God the basis of our confidence, and our communion with God the basis of our comfort. God is sufficient for us against every evil, and God is sufficient to us for supplying every good. We need to fix and settle the grounds of our faith, by more often subscribing this truth, and more often avowing it. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge”, is repeated.

 

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