Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress

Clinging to God in our Mental Distress
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.
13 Apr, 2021

Whether or not we call it a secondary or parallel pandemic, there is no doubt that there has been an upsurge in mental health issues during the past year. Some fear it will have a long-term impact, especially on younger age groups. It is a silent issue at the best of times, it is easier to ask about physical than mental health. We all know people who have trials in this area to a greater or lesser extent and Christians are not immune. It can be difficult to distinguish between spiritual and mental trials and the impact they have on each other. Medical and other assistance is of course often needed but with whatever the case we must bring our situation before God. Scripture shows us how to go to God for comfort and strength in such afflictions. It does not give us glib platitudes; it plumbs the depth of mental distress to lift up the troubled and cast down.

The bleakest lament from a distressed condition is found in Psalm 88. As David Dickson notes, this is the experience of a ‘wise and holy man…under the heaviest condition of a wounded spirit of any that we read of.’ Heman the Ezrahite was one of the four wisest men in all of Israel (1 Kings 4:31) yet here he prays for comfort in wrestling by faith and pouring out his soul to God. It is the heaviest possible condition we can imagine for a believer. He does not seem to find the comfort he seeks, yet he clings to God. This deep trouble of a wounded spirit is recorded here for our understanding and spiritual benefit. Perhaps our situation or that experienced by others is equally bleak or less so. Or perhaps meditating on this psalm can help prepare us for future affliction. C H Spurgeon was perhaps reflecting on this psalm when he said the following:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.

Those who find their assurance of God’s love and comfort is clouded by their experience in their heavy affliction can still find comfort here. As David Dickson remarks, ‘those who flee to God for reconciliation and consolation through Christ, have no reason to suspect themselves, that they are not esteemed of and loved as dear children, because they feel so much of God’s wrath.’ Here is a saint who has drunk as deeply of that cup of sorrow as any who will read this Psalm. ‘Yet here is one so much loved and honoured of God’ that he is used in writing Scripture ‘and a pattern of faith and patience unto others.’ He could still call him the God of his salvation. Dickson draws further help and comfort in this updated and abridged extract.

1. Clinging to God by Grace

He fastens his faith and resolution to pray constantly to God until he receives and answer. Those have fled to God for grace and have received the offered reconciliation in the Messiah have entered into covenant with God for their everlasting salvation. They ought to stand fast in holding onto this covenant, however hard their condition may be.

When a believer has laid hold on eternal life, they may by the same right ask and expect comfort in and deliverance out of every trouble. Heman does this here (v1-2). God can love a person and keep praying in faith for a long time without an answer to comfort them. Yet this is all in love, wise love.

There is a difference between the lamentation of the worldly man and the believer. The worldly person sighs and cries, to whom they know not. But the godly present their lamentations to God. We must pray to God again and again patiently, until we know it is answered.

2. Clinging to God in increasing Troubles

There are nine deepening troubles that add to each other in misery.
(a) His soul is full of troubles, so full it can hold no more. Soul troubles are the most pressing troubles (v3)
(b) The sorrows of the mind are able to waste away the body, which cannot but shrink and pine away when the soul is sick with anguish (v3)
(c) His soul’s condition seems desperate like those that go down to the pit. Whatever strength of soul or body a person is soon emptied when God puts them in distress. Without fresh supplies they are as those that have no strength (v4). I am as a man that hath no strength.
(d) He is like the living among the dead, no longer fit for any duty of the living. The believer may sometimes be so burdened with trouble of spirit, that they can neither think, nor speak, nor go about any duty of the living for a time (v5).
(e) He is like someone killed violently, thrust out of the world suddenly with a deadly wound. A soul dear to God may experience such a condition (v5)
(f) He is deprived of the comforts of life and is it were left under the power of death. The believer may sometimes lose sight of the everlasting promise and seem to be rejected by God (v5).
(g) He seems to be deprived of all light of consolation, in the gulf of desperation without deliverance. The believer may feel themselves to be in such a condition, the lowest pit. Whatever trouble we are in, or however great danger we seem to be in, the believer’s wisdom is still to look to God. This may add to grief and fear, yet it prepares the way for the remedy and keeps the believer on the right terms with God.
(h) He has the felt wrath of God pursuing him, overtaking him, lying heavy on him, tossing him with new fears and assaults. These are like the waves of the sea when they come one after another, and endlessly dash on what they find in their way. Such may be the case of a beloved soul in its own felt sense (v7).
(i) He is deprived of all comfort, even any consolation from his friends or fellowship of the godly and wise (v8).

3. Clinging to God in Faith

He wrestles in prayer using four reasons to strengthen his faith and hope of being comforted.
(a) He earnestly seeks comfort only in God with tears (v9).
(b) He must not perish without an answer to his prayer to edify others and glorify God’s name (v10-12)
(c) He is resolved not to cease praying (v13)
(d) He cannot be cast off from God even though His face is hidden (v14)

4. Clinging to God in Grief

The psalmist presents his misery before the Lord, persuaded that he must experience the Lord’s compassion in due time, although he has been afflicted since his youth (v15). When we have tried all means for receiving comfort from God, it is safest for us to lay our grief before God, until He is pleased to show pity.

5. Clinging to God in Fear

The weight of present troubles, is accompanied with the fear of worse to come. Some of God’s children are more tried in their consciences than others. Some souls may experience this all their days. Severe trials may sometimes make faith stagger with doubting, and perplex our reason so that we are like someone that is beside themselves. But although the godly experience doubt, they are not driven to despair; they may be cast down, but they are not destroyed. The terrors of God in the plural number are upon him, that is, frequent terrors, and multiplied terrors (v16-17). They are compared to waters enclosing someone before they are aware.

6. Clinging to God in Isolation

There is no one who is compassionate toward him (v8 and 18). There was none to pity him, none to counsel or comfort him, none to whom he might impart his mind fully for ease. His old friends, and such as loved him before failed him and forsook him. He must sit solitary in darkness. Such a heavy and comfortless condition may be the lot of a beloved child of God.

The fact that he ends the psalm without any comfort for the time being does not make this psalm any less comforting than any other psalm. It shows that he was being supported for the time being even though it was without comfort. He had comfort given to him afterwards since he was able to turn this sad complaint into a song both for himself and for the Church.

This teaches us that seeing God can sustain a soul by secretly supporting faith, though without a felt sense of comfort. This may be even under the heaviest and most grievous felt sense of wrath. A believer in God must therefore lay hold on God’s goodness, promise and covenant. They must continue to trust in the Lord even though He seems to slay them (see Job 13:15). The example of Heman the Ezrahite here teaches us this.

Conclusion

If we have never experienced the deep emotional and mental distress of Heman the Ezrahite we have great reason to be thankful. If we have known these depths, we are not alone. It is a great blessing that the Bible records such anguish to show us how to express ourselves in the midst of it. The Holy Spirit as the Comforter is able to draw near and apply the Word to the deep griefs of the mind. We need the same compassion for those who are going through dark valleys in their own experience

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The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid

The Remedy for Spiritual Covid
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.
25 Feb, 2021

Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?

How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.

But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.

1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware

The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).

2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease

We need to distinguish between:

  • sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
  • experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
  • grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin

3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease

There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:

  • whether grace or sin prevails
  • whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
  • whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons

4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience

Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.

5. We can have spiritual disease in our love

It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.

We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).

6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others

It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).

To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:

  • know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
  • beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
  • earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
  • consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
  • confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.

7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness

Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).

This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:

  • the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
  • any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
  • remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
  • be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
  • consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).

8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness

We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).

9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion

Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.

It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).

10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue

It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.

11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves

Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.

But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).

Conclusion

We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.

 

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Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?

Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?

Have You Buried Christ’s Gifts?
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.
8 Oct, 2020

Our culture thinks of our gifts as certain personal qualities and attributes. But Scripture speaks of gifts as freely received by God’s providence or grace. We have nothing that is our own, we have freely received it. Gifts have not been given to make us feel good about ourselves or for our own glory. They are to be used for God’s glory and the good of others. Everyone has them. They include our opportunities, privileges, abilities, advantages, benefits – spiritual and otherwise. This should be a great encouragement to us but sometimes we are tempted to disregard them. We may not consider ourselves to have much at all because we compare ourselves with others who we think have more. But it is dangerous to do nothing simply because we only have a little. What gifts can we use for Christ’s glory and what are we to do with them?

Christ says that His kingdom requires diligent work, He expects us to work for God’s glory and the good of others (Matthew 25). This parable uses the comparison of a master giving his servants money to trade with for him. The purpose of this parable is to set everyone. Everyone is to work in advancing Christ’s glory and kingdom, according to their ability and calling.
One servant in the parable had received less than others and simply buried it and neglected it He excused this neglect with the argument that he did not have as much and did not think he could do enough to meet expectations. But this is no excuse, the less gifts we have, the less reason we have for neglecting them. Yet as Matthew Henry observes “those who have least to do for God, frequently do least of what they have to do”. The reality is that one talent was worth twenty years wages and so the very gifts that seem to have less comparative value have great intrinsic worth.

The slothful servant received everlasting punishment. But this not teach salvation by works. Everything is freely received, including the outward spiritual blessings of God’s Word and the gospel. Trusting Christ alone for salvation is to make the right us of such things. Perhaps we have not buried those gifts but are there others that we have not made full use of but rather neglected? We are also to demonstrate the reality of our faith and devotion by seeking to do all we can for Christ’s glory (James 2:18; James 3:13). We need to ready to be careful stewards of the grace we have received (1 Peter 4:10) as well as our time, abilities and other gifts. In this updated extract, David Dickson expounds the parable of the talents to show us how we may do this.

1. Christ Has Told Us How to Serve Him

The man in the parable travelling into a far country, disposed of his affairs and ordered all matters until his return. So, our Lord Jesus has given exact orders in His Word to all (especially His ministers), how His house should be governed, and how everyone should serve Him until His second coming again.

2. Christ Has Given Us Different Gifts

The master in the parable does not give the same number of talents to each servant. So, the Lord does not give the same measure of gifts to everyone. Rather He gives more to some and less to others as His heavenly wisdom thinks expedient.

3. Christ Expects Us to Make Best Use of Our Gifts

In the parable, some made use of their talents, some did not. So, in the visible church, some employ the gifts they have according to their calling so as to edify others and advance the kingdom of Christ. Others disregard the kingdom of Christ and do not care how it goes with Christ’s matters so long as their own particular concerns go right. Therefore, they make no conscience of advancing Christ’s kingdom in their calling although this duty is required of them and clearly set down in His Word.

4. Christ Will Take Account of Our Use of Gifts

The master in the parable had a reckoning with his servants. He took account of each man’s faithfulness. So, Christ will call all (especially ministers) to account one day. He will search into how faithful everyone has been in His service.

5. Christ Honours the Faithful Use of Gifts

In the parable the faithful servant (whether he had fewer or more talents) was accepted of his master and made partaker of his joy. So, everyone who in discharging their calling faithfully seeks the glory of Christ and increase of His kingdom) shall be accepted in the day of judgement and put in full possession of eternal life.

6. Christ Condemns Unfaithful Neglect of Gifts

In the parable no excuse would serve to save the slothful and unfaithful servant before his master. So, it will be with Christ in the day of judgment (no matter how much anyone deceives themselves and pretends what they like). All excuses will only serve to show their own condemnation and the unfaithful servant will be cast into hell.

In the parable, he that had one talent but did not use it for his master, is counted as if he had none and deprived of possessing what he possessed. So, any gifts anyone has that do not profit others or advance Christ’s kingdom are counted as if they did not have them (as if lost or taken away). Just as others were not profited by the gift, so they themselves will not be benefited by. But those who use their gifts well for the glory of Christ will be amply rewarded. Every one that has gifts and uses them for their Master (which is in effect to have them) will be given more. They will have increased gifts, graces, and rewards. But those who do not have what they have (do not use it for the Lord’s service) will be deprived of all good which they themselves might have of such gifts. They will be utterly deprived of whatever good they seem to have, and they themselves will also perish.

Conclusion

We may not have buried all of Christ’s gifts but are there some we have hidden and neglected? Christ has not given us our privileges and spiritual blessings as well as outward benefits for us to be comfortable and neglect the needs of others. Everything a Christian has received is for the good of others and the glory of Christ. They are not our own. Christians are to have communion in each other’s gifts and graces. To whom much has been given, much shall be required. How can we best make use of what we have received for Christ’s glory and kingdom? We might start by identifying the “one another” requirements of the New Testament; the various duties we can do for others. There are some challenges in the current climate where opportunities have been restricted. But perhaps other opportunities are now open also. We must not make the mistake of belittling limited ways and means. We need to pray for wisdom and grace to identify how we can advance Christ’s glory and kingdom in whatever way possible.

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How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?

How Will We Respond to Attempts to Criminalise the Bible?
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.
3 Sep, 2020

Apparently some atheists fully intend to use the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) legislation to prosecute the Bible and sermons. Currently, this is possible if the Bill passes in its present form. Simply being in possession of a Bible could be a crime. Even if it doesn’t get criminalised there is potential for Christians being harassed by vexatious complaints. We need to pray and make representations about such legislation but we also need to think deeply about our broader response. The reality is that we increasingly inhabit a “cancel culture” where it is possible to shut down views by simply labelling them “abusive” and “hateful.” This is the situation we can expect no matter where we live in the West. In such a climate Christians might be intimidated into self-policing their views by keeping silent or soft-pedalling and apologising away what they believe. While we always need wisdom and grace in confessing the truth, there is no reason to be embarrassed about Scripture but rather every reason to deepen our trust in and our love and obedience towards it. We can even have confidence and boldness in the midst of such opposition.

Psalm 119 is the part of Scripture that instructs us most fully in our response to the Word. There is a simple resolve to love, obey and confess the truth of God’s Word in Psalm 119:43-48. Despite all kinds of opposition and difficulties, the psalmist is unshaken in his commitment to it. The psalmist pleads with the Lord not to take the Word of truth utterly out of his mouth (v43) and adds seven reasons why. David Dickson helpfully follows the train of thought in this section and applies it concisely to our situation.

1. Continue to Confess God’s Word

It is not enough for us to glorify God by believing the Word of God in our heart, we must also confess it with our mouth in times of trial. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

2. Humbly Pray for Help to Confess God’s Word

Because of our sins, God may justly leave us to ourselves in times of trial when His glory and our duty require testimony from us. We must, therefore, flee to God’s grace by prayer and with a sense of our undeserving, ask with confidence that God’s Word would not be taken out of our mouth.

If it is God’s will to humble us by leaving us to ourselves in some parts of our trial, we must still trust Him and plead with Him not to forsake us altogether in our trials. So the psalmist prays that God’s Word would not be taken out of his mouth (v43).

3. Continue to Hope in God’s Word

Where God’s children believe that He will carry out the threatenings and promises of His Word, there is hope that neither fear nor favour of men will overcome them in their trials. The psalmist’s hope in God’s judgments is the first reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

4. Continue to Live Out God’s Word

The reason for our perseverance is the Lord keeping faith in our heart, mouth and outward person in our confessing and obeying Him. Thus, the psalmist says he will keep God’s law continually, forever and ever. This is the second reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

5. Find Liberty in Confessing God’s Word

Those who depart from confessing God’s truth cast themselves into troubles, in dangers, and bonds. But those who continue to bear confession to the truth walk as free persons, the truth sets them free. “I will walk at liberty,” says the psalmist. This is the third reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

6. Confess God’s Word in Obeying it

When we conscientiously and honestly endeavour to obey the Word, we have a promise of not being utterly deserted in the day of trial. The psalmist has conscientiously sought God’s precepts, which is the fourth reason he gives for hoping his plea be heard.

7. Confess God’s Word Before Authorities

Terror of kings and those in power ordinarily hinders us from freely confessing God’s truth in a time of persecution. But faith in the truth (sustained in the heart by God) is able to bring forth a confession despite all kinds of danger. The psalmist will speak of God’s testimonies before kings.

8. Confess God’s Word Without Shame

Those who are resolved to confess the truth of God which is questioned by many, will not be ashamed of confessing the truthno matter who mocks at it. Rather they will get honour because of it. The psalmist says that he will speak of God’s testimonies before kings and will not be ashamed. This is the fifth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

9. Love God’s Word Even More

The more we know the excellence of God’s truth and feel the power of God’s hand sustaining us to believe and confess it, the more we will love, delight and take pleasure in the Word of the Lord. The psalmist says that he will delight himself in God’s commandments which he has loved. This is the sixth reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

Those that find they are helped to confess the truth in a time of trial, should always afterwards embrace the Lord’s commands even more heartily as precious gifts because of this experience. They should give themselves up entirely to be governed by it. This is what is implied by the psalmist lifting up his hands to the Lord’s commandments.

Those who have endured trials and troubles out of love to God’s commands and overcome temptations have comfort in having proved their love. They may renew and increase their love of obeying them. After saying he will lift up his hands to the Lord’s commandments, he says that he has loved them. In this way, he ratifies and gives approbation of his love to them.

10. Meditate on God’s Word

When a believer experiences the worth of divine truth (which it can testify to on its own) and of those who confess it, they should study more and more earnestly to know the mind of God revealed in it. The psalmist resolves to meditate in the Lord’s statutes, this is the last reason he gives for hoping his plea will be heard.

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Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God

Preparing Our Hearts to Worship God
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.
15 Jul, 2020

Many unusual additional physical factors are needed to make socially distanced worship work. It’s essential for controlling the spread of the virus. And it requires a lot of preparation. But we also need to focus on preparing our hearts in the midst of this and any other potential distractions that clamour for our attention. Anything that is important requires preparation, much more so in spiritual things. As Jeremiah Burroughs put it: “Make preparation for holy duties and you shall have success in holy duties.” What can we focus on to help prepare our hearts?

The Westminster Assembly described the way in which a service of worship should take place following biblical patterns. But one important phrase that we might miss in their Directory for Public Worship is that the congregation should come to church “having before prepared their hearts”. Let our concerns with whatever we think is lacking in public worship begin by addressing this question, how have we prepared our own hearts?

Jeremiah was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. The quotation above is from a sermon he preached on Leviticus 10:3 about the importance of preparing for worship.

He points out that the worship of God is the greatest thing we do in this world. Our hearts are also naturally unprepared for this activity. How then do we prepare our hearts for worship? His guidance is practical:

  • Engage your heart with the greatness of who God is
  • Withdraw your heart from every sinful way
  • Disentangle your heart from the things of the world  
  • Watch over your heart and pray for help
  • Have your heart in tune, with all graces ready to be exercised

David Dickson mentions similar things in expounding the second part of Psalm 57. Perhaps during this crisis our thoughts have been drawn to Psalm 57:1-2, seeking refuge in God until these calamities have passed over. In the second part of the psalm David engages in thanksgiving and we need this spirit also. 

Verse 7 begins the thanksgiving: “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise”. It shows how when our heart is fixed or prepared we are able to truly praise and worship God. This updated extract from David Dickson focuses on this theme in relation to these verses.

1. Meditating on God’s Favour Prepares Our Heart for Worship

Renewed sense of God’s favour, and fresh experience of His mercy towards His children, and of His justice against His and their enemies, greatly refreshes, quietens, and settles the hearts of His people. It confirms their faith; “My heart is fixed”.

2. Thankfulness to God Prepares Our Heart for Worship

One aspect of our thanksgiving to God is to acknowledge the fruit of His gracious working for us. This is especially when it is felt on our spirits and whenever our hearts are cheered up by him after any sorrowful trial. “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed”.

3. Preparation Prepares Our Heart for Worship

It is necessary to expend labour on the heart, that it may be fitted and prepared, fixed and inclined for God’s worship. This is especially true for the work of praise to which we are naturally most sluggish and disinclined. If we labour to prepare our heart, the work of praise will proceed more cheerfully: “My heart is fixed, I will sing and give praise”.

4. Concern for Others Prepares Our Heart for Worship

We show the extent to which we consider the praise of God seriously when (according to our place) we strive to make others know God also in the way that we know Him. David says that he will praise God “among the people” (v9).

5. Meditating on Covenant MercY Prepares Our Heart for Worship

The goodness of God is the basis of the joy of the saints and their sweetest songs. His goodness has decreed and promised the mercies they receive. The faithfulness of God accomplishes His gracious purpose and promises to them. David says that God’s mercy and truth are great.

It is impossible to comprehend the greatness of God’s mercy and truth. They reach so far that our sight cannot surpass them. God’s mercy is “great unto the heavens” where mortal eyes cannot come to see what is there. His truth reaches to “the clouds”, through which our eye cannot pierce.

6. Meditating on God’s Glory Prepares Our Heart for Worship

David acknowledges that the excellency of the glory of God transcends his reach and capacity. He can follow it no further than by desiring the Lord to glorify Himself. Since the Lord’s glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain only God himself can manifest His own glory. When we have said all that we can to glorify God, our duty is to implore Him to glorify Himself. He can make it apparent to all that His glory is greater than heaven or earth can contain. His glory is “above the heavens” and “above all the earth”.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article How to Walk Into Church. Going into Church easily can be a matter of routine, but it shouldn’t be. The Bible tells us that we need to exercise great care in meeting with God in public worship. Read more to find out how.

 

 

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The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer

The Response We Need to Answered Prayer
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.
10 Jul, 2020

Hopefully, the current crisis has prompted greater diligence in prayer and to look for the answers to those prayers. Our response to answered prayer is important, it shows the extent to which we have taken it seriously. Relief and thankfulness are natural but how can we make best use of it? There is indeed a fulness of spiritual joy that may experience in embracing the answers to our prayers (John 16:24). It should humble us, strengthen our faith and increase our readiness to pray for other things expectantly (1 John 5:14; Psalm 5:3). Answered prayer should draw us closer to God in a spirit of worship (Psalm 65:2; Psalm 85:8). It should increase our love (Psalm 116:1). This is why we are to watch in our prayers with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). If we do not respond in the right way we lose the comfort we ought to experience and rob God of His glory.

How does answered prayer give us comfort? Thomas Goodwin points out three ways:
• we hear from God as from a friend. Even though it may be only two or three words about something small if a letter ends, “your loving father,” or, “your assured friend,” it satisfies us abundantly
• we know that God is mindful of us, accepts our works and fulfils His promises
• we know that we agree in desiring the same things. We rejoice find another person of the same opinion in a controversy but it should give us greater joy that we are in agreement with God.
David Dickson explains from Psalm 145:18-19 how our needy prayers being answered should fill us with praise in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Loves Praise in Response to His Goodness

The Lord loves the praise that arises to Him from His goodness to His people and those who belong to His Church. He loves this more than any other aspect of His praise. We know this because that reason for praising God is mentioned so often.

2. The Lord is Especially Present with those who Praise Him

Although God is present everywhere there is a kind of presence with greater friendship which God gives to those that worship Him. This is closer than that His common presence everywhere. It is the nearness of grace and friendship; He is near to them that call on Him.

3. The Lord is Near to All that Truly Call On Him

It is God’s will to have His gracious presence revealed manifested to His worshippers by prayer. He also wills that this favour should be clear to all alike without exception that pray to Him and seek Him.
There is a counterfeit and false kind of worshipping and calling on God, this cannot benefit from this promise. This is when those who pray are not reconciled, nor seeking reconciliation through Christ the Mediator. Or they may be seeking something not promised or seeking something for a selfish purpose so that they may feed their lusts. Those who have a right to this promise, must be worshippers of God in faith with sincere intentions. The Lord will show himself near to such, He is near to all those that call on Him in truth.

4. The Lord Answers the Prayers of Those Who Fear Him

True worshippers of God are those who fear Him, their holy desires are prayers that the Lord will satisfy and not refuse. If the Lord does not at first answer the prayer of those that fear Him, yet when they call in earnest while in trouble, straits and danger He will answer with deliverance and salvation.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Heavenly Violence in Prayer? We are more likely to think of prayer as bringing peace and comfort than something which could be violent. It has a strange ring to it. Yet Scripture describes fervent prayer as wrestling and striving. Samuel Rutherford explains what heavenly violence in prayer is and how we may obtain it.

 

 

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Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
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.
20 Mar, 2020

Almost all churches have become empty overnight. The public worship of God has been removed across many nations. If you are kept from attending public worship, are you mourning over that as David did (Psalm 42:2-5)? Why should it cause so much distress? Worship is the highest activity we can engage in and God places special emphasis on public worship (Psalm 87:2). What is more important than the public worship of God? This is the purpose for which souls are brought out of spiritual darkness (1 Peter 2:9). The intention is not to make people feel guilty because they are prevented from attending public worship. Sometimes there are things beyond our control that stop us. The crucial question is: are we weeping over such an extraordinary and solemn removal of public worship across the face of the earth?

Some will say that they can worship privately at home and this can make up much of the loss. Connecting distantly as a spectator to an empty building is not the same as public worship. Private worship is a great privilege and benefit, it can bring us much edification. But, by definition, it is not, public worship. It is there that we most want to praise God (Psalm 22:22&25). Thus, the Westminster Confession says that God is to be worshipped “more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF 21:6). The Lord promises a special blessing for public worship (Exodus 20:24). David greatly desired that and so should we (Psalm 27:4; 63:1-2).

What about the public glory of Christ? The public glory of Christ is vital–His glory in the Church and in society. One great means of this is public worship of God (Psalm 29:9). God is more glorified by public worship than any other worship. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts and the privacy of our homes. Surely we want God’s glory manifested publicly as well as privately? Usually this is what is meant when we read in Scripture about the glory of the Lord being revealed. We want as many people as possible to see that glory and to join in praising God together (Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 66:1). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Scripture never envisages the removal of public worship as being anything less than disastrous (read Psalm 74 for just one example). It is no light thing, it is not “just one of those things” that are unusual and regrettable but nonetheless merely “unfortunate”. Many interpreters have concluded that the beginning of gathered public worship is described in Genesis 4:26. It would be solemn to look back and identify the present moment as a time when people began not to call on the name of the Lord, because of the removal of public worship.

The book of Lamentations is for just such a time as this. It brings events into perspective. Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of everything. He pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. His tears flow freely,  especially concerning the spiritual losses such as the destruction of the temple. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate” (Lamentations 1:4).

It is noticeable that he traces it back to God’s warnings through the prophets that this would take place. Thus, it is ultimately the Lord who has “cast off his altar” and sanctuary. He has “violently taken away his tabernacle…destroyed his places of the assembly” and “caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6-7). The following is an updated extract from David Dickson’s exposition of that verse.

1. God Removes His Protection

Another point of his lamentation is that God has taken away the hedge of His protection from His Church. It is as if a man would pull away his hedge from his garden
and let all the beasts in. He has taken away His tabernacle, as any would pull away his hedge from his orchard. He has destroyed her places of assembly, so that they did not have a place to meet in. He has caused their solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten, that is, there is no memory left of public solemnities. The fact that God violently pulls away His tabernacle shows us that there is no place so holy that God is held to unles it is visited in a holy way. Although He said of Jerusalem, “this is the place of my rest forever,” (1 Kings 8:13 and 9:13) yet when they abused it He forsook it.

2. God Removes His Presence

Jerusalem had this promise, yet God removed His presence because His worship was abused. How will then any place without such a promise affirm that God is held to it? There never was a place that God was more strictly held to than Jerusalem. Yet when they abused it He left it, for He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one think they will enjoy the Word and gospel unless they walk in the light of it. Will the Lord expose His Word and ordinances to mockery and cast His bread to those that are not hungry?

But seeing the Lord is pleased to maintain a tabernacle among us, let us not defile the place of His rest by our sins. Do not stir up our love till He pleases (Song of Solomon 2:7). Do not provoke Him to be driven away from us and go His way. For if we do, although we may be dear to Him and also as near to Him as the signet ring of His hand (Jeremiah 22:24), He will pull us off and cast us away. He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but will do to us as to His Church in former times.

3. God Removes the Visible Church

God “destroyed the places of the assembly.” This shows that the sins of professing Christians will provoke God to remove the face or outward appearance of a visible church. If we do not make better use of our meetings in the church, God will make them like filthy lavatories. There was no visible church on earth except Jerusalem, yet when it was abused by idolatry, He scattered it. Although some stones here and there were reserved for a new building, the face of a visible church was abolished. It is as great folly to say there will always be a visible church in a place, as to say that a church cannot offend God.

Judah’s solemn feasts were the equivalent of our communions. If we do not make use of our solemn meetings, frequent preaching and communions, they will go out of remembrance. The public ensigns (i.e. military flag) by which we should follow our Lord will cease to be displayed.

Conclusion

These are truly solemn considerations that we must take to heart. They are very applicable to our own time. It is easy for us to take public worship for granted until we have it removed. Have we treated it as we should, have we benefited from it as we ought? Have we been too glib in assuming that God would not cast off the professing Church in the west? Could it be that (as with Old Testament Israel) we have actually corrupted God’s worship to suit ourselves rather than His commands and therefore God is taking it from us?

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Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?

Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything?
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.
21 Feb, 2020

We’re a culture with an obsession for possession; getting and having more things. In fact, it would collapse if everyone only obtained what they needed rather than what they wanted. You can have it all in terms of material goods and success yet still feel so empty that life doesn’t seem worth living. It’s possible to possess everything and have nothing from this point of view. But there is another perspective from which “having nothing and yet possessing all things” is a good and desirable thing. In fact, the very words of this paradox come from the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:10. All things are ours if we are Christ’s. And if we have Christ, we cannot have anything better and we will not lack anything we truly need. Jeremiah has the same experience. He is destitute and experiences intense sorrows and affliction. But his hope is “the Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). Since this is true, he possesses all things, even though he has nothing.

In Lamentations Jeremiah pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. He descends in grief so deeply that he seems to come to the very bottom. Here he is tempted to despair of relief from his misery (Lamentations 3:15-19). Yet at this very point of desperation it is as though God takes him up and draws him towards very different thoughts (Lamentations 3:20-24). He finds hope in the mercy of God. Yet it has taken great wrestling to reach this point. David experienced similar wrestling (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 13:1).

Faith is the means by which they overcome (cf. 1 John 5:4). Even though God may seem to deny us or be silent to us we must not let Him go but still wrestle to receive the blessing [cf. Genesis 32:24–26). For if we leave Him, where else can we go or what can we do without Him? He is near to all that call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18). As David Dickson observes, by wrestling Jeremiah obtains hope and gets his head above the water. He is like a drowning man who engages all his energy in swimming until he can catch hold of something to pull him out. Then he can regain his breath and rest (Psalm 116:3–4).

In wrestling, faith gains the victory; it cannot be overcome and fail (Luke 22:32). It shows us that there is hope in the deepest darkness. Jeremiah is able to come to the point of saying, “The Lord is my portion” (Lamentations 3:24). He goes from despair to hope, from emptiness to fulness and from having nothing to possessing everything. In this updated extract, David Dickson comments on what this means. First of all, he shows the way he comes to possess all things in God, by faith and hope in His mercy.

1. From Having Nothing to Possessing Everything

The prophet draws nearer to God but let us notice the steps that bring him closer. He says he recalls the Lord’s mercy to mind and therefore has hope. He says that it is of His mercy that he is not consumed. Then he turns himself to God and praises His great faithfulness. Now at last, he draws nearer to God and pulls Him in his arms, and says, “the Lord is my portion.” Here are the steps of a soul drawing near to God. In unbelief his back is turned to God but when a soul begins to believe or think upon God, it has hope. Having meditated a while on His nature, it turns and speaks to Him. At last it embraces Him and says, “the Lord is my portion.”

When thoughts of God come into your mind in your perplexity always keep going until you get God in your arms. Follow on till you possess Him in your heart as your portion. Do not leave Him till you get access to Him. Hold Him so tightly that you can say, “my beloved is mine and I am his” (Song 2:16). Lay hold on Him, never to let Him go again (Song. 3:4). Do not be content merely to speak of Him and to Him without embracing Him for He is near in Christ. Embrace Him by faith, hold Him in love. Faith brings Him down and love is shed abroad in your heart (Romans 5:5). He will refresh your heart and make you fight against your enemies, wrestle and run the way of His commands with delight, even though before you could not pray (Psalm 119:32).

The hardest struggles have the greatest deliverances and the dark night of trouble has a clear day of comfort. Therefore, when you come into trouble, wrestle and be sure that release will come. Jeremiah who was earlier calling God a lion or a bear and an archer shooting arrows at him, now calls God His portion. Should not you do likewise? Wrestle and you will find victory.

2. What Having Nothing, Yet Possessing Everything Means

“The Lord is my portion.” What is it to have God for one’s portion? Just as in outward things we may get an allowance of wages for our needs as the portion we wait for and make use of, so it is in the church of God. There is a variety of professing believers and servants and everyone has their portion. Someone’s portion is what they work and labour for. Many only give outward service to God for a reward in this world, as those who give want to be seen of others (Matthew 6:2). Yet some follow Christ for Himself and every one of them gets their portion, reward, or allowance they seek. If any are disappointed, it is because they have chosen something other than God for their portion.

Jeremiah here chooses God for his portion and lays hold on Him. He is now stripped naked of all the comforts of his fifty years preaching. All his days he was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow and seems to have lost all his labour. When the church was cut off, sorrow and anguish seized on him. He felt many tokens of God’s anger and being unable to endure these heavy weights, he flees to God. He pulls Him in his arms and says, “the Lord is my portion”. He is resolved that here he will live and die. Even if he can find no ease from his current trouble, having God would make up for the lack of fellowship with the saints.

This is what his “soul” says, it is no mere verbal profession. Many would say that God was their portion. They say they love God above all things and that they would rather enjoy His presence and favour than anything else besides. But their life actually tells us that they have made the world, riches, pleasure, success etc., their portion. These are the things they engage themselves most to acquire and maintain. But Jeremiah takes God as his witness that He is the only thing he would most gladly have (Psalm 73:25). Jeremiah says it with the soul, while others said it with the mouth.

3. How Possessing Everything Makes Up for Having Nothing

Jeremiah makes the fact of God being his portion, equivalent to all his troubles and losses. There is no ease in trouble until God is taken for the easing of all trouble. He can make up all for all we lose and lack and counterbalance all evils. Until God is taken hold of to make up for all loss, nothing is able to give ease or contentment. Whatever a soul may need, laying hold of God will make up for it all (Psalm 4:6).

If we can in our souls give up all things, endure all things with God, and be content to have anything done to us (as long as we have God)–trials will not overcome us. Such a person possesses more than anything they can lose. Anything they can suffer is compensated to them. People usually wish contentment in all things, but God will sometimes withhold what we want so that we may seek Himself and be content to lack all other things.

Make God your portion. Nothing else but Him will do you good ultimately. He is always near when all other things fail.

4. The World Does Not Know What Possessing Everything Means

By saying the Lord is his portion he testifies that he has something unique that the world does not have. Here we see the difference between God’s children and others. God’s children seek their happiness in God and have Him for their portion. Others seek their happiness in some other thing and have some worldly thing for their portion. But those who seek something other than God for their portion cannot glory in Him. Those that have God for their portion glory in the fact that God is theirs and they are His. It is not possible to have God and something else for our portion at the same time. God reckons the person who makes God his portion, as His child (Genesis 15:1).

Many are inclined to have God as well as something else they want such as riches and honour, but if they do not get these, they leave Him. Even the godly want ease, peace and prosperity as well as Christ but the Lord sometimes strips them naked of all these comforts. He brings on them those things which their soul hates. This is so that in being loaded with troubles they may come to Him to get ease. If they delay to come to Him, His hand is still heavy on them till they come to Him and He becomes to them all in all.

Have you made God for your portion? Do not be surprised if He has withdrawn other things from you so that you find sweetness in Himself alone. Be content with Him and He will be better to you than all that you can want. He will uphold you under all troubles.

When nothing earthly can be relied on you will know what it is to have God for your portion (Psalm 142:5). Seek to have your needs supplied in Him, whatever it is that you lack in this world. Take God for all and take Him not only for outward needs but for lack of knowledge, strength and other spiritual graces, that God may be all unto you. And when you are stripped naked of all things, remember that these things are pulled out of your arms so that you may be filled with better things and may adhere more firmly to God in Christ.

The outward does not please God unless the inward goes along with it. Profession is empty unless the heart directs the mouth. Seek to profess not in word only but also in heart, and so lay hold on God with determination and make Him your portion.

5. How Possessing Everything Brings Hope

Because God is Jeremiah’s portion he has hope that his misery will come to an end. Although those who have God for their portion may be without comfort in heaven and earth they can still hope that all will be well with them. For when someone has taken hold of God with all they are, they will overcome all opposition. If you have resolved to keep God for your portion and to leave all other things rather than leave Him, you may have hope to overcome every trouble and in Him to obtain all you can desire.

The updated extract in this blog post is from a series of sermons David Dickson preached around 1628. They have never been published before but are due for release by Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books in the coming months (DV). 

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Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?

Does the Future Have a Church?
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.
9 Jan, 2020

Perhaps you have heard that question before. In the midst of a generation of radical change we ask, what is the Church’s future? What will it look like in say 2050? What direction is it likely to take? Will attendances in the UK indeed drop by 90% as predicted? We can make educated guesses based on current trends but ultimately it is unknown. Does the future have a Church? When we ask that question, it often tends to assume that the world of the future is more certain than the church of the future. In fact, the reverse is the case. We may not know all that will happen to the Church but we know that it will endure.

At the end of Psalm 102 the psalmist is wrestling in prayer for the Church. He also has a sense of his own mortality and prays not to be taken away in the midst of his days on earth. His faith is strengthened by various arguments drawn from Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being (Psalm 102:24-27 is applied to Christ in Hebrews 1:11-12). This passage shows that our grief for the afflictions the Church experiences is not fruitless. Our prayers are heard and answered. In this updated extract, David Dickson explains how these truths provide great comfort for us. They give us a solid assurance that the Church will endure from one generation to another (Psalm 102:28). The foundation for this is Christ’s eternal, omnipotent and unchangeable being.

1. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Eternal

The eternity of Christ is the consolation of the believer in their mortality. The eternity of Christ as God is the pledge of our preservation and of the fulfilment of God’s promises to us. The Church will both endure and be established (v28). We can draw this solid conclusion from the unchangeability and eternity of God.

2. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Omnipotent

Christ’s omnipotence is a rock for the believer in covenant with God to rest on. This may be seen in the works of creation, for what can He not do who has made all things out of nothing (v25)?

3. The Church Has a Future Because Christ is Unchangeable

The immutability of God provides notable comfort for His afflicted people. Because He does not change, they will not therefore be consumed (Malachi 3:6). The heavens will perish and be changed like a garment but Christ remains the same (Hebrews 1:11-12).

Whatever change may happen to the visible Church from the world’s perspective, from God’s view it is as fixed, stable and “established” as a house built on a rock.

The Church will never be barren, but from generation to generation will produce children to God (v28). The true members of the Church are not the children of the flesh simply, but the children of the same faith and obedience with the godly teachers and servants of God of the past. That is how the promised children of the Church are described here. 

Conclusion

We can have complete confidence that the Church Christ is building will endure. This does not necessarily guarantee its future in any particular location or expression. But it gives us the confidence to commit ourselves entirely to Christ’s Church and seek to have it established only according to His revealed will for it.   

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A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis

A Biblical Perspective on Brexit Paralysis
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.
6 Sep, 2019

Understandably, sometimes we want a break from the wearying sorry saga of political conflict. Brexit dominates everything. But the more prominent events are, the more we need to seek a biblical perspective on what we can learn from them. Sometimes we need to leave aside political opinions and allegiances and take a step back to understand a situation. It’s a wider problem that may well become an enduring reality in various countries. The clash of populism and mainstream politics may lead to a growing trend of fragmentation. Where does a biblical perspective come from? It comes from the knowledge that God is reigning and that these things are not outside His sovereign purpose (Romans 11:36).

The Bible actually speaks of political paralysis a great deal. It speaks of how God may bring those in power low by removing their authority and wisdom (Job 12:16-24). It is God who changes times and sets up rulers and brings them down; He gives wisdom (Daniel 2:21; 1 Kings 3:9; Proverbs 8:15; Psalm 75:7). Those who are famed for their wisdom and prudence in managing matters with skill may be brought to helplessness (Obadiah 8; Amos 2:14-16). Well-contrived plans may come to nothing in a way that humbles those who trust in themselves. It is a solemn time when it is as though it is every man for himself amongst those in power and every man against each other (Zechariah 11:6; 14:13).

Anyone who has an eminent position of power or reputation for wisdom can become helpless and foolish. They are in confusion like someone in the wilderness who does not know what to do or where to go (Job 12:24). The end of Psalm 107 contains a very similar passage, but it also tells us how to reflect on such matters and gives us promises. In the following updated extract David Dickson draws out the implications of those verses (Psalm 107:40-43).

1. God Makes Rulers Perplexed

It is God who gives wisdom and prudence for ruling states. When their ability is employed for their own earthly interests, He can take their wisdom from them. He can give them a cup of giddy wine, and put them in such perplexity that they do not know what to do. He can banish them out of their country and send them as vagabonds throughout the earth. He causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way (Psalm 107:40).

2. God Must be Honoured by Perplexed Rulers

Rulers only keep their place, power, and esteem among men because God invests them with dignity. When they lose their dignity and are despised, they must look to God as the one who has done it and search for the reason.  For God will honour those who honour Him, and those who despise Him shall be lightly esteemed (1 Samuel 2:30). We are told in this verse that it is God that pours contempt on princes (Psalm 107:40).

3. God Will Lift Up Those Who are Repentant

Although the Lord casts down the mighty and puts the wise to perplexity He will not deal with them further than bringing them to be humbled. If they acknowledge their sins, seek reconciliation with God as His Word prescribes, and depend on God as needy poor souls, He will lift them up again.

Pride goes before a fall. Self-importance due to riches, power, wisdom, or any other earthly reason goes before ruin.  Humility goes before a lifting up. Lowliness of mind, being humbled with a sense of our sin, unworthiness and weakness drive us to depend on God, as a beggar for aid. God comforts the afflicted and raises them out of the dust to a better condition after they are humbled with a sense of their own poverty. He sets the poor on high from their affliction (Psalm 107:41).

4. God’s Works Fulfil His Word

Those who are justified by faith and seek to order their conduct righteously will witness the Lord fulfilling His Word. “The righteous shall see it” (Psalm 107:42). There is joy in believing the Lord’s Word, but there is even more joy in seeing it fulfilled. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

One of the many mercies given to the righteous is that God reveals the counsel of His works. He explains His providence by His Word to them, teaching them to compare God’s Word and His works. He makes them testify that God is as good as His Word. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice” (Psalm 107:42).

5. God’s Works Show His Goodness

The wicked will not have the good that they hoped to have for themselves. They will find themselves mistaken about the godly, whose ways they reckon to be folly. “The righteous shall rejoice, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth” (Psalm 107:42).

The works of the Lord’s goodness, justice and mercy are done so that people may observe His way and remember it carefully. The wisest of people are those who observe God’s providence best. They compare it with the Lord’s Word so that they may understand it rightly. Those who are wise will observe God’s ways (Psalm 107:43).

There may be very few wise observers of God’s dealings in justice or mercy, but those who are His disciples and students of His Word will observe them. They will live in a way that shows this and will never lack ways to observe God’s kindness toward themselves (Psalm 107:43).

Conclusion

We need to look beyond the immediate fast-moving drama of bewildering circumstances to our greatest needs as a nation. Of course we certainly don’t know what the future holds; our duty is to pray for God’s glory whether that fits with our personal preferences or not. We do not know all of God’s purposes though we must try to observe what we can. We know that however humbling they may be–God’s purposes are for our ultimate good. How much we need to be humbled for our sins as a nation. Our political rulers need our prayers more than ever.

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Don’t Judge?

Don’t Judge?

Don’t Judge?
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.
1 Feb, 2019

​Who are you to judge? It’s a popular way to deflect any declaration that a specific action is wrong. It can even be backed up with a verse: Jesus says, “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1). Is this really the proof text for unlimited “tolerance”? Does it mean that we cannot make any assertions about whether something is right or wrong? Should we stand aside and observe people’s sin or virtuous actions without saying or thinking anything? As rational and moral creatures this is virtually impossible. It would even prevent real forgiveness of others. When we understand the verse more closely we can see that it is not saying this at all.

As David Dickson notes, Christ gives five reasons in these verses against rash and unrighteous judging. He does not condemn every kind of judging. The problem is not so much judging in itself but judging in a hypocritical way.

1. Rash Judging

When Christ says “Judge not”, he is forbidding rash judging of individuals and their actions. He also forbids passing wrong judgement censoriously and uncharitably against others in our mind or in our speech.  This is especially if it is either for no fault at all or for lesser faults than we are prone to ourselves. Christ does not forbid righteous judgment either in private or public. It only forbids rash, uncharitable and unrighteous censuring of others. This is something to which we are naturally inclined. We are not to judge unrighteously or we will be judged. Christ is saying that if you judge others rashly you ought to fear lest God judge you justly.

2. Rash Judging Will be Judged Severely

With what judgment (charitable or uncharitable) you judge, you will be judged (Matthew 7:2). God will judge you in similar proportion. To the extent that you are charitable and sober in judging others, you may expect God will in His wise providence deal with you in mercy or in justice.

3. Rash Judging is Prompted by Self-Love

It is unreasonable that, having worse faults yourself than those which are in others, you should pass over them without seeing them. Especially if your faults are like large “beams” or logs (Matthew 7:3). Instead you go and pry into the faults of others which are like small “motes” or specks in comparison. You should not therefore judge rashly. Self-love blinds us so much that we are not aware of our own great faults. Instead we closely pry into and observe the smallest faults of others.

4. Rash Judging Does Not Benefit Others

By rash and uncharitable censuring you will never be able to benefit your neighbour. Not as long as this great beam or log of rash judgment or any such sin is found in yourself. Therefore do not judge rashly. Those who seek to benefit others by reproving their faults must be free of blame themselves. Otherwise their counsel and reproof will both be turned back on them. What hope do they have of profiting their brother by taking the speck out of their eye when they have a beam in their own? (Matthew 7:4)

5. Rash Judging is Hypocritical

Judging others in a censorious and rash way is the mark of a hypocrite. Christ calls someone who judges the faults of others censoriously a hypocrite (Matthew 7:5). This is because such a person would make themselves and others believe they were in no way tainted with any such faults themselves. Our Lord by this speech does not hinder brotherly admonition but rather directs the way we should do it. He gives a clear order .  He says they must first cast out the beam in their own eye. Those who seek to   reform others should begin to reform themselves in earnest. They should first seek to reform themselves in relation to their own sins. With their own sins removed they will have spiritual light and wisdom to deal with others. They will “see clearly” to help their brother to repentance and reformation.

Conclusion

This passage is not about not passing any kind of moral assessment whatsoever. It is about rash and hypocritical judgement. Being judgemental is actually about rushing zealously to judgement. Our own self-love blinds us to ourselves. Sometimes the things we have a propensity to identify in others say most about ourselves. Christ points out that our deficiencies in righteousness must hold us back from passing judgement until we have first addressed them. Only then can we have a clearer perspective and frame of heart to help others. It is a passage that powerfully helps us to help others.

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Who Do You Trust?

Who Do You Trust?

Who Do You Trust?
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.
11 Jan, 2019

Our’s is a world of distrust. Besides commerce and community, our most meaningful relationships depend on trust. But it has imploded. “The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer tracks the decline in confidence in institutions and the media over the years. It shows how a crisis of truth has brought this about. “Without trust, the fabric of society can unravel to the detriment of all”. Of course the problem is that we need some shared values so as to establish trust. Who do you trust? God’s faithfulness is of absolute importance. We depend entirely on it (Malachi 3:6; 1 Corinthians 1:9). We can encourage each other with the truth that God’s faithfulness is so great that His mercies are renewed every morning (Lamentations 3:23). But what makes God’s faithfulness great? How would you measure God’s trustworthiness?

​David Dickson deals with this question when opening up Lamentations 3:23. He notes that the Lord’s kindness and compassion is the effect of His Word and covenant with His people. Jeremiah praises God for His covenant keeping. He calls Him a faithful God and one who is exceedingly mindful of His Word. Thus, he gets a sight of God’s compassion through His covenant and promise being performed.

 

God’s Faithfulness is Seen in Relation to His Promises

This shows that God’s kindness is only rightly seen by the light of His Word and promise. The wicked get their food, drink and health from God and say that God is good, but they do not see how this is received by virtue of promise. They do not therefore make good use of these blessings. But the godly see God keep His promise, and that every gift they get is by virtue of a covenant. If they lack the gift they are sure to keep a fast hold of the covenant.

Keep the Lord’s promise frequently in mind. Thus, when the Lord hears our prayers we may know that our prayers are heard by virtue of such a promise. When we are heard in trouble, we know we are heard by virtue of that promise (Psalm 50:15). Thus by marking the promise being fulfilled two benefits are received. First, the benefit itself. Second, a better hold on the promise and a foundation laid to get a benefit at another time. Those who lack the promise cannot look for the benefit. The man who has the promise can go to God and tell Him that by virtue of such a promise He heard him before and therefore He must hear him again.

Those who look to the benefits they get by the light of the Word get many advantages. When they see their children like plants around their table (Psalm 128:3), they may say, “these are the benefits of those that fear God”. They will therefore strive to fear Him more. When God lets them see how He is displeased with their behaviour yet gives them grace to turn to Him, the promise that God in wrath remembers mercy (Habakkuk 3:2) is fulfilled. This would be a way to grow in faith – connecting every work of God with one of the Lord’s promises.

 

What Makes God’s Faithfulness Great?

1. He Promises Great Things and Delivers

Not only does the Lord do many things by virtue of His promise. He does exceeding great things. He has great things and therefore He gives things that are as great as what He has promised. If a man promises great things and keeps his vow, he is much more faithful. He has promised a great thing and kept his promise. Such is the Lord’s faithfulness.

2. He Performs More Than He Has Promised

God’s faithfulness is great in performing more than He has promised. If the Lord promises a pound, He gives two pounds. His faithfulness is the greater, so the Lord’s works pass His Word, and He performs more than can be taken up in His Word. Therefore, He is said to magnify His Word above Himself (Psalm 138:2).

Then be sure that all that is promised in the Word will be performed. More, in fact, for the Word cannot express the things that God will perform. Thus, it is said that eye never saw, ear never heard, neither entered into the heart of man to conceive what God has laid up for them that fear Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

3. He is Faithful to the Unfaithful

God’s faithfulness is great in being steadfast and sure in His promise to such unfaithful persons. If a great man made a promise to an untrustworthy person, who is likely to challenge him for breaking that promise? If he keeps promise to such, his faithfulness is great. But God’s faithfulness is greater because not only does keep promises to unfaithful but to wicked and unworthy persons.

4. He is Faithful When He Has Reason to Break His Promise

His faithfulness is great in that when we give Him reason to break His promise, He does not. When a mutual agreement is broken on one side, the other side usually count themselves free of obligation. But although God might often and justly take advantage of our breach of covenant, yet He does not breaks it. We often promise to believe more firmly, repent more seriously, pray fervently, obey God’s will readily and submit ourselves to Him. Yet we have broken it all and He shows mercy not only beyond, but contrary to our deserving. Do not therefore let our undeserving break our confidence, for although we are undeserving, the Lord’s faithfulness is great. He keeps fast to His promises and will surely perform them, even when He might justly break them.

 

Conclusion

As we have seen, the voices of authority in our world have lost credibility. In relation to the media, people say: “I am not sure what is true and what is not”. They complain that they don’t know which politicians, or organisations (even charities) to trust. We certainly need trust at the basis of our relationships but trust in sinful man will always be undermined. As the Bible often reminds us, there is inherent weakness in depending on human strength. Confidence in the trustworthiness of God can never be undermined, however. If we find that our trust in others is weakened to any extent let us only strengthen our confidence in God’s faithfulness.

The updated extract in this blog post is from a series of sermons David Dickson preached around 1628. They have never been published before but are due for release by Naphtali Press & Reformation Heritage Books in the coming months (DV). 

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