Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the Church?

Do We Love Jesus But Not the 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.
30 Jun, 2017

The slogan “I love Jesus but not the Church” has been repeated so often it’s now a category in major surveys. It’s now supposed to cover about 10% of people in the USA. This individualistic consumerist mindset may have eroded the thinking of more than this category alone. It’s easy to be a fickle consumer of the Church, taking what we like and leaving the rest. Without recognising it, we often complain when Church doesn’t fulfil our needs and expectations. There are of course genuine hurts and struggles as in any human relationship. Yet it seems as though our view of the Church has become too small. Slogans about not loving the Church may seem absurd at the same time that our love to her has grown cold. Do those who say they do love Christ and the Church give practical expression to that love?

Loving the Church is not to be in word or in tongue only but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). David Dickson draws out some of these lessons in commenting on the second half of Psalm 122 in this updated extract. This is a Psalm that speaks with joy about a willingness to worship God together. Jerusalem -the place where they gathered- was marked by unity, stability and God-ordained government (verses 3-5). This is to be a picture of the Church also -which is frequently compared to Jerusalem in the New Testament (Hebrews 12:22; Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 4:26).

This part of Psalm 122 exhorts us all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, or the Universal Church as signified by it.  As part of this, David Dickson explains some general principles for practical love towards Christ’s Church. We must love Christ’s Church as well as Christ and we must do this is in a wholehearted way.

 

1. Loving the Church Means Praying that She Will Prosper

The universal Church should be dear to every member. We must pray for her that she may prosper: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (v6).

 

2. Loving the Church Means Seeking Her Welfare

No one can pray for the welfare of the Church heartily unless they love her.  No one will love her and seek her welfare without faring better for it themselves. It is promised here that those who love her will prosper (v6).

 

3. Loving the Church Means Defending Her

The Church is a war-town. It is like a walled town situated among enemies, and cannot trust those outside but must constantly keep watch. Jerusalem, as the type of the Church, was a shadow of this with her walls and towers. She must have peace within her walls (v7).

 

4. Loving the Church Means Praying for Her Peace

Peace within the Church is no less necessary than prosperity. As long as peace is within the Church, it matters less what enemies she may have without. Thus, we pray that peace may be within her walls and prosperity within her palaces (v7).

 

5. Loving the Church Means Loving God’s People

All the members of the Church militant should love one another as brethren, as fellow-partners in loss and gain. The relation which they have to one Father (the Lord) and one Mother (the Universal Church) means that they should love one another as brothers and companions (v8).

 

6. Loving the Church Means Doing All We Can to Promote Her Good

The Church is the Lord’s dwelling house in this world. Whoever loves the Lord must not only inwardly love her, but also use all effectual means endeavour to promote the good of the Church. Every true member of the Church must do as much for her as lies in them, to the utmost that their calling will allow. They must do all they can to have religion established, God’s ordinances obeyed, public worship established, the Word truly preached, the sacraments rightly administred, and Church-government exercised according to the Word of God exercised. This is what the example here teaches us, to seek the good of the Church for the sake of “the house of the Lord my God”.

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Have We Become Tourists Rather than Pilgrims?

Have We Become Tourists Rather than Pilgrims?

Have We Become Tourists Rather than Pilgrims?
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.
23 Jun, 2017

Not all journeys are the same. Tourists are focussed on their surroundings; pilgrims are fixed on their destination. Tourists want to capture as much as possible of what they see; pilgrims mark their progress towards an unseen destination. How do we respond to this world? Are we so comfortable and satisfied in it that we could better be described as tourists than pilgrims in relation to this world? Or half pilgrim, half tourist? Not all pilgrims are the same. Some are simply pleasing themselves under cover of religion. What is it to live as true pilgrims in this world?

Scripture must of course be our guide. 1 Peter 1:17 speaks about pilgrims who have a careful walk that is afraid of offending God. 1 Peter 2:11-12 speaks of keeping ourselves apart from the prevailing sins of the world we pass through so that we have a testimony that speaks to others. Is your life a pilgrim’s protest against the course of this world? Hebrews 11 outlines brief biographies of true pilgrims; particularly Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (11:8-16). David Dickson draws out various concise lessons for us in this updated extract.

 

1. True Pilgrims Walk by Faith

By faith Abraham obeyed God’s call and left his native country (v8). This teaches us that:

  • Faith in God will cause a man to leave his country, parents and every dearest thing if God calls him to.
  • Faith esteems God’s promises better than present possessions. It is content to leave the one for the other.
  • Faith is content with a general promise from God of that which is better. It is willing to obey even if it is blind as to how God will fulfil His promise.
  • Faith is willing to obey as soon as it sees authorisation from God.

 

2. True Pilgrims Will Forego Anything

Abraham sojourned in Canaan living in tents (v9). This teaches us that:

  • Faith can for a while submit to being a stranger even from that to which it has best right to in this world.
  • When faith is certain of a heavenly inheritance, it can be content with a small portion of earthly things.
  • Someone who sojourns amongst idolaters should be sure that God has called them to be there.  If they must be amongst such, they ought to behave as strangers and sojourners.
  • Even where we still have that which we have best right to on earth, we ought to have a pilgrim’s mind.

 

3. True Pilgrims Seek Heaven as their Permanent Home

It was the hope of a settled dwelling place with God, in the company of the saints in heaven that prompted Abraham to live as a sojourner on earth (v10). This teaches us that:

  • Heaven is a settled, spacious, and safe dwelling place. All places here are but moveable tents.
  • The patriarchs under the Law looked for entry into their eternal rest in the kingdom of heaven, after the end of their pilgrimage here.
  • The hope of heaven is able to make a man content with pilgrim’s fare and lodgings in the present.

 

4. True Pilgrims Persevere in Faith

These pilgrims died in faith not having obtained the promises (v13). This teaches us that:

  • Faith is not commendable unless we persevere in it until our death.
  • Even though we do not see a promise made to the Church or ourselves fulfilled in our time, we may go to death with assurance that it will be fulfilled.
  • Those who would die in faith must live in faith.
  • Though these pilgrims did not receive the Promises, yet they saw them afar off and were fully persuaded of them and embraced them.
  • Although faith does not possess the promise, yet it comes to behold a time of possession coming and is persuaded that the promise will be obtained
  • Faith embraces the promise: the original word implies greeting them in a friendly way. It is the sort of greeting that friends give one another while drawing near to embrace one another after a long time of separation.

 

5. True Pilgrims Openly Profess to be Pilgrims 

They confessed in their lifetime that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We only read this of Jacob when he appeared before Pharaoh but the mind of one of the faithful in the main matters, makes evident what is the mind of the rest. This teaches us that:

  1. True believers must profess their faith before all, even before the idolaters they live amongst.
  2. Those who know heaven to be their own home, reckon this world a strange or foreign country.

 

6. True Pilgrims Seek a Better Country

The apostle infers from their profession that they were strangers (v14-16) the following things: (a) they desired a country for their home; (b) this must have been either their own earthly country, or a better country; (c) it cannot have been their own earthly home country because they might have returned to it if they wished; (d) they therefore desired a better country; (e) if it was a better country, then it must have been a heavenly country. In other words, they desired heaven itself for their country. This teaches us:

  • To read Scripture so as to not only observe what is spoken, but also what is implied as a consequence (inference).
  • That which is implied by what someone has said plainly declares the mind of the speaker. This is not an obscure deduction, as those who deride this method of interpretation call it. The apostle says that those who say they are strangers plainly declare that they seek a country.
  • It is lawful to proceed in drawing one consequence after another until we find out the full mind of the author as long as the deduction is evident and follows sound reason, as it does here.
  • The apostle has proved here that the patriarchs sought heaven for their country; because they sought a better than any on earth.
  • The apostle knew no place for departed souls better than earth, except heaven alone. If there had been any other place, such as some imagine, his reasoning would not have been solid.
  • The patriarchs, after the end of their pilgrimage here on earth, went home to heaven.

Heaven was prepared for the patriarchs, and the rest of God’s saints before they ended their pilgrimage on earth. To put them into hell or any other place must not be a teaching from heaven. [Dickson is referring to the false Roman Catholic teaching that believers who died before Christ went to limbus patrum – a state of limbo for the fathers].

 

7. True Pilgrims are Honoured by God

Since they counted themselves strangers until they came home to heaven, God is not ashamed to be called their God (v16). This teaches us that:

  • God will honour those that honour Him.
  • God will avow Himself to be the portion of those who renounce the world for His sake.
  • The Lord will even abase Himself in order to exalt and honour those who honour Him
  • When the Lord has done thus, He considers it no dishonour to Himself to do anything that may honour His servants.
  • God prepared a city for them (which the apostle previously called heaven, or the heavenly country).

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The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings

The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings

The Soul of Christ’s Sufferings
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.
19 May, 2017

Crucifixion is perhaps the most violent, humiliating and painful method of execution ever devised. The very word that we use for acute pain (excruciating) comes from crucifying. Yet we must never forget that the deepest sufferings were infinitely greater than the physical pain. As someone has put it, the soul of His sufferings was the sufferings of His soul. What do we mean by His soul sufferings? Samuel Rutherford puts it succinctly: the Saviour suffered in His soul “God’s wrath, which was a very hell to Christ”. He endured the felt wrath of God instead of the felt blessing that He never before lacked. Merely physical sufferings would not have satisfied divine justice.

This is a vital point. David Dickson gives several reasons for it:

  • The curse of the fall (breaking the covenant made with Adam) was death, both of body and soul. The redeemed had to be delivered from the death of both by the Redeemer enduring both for their redemption.
  • Sin infected the whole person, soul and body. No part or power of the soul is free from it. Justice therefore required that the Redeemer should feel the force of the curse both in body and soul in place of the persons redeemed.

 

Death to the soul consists in its separation from communion with God and this is what Christ endured. There are deep mysteries in this, Christ never ceased to be God of course even when He forsaken of God. Christ was deprived for a time of a clear vision of the blessedness of God, the quiet possession of the formerly felt peace, and the fruition of joy for a time. Thus He suffered an eclipse of light and consolation that otherwise shined from His God-head. In this sort of spiritual death He underwent some degrees of spiritual death.

David Dickson outlines various degrees of soul suffering that Christ endured. This is an updated extract from his book Therapeutica sacra: showing briefly, the method of healing the diseases of the conscience, concerning regeneration.

 

1. Imputed Sin

The guilt of all the sins, crimes, and vile deeds of the elect committed from the beginning of the world was imputed to Him. By accepting this imputation He did not pollute His conscience. Yet He burdened His soul, binding Himself to bear their deserved punishment.

The vilest sinners such as liars, thieves and adulterers cannot bear to hear themselves called liars or thieves. They cannot bear the shame of the vileness of which they are truly guilty. What suffering of soul, what clouding of the glory of His holiness was it then when our Lord took upon His shoulders such a dunghill of all vileness? Nothing could be more unseemly for His holy majesty.

 

2. Extreme Perplexity

Added to all the former degrees of suffering of His soul, the perplexity of his thoughts fell on Him. There was such astonishment of soul when the full cup of wrath was presented to Him in such a terrible way. It made all the powers of His sense and reason for a time to be at a stand still. The Evangelist describes this suffering of His soul saying that “he began to be sore amazed” and also to be “very heavy”. Christ expressed Himself in these words “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death” (Mark 14:33-34). There was no imperfection in this only a sinless natural response to such a sudden terror. Daniel’s response to the terrifying appearance of the angel (Daniel 10:8-10) was not sinful.

 

3. Interrupted Communion

The conscious peaceful enjoyment of the happiness His human nature had in its personal union with His God-head was interrupted for a time. The vehemence of His trouble did not allow Him to hide His perturbation. In John 12:27 He cried out “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say?” and in Mark 14:34 He declares, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death”. He implies by these words that death was at hand. It had seized hold on Him and wrapped Him up in the sorrows of death for the time, as in a net in which He knew He could not be held.

These miseries hid the happiness of His personal union with the God-head for a time. They hindered the conscious feeling of it for a time in His deep suffering. Yet, it was not taken away or eclipsed altogether.

 

4. Total Wrath

God’s justice, pursuing our sins in our Surety, showed Christ the cup of wrath in the garden. It held it to His head and pressed Him to drink it. The very dregs of the agreed curse of the law were poured into His patient and submissive mouth, as it were, filling the most inward part of soul and body. As a vehement flame, beyond all human comprehension, it filled both soul and body. It drew and drove forth a bloody sweat out of all His veins (the like of which was never heard of). It was like when a pot of oil, boiling up and running over with the fire beneath has the flame increased further still by a fiery mass of hot iron being thrust into it.

All His human strength was wasted and emptied, His mind thrown down, His joy fainted and a heavy weight of sorrow was on Him. He desired that small comfort of His weak disciples watching with Him a little and missed it when it was lacking. He also stood in need of an angel to comfort Him (Luke 22:43).

 

5. Extreme Fear

Christ’s human nature was like ours in all things except sin. It was indeed afraid when it saw and felt the wrath of God lest it should have been swallowed up by it. The apostle speaks of this fear in Hebrews 5:7 saying that Christ “offered up prayers and supplication and strong cries and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared”.

This seems the saddest part of all His sufferings, that He was afraid of being swallowed up. Yet this fear is not to be wondered at, nor is it inconsistent with His holiness. For when Christ assumed our nature, He also assumed all the common and sinless infirmities, passions, and perturbations of our nature. It is natural that the creature should tremble at the sight of an angry God. It is natural to man at the sight of something terrible or an evil coming on him or already come on him (especially if beyond all his natural strength) to tremble and fear the worst. Holy nature was right to fear present death, being cut off and swallowed up in the danger when God appeared angry and was hasting to be avenged on sinners in the person of their Surety. He did not doubt that He would escape from being swallowed up. Natural fear is very different from lack of faith in God’s faithfulness and power. Natural fear of the worst can be consistent with strong faith which helps to overcome natural fear.

If Christ had not been weakened and emptied of all human strength in His flesh, He could not have been humbled enough for us, He could not have suffered so much as Justice did exact for satisfying the law on our behalf. Yet if He had not also stood firm in faith and love towards God’s glory and our salvation He could not have satisfied Justice either. He would not have still been the innocent and spotless Lamb of God nor perfected the expiatory sacrifice for us.

 

6. Consciously Forsaken

Among the deepest degrees of the suffering of Christ in His soul was His being forsaken. In saying that He was forsaken of God He did not mean that the personal union of the natures in Him was broken. Nor did He mean that God had withdrawn His sustaining strength and help from the human nature. Neither was the love of the Father taken from Him or any aspect of the perfection of holiness taken from Him. It meant that God for a time had taken away conscious comfort and felt joy from His human soul. This was so that justice might be more fully satisfied in His sufferings. In this forsaking Christ is not to considered simply as the Son of the Father (in whom He is always well pleased) but as He stands in the room of sinners as Surety paying their debt. In this respect, He must be dealt with as standing in our name, guilty and thus paying the debt of being forsaken by God. We were bound to suffer this fully and forever, if He had not intervened for us.

 

7. Cursed Death

That which Christ suffered in torment was, in some respects, of the same kind as the torment of the damned. The punishment of the damned differs in their rebellious disposition of the mind and the duration of their punishment. Yet the punishment itself (torment of soul and body) compares with Christ’s suffering. This was the conscious torment of Christ’s soul and body in being made a curse for us.

 

Conclusion

Dickson’s friend James Durham makes appropriate application of these truths in one of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. He writes movingly of the horror Christ endured. It was as though many mighty squadrons of the highly provoked wrath of God were making a furious and mighty assault on the innocent human nature of Christ.

He says that considering Christ’s soul sufferings we ought to be stirred up to wonder at the love of God the Father and the love of the Son. If we consider the infinite glory of the One that suffered, the infinite wrath He endured and the infinite guilt of those for whom He suffered. Do you think it is appropriate, he says, that sinners who have hope of heaven through Christ’s sufferings should be so little moved at hearing and reading of them?

He suffers much by sinners, when His love shining forth in His sufferings is not taken notice of. I would put the question to you, ‘when was your heart suitably affected with thinking on them? Or, when did you purposely bless God for this, that He sent his Son to suffer, and that the Mediator came and suffered such things for you sinners?’ This is a part, and a considerable part of your duty; and gratitude should constrain you to do it. It should not let you diminish just esteem of His love.

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Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?

Is the Church Going to Drown?
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.
28 Apr, 2017

The recent facts of the Scottish Church Census are stark. Some call it a crisis. It observes steep decline in attendance. Mainly ageing congregations are mostly led by ageing ministers. Some may query the definition of church and make qualifications and caveats about statistics. Yet it still makes sombre reading and seems to measure a deluge of secularisation making further tidal advances. How far will it go? What will things look like in 10 years time? When we quantify things in spiritual rather than numerical decline there may be even greater cause for concern. But we need to take God’s perspective rather than merely heed the statistician.

It is just such a perspective that we get in Psalm 93. As David Dickson observes, it is a Psalm for the comfort of God’s people against the multitude and power of their enemies. Their enemies often seem likely to overflow, devour and drown the Church. Yet the Church has its defence, comfort and victory in the Lord of glory. We are to draw comfort from praising God. He is the great governor of the world, unchangeable and eternal constantly guiding the world by His power and wisdom (verses 1-2).

The opposition of the of the enemies of the Church is compared to the growing flood or the raging sea (verse 3). Yet the Psalmist declares the glory and might of God in opposition to their power (verses 4-5).  These truths are applied, showing how we ought to respond if we desire such comfort in believing (verse 5).

 

The Church’s Fears

The Church fears that she is likely to be overflowed as with a deluge by a multitude of powerful enemies. She bemoans these to God in verse 3.

1. They are Real Fears

It is no surprise to see the world rising up tumultuously to overthrow the Church like a deluge coming on them to drown and devour everything. It is no surprise to hear enemies threatening destruction to the Church like the noise of flood waters coming down the mountains after rain, from which there is no escape. The floods have lifted up their voice and their waves.

2. The Best Way to Deal with Such Fears

The best way to counter threatenings and fears is with God. We must lay them before the Lord that He may answer them. This is what the Psalmist does here, saying “the floods have lifted up, O Lord”.

 

God is Mightier than All that the Church Fears

The Psalmist contrasts the power of God with the boasting, malice and power of the enemies. God’s power is far above that of the Church’s enemies. He is more mighty in defending the Church than the enemy is in opposing it.

1. Only Heavenly Help and Comfort will Calm Our Fears

Only heavenly help and comfort from above is able to calm our fears here below in times of persecution and fear of  enemies. “The Lord on high” (verse 4) is contrasted with the roaring of the floods and waters dashing against the Church.

2. God is More Powerful than the Church’s Enemies

We can neither glorify God nor comfort ourselves against the power of the Church’s enemies unless we exalt the Lord’s power above them all: “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters”.

3. God is Above All that We Fear

The Lord is above everything that terrifies us. He is able to restrain them as He pleases and by His power terrify those that terrify His Church: “The Lord is mightier than the noise of many waters” and “the mighty waves of the sea”.

 

Conclusion

The Psalmist also applies these truths concerning the Lord’s power and good will to defend His Church. Since the Word of the Lord is sure and true in itself, we should acknowledge it to be sure.  We should set our seal to it, as the Psalmist does here in saying that God’s “testimonies are very sure”. Another application is that if we wish to have the benefit of the protection promised here we must strive to be holy.

1. Scripture Testifies to Itself

Whatever is said in Scripture needs no external proof. It is God’s declaration and whatever it declares is true. His promises are therefore referred to here as His testimonies.

2. Scripture Will Never Deceive Us

No one can ever be deceived in believing the truth of the Scriptures or the Lord’s testimony within it.  When we have God’s Word our minds can rest at peace, because His “testimonies are very sure”.

3. The Lord’s Presence is the Church’s Greatest Blessing

The strength and happiness of the Lord’s people is that they are the Lord’s habitation and place of residence. God’s Church and people are dedicated and consecrated to Him, His holy house. The temple was only a type and shadow of this.

4. God will be Sanctified by All that Draw Near Him

Any who desired to enjoy the preservation and privileges promised to the Church must strive after holiness. This is also the duty of the members of the Church, holiness becomes this House.

5. These Duties and Blessings Belong to the Church in All Ages

The dignity, duty and privileges of God’s people are perpetual. Consecration, holy affections and conduct and and the removal of sin and misery in particular do not belong unto any time or age. Rather, they are for all that strive to be approved of God, protected and made blessed by God in all times and ages, in all places and company, all the days of their life. Holiness is becoming to God’s House for ever.

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Who is Truly Blessed?

Who is Truly Blessed?

Who is Truly Blessed?
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.
17 Mar, 2017

It is not so long since “blessed” was nearly a good word gone bad in popular speak. It was more than a cliché for many with no great spiritual interest to announce on social media that they were #blessed. It was smug bragging about success thinly disguised as humility.  It gave the message that outward prosperity is true blessing. Perhaps people do feel as blessed as their Facebook status declares but have they understood that spiritual blessings are paramount (Matthew 5:3–5)? In reality there is no true blessing without godliness.

David Dickson draws this clear teaching from Psalm 1. This Psalm teaches that no ungodly person is blessed, only the godly (verses 1-2). This is proved by three reasons. The first is because God blesses the godly even in this life (and in every state of life) with grace to produce good works that profitable to themselves and others (verse 3). But all that the wicked do for making themselves happy, shall be blasted and found to be mere vanity (verse 4).

 

1. Only the Godly are Blessed

1. Blessedness is possible. Although sin and misery abound: blessedness may still be attained. God here pronounces some to be blessed.
2. Blessedness is only possible in God’s way. This psalm divides all men (within and without the visible church) into godly men (that seek to be blessed in God’s way) and ungodly men (who seek blessedness – but not in God’s way). They are all ranked in this way here.
3. Blessedness is defined by God alone. Only God can define who is blessed since He is the only one that can make someone blessed. He here pronounces the godly to be the blessed.
4. Blessedness and ungodly counsel cannot go together. The ungodly think themselves very wise in following the counsel of their own heart and of others like themselves so that they may be blessed. But this is not the way of the blessed man, he does not walk in “the counsel of the ungodly”.
5. Blessedness and sin will not go together. The ungodly obstinately continue in their course of sinning, but the blessed man (if he is overtaken in some sin) does not defend his sin, nor persist in it. He does not stand in “the way of sinners”.
6. Blessedness and irreligion cannot go together. The ungodly may go as far as to mock godliness as mere folly and scorn admonitions and reproofs. Yet the blessed man never hardens his heart so as to mock piety in others or instruction offered. He does not sit in “the seat of the scornful”.
7. Blessedness comes through Scripture’s counsel. The blessed man makes the Word of God in holy Scripture his counsellor concerning the remedy of sin and misery. This is the rule by which he walks until his blessedness is perfected. Scripture to him is a law for the obedience of faith which is fenced with supreme authority. It is “the law of the Lord”.
8. Blessedness comes through profiting from the Word. To the extent that a man is godly and blessed, he makes the Word of God the way of growing in communion with God through the Messiah, Christ. He makes the Word the matter of his chief delight and contentment. His “delight is in the law of the Lord”.
9. Blessedness comes from meditating on the Word. To the extent that a man delights in the law of the Lord, he studies in it on all occasions. He meditates in God’s law “day and night”.

 

2. Only the Godly are Blessed with Grace to Produce Good Works

The godly are blessed with grace to bring forth good works that are profitable to themselves and others in every condition of life.

1. The blessing of increased grace. To the extent that a man pursues holy communion with God by delighting and meditating in His Word, he will be fixed and furnished with the influence of grace from Christ. This will maintain spiritual life within him. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water”.
2. The blessing of fruitfulness. The man that makes the Word of God his delight will be made fruitful in every good work, as opportunity is offered. He will be like a tree bringing forth fruit in due season.
3. The blessing of perseverance. This man shall be enabled to bear out a holy profession of his faith in, and obedience to God, in adversity, as well as in prosperity. “His leaf also shall not wither”.
4. The blessing of God’s favour. Whatever duty or service to God this man sets about, will not lack the help and acceptance nor success from God. Whatever he does will “prosper”.
5. These blessings do not belong to the ungodly. The ungodly man is destitute of all spiritual life (no matter what he may seem to be before the world) and a stranger to the fellowship of God’s grace. He is unfit for every good work and ready under great temptation to abandon his counterfeit profession of religion. He is cursed in all that he does because he is the opposite of what the blessed godly man is here said to be. “The ungodly are not so”.
6. The “blessings” of the ungodly are unreal. Whatever appearance of godliness, temporal prosperity, or hope of happiness the ungodly seem to have, it will be found only counterfeit. It will not stand him in good stead at all in his greatest need. The ungodly are like “the chaff” which the wind blows away.

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An Entire Life of Repentance

An Entire Life of Repentance

An Entire Life of Repentance
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.
28 Oct, 2016

The very first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses was: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance”. They begin, continue and end their life of faith here on earth with repentance. “The just shall live by faith” and repentance is the tear in the eye of faith. Luther was emphasising Christ’s own message in preaching the gospel. Part of its purpose was to call sinners to a life of repentance.

Luther’s reference to the words of Christ is interesting. It involved appealing to the original Greek as meaning repent rather than the Latin “do penance”. The Greek New Testament had been printed in 1516, the year before Luther posted the 95 theses. His explanation of the 95 theses demonstrates this.

the Greek word metanoeite itself…means ‘repent’: and could be translated more exactly by the Latin trasmentamini, which means ‘assume another mind and feeling, recover one’s senses, make transition from one state of mind to another, have a change of spirit’; so that those who hitherto have been aware of earthly matters may now know the spiritual, as the Apostle (Paul) says in Romans 12:2, ‘Be transformed by the renewal of your mind’. By this recovery of one’s senses it happens that the sinner has a change of heart and hates his sin.

Luther is pointing to the inward disposition, not merely outward actions (though he did not deny the need for these).  He goes on to say in the second thesis: “This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy”. He explains his statement about an entire life of repentance in the following way:

We pray throughout our whole life and we must pray ‘forgive is our debts’ [Matthews 6:12]; therefore, we repent throughout our whole life and are displeased with ourselves, unless anyone may be so foolish as to think he must only pretend to pray for the forgiveness of debts.

David Dickson shows how Christ’s preaching in Matthew 4:17 echoes the message of John the Baptist. John was now in prison but Christ continued his message. “Christ had preached before in the time of John’s freedom, and made more disciples than he (John 3:26), but now he begins in this countryside, and shows himself more powerful than before”. He notes the following points:

  1. When Christ’s gospel is opposed and His servants persecuted, He can let forth his light and power so much the more, and can supply the lack of instruments. Therefore it is said: “From that time he began to preach”.
  2. Christ’s doctrine and the doctrine of his faithful servants is all one in substance. The sum of John Baptist’s preaching and Christ’s is all one. Both preached in substance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
  3. When the gospel comes, it finds men under the tyranny of Satan. The offer to bring them into the kingdom of God implies this.

In his comments on John the Baptist’s preaching (Matthew 3:2), Dickson further draws out the message of repentance.  The aim of John’s preaching was to move men to repent, because the kingdom of God’s grace offered in the gospel, was now ready to receive the penitent.

 

1. Repentance restores men to their right minds

The gospel finds men mad and out of their right minds in an evil way. When it is sent unto them they are men who must return to their right minds. The original meaning of the word “Repent” implies this.

 

2. Repentance is the aim of gospel preaching

The aim of the preaching of the gospel is to persuade men to repentance. “Repent” is John’s main purpose.

 

3. Repentance and the kingdom of heaven

The grace of God offered in the gospel is in effect the kingdom of heaven, for it opens the way unto it, and enters the man not only into the right, but also into the begun possession of the kingdom of heaven.

 

4. Repentance and God’s offer

There can be no greater allurement to move a man to change his evil way and turn to God than the offer made to the penitent. This is the offer of the kingdom of grace and glory through Christ and this is the motive which John uses: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

 

5. Repentance is brought about by the gospel

The ability and activity of repenting are both brought about by the preaching and power of the gospel. John is sent to preach this doctrine in order to bring these about, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”.

 

Conclusion

Luther was echoing Christ’s message and rediscovering something of the fulness of the gospel and gospel living. That message continues to be necessary. We need daily, personal, sincere repentance in the spirit of the gospel. Repentance that lays hold of the mercy of God in Christ. The kingdom of heaven is mark by repentance.

It was an appropriate message to signal the start of a Reformation. Reformation is not about merely making outward changes to the way that we do things. We need heart reformation and personal reformation in our lives. Then we also need to see families, Churches and the nation reformed according to the Bible.

Reformation and repentance both involve change. Repentance is not only about  sorrow for sin. It means turning from it and being transformed in our lives by the renewing of our minds. We need this constantly both as individuals and Churches.

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Read Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life. This shows the real nature of spiritual reformation. Outward change is not enough. There must be deep inward refining.

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Ashers are Blessed

Ashers are Blessed

Ashers are Blessed
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.
24 Oct, 2016

Despite losing their appeal – Ashers, the Christian bakery company, are blessed. They were appealing against a court ruling that they discriminated. This relates to refusing to produce a cake with a slogan promoting same-sex marriage. The decision is a serious infringement of civil liberty, compelling people against their beliefs. But there are other matters to bear in mind also. The name Asher is actually Hebrew for “Blessed” or “Happy”. This reminds us of Christ’s words: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”.

“We’re being told we have to promote a message even if it’s against our conscience” (Daniel McArthur).

This case is about punishing those who refuse to support same-sex marriage. That is a serious step: it is the force of civil law being used to persecute. Many will suffer if this ruling is sustained in law in a way more serious than merely being pilloried by public opinion. There has been of course public vilification for this couple in standing firm. 

“We have been called bigots and it seems to be at the minute that if you disagree politely with gay marriage then you are named as a bigot or a homophobe” (Amy McArthur). 

Their shop in in central Belfast has suffered some minor acts of vandalism since the case came to light but the company has not suffered financially. Daniel McArthur has said:

“And I would say to other Christians facing pressure at work or in public life: don’t be afraid to take your Christian stand because we’ve learned God is with you in all of it and he gives you the grace to stand against these trials and challenges.”

They may have to pay £88,000 in legal costs.

David Dickson comments on the final beatitudes of Matthew 5:10-12. He says that the “eighth mark of a true disciple is suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake”. Such are blessed. But these are the blessings that few really want. The following points are extracted and updated from his commentary on Matthew.

1.  Blessed are any who are troubled and persecuted by men in following Christ and for doing that which God approves. Those who choose rather to suffer affliction than to commit sin are indeed blessed, for “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”

 

2.  Let persecutors do their utmost to rob the godly of all that they have, yet they cannot rob them of heaven, for it is said that “the kingdom of heaven” is theirs. Even if they were banished out of their native country and utterly spoiled, or indeed killed. Heaven belongs to them by Christ’s conquest and by God’s promise. It shall certainly be given to them to make up for all their losses.

 

3.  Reviling or speaking any manner of evil against Christ’s servants is, in our Lord’s estimation, persecution. Thus He expounds being persecuted further, saying, “when men revile you and persecute you”.

4.  Christians must beware that they only give just grounds for facing trouble. It is not persecution when evil is spoken against men truly and justly but when evil is spoken against them falsely, and for Christ’s cause. Therefore Christ says that they are blessed “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake”.

 

5.  Notwithstanding whatever persecution occurs, the troubled and persecuted servant of Christ still remains blessed “when men…persecute you”.

 

6.  Our Lord will not be content for His servants in persecution do bear themselves with a heavy spirit.  He will have them bear their cross joyfully. He does not want the courage, comfort or countenance of His children beaten down while they bear His glorious cross. He will have them to be cheerful: “Rejoice and be exceeding glad”, He says.

 

7.  Although their suffering cannot merit any thing, yet it will be rewarded graciously. “Great is your reward”, says our Lord.

8.  Whatever consolation God gives to his suffering servants in this world, which indeed is not small (for they have more peace and joy in themselves from God, and more estimation among the saints, than all their trouble is worth) yet he will not reckon this for a reward till he have them up in heaven, for he has said, Great is your reward in heaven.

9.  The light affliction of this life cannot be compared with that which will be given in heaven. He says therefore: “Great is your reward”.

10. Whoever endures any trouble (even if it is only evil words for Christ’s cause) he will be enrolled among the martyrs and holy prophets who from the beginning of the world have suffered for righteousness. This is our Lord’s reckoning, saying, “For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”.

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God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners

God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners

God’s Hearty Invitation to Sinners
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.
16 Sep, 2016

Someone has estimated that God gives an invitation with the word “come” 642 times in the Bible. Whether or not that is the case, they are certainly frequent. Some of the most attractive invitations are found in Isaiah chapter 55. It was often a passage children were given to memorise for this very reason. The offers made in this passage are based on the everlasting mercies of a covenant God.

William Guthrie said that Isaiah 55 proclaims a market such as was never heard of before. It is the most attractive, important and glorious market that there ever was. The most glorious and precious wares are on sale.  They were bought at the dearest price but now sold more cheaply than any wares ever were. “Here we have the most free and lawful invitation to all sorts of persons to come and have them. They shall get them and pay nothing for them”.

Another attractive exposition of this chapter is contained in The Sum of Saving Knowledge. This document was written by James Durham and David Dickson during the time of the Second Reformation in Scotland. The Sum had a prominent place in Scotland in previous generations as a way of expressing saving truth.  Many have found it helpful in gaining personal assurance of salvation. The following has been extracted and updated from a document called The Sum of Saving Knowledge.

Isaiah chapters 53 and 54 relate the precious ransom of our redemption by the sufferings of Christ, together with the rich blessings it has purchased to us.  In chapter 55 the Lord offers Christ and his grace openly. In free grace He proclaims a market of righteousness and salvation to be obtained through Christ. This is for every soul, without exception, that truly desires to be saved from sin and wrath.

“Ho, every one that thirsteth”, He says. He invites all sinners that for any reason stand at a distance from God to come and take from him riches of grace which run in Christ as a river, in order to wash away sin and to extinguish wrath. “Come ye to the waters,” he says. Lest any should stand back conscious of his own sinfulness or unworthiness, and inability to do any good, the Lord especially calls upon such saying, “He that hath no money, come.”

 

1. God’s Free Riches

He desires nothing more of the buyer, but that he should be pleased with the wares offered; which are grace, and more grace. That he should also give hearty consent in embracing this offer of grace, so that he may conclude the deal and make a formal covenant with God. “Come, buy without money, (He says) come, eat”. This means agree to have and take for yourself all saving graces; make the wares your own, possess them, and make use of all blessings in Christ. Use and enjoy freely whatsoever makes for your spiritual life and comfort, without paying any thing for it: “Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price,” He says.

The Lord knows how much we are inclined to seek righteousness and life by our own achievements and presumed ability to pay; to have righteousness and life as it were by our works. He knows how unwilling we are to embrace Christ Jesus and to take life by free grace through Jesus Christ on the terms in which it is offered to us. The Lord, therefore, lovingly calls us away from our unlawful and doomed way with a gentle and timely admonition, making us understand that our labour will be lost. “Wherefore do ye spend your money (he says) for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?”

The Lord promises to us solid satisfaction (true contentment and fulness of spiritual pleasure) through taking ourselves to the grace of Christ. He says, “Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”

 

2. God’s Everlasting Covenant

Because faith comes by hearing, he calls for us to listen to the explanation of the offer and for us to believe and hasten towards the truth, which is able to produce the application of saving faith, and to draw the soul to trust in God. “Incline your ear, and come unto me,” He says.

The Lord promises that this offer being received shall make alive the dead sinner. He will conclude an unbreakable covenant of perpetual reconciliation and peace with the man that consents to it and welcomes this offer: “Hearken, and your soul shall live: and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” He declares that this covenant will in substance assign and make over all the saving graces which David (who is Jesus Christ – see Acts 13:34) has bought for us in the covenant of redemption: “I will make a covenant with you, (he says) even the “sure mercies of David.” By sure mercies, he means saving graces. These include righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost, adoption, sanctification, and glorification and whatever belongs to godliness and eternal life.

 

3. God’s Gift of the Son

The Father has made a fourfold gift of his eternal and only begotten Son in order to confirm and assure us of the real grant of these saving mercies, and also to persuade us of the reality of the covenant between God and those who believe:

1. He has given him to be incarnate and born for our sake, of the seed of David. David was a type of Christ and this is why the Lord is called David, the true and everlasting King of Israel, here and in Acts 13:34. This is the great gift of God to man (John 4:10). And here God says, “I have given him to be David (or born of David) to the people”.

2. He has given Christ to be a witness to the people of the sure and saving mercies granted to the redeemed in the covenant of redemption. He also bears witness of the Father’s willingness and purpose to apply these mercies, and to make them firm in the covenant of grace and reconciliation made with those who embrace the offer: “I have given him (says the Lord here) to be a witness to the people.” Christ is a truly sufficient witness in this matter in many respects, because:

  • He is one of the blessed Trinity, and contractor for us, in the covenant of redemption, before the world was.
  • He is, as the Mediator also the Messenger of the Covenant and has been commissioned to reveal it.
  • He began to reveal it in Eden, where he promised that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15).
  • He revealed before His coming in the sacrifices and ceremonies types and figures of his own death and sufferings, and the great benefits that should come to us by that.
  • He gave more and more light about this covenant, speaking by His Spirit, from age to age, in the holy prophets.
  • He came Himself, in the fulness of time, and bore witness of everything belonging to this covenant, and of God’s willing mind to take believers into it. He did this partly, by uniting our nature in one person with the divine nature; partly, by preaching the good tidings of the covenant with his own mouth; partly, by paying the price of redemption on the cross; and partly, by dealing still with the people, from the beginning to this day, to draw and keep in the redeemed within this covenant.

3. God has made a gift of Christ, as a leader to the people, to bring us through all difficulties, all afflictions and temptations, unto life, by this covenant. It is he indeed, and no other, who leads his own to the covenant and, in the covenant, all the way unto salvation:

  • By the direction of his word and Spirit.
  • By the example of his own life, in faith and obedience, even to the death of the cross.
  • By his powerful working, bearing his redeemed ones in his arms, and causing them to lean on him, while they go up through the wilderness.

4. God has given Christ to his people, as a commander. He faithfully exercises this office, by giving to his Church and people laws and ordinances, pastors and governors, and all necessary officers. He also maintains courts and assemblies among them in order to see that his laws are obeyed. He subdues his people’s corruptions by his word, Spirit, and discipline, and guards them by his wisdom and power against all of their enemies of whatever kind.

 

4. The Sinner’s Believing Conclusion

The weak believer can strengthen his faith, by reasoning in this way:

Anyone that heartily receives the offer of free grace made to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation has Christ, the true David, with all his sure and saving mercies by an everlasting covenant.

But (the weak believer can say):

do heartily receive the offer of free grace made here to sinners, thirsting for righteousness and salvation:

Therefore, Christ Jesus with all his sure and saving mercies belongs unto me by an everlasting covenant.

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7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others
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.
22 Jul, 2016

A stumbling block in Scripture is not simply an obstacle. It is anyone or anything by which someone is drawn into sin or error. Or it may simply hinder them from being edified. Scripture tells that it can happen even through things that aren’t in themselves sinful. The implications of this are virtually all-encompassing. There are few things we must take more seriously than this in the Christian life.

The word which means stumbling block is often translated as “offence”. This is not the same as someone being offended in the sense of being displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to offend against God’s Word. Scripture deals with this matter in the most serious way possible. In his comprehensive treatment of the subject, James Durham says the following about stumbling others:

  • there is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord himself denounces and doubles a woe against making others offend (Mathew 18:7), and the Apostle confirms it (Romans 14:20);
  • there is no duty more commanded. Durham notes that whole chapters are devoted to avoiding stumbling others (e.g. Romans 14, Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 8, Matthew 18);
  • there are no worse consequences than those connected with it. Durham notes that it brings: woe to the world; destruction to many souls; reproach upon the profession of Christianity; cools love among brethren, begets and fosters contention and strife; mars the progress of the gospel; and, in a word, makes iniquity to abound, and often ushers in error into the church.
  • there is nothing more damaging to the fellowship of believers. Fellowship suffers if we are not sensitive to what edifies and hinders edification in others. Spiritual admonition and conversation and prayer together will lack the right spirit and blessing without such sensitivity.
  • it hardens us and makes us more inclined to sin. It hardens us by making the conscience less sensitive to conviction. The more we are in the habit of disregarding others in general the less we are restrained from doing that which is actually sinful.
  • it damages the success of the gospel. Carelessness in this brings reproach on profession of the gospel. Sensitivity in this greatly adorns the gospel, however.

A number of these serious consequences of stumbling others are drawn from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18.  David Dickson shows from Matthew 18:7-14 in greater detail how Christ gives seven reasons to avoid putting a stumbling block before others.

Christ forbids laying any stumbling block before others whether by word, action or any other way. This is anything which may induce anyone to sin or may hinder them in the course of obedience of God.

 

1. Much Woe Comes Through Stumbling Others

Much woe, sin and misery comes on the world through stumbling blocks thrown in front of others. Therefore, beware of offences, for “Woe unto the world because of offences!” There is a necessity that there will be offences (v7). Stumbling blocks or inducements to sin and ways to turn men away from the right paths of the Lord will be laid in their way. This necessity is because men’s corrupt natures are inclined to be drawn and to draw others to sin. God’s decree to permit such stumbling-blocks in order to try some and punishment of others also makes it necessary (v7).

 

2. The Greatest Woe Awaits Those Who Stumble Others

Woe to that man by whom the offence comes. Therefore beware of offences. Whatever damage comes or may come by a stumbling-block will be imputed to him who gives offence, or lays a stumbling-block in others’ way. “Woe to that man” (v7).

Those who are offended (drawn into sin) cannot excuse themselves. Neither the fact that offences occur in God’s providence nor the guilt belonging to those who create the offence excuses them or will save them from wrath for their sin. This still stands: “Woe unto the world because of offences” (v7).

 

3. Nothing is Worth Stumbling Others

It is better to lose anything that may cause a sinful fall to yourself or your neighbour than to sin and be cast into hell with it. It is better to lose anything that is even as beneficial or necessary as your eye or your foot (v8). It is better to be deprived of it than to sin and so be cast in hell with it: therefore beware of giving offence.

[a] The cause of stumbling ourselves and others is in ourselves. Some beloved lust may seem as precious and beneficial to us as our eye, our hand or our foot but yet it causes us to stumble (v8-9).

[b] Such beloved lusts must be put to death and cut off or else we cannot but perish. It is better therefore that these lusts be cut off than they and we should both perish. To cut them off is better (v9).

 

4. Being Careless About Stumbling Others is the Same as Despising Them

Despising any of these little ones must be avoided and so laying stumbling blocks must also be avoided. This is because being careless about stumbling them is the same as despising them (v10).

 

5. The Angels Minister to Those We are Careless About Stumbling

God esteems the least of these little ones so much that the good angels who daily enjoy God’s glorious presence are ministering spirits appointed to attend on them. Therefore do not despise them by being careless about stumbling or offending them.

If we consider what price God and his holy angels set upon the least Christian we would be loathe to despise or offend them. For “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (v10).

 

6. Christ’s Care for His Flock Should Prevent Us from Stumbling Any of Them

Christ came to redeem the least of believers even those who count themselves lost. Therefore you should not despise them by being careless about stumbling them. The esteem and love that Christ has for the least Christian should motivate us to beware of stumbling or despising them. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (v11).

 

7. Stumbling Others is the Devil’s Work and Opposes God

It is not the will of the Father that the least Christian should perish and therefore you should not despise them or be careless about stumbling them in a way through which they might perish. This is taught in the parable of a good shepherd (verse 12-14). The purpose of the parable is to show that as a good shepherd regards all of his sheep and, if they wander, will carefully seek to reclaim them and save them so does God. He does this for the least of His elect, the least of Christians; He will reclaim them from their sins and danger of perishing, as the text shows.

[a] He that stumbles his neighbour does what he can to make him perish. He opposes the will of the Father to preserve his neighbour from perishing because of a stumbling block.

[b] The devil and those who serve him do what they can to hinder the salvation of believers but God will preserve them. For “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (v14).

[c] Although he that lays a stumbling block before his brother will not be able to destroy him, yet he may put him out of the way a little and hinder him in his course to heaven. The parable of the shepherd recovering the wandering sheep shows this.




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The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples

The Best Way to Make Mature Disciples
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 Apr, 2016

Currently, “discipleship” is one of those buzz words that evangelicals have begun to use all the time, everywhere. It is only a belated reaction against the modern trend to separate “mission” and “evangelism” from “discipleship”.  Some have realised that simply being “missional” (another buzz word) is not enough. Predictably, this has prompted various attempts at discipleship manuals and courses. Historically, the Church has always been engaged in making disciples. It has also been clear about the best way to engage in this.

It was well defined by Christ in His Commission to the Apostles. Making disciples involves teaching them to observe “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  Those who are Christ’s disciples learn from Him (Matthew 11:29) and continue in His Word (John 8:31).  Their life must also be governed by His commandments (Matthew 10:25; John 15:8).  There are things to be believed and things to be done.

 

1. The Best Means to Make Mature Disciples

Faith and Obedience are the main themes and structure of the Westminster Catechisms. They also teach these things comprehensively, in the way that Christ commanded. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we have tools to hand (though largely forgotten) for making mature disciples.  Historically, the Church has used the tool of catechising (in a personal and flexible context) to make mature disciples.

We do not need bullet point crash courses but documents that are so rich and full that they will be lifelong guides to the truth. They will be keys to unlock greater amounts of what we need to believe and obey. The Westminster Catechisms are suitable for groups and individuals at different levels of maturity. Indeed, people can progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism.

Many make the mistake of thinking that discipleship involves teaching others to know and assent to biblical doctrines. Yet truths must also be believed and experienced in a practical sense. Discipleship also requires knowing the things to be obeyed and doing them.  This is what the Great Commission requires.

As David Dickson comments on Matthew 28:20: “Christ’s baptised disciples may not live as they wish. They must make sure to observe everything that Christ has commanded His ministers to teach them” (see free e-book at the bottom of this post).  The Larger Catechism particularly provides a full biblical exposition of the obedience that God requires. As well as applying God’s law, it gives rules to show how the law should be interpreted and applied for living.

David Dickson also provides useful comments on Hebrews 6:1.  He notes that there are two parts to Christian instruction.

Firstly to instruct in the key principles of religion, secondly, to bring this instruction to maturity or perfection. The principles must first be learned, and the foundation laid.  When people have learned the principles, their teachers must advance them further, towards maturity or perfection

 

2. The Most Accurate Means for Making Mature Disciples

Complete, accurate summaries: Givens B. Strickler  wrote of complete and comprehensive character of the Westminster Catechisms in an essay called “The Nature, Value and Special Utility of the Catechisms”. The answers of the Catechisms stand on their own as comprehensive definitions of the subjects they cover.

They are complete manuals of the great fundamental doctrines of divine revelation…the most complete in existence…they contain them in the most accurate form.

They also form a complete system with every doctrine in its right place and in its right relations to other doctrines. This is true of no other catechism.  Doctrines are seen in the light of all correlated truths; and thus can be so seen as to be most thoroughly understood and most fully appreciated.

Careful, accurate summaries: As Strickler notes, there is a balance in the way that the Catechisms state the truths of Scripture. They make sure that unbiblical error is rejected.

while expressing them clearly in a positive form, they, at the same time, negatively, at every important point, guard against the most serious errors.

 

3. The Most Focussed Means for Making Mature Disciples

The Catechisms focus clearly and comprehensively on the subject that needs to be taught. Their answers provide the basis for further questions to explore  the various aspects of the truth stated. This is more focussed than mentioning subjects in passing during a sermon when less direct and sustained attention is given to them.

When Catechisms are used effectively, teaching can also be even more direct, personal and penetrating. Richard Baxter commends catechising as a help to preaching. He realised in his own experience that “some ignorant persons, who had been so long unprofitable hearers, have got more knowledge and remorse of conscience in half an hour’s close disclosure, than they did from ten years’ public preaching”.

The Larger Catechism increases this focus and widens the subjects covered with accuracy. This is vital in encouraging deeper maturity in Christ’s disciples. As is often noted, the Larger Catechism covers the nature of the Church in greater detail. This is significant for making mature disciples. They are discipled within the context of the Church and the Great Commission emphasises the means of grace – the Word and the Sacraments – as part of this.

 

4. The Most Urgent Means for Making Mature Disciples

Making mature disciples will not succeed as it should until such means are taken seriously. We need to restore thorough and accurate instruction using the Catechisms to its rightful place. We will not obey the Great Commission properly, unless we give attention to this. John Calvin went so far as to say:

the Church of God shall never be conserved without catechism, for it is as the seed to be kept that the good grain perish not but that it may increase from age to age.

Children need to be catechised and to progress from the Shorter to the Larger Catechism. For adults, the practice of memorisation and public repetition of the answers associated with catechising in the past may not be so easy to achieve now. Yet these documents, together with the Westminster Confession, form an excellent basis for group study and discussion.

The documents can be used in a flexible and natural way to teach the truth. Over a century ago, Givens B. Strickler asked the question as to why ministers and others could not use the Catechisms to instruct in biblical truth so that:

in every church there shall be a number, at least, who shall know how to maintain them against any of the popular assaults that are so frequently made upon them? We shall never succeed as we may and ought until this is done.

“Missional” trends will rise and fall, methods will come and go unless the means for mature discipling are adopted. Evangelical churches will continue with the epidemic of biblical and theological illiteracy and disobedience to Christ’s commands. They will only do so by ignoring the preventive medicine to hand in these catechisms. It is high time for all of us to absorb more fully the biblical teaching of the Westminster Catechisms.

An earlier post about Catechising: How Well Do You Know the Truth?

For further reading about the benefits of Catechising read John J. Murray’s “Catechising: A Forgotten Practice“.

The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary by J. G. Vos is a helpful and very full modern guide to a neglected treasure.

Great Commission

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What is Christ’s mission for the Church? How should the Church fulfill it? This free e-Book draws from David Dickson’s comments on Matthew 28:18-20, to answer key questions about Christ’s commission to the Church. Dickson brings out the plain meaning and implications of these verses.

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What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?
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 Mar, 2016

Beautiful worship creates different mental images for different people. Some will see the finest vestments, artwork and candles and a profusion of colour and goldleaf. They will hear the finest music and perhaps smell wafting incense. Others are thinking of elegant “contemporary” style.  It too involves the “right” clothes, music and imagery. Still others are attracted to something in between that borrows from both. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The standard of beauty is subjective not objective. Yet what standard of beauty does God have when it comes to worship?

It is easy to take our preferred standard of beauty and then consecrate that for the purposes of worship. Yet this leaves us with the holiness of beauty rather than the beauty of holiness. What is it to “worship Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2)? David Dickson comments that the public worship of God was beautiful in the temple “not for timber or stones so much, as because the holy and beautiful means of grace to men, and God’s worship showing forth his glory was there to be found”. Our worship and submission to God is only “sanctified, and made acceptable when it is offered in and through Christ, and in society with His Church represented by the sanctuary, here called the beauty of holiness”.

As Dickson also says “among all God’s works [there is] nothing so beautiful as his ordinances, rightly made use of in His Church”. For God worship is “the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty” (Ezekiel 7:20). Yet in the same verse He goes on to complain that the Israelites “made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things” within it. This reminds us of the Second Commandment which forbids worshipping “God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word” (Shorter Catechism, Q51).

William Greenhill (1591–1671) was a member of the Westminster Assembly who further explains these words for us. He shows that God defines the standard of beauty for His worship. Whatever He commands is what He considers beautiful in worship, but we mar that beauty when we mix it with our own inventions. It is like the idea that we can add the finishing touches to a priceless and outstanding work of art.

In God’s eyes, we maintain beautiful worship by maintaining what He has appointed. As the Shorter Catechism puts it, this is what He also requires in the Second Commandment. Worship is beautiful so long as it is preserved in its purity and entirety. The Second Commandment requires “receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word” (Q52). We must be able to say of whatever we do in worship: “it is beautiful because God has commanded it”.

 

1. Beautiful Worship is God-appointed Worship

God is the one who appoints worship and its beauty. He set the ornament and beauty of it. Neither Moses in the tabernacle, nor Solomon in the temple, could prescribe any substantial part or element of ceremonial worship. Even though “wise-hearted” they were only to make what God had commanded in the tabernacle (Exodus 35:10).  Solomon, the wisest of men, “was instructed for the building of the house of God” (2 Chronicles 3:3). The Hebrew is literally “founded”. He had a foundation laid in him by the Spirit of God, before he laid the foundation of the temple, or did any of the work.

What God appoints is an ornament, has beauty and is for glory. Yet if men set up anything in the worship of God, it has no beauty, but blackness, no holiness, but iniquity. God must be worshipped “in the beauty of holiness,” (1 Chronicles 16:29), not in the blackness of iniquity. Men think that ceremonies enhance the worship of God, that pictures, altars, golden vessels make it glorious; but all this is deformity which God has not set up, nor set up for glory.

 

2. Beautiful Worship is Deformed by Our Inventions

Images are unwarranted and sinful in God’s worship. Here God complains, that they made images, and set them in the temple. Such is the corruption of man, that he is  ungrateful for and abuses the best mercies. God had set his temple and pure worship amongst them in great beauty, for glory to them, and to Himself. Yet they forgot what a high favour this was. Instead of honouring God in his temple, and preserving his worship entire and pure they brought in the images of their abominations, their detestable things. Thus they blemish their beauty, defile their ornament, and stain their glory.

It was wicked to corrupt themselves with strange, forbidden marriages (Ezra 10:2) ; dealing treacherously with their lawful wives (Malachi 2:15-16) and making a calf to worship (Exodus 32:7-8). Yet it was worse to bring their detestable things into the temple; into God’s presence and ordinances. When they made the calf, Moses was in the mount receiving instructions for worship. Yet they had neither fixed place for worship, nor the way of worship clearly declared to them.

Yet when God had set his temple in Zion, they had a fixed place, a settled way of worship and the most glorious beautiful worship in the world.  Yet they corrupted themselves in this. The majesty of God’s presence there, His glory and commands did not put them in awe. They were not content with what His infinite wisdom had prescribed.  They did not consider the abominable and detestable nature of their images. They were blinded with their own ideas, and hardened with their sins and so they proceeded to corrupt God’s worship. Zephaniah says that they “corrupted all their doings” (Zephaniah 3:7). They were corrupters, “a corrupt spring” (Proverbs 25:26), even when they were dealing with God in matters of religion and their salvation.

 

3. Beautiful Worship is Often Undervalued

God uses the word “but” to reproach the church for being unthankful for the best mercies. He set his temple (the greatest ornament and blessing they could have), but they made images etc.  Nothing exasperates God more than wretched unkindness after great mercies. Psalm 106 numbers up God’s great mercies to them and their ungratefulness. Again and again the word “but” comes in (Psalm 106:7, 11-13). He delivered them, did great things for them; but they provoked him, lusted and murmured.

Ingratitude is kicking the giver (Deuteronomy 32:6-7 & 15). In Isaiah 5:2 God recounts His acts of kindness to the house of Israel. In verse 3, He calls the “inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah,” to judge between Him and His vineyard. God asks men to judge how kind He had been and how ungrateful they had been. He would therefore break down their wall and lay it waste. Men could not avoid seeing the great wrong done to God, and justify him in vindicating Himself.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?

How Well Do You Know the Truth?
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.
12 Feb, 2016

The sum of human knowledge is increasing exponentially, it is said. This is the total amount of knowledge produced and known in the world. Before World War I the sum of human knowledge doubled every 100 to 200 years. After World War II the sum of human knowledge doubled every 25 years. Currently, it is doubling every year. By 2020, the sum of human knowledge is said to be doubling every month. We may know many things, but do we know the right things? More than this, how well do we know the right things? This is our own and our children’s greatest need.

The Church has always used a well-worn method to address this need. It is called catechising. As William Bridge put it, catechising has two goals. Firstly, to increase knowledge. Secondly, to test it.  We must “continue in the faith grounded and settled” (Colossians 1:23). In a sermon on this verse, Thomas Watson shows that catechising is the best method for ensuring that we are grounded and settled in the faith.

Catechising is the most important things taught in the most memorable way. A catechism is not just a document or statement. It is living and kept in the memory rather than just on paper. This makes it invaluable for future reference. Truth is ready, on the tip of the tongue (1 Peter 3:15).

The word catechise is a Greek word for teaching used in Galatians 6:6 and elsewhere. It is vital that children, in particular, come to learn and remember Bible truth (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). We teach them so “that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:4-7).

The Church has proved the effectiveness of catechising. John Owen observed this. “More knowledge is ordinarily diffused, especially among the young and ignorant, by one hour’s catechetical exercise, than by many hours’ continued discourse.” Thomas Watson believed that: “To preach and not to catechise is to build without a foundation”.

 

Counter-cultural Teaching

Recent generations have neglected it, however. It runs against the grain of modern thinking. We expect to have a digital slave to retain knowledge for us. This may be useful in many contexts, but truth is different. As the Saviour taught, the most important truths are meant to “sink down” into our ears (Luke 9:44). They are meant to take hold of our hearts and the way that we think.

Memorisation is different to merely remembering. To memorise the truth is to engage with it actively.  It also requires focus and attention, things that run contrary to a distracted, hyper-stimulated age.  In a culture that values emotive self-expression, rote learning seems rigid and repressive. Yet this ignores the need for foundations and first principles. Any sphere of learning or skilled activity requires this.

 

Long-term Teaching

Memorisation retains knowledge as a necessary preparation for explanation and comprehension. As John Macleod observes, the Reformation approach:

aimed at the opening up of the form of sound words in which they set forth the truth of the Gospel.  And when what was committed to memory was opened up by loving teachers at the fireside or in the congregation, the good of having learned the letter of such statements, which were a valuable exhibition of the Faith, came out.

And, what was more, those who, in the immature years of childhood, had their minds stored with what at the time when they learned to repeat it might be beyond their reach had, in later years, when their powers came to a measure of ripeness, the chance of working in their mind what they once had learned only by rote.  They carried with them from childhood a treasure the good of which they had been long familiar.

Often have those who have gone through a course in catechistic training in their early days come to discover how useful this teaching is to them now that in later days they have come to feel the power of the truth.  They are like a mill with all its mechanism in order that waited for the turning on of the water that it might work.  Once the power is brought to bear upon them they learn to their profit the connections in which the various portions of divine truth stand to one another. And thus they start their new life of discipleship with valuable assets to their credit.  When bread is thus cast upon the waters it may be found when most needed – in after days.  There is this over and above the blessing that often attends at the time the opening up and explanation of these statements to the mind of the child.  For those who teach a Catechism are expected to open up its teaching and explain its meaning (Scottish Theology, pp.101-102).

 

Christ-like Teaching

David Dickson shows the importance of catechising from the example of Christ teaching His disciples. In Matthew 13:51 Christ asks them if they have “understood all these things”.

Christ takes account of whether His disciples understood His teachings.

1. Those who hear the gospel should labour to understand what they hear. Christ asks if they have understood.

2. Ministers should use catechising to take account of whether their hearers have understood their teaching. This is what Christ did in asking this question of the disciples.

3. No matter what capability they have, everyone should be willing to give account to their teachers of whether they have progressed in knowledge. The disciples answer, “Yea, Lord”.

 

Conclusion

Basic instruction remains necessary. The recent popularity of instructional courses like the Alpha Course  demonstrates this. Unfortunately, in reinventing the wheel such courses often alter or dilute the truth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism covers the body of truth comprehensively but with concise treatment. It sets out we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires from us. It has not been possible to improve on its approach. Any Christian will benefit from it and any Christian parent will value from using it with their children. Any minister will find that it helps reinforce their preaching. 

 

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Find out how Bible truths fit together, relate to and depend on each other so that you can learn, live and love all the truth of the Bible. This book is designed to help you do this using the Shorter Catechism.

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