Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?

Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?

Is Church Government Worth Suffering For?
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
15 Oct, 2020

Few people want to hear about church government today, let alone suffer for it. Of all principles and truths it is perhaps one that people are least likely to want to suffer for. They may even think that Scripture doesn’t really require anything very clear about how the church should be ordered. They just think of it as a kind of administration and that there are many ways of “doing church”. We need to consider the matter more carefully, however. To be punished for resisting state control over the church would be to suffer for church government, for instance. Is that worth suffering for? Perhaps, at face value, this issue seems very remote from Christ and the main things. But it does in fact concern us with Christ Himself.

Thousands of Covenanters suffered torture, banishment, imprisonment, loss of goods and execution. Why? For liberty? Yes, in an indirect sense. Certainly for Christ but in relation to a specific matter. The reason they suffered these things was their steadfastness on a matter of church government. George Gillespie was one of many who had in earlier decades suffered for church government. Many had suffered more than he, including imprisonment and loss of possessions. In this updated extract, Gillespie shows that the question of whether the state should control the church is not a side issue. It concerns the glory and authority of Christ Himself. This was the key controversy he was seeking to help resolve.

Christ Himself Suffered for Church Government

This controversy highly concerns Jesus Christ Himself in His glory, royal prerogative, and kingdom which He has and exercises as Mediator and Head of His Church. The crown of Jesus Christ or any part, privilege, or piece of that must be a noble and excellent subject. This truth that Jesus Christ is a king, and has a kingdom and government in His Church, distinct from the kingdoms of this world and from the civil government, has a commendation above all other truths. Christ Himself suffered to the death for it and sealed this truth with His blood.

For it may be observed from the story of His passion, this was the only point of His accusation which He Himself confessed and owned. It was aggravated, prosecuted, and driven home most by the Jews and prevailed most with Pilate as the cause for condemning Him to die. It was mentioned also in the superscription or sign written on His cross. Although in reference to God and providing satisfaction to divine justice for our sins, His death was a price of redemption, yet in reference to men who did persecute, accuse, and condemn Him, His death was a martyr’s testimony to seal such a truth.

This kingly office of Jesus Christ (as well as His prophetic office) is not only administered and exercised inwardly and invisibly by the working of His Spirit in the souls of particular individuals. It is also exercised outwardly and visibly in the Church, as a visible body politic, in which He has appointed His own officers, ambassadors, courts, laws, ordinances and censures. All these are to be administered ministerially in His own name as the only king and head of the Church.

Herod and Pilate (like many princes, potentates, and states) looked on this with so much fear and jealousy, as another government co-ordinate with civil government. But what was dark on their side has been light on the other side to those servants of Jesus Christ who have stood, contended, and sometimes suffered much for the ordinance of Church government and discipline which they looked on as a part of Christ’s kingdom. John Welsh (of Ayr, my countryman of precious memory) suffered much for the same truth and was ready to seal it with his blood.

It is indeed no new thing for the most faithful ministers of Jesus Christ to be reproached and accused of being guilty of Treason. This was not only the lot of David Calderwood, Welsh and those that suffered with him but of John Knox before them. Likewise many martyrs, confessors and the apostles themselves. Yet (if we will judge righteous judgement, and weigh things in a just balance) we do not rob the government of that which is their’s, by giving to Christ that which is Christ’s.

We desire to hold up the honour and greatness, power and authority of government against all that despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. We hold that it is proper for kings, princes and governors to be called lords over their subjects over whom they exercise civil government.  But only Christ may be called Lord and Master in the spiritual government of the Church. All bear office in it ought not to usurp dominion, nor be called lords, but only ministers, disciples and servants. We acknowledge and affirm that civil Government in empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities is ordained by God for His own glory and for the great good of mankind. Any who are enemies to civil government are enemies to mankind and the revealed will of God. Such persons as are placed in authority are to be be loved, honoured, feared, and held in the greatest respect and esteem because they are the lieutenants of God, in whose seat God Himself sits and judges.

The Lord guide you and all His people in ways of truth and peace, holiness and righteousness. The Lord grant that this controversy may (I trust it shall) have a happy end to the glory of God, to the embracing and exalting of Jesus Christ in His kingly office, to the ordering of His house according to His own will, to keeping the ordinances pure, to the advancing of holiness, and shaming of profaneness. And finally to the peace, quiet, wellbeing, comfort, and happiness of the churches of Christ.

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Bible Verses Have Consequences

Bible Verses Have Consequences

Bible Verses Have Consequences
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
15 Jun, 2018

Ideas have consequences. Those consequences may be traced in history, culture and the lives of individuals.  How we think and what we assume shapes our view of the world and life in it. Consciously or unconsciously, people live under the influence of ideas formulated by others. To think biblically we need to know how to handle God’s Word. For the Bible to have a consequential influence on our faith and life we must know how to apply the implications of what we read. By consequences we don’t just mean practical influence. Consequences are also truths that necessarily follow from verses of Scripture even if they are not explicitly stated in them. We actually need to know how to arrive at these in practically applying Scripture in our lives. Coming to understand the Bible’s teaching in this way is something that we all do. It’s also the way in which Christ Himself used Scripture. But it needs some explaining, so let’s consider it further.

It may seem technical but it is a matter of daily importance for us all as to how we read the Bible and put into practice. It’s easiest of course to explain a Bible truth by just giving one or more proof texts. It’s always clearest when we can find a verse that clearly states, commands, forbids or by example approves something. But there can be important truths where this is not possible. For instance, what the Bible teaches about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is one person who is truly God and truly man. Yet these two whole natures are distinct and not mixed together. We will not find a Bible verse that states all of this. Instead we have to draw together the teaching of various Bible passages in order to find the truth that necessarily follows from them.

In this we are not imposing something on the Bible that isn’t there. Instead, we are drawing out the meaning that is truly contained but not explicitly stated in the text. We are only making explicit what the Bible has made implicit. We need this in order to understand what the Bible teaches about what we should believe and what God requires of us. For instance, if someone wanted to believe that matter is eternal we would show them how Genesis 1:1 teaches that it had a beginning and only God is eternal.

This is how the Lord Jesus used Scripture in Matthew 22:29-32. Christ’s charge against the Sadducees is not that they reject the express statement of Scripture but rather the necessary inference from Exodus 3:6 (cf. 3:1-10,12). In John 10:34 he quotes from Psalm 82:6 to draw an inference from a passage that does not expressly state His point. Another example is in Matthew 19:4,5 where Christ, quoting from Genesis 2:24, is being questioned on the matter of divorce. The text says nothing about divorce but Christ is drawing out a necessary inference concerning it. Other examples can be given such as Matthew 12:3-4 and John 7:23. It is also the way in which the apostles interpreted Scripture (Acts 2:25-32; Acts 13:35-37; Acts 17:2-3; 1 Corinthians 15:27 and 45; 1 Corinthians 9:9-14. The Westminster Confession of Faith refers to this method of using Scripture when it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture

The consequences inferred from Scripture must be legitimately drawn from Scripture. Comparing with the rest of Scripture helps to prove this. They must not be forced and arbitrary but something that follows logically. They must sufficiently and strongly prove the conclusion to be necessary. George Gillespie was one of those who helped compose this statement in the Westminster Confession. He points to the examples found in Scripture (as seen above), But he also explains further what is and (importantly) what is not meant by  necessary consequence.

 

1. Necessary Inferences from Scripture May be Disputed

Good and necessary consequences from Scripture are not just conclusions that no one will dispute. If we embraced this principle of indisputable consequences, we would have to renounce many necessary truths which the Reformed Churches hold against the Arians, Anti-Trinitarians, Socinians, and Roman Catholics. This is because the consequences and arguments taken from Scripture to prove them are not accepted as good by the opponents.

 

2. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Are Not Trusting in Reason

We do not assert that human reason drawing a consequence from Scripture can be the grounds of our belief or conscience. The argument is made by human reason. But the consequence or conclusion itself is not believed nor embraced by the strength of reason. Rather it is because it is the truth and will of God.

 

3. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Use Sanctified Reason

There is a distinction between corrupt and renewed reason. It is not the same as natural reason arguing in divine things from natural and unregenerate principles, experience and the like. This is reason captivated and subdued to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). It judges divine things not by human but by divine rules and Scriptural principles no matter how opposed they may be to the wisdom of the flesh. Only sanctified reason will be convinced and satisfied with consequences and conclusions drawn from Scripture in things which concern the glory of God and spiritual matters.

 

4. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Differ from Good Inferences

The consequences drawn from Scripture are of two sorts. Some are necessary, strong and certain. Others are good consequences and prove something is consistent with Scripture although another thing may be also proved to be consistent with the Scripture in the same or another passage. These good inferences have very great use in a wide variety of things but for the present I speak of necessary consequences.

 

5. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Demonstrate the Bible’s Sufficiency

If we say that necessary consequences from Scripture cannot prove something to be required by God, we are inconsistent with the infinite wisdom of God. God is infinitely wise, and it would be blasphemous to maintain that anything can be drawn by a certain and necessary consequence from His holy Word which is not His will. This would make the only wise God as foolish man who cannot foresee all the things which will follow from his words. We must therefore maintain that it is the mind of God when something necessary follows from the Word of God.

 

6. Necessary Inferences from Scripture Avoid Absurdity

Various other great absurdities would result from denying necessary inferences from Scripture.  How can it be proved that women may partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper unless we prove it by necessary consequence from Scripture? How can it be proved that this or that Church is a true church and its ministry a true ministry, and the baptism administered true baptism? No explicit Scripture will prove it, but necessary consequence will. How will this or that individual believer believe from Scripture that the Covenant of Grace and its promises belong to him in particular? Will Scripture prove this otherwise than by necessary consequence? Necessary consequence from Scripture will prove all this, but explicit Bible verses will not.  Fasting and thanksgiving on this or that occasion is similar, God calls us to these duties and it is His will that we perform them. But this cannot be proved from Scripture except by necessary consequences.

 

Conclusion

Many Christians are good at working out what the words of Scripture mean but not always what they require of us. Sermons can also do more explaining than applying sometimes.  If we want to understand and defend the whole counsel of God we need to be able to draw necessary inferences from Scripture. We cannot have a right understanding of what the Church should believe, how it should worship and be ordered without necessary inference. Neither can we understand how we are to live to the glory of God without searching the whole of Scripture and comparing its various parts.

FURTHER READING

By Good and Necessary Consequence by Ryan M McGraw (Reformation Heritage Books) is a helpful guide in this area. McGraw begins this work by noting the biblical foundation of the principle. He shows how it was used by some writers from the past. He also deals with the most significant objections to this principle. He treats the need for ‘necessary consequence’ in four major areas of theology, and concludes with certain practical applications that impact the Christian life and Church. More information here.

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The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture

The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture

The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
1 Jun, 2018

“I’m offended” rhetoric seems to have great power in our culture. Never perhaps was a generation more concerned about offence. From speakers on university campuses to boycotts to cultural appropriation – being offended is very prominent. It goes beyond offended feelings and displeasure. Rightly or wrongly, there is evidently something akin to moral outrage behind it. Certain politically correct values are being elevated as the standard to which people must conform. Of course this is a mere human standard. But do we know what offence really is as the Bible defines it?

In the Bible offence not the same as making someone displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to stumble in their spiritual progress or offend against God’s Word. We can do this without meaning to do it. It also happens when we do and say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time and so turn people against what is right. Scripture deals with this matter in the most serious way possible. In his comprehensive treatment of the subject, James Durham says the following about making others offend or stumbling them:

  • 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 (Romans 14:20); 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 (Romans 14:10,15 and 21). Spiritual admonition and conversation and prayer together will lack the right spirit and blessing without such sensitivity.
  • there is nothing hardens us more 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.
  • there is nothing that damages the success of the gospel more. Carelessness in this brings reproach on profession of the gospel. Sensitivity in this greatly adorns the gospel, however.

Careful reflection on the many ways Scripture deals with this issue will reveal that these conclusions are accurate. The worst kind of offence that takes place in our society is all too serious. We are speaking about offence as the Bible defines it and we are all guilty in this.

George Gillespie describes as briefly as possible the various dimensions of the biblical principle of not causing others to offend against God’s Word.

 

1.What is Offence According to the Bible?

Offence is not grieving or displeasing my brother. It may be that when I grieve or displease him, I actually edify him. But edification and offence are not compatible (Romans 15:1-2). Offence is a word or action which is or which may be, the occasion of another person’s halting, falling or swerving from the straight way of righteousness.

 

2. When is Offence Sinful?

There are different ways that this can happen:

(a) when offence is given and not taken. It is sinful to give anything which would be the occasion of stumbling, even though he does not actually stumble;

(b) when it is taken and not given. It is sinful to take offence if there is no lawful reason for it; and

(c) when it is both taken and given, here there is sin on both sides. It is sinful to stumble someone else and it is sinful for them to fall from the right way.

 

3. What if We Don’t Intend to Make Someone Offend?

It is not only a word or action in which we intend the fall of our brother but also a word or action which in its nature would lead them to sin. For example, when someone publicly commits a sin or that which has the appearance of sin (John 16:2).  A man may stay away from public worship intending to employ his studies all during that time for writing things for the good of the Church. He intends to edify but stumbles others because the action leads them to sin (1 John 2:10).

 

4. How Does it Make Someone Sin?

If it is in something lawful (but others do not think it is lawful) then it makes our brother condemn our lawful action. By our example he may be activated to what his conscience condemns. In both cases sin results. If it is in an unlawful thing then it is also sinful.

The following sinful effects may result:
(a) Our brother may be made to fall into outward sin; or,
(b) He may be made to stumble in his conscience and call in question the way of truth; or,
(c) It may make him halt or weaken his full assurance; or,
(d) It may hinder his growth and going forward, and make him (though not fall, stumble, or halt) to have a smaller degree of progress; or,
(e) Through the nature of the action, occasion is given him to sin in any one of these ways.

 

5. When is it Wrong to be Offended?

It is wrong to be offended at someone else for making use of a lawful thing (Romans 14:3). If I do not know about their weakness and their taking offence the offence is only taken by them and not given by me. Though there is weakness through ignorance here, it is still sinful. Their weakness and ignorance is a fault and does not excuse them.

 

6. Can Something Make Others Offend Even if it Did Not at First?

Gideon’s ephod (Judges 8:27) and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9 and 2 Kings 18:4) were monuments of God’s mercies, they were neither evil nor appearances of evil. It was wrong for the people to be drawn into the sin of idolatry with them but keeping and retaining them after this happened would give occasion for this.

 

7. We Must Avoid Anything that Creates Offence

We should avoid anything from which other people take offence  It does not matter if it is indifferent or lawful in itself (1 Corinthians 8:13). It does not matter if any human authority commands us to do it.

We cannot, however, avoid necessary things such as the hearing of the word, prayer, etc because of offence taken at them. We cannot abstain from these even though the whole world would be offended at us (Matthew 15:12).

We are only blameless of making others offend if the action is not evil in itself, not done in an unreasonable and excessive way and not done with the appearance of evil.

 

8. We Must Not Make Anyone Offend

We must not stumble those who are malicious any more than we can the weak. Therefore we must abstain from all things that are not necessary for the sake of avoiding offence to either. Someone who is offended through malice commits a greater sin than the one offended through weakness. Nevertheless, we ought to do good to all men, but especially those of the household of faith (1 Corinthians 10:32).

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Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence

Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence

Christ Died for the Church’s Spiritual Independence
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
14 Aug, 2017

This cause and truth (that Jesus Christ is a king, and has a kingdom and government in His church distinct from the kingdom of the world and civil government) has this commendation and character above all other truths, that Christ himself suffered to the death for it, and sealed it with his blood.

 

For it may be observed, from the story of His passion, that this was the only point of His accusation which was confessed and avouched by himself (John 18:33,36,37; Luke 23:3), was most aggravated, prosecuted, and driven home by the Jews (Luke 23:2; John 19:12,15), was prevalent with Pilate as the cause of condemning him to die, (John 19:12-13), and was mentioned also in the superscription upon his cross (John 19:19) .

 

George Gillespie in the Preface to Aaron’s Rod Blossoming.

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Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ

Reasons to Trust Christ
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
2 Sep, 2016

We don’t just need the gospel once in our lives: we need it every day. Fellowship with God, assurance and holiness all derive from salvation in Christ. The glorious gospel of the blessed God gives meaning even to the practical realities and duties of life. In the face of constant spiritual onslaught against our souls, we need daily strength and refreshment from this fountain of life.

Everything we need for salvation depends on Christ. Reminding ourselves daily of the reasons for trusting Christ helps maintain our grip on this reality. In the following updated extract, George Gillespie outlines the “true and safe grounds of encouragement to believe in Christ”.  These simple truths ought to be stored in the memory for ready and fresh access. They are of particular help for those that struggle with assurance of faith.

1. Christ is an Entirely Sufficient Saviour

Christ is all-sufficient. If He will He can. He is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). Are you a sinner to the uttermost? His plaster is broad enough to cover the broadest sore. Christ’s merit is as infinite as God’s mercy because the blood He shed is the blood of God as well as of man (Acts 20:28).

This is a good, strong foundation of comfort for a soul, convinced of its own sinful condition and the emptiness of comfort in any creature. It must fix its thoughts on Christ to the extent that He is the only Saviour and therefore an all-sufficient Saviour. The sinner is so far encouraged (it is no small encouragement) as to resolve: “There is power enough in the blood of Christ to cleanse my crimson sins, even mine. There is no help for me out of Christ, but in Him there is help for all that come unto God by him”.

 

The great quality of true faith is believing that Christ is able and all-sufficient. Therefore He Himself said to the blind men: “Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:28- 29). The man in Matthew 8:2-3 was not rejected as an unbeliever but got a good answer from Christ. Every poor sinner that comes to Christ as sufficient, and believes that Christ, and Christ only, can cleanse him from all sin and save his soul, has a true, though imperfect faith and is in a fair way for salvation.

There is many a true believer whose faith cannot as yet rise so high as to stay and rest upon the good-will and love of Jesus Christ to him in particular. Yet the soul believes the all-sufficiency of Christ, and that He only is the Saviour. Thus he comes and draws near to God, by and in Christ as the greatest good that he values above all things. Although his faith has not yet attained to rest on the love of Christ to him in particular; it is true faith and Christ will not despise it.

2. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sinners

Christ died for all kinds of sinners in the world. Every poor sinner may therefore think to himself: “Thus, Christ died for my kind of sinner”. Here is a universal encouragement to all from a true and real ground. It is drawn from the will and intention, as well as from the power and all-sufficiency of Christ. Scripture teaches that He has died for all sorts of persons; there is no condition excluded. 1 Timothy 2:6 says: “Who gave himself a ransom for all” and verse 4, “who will have all men to be saved.” The meaning must be all kinds, not all persons. The Apostle’s all can be no more than Christ’s many: “The Son of man came…to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). If we look at the context of 1 Timothy 2:6 we find abundant light on its meaning. Verse 1 gives an exhortation to pray “for all men”.  The very next words explain this: “for kings and for all in authority.” He does not say for “all kings” but he will not have us exclude kings or queens, as such, from our prayers, or any other subordinate rulers. When he says “all that are in authority,” he means any kind of lawful authority. 

 

3. Christ Died for All Kinds of Sins

Jesus Christ has died not only for all kinds of sinners but to expiate all kinds of sins.  He has assured us plainly that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men” (Matthew 12:13). There is only one exception: the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:13). Since this is the only exception, it makes the general promise even more sure. It is not some kinds of sins only but all kinds of sin and blasphemies. These not only can, but will be “forgiven unto men”.

The promise of mercy and free grace comes home not only to your nation and to individuals of your outward condition, state and class, indeed to your family. But it also comes to your condition in respect of sin, it comes fully home to sinners of your kind or condition; it offers Christ even to such a sinner as you are.

 

4. Christ Receives All Who Come to Him

Christ receives all who come unto Him and excludes none except those that exclude themselves by their unbelief (John 6:37).

 

5. We are Commanded to Believe

The command to believe is an encouragement to believe. “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23). Notice that the same authority that commands us to love one another also requires that we believe on Christ.

 

6. God is the Giver of Faith

Someone might say: “I cannot believe, I have no strength or grace to believe”. I answer: “God describes Himself as the giver of faith (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29)”.  “He also describes His Son as “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

If someone objects: “I know that this is so. But God only works faith in the elect, and I do not know whether or not I am elect”. I answer, “you are discharged (in this case) from running back to election (which is God’s secret). You are required to obey the revealed command: “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but these things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Since you are commanded to believe in God and hear that He is the Author and Finisher of faith, say with the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5) and cry “help…mine unbelief” (Mark 9:94). Ask Him who has promised to give the spirit of grace and supplications so that you may look on Him whom you have pierced (Zechariah 12:10). Pray for Him to lighten your eyes, lest you sleep unto death (Psalm 13:3) . This looking on Christ (promised in Zechariah) is nothing else than believing on Him (see John 3:14-15).

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Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?

Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?

Giving up Liberty of Conscience for Lent?
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
19 Feb, 2016

There’s no doubt that Lent has become fashionable for many evangelicals. Churches and individuals with the label Reformed have also begun to observe Lent. They feel the need for something fresh in their liturgical calendar. Some look for a spiritual “detox”. Perhaps this satisfies conscience nagging them that self-denial and repentance are daily duties. They feel that it adds something of value. The truth is they are giving up far more than the tiny dimension of luxury they may choose to forego for a time. They are giving up true liberty of conscience by bowing to mere commandments of men. God alone is the Lord of the conscience. Thus, trading liberty of conscience for Lent is unconscionable.

Conscience is of course the issue. People will say that we should leave it up to individual consciences to determine whether they think it is right. But the only question that matters is whether God has revealed it to be right. Unless conscience is rightly informed by Scripture and obedient to God’s will in Scripture it will be in slavery to the commandments of men.

There is nothing new under the sun. Lent was also becoming increasingly popular in British Churches during the early seventeenth century. It accompanied other ceremonies and the church calendar. Much like people arguing for Lent today, different tacks were taken to justify them. It was claimed they were merely beneficial. Other people said that they were indifferent things: neither morally required nor morally wrong. Some sought to draw their reasons from Scripture. Others that it was essential to keep them on the basis of various general principles. George Gillespie examined these arguments and found them wanting.

 

Is Lent Necessary?

Gillespie observed that people often Scripture did not bind them to keep certain holy days or other ceremonies. Instead, they argued that it was necessary to keep uniformity by imposing such things. Even if it wasn’t Scriptural as such people had to obey once authority required it. Gillespie showed that church authority can only require us to obey what Scripture commands.  (See Deuteronomy 12:32; Matthew  15:9; Acts 17:25; Matthew 4:9-10; Deuteronomy 4:15-20).

People today acknowledge that Scripture never commands us to observe Lent. They do not want to claim with Roman Catholics that such penance earns us grace or is a necessary obedience to Church authority. They will say that it is a necessary prelude to observing Easter. This in turn begs the question of whether Scripture commands us to observe Easter as holy days. Conscientiously observing man-made ordinances takes away Christian liberty (Colossians 2:21). Gillespie argues that:

The celebration of set anniversary days is no necessary means for conserving the commemoration of the benefits of redemption, because we have occasion, not only every Sabbath day, but every other day, to call to mind these benefits, either in hearing, or reading, or meditating upon God’s word.

 

Is Lent Beneficial?

Frequently it is said that observing Lent is a beneficial if not necessarily Scriptural practice.  We are told that it is good for us to have such a season of self-denial and penitence. There is also devotional value in this type of focus, they say. The great question is whether God has appointed it for our edification. Surely Scripture is sufficient in teaching us how to be edified? Why should we add our own inventions? In fact “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Obedience to God’s will is always better than worshipping and serving Him as we see fit.

Gillespie says that an emphasis on external things and physical disciplines can obscure the spiritual. This is not beneficial. Disciplines such as fasting are profitable but only for a little (1 Timothy 4:8).  Borrowing things from Roman Catholicism only tends to confirm Romanists in their own religion. They also become stumbling blocks that harm the edification and conscience of weak believers.

Gillespie uses a strong argument. Anything that has been abused for idolatry and superstition should be removed from the worship and service of God. This assumes that such things are not commanded by God or something without which God’s commandments cannot be fulfilled.

 

Is Lent Scriptural?

Gillespie addresses whether there was Scriptural authority for the man-made inventions being promoted.  It was said then and today also that Lent adopts the example of Christ. Christ fasted for forty days in the wilderness.  This example does not provide a commandment.  Christ says we must keep and teach to observe His Commandments. Samuel Rutherford for instance, echoed John Knox’s argument against Lent. If we “in imitation of Christ’s forty days’ fast, will fast from flesh in Lent” then we must do everything Christ ever did. We “must walk on the sea and work miracles, if all Christ’s actions be our instructions”.  In other words, Christ’s fast was testimony to and preparation for His unique ministry and echoed Moses and Elijah. Few today fully fast for forty days and forty nights consecutively. We do not even know what time of the year it was when Christ fasted.

 

Is Lent Indifferent?

Another argument was that these things were indifferent.  They were neither morally required nor morally wrong. This is one of the arguments used in favour of Lent. They say that this is a grey area where we don’t have a clear black and white. People can choose whether they want to engage in such things. The question is whether such practice is truly indifferent.  Only Scripture can determine this. We have seen various reasons which prove that it is not.

Religious service and devotion to God are not things without moral significance. Fasting, prayer and such things are not indifferent. They are matters regulated by God’s Word, particularly Christ’s command. Obeying man-made ordinances is not something that is indifferent (Colossians 2:20-23). Christian liberty in things that are indifferent cannot ever mean that we can add to God’s moral precepts or prescribed worship. Biblical principles must also be applied to indifferent things. These include whether it might cause someone else to stumble (Romans 14:21).  It must not bind us (1 Corinthians 6:12). It must truly edify (1 Corinthians 10:23).  Even these principles are not satisfied in observing Lent as something indifferent.

 

Is Lent True Fasting?

David Calderwood showed how fasting is an extraordinary means of worship in response to extraordinary circumstances. It is not something triggered each year by Ash Wednesday.

The right manner of fasting is to fast when some judgment is imminent, some great work to be performed. And as for the private man, when he is greatly tempted to sin, and cannot overcome his temptation, then is it fittest time for him to fast. The Paschal fasts were also abused for the Paschal communion following, as if Easter communion required greater preparation than any other communion in the year.

This was the position adopted by the Westminster Assembly in their Directory of Public Worship.

THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.

Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.

Nevertheless, it is lawful and necessary, upon special emergent occasions, to separate a day or days for publick fasting or thanksgiving, as the several eminent and extraordinary dispensations of God’s providence shall administer cause and opportunity to his people.

 

Conclusion

We must acknowledge that Lent does impose on the conscience. It adds required practices in areas of worship that God has regulated. Observing the man-made tradition of Lent does surrender true liberty of conscience. The Westminster Confession (20:2) reminds us that:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith or worship. (see Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 23:8-10; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Matthew 15:9).

In all matters of faith, life and worship, the conscience is subject to the authority of God alone. We must be able to show that our practice is Scriptural (Isaiah 8:20).  Our faith must be in God’s commandment not human tradition when we engage in His worship and service. Without this, it is sin (Romans 14:23). As John Calvin put it.

The controversy is not about flesh or fish, or about a black or ashy color, or about Friday or Wednesday, but about the mad superstitions of men, who wish to appease God by such trifles…it is not an error of small importance, or one that ought to be concealed, when consciences are bound by the contrivances of men, and at the same time the worship of God is corrupted

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Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
1 Dec, 2015

We need the Holy Spirit and fire. The spirit of reformation is a spirit of burning (Matthew 3:11). We need this to purify our sins against God and towards others (Isaiah 4:3-4).

Christ’s Church is like silver that is full of dross and needs refined. When the Lord has burned away the filthy dross of His church (Isaiah 4:5) she becomes a glory or a praise in the earth. Yet she must go through the fire of affliction and trial first (Zechariah 13:9) to come out as pure refined gold.

The Scottish minister George Gillespie lived during a time of reformation. The following helpful teaching is extracted and updated from one of his sermons. He shows us the real nature of spiritual reformation. Outward change is not enough. There must be deep inward refining.

he is like a refiner’s fire…he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver (Malachi 3:2-3)

 

1. Purified Silver

The best silver that comes out of the earth has dross in it. It needs the refiner’s fire. The best of God’s children have the dross of remaining indwelling sin that needs to be purged away. This is what made Paul say: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest…I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He did not want to be like reprobate silver which is not refined but cast away. There are also sinful pollutions of the world that attach to us (James 1:27). We need purifying from them.

 

2. Purified in Your Trials

Our afflictions are trials which are used to refine us (Psalm 66:10,12; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Afflictions often go along with faithfulness to Christ or come after a time of reforming the Church (Luke 12:49, 51). The reformations in Judah soon faced opposition from enemies (2 Chronicles 32:1; 14:9; 20:1).

During the most thorough reformation in Judah God still threatened punishments (Zephaniah 1:2-17). This was because there was a lack of real and personal reformation. God is a wise refiner. He will not take the silver out of the fire until the dross is removed (Ezekiel 15:7; 22:19-20).

These trials are a refining, not a consuming fire. A remnant will be brought out of the fire as gold (Zechariah 13:9; Zephaniah 3:12-13). The Lord is gracious and merciful even if we are not as purified from the fire as we should be (Isaiah 48:9-11).

 

3. Purified From Your Sins

This refining must involve putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24). We must be willing to have our sins put to death. We must not only take Christ as our righteousness and life, we must also take Him as a refiner’s fire. It is painful to go through this refining fire and lose the sins to which we are attached. We have nothing to lose except our dross.

Christ is both the refiner and the refiner’s fire. You will be refined by Him and in Him. You only deceive yourself if you think you can be refined in any other way. The blood of Jesus not only cleanses us from guilt but purges our consciences (Hebrews 9:14). Putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24) is possible for all who are Christ’s through His strength.

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Is Diversity in Worship and Church Order Biblical?

Is Diversity in Worship and Church Order Biblical?

Is Diversity in Worship and Church Order Biblical?
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
28 May, 2015

One Way by George Gillespie is a brief biblical argument for true uniformity flowing from the Scriptural principle of worship. He also rejects conforming to what is either against the Word of God or not required by it in matters of conscience.​

The Second Reformation in Scotland was marked by a desire to have as much harmony as possible in worship and church order. Gillespie expresses the views behind the desires of the Scottish Church for greater reformation during this period. It is such views and desires that brought about the documents produced by the Westminster Assembly.

 

It was prophesied of the church of the New Testament that God would give them one way as well as one heart, (Jeremiah 32:39). There would not only be one Lord but his name would be one in the New Testament period (Zechariah 14:9). We are exhorted to walk by the same rule as far as we have attained.  This means to apply ourselves to uniformity not diversity in those things which are agreed upon to be good and right (Philippians 3:16)

One Way

One Way: Having the Same Worship and Church Order makes a brief biblical case for having the same Worship and Church order. Updated from an essay by George Gillespie, it shows how our practice must be governed by the Word of God alone. Today diversity is frequently championed in worship and practice. Having only one way in common in such matters is considered unnecessary, unattainable and divisive. The Bible does not support this, however. The more uniform the Church’s practice becomes, the more unified the Church itself becomes.

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