How Christ Reforms His Church

How Christ Reforms His Church

How Christ Reforms His Church
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
30 Oct, 2020

It’s good to appreciate the history of the Reformation and what it recovered. But we would be mistaken in thinking this is merely a past event. The best way to appreciate what it achieved is by being committed to reformation in the present. Reformation means making the Word of God the only rule and principle in matters of religion. Wherever this is not faithfully applied in principle and practice, the Church needs reforming. At the Reformation, John Calvin explained that there were two great areas in which the Church needed reforming. Firstly, “the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly…the source from which salvation is to be obtained”. He emphasised the importance of worship because it is the goal of salvation. This is also one of Christ’s key priorities in reforming His Church. It includes the spirit in which we offer that worship as well as what we offer. 

The Reformations under Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat and Josiah were marked by a return to biblical worship and a zeal against idolatry. These biblical histories also show us the challenges of such a work. Calvin was well aware of the difficulty of involved in this work of reformation. “I know how difficult it is to persuade the world that God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word”. Yet it is ultimately a work that Christ undertakes for His own glory in using those who serve Him in this. Christ must be as a refiner’s fire to purge the Church’s dross (Malachi 3:2). He purges His people, His public worship and ministers so that their worship may be pure and acceptable, all things being restored to their integrity (Malachi 3:3-4). In this updated extract, George Hutcheson helps us to understand how this prophecy of Christ applies today, even to the purest of churches. Reading it should bring us to pray that Christ will do this work, however hard it may be.  

1. Christ’s Reforming is Very Trying

Christ’s coming to His Church in the ministry of His gospel and to carry on a reformation, makes such a time prove very winnowing. “Who may abide? who shall stand?” (Malachi 3:2). It is a trying time and therefore it is hard to endure, so that it is a wonder to see any get through it. It is no wonder when we consider the many hypocrites in his Church, and the great hypocrisy and dross of His saints which He cannot endure.

Great vicissitudes and shakings often accompany a time of reformation; many errors and delusions usually prevail then. The ministry of the gospel is effective in exposing sin but if people do not amend their ways, they become worse. The respectable become godless, the formalists become careless, and the ungodly become rebellious. How speedily may a people under the gospel fill up the measure of their sin and become ripe for many judgments. It is for these reasons that Christ’s coming is declared to be such a terrifying day; “Who may abide? who shall stand?”

2. Christ’s Reforming Removes the Church’s Dross

There is not only much unsoundness in Christ’s Church but it is also difficult to discern until Christ exposes it. It is then seen to cleave so closely that it is difficult to remove. No less than “a refiner’s fire, and fuller’s soap”, can either reveal or remove this dross in the metal and filth in the cloth. Only Christ’s fan can reveal the chaff and take it away. Christ has sufficient power to purge His Church and reach the dross. He is so zealous that He will not spare at all. He will either consume everything together or separate the dross. For “He is as a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap”.

3. Christ’s Reforming is Needed by the Purest Church

The purest Church of Christ is so ready to contract pollution within time, that purging is necessary. God’s chose people who are not to be destroyed need purging because they have much dross. However hot the furnace may be it is their comfort and purging that He intends. He is a refiner to His Church and He will purify it.

4. Christ’s Reforming is for the Church’s Good

Christ’s purging His Church, by His Word, Spirit and rod, speaks of His love and a purpose of much good. He sits at it as a task on which His heart is set. He “purifies as gold and silver”; precious metals refined for honourable use. Thus, the godly must submit to His way of purging in its duration, even though He sits at it as a work that is not soon finished. They must submit to the degree of purging as silver and gold in the fire, knowing that He sits at the furnace. He will make it apparent that His refining is not with silver in relation to the heat and extremity of the trial (Isaiah 48:10).

5. Christ’s Reforming Purifies THE CHURCH’S Worship

Pure ordinances and “an offering in righteousness” (according to the rule of Jesus Christ and through His righteousness) are a special mercy for Christ’s Church. The mercy is completed when it is joined with personal reformation; when there are purified Levites and “an offering in righteousness”. It is personal renewal and reconciliation that enables people to engage in pure service; right service must begin there. “He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer an offering in righteousness”.

We are not to please ourselves as to what we do in service to God unless He has declared He will accept it. Thus, the only way of acceptable worship is through Christ. When He takes any in His hand and brings them out of their polluted condition, He makes them and their service (in itself abominable) well-pleasing through Him. When He comes and purifies His people, “then shall the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord”.

6. Christ’s Reforming Purifies THE CHURCH’s Ministers

Christ’s coming under the gospel does not tend towards the destruction of a ministry, though indeed they often need to be purged. “He shall purify the sons of Levi”. A holy ministry is a special blessing to the Church for keeping ordinances pure and promoting purity among people, especially a pure and acceptable way of worship. When the sons of Levi are purified, they offer in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem are pleasant to the Lord’.

7. Christ’s Reforming Restores the Church

Christ is the restorer of all things by His coming in the flesh and by His death and gospel. He is the substance of all that is excellent to those that close in with Him by faith. To be “pleasant as in the days of old, and as in former years”, means not only that their service will be acceptable as of old when most godly men offered. It also implies that all the remarkable evidences of favour manifested toward them and wondered at in their fathers’ days as the free reward of their service, will really be given to the godly in and by Christ.

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The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love

The Ultimate Love in a World of Toxic Self-love
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
18 Sep, 2020

Our culture constantly suggests to us that the key to happiness is unconditional self-love. The implication is that this is the ultimate love and it will guarantee us success and security. This creates what one writer has called a toxic culture of self-love that will never satisfy. We do not need to go to the opposite extreme, instead we need to turn from focus on self to the ultimate love Christ has for His own. It is self-denying, self-sacrificing love for the unlovely, dealing with rather than accepting sin. Those who are His own turn from sin and by grace depend on Him alone by faith. There is very much to be gained from contemplating this ultimate special love that Christ has for His people.

We have a description of this love in John 13:1: “when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end”. This is one of the first passages that Thomas Goodwin makes use of in his book The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth. He says that although Christ’s thoughts were on leaving this world, yet they were also on His own who were in the world. The words “his own” reflect the nearness and dearness with which He considers them. His love will not be diminished in any way by departing from the world “having loved them, he alters, he changes not, and therefore will love them forever”. He will be mindful of them still and His heart in heaven has the fulness of love that He demonstrated then for them. He will love His own to the end. George Hutcheson draws out something of the fulness of comfort that John 13:1 offers to us in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Love is for His Own is Infinite

The infinite love of tender-hearted Christ is the allowance and portion of all His special ones; for, “he loved his own”.

2. Christ Love for His Own Answers the Troubles of this World

Christ leaves His children in this tempestuous world to be humbled with remaining sin and tossed with the tempests of time. Yet that neither takes away their claims on Him nor His love toward them; for, “he loved his own…in the world”.

3. Christ’s Love for His Own is the Same in Heaven

The disadvantages of saints (particularly being left in the world when Christ went out of it) do not hinder His love toward them. Rather it is a reason why He should love them and let out more of His love. It is not only not a hindrance of His love; it is a reason: He loved His own because they were in the world. And especially now in His farewell, He gives proof of it, considering the dangers to which they were left exposed.

4. Christ’s Love for His Own is Constant

It is not enough to see Christ’s love towards His saints in particular past experiences. They must also labour to see its uninterrupted course from the time of their conversion onwards. Therefore, now at His farewell, He makes His past love clear to them that He had loved them until now and was to give a proof of it. He “having loved his own which were in the world…loved them unto the end”.

5. Christ’s Love for His Own is Known in Every Condition

Christ’s love is not to be measured only by our satisfaction with a felt sense of the tender ways it is given to us. The sum of all His dealings towards His own is love. It ought to be read in every condition and all His dealings. Love had been maintained in His tender heart for all this time. There had been many various past experiences between Him and His disciples (some of them very contrary to their preferences). Yet all is summed up in this, He had “loved his own”.

6. Christ’s Love for His Own is Unchangeable

Christ’s special love toward His own is unchangeable and incessant until they are perfected and enjoy its fulness. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. He continued His love from the beginning until now. He is to die for them and depart from them and continues it even then. He will do so until they are brought to the end of their journey.

7. Christ’s Love for His Own is Ever Growing

Christ’s love is not a declining love, but a love that continually grows in what it effects. Nor is it only a love that consists only in good affection and wishes. It breaks out and expresses itself in notable ways. This is evidenced by His dying for His own. He loved them to the end, even to the death He suffered for them. And in so doing, He loved them perfectly (as the Greek word translated “end” can also mean). Thus, He proved that His love was a growing love in being manifested with such abundance at last.

8. Christ’s Love for His Own Provides All They Need

When Christ’s followers are in any danger unchangeable love will be active to cover their infirmities during trials. He will provide invigorating medicines for them and testify His special care for them. His love is noted as a cause why He will reveal His love now (when He is to depart and they will be scattered, shaken with trials and left desolate). He will let out much of His heart and give them such sweet instructions in explaining the sign of washing their feet. Indeed, His love suffers much to ensure what is necessary for His disciples. If there were no more, His love is enough to move Him to see them well cared for.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken

Why the Nations Need to be Shaken
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
10 Apr, 2020

The current crisis is impacting every nation of the world. The extent and duration of that is uncertain but it will impact on almost everyone’s lives. Everything seems to be shaking: companies and economies, political systems, health provision, entertainment, social norms and churches. It is a troubling time when foundations are exposed. A time of shaking should lead us to consider the things that cannot be shaken. There is a purpose in shaking all things so that those things that cannot be shaken remain (Hebrews 12:17-28). Most of all it directs us to Christ.

That passage in Hebrews chapter 12 refers to Haggai 2:6-7 which speaks of how the nations would be shaken to make way for the coming of Christ to His temple. He is called there “the desire of all nations”. he is the light, life, and desire of all all that will put their trust in Him among the nations. There were great shakings and changes with the way that the Old Testament Church and its ceremonies were removed. It is Christ Himself that says “I will fill this house with glory as is clear from (Hebrews 12:24-26).

The world has been shaken by the transforming power of the gospel having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Such things will happen from time to time, from nation to nation to establish Christ’s glory and kingdom. Christ comes in power in many ways not necessarily in person. He comes in revival, reformation and judgment. He comes in power in the preaching of the gospel. We do not have any special insight into what is happening and why but we know that the purposes of God are prospering in Christ’s hand (Isaiah 53:10). His ultimate purpose is His own glory and the establishing of His kingdom. We do not intend to second guess how and when this will happen but we know that this is Christ’s ultimate purpose whatever we may witness in the immediate future.

George Hutcheson explains more of what we can learn from Haggai 2:7 in the following updated extract. As we consider it may we be encouraged to pray expectantly for Christ’s kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We can certainly pray that even during this crisis many will be brought into contact with the Word and gospel of Christ for their eternal good.

1. The nations are shaken to establish the glory of Christ

Christ manifested in the flesh, is in Himself the only desirable and lovely one. If He were known He would be seen to be desirable and the only choice of all. His own in all nations will be made to desire and flee to Him until the time that the fulness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25). He is described here as the desire of all nations as well as the Lord whom the Jews sought (Malachi 3:1). This is in relation to His excellence and His purposes concerning them. It also refers to what would be the outcome of His manifestation according to the prophecy in Genesis 49:10.

2. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s worship

The way of God’s worship and of the Church, established by Christ at His coming in the flesh is unalterable in its own nature.  It is to continue without any new forms or ways until God once for all shakes and dissolves heaven and earth. There may be many commotions even until the end of the world. This is for it to get a footing where it had none and restoring where it has been dispossessed. The ceremonial law was removed to make room for the gospel way of worship, yet this was “once” (v6) with no alteration after that.

Christ manifested in the flesh and His presence in His Gospel make up for the lack of outward visible glory amongst a people and the lack of external grandeur in worship. It is promised, “the desire of all nations shall come” and “I will fill this house with glory”. 

3. The nations are shaken to establish Christ’s kingdom

The Lord will shake and overturn all things rather than His Word fail and His people lack promised help. As all nations have their own time of shaking and commotion, so every such situation does not declare ruin.  Sometime it is the fore-runner of Christ’s coming in a gospel reformation, especially where Christ becomes precious and desirable to a people. He declares His power would be employed for fulfilling His promises. He would “shake all nations” and then “the desire of all nations shall come”.

4. The nations are shaken to remove opposition to Christ 

There is much opposition in the way of Christ’s kingdom and gospel in the world. There is especially much opposition in people’s own stubborn hearts. Christ both can and will remove this where He has a special purpose of good. There must therefore be strange shakings of nations and individuals before Christ and the gospel can have their due place or use. He therefore shakes heaven and earth and all nations before this great mercy can be put in place or they are prepared for it. This so  that the desire of all nations will come.

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Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides

Doctrine Unites But Christ Divides
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
31 Jan, 2020

One of the unspoken assumptions in the Church today is that doctrine divides while action and love unites. It’s assumed that a focus on doctrine not only makes the body of Christ introspective but also divisive. Who wants conflict and division? But the difficulty is that people want to act and do certain things driven by their doctrinal understanding. This then leads to differences and may well divide. It ignores the fact, however, that doctrine is supposed to divide. We are meant to divide from those who teach false doctrine (Romans 16:17; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9). One of the slogans of the ecumenical movement has been that “Christ unites but doctrine divides”. When we look at Christ’s teaching, however, we find that His doctrine created divisions (Matthew 10:34). If we take a closer look at an example of when His teaching created division it will cast significant light on this issue.

There is a division among the people in relation to Christ’s doctrine in John 10. Similar divisions are recorded on three separate previous occasions (John 6:52; John 7:43; John 9:16). This is why in John 10:19 it records that the people are once more divided in their opinion about Him. Many slander Him as being possessed and mad. According to them, He is should not therefore be heard (John 10:20). Others maintain that His doctrine and miracles sufficiently refute such a false charge (verse 21). George Hutcheson draws the clear lessons for us from this incident in the following updated extract.

1. Christ’s Doctrine Does Not Always Have A Positive Impact

Christ’s doctrine will not fail to have an effect or operation among those who hear it, whoever they are. All of those present at this time have an opinion about these sayings.

It is not to be expected that Christ’s doctrine will have the same effects in everyone. As it gains ground with some, so others will harden themselves the more that they are dealt with. This is what we see here in the different opinions about Him and His doctrine.

2. Christ’s Doctrine Divides Because of Sinful Opposition

When Christ’s doctrine meets with various kinds of dispositions, it ordinarily occasions division or schism. This is due to the perverse obstinacy of some in opposing the truth which others maintain: “there was a division (or schism) therefore among the Jews for these sayings”. This is not to be attributed to the doctrine itself nor to those who maintain the truth. It is only due to the corruptions of those who oppose true doctrine. The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

The friends of truth ought to reckon that division is better than agreement in evil.

As Christ’s doctrine ordinarily finds people as they were, if not worse, so they often relapse into the same opposition to Him and His truth. There was a division again after similar debates (John 7:43 and 9:16). They were still the same and He noticed that this was so.

3. Christ’s Doctrine May be Opposed by the Majority

When divisions and schisms take place due to Christ and His doctrine it is no strange thing to see the majority on the wrong side of the controversy. There are many who slander Him and only few who take His side.

4. Christ’s Doctrine May Stir Up Malicious Opposition

Those who oppose Christ and His truth are ordinarily so possessed with prejudice and malice that they will not so much as hear Him. Neither can they endure others listening to Him patiently. They asked others why they listened to Him (v20).

The strongest arguments that prejudiced malice have against Christ and His truth are only slanders against Him, the truth and those who convey it. Their argument is that He has “a devil” which explains why they think He is mad and therefore ought not to be heard (v20).

Malice is so prejudiced and blinded that no reason may be expected from those who are possessed with it. They will most unjustly and obstinately slander, if it were possible, even Christ Himself. Although He came to destroy the works of Satan and is the wisdom of the Father, they said He had a devil and was mad. Although they had often reproached Him with this (John 7:20;8:48) and Christ had refuted it, yet they still cast it at Him again.

5. Christ’s Doctrine Speaks for Him

Malice may be as prejudged and violent as possible, but Christ will still get some who will justify Him and His doctrine. There are others who contradict these slanders.

Christ’s doctrine and works are sufficient to plead for Him and to refute adversaries even to their face. Their reply went home against these malicious people that these were not the words of someone with a devil. “Can a devil open the eyes the blind?” (v21)

Those who would own Christ especially in a time of opposition ought to study His doctrine and works to esteem His Word. They first of all commend His words as not the words of a devil and then commend His work: “Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (v21)

Conclusion

It is clear therefore that Christ’s truth will divide especially when His Word is categorically denied and resisted. When the doctrines concerning Christ and His work are denied and set aside there will always be division. When the authority of Christ’s Word is rejected, division is a necessary thing.

Doctrine is also, however, a unifying thing. Christ’s intention was that His doctrine would unite His people. The truth is crucial to His prayer for their unity (John 17:8,17,19, 23). If we do not have “the unity of the faith” we will be tossed about with every wind and wave of doctrine and unstable (Ephesians 4:13-14). Differences inevitably arise but we are to strive after unity of understanding. Paul identifies a unity in truth as essential to a unity among the Corinthians. He urges that they “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you”. They are to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). We must not separate Christ and His Word. His sheep hear His voice and they know Him (John 10:14 and 27). We need to continue in His Word (John 8:31).  

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The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service

The Only Real Measurement of Christian Service
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
28 Nov, 2019

How do we measure the outcomes of serving Christ? Lots of activity? Large offerings and attendances? Many conversions? Our focus may be drawn to things that are commendable to a greater or lesser extent. But are they the main thing? Are we forgetting that any true growth only comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:7)? Overvaluing ourselves or other people and what we can do comes from undervaluing Christ. Are we in danger of getting in the way of people being able to see no one but the Saviour? This misses the whole point of serving Christ, there is no real progress unless we are brought low and He is lifted up.

When we look at our own personal service to Christ—is it about us or about Christ? Do we have the selfless attitude of Christ in what we do (Philippians 2:3-8)? It’s easy to measure ourselves by others and what they do—but that is wrong (2 Corinthians 10:12). We have nothing but weakness to contribute (2 Corinthians 11:30). Even when we have done everything that it was our duty to do we are unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10).

There is a biblical way to measure our service to Christ. It is the extent to which Christ is magnified. This was Paul’s approach (Philippians 1:20). Everyone would acknowledge this. But we cannot magnify Christ and ourselves at the same time. The way to magnify Christ more is that we should diminish. The motto of John the Baptist’s ministry was “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must be constantly decreasing, and He must be constantly increasing. It is fatal to undervalue Christ, but impossible to overvalue Him.

John the Baptist’s role was to point to Christ and prepare the way for Him. This meant taking attention away from himself. As George Hutcheson describes it, he was like the morning star which is increasingly obscured by the rising sun. Even though John was a burning and shining light, that brightness had to give way to the full glory of the Sun of Righteousness who was to shine ever more brightly. John did not stop being what he had been, but he was increasingly less esteemed as Christ was truly seen. This is how it should be.

As we reflect more on John the Baptist’s motto “He must increase, but I must decrease” we can see how it is the true measure of what it is to serve Christ. In a man-centred and man-pleasing age, attracted by what impresses us superficially, there is a strong temptation to eclipse the spiritual glory of Christ by letting someone else get in the way. As George Hutcheson explains in this updated extract, John the Baptist’s statement gives us the right perspective.

1. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS KNOWN

When Christ is not known, He will not be thought much of and not duly acknowledged. This means that others are esteemed too much. John implies that since Christ was not fully manifested, He was not properly esteemed. He implies also that He himself was esteemed too greatly by many. Indeed, some thought that John himself was the Messiah due to their ignorance of Christ.

2. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS GLORIFIED

When Christ shines in His glory, He will obscure the excellence of other things. This is the case with ministers in particular, not in respect of the purpose for which Christ has appointed them (to preach Himself). Such preaching will be in request even more as Christ becomes more glorious. But any pride or thinking of themselves too highly must vanish. When Christ shines in His fulness the light and glory belonging to ministers is seen as merely borrowed from Him, as the daystar borrows light from the sun. Christ’s splendour and light will obscure and swallow up their borrowed light as the rising sun does in relation to the daystar. The minister’s light and shining must be considered as only subservient to leading people to Christ and not to be rested on for itself. All this is implied when John says, “he must increase, but I must decrease”.

Proud envy will never be satisfied and those who indulge it will find they are tempted to it more and more in all kinds of ways. John tells those of his disciples who wanted to see him exalted that they were going to see him even less and Christ much more esteemed. “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

3. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH HE IS REVEALED

Where Christ manifests Himself and is truly known our estimation of Him will increase. It will be as the light that shines “more and more unto the perfect day”. There is such an excellence in Him that it cannot be fully comprehended at once. The more He is seen, the more He will be esteemed and accounted excellent. His kingdom and glory will continue to increase. “He must increase,” not in Himself, but as He is revealed and esteemed.

4. SERVICE TO CHRIST IS MEASURED BY HOW MUCH WE ARE CONTENT TO BE NOTHING

The purpose of the ministry of faithful servants of Christ is to commend and present Him. They will therefore be content to be abased and obscured, providing He is exalted and in request. They will be satisfied to see their Master esteemed more highly than themselves as merely the servants. This is why John speaks of this outcome as something with which he was content.

CONCLUSION

John goes on to say that Christ is “above all” (John 3:31). He is not only above John the Baptist but everything and everyone. Christ must increase and we must decrease, because He is above all. He comes from above, but we are of the earth and prone to speak and think in earthly ways (John 3:31). We need to remember how far below His majesty we are and to be humbled by any service we may be permitted to do for Him. The greater sense we have of His surpassing glory, the more we should be humbled and brought low in our own estimation. He must increase but we must decrease.

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Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?

Who Knows What Blessings Repentance May Bring?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
26 Sep, 2019

​Our troubles just keep increasing as a nation. Conflict is everywhere you look, even between the critical institutions within the fabric of our society. Indeed, that’s true of many other nations too and their political crises. Why is that happening? Could it be that God is leaving us to the consequences of our national sins? If that’s the case then the solution will not be found in anything else except repentance. This is where the hope lies, there is mercy in God exposing our sin. The judgment of God is a call for us to return to Him.

Scripture has a lot to say about nations overcome by sin, error and judgment–other nations as well as Israel. In Joel chapter 2, the Lord calls on Israel to make right use of the warning He gives about the judgment they can expect. He does this with two exhortations. They should engage in sincere repentance and humbled themselves through fasting and unfeigned sorrow (Joel 2:12. They must also strive to have their spirit afflicted for sin more than performing outward actions out of pretence (v. 13). The reason given to encourage them to repentance is that God is merciful and gracious and not easily provoked (Joel 2:13.). He is rich in kindness and ready not to carry out His threatenings when there is repentance.

Since God is gracious in Himself, He may avert the judgement so that the people will survive. Who knows but that He may “leave a blessing behind him” (see Jonah 3:9 and Zephaniah 2:3) if there is repentance? George Hutcheson reflects on the significance of these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE TO LEAD US TO REPENTANCE

No matter how much terror there may be about feared or felt judgements, it is all pointless if it does not stir people up to repentance. Those who are in such a condition and yet do not repent must be mad. After all the warning of judgment on the nation they are called to this as the only remedy and way to be delivered. If they are seriously affected with their condition, they cannot but take this seriously. God calls on them to “turn” (Joel 2:12; see Psalm 106:44 and Jeremiah 31:18- 20).

 

2. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE INVITATIONS

When God threatens most severely, He is still inviting us to repentance by judgements and warnings. He is willing to accept repentance. The same Lord who threatens, exhorts with the word “therefore” to show the connection with the judgment previously warned of (Joel 2:12).

Those who have abused God’s patience for so long that the situation seems without remedy should not think that repentance is now too late. Judgment may be imminent, but it is still good to engage in repentance. It will do good however matters turn out. Even though they were in this sad plight, God calls on them to repent.

Those who take repentance seriously (especially when God declares Himself angry) must not delay engaging in it. This is implied in God emphasising the word “now” in calling them to “turn” (Joel 2:12).

Those who are humbled by God’s judgements may have doubts that their repentance will not be accepted. But God issues an invitation to such in His name, to remove all doubts. He expressly states that this is said by the Lord (Joel 2:12).

 

3. GOD’S JUDGMENTS CALL FOR TRUE REPENTANCE

Repentance for particular sins in response to judgment will not be acceptable as long as there is no conversion to God. There must be a change of state by regeneration.

In turning to God they must beware of being pretended. They must strive to be sincere even though they cannot achieve perfection.  The call to turn with all their heart is a gospel call.

They must seek to be deeply affected for past sin which has brought these judgments. They should prove this by sorrow and humbling themselves (Joel 2:12). Such repentance should not be passed over lightly. The heart should be broken for sin (Psalm 51:17).

We are prone to hypocrisy and ought to beware of playing with God even when we are in greatest distress. They are therefore told to rend their hearts and not their garments (Joel 2:13). God is not pleased with mere outward signs of repentance.

 

4. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE GRACIOUS

God’s graciousness, compassion and readiness to show undeserved mercy assures those who truly repent of acceptance. Seriously reflecting on this may invite sinners to engage in repentance with hope. He “is gracious and merciful” (Joel 2:14). God’s long forbearance, waiting sinners to repent before He judges proves that He is willing to embrace those who repent. He is slow to anger. The Lord’s people are dealing with One who so delights in mercy and is so affected with their distress that He is willing to draw back from judgment if they repent (Joel 2:13).

 

5. GOD’S JUDGMENTS POINT US TO HIMSELF

Those who truly repent have their hope fixed on God alone. They are focussed on God’s turning and change–not their own turning and repentance.

 

6. GOD’S JUDGMENTS ARE NOT JUDGMENTS TO THOSE WHO TRULY REPENT

God will mitigate His judgments to those who repent, so that at the very least they are turned into fatherly chastisements. Repentance will not always keep away judgment when sin has come to a great height (calling on God to vindicate His glory in punishing it). Neither will it prevent judgment when God wants us to be stirred up to even more repentance. God may increase the concern, diligence and humility of those who repent by keeping them in suspense. This is the reason for the question as to whether He will return and leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

7. GOD’S JUDGMENTS DO NOT HINDER HIS BLESSING

No uncertainty about this should discourage us from repentance. However things may go we are in God’s way for attaining blessing for good when we repent. The question as to who knows if God will leave a blessing is therefore an encouragement to repent.

When God is judging a nation, it does not hinder Him blessing those who repent. There may be rich mercies waiting for them, both in the time of affliction to help them survive and afterwards, to rebuild them up. For there is hope that upon repentance, God will leave a blessing behind Him (Joel 2:14).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Hope During Desperate Times is a book that provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It's spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context.

It is published by Reformation Press and is highly recommended.

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The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
30 Aug, 2019

Two high-profile professing Christians recently announced that they had lost or were losing their faith. As well as great sadness it should prompt serious questions. Some of those questions might be about evangelical celebrity culture and image. Are people sometimes catapulted to a position beyond their spiritual maturity? Are we socialising people into the faith rather than discipling them? Other questions might relate to whether evangelicalism is prioritising feelings over objective truth. What is being taught? Are unsettling and hard questions about truth being passed over in silence? These are all valid questions but first we need to focus on some that are extremely personal to ourselves.

One recent reflection considers not so much what those leaving the faith say as what they don’t say. There is an absence of mention of Jesus Christ in their announcements. This speaks volumes because it is everything in true religion. We read something similar in John 6:66, when many went back and left Christ’s teaching. They were leaving Him and no longer walking with Him. What we think of Christ’s teaching is one test of the reality of our profession. They did not find in Christ what they expected.  In this updated extract from an exposition of John 6:66-69, George Hutcheson draws attention to the questions that arise when others leave the faith. It shows that Scripture tells us to expect times of trial when people abandon the profession they have made.

1. What Does Leaving Christ Imply?

It is the duty of all professing Christians to maintain fellowship with Christ and converse with Him. They must confess Him publicly in the midst of a rebellious generation. Without this, the greatest pretence of secret friendship is of no avail (John 12:42-43). Thus, when people abandon this and do not attend the ordained means as previously, it is an undeniable sign of woeful apostasy, whatever they pretend to be. It was proof of their apostasy who walked no more with Christ that they did not publicly confess Him nor attend His ministry any longer (John 6:66).

2. Would We Leave Christ Too?

When many are defecting from Christ it may shake even the soundest so much that they will need warning and to be strengthened. Therefore, Christ asks if they also would go away (John 6:67). Even the godly have seeds of the same evils which draw others away. An evil example can have very great force, especially when it is widespread. Sin is very infectious, especially when it is maintained with plausible pretexts. It is no wonder therefore if some people are in danger in such a situation. Besides the guilt of their own defection, backsliders are guilty of weakening others.

In one sense Christ does not have an absolute, essential need of any followers, neither does He need to be anxious though everyone would forsake Him. But He still goes to considerable effort to confirm and keep those who are His own. This is why He deals with the twelve disciples in this way, asking a question that will establish them further. However many there may be who defect from Christ and think little of His company, some of a different stamp will still be found. We see this here in Peter (John 6:68).

3. To Whom Else Can We Go?

Since the fall we are so empty and poor that we must have something outside of ourselves to delight and rest in for happiness. If we do not choose Christ, we will put something else in His place. Peter’s question implies that if they went away from Christ, they must go to someone else.

Those who are minded to abandon Christ need to consider first where they will get a better master. If they will change Him, they will surely change for the worse. Nothing better can be found elsewhere. True disciples who know Christ’s unique excellence cannot endure to hear of any separation from Him. Peter’s question implies his abhorrence of going away from such a Lord to any other. All who seek to truly walk with Christ, should strive to learn to know Him to be the best and most excellent of choices.

4. What Do We Believe About Christ?

It is the duty of those who truly profess Christ to stick closely to all truth. In particular they must avow all the truths being opposed in their time; however important they may be. Besides confessing the excellence of Christ’s teaching Peter also confesses His person and office as Messiah. These were the truths being opposed then. They are fundamental truths, but they were reckoned small by those who opposed them.

The more we know of Christ, the more ties we will find binding us to Him which will preserve us from defecting from Him. In particular, the true knowledge of His office and person help us stick fast to Him no matter who may forsake Him.

Christ is the only true Messiah promised to the fathers and appointed by the Father to exercise the office of a king, priest and prophet to His Church. He is anointed with the Spirit without measure for this purpose. His people can expect benefits from all of this, to have fellowship with Him and receive of His fulness. This ought and will make Christ dear to all true disciples.

Christ is the Son of the living God having the same essence by eternal generation. He is therefore able to fulfil all that is required of Him and to give infinite worth to His sufferings. He has received a fountain of life from the Father and can produce and preserve life in His people. All this is implied in His being the Son of the living God.

Mere intellectual knowledge about Christ is not enough in itself to tie our hearts to Him. We must embrace what we know by faith. Peter confesses Christ and this is the reason why he will not go away. When the truth of Christ is confessed on the basis of a resolution to go to no one else it is an act of saving faith. Firm faith in the person and office of Christ, receiving and resting on Him is saving faith in operation. Mere reason does not take to do with the mysteries concerning Christ’s person, incarnation, and offices. Faith must receive them on the basis of divine revelation. Peter therefore says, “we believe and are sure”.

5. Where Else Can We Have Eternal Life?

Those who seek to stand fast in times of defection should have frequent thoughts of eternity. They should think of the life that is stored up there for those who are truly Christ’s. Peter fixes his eye on eternal life, what leads to that and where it may be found.

The doctrine of Christ and of the gospel is the only teaching of eternal life. It not only manifests and brings to light that there is an eternal life. It also offers it and shows the only way to receive it. It is the means of regeneration and producing faith. When embraced it gives a right to eternal life and its first fruits until full possession is reached.

Christ teaching rises above the teaching of all the philosophers as well as the corrupted religious teaching doctrine of the times in which Christ lived. It even rises above the law of Moses when asserted in opposition to Him or without Him.

Those who are seriously about eternal life will cleave to the true doctrine that leads to it. They will not abandon it nor its messengers. Not even in times of greatest defection. The disciples will not leave him, not only because He is the Messiah, but because He has the words of eternal life.

Christ not only the one who taught eternal life with His own authority and power in the days of his flesh. He is the one who has purchased this gospel and gives commission to all that preach it. He makes them effectual as the power of God to salvation.

Conclusion

In contrast to those who leave the faith, our resolve should be to “consider Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). “Looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2) is the essence of all of the happiness and duty of the Christian. We should not make it anything less. We should not merely socialise people in Christian things but seek that they would be firmly established in “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Ephesians 4:21). It is evident that we have been savingly united to Christ when we hold fast to Him to the end (Hebrews 3:14). We are to hold fast our profession against the opposition that the world, the flesh and the devil make against Him. Christ gives us no reason to throw away our confidence in Him and receiving eternal life through Him alone (Hebrews 10:35).

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Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find

Why True Happiness is so Hard to Find
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
1 Jun, 2019

Happiness research and the science of happiness has apparent growing influence. Behavioral scientist Paul Dolan hit the headlines with controversial pronouncements on whether family and happiness go together. He defines and measures happiness in terms of “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time”. He says this is “the final arbiter of the rightness of what you do” not “moral judgements based on ill-conceived ideas about what is right and wrong”. It’s no great surprise since in a fallen world feeling good is frequently divorced from doing good. Temptation seeks to maximise “the pleasures of sin” which last only for “a season” (Hebrews 11:25). But true happiness is both objective and moral because it is God-centred. This is what makes it so hard to find; we look for it in the wrong place and in the wrong way.

Everyone seeks happiness. But true and objective happiness can only be found in God not subjective pleasure divorced from God. Our purpose is to glorify God in all things and He is also to be our highest enjoyment. Older writers thought a lot about this subject. Thomas Watson says, “It is not every good that makes man blessed, but it must be the supreme good, and that is God”. William Ames also sums up the objective and moral nature of happiness particularly well. “What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness which looks to God’s glory”.

This is obvious when we consider the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 He pronounces many conditions to be happy which are not connected with the sort of pleasure and purpose most people seek. Those 8 rules of happiness go entirely against the grain. In John 13:15-17 Christ is explaining the example He has given in washing the disciples feet. He teaches them about true humility and love in serving one another. The very succinct promise contained in John 13:17 makes obedience fundamental to true happiness. He makes it clear that He is not content with a bare speculative knowledge about humble obedience.  We must “know these things” or be sufficiently informed of our duty in relation to them. But we are only blessed and “happy” if we “do them”. True happiness is hard to find because we look for it in the wrong way. Humbling ourselves and putting what we know into practice is hard. George Hutcheson draws out the implications of John 13:17 in the following updated extract.

 

1. Ignorance is Not Bliss

Christ does not approve of blind ignorance in His people, whatever their practice or life may be. He requires them to base their practice on sound and solid knowledge of His will.  He requires that they know these things, and then do them. People can remain very slow to understand when much effort has been taken to instill knowledge of our duty. This may be through weakness or carelessness or being influenced by sinful inclination and earthly mindedness.

Christ’s emphasis on “if” you know these things, presupposes that knowledge must go before practice. But it may also imply some doubt as to whether they were capable of understanding this teaching. They were so carried away with earthly dreams of the Messiah’s kingdom that they could not understand clear predictions of His sufferings (Luke 18:31-34). It would be no wonder if their sinful rivalry also hid this teaching (about humility and mutual service) from themselves.

 

2. Knowledge Alone Will Not Lead to Happiness

The Lord does not approves of those who are content with mere knowledge and speculation in matters of religion. It is His will that when we know our duty, we put it into practice. Our practice then proves the sincerity and soundness of our knowledge. If we know these things and do them then we prove that we really do know them (see James 1:22-25).

In particular, the Lord requires the practice of humility. This is the test of whether we are genuine. It is not what mere knowledge we have of this teaching–though it may be appealing to contemplate it. The test is how we put it into practice in particular demanding situations. This is because it is more distasteful and trying to do this compared with merely contemplating the truth. Christ requires that practice follows on from knowledge in this particular matter.

This teaching about humility and mutual accommodation is very comprehensive. It contains many duties in itself which are required in a variety of situations and demanding circumstances.· Therefore Christ speak of what is understood by washing one another’s feet (John 13:14) as things (plural). We must know these things, and do them.

 

3. Obedience and Humility Contain Happiness

Although our obedience and practice deserves nothing, it still contains a blessing in itself. It is the way to such rich blessedness, that it compensate for all loss and disadvantage. This is Christ’s encouragement, we are happy if we do these things.

Although the humble person who accommodates themselves to serve others might seem to lose much in the world by doing so; blessedness makes up any loss. Attaining the practice of humility is blessedness in itself. It hides a person from many storms and much discontentment that sweep others away. It is said that we are happy if we do these things.

 

4. Lack of Obedience Leads to Misery

Proud people are so far from blessedness, that they are under a curse; especially if they know their duty and will not do it. This statement necessarily implies the opposite reality. If you know these things and do not do them, you are not blessed but cursed because it is a sinful omission (see James 4:17; Psalm 119:21).

 

Conclusion

The Lord Jesus Christ turns many of our ideas about happiness upside down. Happiness lies more in seeking to please God and others than in pursuing moments of pleasure for ourselves. There is a simplicity in His teaching; it is not so much hard to grasp as hard to practice. The great challenge to us is whether we are prepared to humble and deny ourselves to follow His counsel.

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The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic

The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic

The Remedy for a World Gone Toxic
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
7 Dec, 2018

It’s the Word of the Year–”toxic”. Every year Oxford Dictionaries choose a word or expression to reflect the passing year in language. Their data shows that people used the term to describe a broad range of situations. Things like workplaces, schools, relationships, cultures, and stress. It’s commonly used about political debate and rhetoric, of course. “Reviewing this year in language, we repeatedly encountered the word ‘toxic’ being used to describe an increasing set of conditions that we’re all facing…‘toxic’ seems to reflect a growing sense of how extreme, and at times radioactive, we feel aspects of modern life have become”. Why is this and what is the remedy?

Toxic is defined as “poisonous” and this is the origin of the word. In the Bible it’s often used to describe sin and its effects. In particular tongue operated by sin is untameable and “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 58:4). Poisonous effects are inevitable as sin grows unchecked and dominates the lives of individuals and communities.

It was the same in Israel when it was rebelling against God; the human heart is the same. In the time of Hosea, society had become toxic in the nation of Israel. There were many words but they were empty words. There were promises and agreements but they were deceitful and quickly broken. “They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant”. They had also broken faith with God in their religious profession; their words could not be trusted in this. God was going to judge them in leaving their sins to go unrestrained. Hosea uses a picture to describe the effects of this. It is like poisonous hemlock taking over and springing up in the furrows of the field rather than wheat (Hosea 10:4). They were overrun with the poisonous effects of their sin.

George Hutcheson comments on this. They used empty words and false oaths in their agreements both with God and men. They kept none of them and so judgment was springing up “as hemlock”. Due to their corruption and unfaithfulness the bitter and deadly fruits of unrighteousness rather than justice were springing up throughout the land. It is a sad picture but later in the chapter we have the remedy for it in repentance and faith towards God and His blessing. This is what our toxic world needs.

 

1. Why Things Become Toxic

(a) Empty Words

God cannot endure the empty words and professions of men, whether in religion or in their private dealings. It was said of Israel, they “have spoken words” – mere words.

(b) Trust Has Disappeared

Wicked men’s oaths and covenants with God or men are no more to be trusted than their words. It is the cause of sad dispute when it is so. This charge is added to the previous one: “swearing falsely in making a covenant” (see also Leviticus 26:25; Ezekiel 17:15; Psalm 15:4).

(c) Lack of Trust Leads to All Unrighteousness

When there is such hypocrisy and deception in making no conscience of oaths and covenants a people are ripe for all unrighteousness. They will be given up to produce so much of the fruits of unrighteousness that it will be bitter and deadly to the oppressed. God will also reckon it bitter and intolerable. Judgment springs up like hemlock in its nature and abundance.

(d) God Sees Beyond Outward Appearances

False and pretended professions and appearances cannot hide the true nature of sin from the all-seeing eye of God.   He uses means intended to make a people righteous, but this makes their unrighteousness appear all the more loathsome. Israel may well have seemed to make an outward profession and make efforts to bring forth good and righteous fruit (like a farmer ploughs a field).  God had provided means for this (like a field which is fertilised). But instead judgment was springing up like hemlock in the very furrows of the field and not just the waste ground.

 

2. The Remedy for a Toxic Condition

The remedy for this is mentioned later in the chapter at verse 12. It continues to use the metaphor of sowing a field but this time it holds out the promise of a true yield. They are told: “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you”. This is an exhortation to repentance and reformation. They are to sow the fruits of righteousness with the promise that they will reap the fruits of mercy. They are to break up and fertilise the hard and wild ground of their heart. This would show their true repentance. He promises to forgive their sins and clothe them with Christ’s righteousness.

(a) God’s Most Severe Threats are Calls to Repentance

When the Lord is most severe in threatening we must consider it to be an exhortation to repentance with implied promises. If they were to heed this, who knows what mercy would make of the worst person or people in the world?

(b) The Fruits of Righteousness are Evidence of Repentance

The fruits of righteousness in relation to the second half of the Ten Commandments are the true evidences of repentance and conversion to God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is why He requires sowing in righteousness, or the duties of righteousness. It is not as if this righteousness summed up the whole of their conversion, but simply its evidences and fruits.

(c) God Requires Diligence in Repentance

Their duty is expressed using terms taken from the hard labours of farming, particularly sowing.  In sowing famers must wait for the reward of their labour and those who repent must be content to wait on God for the blessing (see Psalm 97:11; James 5:7).

(d) God Requires Repentance for Our Benefit

God does not seek obedience because He needs it. The benefit is for those who repent: “sow to yourselves”, He says.

(e) The Harvest of Righteousness May be Delayed

Righteousness may seem to be long forgotten and lost, lying like seed under the earth. In due time, however, it will bring a blessed harvest of grace. He says, “sow” and “reap” (see Psalm 126:6; Galatians 6:9).

(f) Those Who are Truly Righteous Depend on Mercy Alone

Those who truly walk in righteousness flee to Christ in the Covenant of Grace and draw strength from Him for new obedience. They look only to Gods mercy and not their own worth. They expect to “reap in mercy”.

(g) We Need A New Nature to Produce Righteousness

We can reap no fruit (despite our diligence) until our hard hearts which are unused to any good are changed and put in a new and fruitful condition. It also says, “break up your fallow ground”. This metaphor is taken from ploughing to teach that their hearts are as wild as land like not used to being ploughed is hard to plough. Greater effort must be taken to humble themselves and repent.

(h) We Must Not Neglect Opportunities to Repent

“It is time to seek the Lord” in view of how long they had neglected or refused to seek God in the past (see 1 Peter 4:3). As long as sinners are preserved and invited to repentance it is still an acceptable time. Such opportunities should not be neglected.

(i) We Must Not Give Up Seeking God

Those who seek God sincerely to enjoy Him will not give up until He comes. They “seek the LORD, till he come”.

(j) God Promises to Pour Out His Blessings

Those who seek the Lord sincerely and constantly will not only find Him, but He will come over all obstacles that they could not get over. He comes and rains righteousness, freely pouring out blessings, refresh them after all their labours in pursuing after Him.

(k) Christ’s Righteousness is the Great Blessing

God will freely refresh His people by fulfilling the promises they wait for. He will fulfil many of them in a shower together. This will make up for long delays. He will refresh them under the shadow of Christ’s righteousness (their greatest hope,) and its rich fruits. He “will rain righteousness upon you” means both His righteousness in faithfully keeping His promise and His imputed and freely given righteousness. This is the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is witnessed to by the law and the prophets (Romans 3:21-22).

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Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?

Can True Zeal Learn from Blind Zeal?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
23 Nov, 2018

Blind zeal is not of course a good thing. It’s not informed by knowledge of the truth (Romans 10:2). It can achieve a lot and go a long way but all in entirely the wrong direction (Galatians 1:14). So what can we possibly learn from it? Well, have you never felt rebuked by the dedication and devotion others have to a false religion or sect? It can be a challenge to our self-satisfied complacency and make us think about true zeal. Shouldn’t the truth make us equally if not more passionate and dedicated? It’s true that blind zeal is often self-directed because it’s about earning salvation. But shouldn’t salvation by faith alone produce true zeal in us (Titus 2:14)? Zeal is important (Galatians 4:18). But does the Bible teach that true zeal can learn from false zeal?

Yes, Micah 4:5 says, “For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.  Micah seems to point forward to a time under the gospel when converts will seek to renounce all heresies and sects. Instead they will adhere constantly and zealously to God and the profession of the Christian religion. As George Hutcheson notes though, it seems that they will provoke themselves to this by the example of idolaters being steadfast in their ways of false religion. This is evidence of the glory of the Church and provides encouragement for the godly. Israel had various periods of apostasy where they adopted the false religious practices of the heathen nations around them. Here is a promise of a better time when the Church will prove to be constant in the true religion. We live in unsettled and changeable times and there is a great need for being constant. There is false religious zeal in New Atheists and other activists as well as those who profess a false religion. Instead of troubling us, their commitment to a bad cause should be a spur to us in devoting ourselves in the cause of truth.

 

1. True Zeal can Learn Constancy

Constancy in adhering to the true religion is the great glory of a Church. It is  an encouragement to the godly, to whom backslidings are a sad affliction.

 

2. True Zeal can Learn Dependence on God

The Christian profession and religion consists in walking in the name of the Lord. This means professing and practicing according to the revealed rule “the name of the Lord our God”. It means not seeking to be wise above what is written or doing these things in our own strength (1 Samuel 17:45; Psalm 118:11). We will have the encouragement we need from God. The phrase “his name is the same as “the light of the Lord” i.e. light for direction and comfort (Isaiah 2:5; Isaiah 2 is a parallel passage).

 

3. True Zeal can Learn Resolution

Those who seek to walk in these paths and adhere to them should make certain their claim to God by covenant. They ought to be filled with great affection toward their covenant God. To our duty in the right way we need to renew our resolutions and motives frequently. This will maintain our sharpness. Thus, they draw reasons for new resolutions from those that serve idols.

 

4. True Zeal can Learn Constant Perseverance

Eternal resolutions, or resolutions of constant perseverance are fitting for so high a duty as walking in God’s name. There can be no reason for us to be weary in this. The benefits of being constant in it will only appear greater as time goes on and comes to an end. It says “we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever”.

 

5. True Zeal Must Expect to See Blind Zeal

Even in the days of the gospel, there are still many who are so blindfolded and deluded they do not see the glory of Christ’s kingdom. Instead, they obstinately follow their idols. It says “all people,” that is, many, “will walk in the name of their god”.

 

6. True Zeal can Learn from Blind Zeal

The Lord’s people should (and by grace will) be far from being unsettled or drawn away by the multitude who forsake the true God. Instead, the steadfastness of idolaters is a motive for those who seek God to renew their own resolutions for greater obedience and faithfulness. Their blind zeal towards that which is no god may teach us our duty towards the true God (see Jeremiah 2:10-11).

You might like to read this blog post next –  Why Zeal and Reformation go together

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Can You Get More Than Heaven?

Can You Get More Than Heaven?

Can You Get More Than Heaven?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
29 Jun, 2018

Perhaps this question doesn’t even make sense to you. You couldn’t get anything greater and more desirable than heaven. It is everlasting blessing. But we don’t mean something better than heaven but something in addition to heaven. In fact something before we get there. There is a common assumption amongst believers that if we are saved then we can relax and nothing more is required. It’s sometimes expressed like this. “Why do you need to bother about anything (in spiritual things) unless it contributes to your salvation?” We must never think that we can do additional things that will earn our salvation. But is there something more that God expects from us in our love to Him? Is there something of great significance we can strive for in this world?

The short answer is, “yes”, and of course there is a lot to explain in relation to that. Perhaps a story will explain best to start with. The field preacher Donald Cargill was told of how he had been criticised by another minister. The other minister was a gospel preacher but not so concerned about avoiding any way in which Christ’s sole headship over the Church might be compromised. The criticism was along these lines. “What’s the need of all this concern about these things? We will get heaven and they will get no more”.  It’s something that people may often express. “Do you think that concern about what Scripture says on this or that subject is going to get you to heaven?” When Cargill heard of this remark, he replied, “Yes, we will get more; we will get God glorified on earth, which is more than heaven.”

The true Christian does not seek just to “be saved” but to glorify God to their utmost. They desire that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. If we think that any of God’s truth or requirements are dispensable we are displaying our true attitude to God. As the Lord Jesus Christ taught, if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Our greatest reason for being on this earth is to glorify God.

This is a Christ-like attitude. He could say that He had finished the work God gave Him to do, He had glorified God on the earth (John 17:4). When Cargill got to his execution he was still emphasising this point. “Let never one think he is in the right exercise of true religion, that has not a zeal for God’s public glory”. The public glory of Christ was an important theme – glory in the Church and in society. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts. But surely we want to bring as much glory to God as we possibly can, in every way and in every area of life that we can. George Hutcheson comments on the practical application of Christ’s words in John 17:4. While Christ’s work was unique (and we are thankful that it is finished), we can still learn from His obedience.

 

1. Everyone Has a Work to Do

No one is sent into the world to be idle. They have a task and service given to them in relation to their general calling and specific place and position. Jesus Christ Himself had work on earth.

 

2. Our Work Must Aim at God’s Glory

We cannot serve our generation acceptably (nor will God accept any work we do) unless His glory is our chief aim in it. Christ says that He has glorified God in this work.

 

3. We Can Glorify God on Earth

Glorifying God is not something that waits until we come to heaven where we can do it without any interruption. It is to be engaged in on earth where so few consider this work and there are so many difficulties and temptations to divert us from it. It especially commends Christ’s service that it was done on earth.

 

4.  We Want to Glorify God as Much as Possible

Those who have been sincerely aiming to glorify God will still be endeavouring to glorify Him more and more. Christ had glorified God but in John 17:1 He still expresses His aim to glorify God.

 

5. God is Glorified Only by the Work that He Assigns to Us

God is glorified by our work and actions for Him and not by mere profession alone. He gives us our tasks and will only be glorified by what He has assigned to us in our place and position. Christ had a work which God gave Him to do and He glorified God in it.

 

6. We Must Complete the Work Given Us to Do

We must not only begin but also complete the work to the end before we receive a full reward. Christ’s example teaches us this; He said “I have finished the work”.

 

7. It Will Give Peace at Death if We Have Completed Our Work

If we hope to have comfort at the end of our lives and desire to give a testimony to such comfort we ought to make it our chief concern to glorify God. We ought to engage incessantly in His service in our own place and position until we finish our course. Christ has left us an example in this. He sought to be glorified with the Father after His death (verse 5) and has this sweet testimony. He had glorified God on the earth and finished the work given Him to do (see also 2 Timothy 4:7-8 and Isaiah 38:1-3).

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