How Can We Stop Discernment Turning into Sinful Suspicion?

How Can We Stop Discernment Turning into Sinful Suspicion?

How Can We Stop Discernment Turning into Sinful Suspicion?
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.
2 Nov, 2021

We need discernment and to be on our guard against what is spiritually harmful to ourselves and others. This may be in areas of truth or of living and the effects of what is spiritually damaging can be truly dangerous. But we also need to discern what is good and commend that (Hebrews 5:14). If we are not careful discernment can develop into superior condemnation rather than something that is used to edify and patiently reclaim others from the danger. It can go further and develop such a constant suspicion of almost everything that it makes unwarranted assumptions and misrepresent what people are saying. Being suspicious of individuals (rightly or wrongly), their words are automatically assumed to have ulterior motives or tendencies. When this happens, discernment has become so exaggerated it has turned into sinful suspicion. We need to discern how this happens and prevent it.

It is true that we may sometimes need to highlight things that are wrong; there may be legitimate suspicion based on reasonable evidence. This is different from readily jumping to hasty conclusions about things that could be charitably explained with the benefit of the doubt simply because we are ready to think badly of someone. There is, as Thomas Boston points out, a happy medium between complete gullibility and the evil groundless suspicion that Scripture condemns (1 Timothy 6:4). Such suspicions do not arise from any basis in reality but rather people’s own uncharitable spirits. It is uncharitably judging and condemning others in our hearts (Matthew 7:1). It moves swiftly and rashly to harsh condemnation contrary to the grace of Christian love (1 Corinthians 13:7).

As Boston notes, there is a danger of making ourselves the rule of everything, so that anything that does not meet our standard is automatically and absolutely condemned. It can also be done all too hastily because we trust our own instincts for faithfully distinguishing what is right from what is questionable. We then easily misrepresent others, their intentions, words, and actions and are ready to put the worst construction on them. It is all contrary to what is fair and just as well as love for our neighbour and the ninth commandment. Yet how easily it is done in relation to spiritual matters.

We might think that godly men will not fall into this temptation, but Scripture shows us otherwise. Indeed, the book of Job is full of this. Job must constantly resist the way that they rashly discern the punishment of secret sins and hypocrisy in the afflictions he experiences. His friends begin to charge him with all kinds of things merely on the basis of assumption. Rather than accept the limits of their discernment and understanding they start to dive deeply into hidden things with all sorts of conclusions. It is ultimately clear that they are utterly wrong in their unjust suspicions. This is why George Hutcheson says we must “not make the opinions of the best of men the rule of our consciences”.

Hutcheson shows how much we can learn from the book of Job on this point.
The Lord condemns this explicitly in Eliphaz and his two friends. He even says that in speaking against God’s people we may well be speaking against God Himself (Job 43:7). Their words and principles had wronged God (Job 13:7-8) by misrepresenting Him. It seemed as if they were valiantly defending God and His holiness and justice but what they said was not right but condemned by God (Job 43:7). He vindicates Job because the principles he maintained concerning God were right even though he was not perfect in what he said but sometimes spoke rashly himself. Wrong principles are worse than rash expressions in the heat of trials. God may be very displeased and angry against godly people who maintain such errors and attack other godly men in their trials.

In Job 32-37 Elihu avoids such false charges and seeks to respond to what Job is actually saying. Although he is not perfect. it shows us an example of how to respond to people in a just rather than unfair way. He promises that he will deal sincerely in speaking to him, without annoyance or partiality; and that he will speak truth clearly. It will be sincere and pure, without any dross or chaff (as the original word implies) like purified metal or winnowed corn. He will deal plainly and clearly with him, without evading or beating about the bush. He will not speak upon conjectures and surmises, but will speak demonstrably clear truths and things of which he has certain knowledge. He seems to contrast himself with the three friends who had dealt with Job in prejudice in speaking of him in an ambiguous way. They took surmises and false reports from others and charged him with them as if he had been guilty of them. Does this mean we should avoid lovingly and graciously pointing out what is wrong in the conduct of others? No, it is a biblical duty (Leviticus 19:17). In Job 35:16 Elihu makes his case and does not draw back from pointing out Job’s faults, but he does it in a more restrained way. How much wisdom we need to do likewise. Hutcheson’s comments on Job 33:3 and 35:16 in the following updated extract us help us learn how to stop faithful discernment turn into sinful suspicion.

1. We Must Deal with Others Uprightly

It is our duty to deal sincerely and uprightly with others, especially in speaking of matters which concern their soul. It is great cruelty not to speak truly and uprightly to them in that matter. Elihu says, “My words” (upon this subject) “shall be of the uprightness of my heart” or shall be the uprightness. That is, I shall speak sincerely my very heart in this business.

2. We Must Deal with Others Without Prejudice

We need an upright heart if we would speak sincerely and rightly to the condition of the souls of others. We should be careful that we are not biased with prejudices, or with fear to offend those with whom we have to do. Elihu professes uprightness of heart, as the principle of his speaking right to Job. If many examined themselves, they would find that their hearts do not go along with what they say. They do not believe and then speak (2 Corinthians 4:13). If they speak truth, it is from a false heart, or coldly, and not from the heart. Their biases and prejudices, rather than their solid convictions, make them speak what they speak.

3. We Must Deal with Others Using Sound Doctrine

It is not sufficient that we are those of upright hearts in what we say, unless there is sound doctrine and knowledge in what we say. Elihu says, “My lips shall utter knowledge” (see 2 Timothy 4:2).

4. We Must Deal with Others Clearly

Men should also speak clearly in what they say, and make the truth plain and clear, not leaving people in the dark, or proclaiming surmises instead of verities. Elihu says, “My lips shall utter knowledge clearly”.

5. We Must Deal with Others Carefully

We ought to examine well what we are going to speak and refine it in our own minds (without taking everything on trust without trial). This will ensure our teaching is pure and free of mistakes. Elihu says he will utter pure and refined knowledge (as the metaphor implies).

6. We Must Deal with Others Patiently

Those who speak truth freely, clearly and uprightly, ought to be heard and listened to. This is an argument urged on Job for his attention. If even good men consider that they may err and need admonition, they will allow people to speak to them faithfully. They will esteem it an act of love and kindness not to let them go away with their faults. Those who cannot endure to be dealt with faithfully are cruel to themselves, especially if they still prescribe to others how they should teach and admonish them.

7. We Must Deal with Others About their Faults

Telling others their faults (when we have the calling and opportunity for it) is a proof and evidence of faithfulness. Elihu here freely points at Job’s misconduct. Even godly men may need to hear about their faults (especially during troubles) over and over again, before they own up to them with a felt sense of their guilt as they ought. Elihu tells Job all over again, what he had told him before (Job 34:35).

8. We Must Deal with Others Fairly

It is required, both in justice and prudence, that we charge people only with their true and real faults. We must forbear either unjust surmises and aspersions or unjust aggravations of their real faults. Otherwise, it may tempt them to reject all admonitions. Elihu tells Job his faults as they were and does not charge him with wickedness or blasphemy in relation to his complaints as Eliphaz did, (Job 22:13-14).

When people charge their friends with faults and misconduct they should do so on a solid basis and then they may be faithful in their censures and those who are reproved will be more easily convinced. Thus, Elihu concludes this from reviewing Job’s expressions and conduct, evidencing how Job had opened his mouth.

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Why We Can Expect Cascading Crises

Why We Can Expect Cascading Crises

Why We Can Expect Cascading Crises
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 Oct, 2021

Shortage of labour and goods, supply chain disruption, inflation, rising energy costs as well as public health concerns. On both sides of the Atlantic and around the world there are multiple crises, one difficulty following another and frequently colliding. After decades of comparatively smooth globalisation and prosperity it may be that we are entering a period where disruption is the new normal. The political mantra of building back better is proving still more challenging. Others will have their views on geopolitics and other issues, but we need to take a spiritual perspective. Why are we in the midst of this? What can we learn?

Scripture tells us that when nations abuse their prosperity to exclude the voice of God, He will gain their attention in ways they cannot avoid. And when they refuse to seek Him in their troubles, they can only expect more. It is clear that as nations we have not been humbled by the events of God’s providence of the past two years, we have not heeded God’s voice but continued to reject Him yet further. We are only deepening our rebellion against Him. This is how it was with Israel and other nations. In Amos 5:18-20 we have such a context. Israel would not be allured by gracious offers nor would they be terrified with threatenings to seek the Lord. They were secure, trusting in various false pretences and presuming all would be well. The Lord shows these false confidences would not provide security for them and warns them so that they might be moved to repent.

He speaks to those who desire the day of the Lord, in other words they were scornful of God’s threatened punishments. They were such atheists that they did not acknowledge God or a providence, nor would they believe anything of approaching judgment. They were in effect saying scoffingly of divine judgment, “bring it on.” Some perhaps were also presumptuously thinking that God had not finished with them yet, He still had a purpose for them and favour towards them. They could not therefore believe that any such day would come as the prophet threatened, or that if it did it would be as dreadful for them as the prophets warned. They therefore with scorn desired to see that day they were so often threatened with (see Isaiah 5:19; Jeremiah 17:15; Ezekiel 12:22; 2 Peter 3:3-4). The Lord declares that this very attitude was an evidence of them being punished and that more would yet come. They were giving little consideration to what they were doing, that day would not only come but it would be full of perplexities and miseries, without any light or comfort (verse 18).

Many calamities would follow one after another, so that any who escaped one would fall in another (verse 19). It would be like someone running from a lion who then encountered a bear and finding refuge in a house recovering his breath leaned his hand on the wall and a serpent bit him. When God would deal with the nation in His justice it would certainly be a time of great misery, without any light of counsel or comfort (verse 20). We do not need to be apocalyptic and make rash predictions to learn from the way that God deals with nations so that we may watch and pray with faith and repentance. Indeed, it is for the church to show the example of humble and penitent response to the Lord’s providence. How can we expect the world to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do? In the following updated extract, George Hutcheson helps us to draw many such lessons from Amos 5:18-20.

1. Cascading Crises Come When We Ignore God’s Word

When the word is most clearly preached and threatenings are most terrible, there will still some be found so atheistic as not to credit them at all, and so presumptuous, as not to submit to the verdict of the word, but they will comfort themselves, expecting that God will do otherwise then it faith; for, so is here imported.

2. Cascading Crises Come When We Scorn God’s Warnings

It is no wonder to see such atheists and presumptuous sinners go so far as not only to harbour such thoughts but also to sit down in the seat of the scornful and openly deride the word. Here they desire the day of the Lord (or the day of vengeance in which He will prove Himself to be the Lord) with insolent and godless scorn. They desire to see that day and that the prophets would make their words good, which they expect will never happen. Although many who harbour such thoughts may be unwilling to make them known, God is provoked to expose them. And where the word effectually preached, does not prevail, corruption will be irritated by it to vent itself more openly.

Such atheistic and presumptuous attitudes are in themselves a heavy judgment and portend further judgments; there is a woe in all the calamities that come on them. Hedonistic and presumptuous atheists little consider what they are doing or their danger, when they scorn threatenings and desire to see them accomplished. And if their consciences were seriously pressed they would tell them it is so. Therefore He asks them in effect what can you expect in such a day? What do you gain by such a scornful attitude that you should be so bent on it? Their consciences (if awake) could tell them that such a day was rather to be avoided then desired and that they could reap nothing by such atheistic scorn. It produced no true good in them nor would it prevent that day, rather it would hasten it and make it more bitter and grievous. And therefore, they ought to consider better and avoid it.

3. Cascading Crises Should Arouse Deep Concern

Even the trials of God’s people may produce much humbling through lack of light or felt comfort so that they may purge dross. Judgments inflicted on a people for sin will be full of perplexity and discomfort being accompanied with real sense of God’s withdrawing, guilt of conscience and other spiritual judgments. Presumptuous and secure atheists may especially expect a strong warning and that calamities will be made dreadful to them. It is especially to them as well as all others that the day of the Lord is darkness and not light, that is, full of misery and perplexity, leaving them void of counsel and comfort.

4. Cascading Crises Cannot Be Avoided When God is Rejected

When God appears in anger against an atheistic and incorrigible people, they may expect to be involved in a heap of miseries on all sides. It will not be just one, but many evils, either together or following one after another, or both. Therefore, the comparison is used of a man surrounded on all hands with lions, bears and serpents (v19).

There is not evading judgments when God sends them. The sinner that avoids one may expect to meet with another and he may expect a judgment where he thinks himself most secure. It is as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house, and leant his hand on the wall (expecting to be upheld) and a serpent bit him, or, an unexpected affliction came on him (see Isaiah 24:17-18).

5. Cascading Crises Point to God’s Ultimate Judgment

The solemnity of a day of judgments and calamities is not soon seen nor laid to heart. People should seriously consider it beforehand so that they may be stirred up to prevent it and not experience it. It is therefore taught and repeated again that the day of the Lord will be darkness and not light (v20).

6. Cascading Crises Should Awaken Conscience

The Lord needs to do no more than prove the truth of what His word says so that men’s own consciences become a witness against their atheism and presumption. It will happen however much for the present they lull them asleep and sear them with a hot iron. Therefore, He presses the matter on their own consciences (shall not the day of the Lord be darkness?) since they might and in due time would speak for him.

7. Cascading Crises Are Not Without Comfort for God’s People

The truly godly will still have a measure of some light in trouble (though sometimes trials hide it from them, see Isaiah 50:10) and may sometimes experience some measure of what is promised to them (Psalm 112:4). They may certainly expect that there will be a clear and comfortable release from their troubles (Micah 7:8). Yet it is terrible to think how dreadful a day of vengeance will be to the wicked, how grievous and perplexing their miseries will be, and how destitute they will be either of present comfort, or of any hope of it for the future: Therefore is it added for explanation, “even very dark and no brightness in it.”

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Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?

Why Has the West Been Humiliated?
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.
2 Sep, 2021

There is one word that the whole world seems agreed on in relation to the western withdrawal from Afghanistan – humiliation. Whether we are truly humbled or only temporarily disgraced depends on how our nations respond. We ought in all humility, to ask why this has happened. To do so does not minimise the heart-rending distress experienced by those abandoned in Afghanistan. Nor does it reduce the courageous sacrifice of our troops. Asking why this has happened gives us a window into our real state as nations. This is not just a military and strategic defeat but a failure of the mission to remake Afghanistan in the image of the West and its values. The decline of the West is due to its moral decay.

As western nations we thought we could export to Afghanistan the benefits inherited from the Christian heritage we have rejected, without also giving them the framework of belief and morality that produced them. The US army were so afraid of doing that they even burned Afghan language Bibles sent to them.  It appears that British involvement commissioned fatwas calling for converts from Islam to be killed.  As one writer has observed, the West in its decadence has lost its virtue, it has squandered the moral capital bequeathed by a living faith.

The emptiness of our pride as nations and the fatal complacency it produces have been exposed for all to see. The Old Testament prophets frequently show us such decadent pride in nations, with the implication that we are to learn from it. The small book of Obadiah is largely taken up with the nation of Edom who manifested proud contempt towards Judah. They were proud of their prosperity, resources and wealth (v3-6); allies (v7); wisdom (v8) and military might (v9). But judgement is threatened against the, ultimately their pride would be brought low and every one of these things in which they put their confidence pulled down. They would then be exposed to misery and contempt. As George Hutcheson observes the prophet shows how “the Lord would diminish their number, power, wealth, and reputation, and put them beneath all other nations and load them with contempt and ignominy.” In the following updated extract Hutcheson draws out the meaning of Obadiah 2-4 in teaching us the fearful danger of pride, the sin that God hates so much.

1. Pride Can Bring the Greatest Down

The Lord in pursuing for sin, can bring down the greatest person and people in the world, lay them in the dust, and pour contempt upon the most honourable. The Lord says He has made them small, and greatly despised.

The Lord’s showing mercy to any makes way for others also to show mercy towards them for their good (Jeremiah 42:12). In the same way, when the Lord becomes an adversary in anger, the affections and respect of others will dry up towards them. For however Edom was esteemed before by others, when God deals with him he is greatly despised.

2. Pride in Outward Advantages

A natural heart together with outward advantages and benefits usually produces pride, self-confidence and insolence. Edom is proud of their high and secure location and says in his heart, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” But though a renewed heart has all these benefits, they are poor and depend on God.

3. Pride of Heart is Known to God

The Lord does not judge people’s pride by their outward conduct (which may be masked over with an appearance of humility) so much as by looking at their heart and discerning the conceit and lofty imaginations that reign there. He sees the pride of Edom’s heart.

4. Pride is Self-Deceit

Self-deceit is one of the greatest of all deceits. In this they are given up to delude themselves with vain imaginations and confidences so that their heart deceives them. However much pride and conceit musters up people’s excellences, it merely deludes them and makes a pretence of what will prove nothing. Either it is an evidence of what is nothing in reality or that what they are conceited about becomes blasted and withered. However much presumption may promise great things to make sinners secure and despise God’s threatenings, it only deceives them and feeds them with vain hopes. It will prove a deceiver in the end when they have greatest need of what they seemed to promise.

5. Pride is God’s Enemy

God looks on pride in the creature as an enemy against Himself. It strikes pre-eminently at His glory in failing to depend on Him and seeking to usurp His throne. It therefore provokes God, though there were no other aggravation or enemy, it engages Him to prove His power in abasing it. Therefore, that general defiance, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” is answered by God as being His special concern. He says that He will bring them down.

The Lord is able to reach man and bring him down in even though he has the maximum imaginable strength and greatness. He can make strong holds a vain refuge in a day of vengeance and is even able to overturn more confidences then man can build up for his own security. To dwell in the clefts of the rock was but a small thing for God’s power to reach, and yet that was the utmost of what Edom could boast of.

Conclusion

It is easy to be proud of many things, even spiritual privileges. We need to take this to heart ourselves, how can we see this in our national life without living more humbly before others in our personal life? Perhaps the West is as it is because the Church has not been what it should be. We also need to make it clear to others why the West has lost its virtue. The more moral decay we see, the more we need to shine as lights in the darkness and the more we need to plead with and intercede on behalf of our rulers and nations. We need to be a clear voice for the truth as well as salt and light that has a restraining influence.

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Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk

Reading the Headlines with Habakkuk
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 Aug, 2021

Each day almost seems to bring further news of ways in which biblical values are being subverted. In society, government and education we witness the advance of an agenda bulldozing remaining Christian values and silencing opposition. The headlines are a source of great grief and perhaps weary silent questioning. What are the prospects for the future? Why is rebellion against God prevailing? It seems only to be increasing at an ever-rapid rate. Others have been in similar circumstances, and we find similar concerns in the book of Habakkuk. God’s people were suffering under the oppressive rule of pagan conquerors. Habakkuk wants to know how this is consistent with God’s purpose and promises. He discovers that things will in fact get worse but that he must also take the long view and understand this in a much bigger context of God’s holy and wise purpose. In reading the headlines with Habakkuk we find that there are answers to the troubling questions we are reluctant to voice.

In chapter 1 of his prophecy Habakkuk pours out his distressed prayer concerning the degree to which sin was prevailing around him while the Lord seemed distant. God’s forbearance was only being used to increase in sin. The Lord would use the Babylonians to work out His purposes and to punish sin. He would chastise but not destroy His Church. The Lord is everlasting (Habakkuk 1:12) and this means His purposes are unchangeable towards His people (Psalm 102:27-28). Habbakkuk shows us what it is to be concerned for God’s glory and the future of the Church in a time of trouble. He shows us how to take refuge in God’s glorious attributes in bringing our burdens to Him. Since God is the holy one, He must show His disapproval of it in His people as well as His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12). Yet Habakkuk is still troubled by the very holiness of God. How can He who is so pure then tolerate the enemies of the Church and allow them to prosper (Habakkuk 1:13)? Ultimately the prophet is answered that though there is a delay in working out the full purpose of God he must wait humbly and live by faith (Habakkuk 2:3-4). The just must live a life of grace and walk by faith not by sight. They look to the promises rather than headlines and events. They seek to live out and contend for the just requirements of God’s Word no matter how hard the times may be. George Hutcheson draws some helpful reflections for us from Habakkuk 1:13 in this updated extract.

1. God’s People Often Question Events

Such is the weakness and instability of the spirits of the Lord’s people, and such is the great variety of things that exercise their graces, that there are few things in time their hearts do not take issue with. We read of the prophet previously complaining in his zeal, that God did not take action against the sins of his people but when he gets an answer, he is not satisfied. Rather his compassion finds new reasons to be troubled and complain.

2. God’s People Often Struggle to Understand His Role in Events

The clearest sighted saints may be so bewildered as not to be able to reconcile God’s dealings with His nature and attributes. They are rather ready to think they are opposed to one another. The prophet here cannot reconcile God’s holiness with His toleration of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).

We are so weak and selfish, that when providence does not work according to our mind and understanding, we are ready to succumb to temptations of atheism and question Providence. The prophet looks at God, as though He were only looking on and holding his tongue like a spectator when He tolerated the Chaldeans.

3. God’s People Seek to Justify His Role in Events

It is the duty and concern of all the godly to justify God and clear Him from any charge. Even though their weakness cannot see through all the deep mysteries of His Providence concerning His Church and her enemies. To this end they should prevent the arguments of unbelief and temptations with those of faith. The prophet, in the midst of his dark mists, therefore begins with this as an unshakeable foundation (whatever his heart said) that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity (see Jeremiah 12:1).

4. God’s People Pray About How to Understand Events

The only best way to refute temptations and dispel mists is not to debate difficult and unclear situations when our own hearts are overcome with weakness and fears. Rather we should vent the matter and our situation to God and seek His resolution of it. The prophet experiencing this temptation therefore cries out to God.

5. God’s People Will Be Chastised for Their Sin

However much the Lord has just indignation against the gross iniquities of those outside the Church and will in due time punish them, He will also chastise His people. This is necessary considering the many factors that increase the guilt of lesser sins within the Church, God’s jealousy over His people, and His concern to have them reclaimed from every evil course. It is no wonder then to see the Church’s sins punished (although they may be less in their own nature) even when more gross sins committed by those outside the Church escape for a time unpunished. The prophet complains that God holds His tongue when the wicked devours those more righteous than they. This indicates that God does indeed do so and that it proves to be a righteous act, however, much we may quarrel with it.

The Lord makes use of wicked instruments to punish His people so that in the very foulness of the rod He uses He may show to them the vileness of their sin. This is the reason the Jews are devoured by the wicked and those more vile than themselves (see Ezekiel 7:24). The prophet complains that they deal treacherously and devour, yet are permitted to prosper.

6. God’s People Know He Will Deal with His Enemies

Although God is righteous in punishing His Church by wicked instruments, yet the holiness of God compared with their wickedness, gives grounds of hope that He will at last reckon with them. This remonstration of the prophets indicates this truth, that while the holiness of God may not always seem to fit with this in the end it will be seen to do what is right (Psalm 50:21).

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Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible

Trusting God’s Promise When It Seems Impossible
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.
13 Jul, 2021

It is not difficult to trust God when we can see how the promises can be fulfilled. We have outlined the future in our minds and think we know what God will do and when. But when all this changes and circumstances seem to make it impossible our minds are thrown into confusion and despair. Our fears take over and because we cannot see how God can glorify Himself in such circumstances we almost conclude it cannot happen. We wonder why He does not choose what seems to us the quickest, simplest way. It is because He is choosing the wisest way to bring most glory to Him and our faith is being tested and refined in the process. We are reminded that God’s glory, and not our personal preference, matters most.

Mary and Martha were in this situation. It seemed clear that if Christ came in good time Lazarus could be healed. They cannot understand why He would delay until after their brother had died and the situation was now impossible. Christ fully sympathised with them, but He intended to show them and others a greater view of His glory. His purpose was to strengthen and draw forth their faith (John 11:40). George Hutcheson explains more of this in the following updated extract.

1. God’s Glory is His Ultimate Aim

God so orders the affairs and conditions of his people that His glory may be manifested in and about them. This is His chief aim and end in all He does. Therefore, He describes the miracle as a manifestation of the glory of God, because this was His ultimate aim.

2. God’s Glory Should Matter Most to Us

It is the duty of the Lord’s people, to be more affected with the glory of God shining in His works, than with any particular advantage that they may receive from them. He declares, therefore, that the glory of God is more to be seen and to be taken notice of by her in this miracle than the raising up of her brother.

3. God’s Glory is Greater in the Greatest Difficulties

God’s people may be encouraged to expect His promise to be fulfilled, however impossible it may seem. They are encouraged by the fact that in doing so, He will not only do them good, but will get an occasion to show His own glory. His glory is, therefore, engaged to do them good. Since His glory is thus engaged, Martha does not need to be so anxious. The miracle is therefore, described as a manifestation of the glory of God.

4. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Faith

The way prescribed by God for saints to experience the manifestation of His glory for their good and comfort, is, first to give Him glory by believing Him and His Word. Where this is lacking it justly provokes Him not to display Himself. Martha is told that if she would believe she would see the glory of God (see Mark 6:6; Matthew 13:58; Luke 1:20, 45; John 1:50).

5. God’s Glory is Anticipated by Trusting His Word

Although faith may have many difficulties for the present to grapple with, the sweet fruits that follow from believing encourage us to believe so that we may partake of them. Although the stinking body of her brother now mars Martha’s faith, yet the outcome of faith pleads strongly for it. If in that situation she will venture to believe, her believing shall lead her to see the glory of God. God’s Word not carnal reason is the basis on which faith may thus venture itself and expect this lovely fruit. Martha is reminded that Christ had previously said to her and therefore she should believe to see.

6. God’s Glory is Denied by Unbelief

There are just grounds for sharp rebuke and conviction where God has given His word and it is not believed. Christ rebukes her by reminding her that she had been told that if she would believe she would see God’s glory (see Numbers 23:19).

Unbelief may often go under the disguise of a fair show of humility or a similarly commendable disposition. Yet, in Christ’s esteem it is an evil not to be tolerated but sharply reproved. It is an evil that should be removed quickly so that it does not get chance to take root. This is why He rebukes it so sharply and speedily.

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Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority

Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority

Why Reformation in Africa is a Key Priority
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.
13 Jul, 2021

Africa’s population growth is exponential, it is doubling every thirty years and expected to surpass 2 billion by 2038. By 2060, six of the world’s ten largest Christian countries will be in Africa. Of course, the question is, what sort of Christian will that be? In 1910 there were 2 million identifying as Christians in Africa, today there are 650 million but 200 million of these are evangelicals. There are many opportunities for biblical truth but there are also many challenges. Scripture indeed holds out specific hope and promise for those labouring to bring greater reformation to Africa.

We are well aware of many challenges such as extreme poverty, conflict, corruption and disease among other challenges. There is also great spiritual poverty. Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training and biblical illiteracy and heresy wreak havoc. In some places Christians face persecution from Islamist extremist groups. These challenges are also opportunities and Scripture offers great encouragement in seeking to meet them with the truth of God’s Word. One particular passage is Zephaniah 3:9-10. This speaks of how God will make pure doctrine, worship and profession spread to many people both Jews and Gentiles in New Testament times. They will combine together in serving Him and helping one another in His obedience (v9). This unity and common profession is described as “a pure language” (see Isaiah 19:18). The Lord promises that He will gather them from the furthest parts of the world to seek Him and offer service to Him (v10). This promise is accomplished, partly in His gathering together in Christ His people dispersed throughout the world and its remotest corners (see John 11:52). The regions beyond Ethiopia are especially mentioned. These peoples will be included among the rest in a time of great blessing. George Hutcheson comments further on these verses in a way that is helpful for us.

1. The Lord Will Gather His Church in Africa

It is cause for praise to God and of encouragement to the godly that however it goes with nations, God will not lack a Church. He may gather it from among pagan Gentiles and those of whom there is little apparent hope. He will get many people, even from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.

2. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa

Purity of doctrine, worship and profession is the glory of a gospel Church. It is a glorious work of God to make it so and keep it so. The Lord says, “I will turn to the people a pure language” or pure doctrine and profession instead of their idolatrous and blasphemous imaginations and ways.

3. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa Thoroughly

Purity of doctrine, worship and profession do not consist in a lawless liberty or a toleration to think or say whatever people want to. Rather it is conjoined with and carried on by a united uniformity. This is the rich fruit and recompense of much trouble, so it is to be expected in the Lord’s time and measure. After much trouble (v8) they shall have a pure language, they will serve Him with one consent (literally shoulder) even in that pure language (see Jeremiah 32:39; Zechariah 14:9).

Unanimity in the matters of God and the free access of Jew and Gentile to serve God is a great mercy of the kingdom of Christ. When those who seek God are of one heart and all put their hands to help one another without obstructing or lying idle it is a sign of thriving in serving God. This is also included in the promise as a great blessing and a means of much good, “they shall serve him with one consent.”

The true marks of a converted and spiritual people are being much in calling on God, making use of Him in all things, and giving up themselves entirely to be His servants. To testify their subjection and thankfulness they put their hands to His service as far as they are called to do so. They will do everything as service to Him and bring their worship, themselves, or others, as they are able to offer them up to Him. They described here in this way “they all call on the name of the Lord”, when they get the pure language, they are suppliants, they serve Him, and bring His offering.

4. The Lord Will Reform His Church in Africa in His Time

The Lord will not lose any of His elect, however far they are scattered throughout the world. He will recover His own, when their condition shows they are afar off and driven into exile, without hope or probability of return. The Lord will in due time seek after and recover His ancient people, now for a scattered long time. This will lead to a reviving of His service in the world. For “from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, he will seek the daughter of his dispersed, and cause them to come”. At this time there will be suppliants and offerings brought and serving Him with one consent.

Conclusion

Reformation in Africa should be a key priority for our prayers and endeavours. There are many church and mission endeavours that can be prayerfully supported, among them Reforming Africa Ministries, The Liberia Project and The Gambia Partnership.

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Build Back Better for Whom?

Build Back Better for Whom?

Build Back Better for Whom?
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 Apr, 2021

The slogan “build back better” has been commandeered on both sides of the Atlantic to describe the aspirations for post-Covid recovery. Others have used it to advocate for the changes they want to see. So they ask who are we building back better for? Who will benefit? What will change for everyone? The church has also been hit by the recent crisis and surely it too must consider how to build back up again. Is there a better way? Should we simply reset to where we were before? And if we are going to build back better (in other words reformation), who will that be for?

The prophet Haggai ministered to a people who were having to build things up again after wholescale disaster had visited them. Homes, economy, infrastructure all had to be restored after the seventy years exile. The temple too had been destroyed and while they had laid the foundation for it, political interference had brought further work to a standstill. Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord reproves their comfortable negligence (1:2-4). He exhorts them to consider their condition seriously and God’s chastisements (1: 5-6 and 9-11), This is so that they will be stirred up to set about the work of the temple, in which God would show Himself gracious towards them (1:7-8). This results in ready obedience and great encouragement from the Lord (1:12-15).

In Haggai 1:7–8 they are particularly exhorted to consider their ways as the first aspect of obedience. They must examine and confess their negligence and preferring their own interests to God’s. Having done this, they are to engage in the work of building the temple. He gives them the encouragement that the Lord would take pleasure in it be glorified in it. They were building for Him and His glory, that is the great purpose of the church and its activity. George Hutcheson reflects on these verses in the following updated extract.

1. Reformation begins with self-examination

Self-examination is a duty to which we are naturally averse. It is a duty which is not often done with any good outcome unless through conviction of conscience we own ourselves guilty of what the Word of God convicts us of. This is necessary for a right reformation of what has been misused. Therefore, it is pressed again and again: “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:5 and 7).

2. Reformation begins with conviction

The Lord does not approve of amending faults without seriously laying to heart our former disorderly conduct. Tender convictions will not die out nor let the convicted sinner alone until this results in fruits of outward obedience. For these two are joined together: “Consider your ways” and “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood” (Haggai 1:7–8).

3. Reformation is everyone’s concern

It is the will of God that His people should be especially careful as they are careful to have to have their own souls and everyone within their charge in a right way, so especially the public work and service of God which concerns set on foot and kept up. For this was in part the meaning and use of this ceremonial temple, to be a place for God’s public worship, concerning which all are commanded: “Go up to the mountain, bring wood and build the house” (Haggai 1:8).

4. Reformation brings God’s blessing

God evidences His presence among a people by setting up His tabernacle and public worship among them and making them active in advancing it. Where this is the case, it is a pledge that He will not loathe them but make His presence known by gracious acts. He will manifest evidences of His glory there, accept their service as glory given to Him, and give them frequent reasons for glorifying Him. For, “Build the house, and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified” (Haggai 1:8).

5. Reformation delights the Lord

It may be a great encouragement to the Church to do service, that the all-sufficient Lord should condescend to accept any service they can do or own. He will take pleasure in them and it, for so the Lord encourages them. “Build the house, and I will take pleasure in it.” That is, your service shall be owned; I will dwell in that which you build (1 Chronicles 29:14; 1 Kings 8:27)

Conclusion

We have an opportunity to stop and to consider. Are we doing the right things in the right way according to what God requires? Are we doing them for His glory or do we have a more man-centred perspective? We need to build on the solid foundation of God’s Word and be ready to do all that He requires however much it may cut across our own interests.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

George Hutcheson’s exposition of the prophecy of Haggai has recently been republished. Exhortations, promises and encouragements graciously abound in this small book and are specially directed to a weary and complacent remnant. George Hutcheson helps us to meditate on and apply the rich spiritual instruction of this part of God’s Word to our profit.

It is warmly commended and available for £5.70.

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God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity

God’s Painful Cure for the Disease of Self-Pity
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.
8 Apr, 2021

Self-pity is all-too tempting, even attractive. We can see it in others, even in the victimhood culture around us but not so much in ourselves. It flies under the radar because it is often expressed with a sense of righteous indignation or false humility. It is easy to move from feeling that things are not going the way that they should (according to what is right) to the settled conviction that they are not going the way we think they should. It then comes to be about our importance and how we are ignored and perhaps not listened to. Nobody understands and gives us recognition. So, a sense of spurned entitlement arises, surreptitiously allowing pride a foothold. When we think things are not going as we know they should we can also be tempted to question God subconsciously. Self-pity warps our perspective. If we had the right view of God’s sovereign wisdom, goodness and justice we would see who He is and what He is doing and express our thankfulness. We would turn to His pity away from our own. We need to better be able to recognise the temptation and dangers of self-pity to seek God’s way of deliverance from it.

Self-pity loves to respond to a crisis. We can see this in Jonah chapter 4. After all that he has experienced, Jonah sits down to nurse his fears, discontent and grievances. Here we encounter Jonah complaints at God’s dealings with Nineveh and his wish to be dead (v1-4). We see how self-pity fuels sin, especially anger, resentment and bitterness. He thinks that he knows how God should act and is greatly displeased that He does not comply. We see how self-pity is a kind of inverted pride that seeks to justify ourselves no matter what. Self-pity is so deeply rooted that it is not easily removed. The Lord must show Jonah how warped and self-centred his perspective has become, He does this through first providing and then removing a small plant with its welcome shade. The prophet has more pity on a plant than a vast city of needy souls. Ultimately his self-pity is silenced by the clear declaration of God’s infinite pity towards sinners. But it is such a serious disease that it can only be cured by thoroughly exposing its danger and purging its corruption. George Hutcheson draws much practical teaching from this chapter in the following updated extract.

1. Self-Pity Often Fuels Sin

Corruptions may lurk and remain alive in those who have gone through many crises and so might have had them mortified. Jonah after many difficulties, is still angry and impatient. It is a great sin to seek to have God’s dealings shaped according to the mould of our mind. Jonah’s sin is that he is very angry and exceedingly displeased with what God did (Jonah 4:1).

Corruption may sometimes so prevail with the children of God, that it will not just be a temptation within the heart that is quickly suppressed. It may even break out with their own consent against God for a time. Jonah vents his anger in prayer to the Lord and much of what goes under the name of prayer may involve letting loose our corruption and temper. What is called prayer here is in effect is a bitter expostulation with God and venting of Jonah’s vehement desire to die.

The people of God may have been corrected for and brought to condemn their own past sinful ways and fall into them again though temptation. Jonah now approves his former way of rebellion which he had previously condemned (Jonah 2:8). He now thinks he had done well in fleeing from God (Jonah 4:2)

2. Self-Pity is Self-Willed

As the fallen children of Adam, we are often tempted to presume we would guide things better than God if we our way. Jonah shows that he thought it would have been better to have gone to Tarshish than to have come to Nineveh (Jonah 4:2). When someone is tempted in this way, they will not lack plausible pretences to justify themselves and make their preference seem reasonable. Jonah has such good reasons that he even dares to appeal to God Himself. Did Jonah not anticipate this accurately in his own country? He could see that God’s mercy would make his words of threatening to be in vain and bring his ministry into contempt. Thus, he did the right thing in fleeing he says. But our reasonings must submit to God’s sovereign will and give way to His infinite wisdom.

3. Self-Pity Diminishes God’s Pity

The mercy of God toward lost sinners is so far beyond human mercy, that it may sometimes make His dearest children unhappy that He is so merciful. God’s mercy to Nineveh because He is so gracious and merciful was offensive to Jonah (Jonah 4:2). God is so gracious, that He is not easily provoked by sinners. When He is provoked, He is easily reconciled to them again. Jonah knew this in his own country and now saw it verified.
It is a great mistake to think that mercy manifested to humbled sinners should make them despise God or His servants. Mercy is rather a most effectual means to produce the fear of God, and respect to His ordinances and messengers (Psalm 130:4). Jonah’s reasoning against God’s mercy is based on a mistake and is evidence of his being carried headlong with his vehemence.

4. Self-Pity Leads to Extremes

It is clear evidence of an embittered spirit when any condition (however bad) seems better to them than the present situation. Thus, Jonah thinks it better to die than live, not because he desires glory but rather seeks rest from his present troubles. It ought rather to have made him afraid to think of going out of the world in such a bitter spirit (Jonah 4:3).

The children of God in their temptations may very ardently express the dross of their own heart in seeking that which is altogether wrong. In his bitterness Jonah asks the Lord to take away his life. The saints have great mercy in having a Mediator to correct their prayers.

It is a sign of great corruption and self-love when we seek our own contentment and satisfaction in dying or living, rather than being subject to the will of God. It is mean cowardice angrily to seek to be out of this life because of any trouble we encounter in it through following God. Jonah’s sin is such that he gives this reasons in his bitterness that it is better for him to die than to live.

5. Self-Pity Requires God’s Pity

The Lord reproves Jonah’s anger and appeals to his own better judgment whether it was fitting to complain in this way. The Lord bears with the weaknesses of His servants in great meekness and patience while they are in such a condition and there is hope of recovery. We learn this from the Lord’s gentle reproof of great anger and stubbornness. The mercy of God, which he resented being shown to Nineveh, is the cause of his own safety (Jonah 4:4). Gentle reproofs from God and His tender dealing with His children, ought to make the deepest impression on them. The Lord chose this way so that Jonah in seeing God’s goodness toward him (who was so often off course) might be the more deeply convicted. When the children of God calm down from their anger, they will be most severe against themselves for their impatience and misconduct. The Lord therefore appeals to Jonah to judge his own way in such a frame of mind as being the fittest judge to pass hard censure on himself.

6. Self-Pity is Stubborn

It may be very hard to convince a child of God of their error when they are under this temptation. They may even go on in their way when God reproves them for it (Jonah 4:4-5). Inordinate affections may not only bring people to show themselves in opposition to the will of God, but also easily draw them into delusion. If people will not believe truth but seek it to be according as they wish, they will still expect that things should be so. The forty days had expired and Jonah had been informed of God’s will, yet he still expects to see what he wants to happen. He went to see what would become of the city considering it possible they might yet perish yet, turn from their repenting; or that God would change His purpose of mercy.

Even the children of God have so much of old Adam unmortified that they may in temptation, vent fearful attitudes. There is great need to pray that we are not led into temptation. Jonah, as a prophet, ought to have rejoiced at the success of his ministry and the repentance of sinners. But his mind is only bent upon the destruction of these penitent sinners and grieves to see that city still standing. He sat to see what would become of it, as though he was daily wishing its destruction, and grieving that he did not see it.

7. Self-Pity is not Easily Cured

A spirit once broken and imbittered with troubles is easily grieved and stirred up. Jonah responds bitterly to the heat that he experiences (Jonah 4:6). In healing His people’s sin, the Lord must first lance their boil and expose more of their corruption before He applies any healing plasters. Jonah’s anger is kindled even more before the disease can be healed.

When we give way to bitter discontent it will soon make us furious and illogical. Jonah wanted to die when he no longer had relief from the heat of the sun as if he should be exempted from bearing anything. People are scarcely themselves in a fit of passion.

8. Self-Pity is Discontentment with Providence

To be excessively discontented at Providence especially for small matters is entirely unfitting for the servants of God. This is implied here, it was not right for him as a prophet, to be angry (exceedingly angry, as the words may be read) for the gourd or plant (Jonah 4:9).

9. Self-Pity is Pride

The pride of the human heart is such that in temptation it will justify itself and even resist the verdict of God. Jonah’s answer to the Lord’s question teaches us this. He justifies his anger and says that nothing will please him except death which will rid him of these troubles.

10. Self-Pity is often Self-contradictory

Self-love easily blinds people so far that they will justify doing worse things than those they condemn in others. Jonah would not allow the Lord to be merciful even though it was for a just reason. Yet Jonah could permit himself to indulge in selfish rage (Jonah 4:10-11).

We ought to allow God more latitude in His way of working than we take for ourselves. The Lord shows Jonah that though blinded with caprice he had pity on a plant and should not the wise and sovereign Lord, spare Nineveh. He was willing to reason Jonah out of his folly despite being He to whom absolute submission of spirit was due.
The Lord can easily remove and expose the plausible pretexts advanced by selfish people. Whatever Jonah might pretend to be the cause of his grief for Nineveh being spared, the Lord shows that his bitterness flowed indeed from self-love to himself, as could be seen in the matter of the gourd or plant.

11. Self-Pity is Answered by God’s Pity

The Lord is so constant in His goodwill that He will not only show mercy but defend His doing so against all who will oppose it (Jonah 4:11). The Lord by teaches us by this example to devote our affections to things that have worth in themselves. He reproves Jonah’s pity on the gourd (a thing of so small worth that it came up in one night and perished in another) as far worse than God’s mercy in sparing the great city of Nineveh.

12. Self-Pity can be Healed

The children of the Lord will at last be satisfied with all the Lord’s dealings and will submit to His way in them as only right and wise despite all their complaints under temptation. The Lord gets the last word in this debate and it is evident from Jonah’s silence and not answering again that he submitted at last. The testimony of this and of his unfeigned repentance for his misconduct is that these things are recorded here for the edification of the Church and for the glory of God.

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What About Them?

What About Them?

What About Them?
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.
15 Jan, 2021

Distraction from what should be our key focus in spiritual things is frighteningly easy. It’s most easy when it is subtle and seems to be related to spiritual things. Often it is a concern with what others are doing or not doing. The danger is that in embarking on a crusade to point this or that out and put everyone right we neglect ourselves. Or we may be tempted to ask why certain things are in their experience but not ours. This does not always help us either grow personally or edify others, especially when it becomes our primary focus. It’s not that all comparisons are wrong and sometimes they can be helpful and edifying. We certainly owe a duty of care and love to fellow believers. But when it consumes our time and energy so that we are less devoted to our main responsibilities something is wrong. It’s a subtle distraction, a bit like those who want to deflect a difficult question by raising a different issue, saying “what about this or that?” Indeed, Christ, Himself dissuades from engaging in unhelpful and distracting comparisons for some vitally important reasons.

Peter was tempted to ask this question in his conversation with Christ (John 21:19-22). After Christ and Peter had left the rest of the company, John followed on of his own accord. Peter turning back and observing this enquires from Christ what would become of him. This is prompted by Christ having foretold Peter’s sufferings (18-19). Christ reproves him for this because he was involving himself with that which did not concern him. He showed him, that even if it was His will to exempt John from suffering death and preserve him alive until his own second coming, it ought not to affect Peter’s own resolve. He, therefore, commands him to follow Him and cleave to his duty, which he had neglected in this way. 

It is striking that this follows on from Christ asking whether Peter was still comparing himself favourably with the other disciples. Peter was asked if he loved Christ “more than these” (that is more than any of the rest). This was a rebuke to his former self-confidence that he would never forsake Christ even though all the rest might (Matthew 26:33). In showing his weakness in this way he teaches him that he must watch against and cure the root of the sin of denying Christ. Christ shows him what had occasioned his former fall to see what he thinks of it and if this still prevailed with him. George Hutcheson helps us apply the truths of this passage in the following updated extract.

1. It is easy to be distracted from our duty

The children of the Lord are subject to many distractions and interruptions in following their Christian course. They often look or turn aside and are distracted from earnestly looking towards the mark and prize. Peter is urged to follow Christ at this time and to set his heart and eye on his duty and what he will encounter. Peter turned about to look at something behind him (whether merely of his own accord or because he had heard a noise of someone following (see Luke 9:62). Christ reproves Peter in this by repeating the command to follow Him.

Although the interruptions the children of God have in following their duty may seem very small in themselves, they may often be a snare that detains them still further. This then draws reproof from Christ; when Peter sees John it occasions a curious question and draws forth a reproof, not only for looking back but for curiosity.

2. Christ condemns excessive curiosity about others

Christ abhors curiosity in His people when they have so many necessary things to give themselves to. They should give their attention more to what concerns them rather than others. Peter asks “what shall this man do?” (or literally “what this man?”) that is, what shall become of him (as Christ’s answer makes clear). Christ responds by saying that this is not Peter’s concern, he must give himself to following Christ. This certainly does not mean that Christ condemns a concern for our brothers that flows from love. But it shows that He is displeased with idle curiosity, when Peter had received a strict command to follow Him.

It is a sin to be anxious, or too much concerned about what Christ will do with His beloved people. Christ’s reproof to Peter’s enquiry concerning the beloved disciple, implies that it was weakness for Peter to be troubled concerning him in any way.

Christ has sovereign authority to dispose of His own, and to keep them longer or shorter in the world with greater ease or trouble as He chooses. He does not need to give an account of His dealings to any. Whatever Christ wills to do with John in the future is no concern of Peter’s. Neither Peter, nor any other could say anything about it.

3. It is wrong to be distracted by comparisons with others

It is the duty of saints not to compare the Lord’s dealing with themselves and others in a way that makes them withdraw from their duty or be discouraged in it. Peter might think it strange if he was the only one called to suffer but Christ diverts him from looking at His dealings with John and urges him to mind his own concerns. Such comparisons (however much they may sometimes sharpen us and give us reasons for praise) often cause many problems. We are naturally inclined to be discontent with our own condition and think that what is lacking in it would be best for us as though we have a harder lot than others. But Christ has various ways in which people may serve Him and He may appoint that as He pleases. Such comparisons often tempt people to halt in their duty, when they see others in a more desirable condition.

Those who want to avoid such curiosity and unnecessary and pointless activities ought to follow their own work and calling closely. Christ withdraws Peter from all these enquiries, by commanding him again to follow Him.

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Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking

Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking

Hope and Strength During a Time of Shaking
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 Dec, 2020

Any new year is invested with much expectation, even more so for 2021. There are many expressions of hope that this year will witness recovery from our troubled condition in 2020. There are of course positive things that we can take with us from our experience. Yet some things that many people hope in proved especially vulnerable during the past year. There is, however, one source of unshakable strength and hope. It is especially against such times that the Lord reveals Himself as the ultimate solid hope of His people.

As David Dickson points out, the Lord’s people strengthen themselves in believing the promises of God’s Word concerning the care of His people. They look to past experience of deliverance to guard their heart against the fear of all possible trouble in time to come. So they can say “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). Although the Lord will not exempt His people from trouble, He will be near them in trouble. When they are made conscious of their weakness, He will not delay “a very present help in trouble”. This guards their heart against fear as well as making it fixed and settled through faith. Who faith is fixed on God, it can look at the greatest dangers and troubles that can be imagined with a resolution to adhere to God and His truth whatever may happen. Although the whole earth is shaken, faith finds footing and ground to stand upon in God Himself (Psalm 46:1-3).

Joel prophesied during troubled times for God’s people, days not only of desolation but of confusion and terror. Yet there are rich promises in the midst of this such as the promise of Joel 3:16 “the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel”. George Hutcheson helps us apply the truths that can be drawn from this in the following updated extract.

1. GOD MAY SOMETIMES REQUIRE A TIME OF SHAKING

As God is powerfully able to overturn heaven and earth when He pleases; in subduing His enemies He may bring great alterations and overturnings in the world. For, when he shall roar, “the heavens and the earth shall shake”, which, together with what is said (v. 15), makes a complete parallel with the condition of the Church (Joel 2:10), and it implies such an alteration of affairs, as if there were a dissolution of the world and overturning of the course of nature. And it is no wonder if those who are so well rooted in the world and so universally spread through the earth, cause it to shake through general commotions before they are cast out of it.

2. GOD’S PEOPLE MAY HAVE MANY FEARS IN A TIME OF SHAKING

When God is shaking the earth to overturn enemies, God’s people may be exercised by many fears and apprehensions that the storm will break upon them; therefore they need a promise to secure them against this.

3. GOD IS THE ONLY SECURITY IN A TIME OF SHAKING

Nothing will be able to secure the hearts of God’s people against the terrors of a time of great commotions, except God alone and what they find in Him and from Him. The promise therefore points them to what “the Lord will be” to them.

In times of great confusion, the Lord’s people may expect that He will be a place of refuge in which they may hide. He will provide those who come to Him, with grounds of hope for the future and with strength and courage to bear it until the accomplishment comes. It is “hope”, or “a refuge” and “strength”, which is extended here and God undertakes not to disappoint them of these. The “Lord will be the hope of his people”, He will take them under His protection, He will let them see grounds for hope in Himself, and furnish them with hope to lay hold on it and with strength to bear it all.

4. GOD PROMISES THIS FOR ALL HIS PEOPLE

What the Lord has been or will be at any time to His people Israel, in performing spiritual promises, He will be to all who are truly His people. The promise is generally both to “his people” whoever they may be, and “to the children of Israel”.

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Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?

Has 2020 Been a Wasted Year?
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.
16 Dec, 2020

It’s easy to understand why some people think of 2020 as a terrible year. We started the year and decade with high expectations. We soon found out that our plans could be entirely redundant. Heartbreakingly, some have lost loved ones, others have lost precious opportunities for key life events. For many, life has been on pause waiting to return to normal with a sense of lost time meanwhile. No doubt there have been many positives in the change of gear but a nagging feeling remains that it has been a wasted year. Yet there is nothing in 2020 that God cannot use and overrule to His greater glory. He can also bring restoration out of devastation. He can restore what seems like wasted time that can never be recovered.

We can be very thankful for all that we have not lost during 2020. In one Bible verse that offers hope concerning “wasted years” God promises to restore the years that the locust has eaten. Over several years in the time of the prophet Joel Israel experienced continual decimation of their food supplies through plagues of locusts and other events. It was the Lord’s chastisement for His people’s rebellion. But His promise was that with their repentance and return to Him the years that the locust had eaten would be restored in the great blessing they would receive. He would make up for all they had lost in the years of famine (Joel 2:23-27) so that they would be able to rejoice in Him. He does all this to show them that He is their God and they need never be disappointed in their hope placed in Him. These rich blessings are offered as part of the Lord’s call to repentance (v12-17). It is helpful to see this promise in its context and George Hutcheson applies some truths from these verses in the following updated extract.

1. The Lord Promises Joy to His Penitent People

Whoever else does not have joy, God wills that His penitent Church and people rejoice. They have as much and more solid joy as any. The children of Zion are therefore called to rejoice (v23). The Lord speaks and applies this message of joy to their hearts in stirring them up to rejoice in it beforehand. This exhortation to rejoice is, therefore, necessary.

Outward blessings and benefits should be like a step leading the Lord’s people up to rejoice in God. They should rest in these benefits in themselves. Although there is a promise of plenty, yet they are to rejoice in the Lord their God because He is their God (see Jeremiah 9:23-24; Luke 10:19-20). These outward blessings are received in connection with their repentance.

2. The Lord Appoints Outward Blessings

The Lord’s measuring and timing of outward mercies is that which makes them mercies indeed. Although rain is necessary, it is a blessing that God gives it in moderation and in its proper season (v23). What is said about rain holds good about all outward mercies, the only wise Lord appoints them.

3. The Lord Can Restore What We Have Lost

The Lord can and will make up for the losses of those who are penitent. Whenever sinners turn to God, He will convince them in due time that they have not lost at all by their afflictions. A proof and example of this are given in the promise that He will restore to them the years the locust has eaten (v25).

4. The Lord Can Be Seen in the Saddest Afflictions

Seeing God and His hand in the saddest chastisements and losses will assure us that He can soon easily make up for them. The locusts were God’s great army which He sent and if He sent them and made them able to make wreak such havoc, then He certainly can not only remove them but send equally remarkable plenty (v25).

5. The Lord Should be Praised for His Continual Provision

All who receive the good things of this life should be conscientious in thankfulness to God, whose providence supplies their needs. Those who truly repent and have turned to God will make conscience of this duty. This is especially because these outward blessings come to them with a special love from their own God in covenant with them. They will be satisfied with God’s benefits and will praise the name of the Lord their God (see Isaiah 62:8-9; Deuteronomy 8:10).

We must stir ourselves up to praise God in this. We should consider how wonderfully God continually provides our daily bread. Sending great plenty after the famine makes His providence and mercy to shine. The reason they should praise God is because He had dealt wondrously with them (v26). If we make use of outward benefits in this way, they bring us spiritual benefit by strengthening our faith and revealing the love of God to us.

6. The Lord Will Never Disappoint His People

God’s deals kindly with His Church and individual believers according to the covenant. When this is seen in specific ways it may be a pledge that none of His people (whoever they may be), will ever find it fruitless to seek Him or be ashamed or disappointed of their hope in Him based on His Word. God’s people will never be ashamed or disappointed (v26).

The best of blessings is a covenant relationship with God and His manifest presence because of this. It is sweet when those who are penitent see this shining in His mercies. This sweet consequence of His bounty toward the penitent is offered here. He is saying in effect, “you will know not only that I am the Lord your God, but that I have not withdrawn Myself. I am in the midst of Israel or those of Israel who are now left as a people to Me. Although prosperity is offered as the evidence of this here, any other way the Lord makes this clear is equally sufficient.

The Lord who is the God of His people is the only true God and therefore above anything that may be opposed to the joy of His people. The people of God may often need to pray against the sad affliction of being ashamed of their confidence (Psalm 119:116). Yet we must believe and learn again and again that not only now, but forever, God’s people have no cause for fearing disappointment. God will fulfil His promises and take away all reason for such fear. Because such temptations recur frequently, this phrase is repeated “my people shall never be ashamed” (v27).

Conclusion

It is vitally important that we do not miss the fact that these promises are part of God’s call to repentance (v12-17). Whatever we may feel we have lost in 2020, the Lord is able to restore it richly when we turn to His embrace with repentance. Much hope is offered to us, great blessing can arise out of affliction when we use it in the right way to draw nearer to God. In this way 2020 may yet prove to be a blessed year.

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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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