The knowledge the Christian needs

The knowledge the Christian needs

The knowledge the Christian needs
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

Some people like knowing things just for the sake of knowing things. But this isn’t an option when it comes to Christianity, when everything the Bible tells us has a definite purpose in view — to make us honour God more in our lives. Hugh Binning preached a sermon on 1 John 2:3, “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments,” in which he emphasises that if we truly know God, this will be evident by our obedience to God. Theology and controversy are never ends in themselves, and should not distract us from the true knowledge of God which brings us to love and worship Him. In the following updated extract Binning outlines some features of true knowledge.

True knowledge of God is essential

The words of the apostle give the designation of a true Christian to be the knowledge of God, and the character of his knowledge to be obedience to his commands.

“Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Here, in a narrow circle, we have all the work and business of a Christian. The Christian’s direct and principal duty is to know God, and keep his commands. These are not two distinct duties, but make up one complete work of Christianity, which consists in conformity to God.

Then the reflex and secondary duty of a Christian, which makes much for his comfort, is to know that he knows God. To “know God and keep his commands” is a thing of indispensable necessity to the being of a Christian, and to “know that we know him” is of great concernment to the comfort and well-being of a Christian.

True knowledge of God is hard for sinners to find

Knowledge is a thing so natural to the human spirit that the desire for knowledge is restless and insatiable. But this is the curse of man’s curiosity at first, in seeking after unnecessary knowledge, when he was happy enough already. For that wretched aim, we are to this day deprived of the knowledge which Adam once had, which was the ornament of his nature and the repast of his soul. The track of it is so obscured and perplexed, the footsteps of it are so indiscernible, and the way of it is like a bird in the air, or a ship in the sea, leaving us few helps to find it out, that the majority of people lose themselves in seeking to find it. In all their inquiries and searchings, at length nothing is found out remarkable, but the increase of sorrow, and the exposure of ignorance.

“But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?” The more people seek her, the more ignorance they find — the further they pursue, they see themselves at the further distance. That’s how it is in things that are obvious to our senses, and how much more is our darkness increased in spiritual and invisible things! For God himself should be the first and principal object of the soul, and his glorious light should first strike into our hearts. But of God, Job testifies, “How little a portion is known of him!” In natural things, we have one veil of darkness in our minds to hinder us, but when it comes to knowing about God, we have a twofold darkness to break through — the darkness of ignorance in us, and “the darkness of too much light” in him. God’s glorious majesty is all out of proportion to our low spirits.

Pride is the daughter of ignorance. “He that thinketh he knoweth anything knoweth nothing as he ought to know,” saith the apostle (1 Cor. 8:2.) For he who does not know his own ignorance, however much he knows, is the greatest ignorant.

It is a manifest evidence that people have only a superficial grasp of things, and have never broken the shell or drawn aside the veil of their own weakness and ignorance, when they do not apprehend deeply the unsearchableness of God and his mysteries, but think they have mastered them because they have made a system of theology, or set out some conclusions of faith and can debate them against adversaries, or because they have a model of theology, as of other sciences, in their mind.

True knowledge of God kindles both love and hatred

My beloved, holy Job attained to the deepest and fullest speculation of God, when he concluded, “Because I see thee, I abhor myself.” As Paul says, “If any man love God he is known of God, and so knows God” (1 Cor. 8:3).

From these testimonies of Job and Paul I conclude that the true knowledge of God consists not so much in the comprehension of all points of divinity, as in a serious apprehension and conception of the divine majesty which enkindles and inflames these two affections, love and hatred, towards their proper objects. It is the kind of knowledge which carries the torch before the affection, the kind of light which shines into the heart (as Paul’s phrase is, 2 Cor. 4:6) and so transmits heat and warmness into it, till it makes the heart burn in the love of God, and the loathing of himself.

True knowledge of God puts things in perspective

As long as you only hear of God in sermons, or read of Him in books, you keep a good conceit of yourself. That knowledge “puffeth up.” It blows you up full of wind and self-confidence, and commonly those who doubt least are not the freest of error and misunderstandings.

And truly, if you seriously reflect on the difficulty of knowledge, and darkness of our minds, and the general vanity and vexation of all things, you cannot but look at excessive confidence in the same way as people running a race at full speed in the dark night, on a route full of pits and snares. Often our confidence flows not from evidence of truth, but the ignorance of our minds, and is not so much built on the strength of reason, as the strength of our passions and the weakness of our judgments.

But when once you come to see God, and know Him in a lively manner, then you see your own weakness and vileness in that light, and you cry out with Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a man of polluted lips!” You discern in that light the loveliness of God, which ravishes your heart. Then, as Jeremiah says, you will not glory in riches, or strength, or beauty, or wisdom, but only in this, that you have gotten some discovery of the only fountain of happiness. Then you will not think so much of tongues and prophesyings, and knowledge of controversies, nor gifts of body or of mind. Nor will external appendages of providence much affect you. You will be content to pass over all of these into a fuller discovery and enjoyment of God Himself.

True knowledge of God is plain

When we search the Scriptures, they do not entertain us with many and subtle discourses on God’s nature, and decrees, and properties, nor do they dwell on the many perplexed questions about which so many volumes are spun out, to the infinite distraction of the Christian world. The Scriptures do not claim to satisfy your curiosity, but to edify your souls.

That is why they hold out God in Christ, as clothed with all His relations to mankind, in all those plain and easy properties that concern us everlastingly — His justice, mercy, grace, patience, love, holiness, and such like. From this I gather that the true knowledge of God does not consist in comprehending all the conclusions that are deduced and controversies that are discussed, but rather in the serious and solid apprehension of God as He relates to us, and consequently in the moving of our hearts to love, and adore, and reverence Him. He is displayed to us only in those garments that are fit to move and affect our hearts.

You may know all those controversial things, and yet not know God Himself, for knowing Him cannot be abstracted from loving Him — “They that know thy name will trust in thee, and so love thee, and fear thee.” This is the only possible natural result, if He is truly known at all, because there is nothing and nobody more beautiful, more dreadful at the same time, and more worthy of choice. Seeing infinite beauty and goodness, and infinite power and greatness, and infinite sufficiency and fulness are combined together in Him with infinite truth, the soul that truly apprehends Him, cannot but apprehend Him as the most ravishing, and the most to be revered too. If you do not find your heart suitably affected, it is an evident demonstration that you do not truly apprehend Him, but an idol.

True knowledge of God wins our obedience

But everyone thinks they know God. So the Holy Ghost, as He designates a Christian by the knowledge of God, so He characterises knowledge by “keeping the commandments.” “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

Religion is not defined by a number of opinions, or by a collection of certain articles of faith, but rather by practice — obedience to the known will of God. Knowledge is instrumental to something else. In Scripture, knowledge is not principally intended for itself, but rather for obedience.

Perhaps some may think that the Scripture, or theology, is merely contemplative, because of the many mysteries infolded in it, which seem irrelevant to our practice. I confess that it is a departure from the great purpose and plain intent of the simplicity and easiness of Scripture to use it with such industry and subtilty to discuss so many things of mere speculation and notion, dry and sapless to the affection, and unedifying to our practice, and to force these on people’s consciences as points of religion.

All that is in the Scriptures either directly intends us to practice God’s will, or is ultimately intended for that end — either it prescribes our obedience, or else it tends principally to engage our affections, and so to secure our obedience. Those elevated discourses about God, His nature and properties, His works, and all the mysteries infolded in them, are directed towards this end. Further than mere knowing, they are to bring the heart of a believer to more love, and reverence, and adoration of God, that so he may be brought more easily and steadily to a sweet compliance and harmonious agreement to the will of God, in all His ways.

True religion is an art

This shows us the notable art of religion — to extract affection and obedience to God out of all natural contemplations. True theology, engraved on the soul, is a kind of architectonic science, which gives structure to all other points of knowledge. Whatever they are, a holy heart can apply them to the divine uses of engaging itself further to God and obedience to God. “Who would not fear thee, O King of nations!” (Jer. 10:7) “Fear ye not me, who have placed the sand as a boundary (etc)?” (Jer. 5:22). That’s what extracts praise (Psa. 104:1) and admiration (Psa. 104:33), and submission and patience under God’s hand (Job). If we only seek to know things so that we will know them, and can discourse on them, we disappoint the great purpose of the whole Scriptures, and we debase and degrade spiritual things. We transform holy things into a carnal, empty, and dead letter, whereas true knowledge spiritualises earthly and carnal things into a holy use.



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How far reaching is the commandment to believe?

How far reaching is the commandment to believe?

How far reaching is the commandment to believe?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

It’s pleasing to God that we believe in Jesus Christ. It’s also the only way to obtain eternal life. Something that’s so much in our interest is also what God presses us to do – not just by giving us the basic information about the Lord Jesus but both inviting and commanding us to come to Him for life. According to John, “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). What does this actually involve though? In the following updated extract from a sermon on this text, Hugh Binning explains how far-reaching this commandment is. It takes in all of God’s commands, and it views them as broken by sinners, fulfilled by Christ, and obeyed by believers.

The Lord both invites and commands us to believe

People have different temperaments. Some who cannot be constrained by fear may be persuaded by love. With some a request will more prevail than a command. Others again are only emboldened by love and condescension, and therefore they must be restrained with authority.

In the administration of the gospel, the Lord accommodates Himself to people’s diverse dispositions.

God sometimes stoops down to invite and affectionately beseech sinners to come to His Son for life. He has prepared a marriage and banquet for us in Christ. He has made all things ready for receiving guests and for eating, and He sends His servants to entreat and invite to this wedding those who have no bread and clothing, and are poor and lame. He gives a hearty invitation to all who stand at an infinite distance from Him, and so are feeding on empty vanities outside of Him, to come and enjoy the riches of His grace, which runs as a river in Christ between these two golden banks, the pardon of sin, and the purification of our soul from its pollution.

And He comes yet lower, to request and plead with poor sinners, as if He could have advantage by it. He does not refuse to be a supplicant at any one’s door, to beseech him to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:14, 19, 20). As if we could do Him a favour, He requests us most earnestly. Truly it is strange that this does not melt the heart, and make it fall down into the belief and obedience of the truth!

But because the heart of man is desperately wicked, and is now become stubborn and froward, like a wild ass, or as a swift dromedary traversing her ways, therefore the Lord also gives out his royal statute, backed with majesty and authority. “This is his command.” He hedges in our way with threatenings as well as promises annexed to the commandment: “He that believeth has everlasting life, but he that believeth not is condemned already, and shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”

Truly it is a wonder that there should be any need either of an invitation, or a request, or a command, or a threatening. Why should we need to be invited, or requested, or commanded, or threatened to accept our own happiness? Might not a bare and simple proposal of Jesus Christ, His nature and offices, and of the redemption and salvation purchased by Him, suffice? What more should be needed, but to declare to us that we are lost and utterly undone by nature, and that there is a refuge and remedy provided in Christ? We would seek no other persuasion to go and dig for a treasure of gold, beyond someone showing us where it is hidden. How strange is the rebellious and perverse disposition of man’s heart!

In the text, this command of believing in Jesus is comprehensive, because it takes in all precepts, under a threefold consideration. It takes them all in (1) as broken and transgressed by men, (2) as fulfilled by Christ, and also (3) as a rule of righteousness, according to which the believer ought to walk.

Believe that we have broken all God’s commandments

The command to believe in Christ first of all means that a sinner should examine himself according to the law of God. We should lay out our whole life and course, our heart and ways, before the perfect and holy commandments. We should stop our own mouth with shame and silence, and find ourselves guilty before God.

Some speak of the work of the law as being preparatory to the gospel. But I conceive it would be more fitly expressed if it was put like this instead – that one of the essential ingredients in the bosom of believing, is that all sinners acknowledge their sin and misery, and discern their own abounding iniquity and danger of perishing by it, how guilty they are before God, and how subject to his judgment, that so finding themselves undone, they may have recourse to a Saviour.

Truly the Spirit’s work is to convince of sin, and then of righteousness, and when we are commanded to believe, the first part of our believing is crediting the law, and the justice and righteousness of God against us, and then believing and acknowledging the gospel. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” But it only breeds misapprehensions, when the law is seen as a condition without which we shall not be welcome to the gospel. Truly, I think, both are proposed as essentials of saving faith; not in such a way as one procures a warrant to the other, but only in an order that is suitable to any reasonable nature, and that is all. In other words, conviction of sin is only required of you because fleeing for refuge to a Saviour is a rational action which necessarily includes the sense of misery without Him. But the sense of sin and misery is not a thing which you should go about to prepare, so as to fit yourselves for a greater welcome at Christ’s hand.

Here it is easy to understand how the command of believing belongs to all who hear it, even the vilest and grossest sinners, who are yet stout-hearted, hard-hearted, and far from righteousness (Isa. 46:12), those who are spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfies not, and those whose hearts are uncircumcised, and their lives profane. The commandment of coming to the Son and believing on Him for life, is extended to them all. All are invited, requested, commanded, and threatened to this duty. All are instructed to believe in Christ, that is, out of a sense of their own lost estate, to embrace a Saviour for righteousness and strength.

Neither is there any fear that people can come too soon to Christ. We need not set down exclusions, for if they are not conscious of sin and misery, they will certainly not come to Him at all. The command that enjoins them to believe on the Son, requires them also to believe that they are lost without him. If even the most presumptuous sinners would once give obedience to this commandment, really there would be no fear of presumption in coming to Jesus too soon.

A sense of sin is not set as a porter, to keep out any who are willing to come in, but rather to open the door, and constrain those who are unwilling to enter in, so that if the least measure of the sense of sin can do this, we are not to wait till we have more, but to come to the Prince exalted to get remission of sins, and more true gospel sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation from dead works. You should not therefore understand any promises in the scriptures as if there were any conditions set down to exclude any from coming, who are willing to come. The promises only declare the nature and manner of what they are invited to, so that no one may misunderstand what it is to believe, and take their own empty presumptions or fancies, which embolden them to sin more, for that true faith which is full of good fruits.

Believe that Jesus Christ has kept all God’s commandments

Once anyone has acknowledged the guilt and curse of all the commandments by believing the law, they also look on the Son, Jesus Christ, and find the law fulfilled, the curse removed, all satisfied in Him. Then you find all the commandments obeyed in Christ’s person, all the wrath due for the breach of the commandments quenched by His sufferings. And you give a cheerful and cordial approbation of all this.

We should rest on Christ’s obedience and suffering as that which pacifies the Father’s wrath to the full. This is what gives the answer of a good conscience, and pacifies every penitent soul, and secures their title to heaven. This presents God with a full atonement and obedience to all the law, and He accepts this from a believer as if it were the believer’s own.

Faith takes in its arms, as it were, in one bundle, all the precepts and curses, and gives them over to Christ, putting them in His able hand, and then takes them all, as satisfied and fulfilled by Him, and holds them up in one bundle to the Father.

Believe that all God’s commandments direct us how to live

So, thirdly, believing on the Son includes all the commandments again, this time as the rule of walking and the mark to aim at. Finding such a perfect exoneration of bygones in Christ and standing in such favour with God, the soul is sweetly constrained to love and delight in the divine laws. And truly this is the natural result of faith.

I want you to rightly observe this conjunction, that what is inseparably knit with faith is love to God and others, delight to do His will, to love Him, and live to Him. Do not deceive yourselves with vain words. If you do not find the smartness of the gospel and the doctrine of grace laying this restraint on your heart, you are yet in your sins. This is the reasoning of a believing soul: “Shall I, who am dead unto sin, live any longer therein? Shall I not delight in those commandments, when Christ hath delivered me from the curse of the law?” The believer may fall, and come short, yet the pressure of their heart is that way inclined.

But then observe the order. You must first believe on the Son, and then love him, and live to Him. You must first flee to His righteousness, and then the righteousness of the law shall be wrought in you. Therefore do not weary yourselves to no purpose. Do not wrong your own souls by seeking to reverse this order, which was established for your joy and salvation. Know that you must first meet with satisfaction in all the commands of Christ, before obedience to any of them be accepted, and having met with that, know that the sincere endeavour of your soul, and the affectionate impulse of your heart to your duty, is accepted.

If you then find yourselves afterwards oppressed with guilt and an inadequate walk, know that the way is to begin at this again, to believe in the Son. This is the round you must walk, as long as you are in the body. When you are defiled, run into the fountain, and when you are washed, study to keep your garments clean, but if defiled again, get your hearts washed from wickedness. “These things,” says John, “I write to you, that ye (who believe) sin not,” but if any sin who desire not to transgress, you have a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.



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Can you by searching find out God?

Can you by searching find out God?

Can you by searching find out God?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

God is beyond us. However much we think we know about Him, He is an inexhaustible, unfathomable depth. He is not an object for us to scrutinise, or a challenge we can absorb, or something malleable which we can mould into a form of our own liking. Our basic starting point when we think of God is to realise that our minds simply cannot encompass Him. Yet He is knowable, when He makes Himself known. And when He makes Himself known, the knowledge of Him makes us not only realise our own littleness but also entrust ourselves to Him to be saved by Him and to live to His honour. These points are made by Hugh Binning in the following updated extract, where Binning reflects on God’s eternity and incomprehensibleness before insisting on the practical consequences for sinners like us coming to truly know God.

God is the unbeginning alpha and the unending omega

This is properly to be, and only this deserves the name of being – that which never was nothing, and never shall be nothing, which may always say, “I am.”

Man is, but look a little backward, and he was not, you shall find his beginning: and step a little forward, and he shall not be, you shall find his end. But God is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.

But who can retire so far backward as to apprehend a beginning, or go such a leap forward as to conceive an end in a being who is the beginning and end of all things, but without all beginning and end? Whose understanding does it not confound? We cannot imagine a being, but we must first conceive it as nothing and in some instant receiving its being. Therefore, canst thou by searching find out God?

A man’s imagination may extend to suppose to itself as many thousands of years before the beginning of time as have been so far. Then let all the angels and people of all generations from the beginning be employed in nothing but calculating this. And then suppose a product to be made of all their individual sums of years. It would be vast and unspeakable, but yet your imagination could reach further. You could multiply that great sum as often into itself as there are units in it. Now, when you have done all this, you are never a whit nearer the days of the Ancient of Days. Suppose then this was the only activity of humans and angels throughout all eternity, all this marvellous arithmetic would not amount to the least shadow of the countenance of Him who is from everlasting. All that huge product of all the multiplications of humans and angels has no proportion to that never beginning and never ending duration.

Our lives are fleetingly brief

But O, where shall a soul find itself here? It is enclosed between infiniteness before and infiniteness behind, between two everlastings. Whichever way it turns, there is no outgoing, whichever way it looks, it must lose itself in an infiniteness round about it.

Though we vainly please ourselves in the number of our years, and the extent of our life, yet the truth is, we are still only losing as much of our being and time as passes. First we lose our childhood, then we lose our adulthood, and then we leave our old age behind us also, and there is no more before us.

But though days and years are in a continual flux about Him, and they carry us down with their force, yet He abides the same for ever. He is the beginning without any beginning, the end without an end, there is nothing past to him, and nothing to come. He is all, before all, after all, and in all. He beholds out of the exalted and supereminent tower of eternity all the successions and changes of the creatures, and there is no succession, no change in His knowledge, as in ours. He is never driven to any consultation on any emergent or incident. He is in one mind, and who can turn Him?

The being of God is beyond us

Now, canst thou by searching find out God? If mortal creatures cannot attain the measure of what is finite, O then, what can a creature do, what can a creature know, about Him who is infinite, and the maker of all these things? You cannot compass the sea and land, and how then can you comprehend Him who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? (Isa. 40:10). You cannot measure the circumference of the heavens, and how then can you find out Him who metes out the heavens with His span and stretches them out as a curtain? (Isa. 40:12, 22).

Canst thou by searching find Him out? And yet you must search Him, not so much out of curiosity to know what He is (for He dwells in inaccessible light which no man hath seen, nor can see; 1 Tim. 6:16), or to find what we cannot know when we have found – not so much to find Him, as to be found of Him. But though you never find Him out, yet you shall not seek Him in vain, for you shall find blessedness in Him.

This all means that we must seek God

What shall we then do? Seek him, and search him indeed! If we cannot know Him [through and through], we must reverence, fear and adore what we do know. Enough of Him may be known as may teach us our duty and show us our blessedness.

Let then all our inquiries of Him have special reference to this purpose, that we may out of love and fear of such a glorious and good God, worship and serve Him, and compose ourselves according to His will, and wholly to His pleasure. Whatever you know of God, it is but a vain speculation, and a work of curiosity, if it does not lead to this end, to frame and fashion your soul to union and communion with Him in love. Whatever you know of God, it is but vain speculation if it does not reveal yourself to yourself in such a way that in the light of God’s glorious majesty you distinctly see your own darkness and deadness and utter impotency.

The angels that Isaiah saw attending God in the temple cannot behold His glory, but must cover their face with their wings from the radiant and shining brightness of His majesty. Yet they have two other wings to fly with. Being composed in reverence and fear to God, they are ready to execute His commands willingly and swiftly. What then does Isaiah make of this glorious sight? “We are all unclean, people and pastor.” The glory of God shining on Isaiah does not pull him up into arrogance and conceit of the knowledge of such profound mysteries, but he is more abased in himself by it.

So it was with Job. “I heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear,” he said (Job 42:5), “but as long as it was hearsay, I thought myself something; I often reflected upon myself and my actions with a kind of complacency. But now since I have seen Thee by the seeing of the eye, I abhor myself in dust and ashes. Self-love made me loathe other people’s sins more than my own, and self-love covered my own sins from me, presenting me to myself in a feigned likeness. But now I see myself in my true shape. Thy light has pierced into my soul, and I cannot endure to look at myself.”

Here is the true knowledge of God’s majesty: it exposes within you a mystery of iniquity. Here is real knowledge of God: it abases all things beside God, not only notionally, but in affection. This knowledge attracts and unites your soul to God, and draws it away from yourself and all created things. Knowledge falsely so called is what puffs us up, but true knowledge empties a soul of itself, and humbles the soul in itself, so that it may be full of God.

Finding God has concrete practical effects in our life

This then is the first property of saving knowledge of God: it removes all ground of vain confidence (so that a soul cannot trust to itself), and then its real, proper intent is to bring the soul to trust in God, and depend on Him in all things.

For this purpose the Lord has called Himself by so many names in Scripture, corresponding to our various needs and difficulties. It is so that He would make known to us how all-sufficient He is, so that we would turn our eyes and hearts towards Him. This was His intention behind revealing this name, “I am” – it was so that Moses would have a support for his faith. If Moses had looked at the outward appearances of things, was it not almost a ridiculous thing to go to the king with such a message, that he would dismiss so many subjects? Was it not the attempt of some madman to think of leading so many thousands into another nation? “Well,” says the Lord, “I am: I who give all things a being, will give a being to my promise; I will make Pharaoh hearken, and the people obey.”

What is there that this name of God does not match? If He is what He is, then He can make of us what He pleases. If our souls had this name “I AM” constantly engraved on our hearts, O what power the divine promises and threatenings would have with us! “I, even I, am he that comforteth thee,” He says. If we believed that it really was He, the Lord Jehovah, how we would be comforted! How we would praise Him by His name JAH! How we would stoop before Him, and submit to His blessed will!

If we believed this, would we not be as dependent on Him as if we had no being in ourselves? Would we not make Him our habitation and dwelling-place? Would we not be reassured about our own stability, and the stability of His church, from His unvariable eternity (like the psalmist in Psalm 90 and Psalm 102)? How can we think of such a fountain-being, without at the same time acknowledging ourselves to be shadows of His goodness, and acknowledging that we owe to Him what we are, and so consecrating ourselves to His glory? How can we consider such a self-being, independent, and creating goodness, without having some desire to cleave to Him, and some confidence to trust in Him?

In sum, whatever you hear or know of God, realise that it is vain and empty unless it descends down into your heart to fashion it to fear and love Him, and unless it extends to your outward behaviour to conform it to obedience. “You are but vain in your imaginations, and your foolish hearts are darkened, while when you know God you glorify him not as God.” If glorifying God is not the fruit and end of your knowledge, that knowledge shall be worse to you than ignorance, for it both brings on judicial hardening here, and will be your solemn accuser and witness against you hereafter (Rom. 1:21, 24). The knowledge of Jesus Christ, truly so called, is neither barren nor unfruitful, for out of its root and sap springs humility, confidence in God, patience in tribulations, meekness in provocations, and temperance and sobriety in lawful things (2 Pet. 1:5–8).


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Knowing the unknowable God

Knowing the unknowable God

Knowing the unknowable God
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

When we think of God, it is alarmingly easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God is just another kind of creature – of course the best and greatest and most impressive in whatever dimension you consider, but ultimately just another creature. This line of thinking is something we should resist, because God is altogether other. He is in reality completely beyond us and above us, a different order of being entirely. We can truly know Him, but in order for this to be possible He has to accommodate Himself to us and make Himself known to us in ways that we can grasp. Hugh Binning highlights and underlines God’s transcendence in the following updated extract. He uses God’s self-description, “I AM THAT I AM,” as the basis for emphasising from various points of view that we must at all points maintain in our minds the distinction between the Creator and the creature, between God and everything else in existence. Only once we sense the littleness of our understanding are we in a position to start to learn who and what God is.

The chief point of saving knowledge is to know God. And the starting point of the true knowledge of God is to discern how ignorant we are of Him, and to find Him beyond all knowledge.

In Exodus 3:14 the Lord gives a definition of Himself, but such a one as is no more clear than Himself to our capacities. It is indeed a short one, and you may think it does not say much. “I am.” What is there that may not say the same? The least and most insignificant creature has its own being! Yet there is more majesty in this simple style than in all others. Let creatures compare with creatures – let them take superlative styles – let some of them be called good, and some better, in the comparison among themselves. But God must not enter the comparison.

No comparisons are valid

Paul thinks it an odious comparison, to compare present crosses to eternal glory (Rom. 8). But how much more odious it is to compare God with creatures! Call Him highest, call Him most powerful, call Him most excellent, almighty, most glorious in respect of creatures – and all you do is abase His majesty, bringing it down to any terms of comparison with them, seeing He is beyond all the bounds of understanding. All these terms only express Him to be in some degree eminently above the creatures. As some creatures are above others, so all you do is to make him the chief of them all, as some creature may be the head of one line or kind under it. But what is that to His majesty? He speaks very differently of Himself. “All nations are before him as nothing, and they are accounted to him less than nothing” (Isa. 40:17).

Certainly you have not taken up the true notion of God, when you have conceived him the most eminent of all beings as long as any being appears as a being in his sight, before whom all beings conjoined are as nothing. While you conceive God to be the best, you still attribute something to the creature. You imagine only some different degrees between beings who differ so infinitely, so incomprehensibly. The distance betwixt heaven and earth is but a poor similitude to express the distance between God and creatures.

All created things are inconsequential

Now, if you could imagine something that is less than nothing, then could you begin to guess at the vast distance between it and a being. So is it here: “Thus saith the Lord, All nations, their glory, perfection and number, all of them, and all their excellencies united, do not amount to the value of an entity, in regard of my majesty. All of them are just like zeroes. Join never so many of them together, they can never make up a number, they are nothing, and less than nothing.”

So then we ought to conceive of God, and to attribute a being and life to him, in such a way that all created beings vanish out of our sight. The glorious light of the sun, although it does not annihilate the stars, yet it annihilates their appearance to our senses, and makes them disappear, as if they didn’t exist. There is a great difference between the stars in the night, some lighter, some darker, some of the first magnitude, and some of the second and third, some of greater glory, and some of less. But in the day time all are alike, all are darkened by the sun’s glory. Let the glorious brightness of God shine once on the soul, and in that light all these lights shall be obscured, and all the differences between them unobserved. An angel and a human, a human and a worm differ much in glory and perfection of being: but O, in God’s presence there is no such reckoning on this account. All things are alike, God infinitely distant from all, and so not more or less. Infiniteness is not capable of such terms of comparison.

This is the reason why Christ says, “There is none good but one, even God.” Why? because, in respect of His goodness, nothing deserves that name. Lesser light in view of the greater is a darkness, and lesser good in comparison of a greater good, appears evil. How much more then shall created light and created goodness lose that name in the presence of God’s uncreated light, and self-sufficient goodness!

God’s self-sufficient perfection is absolute

This is why the Lord names Himself in this way, “I AM,” as if nothing else was. “I will not say,” He says, “that I am the highest, the best and most glorious that is; that assumes that other things have some being and some glory that is worth taking account of. But I am, and there is none else. I am alone. I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear I live for ever.” There is nothing else that can say, “I am, I live, and there is none else;” for nothing has its life of itself. No one can boast of what they have borrowed, and is not their own. As if a bird that had stolen from other birds its beautiful feathers, was to come out and argue with them about beauty. Would they not straight away every one pluck out their own feathers, and leave her naked, to be an object of mockery to all?

Even so, our breath and being is in our nostrils, and that depends on His majesty’s breathing on us. If He was only to hold in his breath, as it were, we would vanish into nothing. “He looketh upon me and I am not” (Job 7:8). That is a strange look, that not only looks man out of countenance, but out of life and being. He looks him into the first nothing-like existence, and then can he say, “I live, I am”? No, he must always say of himself in respect of God, as Paul says of himself in respect of Christ, “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.” “I am, yet not I; but God in me: I live, I am, yet not I but in God, in whom I live, and have my being.” There is no other thing beside God that can say, “I am,” because all things are borrowed drops of this self-sufficient fountain, and sparkles of this first light. Let anything intervene between the stream and the fountain, and the stream is cut off and dried up. Let anything interpose between the sun and the beam and the sunbeam vanishes. Therefore this fountain-being, this original light, this self-being is the only one who deserves the name of being. Other things to which we give those names are nearer nothing than God, and in regard of His majesty, may more fitly be called nothing than something,

You see then how profound a mystery of God’s absolute self-sufficient perfection is infolded in these three letters, “I AM,” or in these four, “JEHOVAH.” If you ask what God is, nothing occurs better than this, “I AM,” or “HE THAT IS.” If I should say He is the all-mighty, the only wise, the most perfect, the most glorious, it is all contained in that saying, “I AM THAT I AM.” For that is really to be: to be all those perfections simply, absolutely, and as it were solely. If I say all that, and reckon out all the Scripture epithets, I add nothing. If I say no more, I diminish nothing.



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How the Word of God gives us words for God

How the Word of God gives us words for God

How the Word of God gives us words for God
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

Every so often the suggestion is made that we should use gender-neutral language to refer to God. There is certainly a need for carefulness in how we speak about God, so that we don’t inadvertently make Him seem inaccessible or unavailable to specific groups of people. Yet this should not be driven by our perceptions of what might make God unappealing to sinful preferences, or by the demands of certain groups that God should fit the mould they want Him to fit. God has actually chosen to make Himself known to us in His Word – in human language. Yet human language fails almost before it starts to express the greatness of God. We must therefore confine ourselves to speaking about God in ways that He legitimises (in that He has used these terms Himself in the Scriptures) while constantly realising that even these words are not adequate. God is so great that He cannot be confined in any way – not the whole universe can contain Him – and certainly He cannot be reduced to the kind of creature whose identity changes in the eye of the beholder according to which are currently the preferred pronouns, as dictated by sinful imaginations or to suit self-serving human interests. Our job is not to conform God to our political agendas or passing ideological fixations, but to conform ourselves to Him. As the following updated extract from a textbook by Hugh Binning makes clear, we can only ever know and speak of God on His own terms.

“God is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Something of the nature of God is pointed out to us here, as well as something of our duty towards Him. “God is a spirit,” is His nature; and “we must worship him,” is our duty, and “in spirit and in truth” is the right manner of doing our duty. If these three were rightly pondered, till they sink in to the depth of our spirits, they would make us real Christians.

We need to know accurately who God is

It is presupposed for all Christian worship and walking, to know what God is. This is indeed the primo cognitum of Christianity, the first principle of true religion, the very root out of which springs and grows up walking suitably with and worshipping appropriately a known God.

In too much of our religion we are like the people of Athens, who built an altar to an unknown God, and the Samaritans, who worshipped they knew not what. Such a worship, I don’t know what it is, when the God worshipped is not known!

True knowledge of God is not comprised of many notions and speculations about the divine nature, or high and strained conceptions of God. Some people speak of these mysteries in some unique way, using terms far removed from common understandings, which neither themselves nor others know what they mean. But this only shows that they are presumptuous, self-conceited, knowing nothing as they ought to know. There is a knowledge that puffs up – a knowledge that only makes people swells up, it doesn’t make them grow. It’s only a rumour, full of air, a vain and empty and frothy knowledge, that is neither good for edifying others, nor saving themselves. A knowledge that someone has, so as to ascend on the height of it, and measure himself by the degrees of it, is not the true knowledge of God. The true knowledge of God doesn’t know itself, doesn’t look back on itself, but looks straight towards God, His holiness and glory, and sees our baseness and misery. Therefore it constrains the soul to be ashamed of itself in such a glorious presence, and to make haste to worship, as Moses, Job and Isaiah did.

We cannot worship God without knowing accurately who He is

This definition of God, if we truly understood it, could not but transform our worship.

God is a spirit. Many people form in their own mind some likeness and image of God, who is invisible. They imagine to themselves some bodily shape. When they conceive of Him, they think He is some reverend and majestic person, sitting on a throne in heaven. But I beseech you, correct your mistakes about Him! There is outward idolatry as well as inward. There is idolatry in action, when people paint or engrave some similitude of God, and there also is idolatry in imagination, when the fancy runs on some image or likeness of God. The latter is too common among us. Indeed it comes to much the same thing, whether to form similitudes in our mind, or to engrave or paint them outwardly. The God whom many of us worship is not the living and true God, but a painted or graven idol. You do nothing more than fancy an idol to yourselves when you conceive of God under the likeness of any visible or tangible thing. Then whatever love, or fear, or reverence you have, it is all but mis-spent superstition, the love and fear of an idol.

God is beyond the reach of our senses

Know then that God is a spirit, and therefore He is like none of all the things you see, or hear, or smell, or taste, or touch. The heavens are glorious indeed, the light is full of glory, but God is not like that. If all your senses were to make an inquiry, and search for Him throughout the world, you would not find Him, even though He is near at hand to every one of us. Your eyes and ears and all your senses could travel the length of the earth and breadth of the sea, and would not find him, even as you might search all the corners of heaven before you could hear or see an angel. If you cut a person into pieces, and resolved him down into atoms of dust, yet you could not perceive a soul within him. Why? Because these are spirits, and so beyond the reach of your senses.

God is beyond the capacity of our language

If God is a spirit, then He is invisible, and dwells in light inaccessible, which no man hath seen or can see. Then our poor narrow minds, which are immersed (as it were) in bodies of clay, and receive all knowledge from the senses, cannot frame any suitable notion of His spiritual nature. We cannot even conceive what our own soul is, except when some tangible activity flows from it. The height that our knowledge of ourselves amounts to, is only the dark and confused conception that the soul is some inward principle of life and sense and reason. How then is it possible for us to conceive rightly of the divine nature, as it is in itself?

In a dark and general way, we guess at His majesty by the glorious emanations of His power and wisdom, and the rays of it which He displays in all the works of His hands. From all these concurring testimonies and evidences of His majesty we gather at best the notion of Him that He is the fountain of life, the self-independent being, the very life and light of men, who makes all things visible, and He Himself is invisible.

This is the reason why the Lord speaks to us in the Scripture of Himself in terms of His face, His right hand and arm, His throne, His sceptre, His back parts, His anger, His fury, His repentance, His grief and sorrow. None of these are properly in His spiritual, immortal and unchangeable nature. He speaks in this way because of our dullness and slowness in apprehending spiritual things. It is almost beyond the comprehension of the soul while in the body, because the soul is almost addicted to the senses of the body. The Lord therefore accommodates Himself to our terms and notions. Like a father babbles with his babbling children, He speaks to us in our own dialect, but at the same time He wants us to realise that He is not really like this, but infinitely removed in His own being from all these imperfections.

So when you hear these terms in Scripture, O beware that you do not conceive God to be such a one as yourselves! In these expressions so below His majesty, learn your own ignorance of His glorious majesty, and your dullness and incapacity, when the Holy One must come down as it were in some bodily appearance, before you can understand anything about Him.

God is most powerful

If God is a spirit, then He is most perfect, and most powerful. All imperfection, infirmity and weakness in the creature is founded in its material part of it. A body, when the soul and spirit is out of it, has no more virtue nor efficacy than so much clay, though when it had the presence of its spirit, it was active, agile, swift, strong and nimble. Consider then what a one the God of the spirits of all flesh must be – the very fountain-spirit, the self-existent spirit. When the soul of a human being – or even the spirit of a horse – has so much virtue as to stir up a lump of earth and enliven it to so many different kinds of activities, even though that soul and spirit did not and indeed could not make that piece of earth they dwell in – then what must be the power and virtue of Him who made all these things?

God is immense

If God is a spirit, then He is not circumscribed by any place; and if He is an infinite spirit, then He is everywhere. No place can include Him, and no object can exclude Him. He is within all things, yet not included or bounded within them, and He is outwith all things, yet not excluded from them. As you know, every object has its own bounds and limits circumscribed to it, and it shoots out all other objects out of the same space. But a spirit can pass through all of them, and never disturb them. A legion of spirits may be in one man, and have plenty space. How much more the maker of all spirits fills all in all! The thickness of the earth does not keep Him out, nor does the largeness of the heavens contain Him.

O, how narrow thoughts we have of His immense greatness! How often, I wonder, do you reflect on His immensity? God is near at hand to every one of us. Who among us think of a divine majesty nearer us than our very souls and consciences? For “in him we live and move and have our being.” How is it that we move, and do not think with wonder of the first mover, in whom we move? How is it that we live and persevere in being, without continually considering the fountain-being in whom we live and have our being? We go about all our business as if we were self-existent, and independent of anyone, never thinking of the all-present, quickening spirit, who activates us, moves us, speaks in us, makes us to walk, and eat and drink! Who of us believes this all-present God? We imagine that He is shut up in heaven, and takes no notice of what is going on below, but certainly, He is not so far from us.

God’s understanding is unsearchable

If God is a spirit, then, as He is incomprehensible and immense in being, so also there is no comprehension of His knowledge. He is an all-knowing spirit, an all-seeing spirit, as well as all-present. “There is no searching of his understanding” (Isa. 40:28, and Psalm 147:5). “Who hath directed his spirit, or being his counsellor hath taught him?” (Rom. 11:34; Isa. 40:1).

O that you would always set this God before you – or rather, set yourselves always in His presence, in whose sight you are always! How it would compose our hearts to reverence and fear in all our actions, if we really did believe that the judge of all the world is an eye-witness to our most unobserved and secret thoughts and doings! If any other human being was as privy to your thoughts as your own spirit and conscience, you would blush and be ashamed before him. If every one of us could open a window into one another’s spirits, I think this assembly would disperse as quickly as when Christ invited those who were without sin to cast a stone! We could not so much as look one upon another. O then, why are we so little apprehensive of the all-searching eye of God, who can even declare to us our thought before we think it? God “knows our down-sitting and up-rising, and understands our thoughts afar off, and is acquainted with all our ways” (Psalm 139). O, how we would ponder our path, and examine our words, and consider our thoughts beforehand, if we set ourselves in the view of a spirit who is within us and outside us, before us and behind us!



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Why love is one of God’s commandments

Why love is one of God’s commandments

Why love is one of God’s commandments
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

The love between God’s children is a stronger bond than mere niceness, it is something definite, active and fruitful. It is also something that God commands His children to show to one another, and it is pleasing to God when they do walk in obedience to this commandment. In the following updated extract, Hugh Binning outlines some of the reasons why God likes love enough to command it, based on 1 John 3:23: “this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.”

The relationship between love, lifestyle and faith

I wish you to rightly observe this conjunction, that these are inseparably knit together, love to God and love to other people – delight to do His will – to love Him and live to Him. Do not deceive yourselves with vain words. If you do not find the doctrine of grace laying this restraint on your heart, you are yet in your sins. This is the reasoning of a believing soul: “Shall I, who am dead to sin, live any longer therein? Shall I not delight in those commandments, when Christ has delivered me from the curse of the law?” Although that person falls and comes short, yet the pressure of their heart is in that direction.

At the same time, pay attention to the order. You must first believe on the Son, and then love Him, and live to Him. You must first flee to His righteousness, and then the righteousness of the law shall be wrought in you.

Therefore do not weary yourselves to no purpose. Do not wrong your own souls by seeking to reverse this order, which was established for your joy and salvation. Know that you must first meet with satisfaction in all the commands of Christ, before your obedience to any of them can be accepted. Then, having met with that, know that the sincere endeavour of your soul, and the affectionate impulse of your heart towards your duty, is accepted.

And if you find yourself afterwards surcharged with guilt and inconsistent walking, yet you know that the way is to begin at this again, to believe in the Son. This is the round you must walk, as long as you are in the body. When you are defiled, run into the fountain, and when you are washed, strive to keep your garments clean, but if defiled again, get your hearts washed from wickedness.

How far-reaching love is

Now love is a very comprehensive command. It is the fulfilling of the whole law (Romans 8:10, Matthew 22:37–38. It is indeed the true principle and pure fountain of our obedience unto God and men. All fruits of the Spirit are moral virtues that grow out of the believer. Whether pleasing to God, or refreshing to other people, they are all virtually in the root of love. That is why the apostle names one for all, i.e., brotherly love, as the bond of perfection (Colossians 3:14).

Love is a bundle of many divine graces, a company or society of many Christian virtues combined together. They are named bowels of mercies, long suffering, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness, all which are tied to the believer’s girdle by charity. So where love is, every good comes. After love comes a troop of so many sweet endowments and ornaments, and where love is lacking (as truly it is the epidemic disease of the time), many sins abound, for when iniquity abounds, “the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12).

Oh! that is our temperament, or rather our distempered nature — our love is cold, and our passions are hot! When charity goes away, out come the wild and savage beasts of darkness, i.e., bitter envying and strife, rigid censuring and judging, unmercifulness and implacableness of spirit towards others’ failings and offences. Self-love keeps the throne, and all the rest are her attendants. For where self-love and pride is, there is contention, strife, envy, and every evil work, and all manner of confusion. They lead one another as in a chain of darkness (Proverbs 13:10; James 3:16).

Do not think that love is a mere compliment, an idle feeling. It more real than that, more vital. It has bowels of mercy, which move when others are moved, and which bring their neighbour’s misery into the inmost seat of the heart, and make your spirit a companion in their misery. It is also exercised in forbearing and forgiving. Charity is not easily provoked — therefore it can forbear, it is easily appeased — therefore it can forgive, it is not soon displeased, or hard to be pleased, “forbearing and forgiving one another in love.”

How helpful love is

Focus more then on this grace of love. See it to be the fulfilling of the law, for “the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” The end of the law is not strife and debate, nor the intricate and perplexed matters which bring endless questions and no edification.

Though people claim to be motivated by conscience and scripture, yet they violate charity, the great end of both, which mainly strives for edification in truth and love. It is a violent perversion of the commandment to love, to overstretch every point of conscience, or every point of difference, so far as to rend Christian peace and unity. All these names of war, and all these fiery contentions among us, what have they been kindled by if not the lack of charity? What James says of the tongue, I may likewise say of uncharitableness and self-love — they set on fire the course of nature, and they are set on fire of hell.

True zeal and the love of God is a fire that in its own place has a temperate heat, and does not burn or consume what is round about it. But our zeal is like fire that is mixed with some gross material, a preying, devouring, and consuming thing, zeal down in the lower region of man’s heart, where it is mixed with many gross corruptions, which are as oil and fuel to it, and gives it an extreme intemperate destroying nature.

How significant love is

But then consider that this commandment of love is our Lord and Saviour’s last testamentary injunction to His disciples (John 13:34–35). “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

It is Christ’s last will, and it is given us as a token and badge of discipleship. Every profession has its own signs and rules, every order has its own symbol, every rank its own character. Here is the differential or unique character and identification of a Christian — brotherly love. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

I remember a story of a dying father who called his sons to him on his death bed. Having sent for a bundle of arrows, he tested them one by one if they could break them, and when they had all tried this in vain, he caused them to untie the bundle, and take the arrows one by one, and so they were easily broken. By this he gave them to understand that their stability and strength would consist in unity and concord, but if love and charity were broken, they were exposed to great hazard.
I think our Lord and Saviour gives such a precept unto his disciples at his departure out of this world (“A new command I give unto you,” John 13:34) to show them that the perfection of the body, into which they were all called as members, consisted in that bond of charity.

Indeed love is not only a bond or bundle of perfection in respect of graces, but in regard of the church too. It is that bond or tie which knits all the members into one perfect body (Colossians 3:14–16). Without this bond, everything will necessarily be tears, rags, and distractions.

How pleasing love is to God

Truly believing in the Son must be gratifying to God, not only from the general nature of obedience to His will, but also because this does the most honour both to the Father and to the Son. The Father counts Himself much honoured when we honour the Son, and there is no honour the creature can be in a capacity to give Him like this, to cast all our hope and hang all our happiness on Him (John 5:23–24), to set to our seal that He is true and faithful (John 3:33), which is done by believing.

But most of all, it is pleasing in His sight because the Father’s good pleasure centres on the same point as the soul’s good pleasure, that is, on the well beloved Son, Christ. Therefore faith must needs be well pleasing to the Father, for what else is faith but the soul’s delight and satisfaction in the Son. As the Father is already well pleased with His death and sufferings, so He holds him out in the gospel, that you may be as well pleased with Him as He is. This is believing indeed, to be pleased with Him as the Father is pleased, and this pleases the Father too.

Oh that you could understand this! The gospel is not brought to you so that you would reconcile God, and bring about a change in His affection, but instead, to beseech you to be reconciled to God, to take away all hostility out of your heart. This is the business which preachers have to do, to persuade you that the Father holds Himself abundantly contented with His Son. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And to move you to be as well contented with Him as He is, he says, “Hear Him!” “I hear Him for you, now you hear Him for Me! I hear Him interceding for you, now you hear Him beseeching you!”

This serves to take away all ground of suspicions concerning our welcome and acceptance with God. It cannot but be an acceptable and pleasing thing to God, when the affection and desire of your soul falls on and gathers into your bosom with His good pleasure Christ His Son!

How harmonious love is with God’s love

And then, it is well-pleasing to God that we love one another, not only because He sees His own image and likeness in our love (for there is nothing in which the Christian more eminently resembles their Father, or more evidently appears to be a child of the Highest, than in free loving all, especially the household of faith, and forbearing and forgiving one another, and so God cannot choose but like it well), but especially because your love centres on the same objects as His love — these whom the Father so loved that He gave His only begotten Son for them, and the Son so loved them, that He gave Himself for them. If these are your delight, and you show forbearance to them as the Father and the Son has done, that concentration of affections into one point cannot but be pleasing to Him.


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Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy

Shaking Off Spiritual Lethargy
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

You can see it and feel it. Some call it a post-Covid spiritual malaise in the Church: weariness and an exclusive focus on maintenance that leads to inertia. No doubt we feel some of it personally too. How much energy do we have for God and holiness? We don’t want to be superficial in our enthusiasm or activity, but when we look deeper inside us, how much liveliness can we see in our faith these days? Admittedly these are difficult times to be a believer. There are so many things that leave us perplexed and disheartened, and we have so many sins in our own lives to confess. God can seem so distant, as if he is putting us off when we try to approach Him, or turning away from us. But we can hope even in this kind of situation. There is a remedy for our spiritual lethargy.

According to Hugh Binning, challenging times when everything seems so much of a struggle are exactly the circumstances where faith should be prompted to be most active. “At such a time there ought to be all the more exercise of faith, and laying hold of the grounds of consolation in God.”

Challenges in a strange way can even strengthen faith, and certainly they give us ample motivation to keep seeking God until we know we have got through to him. How can we get out of our spiritual inertia? In this updated extract from a sermon on Isaiah 64, Binning tackles the question, When and how are we stirred up to spiritual activity?

1. Difficulties call for strong faith

As difficulties grow, faith should fortify itself against them so much the more. The greater the storm, the quicker faith should flee into the chambers.
Faith in a calm day gets no trial. Faith gets lazy when it does not have much to do. But without fresh and new supplies of grace, faith cannot hold out in a temptation. It is a singular sign of a noble and divine faith that it can lay hold on God and keep him when he makes to go away—that can recognise the kindness of Jesus even when he acts as if he does not know us —that can stand on the ground of the promises when there is not a foot-breadth of a hopeful sign in the circumstances to build on.

2. Difficulties demand a sure faith

The most pressing time for making sure of your part in God is a time when there is no external advantage to beguile you, a time when the only happiness is to be one with God. Therefore, anyone who, in time of calamities and judgments, is not awakened to put their eternal estate out of question, is in a dangerous position.

3. Difficulties call out a focused faith

The Lord loves faith in a difficulty best. Then it is the most single-hearted and focused, and the cleanest. That is the kind which honours him most, and which most glorifies his truth and faithfulness, and sufficiency and mercy. In this way it is most purely elevated above created things, and pitches most fully on God. It is when people say, ‘No help for my soul, but thou art my portion.’ God is most commended when he is set alone. Prosperity brings him down among the creatures, and undisturbed, complacent faith makes little distinction. But awakening faith grips strongly and singly, and puts God alone.

4. Difficulties require special seeking

Often, when God is departing, “none stirreth up himself to lay hold on him.” Although there may be plenty praying, and doing many duties, yet it is nothing beyond the ordinary. The varieties and combinations of new reasons for supplications results neither in greater frequency nor more fervency in our appeals to God.

5. Seek with diligence

There is very little diligence in seeking God, even when God seems to be saying farewell to the land, and going away. Still nobody comes in as an intercessor. They keep on in their old way of praying, and never add to it, come what may. Does anyone rise above their ordinary ways, however high the tide of God’s dispensation rises?

Instead the impression made by God’s change of countenance should make an effect that would be visibly seen on how his people behave. There should be such a distance between your ordinary and such times as between sleeping and waking, that whatever access to God you normally have, you would stir up and go beyond it according as matters call.

Will God count your public fasts a performance of this duty? Unfortunately, we fast sleeping, and no one stirs himself up to these things! Is there any difference between your days of humiliation and any other sabbath? And is there any difference between a sabbath and a weekday, save the external duty?

Is not this palpably our case? Is there any wakening among us? No, complacency is the universal disease and complaint. Do any of you pray more in private than you used to? Or what edge is on your prayers? Alas! It seems like the Lord would readily get leave to go away from us. I am afraid that we would give Christ a testimonial to go away overseas. Hold him, hold him! Many would be gladly quit of him. They cannot abide his yoke, his work is a burden, his word is a torment, his discipline is bands and cords, and what heart can they have to keep Christ? What will you do to him to hold him still? All your entreaties may be fair compliments, but they would never rend his garment.

6. Seek with faith

What the Lord Jesus is doing warns us that it is now high time to stir up faith and lay hold on him. Will conjectures carry you through difficulties? The multitude think they have plenty faith, but any temptation proves their mistake. The most part of Scotland would deny God and his Son Jesus Christ, if they were put to it. This is not a time to linger outside of your stronghold. It is only faith that unites you to Christ, so if you would want to be kept safe in any trial, stir up faith.

7. Seek with prayer

Faith expresses itself in prayer. Consideration of God, and the grounds of confidence in him, must both make prayer acceptable, and carry the stamp of Christ’s name on it. Also it must make much prayer, for when a soul has pitched on God as its only blessedness, and made choice of him, it finds in him all-sufficiency – all things for all things. There is no need, but faith finds a supply in God’s fulness for it, and therefore faith sends us to the fountain, to draw out of the wells of salvation. Nothing can be so sweet and refreshing as for such a soul to pour out itself every day in him, to talk with him face to face. Faith engages the heart to come to God with all things, whereas the complacent soul or the unsettled heart would have gone for help in as many different ways as there are different difficulties. Faith lays hold on God, Faith knows but one God, and brings all problems here.

And again, how can prayer be acceptable as long as faith is not its principle? It is only like an animal groaning under a burden. Laying hold on God himself makes our duties acceptable, because we speak and ask believing that we shall receive. We trust God and do not tempt him. The oil of the wheels is affection, or heart-activity, but if lively faith is not entertained there cannot be much affection. In bitterness of spirit there may be much vehemence, but that is not a pure flame of divine love that burns upward to him. It is soon extinguished, and lasts no longer than a fleeting emotion, and then the soul grows harder, like iron that has been in the fire.
When there is not much prayer, faith cannot be strong and violent, for prayer is the exercise of faith. If your prayers wear out, faith will go rusty. There may be much quietness with little prayer, but there cannot be much, with strong and lively faith, for where faith does not get continual employment it flags.

Prayer is a special point of holding God fast, and keeping him. Therefore join prayer with diligence and faith, if you want to thrive in any one of them. Your unbelieving complaints are not prayers and calling on his name, because they are not mixed with faith.

8. Seek to lay hold of God

If it seems that God is angry, then we must lay hold on him. We ought to hold on to a departing Lord, by wrestling with him in supplication, and not let him depart till he blesses. The prophet Hosea makes this application of Jacob’s victory over the angel: “Turn ye to the Lord, and wait on him,” (Hosea 12:3-6).

When the circumstances seem to tell us, “The Lord has gone,” and when our condition seems to say, “He is gone, or going,” then we ought to wrestle against it. Let there be no submission to such a departing! I mean, no submission that sits down content with it, and does not care how things will turn out.

If only you would realise that the Lord is only seeking employment, and if you would only deal with him, you would turn both the present calamities and future calamities to good opportunity.
It is God himself who should be your principal target. Praying should be laying hold on God – it should meet with himself. Most of the time, when things are going well, we are not able to meet with God solely, because we have so much to do with created things. We are so punctual in our dealings with created things that we cannot keep close to God. We have so many things in our affections and thoughts, that God cannot get a place. In the throng of our busyness God cannot get us at leisure. So we lose God by catching at shadows.

Well then, we are called in a time of difficulty to come in to God himself, to draw aside the veil of ordinances so that we may have communion with God himself. And this is right praying, when the soul gets such direct access to God, as it were, to handle him, and see him, and taste him, to exercise its senses on him.

Ordinances have been for a long time covering his face, as he does not now much unveil himself in the sanctuary, to let us see his glory. God has departed from preaching and praying, so that we do not meet with God. Instead we lay hold on the shadow of an outward ordinance, but not on God himself. Therefore, Christians, take advantage of this time! You cannot count on always having the ordinances. Lay hold therefore on himself who is the substance and marrow of them. You may be denuded of outward comforts and accommodation here. Lay hold therefore on himself in much prayer. If affliction would only blow away the cloud over his face, or scatter our idols from us, and make us single alone with God, as Jacob was, it would be worth it.
Take hold on God by faith. If you want to make peace with God, be much in direct acts of grasping hold of God himself in Jesus Christ. Travel continually between your own need and something in God that corresponds to it.


It may seem counter-intuitive, but if God is warning us that he is leaving us, that itself is a hopeful sign, because it means there is still opportunity for us to hold on to him and hold him back. “He made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us… And he went in to tarry with them” (Luke 24:28-29).





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What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?

What is Christian Watchfulness?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

At times governments issue the stark warning to “stay vigilant” concerning some threat. Other groups remind us of the ever present potential for abuse of power and the slogan “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Vigilance is watchfulness and the Scriptures warn us repeatedly of the need to stay awake to spiritual dangers (1 Peter 5:8; Mark 13:37; Acts 20:31). We neglect it at our peril (1 Corinthians 16:13–14). People who are watchful know there a present danger that threatens something valuable. But it is not merely a negative duty it has positive implications for us also. How then are we to be watchful?

The world and the evil one are powerful enemies that assail us but part of the difficulty is that the dangers are not only from outside of us. We have hearts that we need to keep a watch over because they are ready to deceive us through sin (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 26:41; Galatians 6:1; 2 John 8). We need not just self-examination that monitors our spiritual vitality, we also require prayer (Colossians 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:7). But in it all we need to be looking to Jesus and have a watchfulness for every way in which we may serve Him and be like Him (Colossians 3:1–2; Hebrews 12:2). Hugh Binning explains in the following updated extract what watchfulness is and how it is a duty for all of us.

1. Watchfulness is for Everyone

A Christian should watch. A Christian is a watchman by office. This duty of watchfulness is frequently commanded and commended in Scripture (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter 5:8; Colossians 4:2; Luke 12:37). David waited as those that watch for the morning light (Psalm 130:6). The ministers of the gospel are described as watchmen in Scripture and every Christian should be to themselves as a minister is to his flock, they should watch over themselves. This implies the Christian’s condition in this world and expresses their activity in it.

2. Watchfulness Implies Warfare

Watching is a military posture and indicates the Christian’s situation in this world. They are encompassed about with enemies, and therefore must be a soldier (2 Timothy 2:3). The Christian has a warfare to accomplish in this world, and therefore the church here is militant, and in heaven triumphant (1 Timothy 1:18). Every Christian should war a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.

Christ has drawn battle and appointed warfare to all His followers. In the strength of their past victory in Him, they may be made more than conquerors so that there may be a perpetual song of triumph and victory in heaven. He has made the saints strong and has made the strong weak.

The Christian’s heart and grace are like a besieged city blocked up on every side. There are enemies without and false friends within. Its enemy is great principalities and powers etc. (Ephesians 6:12) and these go around continually to look for a breach. All the things of the world besiege the heart and every sense is a gate to let the enemy in. All our dealings and trading in the world are as dangerous as inviting the countryside around a town to a public market within it when the enemy is surrounding it.

There is a desperately wicked heart within, that has deceived many thousands, and would surrender the city upon any occasion. There are fleshly lusts which war against the soul, (1 Peter 2:11) temptation to sin and unbelief. There is a heart within that can conceive and bring forth sin, and does not need any temptation, a heart within that can seduce temptation itself. When a foreign power is added to all this, who can stand? Christ Himself was tempted, but Satan found nothing in Him, and had nothing in Him, but when Satan comes, he finds everything in us, and we are like gunpowder to the flame. We can even tempt ourselves as well as be tempted by another.

3. Watchfulness is the Opposite of Sleeping

The Christian keeps a house that the enemy surrounds, and if they sleep the foe will enter. The Christian is a pilgrim here and not yet come home. They have to proceed through a dirty and dangerous way. The Christian is like a servant that left with appropriate provision by his master (who will come home when he pleases, Mark 13:33; Matthew 24:32). But woe to him if his master finds him sleeping. What then should his activity and posture be? He should be a watchman.

Watching is the opposite of complacency and sleeping. The Christian must keep their eyes open, or else they are gone. They must be vigilant or else the devil will attack them (1 Peter 5:8). The sluggard’s destruction comes as an armed man, because of his “little sleep” and slumber (Proverbs 6:10 and Proverbs 20:13). Complacency is the Christian’s night when they cease from their labour and the adversary does as he pleases with them. But the Christian is in a better condition when they are wrestling with temptation and getting heavy blows. When they are at peace and dwell securely (like the people of Laish, Judges 18:7) they are not troubled with anything but are in a dreamy state, but that is a condition of decay.

4. Watchfulness Requires Being Observant

To watch, is to observe everything (1 Samuel 4:13; Luke 6:7). This is a watchman’s special duty, to let nothing pass by them without observation. Whatever comes in they ask where it has come from and where it is going. The heart is a highway that everything travels along. If the Christian does not exactly know what comes in and what its purpose, they may be overcome before they are aware. They Christian should observe all the movements of the enemy and be well acquainted with all the subtleties of temptations. They must know their own spirit and thoughts and observe all the Lord’s dealings with his spirit. They must be concerned to know what is an enemy or friend. Therefore, the Christian should get up on the watchtower of the Word, and look through the telescope of faith round about them, that they may know what their spiritual condition is.

5. Watchfulness Requires Giving Warning

The watchman gives warning while it is timely and the enemy is far off. He raises the alarm so that everything is in readiness. This is how you ought to be. Come to Jesus Christ with all that you observe, inform the Captain of your salvation whose soldiers you are. It is best dealing with temptation far off, and resisting the first movements of sin because when it comes near it gets many friends within. They watchman’s duty is not to give his judgment of what he sees but only to report it. Do not sit down to pass sentence on whether anything is good or evil, sin or not, but come to Jesus and let Him speak. Often we reason according to flesh and blood.

6. Watchfulness Requires Constancy

There must be no interruption in this watching. The Christian must give diligent heed to it (Mark 13:33; 1 Thessalonians 5:6). It is a very laborious activity for a Christian to watch, all their senses are exercised. They must look up steadfastly, they must stand, and when they have done all they can, still stand. When the Christ has overcome they must continue to watch, lest they enter into temptation. They are in greater danger after victory than before (Ezra 6:13). They must watch when they have come out of one temptation lest they enter into another. Armies often get their greatest disadvantage after they have some victory, when they were at ease. Therefore, we ought to give all diligence, and not love sleep, lest we come into poverty.


From what has been said we see how few are in a warlike posture against Satan. Many serve under Satan’s flag and the strong man keeps the house. They do not watch against him but for him; they fight for him, and not against him. Many even watch for their sin, how to achieve it. Many seek every advantage to get their own heart’s desires, they watch against God’s Word, to keep off conviction. These are the children of darkness, in whom the devil reigns.

We also observe from this that even the children of God are seldom found watching. There is much woeful complacency among them. Who of you walks as if you were among enemies? You walk as if you were in a peaceful city without any gates, like the people of Laish who dwelt securely (Judges 18:7). You have no friend in all the world, and yet what fearful negligence and sleeping there is among you. The flesh is so weak that you cannot watch even one hour for Christ. And the neglect of one hour’s watching has brought down many strong ones. This made such a breach on David that could hardly be repaired ever again.



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How Do We Rebuild Trust Again?

How Do We Rebuild Trust Again?

How Do We Rebuild Trust Again?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

Trust is critical to the wellbeing and functioning of society, but it is haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. An annual global survey that serves as a barometer of trust indicates that distrust in government and media (including social media) continues to plummet. Almost two-thirds of people are inclined to distrust organizations and societal leaders. It is now the default emotion with a growing cycle of distrust that “threatens societal stability.” The danger comes when leaders try to build trust with one group by undermining trust in another. Edelman, who released the report this week, say that trust “should be at the top of everyone’s agenda in 2022.” They recognise the need to “rebuild that essential foundation of modern living: Trust” but it is difficult to identify solutions. Of course, distrust has entered the life of the church to a greater extent too leading to damaged relationships. But surely, we have biblical wisdom and divine resources for rebuilding trust? Indeed we do although that still does not render it easy from our perspective.

Clearly trust must be built on truth, truthfulness, accountability and openness. Truth is not merely an abstract principle that we defend at all costs with all the arguments at our disposal, it also means a shared understanding rather than misunderstanding and misrepresentation. Loving our neighbour as ourselves requires us to avoid this and therefore is a key element of loving the truth. It means helping them to come to a right understanding rather than seeing them as opponents.

All too often we think more about what others must do to earn our trust than what we must do to earn theirs. What do we need to be trustworthy? Love in all its dimensions.

This is what we learn from 1 Corinthians 13 where in comparison with other graces we are told “the greatest of these is charity.” Hugh Binning comments that we can easily be self-satisfied and think we have attained much in the life of Christianity without seeking “to be acquainted with this in which the life of Christianity consists, without which faith is dead, our profession vain, our other duties and endeavours for the truth unacceptable to God and men.” Paul shows “a more excellent way,” (1 Corinthians 12:31) – this love is more excellent than gifts, speaking with tongues, prophesying etc.

And is it not more excellent than the knowledge and acknowledgment of some present questionable matters, about governments, treaties, and such like, and far more than every punctilio of them? But he goes higher. Suppose a man could spend all his substance upon the maintenance of such an opinion, and give his life for the defence of it, though in itself it be commendable, yet if he want [lack] charity and love to his brethren, if he overstretch that point of conscience to the breach of Christian affection, and duties flowing from it, it profits him nothing.

As Binning shows, this love must have the governing influence over all our actions and gifts and in giving vent to all our opinions. Whatever knowledge and abilities we have, it must be charity and love that make use of them.

Without this, duties and graces make a noise, but they are shallow and empty within. Now he shows the sweet properties of it, and good effects of it, how universal an influence it hath on all things, but especially how necessary it is to keep the unity of the church.

If trust has degenerated within society and the church it is everyone’s duty and responsibility to rebuild it. How can we do that? The more trustworthy we are and the more we display trust for others the more it can be rebuilt within our sphere of responsibility and activity. And the way that we do this is governed by love as shown in 1 Corinthians 13 as helpfully expounded by Hugh Binning in the following updated extract. It tells us much about always hoping, believing This is the way to display trust and to be trustworthy.

1. Be Longsuffering

Charity “is kind” and longsuffering. There is indeed no great, truly great, mind except that which is patient and long suffering. It is a great weakness to be soon angry. Such a spirit does not have the rule over itself but is in bondage to its own lust (Proverbs 16:32). Much of this affection of love overrules passion. There is a greatness and height in it, to love them that do not deserve good from us, to be kind to the unfaithful, not to be easily provoked, and not soon troubled. A fool’s wrath is soon known. It is a folly and weakness of spirit, which love, much love cures and amends. It suffers much unkindness, and long suffers it, and yet can be kind.

2. Be Content

Love does not envy. Envy is the seed of all contention, and self-love brings it forth. When everyone desires to be esteemed chief, and would have pre-eminence among others, their ways must interfere with one another. It is this that makes discord. Every man would decrease the estimation others enjoy so that he may add to his own. None lives content with his own lot or station, and it is aspiring beyond that which puts all the wheels out of course. I believe this is the root of many contentions among Christians—the perception of slighting, disrespect, and such like, kindles the flame of difference, and heightens the least offence to an unpardonable injury. But charity does not envy where it may lie quietly low. Though it is under the feet of others, and beneath its own due place, yet it does not envy but is contented to be there. Suppose it is slighted and despised, yet it does not make much of that because it is lowly in mind.

3. Be Humble

“Charity is not puffed up.” If charity has gifts and graces beyond others, it restrains itself, with the bridle of modesty and humility, from vaunting or boasting, or anything in its conduct that may savour of conceit. Pride is a self-admirer, and despises others, and to please itself it does not care how it displeases others. There is nothing so unsuitable in human or Christian society, so apt to alienate the affections of others. The more we take our own affection to ourselves, the less we will have from others. Romans 12:10, 16 contains golden rules of Christian walking! O if only there was a seemly strife among Christians, each seeking to go beyond another in unfeigned love, and in lowliness of mind, each to esteem another better than himself! (Philippians 2:3). Knowledge puffs up but charity edifies (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowledge is a mere swelling and tumour of the mind, but love is solid piety and real religion.

4. Be Seemly

Charity does nothing which is unseemly (1 Corinthians 13:5). Vanity and swelling of mind will certainly break forth into some unseemly conduct such as vain estimation, and such like, but charity keeps a sweet decorum in all its conduct, so as not to provoke and irritate others, nor yet to expose itself to contempt or mockery. Or the word may be taken thus, it is not fastidious. It does not account itself disgraced and abused to descend to those in a lower position. It can with its Master bow down to wash a disciple’s feet and not think it unseemly. Whatever it submits to in terms of doing or suffering, it is not ashamed of it as if it were not suitable.

5. Be Self-Denied

Self-denial and true love are inseparable: charity does not seek here own. Self-love monopolises everything to suit its own interests. This is most opposite to Christian affection and communion, which puts everything into one bank. If every one of the members would seek its own things, and not the good of the whole body, what a miserable disease it would cause in the body. We are called into one body in Christ, and therefore we should look not on our own things only, but everyone on the things of others also (Philippians 2:4). There are the public interests of saints, mutual edification in faith and love, which charity will prefer to its own private interest. Addictedness to our own apprehension, and too much self-overweening and self-pleasing is the great enemy of the particular place to which we are called into one body. Since one Spirit informs and enlivens all the members, what an unnatural deformity it is for one member to seek its own things, and attend to its own private interest only, as if it were a distinct body!

6. Be Calm

Charity “is not easily provoked.” This is the straight and solid firmness of it, that it is not soon moved with external impressions. It is long suffering; it suffers long and much. It will not be shaken by violent and weighty pressures of injuries, where there is much provocation given, yet it is not provoked. It is not easily provoked at light offences. It is strange how such a little spark of injuries sets everything aflame because our spirits are like gunpowder—so capable of combustion through corruption. How ridiculous, for the most part, are the causes of our wrath! We are strongly moved for light things and sadly for ridiculous things too. We are like children who fall out among themselves over toys and trifling things. Or like beasts provoked by the mere appearance of a colour, such as red or such like. We would save ourselves much trouble if we could stop and judge things before we allow ourselves to be provoked.

Charity has a more solid foundation. It dwells in God, for God is love, and so is truly great, truly high, and looks down with a steadfast countenance on these lower things. The upper world is continually calm and serene. There are no clouds, tempests or winds there, nothing to disturb the harmonious and uniform motion. But this lower world is troubled and tossed with tempests, and obscured with clouds. Thus, a soul dwelling in God by love, is exalted above the cloudy region. He is calm, quiet, serene, and is not disturbed or interrupted in his motion of love to God or men.

7. Be Charitable

Charity is apt to take all things in the best sense, it thinks no evil. If a thing may be understood in a variety of ways, it can put the best construction on it. It is so benign and good in its own nature that it is not inclined to suspect others. It desires to condemn no one, but would gladly, as far as reason and conscience will permit, absolve everyone. It is so far from desiring revenge, that it is not provoked or troubled with an injury. That would be nothing else except wronging itself because others have wronged it already. It is so far from wronging others, that it will not willingly so much as think evil of them. Yet if necessary, charity can execute justice and inflict chastisement, not out of desire for another’s misery, but out of love and compassion. It looks more to preventing future sin, than to punish a past fault. It can do everything without any discomposure of spirit just like a surgeon can cut a vein without anger.

8. Be Holy

Charity is not defiled in itself, though it descends to all. Though it can love and wish well to evil men, yet it does not rejoice in iniquity. It is like the sun’s light that shines on a dunghill, and is not defiled and receives no tincture from it. Some wicked spirits find sport in doing harm to themselves, and take pleasure in others that do it. But charity rejoices in no iniquity or injustice, even though it were done to its own enemy. It cannot take pleasure in the unjust sufferings of any who hate it, because it has no enemy except sin and iniquity and hates nothing else with a perfect hatred. Therefore, whatever advantage it could have arising from other men’s iniquities, it cannot rejoice that iniquity, its chief enemy, should reign and prevail.

But it rejoices in the truth. Its pleasure is in the advancement and progress of others in the way of truth and holiness. Even if this would eclipse its own glory it does not looks on it with an evil eye. If it can find out any good in its enemies, it is not grieved to find and know it, but can rejoice at anything which may give grounds for putting a good construction on them. There is nothing more beautiful in its eyes than to see everyone get their own due, even though it alone is disadvantaged.

9. Be Supportive

By nature, we cannot bear anything patiently. But charity is accustomed to the yoke—to the yoke of reproaches and injuries from others and to bear a burden of the infirmities and failings of others. We all want to be carried on the shoulders of others but not to put our own shoulders under the burden of other people according to that royal law of Christ (Romans 15:1; Galatians 6:2) that is unquestionably the law of love.

10. Be Trusting

Our nature is malignant and wicked, and therefore most suspicious and jealous, and apt to take everything in the worst light. But charity has much candour and humanity and can believe well of everyone. It believes all things as far as truth will permit. It knows that grace can go alongside someone’s sins. It knows that it itself is subject to similar infirmities. Therefore, it is not a rigid and censorious judger; it allows as much latitude to others as it would desire of others. It is true it is not blind and ignorant. It is judicious, and hath eyes that can discern between colours. It believes all things that are believable and hopes all things that are hopeful. If love does not have sufficient proof she believes there are some probabilities for as well as against. The weight of charity inclines to the best and hope. Yet having been deceived sometimes she has good reason to be watchful and wise (Proverbs 14:15).

If charity cannot have grounds for believing any good, yet it still hopes. It is patient and gentle, waiting on all if God may “give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” (2 Timothy 2:25). Charity would account it both atheism and blasphemy to say such a man cannot, will not find mercy. But to pronounce that such have often had the approval of the consciences and hearts of all will never find mercy and have no grace, because of some failings in practice and differences from us is not sobriety but madness. It is certainly love and indulgence to ourselves, that make us aggravate other men’s faults to such a height.

Self-love looks on other men’s failings through a magnifying glass, but she puts her own faults behind her back. Self-love he can suffer much in herself but nothing in others, and certainly much self-forbearance and indulgence can spare little for others. But charity is just contrary. She is most rigid on her own behalf, will not pardon herself easily, knows no revenge but the self-revenge spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11, and has no indignation except against herself. She can spare much forbearance for others, and has little or nothing of indignation left to consume on others.

…here we know but darkly and in part, and therefore our knowledge, at best, is but obscure … ofttimes subject to many mistakes and misapprehensions of truth…And therefore there must be some latitude of love allowed one to another in this state of imperfection, else it is impossible to keep unity, and we must conflict often with our own shadows, and bite and devour one another for some deceiving appearances. The imperfection and obscurity of knowledge should make all men jealous of themselves, especially in matters of a doubtful nature, and not so clearly determined by Scripture. Because our knowledge is weak, shall our love be so?


If it can be said that society depends on trust, then surely trust depends on a charitable spirit. Binning says that there is no better friend and nothing more useful to secular and Christian society than this love or charity. Its benefits extend to everything. It never fails, it is permanent and durable, remaining when all other things go. When everything else vanishes it will abide, and then receive its consummation. “We might have heaven upon earth as far as is possible if we dwelt in love, and love dwelt in and possessed our hearts…there is nothing makes a man so heaven-like or God like as this, much love and charity.” If want to rebuild trust, relationships and indeed anything we need to start and continue here.



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Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises

Prayer That Turns All God’s Precepts Into Promises
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

We are naturally more drawn to the promises of Scripture than the commandments. Our prayers make use of the promises as strong arguments. But as many have noticed down through the centuries one aspect of the harmony of Scripture is that the same truth is sometimes expressed as a precept, other times as a promise and elsewhere as a prayer. There is a command to obey, an offer of help to obey it and a request for help. This threefold cord is very helpful in prayer that depends on the promises. It helps us to avoid setting up a conflict between what God requires and what He promises by showing us how grace and divine help connect the three. If we lack wisdom for instance, we may connect the command of Proverbs 4:7 with the promise of James 1:5 and the prayer of 2 Chronicles 1:10.  Scripture is full of this. We will always find a promise that matches the precept and prayer that is based on both. Hugh Binning explains this beautiful arrangement further in the following updated extract.


All things in Christianity have a close conjunction. It is such an absolutely complete thing that if one link is loosed the whole chain falls to the ground, and if one is well fastened on the heart, it brings all along with it. All parts of religion are so closely conjoined together that they may mutually enforce one another.

Precepts and promises are thus linked together, that if any soul lays hold, indeed, on any promise of grace, they draw along with it the obligation of some precept to walk in a way suitable to such precious promises. There is no encouragement you can indeed fasten on which will not join you as closely to the commandment. And there is no consolation in the gospel, that does not carry within itself an exhortation to holy walking. Again, on the other hand, any precept should lead you immediately to a promise. And any exhortation is surrounded before and behind with a strong consolation, to make it pierce the deeper and go down the sweeter.

It is usual for the Lord in His word to turn His precepts into promises. This shows us that the commandments of God do not so much imply an ability in us or suppose strength to fulfil them as declare that obligation which lies on us and His purpose and intention to accomplish in some, what He requires of all. We should therefore accordingly convert all His precepts into prayers seeing He has made them promises. This gives us grounds, as it were, to return his commands by way of requests and supplications. In Scripture He has often made His command a promise. It is then in the nearest capacity to be turned into the form of a supplication.




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What is the Best Possible Life?

What is the Best Possible Life?

What is the Best Possible Life?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

Many have over the centuries sought both to define and pursue the best possible life. They understood that we cannot define the best possible life without defining the best possible purpose for all our actions. What is the highest principle for living and acting? It must be the highest or ultimate good; something that provides both purpose and morality. For many, this is themselves or other people. Or they might make it a principle like personal freedom or happiness and aim to achieve this for the greatest number. It is an important question because if we are wrong concerning it, we are not living the best possible life and cannot have true happiness. Surely it stands to reason that the highest good must be the best good, it must transcend cultures and time periods. It must be unchangeable and abiding, something that will not come to an end. When we put it like that, God and God alone must the highest good. But what does it mean to pursue God?​

Hugh Binning pondered this question deeply from Scripture and in the following updated extract, we have the fruit of that study. It combines extracts from a sermon that he preached on Psalm 73:28 and a lecture on the theme of union and communion with God as the great ultimate purpose of the gospel.

1. The Best Possible Life Eludes Many

Everyone seeks happiness and wellbeing. Whatever they pursue is sought because it is deemed to be good in itself or helps to attain that which may be called good. But the great misery is, that there is so much ignorance and misconception concerning that which is truly good. Even when anything of what is good is known, there is so little serious consideration and application of it to ourselves. This makes most people wander in pursuit of various things which are not the true good of the soul. They set their hearts on that which is nothing until they find their hearts fall down as a building that lacks a foundation and then they turn again to some other vanity. Thus, the wanderings of men are infinite because the byways are innumerable, even though there is only one true way.

The turnings and toiling of one person are many because they quickly lose the scent of happiness in every way they fall into and therefore must turn to another. They never set about this great business in a solid way and are never resolute about where this happiness can be found and seek it urgently there. Rather, they fluctuate between uncertain apprehensions and various desires.

2. The Best Possible Life is not in the things of this World

Let us thus set aside all other things which are the pursuits and endeavours of most people. Their natural desires are towards health, food, clothing, life and liberty, peace, and such like, but the more rational sort seek after some shadow of wisdom and virtue. Most have excessive unlimited desires towards riches, pleasure, promotion, and all that we have spoken is enclosed within the narrow compass of men’s abode here, which is but for a moment.

Even if it were possible that anyone could enjoy all these desires and delights for the space of a hundred years with everything contributing to his personal satisfaction, within a few years death must close his life, peace, health, and all. His poor soul that was drowned in that gulf of pleasure, shall then find itself robbed of its precious treasure, God’s favour. And so, it shall remain in everlasting banishment from His presence. Do you think, such a man was happy? No, Lazarus is happy, who is now blessed in Abraham’s bosom, who enjoys an eternity of happiness for a moment’s misery! (Luke 16:25) But you know that it is not even possible in this life to attain to the imagined happiness we described. All the gain found is not able to recompense the cost and expense of grief, vexation, care, toiling and sweating concerning them.

3. The Best Possible Life is Our Greatest Concern

This is the great business we have to do here in this world. We must know where the true wellbeing and eternal welfare of our souls are to be found and by all means apply ourselves to that as the only thing necessary, in comparison of which all other things are indifferent.

Perhaps you have never yet asked in earnest why you came into the world. No wonder you wander and walk randomly, seeing you have not settled on any certain aim. You would not be so foolish in any lesser business, but O how foolish people are in the main business.

4. The Best Possible Life is God-centred

The right consideration of the great purpose of enjoying God would shine on you and direct your way. But while you have not set this purpose before you—the enjoyment of God—you must spend your time either in doing nothing towards that purpose or in doing contrary to it. All your other lawful business, callings, and occupations are only by the by. They are not the end nor the means. Yet you make them your only business even though they are entirely irrelevant to it.

If you do not often draw near God by prayer (in secret and by faith in His Son Christ) as lost miserable sinners to be saved and reconciled by Him, do not be deceived. You have no fellowship with Him, and you will not enjoy Him afterwards. You cannot say that have no one else on earth besides God because you do have many other things besides God. You can have nothing of God unless you make Him everything to you—unless you have Him alone.

Those souls that come to Him and see their misery without Him know how good it is to do so. It is not only good but best, indeed it is the only good. “None is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19) and there is nothing good for us but this one thing, to be near God. So near, indeed, that we may be one—one spirit with the Lord—“for he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). Let all your meditations, affections and conduct proclaim that you have none in heaven but God and none on the earth that you desire besides Him. He will certainly guide you to the end and receive you into glory. Then you will rest from your labours because you will dwell in Him, and enjoy that which you longed and laboured for.

The Psalmist says, “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Psalm 73:28). He is so resolved on this that if no-one else in the world was of the same mind, he would not change. Though everyone else would walk in other ways, he would choose to be alone in this rather than be in the greatest crowd.

5. The Best Possible Life Brings True Happiness

The Psalmist says, “It is good for me to draw near to God”. These words are the holy resolution of a holy heart, concerning that which is the highest good. You see the way to happiness, and you find the particular application of that to his soul, or of his soul to it.

It is a matter of great consolation that God’s glory and our happiness are linked together, so that whoever sets His glory before them as their single aim are taking the fullest and most certain way to true blessedness. God’s glory is our ultimate purpose of man. But our happiness—which consists in the enjoyment of God—is subordinate to this, yet inseparable from it.

We were created for the purpose of communion and fellowship with God. This is why man was made with an immortal soul which was capable of this, and this is our greatest dignity and eminence above the creatures. Adam had some characteristics resembling God impressed on him by God’s finger in His first moulding him in righteousness and holiness. He was also created with a capacity of receiving more from God by communion with Him. Other creatures already have all they will have and all they can have. But Adam was made better to aspire to greater likeness and conformity to God, so that his soul may shine more and more to the perfect day.

6. The Best Possible Life Restores the Blessings Lost in the Fall

But we must pause a little here and consider our misery in having fallen from such excellence. Sin has interposed between God and man and this dissolves the union and hinders the communion. An enemy has come between two friends and put them at odds, an eternal odds. Sin has sown this discord and alienated our hearts from God. Man’s glory consisted in the irradiation of the soul from God’s shining countenance. But sin interposing has eclipsed that light and brought an eternal night of darkness over the soul. No beams of divine favour and love can now break through directly towards us, because of the cloud of our sins that separates between God and us.

What will we do? How will we see His face in joy? Certainly, it would have been altogether impossible, if our Lord Jesus Christ had not come, who is “the light and life of men.” The Father shines on Him, and the beams of His love reflect upon us, from the Son. We are rebels standing at a distance from God, Christ comes between, a mediator and a peacemaker, to reconcile us to God. “God is in Christ reconciling the world.” God first makes a union of natures with Christ, and so He comes near to us, down to us who could not come up to Him, and then He sends out the word of reconciliation—the gospel (1 John 1:3). It is a voice of peace and invitation to the fellowship of God. Behold, then the happiness of man is the very end and purpose of the gospel.

Thus, the union is begun again in Christ, but as long as sin dwells in our mortal bodies it is not perfect, there is always some separation and some enmity in our hearts. But this is begun which is the seed of eternal communion, we are here partakers of the divine nature. It must aspire to a more perfect union with God. A believing soul looks upon God as its only portion—accounts nothing misery but to be separated from Him, and nothing blessedness but to be one with Him (Psalm 73:26).

It is true, indeed, that our heart and flesh often fail us and we become ignorant and brutish (Psalm 73:22 and 26). Our affections cleave to the earth and temptations with their violence turn our souls towards things other than God. Temptations and the corruptions of our hearts disturb our spirits easily and draw then away from the Lord towards any other thing. But yet we continue with Him and He keeps us with His right hand; we may fall, but we shall rise again. He is “the strength of our heart,” (Psalm 73:26) and therefore He will turn our heart around again and fix it on its own portion. Our union here consists more in His holding us by His power, than our taking hold of Him by faith. Power and goodwill encamp about both faith and the soul.

7. The Best Possible Life Has the Best Blessings

God has made the life of religion attainable by His gracious promises. This is a blessed life, in approaching near to Himself, the fountain of all life. And this is a certain good, a universal good, and an eternal good.

(a) It is a certain good. It will not disappoint you as other things do. It is as certain that the soul that truly seeks this in God cannot be disappointed, as that He is faithful.

(b) It is a universal good. It includes everything because it is joined to the infinite all fulness of God. This advances the soul to participate in all that is in Him. This is health, (Psalm 42:11; Proverbs 3:8). This is light (John 8:12). It is life (John 11:25); liberty (John 8:36); food and raiment (Isaiah 61:10 and John 4:14). It is profit, pleasure, promotion in a superlative degree, all combined in one. It is the true good of both soul and body, and so the only good of a person.

(c) It is an eternal good. It will last as long as your soul lasts. Of all other things it may be said, “I have seen an end of them,” they were and are not”. But this will outlast time and all its changes. It will begin to be perfect when all perfection is at an end.

Ponder these things in your hearts and consider them concerning your own souls, so that you may say, “It is good for me to draw near to God.”

Friends delight in one another and enjoy one another. Love opens the treasure of God’s fulness and makes a vent of divine bounty towards man, and it opens the heart of man and makes it large as the sand of the sea to receive from God. Our receiving from His fulness is all we can give Him. O what blessedness is this, for a soul to live in Him! And it lives in Him when it loves Him. And to taste of His sweetness and be satisfied with Him, this makes perfect oneness, and perfect oneness with God, who is “the fountain of life”, and in whose favour is life, is perfect blessedness.

8. The Best Possible Life Cannot be Rejected without the Greatest Harm

How lamentable it is that Christ came to restore us to our lost blessedness and yet almost no one considers it or lays it to heart. O how miserable, —twice miserable—is that soul that does not draw near to God in Christ, when God has come so near to us in Christ. What greater evil can be imagined than separation from the greatest good? And what greater good, than having access to the greatest good? Everything is happy and well, in so far as it is joined with and enjoys that it needs. Light is the perfection of the earth, remove it, and what a disconsolate and unpleasant thing it is! There is nothing necessary to the immortal spirit of man but God and, therefore, all its happiness or misery must be measured by the nearness or distance of this infinite goodness.

We are infinitely bound by creation, by many other bonds stronger than wedlock. We are bound to consecrate and devote ourselves wholly to God, but this is treacherously broken when we depart from Him. Everyone turns aside to vanity and lies and is guilty of heart adultery from God, and spiritual idolatry, because the affection that should be preserved chaste for Him is prostituted to every base object (Psalm 73:27). This is inevitably followed by the soul being divorced from God forever, an eternal eclipse of true and real life and comfort. Whoever draws back from the fountain of life and salvation inevitably finds perdition and destruction elsewhere (Hebrews 10:39).



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What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?

What Can We Learn from Unprecedented Uncertainty?
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.

Uncertainty is nothing new but the coronavirus crisis has taken this to more extreme levels. There is even a degree of uncertainty about facts, numbers, transmission, symptoms and science. No doubt there may be times and places that have experienced more uncertainty but for many this is at a new level. Disruption and uncertainty have impacted most aspects of most people’s lives. All these unknowns are personal as well as social and economic. We do not know how long the impact of the crisis will last and this creates fear and anxiety. How should we respond? Some want to respond by promising some element of certainty, but it soon wears thin. Who can say with great confidence what will happen or when? In truth, very little about our lives is constant or entirely certain and we must come to terms with that. This can teach us a great deal if we consider it through the teaching of Scripture.

There is an argument that uncertainty is a good thing. It is the need to resolve things that makes us seek to advance our knowledge and make progress in science and other areas. We can also learn much practically and spiritually from uncertainty in seeking to walk humbly with God. Hugh Binning opens up the nature of uncertainty in expounding Proverbs 27:1. We cannot boast of what we will do or achieve tomorrow because we do not know what even a day may bring forth. In this updated extract he shows what uncertainty can teach us.

1. Uncertainty is Natural

Tomorrow is the narrow sphere of poor man’s comprehension. All he can attain is to provide for the present. It is not present properly speaking because, in comparison with eternity it is cut off as soon as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye. Even if we could see the end of time, it would be merely close up and indistinct, like something right in front of our eye.
These, then, are the two great ruins of human nature. We have degenerated from God to created things and seek our joy and rest in them. Yet there is nothing in them but the contrary—vexation. We have also fallen from apprehending eternity, and our poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time.

All our wise management is to provide some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few tomorrows. After this, though an endless tomorrow ensues, man does not perceive it or provide for it. All his glorying and boasting is only on some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come.

The wise man leaves us this counsel, not to boast of tomorrow. It is supported with a strong argument taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all the outward things in which men imagine an eternity of joy and partly from the ignorance we have of future events. We do not know what a day may bring forth.

2. Uncertainty Humbles Us

Boasting is such a predominant evil among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. Of all boastings, the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from the presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.

No one’s present possession satisfies them, without some additional hope and expectation for the future. The poverty of the human spirit and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here are apparent in this, that they will not make the heart content. Present possession does not fill up the vacuum of the heart without imagining possessing more in the future. The insatiable human heart cannot rest satisfied in its joy (without some future hopes and expectations) even if the whole world were in its possession.

The soul anticipates and forestalls tomorrow and borrows present joy from future anticipation. Yet when it comes, perhaps it will not compensate the expectation (see Job 11:18, 20; Job 8:13). Hope is like a house to them, but to many, it is no better than a spider’s web. Here then is a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much on outward things and allow their affections to be shaped by the great variety of outward things and events.

There is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions about that which we cannot choose, as most future things are. What will happen tomorrow, what outcome will my projects and plans have? This is not under my control, these depend on other people’s wills, purposes, and actions. They are not in my power. Either to boast or be anxious about things that depend on so many causes not under my control and things I cannot prevent is both unbelieving and unreasonable (Matthew 6:25). Such anxiety and boasting can neither prevent evil nor procure good.

Only the present is in our power. We are dead to yesterday already, for it is past and cannot return; it is as it was buried in the grave of oblivion. We are not yet born to tomorrow, for it has not come to the light, and we do not know if it ever will come. There is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. Though we remember the past, it, our knowledge of it is not practical. It cannot be changed or reformed. The future is not born to us and is to us as if we were not born to it either.

3. Uncertainty is All that is Certain

There is such an infinite possibility of outcomes that it is foolish to presume to boast of anything or rest in it. There is nothing certain except that all things are uncertain — that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change. Today a city, tomorrow a heap. There is nothing between a great city and a heap except one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive a fatal stroke from the least and most unexpected thing. It is a bubble floating on the water in continual motion with a storm. So many poor dying creatures rise up, swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave. The least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time—a creature of no solidity—a dream—a shadow and appearance of something. This dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it vanishes, not so much into nothingness but it disappears. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, continually revolving. In this constant revolving of outward things, who can enjoy true quiet and peace? Only the soul that is fixed, with its centre on God and abides in Him. Though the parts may be in constant motion, the centre of the wheel is at rest and not violently turned.

4. Uncertainty is for God’s Glory

There is infinite wisdom and goodness in the way that the Lord orders all things. At first glance, people would think it better if everything happened uniformly so that everyone knew what would happen to them. Yet, God has provided for His own glory and our good in this. He has kept the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of all His works for Himself. It is for His glory in that He orders them with such great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from Him.

5. Uncertainty is For Our Good

It is for our good. What use would many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place would there be for patience if there were no adverse events? What place would there be for moderation if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variations and vicissitudes, how would the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? What place would contentment and tranquillity of mind have? These are a calm in a storm, not a calm in a calm (that would be no virtue). If the various outcomes of providence could be foreseen by us, it would completely disorder our duty. Who would do their duty out of conscience to God’s command in committing events to Him? As it is now our obedience is tested. We have to go by a way we do not know and submit to God’s all-seeing providence.

God has so ordered the world that no grace lacks a reason to be exercised, no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of use. There is no condition of affairs without a fair opportunity for exercising some grace. If one or many cannot be exercised due to affliction, He has still opened a large door for self-denial, humility, patience and moderation.

6. Uncertainty Points Us to Eternity

Even the very nature of the material world speaks loudly of this to us. When you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, only its very surface appears, and there your sight is terminated. But look above and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight —there are infinite spaces, all transparent and clear. This shows us that our affections should be set on things above and not on things below. There is nothing below except the outward appearance and surface of things —the glory and beauty of the earth are but skin deep. But heavenly things are all transparent, there is nothing to set bounds to the affections. They are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them.

God has made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look at them and you only see the outside of them, the present hour. You know no more of what is beyond than you can see of the depths beneath the earth. But eternity is transparent throughout, and infinite too. Therefore, God has made us blind to earthly things, that we should not set our heart nor terminate our eyes on anything here. But He has opened and spread eternity before us in the Scriptures, so that you may read and understand your everlasting condition in it. He has shut up the things of time and sealed them and He wills us to live in relation to them by trusting in Him of them without anxious forethought.

7. Uncertainty Points Us to True Contentment

No one can find any satisfaction in enjoying the things of the present (without always hoping for the future) until they fully possess God as an all-sufficient good (Psalm 4:6) Without this, great things will not make us content. For what is all that to a person if they have no assurance concerning the future? And with this, we can even be content with little things. Great things with little hope and expectation fill us with more vexation than joy, the greater they are the more this is increased. Little things, with great hopes and expectations, give more satisfaction. All mankind look towards tomorrow and strive to make up for what they lack in the present with hope or confidence in the future.

8. Uncertainty Points Us to True Hope

You should strive to fill up what is lacking in present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as a helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties (1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:18-19; Romans 5:5). It is true, other people’s expectations of gain and other things, do to some extent abate the pain of what they lack in the present. But it is certain that such hope will not expel all grief from the heart but leaves much vexation within. The frequent disappointment of such projects and plans of gain, honour, and pleasure, and their extreme failure to fulfil the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit. If you would have your souls truly established and not hanging on tomorrow uncertainly (as most do) look beyond tomorrow to the everlasting day of eternity that has no tomorrow after it. See what foundation you can lay up for that future time to come (1 Timothy 6:16-19). If you would have a foundation of lasting joy, why seek lasting joy in fading things and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things? Why not rather seek it in the living God, inexhaustible spring of all good things? We are not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (1 Timothy 6:17).
We are to do good and be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation for the time to come (1 Timothy 6:18-19). Eternity is the only time worthy to be called time. Striving to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of justice and moderation is a better foundation for the time to come. Receive and embrace the promise of eternal life —that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel to make up for what is lacking in present enjoyments. The precious hope of eternal life cannot disappoint.

9. Uncertainty Should Make Us Submit to God’s Will

But most people like the fool in the parable (Luke 12:13-21) have something stored up for many years or else their projects and plans extend to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things than in really possessing them. But that pleasure is only imaginary. How many thoughts and plans are continually turning in the heart of man—how to be rich, how to get greater gain or more reputation? People build castles in the air, and imagine to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things. Everyone makes fantasies for themselves as if they were themselves in control of it all. Then we boast ourselves in the confidence of them as if there were not a supreme Lord who rules our affairs as immediately as He does the winds and rains.

The folly of this is made clear in that we do not know what a day may bring forth. There is so much inconstancy in all things and ignorance in us that it should restrain our boasting. The apostle James refers to the resolutions and purposes of rich men to profit from trading (James 4:13-16). Such are the plans in the hearts of men, either for more gain, more glory, or more pleasure and ease.

This does not reprove either care and diligence in using lawful means for the things of this life or wise and prudent foresight in the ordering of our affairs. Both these are frequently commended by the wise man (Proverbs 6:6 and 24:27). But the great iniquity is conducting ourselves as though we were in control and without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. It is not in man that walks to direct his paths (Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 16:19).

God is not bound by any rule to conform His actions to our intentions. He works everything according to the counsel of His own will and not ours (Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 19:21 and 16:9). Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths (Proverbs 20:24)? We ought to say and think “if the Lord will”. We do not know will happen tomorrow because our life itself is a vapour. You can make plans for tomorrow, for a year, for many years, and yet you do not know if you will exist tomorrow. How ridiculous such things are if they are not done with submissive and humble dependence on God.



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