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.
12 May, 2022

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.

Conclusion

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.
13 Apr, 2022

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.

Application

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.
20 Jan, 2022

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?

Conclusion

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.
1 Sep, 2021

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.
4 Mar, 2021

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.
25 Sep, 2020

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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The Two Greatest Encouragements You Need

The Two Greatest Encouragements You Need

The Two Greatest Encouragements You Need
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.
2 Jul, 2020

If we are discouraged with ourselves it is often because of sin. Here are the great encouragements you need if you are inwardly burdened with the weight of your own guiltiness. They are found in Christ and the promises that are secure in Him for those that lay hold of them in faith, humbly confessing their sin. Hugh Binning explains.

You have two desires for Christ—(1) that your sins may be forgiven and (2) that they may be subdued. He has two solemn obligations to satisfy you—(1) to forgive your sins, and (2) to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

The soul that is truly penitent does not desire pardon of sin alone. That is not the chief or only aim of such a soul in going to Christ. It also seeks to be purified from sin and all unrighteousness; to have ungodly lusts cleansed away. They do not only want to be assured of being delivered from wrath and condemnation. They want also to be redeemed from sin, so that it has no dominion over them. They desire to be freed from death and have the conscience purged “from dead works to serve the living God,” (Hebrews 9:14). They want to have sin blotted out of an accusing conscience and purged out of the affections of the heart.  They want their sins washed away so that they may be washed from their sins (Revelations 1:5).

Now, as the great desire and aim of such a sincere heart is to have sin purified and purged out of us as well as pardoned, so there is a special obligation on God our Father. He promises, not only to pardon sin, but to purge from sin; not only to cover it with the garment of Christ’s righteousness, and the breadth of His infinite love but also to cleanse it by His Spirit effectually applying that blood to purify the heart.

Now, where God has voluntarily bound Himself voluntarily out of love, do not loose Him by unbelief. Strive to receive those gracious promises, and to take Him as He has bound Himself and as He offers. Believe, I say that He will both forgive you, and in due time will cleanse your heart from the love and delight of sin. Believe His promise and this will set a seal to his truth and faithfulness. There is nothing in God to frighten a sinner except His justice, holiness, and righteousness. But if you in humbly confessing your sins flee to Jesus Christ, the very thing which discouraged you, may now encourage and embolden you to come. Because “he is just and faithful to forgive sins.” His justice being now satisfied, is engaged to forgive, not to punish.

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The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World

The Way to Perfect Peace in a Troubled World
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.
5 Jun, 2020

The initial hopes that a global crisis might lead to a global ceasefire in warzones around the world seem to have faded. Heartbreakingly, the danger is that it can intensify a humanitarian crisis into a disaster. In western nations tensions and divisions easily boil over on top of an already troubled situation. Countries not troubled by war or civil unrest but still troubled by the virus continue to have significant challenges. As individuals, there may be many things that together seem to rob us of peace of mind and heart. Spiritually, there are many troubles and concerns. Is perfect peace a real and attainable possibility in such a troubled world?

Perfect peace is of course a phrase that comes from Scripture itself (Isaiah 26:3). Hugh Binning explains more of what this peace is and how to attain it. He was speaking in a time of war and unrest.

The news of such a peace might be fitting in time of war and trouble if we grasped our need of it. It is not a peace from war and trouble, but a peace in war and trouble. “My peace I leave with you,” and “in the world” you will have trouble (John 14:27 and John 16:33). What a blessed message, that perfect peace is attainable in the midst of the wars, confusions, and calamities of the times, public and personal. It is a perfect peace, a complete peace, even without attaining outward and worldly peace. Indeed, it is most perfect and entire in itself when it is stripped of them all.

What a privilege the gospel offers you! You only need to be made miserable if you choose to be. This is more than all that the world can afford you. No one can promise themselves immunity from public or personal dangers, from many griefs and disappointments. But the gospel urges you to total up all troubles and miseries that you can meet with in the world and yet assures you that if you heed wisdom, there is a peace that will make you forget that trouble. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). “I create peace,” God says, “I create it out of nothing” (see Isaiah 45:7). I will keep you “in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).

There are three things we need to know: what this perfect peace is, where it comes from, and how to attain it. The fountain of it, the preserver of it, is God Himself. It is attained through trusting in God and staying ourselves on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

1. What is the source of this perfect peace?

The source of the peace that passes understanding is peace with God; peace of conscience and peace with others is a stream that flows from this. There is a peace of friendship when persons were never enemies, and there is a peace of reconciliation when parties at variance are made one. Here, then, is the privilege of a believer—to be at peace with God, to be one with Him. This indeed is life eternal, to be united to the fountain of life. In his favour is life; His loving-kindness is better than life.

Is not this a blessed condition? Whatever a man has done against God is all forgiven and forgotten, it will never come into remembrance. Are not angels blessed who are friends with God? Such is the soul whose sins are pardoned through Christ, —its sins are as if they never had been. The soul has not only escaped that terrible wrath of God but being at peace with God, it will partake of all the goodness that is communicable to creatures.

This sweetness of peace is found in God the tree of life. Faith puts up its hand and picks the fruit of the tree. Hope and dependence on God are like tasting that fruit and eating it. Then this perfect peace follows as the delightful sweetness that the soul finds in God, tasting how gracious He is. God Himself is the life of our souls, the fountain of living waters, the life and light of men. Faith and trust in God, draw out of this fountain or deep well of salvation. By staying itself on God, faith drinks of it until the soul is refreshed with such peace and tranquillity as passes understanding.

Trusting and staying ourselves on God is the soul casting its anchor upon him amid the waves and storms of sin, wrath, and trouble. The poor beaten sinner casts an anchor on the sure ground of unchangeable promises in Jesus Christ. Then the soul rests and quiets itself at that anchor and enjoys peace amid the storm. There is a great calm, it is not moved, or not greatly moved, as if it were a calm day. David flees to God as his refuge, anchors on the name of the Lord (Psalm 62:1- 2) and so he enjoys a perfect calm and tranquillity. “I shall not be moved,” because he is united to the rock, he is tied to the firm foundation, Jesus Christ, and no storm can dissolve this union. That is not because of the strength of the weak rope (faith); omnipotence surrounds it so that we “are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.”

2. What is this perfect peace?

The Christian may have peace concerning their salvation and eternal things and about all things that happen in time.

(a) Peace concerning eternal things

This is when the conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. It gets a good answer to all the accusations of conscience, the law, and justice (1 Peter 3:21). It is when the Spirit of God shines into the soul with a new light to reveal these things that are freely given (1 Corinthians 2:12).

(b) Peace concerning all things that happen in time

What does the person lack concerning perfect peace who is reconciled to God and at peace within himself? When peace guards the heart and mind within as a castle or garrison, to keep out all fears of outward things, all the world may be troubled outside. The floods may lift their voice, but they cannot come into the soul. If they are the same in peace and trouble, prosperity and adversity, do not lament them in one more than the other.

It is the mind that makes your condition good or bad. All things are the believer’s, because they are Christ’s, and all are Christ’s, who is the possessor of heaven and earth (1 Corinthians 3:21). The godly person is at peace with all afflictions and comforts because of Christ’s blood, the sting and enmity of all ills are taken away by Christ.

Poverty has become a friend because Christ was poor. Hunger and thirst have become friends because Christ was hungry and thirsty. Reproach and contempt are at peace with the believer because Christ was despised. Afflictions and sorrows are reconciled to them, because Christ was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs. In a word, death itself is become a friend, since Christ subdued it. The worst things to a natural man have become best friends to the believer; the grave keeps their body and dust in hope. Death is a better friend than life, for it ministers an entrance into glory: it is the door of eternal life.

Christ has stamped anything you can think of with a new quality; it comes through His hand. If it is not good in itself, yet it is good in His appointment and use of it in providence (Romans 8:21). If it is not good, yet it works together for our good; it contributes to our good, because it is in His skillful hand, who can bring good out of evil, peace out of trouble. Such peace should be more to you than peace in the world. If you have it, your peace will be as a river in abundance and permanence; no drought could dry it up. It will run in time as a large river and when time is over, it envelops itself in eternity. That is the ocean of eternal peace and joy in which the saints are swallowed up above. Other people’s peace is like a mere brook that dries up in summer.

3. How can we attain this perfect peace?

We declare to you the way of obtaining perfect peace—peace as a river. If you abandon all trust in self, flee from self as your greatest enemy, and trust your souls to the promise in Jesus Christ. Lean your whole weight on Him and we assure you, your peace will run abundantly and perpetually.

(a) By trusting in God

Whoever trusts in created things, in uncertain riches, in worldly peace, in anything at all besides the only living and glorious Lord, we persuade him, that his peace will fail as a brook. All things in this world will deal deceitfully with you, like a brook that dries up (Job 6:15). But if you pour out your souls on Him and trust in the fountain of living waters, you will not be ashamed, for your peace will be as a river. Nothing can take your peace from you for it runs like a river. It may be shallower and deeper, but it cannot run dry, because of the living fountain it proceeds from. All beside this is uncertain; nothing besides this can give you satisfaction.

Trusting in God is the leaning the soul’s weight on God. The soul must cast its burden on the Lord and so find rest (Matthew 11:28). Leaning on ourselves and trusting in God are opposites (Proverbs 3:5). Trusting is casting the soul on God and lifting the soul to Him (Psalm. 22:10; Psalm 25:1).

When people have risked their souls on His word and trusted in Him, then they may trust in him for all things. He who has given His Son for us, will He not with Him also give all things? This, is the continual recourse of a believer. They travel from the emptiness and insufficiency they discover in self to the fulness and strength of Jesus Christ. Thus their strength may be perfected in weakness. When all things seem contrary, yet ought we to trust in Him (Job 13:15). Faith will always look always towards God’s Word, whatever is threatened to the contrary.

Constant dependence and staying ourselves on God flows from this faith in Him. They are stayed on Him because they trusted in Him. Faith considers His power, His goodwill, and His faithfulness. He is able and willing to do it, and He is faithful because He has promised. Staying ourselves on God is nothing else except the fixedness of believing and trusting (Psalm 112:7-8). It is expressed firstly in meditating on God, and secondly, in expecting all good things from Him.

(b) By meditating on God

Most people have few thoughts of God at all. Even those who trust in him do not consider sufficiently how great the one in whom they believe is. If faith were vigorous it would make us often think on Him, seeking to know Him in His glorious names. The mind would be stayed on this glorious, most mysterious, and wonderful one. People’s minds are strongly drawn to vain things but meditating on God is a burden to them. Any other thing gets more time and thoughts.

Meditation adds affection to contemplation. The soul is stayed on God when the soul’s desires are towards the remembrance of His name, then affection stays the mind. The mind gives only passing looks and limited thoughts, where the heart is not engaged. The soul of a believer should be constant and fixed in considering God until they are wholly engaged in admiration and wonder (Psalm 8:1). You all say that you believe in God, you know He is good, He is merciful, just, long-suffering, faithful, etc. But all this knowledge is only ignorance, and your light darkness, if it does not compel you to put your trust in His name.

Believers, should your hearts and minds be stayed on vain things, more than the living God? Our minds are in a continual motion from one thing to another, for nothing gives complete satisfaction. Time is spent in choosing and refusing, rejecting one thing and taking another, and again returning to what you have rejected. People are tossed up and down, and unstable in all their ways, as a ship without ballast. Faith and trust in God is the ballast and weight of this inconstant ship: it is the anchor to stay it from being driven to and fro. If you would consider Him and meditate on Him until your souls loved Him, would you not be ravished with Him?

This would fix and establish you in spiritual things. Here is One that is “past finding out.” The more I search and find, I find him the more above what I can search and find. Created things disappoint, but the Lord God is an everlasting fountain. He will never send any away disappointed that trust in Him because they will find more than they expected.

(c) By expecting from God

The soul that is stayed on God in meditation on Him knows Him and will be fixed in its expectation from Him. Our expectations from created things are disappointed because they change. But the Lord exceeds our expectations. The Lord has often done things we did not expect.

Three things disquiet us most: sin and wrath; future events; and present calamities. Faith establishes the soul on God in all of these. It will not allow it to be driven to and fro with these winds; it finds a harbour and refuge in God from all these. My conscience challenges and writes bitter things against me, yet I have an answer in that blood that speaks better things than Abel’s. If sins prevail, he will purge them away. His mercy and power are greater than all my sin. He has promised and will He not do it?

We are often perplexed about future events. This is great torment of spirit, cuts, and divides it. But those that trust in God are established in this (Psalm 112:7-8). They have committed their soul to Him, and why not their body? He cares for me, says faith. He has given his Son for me, the most precious gift which the world cannot match, and will He not with Him give all these lesser things? Thus, the believer encloses himself within the Father’s love and providence, and is fixed, not fearing evil tidings. For what tidings can be evil, seeing our Father has the sovereign disposing of all affairs and knows what is best for us? Pity the world around you, that do not know this peace.

Conclusion

Maintain your peace, do not grieve the Spirit who has sealed it. If you return to folly after he has spoken peace to you, I persuade you, you will not maintain this peace. There may be peace with God, but no peace in your conscience, as long as your heart is engaged with sin. Continuing in a course of sin, entertaining any known sin, will trouble your peace. If God has spoken peace to thee, you must not harbour His enemy in peace. Those who love God’s law have great peace (Psalm 119:165). Obedience and delight in it do not make peace, but it is the way of peace. Much meditation on the blessed word of God is the most excellent means to preserve this peace if it is secured by much prayer (Philippians 4:6-7). If you would unburden your hearts daily at the throne of grace, peace will guard and keep your heart, and then your peace will be perfect indeed.

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Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except God

Everything and Everyone Changes, Except 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.
5 Apr, 2019

Events, strategies, commitments, principles. Everything seems to be subject to change in human affairs, especially politics. An even more changeable future seems inevitable as uncertainty increases. It’s a world of tumultuous, relentless and constant change. Technological, social and moral change in particular, seem to be speeding up. Things we never expected to see are now considered normal. Some change is deeply troubling and other change is good. All this makes us less confident and optimistic in predicting the future. But there is no real reason to fear if we are connected to the unchanging reality of the eternal God.

Hugh Binning points out that the most profound thing that we can say about God is also the simplest. “The Lord gives a definition of Himself”. It is short and we may not think it says much—”I AM” (Exodus 3:14). When people seek to exalt themselves they want to be described in grand and majestic ways to flatter themselves. But there is more majesty in this simple title “I AM” than in all others. This is spiritually discerned.

To compare God with others and say that He is best gives too great significance to the things which we use for comparison. Thus, the Lord calls Himself “I AM”, meaning “I am as if nothing else were”. Not, “I am the highest, the best and most glorious that is”. This assumes other things have some being and glory that is worth taking account of. Rather it is “I am, and there is none else; I am alone”. Nothing else can say, “I am, I live, and there is nothing else”. Everything else is dependent on God. Thus, nothing besides God, can say, “I am”. All things are only borrowed drops of this self-sufficient fountain. If anything comes between the stream and the fountain it is cut off and dried up.

See the profound mystery of God’s absolute self-sufficient perfection enfolded in these three letters, I AM. If you ask what is God? There is nothing better than this, “I AM,” or, He that is. If I would say He is the almighty, the only wise, the most perfect, the most glorious, it is all contained in this, “I am that I am”. He is all those perfections simply, absolutely, and solely.

 

1. Our God is Eternally Unchanging

He never was nothing and never will be nothing and may always say, “I am.”  God is eternally unchanging (Psalm 90:2). Now this is properly to be; and this only deserves the name of being. All the generations past; where are they now? They were, but they are not. And we then were not, and now are; for we have come in their place and in a little time, which of us can say, “I am.” No, we “fly away as a dream” (Job 20:8). We “are like a tale that is told,” (Psalm 90:9) that makes a noise in the present and then it is past. Within a few years this generation will pass, and no one will make mention of us. Our place will not know us, no more than we do now remember those who have been before (Psalm 103:16).

Christ said of John the Baptist, “he was a burning and shining light” (John 5:35); “he was,” but now he is not. But Christ may always say, “I am the light and life of men” (see John 1:4). Man is; but look backwards a little, and he was not; you will find his origin. Go forwards a little and he will not be, you will find his end. But God is “Alpha and Omega…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). Who can find the beginning and end in such a being who is the beginning and end of all things, yet without all beginning and end? The soul is enclosed between infiniteness before and infiniteness behind. It is between two everlastings; whichever way it turns, there is no way out. Whichever way it looks, it must lose itself in an infiniteness round about it.

We change in our days and are not today what we were yesterday. But “he is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). Every day we are dying, some part of our life is taken away. We leave one more day behind us, it is gone and cannot be recovered. Though we vainly please ourselves in the number of our years and the extent of our life, the truth is that we are losing much of our being and time as it passes. First, we lose our childhood, then we lose our adulthood. Then we leave our old age behind us also and there is no more before us.

But when God moves all things, He remains immoveable. Though days and years are in a continual flux and motion around Him and they carry us down with their force yet He abides the same forever. Even the earth and heavens that are established so sure grow old but He is the same, and “his years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). 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 all the changes of the creatures out of eternity. There is no change in His knowledge, as there is in ours (Acts 15:18). He can declare the end before the beginning; for He knows the end of all things, before He gives them beginning. He is never driven to make consultations in any emergency as the wisest of men are, who could not foresee all events. “He is in one mind”; He had it from everlasting and “who can turn Him?” (Job 23:13).

 

2. Our Response to the Unchanging God

Job’s response to knowing God as He is was to humble himself and repent (Job 42:5-6).  Here is the true knowledge of God’s majesty, which uncovers within you a mystery of iniquity. Here is the knowledge of God indeed, which abases all things besides God, not only in opinion but in affection. It attracts and unites your soul to God, and draws it from yourself and all created things. This is a right revelation of divine purity and glory, that stains the pride of all glory. True knowledge empties a soul of itself and humbles a soul in itself, that it may be full of God. He that thinks he knows any thing, knows nothing as he ought to know.

This then is the first evidence of the saving knowledge of God. It removes all grounds for empty confidence so that a soul cannot trust in itself. The purpose of this is that a soul may trust in God and depend on Him in all things. For this purpose the Lord has called Himself by many names in Scripture which correspond to our various needs and difficulties. This is so that He might make known to us how all-sufficient He is, so that we may turn our eyes and hearts towards Him. This was the purpose of this name, I AM; that Moses might have support for his faith (Exodus 3:14). “I AM;” I, who give all things a being, will give a being to my promise. I will make Pharaoh listen and the people obey.

What is there that this name of God will not answer? It is a creating name—a name that can bring all things out of nothing by a word. If He is what He is, then He can make what He wishes from us. It is a name that brings us comfort (Isaiah 41:12). If we believed this how we would submit to His blessed will. If we believed this would we not make Him our dwelling-place?  Would we not be assured of our own stability and the stability of His church because of His unchangeable eternity? (Psalm 89:1; Psalm 102:27-28). How can we think of such a fountain-Being without acknowledging ourselves to be shadows of His goodness? We owe to Him what we are, and so must dedicate ourselves to His glory. How can we consider such a self-Being, independent and creating Goodness without a desire to cleave to Him and confidence to trust in Him? This is to know Him.

 

3. Ourselves Compared to the Unchanging God

When we think on His unchangeableness let us consider our own vanity. Our glory and perfection is like a summer flower, or like a vapour ascending for a little time, our best estate is altogether vanity. Our plans are soon broken off and made of no effect, our resolutions change. This is mortality, we are not always the same. To be one thing now and then another thing is a characteristic of sinful and wretched man. Therefore let us “cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isaiah 2:22).  Do not trust in princes who will die, far less in ourselves who are less than the least of men (Psalm 146:3). Let us put our trust in God who does not change and we will not be consumed (Malachi 3:6).

We will never be ashamed of any hope we have in Him. There is nothing else you trust in which will not, without doubt disappoint you. Whatever you hear or know of God is vain and empty, unless it descends into the heart to shape it with fear and love to Him. It must extend into the outward actions and conform it to obedience. Otherwise when you “know God” you “do not glorify Him as God” and that knowledge will be worse to you than ignorance. It will only harden you and ultimately be your solemn accuser and witness (Romans 1: 21-24). The true knowledge of Jesus Christ is never unfruitful. The things that spring from its root are humility, self-abasing confidence in God, patience in tribulations, meekness in provocations, temperance and sobriety in lawful things (2 Peter 1:5-8).

 

Conclusion

It is a source of wonder as well as comfort to contemplate a God whose being, plans and promises never change. This should draw us to God again and again. He can keep our hearts steadfast. Whatever else and whoever else may change, let us seek to have an unwavering devotion, obedience and love to Him by His grace.

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Who Are You?

Who Are You?

Who Are You?
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.
18 Jan, 2019

From gender to nationality to race–can we choose the identity we want? Are these things that drive identity politics real? Even if we resist every other label – what exactly does human mean these days? Other subtle influences within society point us to find our identity in what we have and what do. Is there something fixed that goes beyond changeable subjective notions?

Yes. We can draw our identity from what God has done and what God has said. We need to go back to the beginning, to creation. We cannot understand who we are without this. This is the foundation of understanding our personal identity. That is exactly what Hugh Binning does in the following updated extract.

 

1. Our Original Identity

It is certain, that you will never rightly understand yourselves or what you are, until you know first what humanity was made to be. You cannot imagine what your present misery is until you know the happiness man had when he was created: “let us make man in our image”.

Some have called Adam a microcosm of the world, because he had heaven and earth as it were married together in him. He united two very remote and distant natures. The dust of the earth and the immortal spirit  (called the breath of God) sweetly linked, conjoined and inclined to one another. In this piece of workmanship the Lord made a microcosm of all His works. He brought together in one creation the marvellous wisdom, being, living, moving, sense and intelligence which are scattered across the other creatures. We carry around in ourselves the wonders we admire in the rest of creation.

With a mere simple word, this huge framework of the world started out of nothing. But in creating humanity God acts as a skilful craftsman: “Let us make man”. He makes rather than creates. He first raises the walls of flesh, builds the house of the body with all its organs, all its rooms, and then He makes a noble and divine guest to dwell in it. He breathes into it the breath of life.

 

2. Our Unique Original Identity

But what the Lord would have us consider most is the image of Himself imprinted on man —“Let us make man in our own image.” There was no creature without some engravings of God and His power, wisdom, and goodness. The heavens are said to declare His glory (Psalm 19:1). But whatever they have, it is only the lower part of that image, some dark shadows and resemblances of Him. But the final work of creation is made according to His own image. He reflects Himself in this as with a mirror. The rest of creation resembles His footstep but man resembles His face. He was made “in our image, after our likeness”.

It is true that only Jesus Christ His Son is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person”. He alone  resembles Him perfectly and thoroughly in all properties. He is another self in nature, properties and operations. He is so like Him that He is one with Him, it is really a oneness, than a likeness.

But man was created according to God’s own image, with some likeness (not sameness or oneness) to Himself. That is a high privilege indeed, to be like God. How could man be like God, who is infinite, incomprehensible, whose glory cannot be given to or shared with another? There are unique aspects of His being in which He not only has no equal not none even to compare to Him. In these He is to be adored as infinitely transcending all created perfections and conceptions. But yet in others He reveals Himself so as to be imitated and followed. For this purpose He first stamps these qualities on man in shaping him at first.

 

3. Our Original Moral Identity

If you want to know what those qualities are in particular the apostle defines them.  They include “knowledge” (Colossians 3:10), “righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:21). This is the “image of him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).  It is the image which the Creator stamped on man, that he might seek Him. He set him apart for Himself to keep communion with him and to bless him. There is a spirit given to man with a capacity to know and to will. This is God’s face sketched out and this is not engraved on any other creature that has feeling. One of the most noble and excellent operations of life which exalts human beings above brute beasts is the capacity to reflect on ourselves and to know ourselves and our Creator. Other things have natural instincts suitable to their own nature, but none of them have a capacity to know what they are or what they have. They cannot conceive ideas of He who gave them a being.

He has limited the eye to respond to colours and light, He has limited the ear so that it cannot act without sounds. He has assigned every sense its own proper range within which it moves. But He teaches man knowledge, and He enlarges the sphere of his understanding beyond visible things to invisible things or spirits. He has put a capacity in the soul to know all things, including itself. The eye discerns light, but does not see itself. But He gives a spirit to man to know himself and his God.

And then there is a willing power in the soul by which it gives itself towards any thing that is conceived as good. The understanding directs and the will commands according to its direction. Then the whole faculties and senses obeying these commands make up an excellent portrait of the image of God. There was a sweet proportion and harmony in Adam, all was in due place and subordination. The motions of immortal man began within. The lamp of reason shone and gave light. There was no stirring, choosing or refusing until reason moved. This was like a ray of God’s light reflected into the soul of man.

When reason discerned good and evil this power in the soul influenced the whole person accordingly, to choose good and refuse evil. There would have been no living resemblance to God if there was only power to know and will.  These capacities must also be beautified and adorned with supernatural and divine graces of spiritual light, holiness and righteousness. These complete the image of God on the soul in full colour.

There was a divine light which shone on the understanding until sin intervened and eclipsed it. The sweet heat and warmness of holiness and uprightness in the affections came from the light of God’s face.  There was nothing but purity and cleanness in the soul, no darkness of ignorance, no muddiness of carnal affections. The soul was pure and transparent, able to receive the refreshing and enlightening rays of God’s glorious countenance.

This was the very face and beauty of the soul. This is the beauty and excellency: conformity to God. This was throughout the whole: in the understanding and the affections. The understanding had to be conformed to God’s understanding, discerning between good and evil. As a ray of that sun, a stream from that fountain of wisdom, a light from God’s understanding it has to be conformed to Him.

The will agreed with His will: approving and choosing what He approved and refusing what He hated. This union was closer than any bond among men. It was as if there were not two wills but as it were, one. The love of God reflecting into the soul drew the soul back to Him again. Love was the conforming principle which shaped the whole person without and within to be like God and obey Him.  Man was formed for communion with God, and he must have this likeness or else they could not join as friends.

 

4. Our Original Moral Identity Destroyed

But it is sad to think where we have fallen from and how great our fall is. To fall from such a blessed condition is great misery indeed. Satan has robbed us of our rich treasure, the glorious image of holiness. He has drawn the very image of hell on our souls the very visage of hell, the distinctive features of his hellish countenance. But most people are unaware of anything of this. If we could consider all the sad and awful consequences of sin in the world and what miseries that one fall has brought on all humanity we would see what a fearful fall it has been.

Sin intervened between God and us, this darkened our souls and killed them. The light of knowledge was put out, the life of holiness extinguished. There now remains nothing of all of that stately building except some ruins of common principles of reason and honesty in everyone’s consciences. These merely show us what the building was like. We have fallen from holiness and therefore from happiness. Our souls are deformed and defiled. If sin was visible, how ugly the shape of the soul would be to us. This is because it has lost its very beauty, which is God’s image.

 

5. Our Original Moral Identity Restored

We must know where we have fallen from and into what a gulf of sin and misery we have fallen. When we know this, the news of Jesus Christ, a Mediator and Redeemer of fallen man will be sweet to us. It was the Lord’s will to let His image be marred and ruined in us because He had this purpose to repair and renew even better than of old. He created (the human nature of) Christ according to His image for this purpose. He stamped that image of holiness on His humanity. This was so as to be a pattern and pledge of restoring original glory and excellence to the souls that flee to Him for refuge. He has made His Son like us that we might once again be made like Him. He said in eternity, “let one of us be made man”. This was so that it might be said once more, “let man be made like us, in our image”. Only a second creation can do this. Look at your hearts to enquire if it this new creation has been formed in you. You must be re-created in that image if you belong to Christ.

 

Conclusion

There are many voices in our generation encouraging everyone to seek their own identity. Young people are often on a quest to find an identity even if it means that their minds and bodies are at odds with one another. But this will never bring the happiness and peace we seek. We have lost an identity and we need it recovered, but it is the identity God has given and offers not the one that we choose out of our own preferences. In one sense the gospel is saying to us, “be who you were meant to be, who you were created to be.” We will only find that if we are a new creation in Christ. This is the true basis for our personal identity.

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Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning

Our Need of the Ever New, Unbegun Beginning
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.
28 Dec, 2018

We have a certain natural inclination to “some new thing” (Acts 17:21). We live in time and that makes the expectation of change inevitable. New beginnings (such as a new year) can open fresh opportunities for transformation.  But it becomes unhealthy when we value things simply because they are new rather than using a more enduring standard. An addiction to novelty creates destructive rootlessness and distraction. It afflicts the world and the Church. Adhering to things simply because they are old rather than because they are true is also lethal, however. How do we develop a healthy approach to new beginnings that doesn’t discard everything in the pursuit of novelty?

We need new and old brought together in an enduring way. We need to consider time in the context of eternity. Hugh Binning explains how Christ is the unchanging but also the ever new; how He is eternal but entered time. These thoughts (drawn from 1 John 1:1-2) take us into the mystery of Christ’s person. “That which was from the beginning” could be seen, heard and touched.  As Binning says, this combines antiquity and novelty together in one, and that makes it all the more excellent and wonderful. This is the glorious way in which the “Word of life” is brought within our reach. We can expect new and fresh blessings from the unchanging Word of life but they are of eternal benefit.

 

1. Considering the Unbegun Beginning

Christ is that which was from the beginning, which was with the Father before all antiquity from eternity.  He is not only from the beginning of time but before all time, before all imaginable beginnings. Christ Jesus, the Father’s Word, was with the Father from the beginning. He was with the Ancient of days who infinitely and unmeasurably antedates all antiquity. Compared to His endurance all we regard as antiquity is mere novelty. The infinite, beginningless, immeasurable endurance of God before this world can never be unravelled by the imaginations of men and angels. Even if they had all eternity they could never unravel it.

There is nothing so old, He is infinitely before the oldest and most ancient creatures. The age of this Word is like a labyrinth with innumerable turnings and windings. Those who make the most progress and the longest search will be just where they were, always beginning, and never coming nearer the beginning of His duration. This is because it is the beginning of all things that have had a beginning but has no beginning itself.

This is what makes religion the richest and most transcendent subject in the world. It presents us with a twofold eternity. It surrounds the soul with a “past” eternity without beginning and a “future” eternity without end. “That which was from the beginning”, before all beginning, either real or imagined. How much there is in that to settle a soul in view of all the false, painted appearances of the world.

 

2. Consider the Incomparable Christ

Such a Saviour is held out to us. We are to come to and lean on the Rock of ages. He is the one on whose word the whole universe is established and stands firm. He infinitely exceeds and precedes all things visible or invisible and all their changes. From eternity the Father and Son took delight in the thoughts of peace and good will they had towards us, which would be revealed in time. If they delighted in planning it how much more in accomplishing the whole plan.

Think what an incomparably excellent Saviour we have who is one with God and equal to Him: one with Him from all eternity. What a strong foundation this is for faith and confidence, what a Rock on which to establish a floundering soul. Man’s misery and curse being liable to endure for all eternity, there is One to deliver them from that, who was Himself from all eternity. Who could purchase for us such absolute blessedness throughout all eternity, except one who was Himself from all eternity? What marvellous proportion and beauty there is in the ways of God. Everything is devised by infinite wisdom so that that we may have strong consolation.  

Consider how the Word of life is held out to you and yet you do not allow your hearts to be moved, or stirred after Him. This is to forsake a great mercy, the eternal Word of life as the infinite Wisdom of the Father. Will we let this offer run past us every day and never find pause from the multitude of business, thoughts and lusts of the world? Will we never look beyond this world, to God, and His Son Jesus Christ? Will we never take seriously either the one that was before all things or our own souls, that must survive and outlive all visible things. 

 

3. Considering the Ever New Christ

But there is also a newness in this subject, which increases admiration and may engage our affections all the more. The “life was manifested” (verse 2). He is such a Word of life that though He was invisible and untouchable from the beginning, yet He was recently clothed with flesh that made him both visible and capable of being handled. These are the two poles on which the mystery, glory and wonder of Christianity turns. The antiquity of His real existence as God and the newness of His appearance in the flesh as man.

He who was so blessed from everlasting begins to be manifested in the fulness of time. To make Himself visible, He takes on our flesh. It was only for this purpose, that He who was Life itself and the eternal life might become life to poor dead sinners and give them eternal life. In taking on our flesh, the Word is more wonderfully manifested and made visible than in the creation. In creation the Creator made creatures come out of nothing at His command. But in this, the Creator is made a creature. He once gave a beginning of being to things that had no being. Being before all beginning Himself, He now takes a beginning and becomes flesh, which He was not before.

How wisely and wonderfully it is planned that, for the good of lost man, the Son of God should be made of a woman.  The lower the nature in which He appears, the higher the mystery is and the richer the comfort is. The glory of the only begotten Son of God was more visibly manifested in that He appeared in such a low form. It is for power to show itself in weakness and such glorious rays to break out from under such a dark cloud. This was greater glory, and more majesty, than if He had only showed Himself in the most perfect creatures.

 

4. Consider Our Need of His New Blessings

When we see the ancientness of our Saviour and the newness of His appearance in the flesh brought together, it ought to endear Him to us. He has come so near us, and brought his own Majesty within our sphere so that we can lay hold of it. He did this for no other purpose except to make life and immortality shine as beams from Him to bring dead souls to life.

Let us open our hearts to Him, and then welcome such fresh news with new delight. Though it is many centuries old, this news is still recent to a believing heart. There is an everlasting fountain in it that sends out fresh comfort to souls every day. It is as refreshing as the first day this fountain was opened. This is the new wine that never grows old, indeed it is renewed in every generation with some new manifestation of the love of God. Christ’s incarnation was the first manifestation of the Son, the very morning of light and life, the dayspring visiting the world that was buried in the darkness of idolatry.

The Sun of righteousness first appeared up above the horizon at that time. But it is still now the same “day”. He has been appearing by greater degrees, shining more and more to the noon day (2 Peter 1:19). This Sun has never set since, but gone round about the world in the preaching of the gospel. It has brought life and light from one nation to another, and one generation to another. We ought to welcome His kindly and affectionate love to mankind (Titus 3:4). This is what shines so brightly. The beams of grace and love to men are the rays that come from this Sun of righteousness.

 

Conclusion

A new year offers new opportunities for fresh appreciations of the glory of Christ. We need to take regular time out from the treadmill of demands and the constant feed of new content to seek this. As we do this we will be brought into contact with eternal realities. Are we trading things these opportunities and only gaining things that are new but immediately grow old? The promise of the new that the world constantly offers soon proves empty. There are new blessings to lay hold on in fellowship with Christ, the Word of life as we seek to live out this glorious gospel. These blessings are of eternal significance.

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Denying Any Wrongdoing?

Denying Any Wrongdoing?

Denying Any Wrongdoing?
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.
14 Dec, 2018

​Any news bulletin about an allegation seems inevitably to include the phrase that the accused “denies any wrongdoing”. It seems to indicate a reflex response of stoutly resisting the glare of scrutiny. Whether accused in the court of public opinion or the law courts, no guilt can be admitted. Its constant use gives the impression of a society of either very scrupulous or unscrupulous consciences. It comes straight from the lawyer’s office of course. It is used in the narrow sense of breaking civil law and the liability that this would involve. The phrase makes us think more deeply, however, about the nature of what is required from us morally. Can any of us say that in any action or event we have not been guilty of any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever? Are we tempted to claim that? What should be our response to the claims of God’s law on us?

Scripture makes it clear that we cannot say that we are without sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).  There is a constant battle (Galatians 5:17) in which we all offend in many things (James 3:2). None of us are able “perfectly to keep the commandments of God” we “daily break them in thought, word, and deed” (Larger Catechism, Q149). Sin is present with us in our best actions (Romans 7:18-19). But do our prayers, words and attitudes reflect this? In this updated extract, Hugh Binning addresses this in applying 1 John 1:8,10, verses that deal with denying our sin. Isn’t it striking that the same phrase is repeated in those two verses?

 

1. Does Anyone Really Secretly Deny Any Wrongdoing?

Solomon gives a challenge to the whole world, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). No one is so great a stranger to themselves that they will not confess this. If they soberly and calmly retreat into their own heart, the very evidence of its impurity will make them confess it. Inwardly they feel what outwardly they deny. They cannot but sometime or other be filled with horror and anguish in their consciences. The time will come (either when the mighty hand of God is on them here, or when they must enter eternity) that they will awake. They will find all their iniquities mustered by the Lord of hosts in battle array against themselves in their conscience.

 

2. Can Believers Implicitly Deny Any Wrongdoing?

But this verse does not only restrain those who openly profess sinless, spotless sanctity. There is another way of saying this than by the tongue. There are many other ways of self-deceiving; they are more dangerous, because less discernible. Even true believers may fall into something of this.

(a) If We Think Too Much of Our Progress

Some are ready to think too highly of themselves. They have attained fervent desires and progress in relation to holiness and walking with God. They have something of the presence of God in the soul filling it with some sweetness. Perhaps they are ready to look on others with some disdain. There is no sense of their true condition and a humble mourning with it; rather they measure their attainments by their desires.  This is in effect, really saying, “we have no sin.” It is a self-deceiving delusion. We are actually infinitely below either our duty or our desire. We must be reminded of this often. Otherwise we are in danger of being drunk with self-love and self-deceit in this.

(b) If We Are Not Concerned About Making Further Progress

There are many Christians who once had a powerful experience of sorrow for sin, fear of wrath and comfort by the gospel. But they have not progressed. They are accustomed to certain public and private religious duties. But they have stopped here and do not think about further progress. They think that if they keep that condition all is well. They have few concerns or attempts for greater communion with God or purification from sin.

This makes them degenerate into formalism. They wither and become barren. They are exposed to many temptations which overcome them. But is this not really saying, “we have no sin?” Is it not living as if you had no sin to wrestle with, no more holiness to aspire to? Is it not as if you had no further race to run to obtain the crown? Do not deceive yourselves by thinking it is enough to have just enough grace as may (in your opinion) put you over the line. As if you seek no more than what is precisely necessary for salvation. If you continue without stirring up yourselves to a daily conversion and renewal, you do much to blot out the evidence of your conversion.

(b) If We Only Confess Sin in a Vague and General Way

You confess you are sinners and break all the commandments, but if we come to specifics not one in twenty seriously admit any sin. What you grant regarding sin in general you retract and deny in relation to specific sins. This is the danger of being strangers to the real truth of it and being over-blinded with self-love. Is a general acknowledgement of sin a mask to deceive yourself or a blind to hide you from yourself?  Many justify themselves when they are challenged for committing or being inclined to any particular sin.

(c) If We are Content to Continue in Sin

Do you live in sin as impenitently as if you had no sin and no fear of God’s wrath? Most people’s lives proclaim that they think they have no sin. Do you live without any earnest and serious striving to change your ways and purify your hearts? Though you confess sin in general, does your whole conduct declare that you do not think it is a thing to be feared greatly? Does your life declare that someone may go on in sin and it will be well with them in this life and the one to come? Is this not denying the very nature of sin and deceiving your own souls?

 

3. Why do We Deny Any Wrongdoing?

“If we say we have no sin, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). Why is this repeated again? It is to show us (even Christians who believe in Christ and are washed in His blood), how hard it is to know ourselves aright. Worldly people scarcely acknowledge they have any sin. Any they do acknowledge are not seen in their vile nature. So they live in peace as if they had no sin. This self-deceiving is not so subtle but quickly seen through. But this verse speaks against you Christians, who are to some extent acquainted with yourselves.

(a) Sin Doesn’t Seem So Obvious

When we get peace from the conviction of sin and hope of pardon we often cease to know ourselves. Sin may not break out so visibly. So you remain strangers to your hearts. You ought rather to believe what is in you based on God’s testimony rather than wait to see it breaking out.  The goodness of God restraining our corruption should increase rather than diminish the sense of our own wickedness.

(b) Self-Love Blinds Us

We look on ourselves through self-love and it makes everything seem more beautiful than it is. “We deceive ourselves, and make God a liar.” It is strange to think how clear someone’s assessment can be against the evils in others which he cannot see in himself. How many Christians are ready so spot the least appearance of sins in others and condemn it who are partial in judging themselves. How often people declaim against pride, covetousness, self-seeking, and other such evils! They pour out a flood of eloquence and zeal against them. But it is strange they do not easily perceive these evils predominate in themselves (Romans 2:1).

Judge yourself in anything that others can judge. Strive to know your personal evils before others can know them. This will keep you humble and preserve you from much sin. You will not deceive yourself nor dishonour God in making him a liar.

(c) We Measure Ourselves By Others Rather than God’s Law

Commonly we judge ourselves by comparing ourselves amongst ourselves, which is, as Paul says  “not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). We do not measure ourselves by the perfect rule of God’s holy Word, but rather by others who come short of that standard. We compare ourselves with the worst, and if we are not as bad as they are, we think ourselves good.

Others will compare with those who are good, but with the worst in them not that which is best. How often people identify a good man who is subject to certain weaknesses. Thus, self-love flatters itself, and, by flattering, deceives itself. But when we do this our pride and self conceit ascends, but the higher we in our own esteem the lower we are in God’s account. But the higher God is in our account, the higher we are in His (Matthew 23:12).

 

4. How Do We Avoid Denying Any Wrongdoing?

What should we do then, since sin is always within? Between 1 John 1:8 and 1 John 1:10 which warn against denying our sin is 1 John 1:9 which speaks of confession and forgiveness. This confession should continue as long as we are in this life. Confess your sins as long as you have them. Continually mourn over your daily failings. If that stream of corruption runs continually, let the stream of your confession run as incessantly. There is another stream: Christ’s blood. This runs constantly too, to cleanse you.

This shows the deceitfulness of many of our public and private confessions. They soon dry up and are not constant. There is no daily humbling of ourselves. It is merely by fits and starts responding to certain fleeting convictions. Thus, we quickly cover and bury our sins in oblivion and forget what kind of persons we are.

You have two desires and prayers to Christ: (a) that your sins may be forgiven; (b) that they may be subdued. Christ has two promises to satisfy you: (a) to forgive your sins; (b) to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. This is the great desire of such a truly penitent heart, to have sin purified and purged out of us as well as pardoned. The promise is not only to pardon sin, but to purge from sin. It is not only to cover it with the garment of Christ’s righteousness and the breadth of His infinite love. It is also to cleanse it by his Spirit effectually applying that blood to the purifying of the heart.  Believe He will both forgive you and in due time cleanse your heart from the love and delight of sin. Believe His promise, for “he is just and faithful to forgive sins.” His justice being now satisfied, is engaged to forgive, not to punish.

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