Accurately valuing God’s ordinances

Accurately valuing God’s ordinances

Accurately valuing God’s ordinances
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

God has provided many ordinances as means for Him to show us His grace, including preaching, prayer, Christian fellowship, etc. The New Testament also has two special ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s supper, known to the Covenanters and others as sacraments to distinguish them among the other ordinances. These are the Lord’s gifts to His people to help us in our faith along the way, and the spiritual significance of participating in these particular ordinances is immense. The spiritualness of both baptism and the Lord’s supper can, however, mean that we distort their importance, either overlooking their value altogether, or investing far too much in them. While we do not want to ungratefully undervalue their significance, neither do we want to superstitiously exaggerate them. In the following brief updated excerpt, James Durham guides us between these extremes.

Giving excessive respect

We place too much weight on the sacraments if we think that they are absolutely necessary in order to salvation — or if we imagine that they confer grace by themselves (just when people partake of the outward elements of water, bread, wine, without faith) — or if we rest on simply the outward receiving of the elements, as if that made us in some way acceptable to God.

Sometimes, people superstitiously and blindly prefer the sacraments to all the other ordinances, so that they disparage the others. They will go for a long time neglecting preaching and praying, but they simply must have baptism and communion.

It is also excessive when we prefer the outward ordinance to Christ and the thing signified by the ordinance. For example, if we are more interested in the baptism of water then the baptism of the Spirit, or more interested in the external communion than the inward. Then, anything of heaven that is to be found in the ordinances is left neglected, and people are more upset about going without the sacrament once, than about missing Christ often and long.

We should also beware of coming and going from ordinances while neglecting Him who gives the blessing, yet thinking that all is well enough, seeing we were present at the ordinance.

Too much is made of the sacraments when people travel a great distance in order to partake of a sacrament when this means they are unable to fulfil necessary moral duties called for at that time. Likewise when people place more value on the sacraments than on works of mercy and charity, or dote on the sacraments to the neglect of such works.

It is also too much esteem when the sacraments are accounted so holy that they may not be administered where Christ permits, or as if they are somehow spoiled when they are not administered in some “consecrated” place.

Finally, also excessive is adding to Christ’s institution, in the way of administration, as if what He has appointed (because it is common and ordinary), is base, and too low for them.

Giving too little respect

On the other hand, the sacraments get too little esteem when people use them as bare and empty signs, without respect to their due ends.

They are disrespected when God is not reverenced in them as He ought to be according to His command, when we are going about such holy and solemn pieces of worship. Also when people can carnally, and without preparation and observation, treat them as common things.

Too little respect is shown in the failure to admire and bless God’s grace and goodness in stooping down in them to us, the failure to ponder and study them, failing to delight in them, and being careless as to whether we have them or go without them.

Likewise, corrupting the Lord’s institution in our manner of going about a sacrament, either adding to it, or diminishing from it, or changing it, as if this is something that humans had the right to do.

We do not value the sacraments highly enough when we have little zeal to keep them pure, as well as when we neglect them on those occasions where we needed to make more of an effort to get them.

It is disrespectful when we account them better when administered by one minister rather than another, or we think the less of them when they are administered by certain men (who are also lawful ministers) — as if men added any worth to the ordinance of God. Also when we assume that their efficacy depends on the one who administers them, or the grace of those who participate alongside them.

We give the sacraments too little respect when we never actually lay weight on any of them, or draw comfort from them. When we don’t wish and pray for others to get good from them. When we are unafraid that they are used wrongly by multitudes of those who partake of them, and rather than endeavouring to improve the situation, we are content for them to be made available to all indifferently. Also when we have little zeal against the errors that wrong them.

Finally, people show insufficient respect when they are not afraid that they might break the commitments and engagements they made in the sacraments.

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Five reasons God gave us the sacraments

Five reasons God gave us the sacraments

Five reasons God gave us the sacraments
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

God has added signs to all the covenants He has made throughout history. In the New Testament, the covenantal signs are the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, also known as sacraments. As well as being signs (like the rainbow was a sign of the covenant He made with Noah), sacraments are seals — things which confirm the truthfulness of what God has promised in the covenant. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are therefore not so much statements that we make as believers, as confirmations that God gives to reinforce His word. In the following updated extract, James Durham identifies five reasons why God gave us the sacraments. Keeping the focus on Christ and His benefits, Durham explains that the sacraments confirm to us the same things as we have in God’s Word, but more clearly and tangibly, and in a way that is even more suited to our weakness and need as believers.

The sacraments of the New Testament, in God’s appointment and our use, have three main ends and two further ends.

To give a clear picture of the covenant

The first end of the sacraments is to represent clearly the nature of the covenant and the things promised in it. These include the washing away of sin, Christ himself in his death and benefits, and the way we come to the application of all these, i.e., by faith, freely, putting on Jesus Christ for taking away guilt, and strengthening us to a holy walk.

In all these, the sacraments (that is, the signs, and word of institution added) fully and clearly hold forth — firstly to the ears, secondly to the eyes, and thirdly to our other senses of feeling, etc. —not only hold what is offered, but also our way of closing with and accepting of that offer. It’s as if God, who by preaching lets us hear Him speak (inviting us to be reconciled to Him) is in the sacraments letting us see Him tryst and close that bargain with us by His ambassadors.

In this respect, the sacrament may be called the symbol and token of the covenant, as in Genesis 17.

This way too, the sacraments have a teaching use. They bring to our remembrance Christ, and His sufferings and benefits, as well as our state, what it was without Him, and before our closing with Him.

All this is represented to us by the word and elements, with the actions concurring, as if it was being acted out before our eyes, so as to make the way of the gospel as clear as can be to the minds and memories of people like us, who either take up these spiritual things senselessly or sluggishly forget them. The Lord, who sometimes makes use of parables and figurative expressions, or similitudes, to set forth spiritual things, to make them resonate with us the more, has chosen this way to make use of external signs and actions for the same ends also.

To seal and confirm what God has said

The second main end of the sacraments is to seal and confirm God’s mind and revealed will to us, and to put us out of question of the truth of His promises, so that we may have a further prop to our faith, and on this basis may draw all the stronger consolation from the promises of the covenant.

In this respect the sacraments are called “seals” (Rom. 4:11) of the righteousness by faith; that is, not the righteousness of Abraham’s faith, but of his obtaining righteousness by it, and not by works. They are seals of the covenant which offers and promises righteousness to those who believe. In the same way the tree of life [in the garden of Eden] was a confirmation to Adam of the promise of life. So was circumcision a seal and confirmation to Abraham of the promises of the gospel, as God’s oath was (Heb. 6:18).

This confirmation may be looked at three ways. It confirms (a) the proposition, (b) the minor premise, and (c) the conclusion of a practical syllogism, by which the believer concludes from the gospel that he shall be saved.

(a) The proposition (or major premise) is, Those who believe shall be saved. By the sacrament this is simply confirmed as a truth that one may lean on. The believer’s conscience in the faith of that subsumes, “I will then take me by faith to Christ.” “Seeing that is a sure truth, I will rest on Him and hold me there.” Or more clearly, “I do believe in him.”

(b) The minor premise of the syllogism, I have faith, is not confirmed simply by the seal, for the sacrament is to be externally applied by church officebearers who can say no more than that they charitably judge this or that person to have faith. Yet we may say that it is confirmed in the case of someone whose faith doubts, who may by this be encouraged to rest on Christ, and quiet himself on Him. So faith is confirmed while it is helped towards this assertion, though the man may be not clear that he has does have faith. Likewise, if someone has, according to God’s command, cast himself on Christ, and according to His institution, taken the seal, then that person may conclude from the seal, as well as from the promise, that he is accepted (just as someone having prayed may conclude that they have been heard, as they have done it according to God’s will in the name of Christ).

(c) The conclusion of the syllogism is, Therefore I shall be saved. Again the sacrament does not confirm that simply to us, any more than it did to Adam (who afterwards broke the covenant of works, and so did not attain the thing promised). Yet it seals it conditionally. If you believe, you shall be saved. The minor premise ‘I have faith’ must be made out by searching the conscience before the conclusion can receive any confirmation by the sacrament. Yet, by strengthening the major proposition, ‘Those who believe shall be saved,’ it strengthens the conclusion also, for if the proposition was not true, then my having faith, or flying to Christ, would be no great comfort. So consequently it has influence on the believer’s comfort in the conclusion, as God’s oath and seal confirmed the promise made to Abraham, and also strengthened his faith in believing that it would be fulfilled to him (Rom. 4:11).

Again, it is to be considered that the sacrament seals particularly. It seals not only as it says, “All who believe shall be saved,” but also as it says, “You, in particular, if you will believe, shall be saved.” The seal is appended to that offer in such a way that the covenant stands sure not only in general to all believers, but to me, particularly, when I close with it, as if God were particularly singling me out to make the offer to me, and to take my engagement, and to put the seal in my hand. Faith is more particularly helped and strengthened by this than by the Word alone. There is great use therefore of the sacraments, in that by them we get faith quieted in believing that God will lay by His controversy, and keep His covenant, and make forthcoming His promises to those who flee for refuge to Jesus Christ, according to His oath and seal.

Thus He seals the major proposition simply, the minor conditionally (‘if you believe’) but particularly. We may imagine God speaking to us from the covenant like this. “He to whom I offer Christ may receive Him; and all that believe, and receive the offer, shall obtain the blessing offered. I offer Christ to you in particular, therefore you may and should receive Him; and if you accept the offer, you shall obtain the blessing offered, and be saved. In this way the major and the minor premises are sealed simply, but the conclusion is sealed conditionally. Or to put it this way, the sacrament seals the offer simply, but the promise as it is applied to such and such a particular person conditionally (if he receives the offer), so that no one needs to question God’s offer, nor Christ’s performance, on our acceptation.

This is how the sacraments may be called testimonies of God’s grace to us, because particularly they seal that offer of His grace unto us, namely Christ, and salvation by Him, and His being content to give Him on condition of our believing.

To exhibit and apply Christ and His benefits to believers

The third main end and use of the sacraments is to exhibit and apply Christ or His benefits to believers. In the sacraments we put on Christ, and eat Christ. This is not done by any physical union of Christ or His benefits with the signs. Rather, it is just as happens in the Word — Christ communicates Himself when the Spirit goes along with the promises, and the hearers bring not only their ears but also their hearts and faith to that ordinance. So by the sacraments Christ is communicated to us, when we come not only with ears, eyes, taste, etc., but with faith exercised on Christ in the sacrament with respect to His institution of it, and He comes by His Spirit with the elements and Word. On this account the union with Christ is so much the more near and perceptible, as it has on the one side so many and great external helps in the means appointed by God, and on the other side, a proportional blessing promised to go along with His ordinance by the operation of His Spirit.

Hence it is that all this communion is spiritual, conferred by the Spirit, and received by faith, yet it is most real. It has a real ground and cause, and real effects following, not by virtue of the sacraments in themselves (any more than by the Word or prayer considered in themselves), but by virtue of the promises being laid hold on by faith. When Word and sacraments are joined together, they concur the more effectually for bringing forth the ends intended in the covenant.

To give consolation to believers

There is a fourth end which results from these, and that is the believer’s consolation (Heb. 1:6, 8). By the strengthening of faith, and the beholding of Christ in that ordinance, and being confirmed in the hope of His coming again, &c. this consolation proves very sweet, and corroborates the soul so much the more, because it is there that He trysts often with the believer, and by it communicates Himself to the believer’s sense and spiritual feeling.

To display the mutual commitment between God and His people

Finally, the sacraments hold forth a mutual engaging between God and His people. God holds out the contract, the covenant and offer. We by our partaking declare our acceptance of that offer on those terms, and commit accordingly to make use of the righteousness held forth there for our justification, and of the wisdom and strength offered there for our direction and sanctification. In this respect our taking of the seal is called our covenanting. Anyone who lacked the seal of God’s covenant was to be punished (Gen. 17).

Thus our accepting and receiving refers to the Word which holds forth the terms, and God seals and confirms on these terms the particular promises of righteousness and strength to these ends, so that our faith may be strengthened in making use of them.

Summary

These are the main and principal ends of the sacraments, though they also serve to make an outward distinction between God’s people and all other societies and persons.

In sum, the Word offers Christ and His benefits, the hearer accepts Him on the terms on which He is offered, and consents. Both of these things are assumed to precede the sacraments, though (as we may see in the jailor, Acts 16, and others) it may be but by a very short time. In the order of nature at least, they are prior. Then come the sacraments, which have in them, 1. a clear view of the bargain, so that we may accept it distinctly, and know what we are getting in it; 2. a solemn confirmation on God’s side of the covenant and the particular offer He makes in it; 3. a furthering of us in part, and helping us to believe, and conferring of something offered; 4. a comforting of those on whom the blessings are conferred; 5. the solemn and public engagement to God of those who receive the sacraments, that they shall observe and make use of all these.

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When public prayer becomes sinful

When public prayer becomes sinful

When public prayer becomes sinful
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Prayer is central to the life of the church. Although typically only one person will pray aloud at a time, everyone present should be able to hear their own desires expressed, and be able to add their own ‘amen’ to what is said. Yet even the holy ordinance of public prayer is liable to be spoiled, perhaps because we neglect some aspects of the duty, and/or we go about it in a wrong manner. In the following updated extract from his commentary on the ten commandments, James Durham goes into great detail on the many specific ways in which the second commandment can be broken in public prayer. This makes for uncomfortable reading as it confronts us with the many ways we are sinfully careless about this ordinance. We can turn every accusation of breaking the commandment into an exhortation to take the opposite way in order to keep the commandment. Later in the commentary, Durham will remind his readers of the need for humility, always, before God. Meanwhile, he ends this list of sins with the implicit recognition that the blood of sprinkling is sufficient to pardon these sinful defects in public prayer.

The second commandment can be broken in public prayer. Public prayer is a part of worship, and it very directly concerns the glory of God. Certainly, when the glory of God is wronged through the unsuitable discharging of this duty, the second commandment is in a special way broken.

I shall not look at everything to do with prayer, but especially to what concerns public prayer. Indeed, we also fail in personal prayer, and in giving thanks, both alone and in our families. Slighting personal and family prayer is a clear breach of the second commandment, as well as neglecting public prayer. So is sneering at prayer to others, reproaching it, calling it hypocrisy, and referring to those who pray as hypocrites. So too is mocking the Spirit’s work in prayer.

Failures before praying

Before we come to prayer, we can sin in several ways.

  • By not watching to keep our heart in a frame for praying always.
  • By not watching over every opportunity that we may have for prayer, hence letting many occasions slip.
  • By not longing for opportunities for prayer.
  • By not stirring ourselves up to seriousness when we are about to pray.
  • By letting the heart run loose when we are busy with other things, in a way which indisposes us for prayer.
  • By having a self-centred goal in view in our prayers.
  • By how little we appeal to God for strength and fitness, and how little we look to Him for His Spirit to help us in prayer, or those who are to speak before us.
  • By how little we examine ourselves so that we would know what to pray for, and what distinctly to confess.
  • By not meditating on what we are to say, so that we may as to the matter of our prayers speak in Faith.
  • By aiming more to find and exercise our gifts, then to have grace acting in us.
  • By rushing rashly into such a weighty and spiritual duty.

Failure on the speaker’s part

On the speaker’s part there are diverse ways by which the second commandment is broken.

Attitudes

  • Rashness and senselessness, not exercising the spirit but the mouth, reciting our prayers as a tale without life.
  • Praying in our own strength, without looking after the influence of the Spirit.
  • Not drawing near to God by faith in Christ, but leaning too much on our prayers, from a secret false opinion that we will prevailing more with many words well put together, than by exercising faith on Christ, and resting on Him, as if God were persuaded with words.
  • Uttering ill-advised petitions and expressions without understanding.
  • Not praying humbly and with soul-abasement.

Requests

  • Not praying solely to please God, but having others in view, seeking expressions that are pleasant rather than heartfelt.
  • Saying many things we don’t really think, not being touched with the weight of sin when we confess it, nor with the desire of holiness when we mention it. Sometimes we counterfeit liberty and boldness in prayer, sometimes restraints and complaints, more than the reality.
  • Limiting God in particular requests.
  • Coldness in what is of greatest concernment.
  • Lack of reverence and holy fear.
  • Lack of a right impression of a present God.
  • Not praying for others, and having little thought for the condition of those we pray with. Or if we do pray for others, either we do it coldly, and so as to keep up appearances, or else, if we show more apparent zeal and seriousness for others, we are not careful to ensure that we are not aiming to flatter and please them rather than to obtain spiritual blessings for them.
  • Desiring things for satisfying ourselves more than for God’s honour.

Commitment

  • Finishing our prayer before we come to liveliness and liberty, having begun lazily and without life.
  • Not insisting on wrestling with God when we are under difficulties.
  • Allowing our words to tumble out before our heart ponders them, or our affections are warmed.
  • Rushing through it, as duty, only for the fashion, without respect to God, or love for the exercise, or driving at any spiritual profit by it.
  • Wearying in prayer and not delighting in it.
  • Not aiming at God’s presence, or conscious manifestations in it, or at getting a hearing from God in what we pray for.
  • Being more desirous of liberty in public than in private.
  • Fretting when we are put or kept under restraints.
  • Growing vain and light when it goes well with us, and turning carnal and unwatchful when we get liberty.

Expressions

  • Making use of Scripture words impertinently, either ignorantly or vainly.
  • Secretly expecting something for the sake of our prayer, and so resting on doing the work, as if there were merit in it.
  • Using expressions not easily understood.
  • Using extravagant gestures, and scurrilous expressions.
  • Not observing God’s dispensation to us, nor His dealing with our souls in the time of prayer, so that we may conform our petitions accordingly (as we find many of the saints have done, when they end in songs after they had begun sadly).
  • Not praying with fervency for Christ’s kingdom, and for Jews and Gentiles.
  • Exercising gifts rather than grace, when we pray.

Failure on the hearer’s part

Next, consider the sins of those who join [who do not pray out loud but concur with what is being said by the person praying out loud]. Beside what is general and common in the duty of praying, we fail often in the specific responsibility of joining.

Engagement

  • When we think that when someone else prays we need not pray, but let the speaker be doing it all alone.
  • When we pay no attention to what is spoken, so that we may go along with what is being prayed for, and fail to be on our watch so that we may join in with the prayer in judgment.
  • When our mind wavers, and we hear, but don’t pray.
  • When we censure the words or gestures of the speaker.

Attention

  • When we fix our eyes or minds on some other thing, and give way to other thoughts that are likely to divert us from joining.
  • When we sleep in the time of prayer.
  • When we are confused, and do not distinctly join with what refers to ourselves and our own case, nor with what refers to others so as to join with it for them.
  • When we are more cold and indifferent in what concerns others, than in what concerns ourselves.
  • When we are more careless of the prayer being heard and answered when we are not speaking, as if we were less concerned in that case, thinking it enough to be present without participating in heart. Then, being unaffected with the prayer of others, nor acting faith in it, we soon grow weary when others pray.
  • When we are not edified by the praying of another, neither taking up our sins in his confessions, nor our duty in his petitions.

Commitment

  • When we have much hypocrisy, seeming to be joining, but doing nothing.
  • When we do not endeavour to have affections suitable to what is spoken stirred up in us.
  • When we do not pray that the speaker would be suitably guided and helped in bringing forth petitions that would correspond to our needs.
  • When we are indifferent that the one who is speaking as mouthpiece for the rest lacks liberty, compared to when we are put to speak ourselves, even though it is God’s ordinance.

Wholeheartedness

  • When we are not rightly touched with any expression we cannot join with, but rather stumble at it.
  • When we remain ignorant of the meaning of many expressions through our own fault, so that we cannot join in with them.
  • When we mutter words of our own, not joining in with what is said.
  • When we are indistinct in consenting or saying “Amen” at the close.
  • Failures after praying

After prayer, both speaker and hearers fail.

  • They do not watch over their hearts, but soon return to other things, as if now that the prayer is ended they might take liberty.
  • They do not wait for an answer, nor observe whether prayers are answered or not.
  • They are not thankful for answers when they come.
  • They do not plead and press for an answer if it be delayed.
  • They do not reflect on their failings, whether in speaking or joining.

Need for prayerfulness

  • We do not remember what we have uttered in prayer, but straight away return to behaviour that is very unlike those things we have been saying before the Lord.
  • We do not keep up a frame for new opportunities of prayer.
  • We do not press after a constant walk with God in between times of prayer.
  • We rest on our prayers after we have finished, thinking something of it if we seem to have been helped to pray.
  • We are carnally heartless and displeased, if we didn’t seem to have had help from the Lord to pray.

Need for a gospel spirit

  • We are not humbled for the sinfulness and defects of our prayers.
  • We do not have recourse by faith to the blood of sprinkling for pardon of these sinful defects.

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How church discipline can lead to better spiritual health

How church discipline can lead to better spiritual health

How church discipline can lead to better spiritual health
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Church discipline is often seen as distasteful for those on both the giving and receiving end. Few of us are used to seeing church discipline done well; there are too many examples of unfairness, harshness, hypocrisy and poor explanations. In the worst cases discipline can be used merely as a weapon to punish those who do not appear to give unconditional support to the leaders or agree with them on everything. But the reason why Christ gifted discipline to His church was for the purpose of edifying people, not damaging them. Like medicine, the dosage should be measured out for the specific individual in question, and although it may be temporarily unpleasant to take or administer, it should lead to better health both for the member and the body overall. James Durham wrestled seriously with the question of how church discipline can be done edifyingly. In the following extract from a new edition of his work, Durham sets out the goals of church discipline and explains how each case needs to be treated on its own merits. Rather than being heavy-handed, the church leadership should act with sensitivity, and rather than being punitive, discipline should be healing and restorative.

The gift of governing (if we can call it that) reveals itself especially in the right managing of discipline in reference to the various different temperaments and characters which church leaders have to do with. For as in physical diseases the same cure is not appropriate for the same disease in all constitutions and times, and as ministers in their preaching are to apply the same things in different ways for different audiences, so this cure of discipline is not to be applied equally to all persons, not even to those who are have created the same stumbling block. For what would scarcely humble one may crush another, and what might edify one might be a cause for stumbling to someone else who has a different temperament and personality.

Therefore, we suppose there is no peremptory determining of rules for cases here. Rather, how you proceed in the application of rules is necessarily to be left to the prudence and conscientiousness of ministers and elders according to the particular, real-life case they are dealing with, in all the details of its actual circumstances. Yet we may lay down some general principles.

The Goals of Church Discipline

All disciplinary procedures which the church follows with people who have caused stumbling must be done with respect to the ends and goals for which Christ appointed church discipline and so as to achieve these selfsame goals. This, I suppose, cannot be denied, for the means must be suited to its end.

Now the ends or goals of the censures administered in church discipline are:

1. To vindicate the honor of Jesus Christ, as this is what suffers when a member of Christ’s church goes astray.

2. To preserve the authority of Christ’s ordinances and to chasten disobedience to Christ’s authority. This is why church discipline is called the punishment that was inflicted (2 Cor. 2:6), and it is said to revenge all disobedience (2 Cor. 10:6), because it is appointed as a kind of ecclesiastical whip to maintain Christ’s authority in His house and so to identify those who are unruly in it (2 Thess. 3:6–14).

3. For the good of the person who is being disciplined. As it says in 1 Corinthians 5:5, church discipline is intended for the destruction of the flesh so that the spirit may be saved. By this discipline, admonitions, reproofs, and indeed threatenings may have the more weight to bring the person to humility and to stir them up and constrain them at least to a more orderly walk in the church, as the apostle says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14.

4. For the good of the church. Church discipline should prevent the leaven of profanity from spreading, and it should teach others to fear. This reason is given in 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7, and so on, and 1 Timothy 5:20.

When we speak of the end or goal of investigation and censure in church courts, we are referring to all these but especially to the more public and general ends, yet without neglecting the edification of the individual undergoing church discipline. Therefore, in disciplinary procedures, particular and special respect should be had to the manner which will most successfully achieve these ends—that is, whether to proceed by meekness or rigidity, by forbearing or intervening.

A One-Size-Fits-All Approach Is Unlikely to Be Edifying

Following on from this, we say that the same stumbling blocks (as far as the matter is concerned) are not to be pursued with church discipline equally at all times, nor in all persons, nor, it may be, in all places in the same manner. And the reason for this is clear, because, according to circumstances, a manner of acting which is edifying at one time and in one case, may be destructive in another and so is not to be followed, because the power which God has given is for edification and never for destruction (2 Cor. 13:10).

Accordingly, we see Paul in some cases censuring corrupt men, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20). In other cases, he threatens and yet spares them from censure, although the scandal in itself deserved censure, as when he says, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Gal. 5:12) and yet does not cut them off, because he found that that was what was required for the church’s edification in this case. So also he had “a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:6), which yet he thought not appropriate for the time to do in case it irritated them to more disobedience and bred some greater division or schism or made the authority of the ordinances less weighty, and so would have spoiled the goal he was aiming at, which was in all things (including this forbearing) their edification. As he expresses it, “We do all things [and so this also], dearly beloved, for your edifying” (2 Cor. 12:19).

When I speak of edifying someone, I do not mean pleasing them (for it is often destructive to them, and to others also, to please them). Rather, I mean acting in a way that is most likely to benefit them spiritually and build them up, even if temporarily or counterproductively they find it displeasing. We need to weigh up in Christian prudence, considering the time and place we live in, the nature of the person we have to do with, and the nature of those also among whom we live, whether it is more fit to follow this way with such a person, at such a time, or another way. And accordingly, as it seems probable that this way will honor God most, more fully vindicate His ordinances, more readily gain the person from sin to holiness (or at least to a regular walk), and most edify others, so accordingly ought church courts to take the way that leads most probably to that end. And therefore it ought not always to be accounted unfairness or bias or partiality when such difference in church procedure is observed.

Avoiding Misinterpretation When Church Courts Use Different Methods in Different Cases

Yet although it may well be a desire for edification rather than an unfair lack of impartiality when church courts use different procedures with different persons who have apparently created the same stumbling block, certain things must by all means be guarded against.

First, nothing must be done with respect to persons or appear to be done with respect to persons. That is, church courts must never for outward, civil, or natural reasons be more gentle to one than to another. Nothing brings church authority into greater disrepute, and nothing causes people more stumbling, than this kind of discrimination.

Second, any difference of proceeding must be seen to be in the manner and circumstances of proceeding rather than in dispensing with what seems to be material in reference to the stumbling blocks. Differences in procedures should be followed only for such forms of stumbling where there is no settled rule and where ministers and elders have more latitude. For instance, some offenses, such as fornication or something similar, are of such a public nature that usually they are followed with a public reproof. This public reproof cannot be conveniently omitted in any ordinary conceivable case. Yet in the manner of calling the person to appear before the church court and dealing with the person, or the manner of expressing or timing the reproof, there may be flexibility to allow for sensitive handling. But to omit it altogether would run the risk of neglecting the ordinance of public reproof, which would harm the edification of the church more than it would advantage any particular person. For another example, other forms of stumbling are more occasional, such as speaking reproachful words about someone or about a church officer. There is no definite law or practice in reference to such offenses. Therefore, in such cases there is more liberty to be flexible about which way of proceeding may be most convincing to the person involved.

Third, in attempting to analyze what may be most edifying, we are not to look to one end alone (i.e., the particular person’s good only or the public good only, etc.), but we are to put it all together and to see how jointly all these goals may be best attained.

Ministers and Elders Carrying Out Church Discipline Should Aim for Restoration

From the goals of church discipline it will be apparent that ministers and elders ought to carry out church discipline with such tenderness, love, and sympathy that they will not only have a testimony in their own consciences that they are acting in the best spirit but also that those who have offended, and others who observe what happens, will also be convinced of this. For if this is not the case, what can their censure gain? And if it is needful for a minister in preaching to strive to be tenderhearted, loving, and sympathetic, it is in some respects even more necessary in church discipline because ordinarily people (because of their corruption) are more ready to mistake people’s intentions in discipline.

And we conceive that in this a church court’s procedure ought to be discernibly different from a civil court in that they are not only out of justice censuring the offending party with an eye to the wider public (for whose good in some cases even the most penitent member must be cut off and cannot be reprieved) but they are also endeavoring to make sure that the church is free from stumbling blocks so that in this way the offending member may with all tenderness be restored and cured. And in experience we see that often church censures have weight just in proportion as they are perceived to proceed from love.

This material has been extracted from The Scandal of Undisciplined Disciples, published by Reformation Heritage Books (2022).

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Why is preparing for the Lord’s Supper such a serious duty?

Why is preparing for the Lord’s Supper such a serious duty?

Why is preparing for the Lord’s Supper such a serious duty?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Not many people associate illness and death with being unprepared when participating in the Lord’s Supper. But that is exactly what Paul does when he reforms the communion services in Corinth. Not being suitably prepared, or worse still, not being really converted at all, and going ahead and participating in this blessed Christian ordinance, is a serious life and death issue for professing Christians. Believers everywhere are seriously cautioned against partaking “unworthily” which really means to be unprepared and to act unsuitably to the sacredness of the duty and privilege. The personal remedy involves serious self-examination.

The following updated excerpt is from a sermon James Durham preached in Glasgow about preparation for the Lord’s Supper. Durham was himself converted at a Saturday preparation sermon preached in South Queensferry. Preaching to his own congregation years later from 1 Corinthians 11:29, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” Durham, paraphrased the text in striking terms. “You had need to look well to the examination of yourselves, for if you neglect or miscarry in that duty, your hazard and danger is dreadfully great through unworthy communicating. If you would escape, then make conscience narrowly and carefully to examine yourselves.”

We cannot be ultimately accountable for others, any more than we can examine others. But if, like in Corinth, the Church comes under some spiritual judgement, there is encouragement here for those who sincerely examine themselves before participating, that they will personally escape the hazard. If not, they are sure to be affected in some way by the Lord’s chastisement of the Church. The special dignity and excellence of the Lord’s Supper is also a strong motive to the duty of self-examination. As Durham explains, communion with Christ in the Supper is the closest that His people come on earth to the communion they will enjoy with Him in heaven, and how then can we fail to approach His table with the greatest reverence and love?

How is the Lord’s Supper uniquely solemn?

In the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper there is a special eminence, excellence, dignity and worth. To put it another way, this ordinance is of a unique, solemn nature.

All the ordinances of the Lord are excellent. If all His works be excellent, then much more the gospel ordinances are a step above these. Yet the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper seems dignified with an eminence and excellence above them all.

1. In reference to what it sets out and exhibits. They all set out love, but this sets out love in an eminent degree, for it sets forth the Lord’s death, where the most eminent step and degree of His love shines. In fact, this ordinance sets out His actual dying, and so sets out His love in its liveliest colours, and its great masterpiece.

2. In reference to the excellent benefits communicated in it. It is true that, as to matter, it communicates only the same as what is communicated in the Word and baptism. Yet if we look at the words, “Take ye, eat ye, this is my body,” they hold out Christ Jesus not so much giving any particular gift, as actually conferring Himself in his death and suffering. The main scope of this ordinance is to confer Christ and all that is in Him to the believer.

3. In reference to the manner in which our Lord Jesus makes Himself over to us. I don’t mean only the clearness of it (for in this ordinance there is the clearest view of a slain Saviour, and of covenanting with God, and often the most comfortable manifestations of love go along with it), but also that there is here a clear glance of heaven on earth. Jesus Christ and His people are mixing and being familiar together — He condescends not only to keep company with them, but to be their food and refreshment. He gives them not only the word to their faith, but himself (as it were) to their senses (in so far as the means by which He communicates Himself is more sense-able, although of course it is by His Spirit that the means is made effectual). The very firstfruits of heaven are communicated, as it were, to the very senses of the believer. “I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until that day I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26 29). He seems to point out a more special way of keeping communion with His people in this ordinance, in resemblance to that which He will have with them in heaven. This ordinance seals up a special union and communion between the head and members, a type of what there will be in heaven.

What more could Christ have given us?

This lets us see how much we are obliged to Christ Jesus. What more could He have given than Himself? And what could have been invented, that could have more confirmed and warmed the hearts of His people than this, such a lively representation and commemoration of His blessed body?

Very likely we might come to discern His body better, if there we had a more high estimation of this ordinance. Not that there is any efficacy in the ordinance of itself to communicate grace, yet in view of the fact that it is Christ’s own institution, it is a most lively means of grace. There is not a circumstance in all the action but it is to be wondered at. It was instituted the same night He was betrayed, for example, and after the Passover, when the traitor Judas was going to bring the band of soldiers to take Him, and He warrants us to take it, and in it we have sweet communion amongst ourselves. Every thing in it ought to draw us to admire His sufferings, and the great love they came from, and their notable effects for us.

What frame of mind and heart should we have approaching it?

All of this should stir us up to make the effort to be in a solemn, divine, heavenly frame of soul for such a solemn, divine, heavenly activity as this is. We should thoroughly examine ourselves, to see that all things are in good order, like to a bride who is going to be married tomorrow, trying on her wedding dress, and seeing that everything is just right.

Without going into detail, I will only point out in general what frame is called for from you ahead of participating in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

1. It should be how you would desire to be, if Christ was coming personally and visibly to marry you tomorrow. Consider what frame we would wish to be in, if we were to meet with Him, and clasp hands with Him personally and visibly. Pursue that kind of frame!

2. It should what we would desire to have if we were about to die, when all earthly things will be insignificant and of little worth to us — if our eternal peace and happiness were depending on this critical point. That would be a night of making our will, and adjusting our accounts with God, and bringing things to a point between Him and us, so that our debts would not grow any greater, otherwise it would not be so easy for them to be discharged.

3. It should be the kind of frame we would desire to be found in, if the day of judgement were to be tomorrow. How humble we would strive to be, how abstracted from the things of the present world, and how confirmed in the faith of God’s love, if the voice of the archangel and the last trumpet were sounding, and a solemn meeting of all before the tribunal of Christ was about to take place! What frame would you desire to be in, if that was the case? That is what you should strive to be in tonight — just as you would desire in that day. It will be a sting in many a conscience on that day, that they were so unconscientious about being in a suitable frame for this ordinance!

4. It should be a heavenly and divine frame, because this is what a heavenly and divine action calls for. How abstracted your heart should be from the world, and from your carnal delights! How much your heart should be in heaven and conversant with God! What a pitch your communion with God should be raised to, in apprehending Him, and meditating on Him, and considering and admiring at the sufferings of Christ and the love they came from, and tasting that He is good, and even delighting and solacing yourselves in His love! This is what the Lord grants His people, when they go about the action of the ordinance humbly and reverently.

 

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Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?

Why should Christians pursue heavenliness?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The pressures of secularism can mean that even Christians place more value on earthly things than heavenly, as if heaven was an afterthought in our lives and the really important things are to do with the here and now. This is entirely back to front, as James Durham realised and endeavoured to remind his hearers — Christians of all people should live in a heavenly way. Durham preached a sermon on the words, “Our conversation is in heaven …” (Philippians 3:20). When it was first published it was titled “A Very Heavenly Sermon.” The following updated extract explains what is meant by heavenliness, and explains why as Christians we should pursue heavenliness.

The word “conversation” or “citizenship” implies both entitlement to the privileges which belong to a certain township, and a distinctive manner of living and behaving according to the customs of that city. For Christians, it signifies a joint interest with the saints (as they are fellow citizens with the saints; Eph. 2:19), and assumes a way, walk, and lifestyle like heaven — having a nature, inclinations, desires, designs, and qualifications that are distinctively suitable to heaven.

There is a sort of heavenliness which all Christians without exception should pursue, and which is indeed their duty.

Through grace, heavenliness is in a great measure attainable. Paul and other believers attained it. It means a suitableness in respect of qualification, conformity and likeness, in so far as is incumbent to sojourners who are walking towards heaven.

It marks out the serious and suitably exercised Christian in a unique and contradistinguishing way from all others in the world. That Christian’s “conversation” is in heaven, while that of others is not.

Yet it’s not an ordinary and common thing among professing Christians, to have this heavenliness. “Many” (says the apostle) “walk, of whom I have told you, and now tell you weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ: but I and a few others have our conversation in heaven.” The “many” that he speaks of here, I take to be those of whom he speaks in the chapter 1, who preached Christ, but out of envy, and exhorted people to holiness, likely with more than ordinary fervour, yet they did not have this heavenliness.

What is heavenliness?

Prizing heaven

Heavenliness is when we set heaven in our sights as our own great aim and purpose, next to the glory of God. Just as having an “earthly” conversation means that you mind earthly things, and you keep inclining towards them, and are wholly or mostly taken up about the things of the world, so to be heavenly is to have your mind taken up about heaven, prizing, affecting and seeking after heaven and heavenly things. “Seek after, or set your affections on, those things that are above” (Col. 3:1).

Actively making for heaven

Heavenliness includes taking the way that leads to the end — using all means and duties that lead to heaven. Paul indicates the earnestness and ardency of affections that Christians ought to have towards heavenly things, and how very much they should, with holy care and solicitude, be busy in using all means, and practicing all duties, which will further and promote heavenliness. It’s the counterpoint of how the worldly are taken up and exercised with carking cares, leaving no stone unmoved to promote and attain their earthly goals.

Acting like we will in heaven

Heavenliness means walking like those who are in heaven. Instead of being conformed to the world, or like the men of the world, we are to be like the angels and glorified saints in heaven, according to our capacity. As we are taught to pray, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.’ It’s to be one of a kind with and have a natural suitableness and proportionableness to those who are glorified in heaven.

Visiting heaven often

Heavenliness means we are often in heaven as to our thoughts and affections, and our desires and delights. Although we live on the earth, we should have, as it were, more than our one half in heaven. David says, “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” (Psa. 25:1). We should make frequent visits to heaven — we should have much to do there, have much to-and-fro, commerce, correspondence and interactions in and with heaven. We should converse more where we love, than where we live. Scripture calls this walking with God, having fellowship with Him, following hard after Him, and so on.

Why should the Christian pursue heavenliness?

In verse 17, the apostle exhorted the Philippians to be followers of him, and here he tells them that his conversation is in heaven. He proposes himself as our pattern in this, and the Spirit of God by him presses it on us as our duty to imitate him in this thing. It is not so singular a practice that he alone has the monopoly on heavenliness. It was common to him and other serious Christians according to their measure, which is why he doesn’t say “my conversation” but, “our conversation.”

A Christian’s “conversation” or “citizenship” should be heavenly because all that a Christian has is from and in heaven, and is some way heavenly.

Look, first, at the Christian’s nature. It’s from heaven; he is partaker of the divine nature, he is born of God, he is of the new Jerusalem, his Father is heavenly (as he is taught to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” or, “Our heavenly Father”)

Where is the elder Brother? In the heavenly places. The Christian’s treasure is in heaven; his hope is in heaven; heaven is the city, the mansion, the rest, to which he is travelling.

Look, secondly, at the believer’s calling and his obligation. He is partaker of the heavenly calling (Heb. 2:1). Separated from the rest of the world, the Christian ought not to live as the world lives. He has a heavenly law to walk by. He has heavenly promises to feed on and live on, and to comfort himself in. His happiness is heavenly. All the duties that he is called to are heavenly.

Are not his prayers and praises heavenly? and can a believer possibly pray and praise rightly and not be heavenly?

To be translated from darkness to light, to be a partaker of the sanctifying Spirit of God, to be a new creature, to have the spirit of adoption, to have boldness of access to God, to be an heir and a joint-heir with Christ, &c. — are these not heavenly?

Or if, thirdly, we look at the believer’s company, is it not heavenly? We are come (says the apostle, Heb. 12) to God the judge of all, to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, to the new Jerusalem (which refers to all the saints in heaven and the saints on earth), to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the first born, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

In a word, whatever we look to, whether to the believer’s nature, or to his end, or to the rule of his walk, or to the promises, or to his work and way wherein he is to go, it is all heavenly.

How can we be convinced to pursue heavenliness?

We should understand from all this what a high level of holiness we are called to. Many have clearly never walked under the conviction that holiness is necessary as a duty; otherwise it would not be possible that so many men and women, who are called Christians and profess a hope of heaven, could or would dare to live as they do — some in profanity, riotousness and gluttony, some in mere respectability and morality, and others in formality and hypocrisy at best.

Let me ask you in all earnestness, are you not convinced that this is a duty? or do you think that Paul was joking, or flattering, when he exhorts us to follow him in this? Or that it’s possible to enjoy so many heavenly privileges, or be to any purpose performing heavenly duties, if you are not heavenly? Don’t get the wrong idea about Christianity, as if when you are exhorted to be Christians, you are only invited not to be profane, or only to go about the externals of religion, or only to have a sort of mere sincerity in it. Indeed these things are good in themselves and we do not, we dare not, reject them, but rather commend them. But you are called to more, to much more!

I know some are so profane, and others are so misbelievingly discouraged, that when they hear such doctrine as this, they will be ready, the one sort to say, “Well, we can’t all be saints!” and the other, “Sadly, whoever is going to be a saint, it won’t be me!” But let all such mouths be stopped. We are called and obliged indispensably to be saints. If we are not saints here, we shall never be saints hereafter.

There are also some who have such distempered attitudes that they either put off all or most duties, or at least go about them very heartlessly, because they cannot attain perfection in them. But it’s clear from the Scriptures that there is a kind of perfection that can be attained here in this life, which is this holiness and heavenliness. When you shall be called to a reckoning, God will not ask you so much whether you did not get drunk, whore, swear, lie, cheat, steal, or the like, as whether you were heavenly in your way of life? Holiness is not to be limited to some few particular duties, but is the requisite qualification of a Christian in all duties and in all actions. Whether Christians are praying, practising, hearing, reading, buying, selling, eating, drinking, or whatever it may be, they are to be heavenly in it all

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A lifeline for an anxious conscience

A lifeline for an anxious conscience

A lifeline for an anxious conscience
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Once someone’s conscience perceives the glaring mismatch between what God requires from us and what we are really like, it can stir up an alarming storm of self-accusations and self-recriminations as well as anxieties about what we justly deserve for our sins. It can feel like being in a storm with billowing waves about to overwhelm us at any point. But Jesus throws us a lifeline. He is able to pacify both the demands of justice and the turmoils of conscience because by His death He has dealt with His people’s sins. As James Durham explains in a sermon on “the blood of sprinkling,” Jesus’ blood is enough to shelter us and pull us safely out of the storm of wrath and convictions. In the following updated extract, Durham helps us to admire the power and preciousness of the blood of Christ from a number of angles.

How we ought to commend the bargain of free grace! and to hold out the excellency of the blood of sprinkling! This should also mightily encourage the believer to step forward.

The excellence of Christ’s blood

It produces such noble effects

Noble and notable effects come by it, i.e., all the great things contained in the promises – pardon of sin, grace to subdue sin, friendship and peace with God, fellowship with Him, conformity to Him, the hope of heaven and glory, the sweet serenity, tranquillity and peace of the conscience. The blood of Christ is a “hiding place from the wind and rain, and a covert from the storm,” just like “the shadow of a great rock in the midst of a weary land.” When the soul sorely beaten with a storm of accusations and apprehensions of wrath comes under the shadow and shelter of this blood, the soul presently finds ease and repose. What shall I say? what can I say? words here may be swallowed up! From the blood of Christ proceeds all the glorious privileges of the people of God – possessed and expected, in hand and in hope.

It procures these things for sinners

The blood of Christ has procured these things to sinners – to those who had an unclean and polluted conscience. Who is it, may I ask, that may draw near to God with full assurance of faith? Not those who never had an evil conscience, but those who do have an evil conscience, that flee to Christ’s blood, and get their conscience sprinkled with it. Those who had their consciences defiled with dead works, who come to the blood, get their consciences purged from dead works.

It is Christ Himself who provides these blessings

The excellency and efficacy of the blood of sprinkling shines forth in the tenderness of the person who applies the remedy to such a loathsome sickness. This disease is utterly incurable if the attempt is made by any hand other than Christ’s. “Having (says the apostle) such an high priest over the house of God, let us draw near.” The physician is Jesus Christ Himself. His blood is the cure, and He is also the one who applies the cure, and O! how very tender, dexterous and sympathizing He is! He even excels in such cures to admiration. He is a high priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens. He is holy and harmless Himself, He loves these qualities, and He is able and willing to work them in those who come to Him. And such a high priest became us. He is “one that hath compassion on the ignorant, and such as are out of the way; who was in all points tempted as we, yet without sin,” so that from His own experience He may the more kindly and strongly sympathize with His people, and succour them in all their temptations. He is a high priest who is “touched with the feeling of their infirmities.” The aching of the least finger or toe in His mystical body throbs up, as it were, to His very heart.

It is so freely applied

The excellency and efficacy of the blood is made apparent in the exceeding great freeness of how He applies the cure. No more is required but to come and receive it – to come, however unclean, and be sprinkled with His blood – to confess the debt of guilt, and get the certificate that it has been paid off, by virtue of how He has paid it. If there is any pollution in the conscience, any challenge, or sore, whatever it may be, He supplies the remedy and cure freely and frankly.

The urgent necessity of Christ’s blood

If the blood of sprinkling is so virtuous and efficacious, for one thing, it gives an encouragement to the guilty to flee to this blood. For another thing, it shows the necessity of making use of it. This is a very pressing and vehemently urgent necessity.

As it was not possible for the manslayer to stand before the avenger of blood outside of the city of refuge, so neither can the guilty sinner stand before his own conscience, far less the tribunal of God, till he has fled to this blood, and had his conscience sprinkled with it.

You have a conscience, and a guilty conscience, with many sins on your score. Your conscience may be asleep for now, but it will most certainly awake eventually, and it will turn into a hot and hard pursuer far beyond what ever any avenger of blood was. The longer it sleeps, in fact, the harder it will pursue. But Christ Jesus is like the city of refuge, and you may now flee to Him and be safe! Seeing all this, o consider! Consider these words of the apostle, which we, in the name of the Lord, say over again to you: “Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things …” (Acts 13:38–39).

It is the great end and design of the gospel to proclaim the market of grace, and to make this offer to you sinners freely. Taking all this together, O! accept and be humbled under the sense of your guilt, from which you cannot possibly be delivered any other way, and come forward and make use of this offer! And think it over with yourself seriously, I beseech you, if you keep on putting off this day of salvation, and despising this offer of grace, your conscience will certainly wake up on you eventually, and expend itself on you most terribly, and you will never get it quieted.

But if you will now in time embrace and make use of the offer, I dare confidently say, to the commendation of God’s grace and the efficacy of the precious blood of Jesus Christ, that you can never lay that sin before Christ, with whatever aggravations, or that disease, however filthy and loathsome, but the blood of Christ applied by faith can abundantly satisfy God’s justice for it, and pacify and purge the conscience from the guilt and defilement of it.

The strong consolation from Christ’s blood

The blood of sprinkling gives strong consolation in three ways to those who believe in Christ.

When conscience accuses you, the consolation is that there is a city of refuge to run to, a mediator for sinners, a shield to ward off the deadly wound of such a dart.

When you flee as a sinner to this city, the strong consolation is that you shall be made welcome. Therefore the believer doesn’t need to be afraid to make use of Christ, or to come to the blood of sprinkling, for He waits for employment, and it’s all the more to the praise of His exquisite skill, the more He cleanses and cures through its virtue. You may therefore come, and not only so, but come with full assurance of faith of attaining whatever you need and want to have. Come, therefore, believers, boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find mercy, and obtain grace to help in time of need.

When you have fled to the blood, you may quiet yourself. You are at peace with God, and with your own conscience. Your peace is as sure as God’s covenant, that which cannot be annulled or altered. It is as sure as Christ’s purchase is of worth and efficacy. If the covenant of grace is firm and sure, and if the blood of sprinkling has value and efficacy, then you certainly have solid grounds of peace and consolation.

Therefore I exhort those who believe in Christ on all occasions to flee to Him, to renew your applications by faith to Jesus Christ, and after every defilement to besprinkle your conscience with His blood, and then comfort yourself in it, and bless God, who allows such large and strong consolation on you, and bless the Mediator, who has purchased it for you, by this His own most precious blood.

Finding consolation in the blood is not presumption

But some tender and exercised soul will likely say, “Is it not presumption for me to comfort myself under challenges for sin?” No. Accepting the truth of the accusation, and being humbled for the sin, and betaking yourself to the blood of sprinkling for pardon and purging, [is not presumption]. The apostle commands you to comfort yourself, and surely he doesn’t command anyone to presume. When conscience through guilt accuses us, we are called to flee to the blood, and when we have sprinkled the conscience with it, we have warrant to draw near, and it is not presumption to do so.

Indeed, if we are resting on Christ and comforting ourselves in Him when we have accusations we have to plead guilty to, this suggests that we actually have strong faith, something which Christ is very pleased with, and by which He is much glorified. Presumption will never stand before an evil conscience. Nor will it credit Christ, when conscience sharply accuses. It is not presumption to lean to Christ, but it is presumption to lean to any other thing. It takes no great skill to calm the conscience when there is no storm. But when there are many waves and billows of accusations and discouragements rising and swelling high in the way – it needs skill to go over all these, and grip hard to the rope He throws out, and confidently, though humbly, and in fear to make use of the remedy which He graciously proposes. He will never account it presumption when souls to take to themselves what God allows to them. But it will very readily be accounted presumption to disdain His allowance.

The deadly danger of despising Christ’s blood

If you are not a believer, but lie still in unbelief, and slight our blessed Lord Jesus, O! what a dreadful disadvantage and liability you fall under! This is the great harm you do to yourself – you leave yourself open to the fierce wrath of the Almighty God, and to the tormenting accusations of your own evil conscience, which will be more terrible to you than if hills and mountains fell on you.

In that day it will be clear that an evil conscience really is a dreadfully evil thing, plus you will have this aggravation of your guilt, that you despised the Redeemer, and the costly price of His precious blood paid for the ransom of sinners. You despised the physician who offered at His own cost to cure you perfectly. You despised the guarantor who offered freely and frankly to pay your debt.

Therefore let me in the name of the Lord (who is in earnest with you, and we desire according to our measure to be in earnest with you) – let me warn you to flee from the wrath to come! There is no other foundation on which you can safely base the eternal salvation of your immortal souls but the righteousness of Christ. Nothing can possibly purge and pacify, cleanse and calm the conscience but coming to and washing at the fountain of the blood of Christ. O! then come! If you cannot wash yourself, get Him to do it. Cry like David, “Wash me, cleanse me, purge me, wash me throughly from mine iniquities!” It will be no excuse, I assure you, to claim that you could not do it, since He offered Himself as a fountain to wash at.

Let me therefore once more earnestly beseech you in the name of the Lord, by the love you profess to bear to your own immortal soul, to admit your sin, and to flee, and to flee speedily, to the city of refuge set open before you!

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How the happiness of heaven can make us happy here

How the happiness of heaven can make us happy here

How the happiness of heaven can make us happy here
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The sorrow that we feel when a believer dies is not a hopeless kind of sorrow, because we know they are now happy with the Lord. But heaven can seem very misty and distant to us as we trudge on in our own beleaguered lives. Even when we believe in Jesus and are washed from our sins in the blood of Christ, we do not always take the comfort that is available from all the implications and consequences of this. In the Bible, however, the amount of information Jesus gives us about heaven shows that if we can sharpen our focus and get a clearer grasp of where we are heading, then some of the happiness of heaven can infuse our lives here. James Durham’s commentary on the Book of Revelation includes his analysis of the various “steps” of happiness in heaven from Revelation 7. As the following updated extract shows, not only is heaven a happy place, but it can give us happiness on earth too.

Those who are in heaven have come out of great tribulation (Revelation 7:14). But the means of surviving to reach heaven is not their own innocence (for they needed washing), nor their own sufferings or works (for what made them white was “the blood of the Lamb”). It was by taking themselves only to Christ’s satisfaction that they attained this righteousness and the blessedness of heaven. Christ’s red blood can make blood-guilty souls white, it has such excellent virtue. While the rest of the world were worshipping idols, or following self-righteousness, these folk fled to Jesus Christ for refuge, and by His righteousness and satisfaction alone they are made white, pardoned of sin, and brought to heaven.

Their happiness in heaven is set out in these circumstances, or steps.

A happy place

They are “before the throne of God” and “in His temple” (verse 15). They begin to be in this place in His Church on earth, by fellowship in His ordinances. But their position there is completed in heaven this is completed, when they are presented before God’s throne in glory.

A happy activity

Their service and work, and the uninterruptedness of it, are happy. “They serve Him night and day” (verse 15), and have their place among the angels that stand by (Zechariah 3), freed from selfishness and the body of death. They are not doing this service by fits and starts, but constantly, like the priests who took turns to spend night and day in the temple (Psalm 134:1). This is a special part of their happiness – that the enmity which is in them now against the service of God, is then taken away, and their delight in His service is not marred. What a privilege they have! They need no priest, nor any intervening means to help them serve. What constancy they have! There is no intermission in their service, no whoring from God, but they do the will of God cheerfully and delightsomely.

A happy company

A third step of their happy condition is that they enjoy God’s company. “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (verse 15). They are not at a distance from God, nor is He at a distance from them. He makes Himself familiarly known to them, and there is no intermission of their sense and joy in His presence. They do not have communion with God on and off, but He shall constantly and fully manifest Himself as dwelling in the same house with them, and they are in His company for ever.

A happy freedom

Another step of their happiness is that they have freedom from all crosses and natural defects and infirmities, and attacks from others. There is neither hunger nor thirst, nor scorching heat of the sun. That means no persecution, if we take it figuratively (as Matthew 13), or if we take it literally, no disturbance of the air or bad weather or anything hurtful to the body. Not only are there no sinful defects in heaven – there are no sinless defects either. Hunger, cold, weariness – there is nothing of that sort in heaven, nothing to temper their happiness or impair their blessedness, not the least upset from their natural infirmity internally, nor anything externally by annoyance of even the weather.

A happy receiving of the care of the Lamb

The main step of their happiness, which is the great reason for all the rest, and serves to confirm it all, is, “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them …” (verse 17). The Lamb, Jesus Christ Himself, who is God on the throne, equal to the Father – His care over them will have no lack, but will supply all good.

For one thing, He shall feed them. This includes all the care over them and tenderness to them that is in Him. It also takes in all provision needful for their well-being, in providing for them, and feasting them, and keeping an eye on them so that they will come to no hurt, like a shepherd does with his flock (Psalm 23). He Himself will take them in His special guiding, without any ordinances or any ministers intervening.

For another thing, He shall feed them in the most excellent pastures, not puddles or streams, and not just any fountain, but “living fountains of waters,” which never dry up, and are able to quench all thirst, and cool all heat. Earthly consolations are only static cisterns, or streams at best, but at His right hand is fullness of joy, and pleasures for ever more (Psalm 16). They are fountains full of diversity and abundance of consolations, and they are inexhaustible.

Indeed, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (verse 17). God will put an end to all their misery. There shall be neither sigh nor tear there, nor cause of tears. Though in their life they were never without tears on their cheeks, yet no sooner shall they enter heaven, but God’s presence and a glimpse of His favour shall wipe them away so that they will never stick there any more, or be seen there again. There is nobody in the happy company in heaven who either actually weeps or has reason to weep or sorrow for ever.

How can this make us happy on earth?

God’s people, especially in difficult times, should be acquainting themselves with the happiness of glory. This is why the Lord goes to such pains to make it known, and reveal it, and put it on display. The Lord stirs up John, and other believers, to look at it and to believe it and to comfort themselves by it. Believing it will prevent us from fainting, insofar as heaven will make an end of all our difficulties. Believing it will help us to submit to what comes our way here, because that time of happiness is coming. And believing it will make our lives lively and comfortable. We can go empty-handed for the time being, when we can comfort ourselves with the happiness of heaven ahead of us.

If those who are in heaven are those who have “come out of tribulation,” then we can reason that tribulations, and even great tribulations, are the way to glory even for those whom God loves most. Jesus Christ Himself drank of the brook by the way (Psalm 110:7), and was made low before He was exalted. His members follow their Head in a conformity of suffering (Romans 8:28–29; Acts 14:22). Suffering would not seem so grim and terrible-like if we had a better realisation of what comes on the back of it. Let none of us think the worse of glory, or think that the happiness of God’s people is of less worth, because tribulations are in the way to it. Neither let anyone prize an easy life in this world with God’s curse.

Those who are in heaven have “washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb who came through tribulation.” Those who are most righteous, whether in active obedience (keeping the law) or in passive obedience (yielding their bodies to be burnt), have need of Christ’s satisfaction to make them white. These worthies kept themselves free from the pollutions of their time and shunned no suffering, but that was not the basis on which they appeared before God. Holiness is good, but when we seek to appear before God, we must seek to be found in Christ (Philippians 3:9). No merit of ours can bring us through either temporal or spiritual judgments. We get through by the washing of our garments in Christ’s blood.

What can we do to bring the happiness of heaven into our lives now?

  • Labour to reach clarity on your right and your part to the happiness of heaven (that is, through Christ, by faith), and long to experience it.
  • Back up your longings with endeavours to reach it. I fear sometimes that many of us, when we breathe our last, will realise that we mostly looked on heaven as if it was just a story.
  • Mortify your members which are upon the earth (Colossians 3:5). What are all your idols when laid in the balance against the happiness of heaven? What happiness can be compared with enjoying God?
  • Use the expectation of this future happiness to comfort yourself, if you have fled to Christ for refuge. Supposing you are in tribulation now, there is a time coming when you will get out of it. Supposing a body of death troubles you now, and needs, oppression, poverty, hunger, nakedness, etc., disadvantage you, yet when you come to heaven you will be troubled with none of these things. None are poor there, all are rich. None are naked, all are clothed with white robes. None are hungry, all are feasted and well fed.
  • Seeing all this happiness comes through being washed in the Lamb’s blood, think much of believing! Make that knot sure, because that is what heaven hangs on. Loose that knot, and heaven will fall away from you. Make sure your calling and election, and seek to know that it is sure and beyond question.

Seeing this happiness is ahead, aim to make a good beginning in in it now. How can we do this?

  1. By serving God, and by holiness ceasing from sin. Those who serve God most uninterruptedly here have the closest resemblance to heaven.
  2. By enjoying God’s company. We can’t do this un-mediatedly, like they do in heaven, but we can do it by faith in Him, and by His Spirit in us, and by having our life lifted up to Him (Colossians 3:1–2).
  3. By being in Christ’s flock, under His care and tuition, fed by Him, and led by Him, and feeding on Him, and yielding ourselves up to Him.
  4. By having a contentedness with our situation in the world, as He is pleased to carve it out to us, learning in every state to be content (Philippians 4) in the enjoying of God and Christ’s care of us.
  5. By being weaned in our affections away from carnal and worldly pleasures, not indulging in these or thirsting for them.
  6. In a word, by striving to reach a greater length of holiness, and endeavouring to have fuller communion with God.

Lord, make us serious in seeking these things!

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The what, how and when of a pacified conscience

The what, how and when of a pacified conscience

The what, how and when of a pacified conscience
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The New Testament gives us a picture of believers as people who have the kind of relationship with the Lord where they can freely go to Him, still with an awareness of their sin, but with the freeness and confidence that comes from a clear awareness of the power of the blood of Christ to wash their sin away. How can we come to share that freedom and confidence? What can be done about our guiltiness, and our sense of guilt? It’s all about the conscience. A clear, calm conscience comes from not simply registering our sins but also registering the effects of Christ’s atoning, justifying blood for us. James Durham preached a sermon on Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” In the following updated extract he explains the nature of this privilege of being able to draw near to God in full assurance of faith, as well as how and when we can (and should) do so.

The conscience of a person un-reconciled to God is mighty and fearsome, a terrible pursuer, ready to seize on him. It is a dreadful thing to be exposed to God’s wrath, and to the challenges, accusations, throes and pangs of a conscience that has a quarrel against you, when you have nothing with which to answer its accusations.

Yet the efficacy of Christ’s blood is such that it is able to purge the conscience of whoever flees to it, and to fence and guard him against the wrath of God, and the challenges and accusations of his own conscience, God’s deputy. Once conscience has no just ground to pursue, so it cannot, and it will not, pursue him as God’s enemy. There is an efficacy in the blood of Jesus Christ to purge and pacify the conscience of the person who in good earnest has believing recourse to it – that is, I say, when he actually makes recourse to that blood, and when it is actually applied and made use of, by faith.

What can we expect for our conscience when we go to the blood of Christ?

What can a conscience-troubled sinner expect, by fleeing to the blood of Christ? God’s rich and liberal allowance to that person is, you can draw near to Him with full assurance of faith. You may come to Him with confidence and boldness, as a Father, in all your worship and appeals.

The meaning is not that the sinner fleeing to this blood has no reason for humility, or repentance for sin, and no accusations of conscience. Nor does drawing near with full assurance of faith remove the holy awe and filial reverence which is due to God, and which is not only fully consistent with this full assurance of faith, but inseparable from it.

It does, however, mean that as believers whose consciences have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ, we can expect these things.

  • We may boldly go to God in prayer, as if our friendship with Him in Adam had never been broken (v19). The blood of the covenant makes our relationship to Him as our Father as near, intimate, kindly, firm, and sure as Adam’s was pre-Fall, with considerable added advantages.
  • We may make use of the promises (– pardon of sin, sanctification, support in affliction, quickening, peace, comfort, etc.) according to need, with confidence. The believer may draw near with full assurance of the faith of God’s faithfulness to perform them, in His own measure, manner and time.
  • Heaven, eternal life, and glory, and indeed all things contained in the promises.
  • Full and thorough publication of pardon and justification before the tribunal of God at the day of judgement. ‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies, who is he that condemneth?’

How can we obtain this privilege?

How may we attain this unspeakably excellent privilege of ‘drawing near with full assurance of faith,’ with holy boldness and confidence to obtain all these great things? The answer is in the words a little before, ‘… by the blood of Jesus …’ This assumes that we are fleeing to Christ for the satisfying of divine justice, and that we are applying to Him for purging, pacifying and satisfying the conscience.

Whatever is necessary and requisite in the application of Christ’s righteousness for making our peace with God, the same is needful to attain calmness, tranquillity and peace in the conscience. What is that? See Romans 4:5: ‘To him that worketh not, but believeth on him who justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’

When you join this with the words in the text, it tells us that the way to peace and calmness of conscience is as follows. First, you are not to evade or refuse your debt, but to acknowledge it. Second, you are to renounce and disclaim all possibility of satisfying divine justice yourself. And thirdly, you are to flee to Jesus Christ, and through virtue of His satisfaction and blood, and the covenant of His grace, to rest on Him for pardon. You are ‘to believe on Him (although you are in some way ungodly) who justifieth the ungodly.’ This is the basis for peace with God, and should quiet the conscience.

But when the sinner has done this, if the conscience is still not quieted and calmed, three further things are necessary.

Actually renewing your application to Christ

This is not so much to get a new pardon, as a new extract of the same pardon which you received in your first fleeing to Christ. When someone has fled to Christ, and is at peace with God, if they do not have peace in their conscience, they are to take a renewed look at the promise, and to act faith anew on Christ’s blood – to display it to their conscience, acknowledging their sin, yet holding still by it the fact that they have fled to Christ, and on that ground making use of the promise for the renewed pardon of sin through His blood.

In this sense faith is called a ‘shield’ (Eph. 6:16). When the accusation is thrown in on the conscience, it burns like a fiery or poisoned dart. But faith goes to the fountain of Christ’s blood – to the covenant and promises – and out of these wells of salvation draws bucketfuls to quench the fiery dart. Faith makes the believer say, ‘I cannot make satisfaction for this sin, but here is a promise of pardon to those who have fled (as I have) to Christ and to the blood of sprinkling.’

Reasoning from solid gospel truths

Yet accusations are not soon or easily removed, nor the conscience calmed, and so there is need of continuing in the fight, and of drawing conclusions from solid and undeniable premises.

This is what Paul does. Someone might have said, “You’ve been complaining of a body of death, and saying that with your flesh you serve the law of sin. Is not that a grievous accusation against you?” “It is true,” he would reply. “But there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1–2). That is making use of the shield of faith! To put the matter beyond doubt, he goes on and draws the conclusion, “I, by faith, have fled to Christ for refuge, and therefore there is no condemnation to me.”

Indeed, whenever challenges come in from sense and/or conscience, and are fanned by temptation, it is needful to reason from the grounds of faith, to ward off the blow and quiet the conscience. This is a reflex act of faith. It does not justify, yet it serves to reason the conscience into peace and calmness.

Bringing comfort to yourself by believing

Reasoning from solid gospel truths will ward off the force and bitterness of challenges, but that is not enough to thoroughly calm and settle the soul. It is also needful that the soul actively draws in peace and consolation to itself by believing. This, as Paul says, “is able to guard the heart and mind through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4). In Psalm 51, David is not labouring only to get his conscience calmed, but for it to be actually filled with consolation. The promises themselves are often somewhat insipid and tasteless (if I may put it like that) when they are not seasoned and enlivened by God’s voice going along with them, and putting flavour and life in them. This is “the voice of joy and gladness” which David is so eager to hear.

When should we use this freedom?

What are the times or situations when the believer may and ought in a special manner to make use of his liberty and boldness to “draw near with full assurance of faith”? Undoubtedly, there is no situation where a believer may not aim at this. But more especially we should, in situations like the following.

When you have fallen into more gross guilt, as David had (Psalm 51).

When that gross guilt and grievous sinning is accompanied with great aggravations. In Psalm 51, David’s sin was aggravated mightily and yet he makes application to Christ over all that guilt and all these aggravations of his guilt.

When through folly you have relapsed in sin. I don’t say this to give a liberty to sin, God forbid, but to the commendation of God’s free grace, and of the worth and efficacy of Christ’s blood, and for the encouragement of lost sinners who would love to reach through to Christ for pardon and peace. As long as the blood of Christ has efficacy and worth, and as far as the promise extends itself, so long and so far the believer’s faith may reach to come with boldness and confidence.

When accusations are lively and very sharp – indeed, when they are sharpest and most piercing. Supposing these accusations were like so many troops of horsemen rushing in on him, and the conscience was like a lion rampant, standing with its claws ready to tear, the believer may and should (humbly acknowledging guilt) step forward confidently, and apply the blood of sprinkling. When did David made his most earnest and humbly-confident request to God for the joy of his salvation? When blood-guiltiness was staring him in the face, and when his very bones were broken, and when to his own sense, his grace was very much gone, and when he had (as is were) forfeited his right to consolation. That’s when he comes forward and draws near to God, on the grounds of grace.

When you find, to the great grief of your soul, you are exceedingly indisposed to duty – when your praying, repenting, hearing, etc., are not what you would like them to be. David prays not only for consolation but also for the lively exercise of grace, “Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me, and uphold me with thy free Spirit.” It is without doubt a very damaging mistake for troubled sinners to think that first they must have a good spiritual frame and lively grace before they venture to draw near to God with confidence. I grant these are very desirable, and the desire for them is very commendable, yet if David had stuck at that in Psalm 51, he might have remained unwashed all his days. But, knowing the way of God’s grace, David steps humbly yet confidently forward in the exercise of faith over the sense of guiltiness and all its aggravations, over relapsing in sin, over indisposition, and over many sharp accusations (all granted, and lamented over) and makes all these together just so many reasons to go to God.

 

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Four Ways To Keep Your Conscience Uneasy

Four Ways To Keep Your Conscience Uneasy

Four Ways To Keep Your Conscience Uneasy
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Our sense that we’ve done something wrong (or indeed something virtuous) is the voice of conscience. An uneasy conscience is a very troubling thing. Whatever else is going well for us, when our conscience niggles and prickles, we cannot be at peace. The epistle to the Hebrews tackles the problem that we have an ‘evil conscience’ (Hebrews 10:22) and that our conscience needs to be ‘purged’ (Hebrews 9:14). The gospel has a solution to a defiled and accusing conscience. Peace of conscience is one of the key benefits that Jesus Christ can give us. However, in a sermon on these two verses in Hebrews, James Durham takes the time to identify four ways that people can temporarily buy themselves some suppression of the voice of conscience. He shows in the following updated extract that a conscience that goes quiet – but not because it’s been purged by the atoning blood of Christ – is a very dangerous thing.

In Hebrews 9 and 10, the apostle’s purpose is to commend the transcendent worth and matchless excellency of Jesus Christ, and the incomparable efficacy of his most precious blood. He does this on the basis of this noble, notable, and unique effect of it, i.e., that when nothing else can allay the storm of an evil conscience, nor purge it from defilement, this blood can do it effectually, when applied by faith.

There is nothing that Christians should more aim at, and endeavour more to practice, than to follow the way by which they may get their consciences purged. All the more so for those who have had their consciences defiled all over again, after they were previously purged.

Observe from Hebrews 10:22 that a conscience which is not purged by the blood of Christ is a very evil thing.

The unpurged conscience is either awakened or asleep, and this is bad both ways. If it is awakened, and the terrors of God are freshly felt by it, who can express the terribleness of this? A wrath-wounded spirit, or a bad conscience roused by the terrors of the Almighty God, who can bear? But if an unpurged conscience is silent and asleep, it is in some respect worse, for it has this dreadful awakening ahead of it. The longer it sleeps, all the more terrible will be the awakening. No one can fully represent to you the exceeding terribleness of the terror of an evil conscience, when awakened by the wrath of God pursuing a quarrel with the soul. Do not allow yourselves to be so deluded as to think that a silent and stupid conscience is a good conscience, in no danger!

Observe too that though all are by nature have an unpurged conscience, yet in the covenant of grace, God has laid down a way how sinners may get their consciences purged.

The apostle’s argument here is that when the blood of Jesus is applied to the conscience, it successfully gives the conscience a real purging from sin, just as really and successfully as those who were ceremonially unclean were given access to ceremonial church-privileges by the ceremonial sacrifices and washings. Legally, as to the removing of the guilt of sin (and as to having peace with God and in your own conscience), the conscience is purged in such a way that sin cannot stand in the way of you expecting God’s favour. Though you are a debtor, yet there is a way laid down in the Gospel covenant to declare you free from the debt. If it is said, “How can you, how dare you come to God with such confidence, when you have an evil conscience through so much sin?” The apostle answers, “Let us come, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” As to a confident approaching to God, and application of Christ’s righteousness, those who have made application of the blood of sprinkling may come to God with as much holy and humble boldness as if their conscience had never been defiled and polluted.

Observe thirdly that the only way to have a defiled conscience cleansed is by the blood of Christ. There is no other way.

It is not the blood of bulls, or of calves, or any one, or all of those ceremonial sacrifices or washings that can do the business. God appointed many means of ceremonial purgation, yet they could never have cleansed the conscience. It’s only the blood of Jesus that has this effect. Nothing but the blood of Christ can satisfy God’s justice, and remove the quarrel betwixt Him and the guilty sinner. Till God is satisfied, the conscience cannot be quiet; seeing then that nothing can satisfy God’s justice but Christ’s blood, nothing can purge and satisfy the conscience but Christ’s blood. If it is said, “Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” the conscience will answer, “I have many things to lay to their charge!” until that sweet word is spoken, “It is Christ who shed his blood.” Never till then will conscience be quiet.

There are four ways that people take, for cleansing and purging the conscience, which are all (if there be no more) ineffectual for achieving the real purging and solid satisfaction of the conscience, which you should be aware of.

1. Diversion

Some endeavour to divert their conscience, and to seek a suspension of its pursuing the quarrel against them, claiming some other absorbing business. When Felix found himself beginning to tremble at the apostle’s searching and powerful discourse, he sought a suspension from it for a time, saying to the apostle (and to his conscience), “Go thy way for this time, and I will call for thee when I have a convenient season” (Acts 24).

Similarly, when some have some fit of conscience, they go to some light-hearted friend, or to some game to drive it away, or possibly they drink it down. Their friend helps them to laugh it off, and banish that depressive fit, and so to bring the person to get rid of this trouble of his conscience as a silly fancy, and as if it were for their good to do so. Very frequently, when people cannot endure to converse with their disquieted conscience, they labour to quash and quench any exercise that begins in it.

2. Resolutions

Another way is also too common, and that is by seeking quieten conscience by something other than the blood of Christ. Some under terrible convictions will promise and vow that, if they drank excessively before, they will do so no more, and they will not go to this tavern or spend time in that company for such and such long time. Some will vow not to eat meat on a certain day of the week throughout their whole life; they will, it may be, vow to be more religious. But all along, they are still the same old carnal people they always were, because they did not aim single-mindedly at peace with God through Christ’s blood, but only for the time being to pacify their conscience.

3. Compensation

Some seek to compensate the conscience. They will do some penance. Or they will pray, and try to weep tears in prayer. They will force themselves to mourn, they will give something regular donations to the poor, they will set themselves to amend things for the future. Yet the defilement of conscience lies there still unremoved, because they never betook themselves to the right fountain to wash. I do not condemn you or dissuade you from doing these duties, which are good in themselves, because commanded by God, but you must not rest on them. You must put a difference between founding your peace on them, and founding your peace on the blood of Christ applied to the conscience by faith. Please do not seek to bribe your conscience like this!

4. Discussion

Some people go and discuss their situation with exercised Christians, describing their situation to them to get some ease in their conscience. Now, this is good and commendable in itself, and when it is done rightly. Discussing things with godly believers may through God’s blessing do good, if it helps us to go to the fountain of Christ’s blood and wash there. But we are at fault when we try to get our consciences quieted by what people say, while we are not making recourse to the blood of Christ by faith. We must not use Christian discussion as the way to peace when we are doing nothing about how the justice of God can be satisfied. If we have a sense of sin and guilt in our conscience, our first work should be to take ourselves to Christ and the blood of sprinkling. Unless we are actually fleeing to Christ and to His blood, then words of comfort and advice spoken to us, either in public or private, are null and void as far as bringing us any advantage.

Conclusion

So we see that when nothing can pacify an evil and defiled conscience, nor purge it from dead works, yet the application of the blood of Christ by faith can and will purge that conscience, and give it such peace and quietness with holy and humble confidence and boldness in coming and drawing near to God, as if in some respect it had never been defiled by these dead works of sin.

The apostle insists on these two things.

The sufficiency of Christ’s blood as the price that satisfies God’s justice and quiets the conscience. When the conscience gets this blood applied to it by faith, it has no ground to seek any further satisfaction, as if something was left owing. Christ’s blood, as a full and condign price, satisfies for all the debt. “The blood of Christ shall purge your conscience from dead works.”

And the resulting confidence a believer has for going to God. Someone who has fled to Jesus Christ after committing sin, and has actually applied His blood to their conscience, may have quietness of conscience and may go to God with boldness and confidence. This is one of the rarest pearls and richest jewels of the gospel – one of the most excellent privileges of a believer – and one of the noblest and most notable epxressions and evidences of the grace of God – and indeed the great proof of the reality and efficacy of the satisfaction of our blessed Lord Jesus. When the conscience of the poor believer is confounded, and put on the rack with so many accusations about their sin, they may apply Christ’s blood, and on that basis have sweet peace and tranquillity of soul.

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Where should we go for advice from Jesus?

Where should we go for advice from Jesus?

Where should we go for advice from Jesus?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Believers know that the Lord Jesus cares for His people, His little flock. So how does He answer a believer when she asks His advice on how best to benefit from His care? Although each believer has a personal relationship with Christ, in the following updated extract, James Durham highlights from the Song of Solomon how Christ does not deal with His people individualistically. Instead He expects us to see ourselves as one of His flock, walking together with the rest of His people, and benefiting together from the gifts He has given His church – the gospel ministry and gospel ordinances. The role for preaching and for church membership is much bigger in this view than we perhaps appreciate in the contemporary church. Certainly there is a clear responsibility for ministers to preach Christ’s will for how we should think and live, as this is the main way that Christ has provided for strengthening the flock. Close as the relationship is between Christ and a believer, not until they get to heaven will it be face to face. Here, for the duration of our time on earth, their relationship is always mediated through Christ’s ordinances – especially the preaching of the Word by the shepherds He has sent. This should help us set a higher value than ever before on being one of the flock and on having access to Christ’s ordinances.

What advice does the Bride want from her Beloved?

In the Song, the Bride appeals to her Beloved for advice, “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon…” (Song 1:7).

She puts to Him two petitions. The first is, “Tell me where thou feedest,” i.e., “where thou feedest thy flock” (for “feeding” here is to be understood as Him feeding others, not where He feeds Himself). The second petition is, “Tell me where thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon,” i.e., “where and how thou comfortest and refreshest thy people under scorching persecutions and trials.”

These petitions rely on the relation between Christ and His people of shepherd and flock. Providing for the sheep, and refreshing them in time of trouble, are the two great duties of a shepherd, and they are well performed by Christ (Psalm 23). She is asking Him to tell her the right way of benefiting from His care of His flock. She knows that He is tender towards His people, whatever danger they are in, whether of sin or suffering, for He is the good shepherd (John 10:11); who carries the lambs in his bosom (Isaiah 40:11); and the one who stands and feeds His flock (Micah 5:4). She knows too that He has resting places and shady places for refreshing and sheltering His people.

How does Christ respond to her request?

Christ’s reply comes in verse 8 of chapter 1: “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.”

The name He gives her is, “O thou fairest among women.” When believers are humble under the sense of their own infirmities, they are no less highly esteemed by Christ. His thoughts of believers are not always the same as their thoughts of themselves. When Christ calls them by this name, it shows that there is a real worth in a believer, beyond the most noble in the world. It shows too that Christ has a real esteem for them, which He has for nobody else. And it shows Christ’s wonderful tenderness, adapting Himself for her consolation, when He shares with her the fact that these are His thoughts of her, now, when she was in need and distress.

To answer her request, He gives her two directions – Look how the old worthies walked and follow their way; and, Stay close to the public ordinances.

Follow the flock

The first direction, “Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock,” reminds us that all believers, in ancient times and today, are one flock, under the care of one chief Shepherd. Also, there is only one way to heaven. The substantials of faith and godliness, in which those who went before us have walked, are still the same, and those who follow after must walk in the same way, if ever they expect to reach heaven.

In all ages, God has helped His people in trying times to keep in His way, and has carried them well through all difficulties to heaven. Believers should observe these as especially worthy of imitation. They should and may follow the commendable practices of believers in former times, and not think they are unique.

In times when new opinions and doctrines hold sway, it is often safe to follow the way of those who we are sure went before us to heaven (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Hebrews 6:14), although this is limited with the necessary caution that it is only insofar as their practice agrees with Christ, the ideal pattern (1 Cor. 11:1).

In a word, this direction shows that there is no other way than the good old way, to ask for, and to follow, even in the times of greatest spiritual decline (Jer. 6:16). We should keep the very print of their steps, those who were honourably carried through to heaven before us, studying to be followers of their faith.

Stay close to the shepherds’ tents

Christ’s second direction puts the believer to the right use of the ministry of the Word. This is something which He wants believers to respect. “Feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.”

He is saying in effect, “Have respect to the public ordinances, and stay near to them. Then you will have direction from the Word through those to whom I have committed the trust of dispensing the Word.” It is as if He is saying, “I have no new light to give you, nor any new way to heaven to show you, nor any new means, ordinances, or church officers to send amongst you. Nor should you expect direct special revelations. Instead you must walk in the light that shines to you by the preaching of the Word by my ministers, the under-shepherds whom I have set over you. This is the way I guide by my counsel all those whom I afterward receive to glory.”

Gospel ministers are Christ’s shepherds

“Shepherds” here, in the plural, are the servants of Christ, the one Shepherd, whose own the sheep are.

Ministers are often called shepherds or pastors, both in the Old and New Testament. They have this name for various reasons. For one thing, it is because of their relation to Christ, who has entrusted them with feeding His sheep. He is the owner, and they are only shepherds (Ezekiel 34).

It is also because of their relation to the flock. A flock is committed to their care, and they must give account for it (Hebrews 13:17).

Another reason is because of the nature of their work – it is laborious, difficult, and something to undertake with tenderness and sensitivity.

It is also because of the respect which people ought to have to those who are over them in the Lord. No flock needs a shepherd more than a congregation needs a minister. Without one, they are like sheep without a shepherd, sadly doomed to wandering and being lost.

Gospel ministers should have a special care for the little ones

The mention of “shepherds’ tents” is an allusion to the custom of the shepherds who carried their tents around with them in the wilderness. So to be near the tent was to be near the shepherd. Probably also the shepherds kept the lambs and kids nearest to their tents, because these needed more oversight than the rest of the flock, for clearly it is dangerous for a lamb to roam freely in a large place (Hosea 4:16).

By “kids” we understand young, unexperienced believers. Christ’s flock does include lambs and young ones. At the same time, even the strongest believers have their own infirmities and weaknesses. This direction to stay close to the shepherd’s tent is given to the Bride, an experienced believer.

The office of the ministry is a perpetual and necessary office in the Christian church. The strongest believers have need of the ministry. It is a major part of the minister’s responsibility to keep believers right, especially in ensnaring and seducing times.

Believers should therefore make use of the public ordinances, and Christ’s ministers, especially when there are snares and errors to beware of. They should take direction from them. In their difficulties they should consult with them, and lay weight on their advice. The appropriate kind of dependence on the ministry is an important means of keeping our souls from error, and when no value is attached to a ministry, unstable souls are hurried away into danger.

However, ministers should have a special eye on the weakest of the flock. They must take care that the kids would be closest to them. This is just what our blessed Lord does, when He carries the lambs in His own bosom (Isaiah 40:11). Weak believers have most need of Christ’s oversight, so if they begin to slight the ministry and ordinances, they become easy prey. The devil has achieved most of his objectives if he can just achieve this. If only people would verify whose voice it is that says, “Come away back from the shepherd’s tent,” when Christ says, “Stay near by!” It is just like a wolf wanting the lambs to come out from under the shepherd’s eye.

Gospel ordinances are enough for every believer

In the Bride’s difficulties, Christ does not send her to seek any extraordinary way of getting help, or any direct special revelations. What He wants her to use is the ministry He has sent. We can therefore expect help from this source, but not others. No wonder the devil, when he is aiming to drown out the truth and spread error, seeks to draw the Lord’s people away from the shepherds’ tents! No wonder too, that souls who stop respecting their ministers are hurried away with the temptations of the times.

When Christ gives this direction to His own Bride, we can see that He does not regard anyone as being above the ordinances in the Church Militant, the church on earth. It will be soon enough when they are brought to heaven – when they are out of reach of the wolves.

What should the Bride know?

Christ’s words in verse 8, “If thou know not,” etc., does not make this a reproachful, upbraiding answer. Instead it only reinforces the directions He gives her. “I have given you means” (He says), and so He sends her back to making a serious use of these means.

This reminds us that a believer may be ignorant in many things. Yet Christ pities the ignorant, and has compassion on them who are out of the way, or are at risk of going out of the way (Hebrews 5).

When believers pray to Christ, they should neither neglect the ordinary means in seeking knowledge, nor, in using the means, neglect Christ. The Bride prays to Christ, and Christ directs her in the means.

Indeed, directions for a believer’s walk, given by Christ’s ministers from His Word, are His own directions, and He counts them as if He had spoken them directly Himself.

Christ wants His ministry and His ordinances to be kept in esteem and respect amongst His people. He does not give a detailed answer even to His own Bride, but sends her to the ordinances, so that she would both see the needfulness of them, and learn to know His mind from them.

Anyone who neglects the ministry cannot expect to make great progress in religion, seeing it is the ministry that Christ recommends to His own Bride. Imagine that in our time, when temptations to error and defection abound, people inquired from Christ what they should do, just like the Bride did. What answer could be expected? No other answer than what He gives the Bride here. Nothing else will help, if the ordinances don’t.

Therefore people should conscientiously and thriftily use the means and the light they have. This is how the Lord advises His own Bride. Yes, He will admit her to His chamber, but she has this familiarity in the use of His ordinances. He will not allow any believer to be above the ordinances or beyond the need of ministers, for as long as He keeps them in this ensnaring world.

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What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Revelation is perhaps the one book in the New Testament that Christians are most likely to find dauntingly inaccessible. Occasional verses are familiar, but as a whole this is a minefield of hard to follow allusions tangled up with other people’s outlandish speculations about the end times. Yet by taking this approach we miss Christ’s purpose in giving us this book, and correspondingly we miss out on the encouragement and instruction we should be getting from it. When James Durham embarked on his massive commentary on Revelation, he began by picking out the clearest themes of the book and pointing out why we should find it more accessible than we do. In this updated extract from his commentary, Durham shows the very plain and encouraging truths that Revelation reveals.

It may look very presumptuous to read this book, or attempt to explain it. Indeed there is need of much humility and soberness in going about such a work, and much need that the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who has given this book as a benefit to His church, would help us to take it up rightly.

Reasons to read Revelation

Yet its subject matter is very profitable and comforting to the church, to the end of the world. And when Christ gave it, as His last will and word to His church, his aim in doing so was to give a revelation, to make known His mind to them. This is why John is forbidden to seal it up – so that it would remain open for the good of His church. There is also plenty to motivate us and encourage us to read and search into it, for example the blessing in verse 3, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy,” a saying which is repeated again after the prophetic part is immediately closed (chapter 22:7,14).

These all add up to notable encouragements, not only to try to read and seek to understand the Book of the Revelation, but also to lay it on us as a duty. We therefore resolve, through God’s grace, to attempt it, so that it will not be altogether useless to the “servants of God” to whom it is sent, according to verse 1.

It is true that many things in this book are obscure. It is also likely that we cannot expect them to be fully cleared up till God opens them up in some singular way.

However, there are many clear, edifying, and comforting passages of God’s mind in it. The Holy Ghost mixes these in for us to feed on, and to sweeten the passages that are more obscure, and to encourage the reader to search for the meaning of these more obscure parts.

Additionally, even in the passages that are most obscure, we may identify doctrines about the disposition of the church’s enemies, and how God gives His people victory, preservation and deliverance. The very obscure passages are after all things where there is little risk to us of being ignorant, compared to the danger of ignorance in fundamental truths, and yet they are things which God allows folks to search out by wisdom (“Here is wisdom,” he says, as in chapter 13:18).

Revelation’s introduction to itself

The whole style and shape of the Book of Revelation is by way of an epistle. It is Jesus Christ, by John, writing His last will to His church. And if any Scripture displays the sovereignty, majesty, justice, mercy and truth of God, for the comfort of His people, and in a way that makes the hearts of His enemies quake, this does.

It seems clear that the writer is John the Apostle, honoured here to bear Christ’s last message to His church. In chapter 1 he is simply called John, without any further designation, implying that he was the John so well known and famous for an infallible and extraordinary measure of the Spirit. This John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, which, from the ancient famous story, is clearly John the Apostle, as he was banished there under the persecution of Emperor Domitian. The description of him in verse 2 matches how he describes himself in his Gospel (John 21:24). Of course, this book (being prophetic) differs somewhat in style from his other writings, yet the style is not so unlike his, for there are many words and phrases in his Gospel, and in several chapters of this Book, which are very alike (such as, calling Christ the Word, and the Lamb, phrases which are distinctively John’s).

In the first verse of chapter 1, this book is called The Revelation, that is, the making open and unfolding of some things which had previously been obscure. Although they may still be obscure to us, yet they are no longer obscure in themselves, nor are they now as obscure to us as they were before.

It is also called the revelation of Jesus Christ. Partly because it was given out by Jesus Christ, the administrator and great prophet of His church. And partly also because so much of this revelation concerns the governing of His church.

It is the revelation which God gave unto him (that is, to Jesus Christ). This denotes the order of the persons of the Godhead in their subsisting and operations – the Father works from Himself, by the Son. It denotes too the way that Christ works as Mediator – he does the will of Him that sent Him: for, as God, the Son understands all things essentially by Himself, but as Mediator, things are given and communicated to Him.

The purpose of giving this revelation is to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass. This revelation must not be kept suppressed, but made forthcoming to His servants. His servants are not all the creatures, nor everyone in the visible church, nor even only those who are special servants by office (as John was, as an apostle), but those who were and are His followers, His subjects, and those who believe in Him in the visible church.

The subject of this revelation is things which must shortly come to pass – not things in the past, and not so much things in the present (although these are mentioned in chapters 2 and 3), but mainly, things to come. And it’s said that they must shortly come to pass, because, though the full accomplishment of them will not be till the end of the world (so these events cannot be confined within some few years), yet they began to be fulfilled instantly on the back of this revelation.

The way we receive this revelation is, He sent and signified it by His angel. Jesus Christ made use of the services of His angel to communicate this revelation, both to set out His dignity and grandeur, and to win the greater credit for the message.

The person it is revealed to is, His servant John. John was His servant by special delegation and office, in a special employment, as a steward in His house. Beyond all others, Christ’s servants have this great advantage and benefit, the privilege and prerogative that Christ writes His letters to them. Not a word is written to kings and great men, but this revelation is for Christ’s servants. To be Christ’s servants is to be God’s freemen, and they are the ones who manage to get the furthest distance into his secrets and mysteries.

Observe Christ’s way of working. Though this revelation is sent to His servants, yet it does not go to them directly, but first it is given to Christ, and He gives it to His angel, and the angel gives it to John, and John brings it out to the churches. Jesus Christ must have His own place. The first notice of anything concerning the good of the Church comes to Christ as Mediator, and He does nothing but He first reveals it to His servants the prophets (Amos 3). They are His servants of state to make known His mind to His people.

Blessings to the reader of Revelation

This book is commended in verse 3, Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy. This is to stir up folks to make use of it, because he knew many would be apprehensive about it, and readily put it to one side as useless and unprofitable. However, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable, etc. (2 Timothy 3:16). So this is added, Blessed is he that readeth.

This book is not a thing to be spoken of only, without being read and studied. Its seals are opened, and blessed are they that read it. It is a happy and a good thing, soberly and humbly to read, and to seek to understand it.

He adds, And blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy. Not only private but also public reading and hearing of this book is commended, i.e., when it is read and expounded in public worship. By Christ’s own ordinance, this book is to be brought forth to His people.

Of course, people are ready to grow vain and complacent, and liable to rest on reading and hearing. So he adds another word, and keep those sayings that are written therein. It’s not the reading or the hearing simply, that will bring the blessing; but the observing and making right use of it.

Then he adds a reason why it should be read and heard, and why its sayings should be observed and made use of: because the time is at hand, when the things in this book will be fulfilled. Time is hastening on to when folks will be called to a reckoning as to what use they made of these sayings – the time when he will pour out His wrath on His enemies, and be very kind to His church and people.

Conclusion

Observe what a good thing it is to be studying the Scripture. It is a mark of the blessed man (Psalm 1). It makes the man of God wise to salvation. Particularly, it is good to be reading this book, and hearing it read. Those who are good at reading, let them use this gift well; and those who do not have this gift, let them take and make good use of other opportunities that will bring them to the knowledge of Christ’s mind. Blessedness is given to only six or seven sorts in the Book of Revelation, but twice or thrice over to those who study it (Revelation 22:7, 14).

Yet observe too that it’s not enough to give yourself to reading and hearing the Word, and you must not rest on reading and hearing. Rather, join practise with both. “Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28). It is not the reader, or the hearer, but the doer, who is the blessed one. Indeed, supposing you were able to unfold all the mysteries in Revelation, if you do not conform yourselves to their intended meaning in your practice, you are just like the man in James 1:23-24, who, beholding his natural face in a glass, goeth his way, and forgetteth what manner of man he was. He that is a hearer, and not a doer, deceives his own soul. The hearing and reading that does you good, is what is put into practice.

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