What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?
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.
2 Apr, 2020

Recent weeks have forced us to define what is essential. What are essential grocery items? What is the “non-essential” travel and contact with others we have to avoid? Much of socio-economic life has coasted to a halt in response to the definition of essential. Countries, communities and individuals may all have different definitions of essential. “Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, associate professor of history at Oregon State University. Some of the readjustment may indeed make us reassess lifestyle and consumption. These microscopic organisms against which we have neither prevention nor cure are paring back a great deal of the bloated decadence of our culture to the very essentials. But take a step backward and consider the widest possible perspective. What in this world is truly and absolutely essential? It’s easy to miss it.

There are many essential things for maintaining life and preserving our safety and health. We do not want in any way to minimise the practical emphasis given to these aspects of loving our neighbour as our moral duty. Yet the thing that is absolutely essential above all things is studiously ignored by so many, including most of our leaders. Other things are merely temporary and will leave people at some time or other. But this one thing and this only, will stay with them forever if they have it.

This is why there is only one thing absolutely essential and necessary. Jesus Christ has identified this one supremely essential thing (Luke 10:42). Clearly it is related to the eternal good of our souls in relation to God. James Durham explains further what it is. He speaks of peace with God through Christ and Godward living. This is living in fellowship with God, glorifying and enjoying Him.

1. What cannot be absolutely essential

(a) No created or temporary thing can be absolutely essential.

It must be something which cannot be taken away from us, something spiritual, eternal and entirely satisfying.

(b) No mere form of religion can be absolutely essential.

We can be sure that this mere outward profession can and will be taken from us (Luke 19:26; Matthew 7:21).

(c) No particular aspect of religion can be absolutely essential in itself.

Happiness is not promised to only one aspect but to uninhibited godliness and obedience to God’s will in general. Mary sat at Christ’s feet and heard His word (Luke 10:42). She was justly commended by Christ on that account. Yet it is not for that in itself but as it evidenced her love to the Saviour, her respect to godliness and her eager and earnest desire to get her soul saved by Christ.

2. What is absolutely essential

It can be summarised in the following way. Peace with God through the Lord Jesus with a view to the salvation of our souls. The sincere practice of true godliness, communion and fellowship with the Father and His Son.

This is not the mere hearing of the Word (though it is our indispensable duty). Rather  it is using the Word as a means of our daily progress in holiness and godliness, and of our peace and reconciliation with God. And therefore this one thing can be nothing else except the life, power and practice of godliness. It is all one and the same thing, whether we call this one necessary thing Christ, religion, or the salvation of the soul. The eternal salvation of our souls is the goal of godliness. Our union and communion with Christ is the means of attaining this. It is always inseparably connected with the practice of sincere piety (1 Timothy 4:8). This one thing then is godliness in its spirit, power, and substance.

This is what the psalmist desired (Psalm 27:4). Not to attend God’s outward appointed worship only but to be lively in religion, to have communion with God in His sacred institutions, and to have the amiable and desirable hope of enjoying God in heaven. This is the one thing, which comprehends many other things, the making of our peace with God, through Jesus our peace-maker and Mediator, and the study of the power and practice of godliness, that our spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord.

3. Why it is absolutely essential

This one absolutely necessary thing does not encompass every kind of necessity. Food, drink, clothes, health, strength, and other things are also necessary in their own way. But there is nothing absolutely necessary except this one thing. The believer may lack other things, but cannot be without this.

(a) God commands it

We may please God and have His approval even though we are not rich in worldly goods, or in reputation, or do not have health and strength. We are not commanded to be rich, but we are commanded to be godly, to be at peace with God, to be sincere in fulfilling every commanded duty.

(b) It makes us truly happy

True religion is the one thing necessary to make us happy here and hereafter. There is only one thing absolutely necessary inseparably connected with our welfare and happiness. It is not the many things some are troubled and anxious to obtain. It is this one thing, the practice of godliness and our peace with God, which can make us happy.

The meaning of Luke 10:42 is as though Christ had said, “Martha, your mind is taken up with many things and you are troubled with them. That is all the benefit you get from them. Trouble yourself as you will, to get all things right, they will not be governed by you nor can they satisfy you. But there is one thing necessary for the saving of your soul—namely, the practice of godliness and peace with God. This is absolutely necessary for your blessedness; but the other things you are anxious about, are not.”

There is nothing absolutely necessary for the happiness of men and women, but godliness and peace with God. This is  making sure of our own salvation and holy calling through Christ Jesus.

A person may have all other things but if they lack godliness they cannot be happy. A person may lack all other things but if they are godly and have peace with God, they cannot be miserable. No other thing can mar his happiness. If then the possession of other things cannot make people happy, and the lack of them cannot make them miserable, then surely no other thing is absolutely necessary to promote our welfare but true religion.

  • It must be spiritual. That which concerns someone’s happiness must be spiritual,  incorruptible and immortal. The soul of man is spiritual and it must have a spiritual source of happiness.
  • It must be perfect. No imperfect thing can make anyone happy.
  • It must be eternal and unchangeable. One cannot be happy today and miserable tomorrow. If it is a thing that is subject to change, it cannot make us happy.

All the idols in the world put together have none of these three things. They are not spiritual, and cannot satisfy the soul; they are not perfect, but have some defect. They are merely temporal and not eternal: a man may be taken from them or they from him. 

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

Without godliness, a soul will never be well. Godliness is not only commanded, but useful and profitable for all things, and so absolutely necessary. This may commend godliness to you above all other things: it our happiness consists in it, and this cannot be said of any other thing in this world.

The godly man has the most contented and cheerful life and the most joyful and comfortable death (2 Corinthians 6:10; Philippians 4:11-13). Godliness brings God’s favour, friendship and peace. His promise and covenant is that they can lack no good thing or happiness, though they lack the things of the world. All those who are blessed in heaven have perfect happiness without the things of this world.  

Conclusion

It would be a great blessing if we were in these times to return to what is absolutely essential; glorifying and enjoying God. This is the essence of true godliness. Perhaps some other things (although perhaps necessary in their own way) have been distracting us from this. Or perhaps we have been content with an outward appearance of godliness while in practice denying its real spiritual power (2 Timothy 3:5). We now have the opportunity to ensure that our primary focus is what is most glorifying to God and for our own true spiritual happiness. Let us not lose it.

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The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done
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.
14 Feb, 2020

“I have behaved foolishly”. Politicians and other celebrities seem to find it easy to acknowledge the stupidity of their actions when found out. They now regret what they did due to the consequences. But they often don’t seem to acknowledge the serious moral culpability of what they have done. “Foolish” seems a breathtakingly ego-centred way of trivialising sin. Many people are willing to admit to “foolish” actions. It’s easy to think about doing foolish things in a casual way. Looking back, we can identify things we either regret or are ashamed of. We’re thinking of the exceptions rather than the rule. But let’s take a closer look at describing sin as foolishness. Perhaps it tells us more than we realise at first.

The Bible often describes sin in terms of foolishness (Mark 7:22), especially in the book of Proverbs (19:3; 24:9). The Psalmist confesses his sin in these terms (Psalm 38:5; 69:5). There is a moral aspect to folly and an insanity in sin. James Durham deals with this in the following updated extract from a sermon on Psalm 85:8.

1. SIN IS THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Sin against God is an exceedingly great folly. It is the most foolish and the maddest thing in the world. Therefore, it is called folly here, i.e. folly in the extreme. It is that which most mars and interrupts the peace of saints. What verse 2 calls “iniquity” so graciously pardoned, is called folly here. This is because of the folly and madness that is in sin. This is the reason that the sinner is so often called a fool and simple in the Book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 1:20-33). In Ephesians 5:15 the Apostle exhorts Christians, to walk not as fools but as wise. In Luke 15:17 the Prodigal Son is said, when converted, to come to himself. That is, as if he had been beside himself, all the while he was going on in his sinful way.

(a) Sin is madness in its futility
Is it not folly for a man to sit abusing and wasting away his time, to be given to filthiness, to neglect prayer, to curse and swear, to let his mind rove on things that never were nor will be, and in which there is no profit? There is great futility in sin.

(b) Sin is madness in its consequences
If we look at the sad and bitter fruits of sin and the great harm that comes by it, it is evidently desperate madness and pleasure purchased at too high a price. Such pleasure is only imaginary and not real. It mars the life of grace and peace with God. It treasures up wrath against the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). 

You can see this in Ahithophel, whose counsel to David and Absalom was so shrewd that it was as if one had enquired at the oracle of God (2 Samuel 16:23). The upshot of his deep wisdom was utmost folly, however, when he went and hung himself. The rich man who had been wise to store up lots of good for himself was addressed as a fool. His soul would be taken from him and then whose would these things be (Luke 12:20)? What advantage or wisdom is it for someone to gain the whole world, if they lose their own soul (Mark 8:36)? What a mad and foolish bargain. 

(c) Sin is madness in its appearance
If we look at sin from a spiritual perspective we will see folly in its very appearance. A wicked man in sinning looks as like a fool, as David did, when he played the mad man before the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:13). Is it not folly to see someone labouring in the fire, and wearying themselves for nothing and pursuing the east wind (Habakkuk 2:13; Hosea 12:1)? They are like a man who is delusional and imagines himself to be a king, riding in great state and triumph, when he is only a poor, pitiful creature, to those who see him. 

(d) Sin is madness in its cause
No just or relevant reason can be given for sin. It is, therefore, no doubt, folly. Can anything demonstrate man’s folly so much, as their contending with God, walking in the way of death and leaving the way of life (Proverbs 1:22)? The Word of God is true wisdom and the way of life is clearly show in it with God as our pattern. Is there anything more reasonable than that we should live in conformity to the Word of God and to Him we ought to follow? But sin opposes the whole Word of God and God Himself. 

Strive to firmly believe this truth; that sin, whether it is doing what is forbidden or neglecting duty, is the greatest folly (Romans 6:21). Ultimately this is what everyone will find out to their cost. If we could discern spiritually the condition of most men and women, who are still unregenerate and despise the offers of grace and will not receive Jesus Christ. The most insane person in the world would not be a sadder and more pitiable sight to us than the lamentable case of such souls who forsake their own mercy and following after lying vanities. 

2. WORDS OF PEACE FOR THOSE GUILTY OF THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Despite the greatness of this folly, even God’s people (“saints”) commit many acts of folly. He speaks peace to them in the following ways.

(a) Inviting them. He urges them to return and assures them that He will heal their backslidings (Isaiah 55; Jeremiah 3; Hosea 14). He preaches peace to them through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2; Revelation 3:18-20). 

(b) Pardoning them. He requests them to be reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:20). He discharges their debt (Colossians 2:13-14; Jeremiah 50:20; Isaiah 40:2).

(c) Assuring them. He not only makes peace but declares that peace to the pardoned sinner (Mark 2:5; Mark 5:34; Psalm 35:3). He comes in and dines with them and one main dish on the table is peace (John 14:27). 

3. AVOID RETURNING TO THE GREATEST FOLLY AFTER SUCH WORDS OF PEACE

Even those saints who have been given to folly and to whom God has spoken peace may return to folly. After peace was spoken to David, he fell into adultery and murder. After a sweet word of peace was spoken to Hezekiah (Isaiah 38), he falls into the folly of pride and vain boasting (Isaiah 39). After peace was spoken to Peter, he denies his Master. After Jehoshaphat had peace spoken to him he fell several times into the same sin even after he was reproved for it (2 Chronicles 18-20). How soon and how suddenly they fell into sin.

(a) Avoid even comparatively little sins. Beware of saying “it is a little sin”. The devil drives sin and temptation as a carpenter drives a wedge. If you let in the point of the wedge by a little sin it will become a great one before it is finished, just like the thick end of the wedge follows the thin end.

(b) Avoid sins of omission. Some may not commit open sins but instead neglect prayer. They may misspend and trifle away their time.

(c) Avoid formalism. Beware of a cold-hearted way of worshipping God in public or private. God, the all-seeing God observes whether you are whole-hearted, sincere and serious in the duties of religion.

(d) Avoiding neglecting spiritual duties.
These include self-examination, self-denial, putting sin to death and making use of Christ. Neglecting these is gospel folly, not making use of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

(e) Avoid unbelief.
The heart has a secret, natural inclination to this, especially in difficulties. 

(f) Avoid heart idols. Perhaps you will not give way to grosser sins but your souls will instead be carried away by the idols of the heart. You allow vain, proud, covetous, revengeful, and filthy thoughts. But if Christ gets the heart, He must reign in it and command it completely.

(g) Avoid the love of the world. Guard yourself against excessively pursuing after the things of this world, however lawful in themselves. This can destroy more souls than things that are sinful (Luke 14:16-24). 

4. HELP TO AVOID RETURNING TO THE GREATEST FOLLY 

Durham gives twelve helps to avoid returning to folly after God has spoken peace to us. 

(a) Walk in fear (Psalm 2:11; Proverbs 16:18; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:1)
(b) Watch and pray (Matthew 26:41; Mark 13:37).
(c) Keep your heart (Proverbs 4:23).
(d) Renew your vows to God.
(e) Repent for past folly (Psalm 51:3)
(f) Abide in Christ and His strength (John 15:4-5).
(g) Fulfil your vows (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
(h) Reject all temptations (Hosea 14:8).
(i) Examine your obedience.
(j) Walk humbly, not trusting your heart (Proverbs 28:26).
(k) Help, exhort and edify each other (Hebrews 3:12-13).
(l) Do not sin against conscience (1 John 3:20).

 

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
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.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

If we stopped to look at it we would see how they weave themselves into our everyday thoughts and actions. We don’t admit it to ourselves but they do get more attention than God and seem to offer us more meaning and happiness. Some things are more obvious: success, work, image, material possessions, even smart phones. But heart idols go even deeper than you think. They are bound up with the deepest emotions and instincts of our heart and that is what keeps them hidden. If we are serious about putting God first we need help in diagnosing what is taking His place.

James Durham explains the subtle ways in which we commit heart idolatry and helps us to diagnose it. The heart Idolatry need not be an avowed conviction that we should worship something or someone other than God. Neither is it restricted to letting ourselves fixate on sinful things. We can be committing idolatry when we let ourselves love or value lawful things–things which are good and legitimate in themselves–to an excessive degree.

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

There are five things which indisputably belong to God: respect, love, confidence, reverence, and service.

It’s not that we should give no honour, love, etc, to anyone other than God, but that we should not love or serve anyone or anything too much, i.e, more than God.

When we veer away from giving God these five things, we are in effect committing idolatry in our hearts (Ezekiel 14:1-7). What does this mean?

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

We commit idolatry when anything – even any good and legitimate thing – gets too much of our respect, so that our happiness depends on it. We can’t do without it, while we can do without communion with God. If something happens to deprive us of this thing, and then by comparison all our other comforts, including the promises of God and God himself, are of little value to us, this shows that that thing had too much of our respect.

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

We commit idolatry when we give our hearts away to created things – we’re addicted to them, we pursue them with excessive energy, we dote on them, or we sorrow immoderately when we lack them. A covetous person, who loves the world (1 John 2:15) is called an idolater (Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 5:5). Ahab loved Naboth’s vineyard so much that he could not rest without it (1 Kings 21). Demas idolised the world, when for love of it he forsook his service with the apostle (2 Timothy 4:10).

There are three ways to tell if your love to created things is excessive.

  • If your contentment depends on them to the extent that you fret when you cannot enjoy them, as Ahab did with Naboth’s vineyard, and Rachel when she had no children (Genesis 30:1).
  • If your love for created things competes with God, so that respect and love to the world shuffles out your duty to God, as it did with Demas.
  • If love to the world undermines your zeal in doing your duty towards God. This was the case with Eli (1 Samuel 2:24). Eli honoured and loved his children above God (1 Samuel 2:29). Not that he tolerated their wicked wrongdoing entirely, but because he did not intervene as sharply as he should have (and likely would have, if they had not been his own sons). By contrast, Abraham is commended for showing his love for God, because he did not hold back his only son when God called for him.

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

Putting our confidence in humans or human thing is idolatry. If we place our protection in humans, even in princes (Psalm 146:3) or in crowds, or in horses and armies, we are idolising them. Rich people may “make gold their confidence and fine gold their hope” (Job 31:24). They regard themselves as safe, not because God has a providence, but because they have these resources. Asa trusted doctors and not God for the cure of his disease (2 Chronicles 16:12). The rich man based his rest for his soul on his full barns (Luke 12:19).

You tell that some people’s confidence is misplaced because of the course of action they take when trouble comes. Some people do not hesitate to make use of sinful means to get things sorted. Or, because of the fuss they make when disappointment comes. Or, because they rely on their resources in a way that spoils their resting in God and his providence.

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

We may fear people, or events, more than we fear God. Fear can make us sin, or at least keep us back from doing what we should, either in little things or important things. Some, for fear of the Jews, did not confess Christ (John 12:42). This makes an idol of our actual enemies! We have more fear for “the one who can kill the body”, than for “him who can destroy both soul and body”! In this way great and important men in the world are idolised. In fact, the same thing can happen to good and well-qualified individuals, if we become addicted to them and their words and opinions, not so much because of the truth or reasonableness of what they say, but because of the personalities themselves.

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

When we are brought under the power of any thing, to serve it, that is idolatry. Every person or every whim that we set out to please is in this sense an idol. We cannot serve two masters, both God and mammon, and if we “serve men”, we are not “the servants of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

You can identify this kind of idolatry by seeing, for example, what people are most excessively taken up with, and most careful to accomplish. Or, by looking at what people will go to greatest lengths to attain. Or, by what gets most of their time and energies. Or, by what most sways, and overcomes, and overawes them most, so that they cannot resist it, even supposing they have to thrust aside a duty to God, or it puts them out of sorts for duties of worship.

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

It would be hard to speak of all the various different idols which may be loved, feared, and rested on too much, and so put in God’s place. Let us look at only a few.

1. THE WORLD

The world is the great clay idol that both covetous and hedonistic people hunt after, calling, “Who will show us any good?” (Psalm 4:6). This idol keeps thousands in bondage. An excessive desire to have the world’s goods, and so to have a prestigious reputation in the world, is the idol of many.

2. THE BELLY

The belly is a shameful god (Philippians 3:19), yet one worshipped by the majority of people, who labour for nothing more than for enough in this life to fill the belly (Psalm 17:14). They only want to earn their living and provide for their families. The fear of want captivates and enslaves many.

3. THE SELF

In some ways, the self includes every kind of idol. Your self, your reputation, your good name, people’s approval–your own will, opinions, beliefs, and conclusions. People are said to “live to themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15), in contrast to living to God, when respect to self influences them to be “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4), and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (Titus 1:7) and “self-willed” (2 Peter 2:10).

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

Gifted or influential people, who have the power to do us considerable good or evil, are often made into idols when people put too much fear, love, or trust in them.

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

Things which can lawfully be used as comforts and contentments–such as houses, spouses, and children–we can be too much addicted to. We can become absorbed in these things–even though they are in themselves very little–and so they turn out to be our idols.

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Our prayers, repentances, blameless living, and so on, are often invested with more of our confidence than they should be. We rely too much on them for our salvation and eternal peace (Romans 10:3).

7. CHURCH

The purity of our worship, the forms of our worship, our church membership, can become idols. When we rest on these forms of godliness, and do not press on towards the power of godliness, they become our idols. This was the problem with the Jews, who appealed to the temple of the Lord and the covenant between him and them, and their external relationship to him (Jeremiah 7:4).

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

When we lay too much weight on God’s gifts (such as beauty, strength, intelligence, learning), or think too much of them, we make them into idols. In fact, we may put grace itself, and the sense of God’s love, and inward peace, into Christ’s place. We may sometimes seek for these things more than for Christ himself. When things like these are rested on, and delighted in, and Christ is slighted, or when we miss them and do not delight in him, then they are idols.

9. AN EASY LIFE

Ease, quietness, and our own contentment, can often be a great idol. This is how it was with the rich man, who told his soul to take ease (Luke 12:19). His ease was his idol, seeing how he rested on it, and made it the chief end of all his buildings and the goods he had to store. But his riches were his idol, seeing how he grounded his expectation of rest on what he possessed. Similarly, many idle people, who frame their life so that they will have no trouble, even though they are not being or doing anything profitable, make this the drift of all they do–to have an easy life. If this was not their chief end, it would be profitable, but when they neglect many necessary duties, only to avoid hassle, it is their idol.

10. ESCAPISM

Sometimes our minds please themselves with things which never exist except in their own imagination. Solomon calls this “the wandering of the desire”, as opposed to “the sight of the eyes” which others delight in (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Some people spend their gifts and skills on writing novels, romances, stage plays, and comedies. Even more subtly, yet perhaps even more commonly, people concoct imaginary and fictious scenarios where they get the revenge, delights, or prominence they desire.

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

The means which God normally works by, are often trusted in and relied on to such an extent that they become idols. These could be doctors, armies, or ministers–or inanimate natural causes. Worse than that, astrology and palm-reading are much prized but the Scriptures treated as antiquated and largely discarded.

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

In order to honour God truly and have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3) we need a right response to Him. God must be esteemed, loved, trusted, feared, hoped in adored, honoured, served and obeyed above all else. In a word, He must be the supreme purpose of all our actions.

We must also depend on God and submit to Him. We must rest believingly on Him and express our faith and repentance in prayer.  There must be delight in Him and constant fellowship. We must also meditate on God and diligently use all of the means He has appointed for us to deepen our response to Him,.

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For
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.
10 Oct, 2019

Many people know that their prayer life suffers at the expense of a busy life. But no one is too busy for spontaneous prayer. This isn’t about unwritten as opposed to written prayers. Neither is it asking someone to pray with you on the spur of the moment. Spontaneous prayer is like a reflex reaction to something rather than a deliberate act of getting on our knees to address God. It’s woven into the fabric of life. A silent and brief cry, groan, plea or breath. It expresses our dependence on God. 

It is an earnest cry not a casual, lazy wish (Nehemiah 2:4). Spontaneous prayer is not just an emergency cry but a necessary duty. We need to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and with all kinds of prayer at all times (Ephesians 6:18). It is something that can be part of our everyday life and duties. It expresses our dependence on God and keeps us in a spiritual condition. There are thousands of opportunities that we have for this kind of prayer and it helps us make best use of our time. James Durham explains the benefits of spontaneous prayer as well as showing the type of opportunities we can make use of for this.

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

It makes us sensitive to spiritual things. It keeps the heart from wandering from God.

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

It keeps us fervent and lively in formal prayer. When we find it difficult we can send up a short request to God for life and help. It also helps us in hearing the Word aright, when we ask that ministers may get liberty and all boldness and those who listen do so with love, faith and meekness.

(d) It helps us have a peace of mind that passes all understanding.

We cn take delight in fellowship with God. Spontaneous prayer gives us a sight of God now and then and a right perception of Him in our minds.

(e) It is often clearly successful.

Jacob, Moses, David, and many other saints obtained what they sought from God when they prayed in such a way.

(f) It helps us make best use of our time.

We are kept from being idle by being spiritually exercised and have great peace and comfort. It helps us in our business and employment.

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

We should watch out for all kinds of opportunities for this type of prayer in our daily lives. The following is general guidance about such opportunities as it would be hard to give specific directions about all the possible opportunities for spontaneous prayer.

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

God may give you an opportunity for this kind of prayer when you do not have opportunity engage in formal prayer. You may be travelling, walking or hearing someone else speak. It is a kind of prayer that will not mars not obstruct your ordinary employment. You may pray in your shop, at your door, or when you are walking in the street or when you are in company with others, or when you are lying on your bed. All these are precious opportunities that might be best used for this important purpose.

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

When you are about any business of great weight and moment. Nehemiah had such when he was before the king. If any of you are witness to the solemn administration of the sacrament of baptism or involved in it. If you are employed in something that concerns your life or concerns, then you should offer some reverent requests to God.

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

When there is any difficulty in something we are engaged in, as when David was among the Philistines, or when he was before the king of Gath.

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

When there are temptations in your way, and you are in danger of sinning you need this kind of prayer. If you find yourself in bad company, or if you engaging in anything that is delicate or dangerous such prayers are necessary. Pray when you encounter trials or temptations in any calling or company. Before you speak a word or give an answer, send to God a request for direction.

(e) When Sin Rises Up

When you find any impulse rising up in your heart to do wrong, when you are provoked or anger or revenge is stirred up. Moses evidently prayed to God in Exodus 14:15-16 when he was answering the murmuring of the people.

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

When some very extraordinary thing occurs which you had not anticipated beforehand you need such prayers. When Ahithophel joined Absalom against David he prayed that God might defeat his counsel (2 Samuel 15:31). Something may happen to you in relation to your family or friends, which may discompose your minds. This is a fitting opportunity to cry to God.

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

When you are called to engage in spiritual activities: to read God’s Word, meditate upon it, pray to or praise God you should offer some desires for God’s help. Or when you meet with others, before you open your mouths to speak, seek to be guided aright of God (Genesis 49:18). When you have to speak reproof, comfort or advice to a friend it would be very proper to have a word or thought sent up to heaven that it may be effectual.

(h) When You are in Trouble

When you are in some great suffering or affliction which requires greater than your own strength to bear cry to God.

CONCLUSION

Here is a type of prayer that we can make use of anytime and anywhere. We cannot say that we are too busy for it. It will not interfere with what we are doing and the busier we are, the greater our need of God’s help. We must be careful to maintain a reverent spirit and use expressions that are suitable for expressing to God. But it will do much to maintain a sense of spiritual things in our minds. Durham asks some searching questions. Is it not entirely unsuitable that we profess continual dependence on God but spend most of our day without acknowledging Him? Should we not have God’s company all day long if we want to know fellowship with Him? What do we put in place of such prayers? What things do our minds run after–are they not often things that cannot benefit us?

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church
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.
4 Oct, 2019

Christ’s message to your Church is a call to reform. It’s about spiritual reformation as well as outward reform.  It is easier to be consumed by outward activity rather than motivated by inward love and grace. Activity is highly visible; our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is largely invisible. The big danger for us all, when we’re focussed on issues, pressures and commendable activity, is that we neglect our inner spiritual health. It’s easy to fall into the temptation of outward faithfulness, yet inward decay. We have to be prepared to ask ourselves, “Have we done that?”

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ wrote a challenging letter to Ephesus in the second chapter of Revelation means that this is a matter of primary concern to Him. James Durham says that we should consider this as if Christ were writing a letter to our Church. He explains that, “our Lord Jesus is the faithful witness” and shows us that when Christ says that He knows their works (Revelation 2:2), He is saying: “I know all your inward and outward works”:

 

  • what you have done in the church,
  • your way of administering all things in the church,
  • all your outward conduct in all these things,
  • your spirit in going about them,
  • the manner in which you are doing them,
  • the aims you had before you in doing them

“I know them perfectly, exactly, and thoroughly”.

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

He has been identifying what was very outwardly commendable in the Church in Ephesus. He commends their zeal, faithfulness, hard work and patient endurance for the sake of Christ’s name. They had not flinched from defending Christ’s truth.

(a) Their Labour
Christ identifies the painstaking concerns and labour of the ministry in the Word and doctrine. He also takes notice of and approves the conduct of the respective members of this church in reference to their duty.

(b) Their Perseverance
They had suffered. Christ knew very well all the persecution and suffering they were enduring. There was the ill-will of some within the church against them and all the malice of others outside it. Christ knew all the troubles Satan and those whom he uses had caused. He saw how patiently, submissively and constantly they had borne it all.

(c) Their Zeal
They are also commended for their zeal in carrying out church discipline—they could not bear with those were evil. They were courageous, and zealous against corrupt individuals trying them, condemning them and not tolerating them. They tested their doctrine and teaching and whether those who taught it had a true calling from Christ.

“Christ does it all lovingly. Because He loves us He does what is necessary for our spiritual growth.”

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

What could be wrong with them? For all that there is to commend, Christ has something very serious against them. They had left their first love.

What does leaving their first love mean? It is something inward. It is the grace of love in the heart and, as far as their Christian life was concerned, they had left it.

(a) Though they were outwardly zealous in the form of religion, yet they had fallen away from the inward spirit of tenderness that they once had. They were more taken up with duties that concerned the wellbeing and condition of their church, than with the inward duties of holiness. They had an outward zeal for religion, and an indignation against corrupt teachers that came in to corrupt it. They also had perseverance in suffering for it, but they had a coldness of affection in doing these things.

(b) They had not fallen away from grace itself. They still had grace but they had fallen away from exercising it to the extent and degree that they once did. They had fallen away from their first love rather than love itself. Believers are at first warm in their love in doing duties to God and to another. Christ’s reproof can be summarised as follows. Despite all I have commended you for, there is something in you that is not right. Though you are zealous in outward things, you come short in duties of mercy and in your love to one another. You are not as warm in your love to me, nor so single-minded in doing things for me as you once were.

Christ’s charge against us is defection

Defection inwardly. Not an outward defection from the truth and purity of doctrine, nor from the outward duties of religion, but an inward defection, declining in the way we exercise grace. We have not been so careful to maintain the way we exercise grace before God, as much as we have been to be seen of others.

Defection in love. Especially defection in love to God, and love to one another. This may be seen in our lack of love and sensitivity.

Defection in spirit. This is a defection in the way we do our duties. The duty may be commendable, but the principle from which it flowed may be grounds for rebuke.

Therefore, look at this epistle as if Christ were writing a letter to Scotland. In his letter, He is saying, that despite whatever purity and zeal you may have, yet you have fallen from your first love. Much of your love, warmness and tenderness has gone away. There is a decline and defection from the way grace is exercised. The sin is ours; the duty is ours; and the threatening also belongs to us. If there is anything commendable, it is more in outward form than reality. Believers are liable to decline from their first love, if not from their steadfastness.

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

He counsels them not just to repent but tells them how to go about repenting.

Christ never convicts us of sin without giving directions about recovery together with it. His direction here is in these three steps: remember, repent and do the first works. The goal of repentance is to be stirred up to reformation and steadfastness in well doing. Remembering brings us to repentance, and repentance brings us to reformation.

If Christ were charging us with a sin, it would be for falling away from first love. If He were calling for a duty from us, it would be to remember from where we have fallen, to repent and do our first works. We have not only fallen away from love but from that awe of God that should be on the heart. Remember this and other things, repent and do your first works.

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

He warns them in the most serious terms of what will happen if they do not.

He threatens the removal of the candlestick or lampstand. The candlestick is the church of Ephesus (see Revelation 1:20). This was not simply the people who made up the church but them professing, submitting to and living according to what Christ had appointed in the church, especially the means of grace. Removing the candlestick is God’s threatening to make them no longer a church. It implies removing the means of grace, the gospel and the ministry from them (see Matthew 21:43 and Acts 13:46).

Christ removes the candlestick from a people when He lets loose error which corrupts purity of doctrine (an essential mark of the church of God, and the foundation on which the church is built, Ephesians 2:20). He removes the candlestick by allowing disorder so that they abuse the freedom that the gospel has given them. They begin to show a secret desire for novelty and give themselves up to delusion. We have reasons to fear God’s threatening to remove our candlestick all these ways.
There is no greater judgment a church can be threatened with than the removal of the candlestick. There is no more serious threatening that can be given to a church or people in a church.

FURTHER REFLECTION

We have developed a resource, based on James Durham’s insights into the passage, to help you reflect more deeply on how Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus applies to you and to your church. It is called Outside In: Four Sessions to Help you Recover Your First Love for Christ. It will help you to think through carefully all of the many lessons that Christ wants the church to put into practice. 

“The way forward spiritually is to look back first.”

Outside In

Four sessions to help mature Christians

recover their first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

The material in this article has been extracted and updated not only from the Commentary on Revelation that Durham published but also from manuscript notes that have not been published. There is a project to re-publish Durham’s book on Revelation with its many helpful essays which will incorporate these manuscript notes.

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How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?
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.
16 Aug, 2019

Did I mean it? How sorry was I? Do I really want to change? Many have nagging doubts over their repentance. That’s often valid. Paul tells us that there is true and false repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). Paul also makes clear that repentance isn’t just sorrow; that can also be genuine or false. Repentance involves our feelings. But if we only ever assess it by our feelings our conclusions about whether it is genuine will always be subjective. How do we get beyond this?

It’s important to have a serious attitude about this. If we aren’t confessing our sin, what are we saying? That we have no sins? That we haven’t sinned? Then we are making God a liar (1 John 1:8). It would also mean neglecting the blood of Jesus Christ that continually cleanses us from all sin. We need to keep coming in repentance because we keep sinning. If we keep sinning without repenting we harden ourselves in it and cannot have true fellowship with God.

It helps to establish first what we mean by repentance. James Durham gives a helpful definition. Repentance is a work of sanctifying grace, arising from the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy. It makes the heart both indignant against past sin and warmed with desire and love towards the mercy they expect. This repentance goes along with faith, which acts to attain the hoped for forgiveness with a thorough impression of the freeness of forgiveness alongside the person’s felt sinfulness. This is the godly sorrow which is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11 and in other places where repentance is required in order sin to be forgiven. It also involves turning from sin and seeking to obey God.

In the following updated extract, Durham goes on to speak about how we can identify genuine repentance. It isn’t simply about what kind of feelings we have and to what extent they are experienced. There are more objective ways to identify whether repentance is the real thing or not.

1. Genuine Repentance is Not a Particular Degree

The Lord does not require some categorical degree of repentance, but He does require sincere repentance together with the fruits that naturally accompany it.

2. Genuine Repentance is Not a Particular Emotion

You cannot judge the sincerity of your repentance only by the sorrow, horror or grief that sometimes accompanies it. Nor can you judge it by how long you continue in such emotions while repenting. Repentance can be genuine even when there is little sense of these things. Experience demonstrates this. Repentance may be unsound when there is a great deal of felt sorrow, even over a long period of time.

3. Genuine Repentance has the Right Causes and Effects

The best way to judge the sincerity of repentance is by its causes and its effects. It is a good sign if repentance is caused by a concern about God’s honour. The effects of this concern are that: sin becomes hateful to you, you are humbled in yourself and you value and esteem God’s grace in Christ Jesus so highly that you are in love with it. This is turning, properly understood, and it includes all the essential features of repentance whatever may be the degree of sorrow.

4. Genuine Repentance May be Explicit or Implicit

Repentance is explicit when people know that specific things are sins and that they themselves are guilty of these sins. They then expressly and explicitly acknowledge this and turn from these sins. Other times, repentance is implicit. This is when people are moved with the sense of their sinfulness in general. They may still be guilty of some things which they do not realise are sins, or they do not realise they are guilty of these sins.  There are also many matters of fact which people forget, or did not notice, or do not think about. The psalmist prays to be cleansed from secret sins (Psalm 19:12). Implicit repentance is necessary for pardon, but it is not necessary that repentance should be explicit for every particular sin someone is guilty of.

5. Genuine Repentance May be Actual or Implied

Sometimes repentance is actual for particular sins. For example, when Peter repented of his denial, and David repented of his murder. Other times, repentance is implied. Someone may have a heart concern about some particular sin and for the corrupt inclination and body of death which it sprang from. Yet there may be other particular sins which they either do not realise are sin or they are not particularly thinking and repenting about. They do have an implied repentance for these sins. This is because: (a) They repent of all sin in its root and seed. This implies a loathing for all the sins which branch out from this root; (b) The sins they do repent of are repented of due to what is common to all sin–lack of conformity to the law of God. They detest the essence and defining characteristic of sin as such, and in this sense they repent of all sins by implication. It is this principle that is necessary for true repentance.

6. Genuine Repentance May be Passionate or Perceptive

Repentance may be impassioned when the heart experiences a high degree of sorrow. Other times, repentance is perceptive. This is when sin is seen and acknowledged and (although there may not be such intense sorrow) sin is still regarded as something to sorrow for. Indeed the heart is sorry that its sorrow for sin is not deeper and the person realises they are so far under the power of spiritual deadness that they cannot even repent as far as they see they should. This perceptive repentance has the essential effects of repentance (namely, that the person hates sin, is humbled, and loves God’s mercy in Christ). Intense passionate feelings may not always, however, have these effects.

7. Genuine Repentance May be Complete or Confined

Sometimes repentance is all-encompassing, taking up the whole person in their affections and actions. This can be seen in David’s experience in Psalm 51. Other times, repentance is limited to the renewed (regenerate) part of the person. The renewed part may be lamenting sin and the tyranny of the body of death, even while it is kept in bondage by it. This constrained repentance is what Paul shows in Romans 7:15, where he condemned what he did but was overcome by his own sinfulness. Despite this he like Ephraim bemoaning himself (Jeremiah 31:18) was a true penitent.

8. Genuine Repentance May be Obvious or Hidden

Repentance may obvious to everyone or to the person themselves, because they have been clearly recovered from sin. This was the case with the repentance of David, Peter, and Manasseh. Other times, repentance is known only to God. Even when there are no visible evidences to others, or indeed even any change of which the person themselves is conscious, repentance may be genuine. This may be said of Solomon and Asa, their change is not very discernible because the Lord has left them under something of a cloud in His Word. Yet we cannot doubt that they did genuinely repent because they were pardoned.

This has been ordered by the Lord in His deep wisdom: (a) partly to chastise their backsliding; (b) partly to terrify others from their backsliding path and (c) partly to make all men cautious about passing judgement on the state of others despite their condition. For the Lord Himself alone must make the sovereign and infallible decision about whether they are truly penitent and believers or not. He can produce faith and repentance and recover and renew as and when He pleases.

Conclusion

We don’t want to think we have repented while actually just putting our conscience to sleep while we continue in sin. We want a repentance concerned about God’s honour and glory. We want genuine repentance that hates all sin in principle, that humbles us and values God’s grace in Christ above all.

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Does Church Discipline Matter?

Does Church Discipline Matter?

Does Church Discipline Matter?
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.
9 Aug, 2019

Who these days wants authority–especially if it might restrain your freedom? Church discipline won’t be high on the checklist of many Christians looking for a new church. And ministers and elders worry about driving people away by seeming negative. Does anyone worry about church discipline any more? Isn’t it just up to the individual and their conscience? Church discipline may not matter to many people but it matters to Christ. And that ought to make us think. At the Reformation they said that discipline was one of the signs of a true church. Why? Because it’s one of Christ’s main tests of whether a church meets His approval.

James Durham reflects on how when the Lord Jesus Christ emphasises the matter of discipline when He writes to churches in Revelation 2-3. The following is an abridged and updated extract from Durham’s discussion of this theme. He also mentions the great benefit of church government and discipline to individual believers in the Sum of Saving Knowledge. Christ has ordained this gift for His Church so that they are hedged in and helped forward towards keeping the covenant.

What do we mean by church discipline? It’s one of Christ’s gifts to His Church to prevent and correct open disobedience to His Word (2 Corinthians 10:8; Matthew 18:15-20; Matthew 16:19). It involves doctrinal error as well as matters of behaviour (Titus 3:10). Church discipline arises from Christ’s love to His people (Revelation 3:19). Its purpose is Christ’s honour and the Church’s good by avoiding others being tempted to sin in the same way or being harmed spiritually. The spiritual good of the person involved is also in view, it is intended to bring them to repentance.

Discipline may involve private correction or more public rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20). Other cases may involve removing some of the privileges of church membership such as participating in the Lord’s Supper. At its most serious it may be excommunication from the Church (1 Corinthians 5:13). We are always to hope that it will be temporary because it brings the person to repent (1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:6-10)

1. Church Discipline Matters to Christ

The topic of church discipline is very prominent in the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3). When a church is commended or rebuked, it is often largely down to whether they are faithful or defective in administering church discipline.

This shows not only the lawfulness of church government and discipline but also its usefulness, and how necessary it is to the church of Christ when it is faithfully exercised. It is a special means and ordinance appointed by Christ to edify the church. It is not something indifferent which church officers can exercise or not exercise as they please. Rather they have the responsibility to exercise church discipline.

Ministers and elders need to be faithful in this if they want to receive Christ’s commendation on the one hand, and avoid His sharp reproof on the other. They need to be faithful in this for the sake of the people over whom they watch over (and for whom they must give account). Faithfulness in this will prevent people from stumbling and being destroyed. It will also help see them edified and built up in the faith instead.

2. Church Discipline Matters to Satan

It is therefore no wonder that the devil is so busy trying to oppose church discipline or undermine it. In the early church he represented church government as inconsistent with civil government and a threat to it–leading emperors to persecute the church. Then he perverted church government into something that tyrannised church members, making even the concept of church authority seem harmful or repugnant to believers. More recently he has been insinuating into people’s minds the idea either that Christ has given the church no distinct form of government at all, or else that the church should be governed in another way from what Christ has appointed in His Word.

Often, those who oppose the scriptural form of church government and the scriptural nature of church discipline do not oppose the truth of the gospel. Nor do they intend to sow confusion in Christ’s church. Nevertheless failure to exercise scriptural church government and discipline are very advantageous to Satan’s kingdom and very detrimental to Christ’s.

3. Church Discipline Matters to the Church

Failure to exercise church discipline matters greatly to the wellbeing of the church. Neglecting church discipline:

  • obscures the beauty and excellence of Christ’s church and leads people to undervalue it
  • makes it harder to restrain or remove errors in doctrine and stumbling others
  • excludes the opportunity for edification which church discipline provides. The penalties available to civil authorities only extend to making people socially acceptable, not spiritual. But if someone is at fault in some way and they are given a church censure, it edifies others and brings greater conviction to the individual’s conscience about the sinfulness of their fault. This is because church discipline flows immediately from Jesus Christ. It reminds people more directly of His authority and the fact that they are answerable to Him. A verbal church censure (which is in itself only a very light thing) carries much more weight and makes much more impression in terms of edification and conviction than a severe civil penalty would
  • makes it look like it does not matter to the church that there are church members who believe or behave in perhaps very ungodly ways. If the church used the authority that actually belongs to her, to purge out unfaithfulness in doctrine or practice, there would be no grounds for anyone to say, “What sort of persons would those church members be, if there wasn’t some other authority restraining them?”
  • casts aspersions on the wisdom and holiness of our Lord, as if He has left His church incapable of dealing with these problems on her own authority
  • weakens and obstructs the other ordinances of the church. It breaks down the boundary marker for the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. It makes church offices such as elder and deacon useless and it makes preaching contemptible. If you deny that the church has the authority to administer discipline, then either the minister has to carry out the disciplining arbitrarily by himself or discipline must be left undone altogether
  • allows the devil to succeed in making religion seem like something you can use to advance your own self-interest

4. Church Discipline Matters to Believers

Upholding and submitting to church authority is a necessary duty which concerns all of us (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). If what we have said about church authority is true, then submission must follow. It is the duty of ministers and elders to discipline (even those who have caused others to stumble). Since this is so, it is also the duty of those who are disciplined to submit and the duty of the church to acknowledge these decisions. Hebrews 13:17 says that we are obey them that rule over us, and submit to them.

People are often very suspicious of ministers and elders, suspecting that they grasp at power for its own sake. They fear that they will be authoritarian and abuse their power. Church authority has always been regarded by the unconverted as bondage, and church officers are always regarded as too proud and rigid etc. But people should seriously consider the following.

  • Is that the fault of the ordinance of church discipline itself or of the individuals who hold office in the church? If the fault is in the individuals, why should it be imputed to the thing itself in this case, more than in other cases?
  • Is there anything in a church office which prompts this authoritarianism, more than in any civil office? It seems unlikely on the face of it.
  • If we look more closely at ministers and elders, there is less reason to be so suspicious of them. No one else’s position and qualifications are so specifically regulated in Scripture as the office of minister or elder. No other office is so deliberately filled by conscientious and qualified individuals. Nor is anyone else so circumscribed by beneficial rules when they exercise their authority.
  • Think of what these individuals are like in themselves, even if they were not church officers. They are men of tenderness, conscience and gifts; just like people in any other position. Looking at their qualifications and manner of life, you could well imagine that they might hold other positions, such as judges or rulers, without anyone being suspicious of them more than anyone else in that position. If that is the case, then why should a church office make them more liable to suspicion, rather than less?
  • Who fumes most at church authority? It is those who are inclined to looseness in practice or error in doctrine and cannot abide any such restraints. Those who are bitterly opposed to discipline are also also against preaching that rebukes and spiritual authority in general.
  • It is often the most faithful and zealous church officers of whom people are most suspicious. This has always been the case. Think of how Elijah and John the Baptist were treated, for example. Yet this really only reflected how people found the doctrine and power of the Word unbearable.
  • Suspicions about church authority tend to arise mostly when church officers are serving Christ, and people tend to entertain such suspicions mostly when they are least spiritual. No one has been able to take comfort from their opposition to the faithful exercise of church authority when on their deathbed, although contempt for it has often lain heavily on their consciences in such circumstances. What advantage indeed comes from opposing church authority? Only greater freedom to sin and the fewer ways to reclaim people from sin. And if censures are administered in a way that only lets people laugh at their sin, without reaching their consciences to convict them, how does that benefit anyone?

Conclusion

The right exercise of church discipline has never been detrimental to anybody. Godliness and church discipline flourish hand in hand. Congregations are best placed when church discipline is most vigorous. And the sad effects of the lack of church discipline evidently demonstrate how necessary it is.

 

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How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon
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.
15 Feb, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of minutes. That’s a lifetime total of hearing sermons. But listening to sermons involves far more than clocking up time staying awake during preaching. Despite the amount of time we devote to this, clear guidance on how to listen to sermons is rare. Christ says that it matters how we hear the Word (Luke 8:18). The benefit we derive depends on the way we listen. So how ought we to listen?

It’s important that we benefit from the preaching we hear. We have ears so that we might listen to God’s Word (Matthew 11:15; Mark 8:18). And when we do listen we need to understand, it is a solemn thing to be always hearing without understanding (Mark 4:12).  Our hearts and lives should produce fruit from what we hear (Luke 8:15).

We also need to pay attention to what we hear as well as how we hear it (Mark 4:24). When we compare what we hear in sermons with what Scripture says we are also listening in the right way (Acts 18:11). Although something preached may not seem to be exactly what we think we need right now, we are to store it up for when we will need it most (Isaiah 42:23).

No doubt online sermons have been beneficial to many. But if they incline us to think less of preaching in reality and in the context of public worship we are not listening in the right way. Particularly if people feel they can skip church and listen at home. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so attractive as listening to their favourite celebrity preacher but it is God’s appointed context.  There is a bond between a minister and his congregation that is absent from an online sermon from another preacher. We are not to be sermon tasters but sermon doers.

In this updated extract, James Durham gives some helpful advice for how to benefit from hearing the Word preached. Listening well to a sermon begins before we ever get to church. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached. This is where we need to start.

 

1. Listen with Preparation

This involves:

  • praying for the speaker;
  • praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word;
  • preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such an activity;
  • seeking to have the right estimation of the Word;
  • blessing God for His Word and for any good received beforehand by it.

 

2. Listen in Person

We need to be present to listen (Acts 10:33). If we are absent from church, neglecting gospel opportunities we are not listening in person. Neither are we properly there in person if we are sleeping during the sermon when we should be listening.

 

3. Listen with Expectation

We should go to hear with an expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him. We come with hunger and thirst as new born babes, having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).

 

4. Listen to God

When we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances. We must be present, as before God, to hear, as Cornelius was (Acts 10:33). Go to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Go to hear out of conscience not out of mere custom or for appearance’s sake.

We must look to God, receiving the Word as God’s Word, not as man’s (1 Peter 1:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 4;11). There is a special fear which we ought to have before His name. There ought therefore to be trembling and fear in our attending to these ordinances (Isaiah 66:2; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 and Malachi 2:5).

 

5. Listen with Your Whole Heart

Listening is more than hearing, especially if the sermon is heard, but it is not understood (Matthew 13:13). But there is a danger when though it is understood, it is soon forgotten. We must avoid letting the Word slip out of our mind and rather retain and store up what we hear (Luke 9:44).

Listening involves devoting our ears and memories to what is preached. Not wandering in our minds and thoughts (Ezekiel 33:31-32). We must not devote only our ears and memories, however, but also throw open our hearts to the Word, to let it sink down in them.

 

6. Listen with Submission

We must not go to hear with prejudice. Faith must mixed with hearing, giving credit to the Word. It is a great sin not to believe God’s Word when we hear it (Hebrews 4:1-2).  This happens when we fume against the reproofs of the Word and quibble with its teaching as well as when we reproach it rather than ourselves.

 

7. Listen with Dependence

We must renounce our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.

 

8. Listen in the Right Way

We should thirst after the pure milk of the Word, that we may grow by it. We are not listening in the right way when our ears itch for novel expressions, words or things (1 Timothy 4:3). Neither must we give more weight and attention to things that are novel compared to duties or truths already known.

When the same truth, expression, or verse cited by one preacher is not respected and received as much as when it spoken by another we have partiality. We are respecting men in a way contrary to James 2:9. The same is true if we are diverted from what is said to love of the speaker. Or if we delight in what is spoken simply because it is spoken by a certain speaker. If we delight in the manner of speaking or expression more than in God, respecting God and profiting spiritually we are not listening in the right way.

 

9. Listen with Reverence

We do not have the right spirit if we disrespect the ordinance of preaching for some worldly or personal respects. Particularly if we prefer any small trivial thing to it.

Reverence involves avoiding vain looks, idle thoughts and other trifling, irreverent behaviour. This includes unnecessary speaking or talking during the time of the sermon.  Even speaking in prayer disrespects the Word unless it is a very short prayer in reference to what is at present spoken.

When we stumble without cause at any expression in the sermon we are being irreverent. Especially when we are so frivolous as to laugh at what is spoken, undermining the ordinances of God’s worship. This even relates to dressing in a way that shows befitting respect to preaching as God’s ordinance. We should also show reverence in the way that we go away from hearing the Word.

 

10. Listen without Distractions

We should be watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. It is our responsibility to order things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.

Some are distracted by vain things while they should be listening. They notice the clothes others are wearing or the way the church building is decorated or constructed.  We should avoid being distracted even by reading something additional (even though it is Scripture) when we should be listening. Even good thoughts can tend to divert us from hearing.

 

11. Listen Prayerfully

We ought to intermingle very short prayers for ourselves and others as we listen. We should pray for the speaker while he is preaching that God would help him. Pray that God would help us to keep such a Word for the time when we may need it. Bless God when words are spoken in the right way. Listening prayerfully will help us avoid quenching conviction of sin or the stirring of affection awakened by the Word.

 

12. Listen and Do

We ought not to listen more for knowing than for doing, more for informing the mind than for reforming the heart and life (James 1:22-25). We must apply it to ourselves and test whether we commit the faults or do the duties mentioned.

 

13. Listen for Eternity

We must give due weight to God’s warnings and threatenings of judgement and to the gospel. We must consider and make use of the preached Word as a means to convert as well as confirm (James 1:21). We ought to make use of the promises offered in preaching as directed by God to us through an authorised ambassador. We must lay due weight on them as coming from Him. We fail to listen for eternity when we reject the many sweet offers of the gospel and do not come to the marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14). In doing so we grieve God’s Spirit who urges them on us. If we do not accept Christ and make use of Him, we tread Christ’s blood under foot by having so little esteem for it.

 

Conclusion

Listening to a sermon is a spiritual rather than merely intellectual or social activity. We must approach it in the right way. We can benefit a great deal from sermons if we prepare ourselves to listen to them in the right way and give careful and earnest attention to them. Afterwards we need to pray and meditate on the truths declared and make sure to practice what we have been shown is God’s will for us. In our conversation with others we can encourage them to remember and benefit from the Word preached. Wouldn’t it make a vast difference to our hearts, lives, families and churches if we did?

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How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets

How to Live Without Regrets
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.
4 Jan, 2019

“No regrets” is probably the most popular life motto currently. Almost everyone seems to be claiming it for themselves. It means living in the moment without thinking before or after about your actions. Get what you want out of life. Don’t admit that any decision you’ve taken was wrong. But such a philosophy is inevitably destructive. The person with no regrets whatsoever is the person with no conscience whatsoever. Can people really walk away from marriage breakdowns etc saying “no regrets”? Aren’t there words and actions we regret? Have we never wronged someone in some way? But there is a right way to live without regrets. One that takes conscience seriously.

The world’s idea of “no regrets” buries conscience and refuses to be impacted by guilt. In fact the only way to truly live without regrets is to take conscience as seriously as possible. It is to live a life with what James Durham calls “a serene and smiling conscience”. He calls it “Heaven upon earth”. Of course none of us are perfect, we will have some regrets. But here is how to live with as few regrets of conscience as possible.

1. What is it to Live Without Regrets?

This is what the apostle Paul set as his goal. He made it his earnest endeavour to strive to have his conscience clear towards God and men (Acts 24:16). Durham says is an excellent example to follow because it sums up the Christian life. He also say that it is the very soul and life of religion and where it is not present there is no true religion.

  • What was Paul’s great aim? To live so as never to offend his conscience or give it cause to make a bad report of him.
  • How far did this reach? Everyone: God and men, he would do duty to both, and be found without offence to either. Everything: in all actions, company, places and times. Not just special times, he aimed to be always constant and consistent in this.
  • How did he do this? It was a serious business. As a man who fighting for his life carefully handles his arms, so Paul behaved himself in all things as if his life depended on every action or word.

2. Why is this Important?

  • There are many sorts of offences both toward God and toward men that we are liable to commit.
  • Everyone has a conscience within that takes notice of every aspect of their conduct. It is influenced by this and influences us.
  • Whatever things are offences toward God or men are also offensive to the conscience, whatever sin strikes against God’s law wounds the conscience.
  • It is an excellent thing for a believer to live so as to keep a conscience always clear of offence toward God and toward men. It is a very bad thing at any time to have offence toward either of them on the conscience.
  • Everyone (especially believers) should live in this way so that they may always keep a conscience clear of offence. It is not only a duty but an excellent means for advancing holiness.
  • It is a demanding thing to honestly aim to keep our conscience always clear of offence.
  • Conscience is left to abound with offences where these demands are neglected and not seriously engaged in.

3. What Does it Involve?

(a) Do Not Commit Any Known Sin

There will be no good conscience if you do. Live in a way that is not contrary to what you know.

(b) Do Not Omit Any Known Duty

Every sin wrongs the conscience, but the sin we know and yet commit and the duty we know and yet omit, strikes against the conscience even more directly. You who know that the sabbath should be kept holy, that you should pray in secret, and in your families, that you should not make one another stumble etc. Beware of running into these dangers that are contrary to your knowledge.

(c) Do Nothing Doubtingly

Those who do something and yet doubt whether they should are sentenced and condemned at to that particular thing (see Romans 14:23).

(d) Do Duties in the Right Way

Strive to do duties in the right way and for the right purpose. It is not enough to pray or do any other commanded duty. That will not keep conscience quiet if you do not seek to do it in the right way and for the right purpose. The activity is lawful but conscience will still convict you because of the way in which you do it.

4. How Does it Help Us Spiritually?

  • It gives much boldness in approaching God (1 John 3:20).
  • It gives reason to expect our prayers to be heard (1 John 3:22).
  • It keeps us from much sin
  • It makes life cheerful (Proverbs 15:15) and the heart guarded with peace (Philippians 4:7).
  • It is sweet in affliction (2 Corinthians 1:12). 
  • It is sweet when death approaches (2 Kings 20:3).

5. How to Live Without Regrets

(a) Strive to be Clear

Strive to be clear in the matters of God and what concerns your own good. “Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). It is not possible for those who are ignorant of what God requires to keep a good conscience. They do not know when they sin or when they do duty aright. Many wise and rich men can speak well of the things of this world but are ignorant of the things of God.

(b) Take Heed to Conscience

Most follow what their own reason and will prefer and do it without ever ask what conscience rightly informed by God’s Word would say. This makes many say and do in haste things that they repent of afterwards. Consult seriously with your conscience and do not sin (Psalm 4:4). Do not let the advice of flesh and blood come between God and you and sway you. Of course we should not take everything from conscience without reasons, it is a lesser rule to follow. Listen to what the greater rule of God’s Word says. Test something by bringing it to conscience and then test your conscience by asking it to give a reason from the Word.

(c) Beware of Going Against Conscience

Beware of going against conscience in the least thing. Abstain from everything that seem to come in into conflict with it. Conscience is a very tender thing; if we do not respect conscience we may provoke God to give us up to do what we want.

(d) Listen to Conscience

Listen to what conscience says before you do anything. Consider also how you acted according to your knowledge of what is right afterwards.  Paul puts a good conscience and sincerity together (2 Corinthians 1:12). No matter how many good words we speak and how many good things we do, they will not be accepted if do not have a single eye to God’s honour in them. A good conscience will be lacking where this is not there or where conscience is made subordinate to our interests. Many resolve to do such and duties, as long as they fit in with their own interests.

(e) Go Often to the Blood of Christ

Be frequent and serious in making believing use of the blood of Christ, the blood of sprinkling. Thus, your consciences may be sprinkled and purged from dead works (Hebrews 9:14 and 10:22). The great basis of your peace is not how serious and sincere you are but how He has satisfied divine justice. Many of our works and duties are dead unless they are sprinkled with the power of His blood. They will be like many dead weights on the conscience. There can be no truly good conscience if this is neglected.

Conclusion

Nothing will make your life more truly cheerful and comfortable. But if it is neglected or slighted, all your knowledge, debates about religion, tasting the good Word of God, all your prayers, or whatever else you can name, will be of no purpose. We leave it on you before God and apply it direct to your conscience, to make it your endeavour to always have a good conscience clear of offence toward God and toward men.  

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Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church
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.
26 Oct, 2018

What will the Church look like in 10-30 years time? It’s the sort of question that launches a thousand predictions, strategies and plans to enhance confidence. But our fears for the Church go beyond the levels of church attendance. There are wider pressures on the Church from without that are especially threatening. Then there are the dangers from within such as moral failure, error. Our strategies won’t make much headway against these destructive forces. So we have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

In a day of small things there may be many such fears in relation to the Church. Like Eli, we may tremble for the ark of God. Such fears should not of course make us despise the day of small things and ignore evident encouragements.  In the following updated extract, James Durham addresses four main fears about the Church. These are all answered in the intercession of Christ. There is much to be gained from considering how Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now in the presence of God for His people (Hebrews 9:24). It is a constant, unceasing intercession (Hebrews 7:25). John chapter 17 allows us to see some of what Christ desires for His Church.

 

1. Will We Have Enough Suitable Preachers?

There is a fear of preaching and ministers being scarce or weak in quality. Ministers are the great gift which Christ has given for the edification of His body. The Church suffers when it does not have pastors according to God’s own heart. But if you compare Psalm 68:18 with Ephesians 4:8, 12-14 you will find that Christ’s intercession answers that fear completely. In the Psalm it speaks of Christ having received gifts for men, which assumes He has made request for them.  Ephesians 4 says “He gave gifts to men”. Compare these two passages with a third (Acts 1:4).  Christ instructs His apostles to wait at Jerusalem until He sends the promised Holy Spirit. The Spirit was poured out after His ascension (see Acts 2) and only given once Jesus was glorified (John 11:39). These passages all show the connection between Christ’s ascension, the Spirit being poured out and gifts being given, whether ministers or others.

There is nothing most people care about less than a ministry. Some would rather have none at all, others want them to be only such as please and humour them. But our Lord has received gifts to be given to men. The One that poured out such gifts on the apostles and others gives the gifts that He pleases and sees necessary for the edification of His Church. And that he gives such gifts to men, that his people are not praying much for; whence is it, but from his intercession? He delights in this aspect of the spiritual glory and majesty that He has. He places a respect on ministers in saying that He holds the stars in His right hand (Revelation 1:16), He has them there to use as He pleases.

 

2. Will Our Enemies Triumph?

The Church of God is greatly exercised by the difficulty of enemies and their mighty opposition. Islam and other false religions, Romanism, and false brethren threaten to swallow up the Church of Christ. It is like a little bush burning with fire yet not consumed. But there is comfort in Christ’s intercession with respect to this.  Christ sat down on the right hand of God and is expecting His enemies to be made His footstool. (Hebrews 10:13). He is pleading for and supporting this at the Father’s court.

All the persecutions of the early Church were broken as the fruit of this intercession. This is why it is said most emphatically that He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24). This is according to the promise made to Him by Jehovah (Psalm 110:1). He cannot be an intercessor unless His enemies are brought down. For who will be able to stand when He gives in His complaint against them? Who will plead the cause of the persecutor when He pleads against them? He is so certain of His enemies being made His footstool that he is waiting until He sees it accomplished. He must reign until then notwithstanding all the malice and might of devils and men.

 

3. How Far Will Rulers Go in Rejecting Christ?

It is difficult for the Church and people of God to think on the great confusion there is in the world. There are few courts and parliaments that are for Christ. Few governors, higher or lower, consult His honour or regard Him. It is not His friends or those that favour His cause that control governments and guide such things. Mostly the opposite is the case. But the comfort is that there is a court in heaven that gives out orders. The Church has an representative who is there constantly but the devil and the world have no representatives there. Jesus Christ is the Church’s representative and intercessor there.

In Daniel 10:13 we read about the help of Michael the chief prince against the prince of the kingdom of Persia. In Daniel 10:21 we further read that there was none to assist in all the court of Persia except “Michael your Prince”. The great intercessor was at court, seeing that nothing went wrong, that no decree was passed to the prejudice of the people of God and His work. When they were building the temple, Christ is said to build the temple of the Lord. He was to bear the glory and be a Priest, sitting and ruling on his throne with the government committed to Him (Zechariah 6:13). What danger can there be when heaven guides everything? What danger when the Church has a representative at the court, to see that nothing goes wrong. When Michael the Prince is there He sees and reads all the acts and decrees of the court. Indeed He composes them He sees to it that there is nothing in them hurtful to His Church. Should we not thank God for this?

 

4. Will We Survive Our Internal Problems?

A fourth thing that troubles the Church of God is that stumbling blocks abound within. Spreading error, is like a flood that threatens to drown the Church. Great stormy winds come which seem likely to blow down the house of God. Offences and stumbling blocks abound and combine with error like a flood is about to drown everything. When the devil is removed from the throne and cannot persecute with violence he selects another way. He spews out his flood of error to devour the woman and her child (Revelation 12:13-15).

Yet the Lord is active too. After the end of a period of persecution, John sees an angel (interpreted to symbolise Christ) ascending from the east (Revelation 7:1-2). He has the great seal of the living God and nothing is valid until it is sealed by Him. Notice the time when He appears; it is when the winds are held, and ready to blow (Revelation 7:1). ‘Wait a little,’ he says, ‘before these winds blow that will take most off their feet and this delusion advance’. Some servants of God must be sealed and put beyond the reach of danger and then the winds will be allowed to blow. Why should we or could we be anxious if our hearts have a solid and living faith in this intercessor and advocate being in heaven and interceding in this way?

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Don’t Despise Old Books

Don’t Despise Old Books

Don’t Despise Old Books
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.
19 Oct, 2018

We have been fed the idea over and over again that the new is best. We have been tutored to be impatient with anything old.  Anything new is supposed to be most valuable and accurate. The idea is based on circular logic, already assuming that what is new is better. If we don’t know what is old and only embrace what is new how can we assess whether it is an improvement? But what if it doesn’t in fact improve on what we have had but only replaces it? Much of the content we consume – even blog posts – is temporary in the sense of being connected to the moment and soon forgotten.  Older books bring us a sense of perspective away from current fashions and blind spots. They have also passed the test of time but new books are still being tried and assessed. These are some of the reasons of course, why we make use of them in these weekly blog posts and show how they bring a perspective on our contemporary situation. If we are prepared to learn from contemporary Christians why not from those in the past? Let’s hear the case for making use of older books.

Here are a few reasons we should take older books seriously. Many older books are now published in a way that makes them easier to read in terms of their format and explaining some of the difficult words. It’s easier than ever to make use of them.

 

(a) Older Books Take Us Out Of Our Current Context.

Sometimes we need to take a break and not be caught up in the myopia of our own context. We need to listen to people who are asking questions we have never thought of. We need to engage with their refreshingly different ways of answering the questions we ask. They help us assess new ideas critically.

 

(b) Older Books Help Us Grow in Our Understanding.

Perhaps they do have more theology – that is a good thing. They are often more full of Scripture quotations and so bring us to the fountain of truth more frequently. They also tend to quote and apply Scripture in a different way than we might have considered.

 

(c) Older Books Humble Us.

When we see the depth of understanding and learning evident from older writers we are humbled. We have many opportunities, resources and technologies that they did not have but yet we still feel that we are walking amongst giants when we read them.

 

(d) Older Books Edify Us.

They often feed the soul more because the authors had a higher spiritual temperature than exists in our day. We are warmed by their love of Christ and His Word.

 

James Durham gives wise counsel in this area. He gives simple rules that if truly weighed would help us zero in on the most beneficial reading possible. The less time we have for reading, the more selective we need to be. The following is an updated extract from an essay that he wrote on the subject of reading and hearing. We must take heed what we hear and how we hear (Mark 4:24 and Luke 8:18); it is the same with reading. Older books that have stood the test of time have been approved by more as most beneficial.

Just as we should beware of listening to false teaching, so we should beware of reading it. He warns against a “lightness” and indifference in our reading and hearing. Our ears may be “itching” after some new teaching and we may have a secret discontent with sound teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

Reading is a special means of edification if used well but a great step towards destruction if otherwise, as experience shows.  Thus, people are commanded to watch and choose that which is most excellent. They cannot be left to be indifferent in this. We must spend our time wisely (as a special talent give by God). In reading many things our time can be greatly misspent and abused to our harm.

Christian wisdom is called for in order to make a right choice. Especially considering that many can only spend a little time in reading. A wrong choice means that they incapacitate themselves from reading things that may be more profitable for their condition and situation. Also, seeing that not everyone has the ability to discern poison from good food, people must regulate their Christian liberty in this aright. Otherwise it will become carelessness and turn into a snare. Some due to their gifts and calling need to acquaint themselves with writings of all kinds in order to refute them. Yet not everyone should take this liberty for themselves any more than they would attempt to publicly debate with adversaries of any kind. The strength and weight of their errors are stuffed into their writings and we are unable to counter their writings just as much as their speeches.

 

1. Read Books Recommended by Godly Christians

Spend your time reading the books from which godly Christians have previously derived benefit or recommend.  Such have (so to say) been tried and tasted and, like good food in which there is no danger, may therefore be used. There is no difficulty here, for it is easy to find out which books are commonly esteemed to be such.

 

2. Consider the Character of the Author

Consider the author to help decide whether such and such a book may be made use of. Other writings, preaching or otherwise will make it clear whether he is known to be sound and serious so as to give confidence to venture on the book. This is why the names of authors are inserted in their writings frequently (John’s name occurs frequently in the Book of Revelation). No man’s name ought to carry such weight that we digest anything without first testing it just because it comes from him. Yet it may give liberty to make use of their writings rather than those of another in whom there are no grounds of confidence.

 

3. Don’t Read Books and Authors Rejected by Godly Christians

Some books and authors are noted by the godly to be dangerous and unprofitable and have been found to be so by experience. Keep your distance from such lest you have to prove by your own experience what you will not learn from others.

 

4. Avoid Unknown Books and Authors

Where both books and authors are unknown it’s safer to abstain from reading them until those best able to discern discover what they are. In the meantime, spend your time reading those that are unquestionably profitable. This means that we waste no time. It may also be done in faith, knowing that we are not risking temptation (which would not be the case in reading unknown books).

People usually do this in choosing doctors for the body. They choose those who others have found to be skilful and useful, rather than take a risk on any who are yet unknown and no one has tried.  Wisdom would say that no less should be required in making use of doctors or remedies for our spiritual edification; it is no less important than the other. If these things were observed in writing, reading, and hearing respectively, the Church of Christ might be preserved from many errors and offences. Many might be saved from much damaging and unprofitable writing and reading.

 

Conclusion

Some of the most highly commended books by those of Durham’s contemporaries are of course William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest and Samuel Rutherford’s Letters (The Loveliness of Christ contains quotations from the Letters). The Westminster Confession and Catechisms together with associated documents make vital reading. One of the documents is The Sum of Saving Knowledge, a valuable little book that strengthens assurance in explaining and applying the gospel. Durham wrote this together with David Dickson. Dickson also produced Truth’s Victory over Error to defend the Westminster Confession against many errors.

James Durham himself preached and published 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. These have been very highly commended. They are a rich presentation of Christ crucified as the “marrow of the gospel”. His commentary on the Song of Solomon explores the depths of communion with Christ in Christian experience. Spurgeon said that Durham was always good but in this commentary, he was at his best. He also discussed many practical aspects of church principles and order. His Treatise on Scandal also gives wise counsel in how to avoid stumbling others as well as in matters of church discipline and government.

 
 

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What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death

What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death

What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death
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.
5 Oct, 2018

In western culture there aren’t many taboo subjects that no one wants to speak about. But the silence is deafening in relation to death. A ComRes survey from 2014 found that eight in ten in the UK are uncomfortable talking about death. It seems as if we want to convince ourselves that death doesn’t exist, even though it is a central part of human experience. There is a natural human fear of death but our culture has taken it to the extreme of a paranoid phobia. It would be unlikely if this has not influenced the Church in some way. Is this the reason many funerals are more about the significance of life than death? Perhaps we are in denial about death too. Perhaps we’re not living in the light of eternity nor ready to think about the full significance of death unless we’re forced to. When we consider Scripture on this subject, we find that we can gain particular benefits from thinking about death.

We’re so influenced by our culture that we are repulsed by thinking about death as morbid. Yet isn’t it rare for us to to travel somewhere on a long journey and make little preparation for it? Wouldn’t we be thinking a good deal about our destination and what we need to make the journey? We may never make those trips for all we know but we do know that the journey of death to eternity is certain to happen.

James Durham points out that those who have been most holy have been most frequent in the thoughts and meditation of death. David prays “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am” (Psalm 39:4). Moses says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Numbering our days is serious thinking about and meditating on approaching death. Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, speaks at His transfiguration about his “decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” Although there was something special in His death, speaking about it and preparing for it are an example for us. Solomon commends meditating on death (Ecclesiastes 7:2 and 11: 8, 9 and chapter 12).

What do we mean by meditating on death? It is of course thinking about it from a spiritual point of view. It is certain to happen yet the time and circumstances are uncertain. We need to reflect on what it is to die in the Lord rather die in sin. We also need to dwell on what will happen after death: it is the perfection of joy or the extremity of sorrow forever.

We lose a great deal by living in denial about death and refusing to dwell much on it. The following are all the benefits gained when we consider death seriously, but of course they are lost if we do not meditate on death. They are all drawn from a sermon by James Durham on: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

 

The Benefits of Meditating on Death

Meditation on death is so frequently spoken about in Scripture and so profitable to believers.

 

1. It Helps Us Engage with Eternal Realities

It is impossible to know and believe aright how great a task and work (and happiness) it is to die well  without meditating on it. If we take only a glance at it by the by and do not consider seriously what is at the back of death, it will shock us when it comes. The person who has been acquainting themselves with death beforehand can speak of it boldly and with wisdom.

 

2. It Helps Us Esteem Christ More

There is nothing that more readily heightens the estimation of God and Christ than the thoughts of death. The thoughts of death brings us closer and nearer to His bar of judgment. It makes them look on Him as judge. Then they consider their helplessness and vileness on the one hand and the greatness of the majesty of God on the other.

How sublimely David and Job speak about God! In one word they talk about the grave and in the other word highly ex∣alt the majesty and greatness of God. Meditation on death brings very near to us the thought of what God is and of what we are.  It shows us beforehand how He will be found at and after death and what we will be then.

 

3. It Helps Us Edify Others More

Meditation on death would make Christians walk lovingly and edifyingly with others. They would be loather to do wrong, more patient when they suffered wrongs, and more ready to forgive and forget wrongs.  Half an hour’s conversation together with the impression of the solemnity of death on us would (through God’s blessing) edify and profit us mutually more than many meeting many days without it.

 

4. It Helps Us Advance Spiritually

(a) It Enlightens Our Understanding

It stays the mind, it diverts us from vain things. Men are seldom or never in a more sober and in a better frame than when they are seriously apprehensive of death. The thoughts of death make a man wise and discreet. Without these thoughts we will rather wound our conscience than our reputation. Moses joins together, thinking on death and applying of the heart to wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

(b) It Restrains Our Affections

When Solomon is speaking to the young man who will not be held back by any restraints he uses irony. He invites him to rejoice and laugh on but urges him to remember that for all these things he will come to judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9). Meditating on death and judgment would make people look on frothy hilarity as vanity, folly, and madness. These thoughts are especially suitable in prosperity and during youth when there is a light attitude to eternal things. Meditating on death is a remarkable bridle to such lightness.

(c) It Helps Us Put Sin to Death

Meditating on death makes a person care litle for the world, riches, pleasures, and honour. It puts to death three things which are the worlds trinity: pride, covetousness and fleshly lusts.

  • It mortifies pride. We see this with David, who says, “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am” (Psalm 39:4). Job says to corruption it is his father and to the worms, they are his sisters (Job 17:14). It makes us say, I am dust and to dust I will return.
  • It mortifies covetousness. Meditating on death takes the heart from the things of the world, and gives us other thoughts to think on. Many are forced to say when death approaches that they have hampered themselves with the world and it has beguiled them.
  • It mortifies fleshly pleasures. What can vain fleshly lusts do for those that are dying? However merry they may be now, these thoughts tell them that they must appear in a short time before God in judgment. If this is not a bridle to these lusts, I do not know what will be a bridle.

(d) It Helps Us Advance in Spiritual Activities

It stirs up to be diligent in all duties and engage in them seriously. One sermon or prayer after serious meditation on death would have more weight and benefit than many others without it. It humbles us and encourages sel-examination. It advances the fear of God and brings the soul to stand in awe of Him before whom it is to appear shortly. It advances repentance and prayer (Job 41:25).

Even the heathen sailors in the ship with Jonah prepared themselves for death by repentance, prayer, and offering sacrifices. If meditation on death makes godless men outwardly religious how much more should it make believers serious and spiritual? If God gives them time and seriousness at dying, their prayers will then be more effectual and fervent at that time than before.

(e) It Helps Us Handle Trials

It is exceedingly profitable in producing gracious submission to adverse providence. What anxious care will someone take who has been meditating on death when he loses property?  He knows death will put an end to all these things.

(f) It Helps Us Prepare for Death 

Solomon describes sickness and old age in Ecclesiastes 12 to make the young prepare for death before it comes. If there were no other advantages from meditating on death, not being unprepared for it is no small one. In some way this also mitigates the bitterness of death. It is not so terrible to those who have been thinking seriously on it as it is to others who have never done this. No wonder  many are terrified or stupefied at death, since they never learned the lesson of dying before it came on them.

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