What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?

What Does Revelation Reveal?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
19 May, 2022

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

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

Reasons to read Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation’s introduction to itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings to the reader of Revelation

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming

Ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming
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 May, 2022

Perhaps we do not often pray, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ Perhaps it seems a difficult thing to ask. It is the final prayer of Scripture but does it appear in our prayers? Maybe we are even afraid to think or hear of Christ coming. For some people Christ’s second coming is associated with speculation and fear to some extent. For others it is not something that enters their thoughts very often. Still others only think about it when they are sick of the sin and suffering of this world. For whatever reason, few seem to be longing for that day. This can happen if our spiritual life is at a low ebb. Sometimes believers decline in watchfulness, their faith is not acting, and their love is not lively. So they are not in a fit posture for Christ’s coming. Yet the emphasis of Scripture ought to lead us to love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”:  John Willison put it in this way: “Be frequently looking out and longing for Christ’s coming: as Abraham stood in his tent-door ready to go forth to meet the angels that were sent unto him, so should the believer keep himself in a waiting posture at this time. He should be like the loving wife, that longs and looks for the coming of her absent husband, according to his letters to her”. How can we increase our longing for Christ’s coming? Here are some ways.

James Durham helps us with this in the following updated extract by outlining ways we can increase our longing for Christ’s coming. First of all, he observes that for some who lack assurance or know they are not what they should be there are times we would like Christ to come, but they are afraid that we have not made peace with him properly. Believers like this want to be clear that they are friends with Christ, and to be in a better condition, before he comes. This is not a case of fearing Christ’s coming as such, but of desiring to be in a better state of readiness for his coming. The fear is about something in themselves, and yet there is a desire that Christ would come. These are entirely consistent.

Then again, perhaps there is love in our hearts to Christ and his coming, but we think nothing of it. It means so little to us. This will make us afraid of his coming. We are convinced theoretically that Christ’s coming is so desirable that they would choose it ahead of anything else, but in practical terms, our love is not as it should be. This should stir us all up to have our love more fresh and fervent, and avoid complacency.

For it is a bad sign when Christ’s coming is not valued, when there is no longing for it, and the heart is not desirous to hear of it. Do the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,’ but our hearts say, ‘Go’? This is certainly evidence of a poor spiritual health in believers, and of lack of love in unbelievers who altogether neglect to love Christ and long for his coming.

There are other bad signs too. For example, if we never think of Christ’s coming in a way that leads us to pray for it or long for it. Or if the thought of him coming back is distasteful and uncomfortable to us. Our soul would never go out to meet him spontaneously and joyfully, but would have to be hauled out. Believers are supposed to be ‘looking for and hastening unto the coming of the Lord’ (2 Peter 3:12), so that when he comes, there is nothing left to do but to embrace him. But instead there is a widespread problem – people live without any reference to Christ’s coming. They are not setting their affections on things above, nor seeking to make their peace with Christ, or obtaining clarity on their relationship with him, or walking so as there would be no quarrels between Christ and them.

Nor do we make much effort (whether by praying or by other means) towards the things that have to happen before he comes, such as the enlargement of his kingdom. Neglecting this reveals our lukewarmness. If there was love to Christ’s coming, his kingdom would be close to our hearts, and we would be more public-spirited, and not so selfish. A selfish mind will never desire Christ’s coming. Neither will those whose hearts are not quit of the world. We are exceedingly addicted to the things of the world. The level of complacency and the amount of temporising among us tells how much we are wedded to the world.

Here are ways to increase our longing for Christ’s coming.

1. Grow in faith

The reason we don’t take much interest in Christ’s coming is because we have such little faith in the great advantages that accompany his coming. We do not believe that his appearing will be as glorious and advantageous, and so full of happiness. We do not believe that at the dissolution of all these things there will be a full victory over all enemies, and no sin nor sorrow any more for believers. There is a faintness in the faith of believers which spoils the longing for his coming.

2. Grow in assurance

We have little longing for Christ’s coming because we have little assurance that Christ will appear for our own glory and happiness. While souls are under doubts whether they will get good from Christ at his appearing, they cannot long for it. If folks were clear about their relationship with Christ, and grasped that all the promises will be performed to them at his coming, they would long for it much more. When people have little desire for Christ’s coming, it suggests that what they think is faith is more like complacency than real peace with God. If you believed in Christ’s coming, and your own involvement in it, it is impossible but that your soul would cry out, ‘When shall the day dawn? When will he rend these heavens and come down?’ You would have a longing to be through time, and a holy impatience at any mishap that you thought might prolong the wait.

3. Increase your dissatisfaction with life here

We do not look ahead to Christ’s coming because we are too busy settling down as if our rest was here. This shows that we do not primarily place our happiness in Christ’s second coming, but instead expect our good things here and now. People have some plan about their creature comforts, and want that to come to fruition before Christ comes. They do not consider that the coming of Christ is the most noble plan, and that preparing for Christ’s coming lays the groundwork for a better portion to them and their children than all their attainments in the world.

4. Have more communion with Christ

We have little longing for his coming at the last day because we have little experience of his coming now, in the felt manifestations of his Spirit and presence to our souls. If people were clear about their relationship with him, and frequent in communion with him, they would long to see his salvation perfected. When we get fresh proofs of Christ’s sweetness and fresh views of his excellence, then we have longing desires to enjoy him immediately. Little of this makes little crying out for the living God, or for appearing before God. It must be that you don’t taste that God is gracious, otherwise you would long for his coming. If only you would taste and see how good he is! If you had even a little experience of his ravishing sweetness! When a taste of him is so delectable, sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, like hidden manna, what must the full harvest be? What must the completing of the bargain be like, when the down-payment is so sweet?

It should be natural believers to long for Christ’s coming

It is unsuitable in everyone, and especially in believers, that there should be so little desire for Christ’s coming, so little praying for it. Is it in keeping with the great advantages we profess to expect when he comes? Is it in line with the many promises we have, and our profession to have a right to them? No sooner does Christ promise, but John, or the Bride, has an echo for the fulfilling of it. Is it consistent with professing love to Christ, not to desire union with him, and the full coming of his kingdom?

Our desires should also be in proportion to our admiration for what Christ has done in order to make way for his second coming. He came in the form of a servant, and did what he did, and suffered what he did, to make way for his coming again, to take believers to glory.

So failing to desire Christ’s coming implies great weakness in our faith, great lack of love, great uncertainty in our hope, and great disrespect for Christ. We make no good use of the promise of his coming, and we do not know what it is to be comforted in it.

Let us then stir ourselves up to desiring Christ’s coming, both as a duty that is required of us and as a frame that is requisite in us. This is what I would urge.
(1) Love Christ’s coming so much that you would neither rise in the morning nor lie down at night, without expressing some desires for it.
(2) Put up more prayers for it. It may be a cause of his delay, and of delaying many things that are to happen before he comes, that there is so little diligence in praying for his coming, or the things that must happen in order for him to come.
(3) Take it more seriously as something so closely connected with the Lord’s honour and the thriving of his kingdom, and something by which we evidence a kindly sympathy with our Lord. Do not content yourselves to pass over it with a dry wish. Consider that it is presented here as a frame of heart that is of the Spirit, ‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.’ To the extent that you want yourselves to show signs of being the natural branches of this vine, and members of the body of which he is the head, and a part of his Bride, to that extent, I urge you, say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’

The coming of Christ is a ground of notable consolation to believers. Our Lord has said and confirmed it, that he is coming, and that he is coming quickly. Among all the many dark, obscure passages in the Book of Revelation, this is clear. He says he is coming quickly to judge the world, to raise your bodies, to make up the union between him and them, to solemnise the marriage, to bring you who love his appearing to the wedding. All that you have heard spoken of it shall be made good.

 

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9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again

9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again

9 Reasons to look forward to Christ coming again
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.
30 Mar, 2022

Have we stopped talking about it? ​In the past a lot was made of it but it seems increasingly rare to us to hear about the Second Coming these days. Perhaps people have grown a little confused or weary as they struggle to put together a timeline of the future. Yet previous generations had a range of different views that did not prevent them from drawing motivation from the second coming however near or far away they thought it was. That is because it is the great day of the manifestation of Christ’s glory and we ought to long for that. We lose a great deal if our focus is on the present with little thought of this glorious future.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of some of the core truths about the second coming. This leaflet by James Durham called Jesus Christ is Coming Again will help us with that. The following updated and abridged extract also helps us answer the question: why do believers long for Christ’s second coming?

1. Because of what it means for Christ

Nothing contributes more to Christ’s honour. Whatever aspersions have been cast on His honour, when Ge comes again, this will free His honour from them all, and will put His enemies underfoot. The way He reigns here will cease, and as a full conqueror He will enter into the possession of all He has bought, and get the satisfaction His soul desired for all His soul travails. And because believers have such a love for Christ’s honour, and to what will satisfy Him, of course they wish and long for the day when He shall be declared Lord and Christ. That will be the day of the marriage, which is pending till then.

2. Because of what it means for the church

That will be the day when the Church is made perfect. The bride will be presented spotless. All the firstborn will make their rendezvous. The queen will be brought in to the king in raiment of needlework, all the virgins following her. This is why it is called the day of all believers’ redemption (Romans 8:23), because their redemption is not perfected till then.

3. Because of what it means for the wicked

In that day, believers will get the full victory and triumph over all the enemies of Christ. Death and hell will then be cast into the lake (Revelation 20:14). Everything that offends will be cast out. Christ victory, and His saints’ victory and triumph is not complete till that day comes.

4. Because of what it means for believers

It is the day of our own individual marriage to Christ. This makes it to be all the more longed for, because every individual believer has his or her involvement in it. That is when there will be a complete divorce between them and the body of death – they will be married to Christ, and shall be like Him. We shall then see our redeemer, and no other for us.

5. Because of what it means for God’s promises

All God’s promises will be fulfilled then.

(a) The promises that refer to justification. At that day, believers’ justification will be declared openly and judicially. They shall be freed from the guilt of sin, and all the effects of it.

(b) The promises about sanctification. The body that was sown in corruption shall be raised in incorruption; it was sown in dishonour, it shall be raised in glory; it was sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it was sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. The body that bore the image of the earthly Adam shall bear the image of the heavenly Adam, and so on. This corruption shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). He shall change our vile bodies, and make them like His own glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Our bodies are ‘vile’ not so much for their form, as for the corruption that sticks to us.

(c) The promises about consolation. ‘Where he is, there his servants shall be.’ He shall then say, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom.’ Come, faithful servants, enter into the joy of your Lord and master.

(d) The promises of freedom from crosses. In this life, believers are subject to persecution, and we have no full freedom from sin, and while sin is in them, the cross attends them. But then there shall be no more curse, no more crying or complaining. The second coming of Christ brings absolute freedom from sin and all its effects.

(e) The promises of glorification. We will conformed to his image, placed on the throne, our souls and bodies reunited together and put in possession of glory, to have a place in the household, to eat and drink with Christ in his kingdom.

All these, and whatever we can think of that contributes to a believer’s comfort, and much more, will be perfected when Christ comes again.

6. Because of what it means for God’s prophecies

As well as the promises, all the prophecies will be accomplished that day. For example, prophecies about the glory of God, of His victory over enemies, of his calling in His ancient people, etc. That day will put an end to all prophecies. All that is in part shall be done away, when that which is perfect shall come.

7. Because of what it means for our souls and bodies

Believers will then be fully perfected. All of them together, in soul and body, will be fully perfected in that day. There shall be no darkness in their understandings, but they shall see the incomprehensible God (as far as they are capable, and as far as it is fitting for them to comprehend him), to the increase of their wondering and admiration, and for a foundation to their praise without any mistake, for all infirmities will be taken away.

8. Because of what it means for fellowship with Christ

There will be no more ordinances, just meeting Christ directly. For now, ordinances intervene between us and Christ – we know Him through the ordinances. But then, there will be nor more preaching, nor prayer, nor hearing of preaching, nor reading of Scripture, nor coming to church. In that day, the Lord will be the temple, and the light of the house, and we will enjoy him directly, non-mediately, in a way that swallows up the need for all intervening means of knowing Him.

9. Because of what it means for time

There will be no more time. There will be nothing left that is suited to time, or subject to time. Death changes our distance to God. Crosses and persecutions, all that is imperfect, are just the appendices of time, but in that day there will be nothing but what is unchangeable, and perfect in the highest degree.

When all these accompany Christ’s coming, and bring believers’ consolation to the maximum, is it any wonder if His coming is desirable to them and something they long for?

We can take it for granted then, that there is nothing more lovely to a believer, nothing more desirous, or longed for and prayed for when the believer is in a good frame.

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The Trinity is For Our Adoration Not Our Convenience

The Trinity is For Our Adoration Not Our Convenience

The Trinity is For Our Adoration Not Our Convenience
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 Feb, 2022

The temptation to reshape the trinity is not just prevalent in liberal circles. Recently not a few evangelicals, have latched onto ideas of the trinity to support their agendas. They do this to argue for specific male-female relations. According to a book by Matthew Barrett, many evangelicals have drifted away from the orthodox trinity of the Bible. Instead, the truth of the trinity has been manipulated by being recreated in our own image to justify our social agendas. When we do this, we start to think of the trinity as a community of separate people united by love and agreed purpose rather than one eternal godhead sharing the same essence subsisting in three distinct persons. What is at stake when the trinity is used as a means to an end? Not just doctrine, but devotion also. Our understanding of God shapes our worship of Him.

Perhaps the reason we are tempted to distort the trinity is that we want to make it like us even though it is something entirely different. But if we make the trinity like ourselves the Godhead no longer has a uniquely divine glory that is worthy of worship. The trinity is altogether different and impossible to find orthodox everyday analogies for. It is challenging for us to grasp it fully and sometimes we want to avoid that, but the more we seek to appreciate the complexity, the more we will be drawn to worship. James Durham explains the nature of the trinity and how important it is in relation to our worship of God in the following updated extract.

1. We Believe in One God in Three Persons

(a) There is only one God although there are several persons mentioned, yet God is always spoken of as one. There cannot be more than one God for if the one God has in Him all perfections, there can be no perfection besides Him: and so, no God beside this one true God.
(b) Although there is only one God, yet there are three Persons, the Father, Son, and Spirit.
(c) These three, Father, Son, and Spirit, are really distinct one from another; and so are three persons. Now, if the Father is God, and the Son God, and the Spirit God also; and if there is but one God, and yet these three are really distinct, then they must be distinct persons in respect of their personal properties, seeing they are persons, and distinct.
(d) Although they are three distinct persons (when their personal properties are considered) yet they all three are one God, essentially considered. All have the same infinite indivisible essence, though we cannot conceive how. If there are three persons, and each of them are God, and yet there is only one God, then each of these persons must be the same one God, co-equal and co-essential.
(e) These three blessed persons, who are one most glorious being, have an inconceivable order in their subsisting and working, which is to be admired rather than to be searched out. We shall merely say this:

  • They have all the same one essence and being
  • They all have it eternally, equally and perfectly: none is more or less God, but each has all the same Godhead in perfection: and therefore, must have it equally and eternally. The Godhead is the same, and the Son is the first and the last, as the Father is. The Father and Son were never without the Spirit, who is the Spirit of God, and each of them is God.
  • The Father subsists of Himself and begets the Son by an inconceivable and eternal generation: the Son does not beget, but is begotten, and has His subsisting, as the second person, from the Father. The Spirit proceeds both from the Father (therefore He is the Spirit of the Father) and from the Son, therefore is He said also to have the seven Spirits of God. The Spirit neither begets, nor is begotten, but in an inexpressible manner proceeds from them both.

2. We are to Worship God Alone

God is the only object of divine worship and there is none other. This is because no one has these infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship except God. These are things such as omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability [being worthy of worship] flows from these and is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity are. He is adorable because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Adorability cannot therefore be given or communicated to any other any more than these other incommunicable qualities can be. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable, therefore we are to worship God alone.

3. There is only one kind of Divine Worship

There is only one kind of divine worship: that which is supreme and befits this infinite majesty of God. In a word, it is that worship which is required in the first table of the law [first four of the ten commandments], as that which is suitable for this glorious excellent God. This follows from what has been said already, since if there is only one object of worship, there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, to worship God, is always opposed to worshipping any other, and allowing any worship to God, which is not authorised (see Revelation 19:9-10 and 22:9).

4. There are not three objects of worship

Although there are three persons in the glorious Godhead and all are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one only. Nor are there three kinds of worship. There cannot be three objects, because these three persons are the same one infinite God, who is the object of worship. This is because:
(a) Although the three persons are really distinct from each other, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is that same object of worship with the Son, because He is that same God. And
(b) Although the Father is infinite and the Son is infinite etc. yet, there are not two infinitenesses, but the same infiniteness and immenseness, that which is the Father’s is the Son’s also. This is because these are essential properties, and so common to all the persons. Therefore, although their personal properties are distinct, because their essential attributes are in common, they are not distinct objects, but one and the same object. In worship respect must be had to their essential attributes and so to the Godhead, which is common to all. It is the deity (which is one) that is the formal object of worship. And although sometimes these three persons are named together, that is not to suggest they are distinct Objects, but to show who this one object God is, i.e. Father, Son and Spirit, three persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. The unity of the Godhead is taught for this purpose (Deuteronomy 6:4).

It follows:
(a) That the mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend, or order, in their thoughts, three distinct persons, as distinct objects of worship; but, to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three persons.
(b) That whatever person is named we are not to think that the other is less worshipped. Rather in one act we worship that one God, and so the Father, Son and Spirit.
(c) That by naming one person after we have named another, (e.g., the Father first, and afterwards the Son) we do not vary the object of worship, as if we were praying to another than formerly. It is still the same one God.
(d) That because our imagination is ready to permit such divided conceptions, it is safest not to change the name of the persons in the same prayer. This is especially when we are praying in the hearing of others, who may possibly have such thoughts, though we have none. I suppose also that this is the way ordinarily taken in Scripture.

 

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The Majestic Tenderness of Christ Removes Fear

The Majestic Tenderness of Christ Removes Fear

The Majestic Tenderness of Christ Removes Fear
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.
24 Dec, 2021

There was recent controversy about an alleged depiction of George Floyd as Christ at a Roman Catholic university. The icon used the Greek words for I Am. It reminds us of the constant tendency of the sinful heart to seek to make God and the Lord Jesus Christ in our own image. Scripture gives us no clue to the appearance of Christ, but it gives us much about what any representation can never convey—His divine majesty. That infinitely transcends our sinful thoughts and imaginations. Not only that, but Scripture reveals the full exercise of His divine power and glory together with a personalised infinite tenderness. This is difficult enough for us to comprehend, let alone communicate. Yet it is able to remove our very real and constant fears.

We see the majestic tenderness of Christ in the first chapter of Revelation. When John beholds the glory of the Redeemer he falls at Christ’s feet as though he were dead (Revelation 1:17). John manifests weakness but Christ reveals much love, tenderness, and skilfulness in dealing with him (Revelation 1:17-18). Our fears can be real and debilitating, Christ graciously observes this and deals with the excessive fears of His people to remove them. In the following updated extract, James Durham shows what we can learn from this.

1. Christ’s Majesty Requires Humility

The effect which the vision had on John, in the beginning of verse 17. For as stately and lovingly as Jesus Christ represented Himself, he could not bear it, but faints when he sees Him, and he falls at His feet as dead. This is the first effect of the vision. “I fell down as dead”; that is, “I was benumbed (as it were) and stunned with the sight of the excellent majesty and glory that I saw in Him, and I was put out of capacity to act in body or mind, as if I had been dead. I could no more exercise or act the acts of a living man, than a dead man can.” It is like the experience of Daniel (Daniel 10:8, 9) and others. This is for two reasons.

(a) It is due to the exceeding great distance that is between the infinite majesty of God and finite creatures. The brightness of the glory, excellency, and majesty of God the Creator, burdens and over-burdens the weakness and infirmity of the best of creatures. For if the eyes of creatures be that weak that they cannot look on the Sun, what wonder that flesh and blood is not able to look on the Sun of Righteousness. This new wine is too strong for our old bottles [cf. Matt. 9:17].

(b) It is due to a sense of sin and so a fear to appear before Him, which makes the creature fear they will be undone (Isaiah 6:5). Although before the Fall, when God and Adam were friends, he could have endured God to speak to him, yet after the Fall, the appearance of God is terrible to Him. When he hears His voice, he is afraid and runs and hides himself. And there is something of this fear that raises hesitancy in the best; a fear that rises from the sight of sin, which nearness to God exposes. It is likely that something of both was the case with John, as may be gathered from the Lord’s application of the remedy, and the reasons He uses in comforting him.

2. Christ’s Majesty Requires Reverential Fear

This shows us the great disproportion that is between creatures and the majesty of God. The beloved disciple John, cannot stand before Him when He reveals Himself, but falls down as dead. A little nearness to God should leave a stamp of humility and an impression of the majesty and excellency of God upon us (Isaiah 40:15, 17 and 41:11, 12, 24). This is one of the fountain graces, humility, and a holy awe of the majesty of God. And this is the way to come to it, to get a right sight of that excellent majesty that is in Him.

Reverence and admire God’s wise and well-ordered governing of this world, especially the things that concern His church and people. Wonder that God has ordered such a way in the works of creation and providence, and in the dispensation of the gospel, and the mysteries of salvation suitable to our weakness. This is so as communion may be kept with Him. In Job 26:9, one of the stately steps of His power is that He holds back the face of His throne and spreads His cloud upon it. He draws the veil of the firmament before His throne, to keep His glory from breaking forth and consuming men. And in the dispensation of the gospel, He has chosen the ministry of weak men to reveal His mind to us. He does not speak to us directly Himself, because we could not endure it. If you heard Him speak, as He did on mount Sinai, you would say as Israel did, “Let not God speak to us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). This way of revealing Himself should make us wonder at His condescendence in hedging Himself up (as it were) for our good. We ought to reverence the one that deals so tenderly with us, when a little glimpse of His glory, a look of His eye, a drawing by of the veil, would kill us and make us as if we had never been.

3. Christ’s Majesty Prohibits Excessive Fear

Humility and reverence even in the best of God’s people, is often ready to degenerate into servile fear and discouragement. Worshiping Jesus Christ in humble reverence was required of John. Yet this excessive fear was not called for. Such is our weakness and the slipperiness of our walking, that we can hardly keep the right path, but deviate to one side or other. Our faith is ready to degenerate into presumption, and our humility to fainting and despondency of spirit, and our fear to discouragement, heartlessness, and distrust. Our corruption is ready to abuse anything. For though there is no excess in these graces, yet there may be in us excess in our exercising them due to the corruption which is in us. There is an excessive fear that God will not allow in His people. Everything that passes for fear and humility should not be admitted.

Christ says to John, “fear not.” This is because:

(a) It is a degenerating fear that breeds mistakes concerning Christ and deters this from Him. It weakens and discourages them in their fellowship with Him. Christ will not allow John’s fear to mar that. 

(b) It makes people incapable of hearing or receiving a message from Christ. When He speaks, they are benumbed, senseless and dead, they have ears, but hear not. It locks them up to such an extent that no word takes hold of them. Christ will not allow this in John.

(c) It disables, obstructs and mars in the duty that Christ requires. When John is called to write the vision, he falls as dead. Therefore, Christ tells him not to fear but rather rise up and write. He is required to reverence and fear Him but in a way that helps rather than hinders him in his duty.

We should learn not to fear as far as it has any of these effects. When fear exceeds, degenerates, and grows excessive in these three ways, our Lord allows it no more than He does proud complacency. Jesus Christ is, however, much more tender of souls under the one than He is to those under the other. Yet let us not indulges ourselves in these excessive fears as if we were in no danger.

4. Christ’s Tenderness Restores Us

We see Christ’s tender care for John. When he falls at His feet as dead, He comforts him. He laid his right hand upon him, as a sign of His kindliness for his encouragement. He also gives him a general word of exhortation, for his comfort, “fear not.” The exceeding tenderness and effectual nature of His care is shown in that He lays His hand on him and says, “fear not.” This intervenes in his trouble and raises him.

5. Christ’s Majesty Comforts Us

The great grounds of the comfort offered is holding Himself forth, “I am the first and the last.” This shows us see that when people are daunted from Christ by fear, and become discouraged and faint through mistaking Him, there is no way to cure this other than a right understanding of Him. The great grounds for mistaking Christ is ignorance of Him in His offices and worth. The right way to cure that mistake is the right knowledge and understanding of Him.

When souls are fainted and discouraged, Christ is both the cure and the curer. He must lay His hand on us and speak the word. He is the cure that is applied, and the physician that applies it. He touches and speaks, and the cure follows. Believers must receive the word out of Christ’s mouth for their encouragement before they can shake off discouragement. He has the tongue of the learned to speak a word in season to the weary soul. If we would look to Him more in ordinances, and if the Word were taken as from His mouth, we would prosper better than we do and profit more by the ordinances.

6. Christ’s Majestic Hand

More particularly, His right hand is His power. And His laying it on John is not any personal touch, but an inward strengthening and upstirring, as with Daniel (Daniel 10.10; Psalm 138:3). This shows us what our need is: our weakness and discouragement is often such that we have need not only of comfort, but of strength. It also shows us Christ’s way of dealing with souls. He will sometimes strengthen, ere He comfort. First, He lays His hand on them, and then follows it with the word of comfort, “fear not.” He sees this to be suitable, and it is a main evidence of Christ’s tenderness, faithfulness and wisdom that takes this way with His people.

7. Christ’s Tender Concern

Christ says, “fear not,” a word that is often used and repeated in the prophets, especially Isaiah chapters 41, 43, 44 and 56. He gives him three general grounds as to why he should not fear and to strengthen his faith. Our Lord Jesus’s exceeding tenderness is clear especially we faint and are discouraged, even when it arises through mistaken or wrong apprehensions of Him.

8. Christ’s Divine Tenderness

“I am the first and the last.” This is as though to say, “I am God, I was before the world, and will continue when the world shall have ended.” He is the eternal God, a unique quality that God possesses, and a proof of Christ’s Godhood. He tells John not to fear as if he were an enemy, stranger, or terrible spirit. He is God. And this may sustain one in friendship with God.

Our Lord Jesus is God; the first and the last. He that was born of the Virgin Mary, and so a true man, is God. He that was crucified, dead and buried, is God. This is one of the articles of our faith. And this place of scripture is to be looked on as a proof of it, against all the most quibbling enemies of our Lord’s deity. He that died was and is the first and the last and has the incommunicable attributes of the Godhead.

This has a world of consolation in it:
(a) Not only that there is a God, but that our Lord Jesus Christ is God, and that notwithstanding His being God, yet He has loved sinners so well that He took on man’s nature, {and in that nature} died for them, and that He who woos sinners, and offers to marry them, is God, and yet is very tender to them and of them, which is no small comfort. And it shows also that He is faithful and powerful to perform His promise to believers, so there is not a design of enemies laid from the beginning to this day, but He has a hand beyond it.

(b) We may expect good from God. Seeing Christ is God, {can believers look for hard dealing from Him?} He is absolute in His sovereignty and dominion, yet exercising it for the good of believers. What would anyone have for a greater grounds of comfort in times of confusion, than this? Let the world go as it will, our Lord Jesus is God and wisely orders all.

(c) When discouragements prevail, people are ready to mistake Christ, so they are ready to discredit on His Godhead, as if He were not faithful, or powerful, or wise, or tender enough.

(d) The solid cure for fear and fainting is to be acquainted with Christ as God. The ignorance of Christ is the ground of their being anxious, impatient, and stunned with faithless fears (1 John 5:4, 5).

9. Christ’s Redeeming Tenderness

He is also God and man in one person, He has suffered in His manhood, united to His Godhood. He is the one who lives, though He was dead and “behold I am alive for evermore.” In the original it is “ I am the living, and I was made dead, and behold, I live for evermore.” I am the living means “I am the living God, who from all eternity had life from myself, and gave life to all creatures that have life (John 5:26; Galatians 4:4). He is the true Mediator (God-man in one person), taking on the nature of man and satisfying the justice of God in undergoing the wrath of His Father, and in subjecting Himself to the death of the cross for the sins of His own elect. Both natures are joined in one person; yet it was not as God that He died, though the person that was God died.
this eternal Son of God became man, else He could not have died. He that was God, was also true man. And this is another ground of our faith, or a confirmation of an article of it. 2. That Jesus Christ in His man-head, satisfied justice. For He was dead, He laid down His life, and that willingly. No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down, and take it up again [John 10:18]. 3. That Jesus Christ is God and man, having two distinct natures in one person. For in the one nature, He is living, and in the other nature, He that was living became dead; yet it is but one person that was both living and dead. Some things (as is ordinary) are attributed to the person that agree but to one of the natures, as Acts 20:28, God is said to have purchased His church with His own blood, not that the Godhead could suffer, but He that was God suffered. It may be said of the man Christ that He is omnipotent, yet not as man, but the person is omnipotent. So the person died, though not as God, but in respect of His human nature, and as he was man. These phrases from Christ’s own mouth clarify and confirm our faith.” And behold I am alive for evermore.“

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who died once, shall die no more. He who died out of love to His people, is risen and exalted to heavenly glory and dignity, and bears the office of Mediator, for the consolation of His people for evermore. His exaltation makes Him no less mindful, nor less affectionate and tender of believers in Him. John might have thought that a distance had now come in between Christ and Him, especially considered as God. But He tells John, He lives for his comfort, and that he may expect that He who gave life to all, and laid down His life for him, and other believers, would be tender for Him and his life.

“And behold, I live for evermore, Amen.” This indicates “in as far as I was once dead as man, now I am alive, and shall live for evermore.” “Behold, I live” points to His resurrection and the comfort that flows from it to believers. “I have overcome death, and live, and so I live, as I shall live forever, for the benefit of believers in me.” That is of special comfort to us, our life being linked to Christ’s life, who is God-man and our Mediator. Because He lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). His life is a guarantee of ours. The word “Amen” is added to confirm the truth of His resurrection, and to exclude all doubt in anyone of His living, not only as God, but as God and man in one person. Be assured you have a living Christ.

10. Christ’s Triumphant Tenderness

He says, “I have the keys of hell and death”, to point to His absolute sovereignty as Mediator in the state of humiliation and exaltation. Therefore, “fear not, John: for I have the keys of hell,” and order even what concerns them. The keys are the sign of government. It is spoken of Eliakim, a type of Christ, I will commit the Government into his hand. And then follows, the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder (Isaiah 22:21). The meaning is, “I have absolute sovereignty and dominion over heaven and hell; I deliver and carry to heaven whom I please, none go there, but those whom I take in. And hell does not prevail at its own will; but is under my dominion: for I have supreme power over hell and death.” Not that Christ’s dominion is limited to these, but because hell and death are the two things that believers most fear. He tells them that they need not fear them, for they are both His vassals. The devil does not bears the keys, but Christ bears them Himself. These are the grounds of comfort that are given to John. And they are strengthening grounds of faith and salvation to all believers.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

Lectures on Revelation 1–3. This first of three projected volumes comprises a third of the lectures and fully half of the theological essays. The text covers the letters to the seven churches in Asia. The theological lectures cover such subjects as the doctrine of the Trinity, a call to the ministry and qualifications for the ministry, church government and church discipline, repentance, the difference in common and saving grace, and preaching and application in preaching.

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How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions

How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions

How to Heal Rather than Deepen Divisions
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.
13 Oct, 2021

We live in a time of deepening and widening divisions. The church is not exempt from this. Churches were not without their conflicts before 2020 but fractures have only accelerated since. It is obvious that COVID-19 and the measures used to contain it have caused major disruption to individual and congregational life as with most other things. Anxieties, distance, fatigue and uncertainty easily facilitate misunderstanding and mistrust. Beyond this, highly polarised and political differences can separate people once united on almost every other issue. Vaccines, masks, government requirements – we are all too aware of the pressing issues that currently impact on church life. There may also be potential or actual divisions on other deeply held concerns that do not arise from the current crisis. What can you and I do, not only to avoid deepening divisions but also to start to heal them?

Probably no one has written more on this subject than James Durham, certainly there has never been anything wiser and weightier.  He takes the issue as seriously as possible, and he is very realistic about the difficulties involved. Yet he brings biblical counsel to bear on a truly difficult area. He points out that divisions are not easily healed, even among the best (Proverbs 18:19). It is easy to deepen divisions by the way we contend for what we believe to be right and by putting labels on those with whom we disagree.  What language do we use about those with whom we disagree? Is it dismissive disrespect that harms their reputation or do we still seek to have others think respectfully about them? Here are some of things that deepen divisions according to Durham:

  • Heat and contention. Division engenders heatedness, strife and contention, and in this way, makes people carnal (1 Corinthians 3).
  • Division breeds alienation in affection and separates the fellowship even of those who have been most intimate.
  • Division breeds jealousy and suspicion about one another’s actions and intentions.
  • Harsh language. Division leads to harsh expressions and reflections on each other
  • Personal attacks. Divisions can come to the point that people do not spare to publish even personal attacks on each other.
  • Abuse of church discipline. Division has sometimes been followed with discipline as extreme as deposition and excommunication.

Durham’s book, A Treatise Concerning Scandal, maintains that division is a great evil, indeed that no greater evil can befall a church.  At one point Durham seeks to tackle the following great perplexing question. What should an orthodox church do, when it is divided in itself in what we may call some circumstantial truths or in contrary practices and actions, when still agreeing in the fundamentals of doctrine, worship, discipline and government, and having mutual esteem for one another’s integrity? What are they called to do for healing that division? Durham gives his answer in the following abridged and updated extract. Healing division according to Durham is not about ignoring problems and hoping they will go away by refusing to discuss the differences. Neither is it about one side having to concede to the other. It requires mutual concessions and genuine reconciliation. The following are the considerations we need to address before we start to implement the principles or practical solutions and methods that will heal division.

1. Recognise the dreadful plague of division

All, especially ministers, should have a deep impression of how terrible the plague of division is. If we thought of God as angry at a church and at ministers in a time of division, it is likely that people would be in a better condition to speak concerning healing.

Some time should be bestowed on this, therefore, to let this consideration sink down in the soul, so that the Lord’s hand in it is recognised. The many sad consequences of division should be brought before the mind and the heart should be seriously affected and humbled with this – just as if sword, pestilence or fire were threatened. Indeed, it is as if the Lord were spitting in ministers’ faces, rubbing shame on them and threatening to:

  • make them despicable,
  • blast the ordinances in their hands,
  • bring to nothing their authority among the people,
  • remove the hedges of the visible church to let in boars and wolves to spoil the vines and destroy the flock;
  • and, in a word, to remove His candlestick.

Ministers, or other persons who are involved in the division, do not only have to look to human opponents who are angry with them. They also have to look to the Lord as their opponent, for it is the Lord’s anger that has divided them. Failing to register this makes people more confident under the judgment. Rather, seeing it is a plague, even those who suppose themselves innocent as to the immediate origin of the division ought to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God on account of this plague, just as they would with other plagues.

2. Recognise division as a fearful snare

People should also view division as a snare. How many temptations accompany divisions (especially for ministers). How many afflictions, crosses and reproaches come on the back of them. Might it not make a minister tremble to think that now, due to the division, there is a snare and trial in everything (besides all his former difficulties and troubles).

In every sermon that he preaches, the temptation is that his own affection will steal in to make him hotter and more vehement against those who oppose him in the current controversy than he ordinarily is in things which more directly concern the glory of God. The snare is that he will make his ministry despicable before others if someone might provoke him by contradicting him. Even supposing no one would contradict him, he is in danger of laying less weight on what is edifying, because it is spoken by someone who differs from him on the controversial points.

When he sits in any meeting of a church court there is a temptation waiting in the least hint of the controversy, to discompose everything and make the meetings stumbling blocks to edification and burdensome.

Because of division all conversation almost becomes disheartening and comfortless. The most intimate brother is either suspicious or suspected. All constructions put on people’s sincerity in anything comes to be based on their interests. There is a failing of sympathy among brethren.

May not these considerations and many such like, make ministers circumspect, so that they would be slow to speak what may foment division, and wary in hazarding on snares. Alas, the opposite happens when people act with more confidence and liberty in attributing motives, speaking and acting, and with less sensitivity in times of division than at other times. Yet if people were impressed with the fear of sinning due to divisions, they would be much more disposed to speak of union.

3. Recognise our personal responsibility

Ministers and others should take time in secret before the Lord to take a sober view of their own spiritual condition and see if they have kept their own vineyard. They should examine things such as these:

(a) How have I prized union with the Lord? Have I striven to be, and to abide, in Christ, and to keep myself in the love of God?

(b) Is there any ground of quarrel in current trends or bygone practice, that might provoke the Lord to smite us in general?

(c) Have I been an accessory in any way to bring this evil of division in, for example by negligence and unfaithfulness, imprudence, heat, passion, tenaciousness, addictedness to personalities and too much reluctance to displease them, prejudice against others, uncharitableness to others, or the like?

This should include a view both of the sins that procure division, and the evils which create a breeding ground for it and increase it . It also requires impartiality and thoroughness. For it is preposterous for someone to begin removing differences when they do not know how it stands with themselves.

4. Recognise it in repentance before God

Once they have taken stock, there should be repentance appropriate to what is found, in special humbling and secret prayer to God. This should be not only for themselves and for their own condition in particular but for the whole church. In particular, for healing the division so that by healing the breach God would spare his people, and not allow His inheritance to be a reproach. It is no little furtherance to union to have people in a spiritual and mortified condition. For we are sure that even if it does not remove the difference, it will in a great part moderate the division, and restrain the carnality that usually accompanies it. It will also dispose people to be more impartial to hear what may lead further towards unity.

5. Do what you can to recommend unity

People should not stop here, but should seriously endeavour by speaking, writing, imploring and in other ways, to commend union to those who differ. Indeed, even those who differ should commend union to those who differ from them! We see the apostles do this frequently in the New Testament, not only in general to churches, but also to persons who are particularly entreated by name (Philippians 4:2).

People should encourage others with whom they agree, to be conciliatory , and should seriously entreat them. When they go to extremes, they should rebuke them for the good of the church. This is often of great weight. Often also, those who are most prominent in a difference will be hotter and carry things further than others of the same opinions will allow. Those who are less involved in the controversy ought not to be silent in this case.

6. Make unity the priority

Serious and single-minded thoughts of union should be laid down, and union should be purposely driven at as the great duty, so that endeavours would not principally tend to strengthen a side, or to let anyone exonerate themselves, or get advantage over others, etc., but to make one out of them both. Therefore, when one means or opportunity fails, another should be attempted. Neither should they be weary in this, although it often proves a most wearisome business.

7. Act with sensitivity and respect

All this should be attempted with sensitivity and respect to people’s persons, actions and qualifications. For often when division occurs, people are alienated from each other in their affections, which then disposes them to put bad constructions both on their opinions and their actions. Indeed, this is often the sticking point, that people’s affections are not satisfied with one another and that prevents them from trusting each other.

We see in Scripture that commending love as well as honouring and preferring others above ourselves, is ordinarily subjoined to the exhortations to union, or reproofs for division (Philippians 2, Ephesians 4, Matthew 18, etc.). This giving of respect could or should be manifested in ways like this.

(a) Being respectful when mentioning them and their concerns, whether in word or writing, especially those who are are most eminent among them.

(b) Putting good constructions on their aims, intentions and sincerity, even in such actions as are displeasing.

(c) Refraining from loading their opinions and actions with palpable absurdities and high aggravations, especially in public; because that only tends to make them odious, and it stands in the way of a future good understanding, when one has represented another as so absurd and hateful a person.

(d) Abstaining from all personal reflections, as also slighting answers, disdainful words and greetings, and such like. Instead, there should be love, familiarity, and tenderness. If there has been any reflection or bitterness which has occasioned misunderstanding, and even if it has been unjustly understood, there should be willingness to back down to remove it. I have heard of a worthy person who had been led away in an hour of temptation. Many of his former friends disapproved of him and discountenanced him, which only led him to defend what he had done and resent them for losing respect for him. It almost ended up in a division. But then he encountered one who, although he was most opposed to his present way, nevertheless, as lovingly and familiarly as ever, embraced him, and did not mention anything about it. It is said that his heart melted instantly with the conviction of his former opposition. And so any further drift towards a division was prevented, when he saw that he still had a place in the affections of the most eminent of those he differed from.

(e) Expressions of mutual confidence in one another. These should be apparent not only with respect to personalities, but also with respect to the ministry of those they differ from, endeavouring to strengthen and confirm it.

(f) Supportiveness towards them and confidence that they are trustworthy and fit to hold leadership positions in the church. This is a way of not only engaging with a particular person, but all who have the different opinion or practice, and it demonstrates confidence in them notwithstanding the difference. Whereas the contrary is disobliging and irritating to all, because it proposes that all who follow that opinion or practice are unworthy of office-bearing or trust, which is hard for anyone to stomach. And in a way, it forces them in their state of division to endeavour some other way of holding office, and to increase their reservations about those who manage matters so partially (in their esteem at least), and prefer the strengthening of a side, to the edification of the church (as any different party cannot but expound it, seeing they seem to themselves to have some persuasion of their own integrity in the main work).

(g) Mutual visits and fellowship, both in everyday things and specifically Christian fellowship. If this has been happening already, it should be increased even more. For if people have some confidence that others love their persons, respect them as ministers, and have a high esteem of them as Christians, they will be easily induced to trust the others in these ways also.

(h) Treating pejorative terms as unacceptable . In debates, if anyone uses bitter terms or casts aspersions (as even good men are too ready to grant themselves a liberty in debate to exceed in this), they should not be included in such fellowship visits and meetings .

8. Stir each other up in the things that matter

Ministers should not only in their own practice, but in their teaching, and in other ways, stir up others to the practice and life of religion. We constantly find the apostle Paul, on the back of his exhortations to union, urging them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, etc. And in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, when he exhorts ministers to stay away from foolish and jangling questions, strifes and contentions, the remedy is stated either previously or subsequently, that they should press the believers to be zealous of good works, and careful to maintain them (Titus 3:8-9); and that they would follow after love, righteousness, faith, peace with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22-23).

For when either ministers or church members are exercised and taken up with these things, there is little opportunity for other things! Then also they discern the necessity of union the more, and are the more disposed for it themselves, and others are the more easily induced to unite with them. Besides, it is never in such things that the godly and orthodox differ, but differences arise when they are diverted away from these. That is why so often much heat in particular differences carries with it a decay and lukewarmness in more practical things, while on the contrary, zeal in these material things ordinarily allays and mitigates heat and fervour in the other.

9. Appeal to God

There should solemn appeals to God for directing and guiding in the way to this end. For he is the God of peace, and ought to be acknowledged in removing the great evil of division. Hence the apostle subjoins prayers for peace to his exhortations to peace. Indeed, we are commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (i.e. church peace) no less than civil peace.

It may be that the neglect of these appeals to God is the reason why those who love the welfare of Zion  and are sound, godly and peaceable still continue to be divided and cannot find any means of healing the division. Perhaps (a) the necessity of the Lord’s intervening may be discerned by this inability, (b) so that we would purposely appeal to the Lord for this thing, and also (c) so that people would not underestimate the seriousness of division, whether by:

  • failing to recognise it as a rod (seeing it is God with whom they have to do);
  • being content to live with it without seeking to have it removed by Him, just as we would plead with Him for the removal of any temporal plague; or 
  • fruitlessly expecting a blessing on the gospel in the absence of peace.

BOOKLET RECOMMENDATION

A different excerpt from Durham’s book is available as a booklet for £1.00. 

It includes Durham’s positive and practical biblical counsel on how to restore union when division exists.

Never did men run to quench a fire in a city, lest all should be destroyed, with more diligence, than men ought to bestir themselves to quench division in the church” – James Durham

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Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory
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.
27 May, 2021

When our focus is largely on others it is easy to be distracted and discouraged by what goes on around us. Cultural agendas, noisy opinions, shifting allegiances, spiritual decline and unstable commitments easily occupy our attention. That is understandable since these things often serve to diminish the glory of God being manifested. And after all, glory to God alone is the ultimate purpose for everything. So, it is right to be concerned about them, is it not? Indeed it is, but we need to remind ourselves frequently of what that glory is. We need to be constantly refreshed by and delighted with God’s glory so that it is uppermost in our desires and motivation. We need that light to break through the heavy gloom that we often inhabit.

In the following updated extract, James Durham opens up the meaning of the vision in Revelation 4:8-11 emphasising that is bound up with God’s glory. That is obvious if we define God’s glory being manifested “when men and Angels do know, love, and obey him, and praise him to all eternity” (Edward Leigh, member of the Westminster Assembly). They delight themselves in God constantly, as All-Holy, Eternal and Almighty (v8).

Much of the rest of the book of Revelation unfolds hard experiences for the Church and this view of God’s sovereign dominion is therefore crucial. This vision shows us God ruling all things for the good of His Church and what will happen to it afterwards (4:1). For Durham, it does not just tell us about how God is to be adored and served in heaven, it also tells us about how the Lord manifests His presence in the church on earth. The expectation is expressed here of believers serving Him here and that they will reign on the earth (5:10). 

1. Delighting in God’s Glory

Where God is rightly seen, He will be seen as exceedingly stately and glorious: He is so wonderful whom nothing can resemble, whom no tongue can express, nor eye behold, nor heart conceive. What if we were to imagine thousands of mountains of the most precious stones imaginable, and thousands of suns shining in their brightness? These would still be inconceivably short of God and the glory that is in Him. What an excellent happiness it will be to dwell with this God forever, to behold His face, to see Him as He is, and to be capacitated (so to speak) to know Him, as we are known of Him. Wonder and admire at Him, who is glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, terrible in majesty, and in all perfections past finding out: To Him be praise for ever. Amen.

2. Delighting in God’s Dominion

We see here His absolute and sovereign dominion in heaven and earth. We gather this from the imagery itself, He sits on a throne and has all these attendants waiting on Him. It is also clear from the song whose purpose is to show the great aim God had and has before Him in creating and preserving all things. It is to show Himself glorious on the grounds of His absolute dominion over all creatures.

3. Delighting in God’s Providence

Not only is He a stately king on the throne, but He exercises His dominion. He has made all things and sustains them all for His good pleasure. He sits on the throne ever executing His pleasure. The world never lacks a Governor as long as this king sits on the throne. As there is a sovereign God, there is also a sovereign Providence in all the world, but more especially in the Church.

He is well equipped with means for doing His work. He has attendants fitted with wings and eyes as well as ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels round about and before His throne to carry out His commands (Revelation 5:11). These glorious spirits wait for directions from Him and are ready to do His commands in caring and providing for His Church. He also has His own Almighty power and thunderings to execute His wrath on enemies as well as for creating things. He has seven Spirits for carrying on the work of grace to spread the everlasting gospel.

The Lord’s great aim in all this, is, to get praise to Himself and to give material for a song to His attendants. And it is comforting that His praise and our song are so joined together, that what is substance of the one, is also substance of the other.

4. Diligently Delighting in God’s Glory

However we may understand these beasts or creatures and the elders here we can learn from their nature and qualities. The creatures have eyes in front, behind and within and each of them has six wings. They are in various forms, like a lion, like a calf, having a face as a man, like a flying eagle. The way in which they are equipped for their work and their activity in it should be an example to believers. Their humble, serious, watchful and speedy manner of going about their work is set forth which shows believers how to act in all commanded duties and aspects of service.

5. Joyfully Delighting in God’s Glory

The great dignity and happiness of God’s servants, and attendants is displayed here. However we may expound the words, it is clear that it is a great privilege to be His servants. They sit on thrones, they wear crowns, they are clothed in white, they are all kings and priests to God (Revelation 5:10). Like the angels, they also attend on Him and have places among those that stand by (Zechariah 3.7. It is the consummation of our happiness to have liberty to look on God sitting on His throne. The Queen of Sheba said that Solomon’s servants who had liberty to behold his face and hear his words were blessed (1 Kings 10:8). But O how much more happy are they who day and night do not rest, but are always taken up with beholding and praising God. For, a greater than Solomon is here.

We are taught here what the great task and work of the servants of God should be (and is in some measure). All who have the name of servants of God are to be taken up day and night with magnifying God and making His praise glorious or illustrious (Psalm 66:2). They do this by going about it naturally. We are shown here how we should go about it: with humility and reverence, cheerfulness and zeal. This is to be done by laying all we have before Christ’s feet, acknowledging that all we have received flows from Him and giving Him the glory of it. We are to use it all so that it may contribute most to make Him that sits upon the throne great.

6. Constantly Delighting in God’s Glory

The delightfulness of this task in rejoicing the heart is shown. Though they do not rest day nor night, it is not a wearisome work, for it is singing. When it is said that they do not rest this does not any indicate any burden, yoke or restraint laid on them. Rather it declares the readiness of their spirit within, which with love and joy cannot rest. It is (so to speak) an ease for them to be venting this spirit in praise. There is such joy and cheerfulness from that wine that comes from under the throne, that they cannot hold their peace. It is their continual refreshment, to be speaking and praising night and day. In a word, it says that it is a good thing to be Christ’s servants and that His service is a sweet work. Before long it will be known how good a thing it was to be Christ’s and to be His servants. How happy a life it will be, to be praising Him. It would be good if some effects of it were to warm our hearts beforehand, and that we had the evidence and experience of what it is. May the Lord give us to know it.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

James Durham’s exposition of Revelation is currently being republished. Volume 2, Lectures on Chapters 4–11 is the second of three projected volumes. There are theological essays on such subjects as the nature and extent of the merit of Christ’s death, Christ’s Intercession, the idolatry of the Church of Rome, and the founding of true churches by reformation out of corrupt churches. The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript which in places is significantly different from the published edition of 1658. John Owen called James Durham, “one of good learning, sound judgement, and every way ‘a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.'” To read Durham on Revelation is to find proof of this. His commentary provides what was, as Principal John MacLeod said, “in past days, the accepted Protestant view of that book”. 

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Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His 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.
9 Jan, 2021

It is easy to be cast down in relation to the difficulties and trials that Christ’s Church faces. Yet Christ is over and above every event and circumstance. There is nothing that is beyond His foreknowledge or decree. He has a special overruling providence concerning all things that concern His Church. No one holds it dearer than He does and this brings unique comfort and encouragement. One particular part of Scripture can help us appreciate this in a deeper way, let us consider it together.

In Revelation 5:1-7 the apostle John sees in a vision a scroll in the right hand of the One that sits on the throne. It is sealed with seven seals and evidently contains the purpose and secret counsel of God concerning His people. Yet no one in heaven or earth is found worthy to open the scroll and reveal the secrets which cause John to weep. But his tears are short-lived. Christ who is the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David can do what no one else is able to do.

The scroll is full in being written on the both sides, it is complete and there is no room for any further decrees to be added. There are no new and unexpected occurrences, all is known beforehand. As James Durham observes this shows “the absoluteness, determinateness and particularness of God’s decrees in all events that concern the Church: which with Him are, as it were, written in a sealed book.”

It is sealed with seven seals so that it is not discernible to anyone else. Here are His decrees concerning the special events that will befall His gospel Church. It also shows that Christ has access to “His Father’s secrets” and without Him there is no access to this knowledge. Yet He reveals as much to the Church “as is useful for her”. No wonder John weeps when it is not opened. Yet he is comforted by one of the Lord’s people, represented by one of the elders before the throne. James Durham in the following updated extract provides much comfort and encouragement in applying this part of Scripture.

1. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Comforts Our Sorrows

(a) The strongest of God’s servants may have great fits of heaviness and weeping and mistake His dealings. They may be ready to count things to be much more desperate than they are.

(b) The Lord deals tenderly with His people’s heaviness, even when it is due to weakness and mistakes.

(c) The Lord’s comforts are applied in a timely way and often they are they nearest and most refreshing when people think things most desperate.

(d) Christ may make use of anyone to comfort another. When the strong are overmastered with heaviness, He can stir up weak believers to give comfort to them.

(e) Weak believers may sometimes be more comforted in making us of Christ’s offices and in exercising faith on Him, than great teachers. Sometimes those teachers may have many disappointments in seeking to exercise their light, abilities and reason to satisfy themselves in things that are difficult to understand. They will have a sorrowful heaviness so long as the Mediator is not made use of. But the simple spiritually tender believer, that looks to Him first of all for answering all difficulties, may have much peace and cheerfulness.

2. Christ’s Overruling All Things for His Church Strengthens Our Faith

The Lord has a special overruling providence over all things that concern His Church. There is nothing that happens which is new to Him, but it is what He has determined and written down, as it were, before the beginning of the world. This is a great consolation to His Church. No enemy can rise up against her, no heresy can break out among her members and no event can encounter her that was not fully determined by the Lord before the beginning of the world.

This Lamb is placed in the midst of the throne. He is a partaker of the same glory, dominion and authority with the Father as He is God. He is admitted to His right Hand and to a glory and majesty far above every name that is in heaven and in earth, as He is Mediator (Revelation 3:21). He is in the midst of the four beasts or living creatures and the twenty four elders. This does not just show that He has a dignity and glory beyond them, it also shows His presence in the Church.

He is on the same throne with the Father to make His people more bold in their approaches to God by Him. They never lack a friend always present in that court. He is also said to be standing, in part to declare His readiness to carry out what may tend towards His people’s edification and consolation. As a painstaking shepherd, He stands to feed the flock (Micah 5:4).

He is also said to have seven horns and seven eyes, the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. This cannot be any created thing. The Lamb’s power or horns must be omnipotent, so His eye must be Omniscient. And that which goes through all the earth must be Omnipresent.

Conclusion

We need to look to Christ above events, including our interpretation of them and our fears about them. We need to see that He is ruling all things for His glory and for the good of the Church. His Church is the apple of His eye and He will protect it. He will still rebuke and chasten her because He loves her but it is all part of a sure purpose for His glory. This does not take away our duty and responsibility. Neither does it mean we should not seek to understand events. Rather, it means we should not allow our sorrows and fears about events present or future to rob us of the fullest view that faith can take of Christ in His glorious all-powerful majesty.

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Being Humble Before the God of Nature

Being Humble Before the God of Nature

Being Humble Before the God of Nature
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 Nov, 2020

“We’ve got to be humble in the face of nature…the virus is spreading even faster than the reasonable worst case scenario of our scientific advisers,” Boris Johnson said at a recent press conference. This recognises the limitations of science and human ability; we thought we had nature under control. We are smaller than we think, and things are greater and more complex than we can understand and regulate. Though we don’t see them, the world is full of viruses. Scientists tell us that there are more viruses on the planet than the stars we see in the sky. Most of them are good and beneficial, no doubt beyond what we realise. Others are harmful to us and we know only so much about how to deal with them. Although this recognition of our limitations is important, it is clearly easier to humble ourselves before a blind force rather than the God of nature. It doesn’t dent our pride nearly so much. Yet it ought to lead us to this. How indeed should our smallness in relation to God’s creation lead us to true humility before the Creator Himself?

Few places in the Bible explore this theme more fully than the closing chapters of the book of Job. God in His majesty uses aspects of creation to humble Job with a sense of His greatness and power. Why does God give so much emphasis to this? It gives us the right perspective, teaching us to think thoughts of His greatness and to use all aspects of creation to glimpse the sovereign glory of God. It brings Job to see that we often darken counsel by words without knowledge. In the following updated extract, James Durham points to what we need to learn from this part of Scripture. As he points out, “the great lesson of it all is to exalt God and abase the creature”.

1. God Humbles Us By Showing His Greatness

If we could observe, there is much of God to be seen in the meanest creatures. It is likely in this time that Job and his friends did not have the written Word, they, therefore, had a greater need to consider creation. Here we may see:

(a) God’s greatness, power, and might. We may see His stateliness and majesty, ordering all the creatures Himself and having a hand of providence about them. Job might and did read God’s dominion and sovereignty in these creatures.

(b) God’s absolute independence. He is free in relation to His ordering of the creatures, giving some wit and withholding it from others, giving some a dwelling, and others no dwelling.

(c) God’s care and tenderness. He provides for the wild goats and hinds and waiting on them when they bring forth (Job 39:1). This is an argument why He spared Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), besides so many souls there were many animals. But God’s providence about the ostrich and her eggs especially demonstrates His care (Job 39:14-18). He does as He likes directly or indirectly. This may be a comfort to poor orphans when children lack parents, God can provide for them. He who cares for the ostrich, will He not much more for them? Comparatively or chiefly, God’s main concern is not with oxen (1 Corinthians 9:9). God’s wisdom also shines here in appointing a suitable habitation for beasts that are not profitable, the rocks for some; the wilderness for others (Job 39:6 & 28).

See how earnest the Lord is that we would know Him and be convinced of His greatness and power. It must, therefore, be of great concern to us to understand God in the right way through His creation. It is a fault in us that we do not dwell more in meditation on the creatures to find out about God in them. Curiosity may put us to it for a little time, but we do not give ourselves to this meditation as we ought.

A right application from considering the creatures is to draw thoughts of God’s greatness from them. We ought to increase such thoughts by drawing from whatever excellence we find in the creature and ascending from that to considering the super-eminent excellence that is in God.

2. God Humbles Us By Showing Us Our Weakness

Another reason that God emphasises the creatures, is to point out our own weakness and ignorance. If we do not know the nature of the creatures, how much less can we apprehend God? If we do not know when a hind should calve, how will we know the deep things of God? Man is weak when he cannot outrun a horse or capture a wild ass or bird.

It also shows how little respect and thanks we give to God. Especially if we have never learned from the creatures to thank God for making the creatures subject to us when we cannot make them subject to ourselves.

3. God Humbles Us By Teaching Us Not to Dispute With Him

God also teaches Job a lesson from the creatures. He teaches him to stop his complaining and disputing with God. It is not fit that weak man should dispute with God. Weak man cannot fully understand the creatures or the depths of God’s providence in guiding heaven and earth. How then will he dispute with God about it? Though there is greater excellence and terribleness in God than in the creatures, yet man will be more afraid to grapple and contend with them than with God.

When God’s care reaches to these creatures, shall any questions God’s care towards His more noble creatures? He convicts Job for criticising God’s care concerning him, seeing He does not pass by the ostrich egg. Christ argues in the same way in guarding His disciples against anxiousness (Matthew 6:26) He that cares for the sparrows and ravens, will He not care much more for you?

4. God Humbles Us By Showing the Respect We Owe to Him

We do not have a true sense of the due respect we ought to maintain in relation to God. We are not beneath the creatures in many things, yet we cannot command them. Yet we do not walk with God with that due reverence which is fitting. This was an evil in Job, and it is an evil in us that we lack that due respect to God and His wisdom, power, greatness, goodness, providence etc that is fitting. We do not walk with due esteem of Him and with a stopped mouth before him, as becomes us.

The greatness and terribleness in the creatures should not only bring us to apprehend God’s greatness and terribleness. It should also bring us to submit to God, and say, “who can stand before this holy Lord?” (1 Samuel 6:20). It should make us more wary and watchful in our walk before God.

5. God Humbles Us By Showing He is No One’s Debtor

God is a debtor to no one, but none are not infinitely in God’s debt. There is nothing, not a bit of bread, nor a house to dwell in, nor anything else, that is not His. This should teach people to judge well of God and receive anything well from His hand. There are infinite applications that arise from this one word. People cannot take one step, but it is on God’s ground. They should therefore walk with an eye to God and strive to reciprocate though they cannot equal His favour. God’s interest in creatures should win our hearts more to Him and make us die more to created things. God will require us to account for them, therefore do not reckon them your own but His and use them with that in mind.

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What is Real Godliness?

What is Real Godliness?

What is Real Godliness?
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.
22 Oct, 2020

Sometimes words lose something of their meaning through overuse. The word “godly” used as a cliché has suffered from this. For some, it appears to describe someone who seems to be a committed Christian. Perhaps outwardly right thinking and decent living. Yet godliness in Scripture is not a superficial thing. Indeed, it warns us of the mere appearance or form of godliness without the reality (2 Timothy 3:5). How should we define godliness then? It is an inner response to the things of God which shows itself in devoted reverence for God: it shapes our attitudes, words and actions. Thomas Watson says that it is “the sacred impression, and workmanship of God in a man, whereby of carnal he is made spiritual”. It is something glorious and supernatural that is both intense in its fervency and extensive in its influence. There is much more we can say of course about what true godliness is and how we can discern it.

Godliness has value and benefit for everything; it is great gain in this life and the life to come (1 Timothy 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:8). There is nothing, therefore, of greater consequence and concern than to know clearly what godliness is and be thoroughly serious in practising it. Yet as Paul makes clear it is not only possible to be mistaken about godliness but even to counterfeit it. There is an outward form of godliness which denies the power of true and real godliness (2 Timothy 3:5). Paul also shows that such can even be combined with certain sins that lurk beneath the surface of a religious profession (2 Timothy 3:1-4 and Titus 1:16). Things such as self-love, pride, boasting, covetousness and unholy despising of what is good. James Durham points out that “there is nothing more perilous to the people of God, than when sinful and selfish practices come clothed with a show and pretext of godliness, when deformation comes under the cloak of reformation”. In this updated extract, he shows us positively what real, true godliness is.

1. Real Godliness Has Power

Real, true godliness always has a power with it which a mere appearance of godliness lacks. There is an external part or form of religion and an inward power. Power means two things.

(a) Power to command

Real godliness has the power to rule sway and command a person so that they are not “brought under the power of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). To be under the power of anything is to be under its dominion and command. To be under the power of sin is to be captivated by it, have it for a master and be ruled and commanded by it. To be under the power of godliness is to be under its dominion so that it sways, orders, directs, rules and commands a person (Romans 6:16). Obedience to righteousness in that verse is the same thing that is here called godliness. To be under the power of godliness is to obey it from the very heart (Romans 6:17,19), to be obedient to the doctrine of the gospel, to “the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1).

(b) Power to effect

By power, we mean efficacy, so that true godliness has the efficacy to enable to perform and make practical what it commands. In power means effectual (1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 4:20). Where there is power, there is efficacy through the power of God that accompanies, when the Lord pleases, the preaching of the gospel. Some men may have fine and flourishing expressions without efficacy in preaching, while others may have a more unpolished style of language, yet with a great deal more life, power and efficacy. So there is a form of godliness that never effectually shows itself in practice or by putting any sin to death. But true godliness commands, it exercises dominion and reigns over a person; it directs and commands them and they give willing and hearty obedience to it. It not only brings them to profess religion, but it also works inwardly in the heart and has efficacy in subduing sin within.

Where true godliness is, the Spirit is, and where the Spirit is, there is power (2 Timothy 1:7). The Spirit brings along with Him power, inward life and efficacy. Where true godliness is, there is faith, and faith has power with it. There is the exceeding greatness of the mighty power that works effectually in those that believe (Ephesians 1:19). Faith has power in it, enabling us to overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It has the power to purify the heart (Acts 15:9). All things are possible to those that believe (Mark 9:23; Philippians 4:13).

2. Real Godliness Has a Convincing Power

It has a convincing power, that where the hearts of men and women are naturally proud and defiant against God, godliness makes the Word pierce deeply and strike through. It makes convictions penetrate and the person to accept them, bringing his heart under deep impressions of the awe and dread of God.

3. Real Godliness Has a Transforming Power

It has such a renewing, changing and transforming power that makes a new creature and old things to pass away and all things to become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

4. Real Godliness Has a Restraining Power

It has a restraining power on corruptions and lusts and does not allow them to reign and exercise dominion as previously (Romans 6:14).

5. Real Godliness Has a Constraining Power

It has a constraining power, impelling us forward to that which is good, and well-pleasing in the sight of God. It is impossible where godliness is in power, that men can be unconcerned in their duty. It makes them yield themselves to be servants unto righteousness, as it is in Romans 6:16. It leads captive high thoughts and imaginations to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:51). It makes us so that we dare not, will not, cannot (willingly at least) resist any commanded duty, no more than we dare or can dwell contentedly with any known sin. It makes us dare not resist or reject any of God’s commandments, nor regard any iniquity in our heart (Psalm 18:22 and Psalm 66:18).

6. Real Godliness Has a Mortifying Power

It has a mortifying power towards anything that seeks to compete with precious Jesus Christ in the person’s esteem. It blackens the beauty and splendour of them all in this competition. It demotes them to the very lowest degree of baseness and vileness so that in comparison of Him, they are reckoned but as loss and dung (Philippians 3:7-8). It breaks off the delight we once had in idols (Hosea 14:8; Isaiah 30:22].

7. Real Godliness Has a Calming Power

It has a heart-quieting, calming, composing and fixing power. The mere form of godliness never has this, but it leaves a person still unfixed and the heart not established. “It is a good thing,” says the apostle in Hebrews “that the heart be established with grace, not with meats” (Hebrews 13:9). Grace is opposed to meats here, that is to questions and debates about meats and other such things. Those things have a show of godliness and do not profit those who are occupied about them. Only grace establishes the heart.

8. Real Godliness Can Be Distinguished from False Godliness

If many could be prevailed with to examine our godliness according to these marks, it would be found that there is but little true godliness among us. Where is the power of godliness! Yet wherever true godliness is, it has power with it. This power reaches to a very great extent, reaching our spirit and walk, our thoughts, words and actions. It even affects our very looks in some way. It made Job to make a covenant with his eyes (Job 31:1). It orders everything, not by fits and starts, but constantly in some measure as our desire, purpose and honest endeavour. And if at any time the influence of its power is not felt or weakened, that becomes our burden and affliction.

(a) Real godliness has much self-denial while false godliness has its source in self-love. It denies self in relation to our own righteousness, it humbles us under a conviction and sense of our sin and misery. It makes us deny ourselves in excessive self-love, submit to God’s will in all things. It makes us love God more than our own pleasure, profit or preferment, or anything else in the world. False godliness cannot bear anything in godliness that crosses its corrupt inclination. They will not humbly suffer any injury, but true godliness teaches the Christian to turn the other cheek. False godliness is all for action and doing in the outward things of religion, but not at all for suffering. True godliness commends and commands both, to do for Christ and be also ready to suffer for Him if we are called to it.

(b) Real godliness makes us focus on religious duties that are more inward and spiritual, as well those that are more outward. It inclines us to repentance, faith in Christ, putting sin to death and self-examination. The life of religion consists mainly in these. False godliness neglects inward and spiritual duties and is more concerned with keeping up the show and appearance of religion.

(c) Real godliness stirs us up to exercise grace. Natural conscience stirs us up to outward duty, but real godliness stirs us to exercise patience, submission, humility, sincerity, love to God and the saints. These are fruits of the Spirit and of the new creation that evidence life.

(d) Real godliness makes us engage in duties in the right way. It makes us pray and praise in the Spirit, sorrow for sin in a godly way, hear the Word so as to be edified by it etc. False godliness only considers whether the duty is done rather than whether it is done in the right way. It is only challenged for not praying or not going to church rather than whether prayer is wholehearted and they hear the sermon with benefit.

(e) Real godliness makes us wrestle against shortcomings in our spiritual growth and sins. Weakness in faith and coldness in love are a grief to us. Hypocrisy is as grievous to us as open sin. False godliness piles up outward religious practices and profession but does not lay a sure foundation. It is like someone who sows much seed but does not take care to weed it and remove what obstructs its growth. True godliness digs deep.

Conclusion

These considerations should not discourage us but rather encourage us to seek true godliness. In a culture that is obsessed with image and appearance, we are easily and subtly drawn to give an emphasis to outward more than inward things in terms of faith. Both are necessary but it is dangerous to let one crowd out the other.  Since it has value and benefit for everything in this life and the life to come, true godliness should be our greatest pursuit (1 Timothy 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:8).

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4 Ways Sovereign Grace Must Impact Us

4 Ways Sovereign Grace Must Impact Us

4 Ways Sovereign Grace Must Impact Us
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.
30 Sep, 2020

Sadly, it’s all too possible for people to be so opinionated about theological matters that they can even become obnoxious. They can become ungracious even when speaking about grace itself and somehow proud of the deeper understanding they have gained. Those who are new to any kind of convictions can be especially prone to this. This is not to minimise the truths themselves. It does not undermine the importance of having an accurate understanding of the Bible and a concern that others would share in it. It is rather about the spirit and manner in which this is done. Scriptural teaching is intended to humble us and increase our love for God, not merely puff us up with knowledge. What impact then ought sovereign grace to have on our hearts and lives?

What do we mean by sovereign grace? It is the powerful work of God on the heart to transform it by grace and raise it from death to life spiritually. This is described in different ways (Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 32:40; John 6:44; Ephesians 1:19). These verses, amongst others, describe the work of conversion and the new birth. As James Durham puts it; this is a distinct, inward, special, real, immediate, efficacious and powerful work of the Spirit of the Lord. It is the work of sovereign grace that is necessary for conversion. The soul is convinced of sin and humbled for it; the mind is enlightened in the knowledge of Christ. The will and affections are renewed and persuaded to embrace and receive Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel.

This is best illustrated in Lydia (Acts 16:14), it is said of her “whose heart the Lord opened, that she might attend to the things that were spoken of Paul”. Here we find:

(a) It is a distinct work

The Lord’s powerful work on her heart is distinguished from Paul’s preaching to her ear; the Lord opened her heart. It is not as if there were some power infused into the Word. Although it accompanies the Word, it is a distinct person working a distinct work. Thus it is separable from the Word, though it is done in the heart of the same sinner to whose ear the Word is preached.

(b) It is an inward work

It is on the heart. Besides the outward preaching and calling of the Word, there is an inward, powerful, effectual work and calling by the Spirit in the conversion of a sinner. This speaks to the heart as the Word speaks to the ear. This work of the Spirit as part of conversion is much more than any external persuasion or the preached Word can produce.

(c) It is a special work

It is not all who hear Paul preach whose hearts are opened, but it is the heart of one Lydia. It is peculiar to those whom the Lord converts and is applied to none others except those in whom He works faith and whom He effectually calls by His grace. It is a special work and not common to all who hear the gospel otherwise it could not be said that this report had not been believed and the arm of the Lord not revealed (Isaiah 53:1)

(d) It is a real work

It makes a real inward change on her. It is real and powerful in producing and bringing about the renewing of the will and faith in the soul. It is a real, powerful work of the Spirit, bringing about the conversion of the sinner.

(e) It is a direct work

For the Lord not only enlightens her understanding, but goes down to the heart and opens it, and works a change in it directly or immediately. Paul indeed, by his preaching, opens the way of salvation to all that heard him; from which, though many go away with their hearts unopened, yet the Lord has a secret mysterious, real, inward work on her heart, which is evidenced by the effect. He not only enlightens her mind but makes her willingly yield to the call of the gospel, by opening her heart. It is not simply a moral persuasion; it is God’s enlightening the mind, and by that persuading the will to be united with Christ.

How then should such sovereign grace impact us?

1. Be Humble

Learn from this to be humble. What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it (see 1 Corinthians 4:7). It is unsuitable for believers (who are unashamedly free grace’s debtors and beggars) to be proud and forget themselves. You have nothing, believer, to boast of, except that God has humbled you with his grace and should you be proud of that as if you had made yourself thus? Therefore guard watchfully against all puffing-up, self-conceit, and high-mindedness. Strive to be humble and to keep a low sail, or else you may break out into some scandalous offence and become a shame and reproach to the gospel.

We commend humility to you above many things; for we think that in these days, folks’ pride is likely to break their necks. When conceit first creeps in, they begin to think they are so far advanced in holiness, that they must not keep company with others, nor join in worship with them. From that, they go to another thing, and from that to a third so that it is hard to tell where they will stop or end. They become so giddy, that they are scarcely likely to leave themselves enough ground to stand on. Be ashamed of pride; it is a most intolerable thing to be proud of that which God has given, for which you had no responsibility of which you can no more boast than those who never had it. 

2. Be thankful

Give God the praise for what you have received. It is becoming for the upright to be thankful (Psalm 33:1). It is no small thing, to have God’s power manifested in producing faith and conferring grace. The thrones, kingdoms and great things of this world are nothing to this. It is peculiar to the Lord’s own and not common. Many get their fill of the world who never got nor will get this. The world is of so little value with the Lord, that (so to speak) He does not much regard who gets it, though it is exactly distributed by His providence. But converting and upholding grace is peculiar to His favourites. If you are clear that He has bestowed grace on you, how you should exult in blessing God (as David did) for giving counsel to choose such a portion and for His powerful determining of your heart by His grace to embrace it. You do not have yourselves to thank for this, but God.

3 . Be compassionate

Be tender towards others, considering that it is only grace that has made the difference between you and them and not any good nature in you which was not in them (as some foolishly imagine). Do not be puffed up at the faults and falls of any, but rather mourn for them as well as for your own. Be the more humble when you think of the difference that grace has made, left you fall. Since you stand by grace lone, do not be high-minded, but fear. Of all persons, it befits you worst of all you to regard lightly never mind mock at the falls of others, considering who and what has made the difference.

4. Be Holy

If it is so special a privilege to be partakers of this powerful and special grace of God exerted in the great work of conversion, there is surely something special called for in your conduct. It must be worthy of the gospel in all things and correspond to this grace bestowed on you. What kind of person ought you to be in all holy conduct and godliness (see 2 Peter 3:11)?

 

 

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What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?

What Happens When Christ Opens Doors for the Gospel?
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.
7 May, 2020

Has the coronavirus prompted more concern about spiritual things? To some extent, yes. Google searches on prayer for 95 countries during this crisis have increased to the highest level ever recorded. The Danish author of the study, Jeanet Sinding Bentzen said she found that “search intensity for ‘prayer’ doubles for every 80,000 new registered cases of COVID-19.” The Pew Research Center also reported increased prayer in the USA. 44% of Americans have also said that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “wake-up call for us to turn back to faith in God.” One of the UK’s largest online Christian bookstores, Eden, has seen physical Bible sales rise by 55 per cent in April. It is too early to say how significant this is or how the impact of this will be sustained or if it is a window that is already closing. But it should spur us to prayer ourselves. Perhaps you have heard of other indications of increased interest. Whether or not this is a window of opportunity for the gospel, it is helpful to consider what Christ means by an open door and its relevance to us. In these days of disruption for churches there is tremendous encouragement in it.

Scripture speaks about an open door in a number of places but especially in Revelation 3:7-8. It gives the encouragement that Christ is Head over His Church and opens doors that no one can shut. He has all power and authority in relation to His Church. It uses the language of Isaiah 22:20–22 and the authority given to Eliakim. As James Durham points out in the following updated extract, we can draw great reassurance from this.

It encourages us that Christ Jesus, as Mediator, has special oversight and government of the church He is completely sovereign so that when He shuts no one can open and vice versa. None of His orders can be obstructed, He has an exalted name above every other (Philippians 2:9) and no one can compete with His authority. He is holy and true (v7) and therefore cannot wrong any, nor fail in fulfilling His promises.

Ministers and churches can (like the church in Philadelphia) wrestle with great difficulties, weaknesses and distresses and these reassurances are given to encourage them. It shows them that Christ will support and comfort them in their trials. An open door is God giving opportunity to do good by the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:9; It is not only freedom to preach the gospel, but also God’s blessing on it (2 Corinthians 2:12).

It is as if Christ says the following to the minister of the church in Philadelphia who is said to have only “a little strength” (v8). “It is not for nothing that I have the key of the house of David, and open and no man shuts. I have given you commission to preach My gospel, and given you access to labour in My work of the ministry with some measure of success for doing good to souls.”

By assuring him that no one can shut this door, it is as though Christ is saying the following. “No one will hinder My work in your hands; no enemies or difficulties that you can meet with shall stop you. I have sent the gospel among you and given you ability to preach and the people ability to benefit. As I have sent the gospel among you, I will keep it among you, so long as I think good; no matter who may oppose it.”

1. What is an open door?

By an open door, Scripture usually means the Lord making way for the beneficial preaching of the gospel. This does not mainly consist in having ability and freedom, without any external restraint, to preach the gospel. It especially refers to God giving inward liberty to the preacher His blessing the Word, making it effectual and successful on the hearts of hearers. This is called, a door of utterance in Colossians 4:3, when a minister is not restrained in preaching the gospel, but as it were, the door is thrown open to him. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 it indicates God sending him in a special way and removing difficulties out of the way to make his ministry successful there. In 1 Corinthians 16:9 an effectual door is opened even where there is much opposition.
2. What does an open door imply?
It implies several things

(a) Ministers have their limitations
That there is a limitation in ministers who cannot make the gospel as productive as it ought to be. They cannot make the gospel as effective as it will be when the Lord sends forth the Spirit and enlarges a man to speak it with boldness. In this respect a door of utterance is opened to him, as clear from Colossians 4:3.

(b) Congregations have their limitations
That there is a further hindrance in that the ears and hearts of hearers are so locked up that the Word has no entrance but is repelled. The Lord opens this door, when by the work of His Spirit on hearts (like Lydia, Acts 16:4) He makes the Word to be received and admitted. Thus, Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, urges them to pray that the Word may have free course, that is, that there be no shut doors to hinder its progress. Both liberty for the minister to speak and blessing and success among the people are meant here.

(c) Providence maintains the Word
An open door also includes God’s providence in keeping the Word ministered and ordinances in a place with liberty in preaching and hearing. This may be despite many malicious opponents. No one can shut it.

3. Why does Christ open the door at certain times?

Christ is supreme and sovereign in giving gifts to men as well as liberty and inward freedom to make best use of them He also gives a blessing on them in making them successful. Gifts will not make a man able to preach unless the Lord gives a door of utterance. Even the great apostle Paul needs this (Colossians 4:3). Merely having utterance will not produce fruit among the people if the Lord does not open an effectual door and give the Word free course among them. Where there is most of the gift of utterance, there may be less success than where there are fewer gifts. This is because He whose privilege it is to set doors open, opens the door of utterance more fully to one, and the effectual door to the other, and does not open both equally to all.

4. What happens when Christ opens a door?

When Christ opens the door in this way, success cannot but follow necessarily and inevitably. No person or devil can shut out or impede it when He pleases to bless His ministers and commend the Word to the hearts of hearers. The meaning particular for the angel or minister here is. “I have called you to this ministry, and have given you some measure of utterance, though you do not have much ability. I have especially ordered matters so as the Word from you will have free course and success. No matter who rages against it, this will not be obstructed.”

This shows us that gifts and success in the ministry are different things. There is a little strength here (in relation to gifts) yet an open door (in respect of success). We find throughout Paul’s Epistles that a distinction is made between his liberty to preach on the one hand, and God’s opening an effectual door to him on the other.
Christ makes the Word successful, He gives both the gifts and the success. Not everyone experiences the same blessing. An open door is set before some more than before others or not at all before others. This is clear from comparing this and other epistles together.

5. How do we recognise an open door?

An open door cannot be discerned from a man’s gift alone. A door may be shut where there are great gifts. Paul did not always have this door open to him, at least it was more in one place than another. We cannot conclude there is an open door from a man’s freedom from external afflictions in a place, or the great following he may have. There may sometimes be many adversaries where this effectual door is opened (1 Corinthians 16:9) which is not the case where there is great peace and praise. Here are some ways in which it can be discerned.

(a) When a minister gets the door of utterance opened and the ears of the people are opened to it which is not a flesh pleasing desire to have ears tickled but with someone’s gifts but a simple, diligent love to be edified and receive good.
(b) Where there is real change and much solid work; the people are made humble, serious, spiritual sensitive, fruitful, etc. rather than merely opinionated
(c) When the devil attacks and opposes the ministry of one more than of many others.
(d) When the devil and ungodliness are defeated in a place by the preaching of the Word.
(e) Where there are new converts.

6. How should we make best use of an open door?

(a) Diligently, as a man that is to reap corn that is already ripe.
(b) Humbly, with self-denial, lest his pride robs the Master of His glory with dire consequences for himself.
(c) Watchfully. He should make use of it with fear, lest he or any other bring about a miscarriage in this birth because of unskillfulness. He should also proceed with watchfulness, lest the devil sow tares while he is sleeping, and it prove to be false without reality in many hearers. This is Paul’s concern; he was conscious of his own and their weaknesses (1 Corinthians 2:3).
(d) Zealously, so that the authority of Christ may appear in His ordinances both to adversaries and friends.
(e) Solidly, by making the foundation sure and giving solid food to souls such as the substantial gospel truths and the plain duties of holiness. It is dangerous to bring such a people too soon to the new wine of the most sublime things in doctrine, or the highest practices of mature Christians. It is better that they are fed on milk and what is healthy and nourishing than to please their appetites by diverting them with useless questions.
(f) Dependently, God is the Master and He has appointed a great Steward over the house, who has the keys laid upon His shoulder. The minister has no inherent right to such blessing but is subject to the Master’s good pleasure. Christ must be acknowledged in every step of the
work as it is has been done, or is being done.
(g) Single mindedly, this is the great aim of all preaching in public and private i.e. the edification and salvation of the people, and forming Christ in them by travailing, as it were, in birth for that purpose.

Conclusion

Here is some helpful biblical insight in discerning true opportunities and blessing provided by Christ. We can identify when Christ is at work by His Spirit in a more extraordinary way. If we feel discouraged about the prospects of the gospel and preaching being blessed, we can see that Christ can work in the most unlikely of circumstances. He can make use of anyone who is serious and faithful in serving Him and who does not seek to take the glory to themselves.

This is an encouragement to those ministers who feel that their gifts are nothing special compared to others. They may actually witness greater blessing than others. It is also an encouragement to congregations to be faithful to their minister whether or not they think that he has the gifts of a more prominent preacher. They should greatly value the preaching they hear if it is faithful to Christ and His Word. If Christ chooses to bless it, the more humble ministry may possibly be more fruitful. be more blessed. Christ shows both ministers and people that as mere men they are insufficient for any such thing, they must look to Him. It is not gifts that commend a minister to Christ, but faithfulness in making best use of what he has received (Matthew 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

It should encourage us to pray for the success of the gospel and the ministry of the Word. May the Lord open many such doors in our generation.

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In The Scandal of Stumbling Blocks, James Durham helps us to consider this vital issue deeply by defining the nature of stumbling as well as showing its serious consequences. He looks in considerable detail at different kinds of stumbling and identifies the ways that people can stumble and be stumbled. Durham provides practical advice for avoiding and preventing offense.

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

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