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.

GET THE BOOK

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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What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?

What is Absolutely Essential?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
2 Apr, 2020

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

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

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

1. What cannot be absolutely essential

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. What is absolutely essential

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

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

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

3. Why it is absolutely essential

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

(a) God commands it

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

(b) It makes us truly happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) It ensures our spiritual welfare

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

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

Conclusion

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

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The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done

The Most Foolish Thing You’ve Ever Done
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
14 Feb, 2020

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

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

1. SIN IS THE GREATEST FOLLY 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. HELP TO AVOID RETURNING TO THE GREATEST FOLLY 

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

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

 

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5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart

5 Ways to Diagnose the Hidden Idols of the Heart
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
15 Nov, 2019

Many things can creep into our hearts as hidden idols.

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

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

5 WAYS TO DIAGNOSE tHE IDOLS OF THE HEART

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

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

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

1. WHAT DO YOU RESPECT?

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

2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE?

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

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

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

3. WHAT DO YOU PUT CONFIDENCE IN?

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

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

4. WHAT DO YOU FEAR?

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

5. WHAT DO YOU SERVE

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

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

WHAT KIND OF IDOLS CAPTURE OUR HEARTS?

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

1. THE WORLD

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

2. THE BELLY

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

3. THE SELF

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

4. INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE

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

5. THE COMFORTS OF LIFE

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

6. SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

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

7. CHURCH

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

8. GIFTS FROM GOD

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

9. AN EASY LIFE

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

10. ESCAPISM

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

11. PROFESSIONALS AND EXPERTS

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

CONCLUSION–THE REMEDY FOR HEART IDOLATRY

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

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

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The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For

The Kind of Prayer No one is Too Busy For
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
10 Oct, 2019

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

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

THE SPIRITUAL BENEFITS OF SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

(a) It keeps our heart in the right condition

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

(b) It helps prevent gross sin

How many sinful thoughts and unadvised words this might prevent.

(c) It helps us in our spiritual duties

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

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

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

(e) It is often clearly successful.

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

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

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

THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPONTANEOUS PRAYER

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

(a) When You Cannot Pray Formally

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

(b) When You Are Engaged in Momentous Things

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

(c) When You Experience Difficulties

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

(d) When you are Tempted to Sin

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

(e) When Sin Rises Up

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

(f) When Something Unexpected Happens

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

(g) When You Are Engaged in Spiritual Activities

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

(h) When You are in Trouble

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

CONCLUSION

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

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Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church

Christ’s Message to Your Church
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
4 Oct, 2019

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

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

 

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

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

1. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

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

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

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

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

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

2. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF REPROOF

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

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

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

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

Christ’s charge against us is defection

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

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

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

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

3. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF RECOVERY

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

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

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

 

4. CHRIST’S MESSAGE OF WARNING

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

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

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

FURTHER REFLECTION

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

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

Outside In

Four sessions to help mature Christians

recover their first love for Christ

New Bible Study

Ideal for individual study

or small groups

BOOK KICKSTARTER

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

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