What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death

What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death

What We Lose By Living in Denial About Death
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
5 Oct, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Benefits of Meditating on Death

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

 

1. It Helps Us Engage with Eternal Realities

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

 

2. It Helps Us Esteem Christ More

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

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

 

3. It Helps Us Edify Others More

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

 

4. It Helps Us Advance Spiritually

(a) It Enlightens Our Understanding

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

(b) It Restrains Our Affections

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

(c) It Helps Us Put Sin to Death

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

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

(d) It Helps Us Advance in Spiritual Activities

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

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

(e) It Helps Us Handle Trials

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

(f) It Helps Us Prepare for Death 

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

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What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?

What Do We Mean By God’s Presence?
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 Sep, 2018

It’s a phrase that’s used a lot. Yet when you stop to consider it, it’s rather difficult to define. Of course God is everywhere present but we usually mean a felt sense of His presence. Is that purely a subjective sense that borders on a mystical feeling or being emotionally charged? Sometimes it seems like people are speaking of a particular experience or atmosphere. Do we have to feel that God is there to know that He is there?

Surely what we mean by “presence” is God exerting His influence in a way that we discern. Hugh Binning has a very simple definition of the presence of God. He says that “God’s presence is His working”. That is helpful because God may be present without us being overwhelmed with feelings of love, joy and praise. This is how it was for Job. In his affliction and distress he was saying, “Oh that I knew where I might find him!” (Job 23:3). “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him”. He knew that God was working and that He was trying Him with a holy purpose but He could not discern Him clearly (Job 23:8-10).

 

1. The Holy Spirit’s Workshop

God’s presence is his working. His presence in a soul by His Spirit is His working in such a soul in some special way, which is not common to all people. It is specially to those whom He has chosen. His dwelling is nothing else but a continued, familiar and endless working in a soul until He has conformed everything within to the image of His Son.

The soul is the workshop that the Spirit has come to work in to fashion in it the most skilful part of the whole creation. This is the work of restoring and repairing the masterpiece, which came last from God’s hand in creation, and so was the greatest. By this I mean, the image of God in righteousness and holiness. This is the bond of union between God and us. Christ is the bond of union with God but the Spirit is the bond of union with Christ. Christ is the peace between God and us making out of two one. But the Spirit is the link between Christ and us, by which He has direct and actual involvement in us, and we in him.

 

2. Mutual Indwelling

The union between Christ and the soul is illustrated in Scripture by the closest relationships because a mutual union is closest. It is often expressed in this way to demonstrate an interchangeable relation and reciprocal union with Christ. The knot is on both sides to make it strong. Christ in us and we in Him; God dwelling in us, and we in Him, and both by this one Spirit (1 John 4:13). It is often mentioned by the Apostle John who was best able to express it as one most possessed with the love of Christ and the felt sense of His love (John 17:23, 26; 1 John 3:24). Just as the names of married persons are written together, so this indwelling is written in this way.

It is not cohabitation but inhabitation. It is not one person alone inhabiting the other, but mutual inhabitation which amounts to a kind of penetration, the most intimate and immediate presence imaginable. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith; and we dwell in Christ by love (Ephesians 3:17 , and 1 John 4:16). Death brings him into the heart; for it is the very application of a Saviour to a sinful soul. The very applying of His blood and sufferings to the wound that sin made in the wounded conscience which heals it, pacifies it and calms it.

A Christian, by receiving the offer of the gospel heartily and affectionately brings in Christ as offered into his house, and then salvation comes with Him. Therefore believing is receiving (John 1:18). It is the very opening of the heart to let in an offered Saviour. Christ, thus possessing the heart by faith, works by love. The Christian dwells in love and in God and God in him. Love has a special value in it, to transport the soul out of itself to the Beloved (Song 4:9). The soul is where it loves. Fixing and establishing the heart on God is dwelling in Him.

The constant and most continued residence of the most serious thoughts and affections will be the all-fulness and riches of grace in Jesus Christ. As the Spirit dwells where He works, so the soul dwells where it delights. Its delight in God makes it go out to Him frequently in desires and breathings after Him. By means of this, God dwells in the heart for love is the opening up of the inmost chamber of the heart to Him. It brings the Beloved into the very secrets of the soul, into the inmost part of the heart so Christ dwells in the affections of the soul.

It is only the Spirit of Christ given to us that entitles us to Him, and Him in us. It is the Spirit working in your souls mightily and continually, making your hearts temples for the offering of the sacrifice of prayer and praises. He casts out all idols from these temples that He alone may be adored and worshipped by the loving service of the heart and purges them from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. It is the Spirit dwelling in them in this way that makes them living members of the true body of Christ, joined to Christ the Head. This makes Him yours and you His; by virtue of this He may command you as His own, and you may use and employ Him as your own.

 

Conclusion

God’s special gracious presence is more than a mere feeling, though feelings are involved. We can discern God’s presence by His activity in our hearts and lives. His grace in our hearts and lives is stirred up into activity. James Durham observes that, “believers, that aim seriously at the exercise of grace in themselves, may confidently invite Christ to come, and may expect His presence”.

The more we make use of the Holy Spirit through prayer, submission and obedience to the Word of God, love to Christ, the more we will know that presence. It will humble us. An abiding sense of that presence is valuing Christ and depending on the strength and grace he provides. Christ’s presence will make us spiritual fruitful and useful. Sometimes there is a sense of distance rather than presence but in this we should be stirred up to seek after the fellowship we desire. “There is nothing that will affect a gracious soul more, than to miss Christ’s presence, when the disappointment has been procured by its own sin” (James Durham). As Durham also puts it, a high esteem of Christ will make us pursue after His presence “for, to those that thus love and esteem Him, He will manifest Himself (John 14:21, 23)”. We need this in seeking to worship God in public and private. As Durham says: “it is one thing to have pure ordinances set up in the Church, and another to have Christ’s presence filling them with power”. We will want Christ’s presence for others as well as ourselves.

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6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness

6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness

6 Ways the Gospel Calls for Holiness
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.
31 Aug, 2018

If you are interested in the gospel, then you should be interested in holiness. But, you may ask, isn’t it “a holier than thou” attitude that turns people off the gospel? Perhaps, but real biblical holiness is all about the gospel. It is meant to be something that both attracts people to the gospel and is an expression of the reality of the gospel in our lives. If people notice the difference it may well make them uncomfortable but that is as Christ intended. Salt and light often have this effect (Matthew 5:13–14). But that holiness is meant to lead those who notice to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16). Christ is saying that if our lives are no different to those around us they won’t notice the difference and understand the reality of the gospel. Christ’s mission and our mission are all about holiness (John 17:16-19). Peter tells us that if we have been called by grace with a holy calling then we will be striving to be holy in all that we do (1 Peter 1:15).

The danger comes when we make our attempts to look holy in outward things the grounds of our confidence for salvation. Gospel holiness arises from valuing union with Christ and living out His resources of grace in obedience to His revealed will. It is not our own resources. This is what the puritan John Owen meant when he said, “As God gave us our beings, so he gives us our holiness. It is not by nature but by grace that we are made holy”. As we have received Christ we are to walk in Him (Colossians 2:6). Those who preach the gospel have two tasks: to persuade sinners to receive Christ and then to urge them to walk worthy of Him. In other words, as Owen also put it: “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing and realising of the gospel in our souls.” The gospel is the truth which is according to godliness (Titus 1:1).

Holiness is a gospel priority; it is (as Paul puts it) a gospel-shaped life (Philippians 1:27). James Durham explains this verse in the following way. “You are privileged with the gospel and have embraced it. Your profession of the gospel is outstanding. I beg you, therefore, that your life may correspond to it”. Paul begins the word “only”, because it is so necessary and of such great concern that it was the one thing they had to do. Comparatively speaking they had nothing else to do. The gospel calls for holiness in six ways. To fail or be defective in any of them makes our life to that extent to be unfitting the gospel.

 

1. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Kinds of Duties

The gospel calls for holiness in respect of all sorts of duties. It says be holy as God is holy in all manner of living (1 Peter 1:15). We are to be holy in prosperity and adversity, in religious, moral and in natural actions.

 

2. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Everything

This extends entirely to all individual duties and actions in particular of all those sorts of duties. It reacheth all aspects of our conduct. The divinely inspired Scriptures instruct the man of God how he may be made perfect in every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Any failing in thought, word or deed is unbecoming to the gospel.

 

3. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in Our Whole Being

It also extends throughout the whole person. The gospel urges us to be sanctified throughout (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The promises of the gospel press us to cleanse ourselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:10). It requires that the understanding is kept soundly so that no error or untruth is admitted. It demands that the mind is sober and free from any sinful disorder and the affections do not overflow in sin. The will must be kept straight in line with the straight rule of obedience. The conscience is to be kept tender, neither darkened nor impure. We are to yield the members of the body as instruments to righteousness.

 

4. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Our Relationships

This holiness is to be followed in all capacities, callings, positions and relations. It is for husbands and wives, masters and servants and for parents and children. The apostle Paul urges this heartily and frequently in his letters (see Colossians 3 and 4; Ephesians 5 and 6). In Titus Chapter 2 he urges similar duties and uses this motive for servants: that the doctrine of God may be adorned in all things. For wives he has the motive, that the doctrines of God may not be blasphemed. To all believers he uses the motive that this is why the grace of God has appeared in the gospel.

 

5. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in All Times and Places

We are commanded to abound always in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57).  In the whole course of our conduct: at home and out of doors, in secret and public, in prosperity and adversity.

 

6. The Gospel Calls for Holiness in the Highest Degree

The gospel calls for perfect holiness, holiness in the highest degrees. Thus Christ urges us to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Believers are to be holy in all kinds of conduct as God who calls us is holy (1 Peter 1:15). This exact holiness is perfect in the degree of designe, desire and endeavour. This is “purifying ourselves even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3); that is to have Him as our pattern.

 

But isn’t this Like the Law Rather than the Gospel?

Someone may object against considering the gospel in this way (outlining a Christian’s duty and walk so precisely to this extent and degree). They may object that it makes it appear to be very strict and to differ little or nothing from the law. But we need to understand the similarities and differences between the law and gospel.

The law does not require more than the gospel. (a) The gospel requires holiness to the same extent as the law. Any sin against the law is also a sin against the gospel. Christ did not come to abolish but rather to fulfil the law; (b) both require holiness to the same degree. The gospel commands us to be holy as God is holy and perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It does not dispense with any sin, degree of sin, or the least omission of any duty and more than the law; (c) The authority and obligation that requires holiness is no less in the gospel than it is in the law. In actual fact we may say, that the obligation is in some respects greater.

But the law and gospel differ in these three ways: (a) the gospel accepts the penitent even though he has not been perfect and exact in obedience. It gives him pardon through Christ, which the law does not; (b) the gospel calls for duty in the strength of Christ and supplies strength for duty. But the law supplies no strength, it only assumes it. It only gives the word of command, requiring to walk in the strength which we once had in Adam. Even though the authority and obligation are the same, the approach is not. If there is any breach or failure, the law says we will certainly die. But the gospel allows repentance and fleeing to Jesus Christ, who took the curse of the law; (c) The law only accepts duties that have been performed perfectly. But the gospel accepts imperfect duty, as long as there is sincerity. It accepts the believer Christ’s account according to that which Christ has, if there is a willing mind. So then, when you are called to walk as befits the gospel you are not to dispense with any duty that the law calls for. The gospel indeed calls for it in a sweeter way through peace and righteousness: The gospel calls for the same kind, extent and degree of holiness as the law. The great difference is the way in which it calls for it.

The gospel gives: (a) a new purpose: to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31); (b) a new motive: love to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14); (c) a new obedience: not in our own strength but Christ’s (John 15:5); (d) a new spirit: a reverential fear (Luke 1:74); (e) a new attitude to the commandments: they are not found grievous but easy and light (1 John 5:3; Matthew 11:30); (f) a new attitude to self: denying our own righteousness and attainments.

 

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You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without Godliness

You Will Never Be Truly Content Without 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.
20 Jul, 2018

We all long for a genuinely peaceful satisfaction in life. Yet in our society of conspicuous consumption, discontent and wanting more and better seem to be valued more. Lifestyle gurus know this and they urge people to be content with who they are and what they have whilst still striving for their goals. Think positively they say, practice gratitude (to no one in particular) be proud of what you have achieved. But this isn’t real contentment because it depends on ourselves and our feelings. It’s a temporary and often imagined state. We need something that transcends not only our immediate circumstances but also ourselves and this brief changeable life. We were not made to live for ourselves or the things of time. We were made for God and for eternity. That’s why we will never be truly content without godliness.

This is what the Apostle Paul says. People make the great mistake of “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5). Some think that personal gain is highest achievement of this life. Even in spiritual things as well as the things of this life we can be entirely focussed on personal gain. They are using spiritual things to advance self. We can think that we are advancing in godliness but actually the whole activity is all about ourselves. Paul says that we need to know that gain is not godliness but rather “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). These two things go together and cannot be separated. Godliness is profitable for all things both in this life and the life which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8). James Durham explains these points further in a series of sermons from which the following is extracted and updated.

 

1. What is True Contentment?

It leaves a person in quietness, calmness and composure of mind. They are so satisfied with God’s dealings that they think whatever they experience is best.

(a) It Involves Moderate Desires

Our inclinations, desires and plans in relation to ourselves and all the things of this world are moderated. This is the opposite of all inordinate desires for a change in our present lot. It keeps us from seeking “great things” for ourselves (Jeremiah 45:5). One who wants to be rich (1 Timothy 6:9) is the opposite of one who is content. This is because covetousness and contentment are opposed to each other (Hebrew 13:5).

Contentment is silent reverence for God’s way towards us. It restrains us from pressing inordinately after what we have or are able to acquire lawfully. Honest lawful labour is of course not opposed to contentment. We follow our calling as our duty rather than mainly to further our advantage or gain.

(b) It Involves Calm Submission to God’s Providence

It is opposed to fretful anxiety (Philippians 4:6 and Matthew 6:25). We are to follow the duties of our calling without being vexed or anxious about their success.

(c) It Involves Reverent Adoration of God’s Provision

Whether God provides little or much we are to be content with the things that we have (1 Timothy 6:8 and Hebrews 13:5).

(d) It Involves Tranquility of Mind Which Is Satisfied With God’s Dealings

Not only does it not fret against God’s dealings, it gives positive assent to them as being well satisfied with them. It is a sweetly serene frame of soul that makes a Christian say with the apostle, “I have all, I abound, I am full” (see Philippians 4:11-12 and 18; 2 Corinthians 6:8-10). Paul had as much contentment whether he had less or more of the things of the world.

 

2. How is Godliness Gain?

(a) It Extends to All Kinds of People

Its gain extends to individuals of every sex, age, rank, class, calling position and relationship.

(b) It Extends to All Kinds of Conditions

It is profitable in prosperity and in lack, making us always content in every condition. It is soundness to the bones in health and has an inward life and cheerfulness. In sickness and death it is eminently profitable. Its great gain and advantage beautifully blossom forth then, when all earthly comforts wither.

(c) It Extends to All Kinds of Activities

It is profitable in worship and the duties of our ordinary callings (Psalm 1:3).

(d) It Extends to This Life and Eternity

It has outward gain (so far as is fitting for themselves and those of their company). It always has inward gain through their secret converse with and walk before God (1 Timothy 4:8).

 

3. Why is There no Contentment Without Godliness?

If we look through the Scriptures, we will always find that it is the godly man that is the contented man. Godly Paul learned this great lesson and was taught this divine art. You can see from Philippians 4 and 2 Corinthians 6:3-4 how he arrived at this height. He could say “having nothing, yet possessing all things”. This is because contentment does not consist in the things we possess but in the right frame of mind. There is nothing that can put and keep us in such a right frame of mind except godliness.

(a) Godliness Shows Us the Emptiness of All Creature-Comforts

It sobers our spirit in pursuing creature-comforts saying to us to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:9). It limits our desires and intentions that we may be content even though we do not have many thousands or this or that among the fine things in the world.

(b) Godliness Moderates Our Affections in Using the Things of This World

It keeps us from being anxious in seeking and pursuing after the things of the world. It makes us quiet and satisfied in using and enjoying them. Without contentment through godliness a person is both vexed and perplexed in seeking and enjoying without satisfaction. This is because they seek and expect more from these things than they find.

But the godly man weeps as though he did not weep, rejoices as though he did not rejoice. He buys as though he did not possess and uses this world without abusing it (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Godliness is the living water spoken of by our Lord (John 4:13) which when someone drinks they do not thirst again. It quenches those disquieting, gasping desires after the things of the world which all naturally have.

(c) Godliness Sets Our Affections on More Excellent Things

It takes our affections off these things and sets them on another more noble, excellent and durable object which alone can satisfy. There is no true contentment nor solid soul-satisfaction to be had except in God and looking to Him aright. Godliness takes us away from the empty and broken cisterns that can hold no water and leads us to the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2).

It makes us consider that the Lord has a holy sovereign hand in everything and teaches us to be quiet and content. It teaches us to pray, praise, believe, rest on God and trust in Him for deliverances from all difficulties. Now and then the godly have some sweet manifestations of God to their soul. These mightily and marvellously outlast the impressions that the lack of outward things make on their spirits (see Psalm 4:6-7). It is impossible for the mind to be quiet and content without having some satisfying object effectually offered to it. Only godliness does this. Even heaven could not make us content unless we had godliness (if it were possible for someone to be there without it). This is because without it the mind would not be adapted to the place.

(d) Godliness Gives Us Access to All the Promises

Access to all the exceeding great and precious promises makes us content. “Godliness” (says the apostle) “is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7). Suppose a godly man in difficulty to get his dinner or supper and how to get his family provided for and sustained. When the children begin to weep for bread in beginning to hunger, he has a sweet word of promise to support his mind. God has said that He will never leave nor forsake him in Hebrews 13:5-6. This verse contains five negatives in the original language to maximise assurance.

The words that follow are: “we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man shall do unto me”. Godliness looks to what God has said and no one except the godly can say that God has said such things to them. The promise is in some ways as meaningful and satisfying (perhaps more) as if they had the rhing itself in their hand. They can say boldly “the Lord is my helper” and “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1) and so quiet and content themselves. There is no condition the godly may be in without a promise for it.

Godliness gives access and right to the promise. Exercising godliness gives the promise (as it were) a new and fresh lustre. The godly rest satisfied in the promise and neither having nor not having disturb their peace and contentment. They know that if necessary this pain and sickness and this affliction or other will be removed and this or that need supplied. If it continues it will be for their best. This is in accordance with Romans 8:28 “All things work together for good to them that love God and are the called according to his purpose”. What more is needed? The godly may take hold of the promise boldly, no one else has the right to do this. Godliness does not meri the promise but God has made it the way by which we receive it. If you love and desire contentment, love godliness and exercise yourselves to it in a serious way.

(e) Godliness Helps Us Put Sin to Death

Lack of contentment of mind arises from some sin within which has not been put to death, as James tells us (James 4:1). Where godliness is in exercise, it keeps down and subdues pride and restrains lust. When corruption is ready to rise and fretting, impatience and discontent break out, godliness makes us say with Eli “It is the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:18). It makes us dare not give way to our corruption. The great thing that disquiets us is always something that is sinful. Godliness prevents or restrains that which leads to discontentment. It helps put sin to death and keep the mind calm.

 

4. Why is Contentment Necessary for Making Progress in Godliness?

The Holy Spirit joins these two things together to show that one helps and advances the other. A defect in either one is obstructive to the other. Those who are not exercised to godliness cannot have true contentment. Those who do not have contentment cannot advance in godliness. Will or can someone who is discontent pray effectually? It is impossible. It mars his liberty and boldness in prayer.

The discontented man cannot praise because praise flows from a satisfied mind and he lacks this. The discontented man cannot properly read, listen to sermons, or meditate because his mind is confused. Discontentment weakens the mind and makes us disinclined to and indisposed for godly exercise.

 

Conclusion

Look on and accept these two things as motives and helps to each other. Let them go hand in hand together. Neither of them will go alone, they must go together. Will I not then strive for contentment with my lot, whatever it may be? Will I not more than ever love and prize the connection between contement and godliness? Will I not through grace believe more thoroughly this great truth, that godliness with contentment is great gain? Let it stand as an eternal and unchangeable verity. Let it stand like a great and immovable rock in the midst of the sea against which the waves of the world’s contradictory, false and foolish notions beat and break themselves.

Special Offer on James Durham’s Collected Sermons

Durham’s sermons on The Great Gain of Contenting Godliness are included in a volume of his collected sermons. These have been published recently and are highly recommended. In an early sermon CH Spurgeon said, “If I had lived in his [Durham’s] time, I should never, I think, have wanted to hear any other preacher; I would have sat, both by night and day, to receive the sweet droppings of his honeyed lips” There are 61 sermons in this attractively produced volume and it runs to nearly 1,000 pages.  The usual price is £29.95 which already represents a discount but a further 10% is possible when purchasing using a code unique for readers of this blog. This makes the price £26.95 and the code is RST 18 when purchasing from James Dickson Books at this link.

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Is the Moral Revolution Over?

Is the Moral Revolution Over?

Is the Moral Revolution Over?
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.
6 Apr, 2018

What has happened to the #MeToo movement which followed the Harvey Weinstein controversy? It certainly gained huge prominence and publicly exposed the abuse that predators wanted to keep hidden. It was vitally important to hear such behaviour vilified. It was also refreshing to hear about any limits to our culture’s licentiousness. And yet it was only a matter of time before a backlash of liberal opinion re-asserted the “freedoms” of the sexual revolution. The liberty for anyone to do whatever they please. But we don’t seem to be hearing as much about it as we did. Was it just a moral panic in which the media has lost interest? Has the anti-#MeToo backlash won? But we need to recognise that the discovery of a moral sensitivity did not go remotely far enough. Our culture’s media and entertainment builds on abuse and promotes exploitation and objectification. No one seemed ready to acknowledge this. We desperately need a real moral revolution in relation to the seventh commandment.

Christ showed how the seventh commandment reaches into our hearts and covers our eyes (Matthew 5:28). The Westminster Larger Catechism refers to this in expounding the seventh commandment. It speaks of this commandment forbidding “all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections”. It mentions other ways in which our senses may be defiled. Finally, it includes “all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others”.

None of these are matters one would prefer to handle but our current culture requires it. To avoid giving the Scripture’s clear teaching on the matter is to expose many to the most dangerous temptations. James Durham refers to this when he says that, due to our corrupt nature, it is hard to speak or hear of these things in a holy way. Both holiness and wisdom are necessary therefore in case we break this commandment even while speaking or hearing about it. It is necessary to mention it, however, because this sin is so rife and the Holy Spirit has considered it necessary to speak of it in Scripture. Indeed it is covered by a particular and distinct commandment by itself. Our most holy and blessed Lord Jesus Himself commented on it in Matthew 5:28. This is makes it a necessary consideration.

Durham also demonstrates that “these abominations are not restricted to the outward act but extend further”. There are many ways in which people commit this sin. It is not pleasant but it cannot be ignored.

 

1. In Our Hearts

Christ calls a man lusting after a woman committing adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). There are various degrees in this according to the extent to which it goes, the reception it gets and other similar circumstances. It is still reckoned by God to be heart-adultery and is called burning (1 Corinthians 7:9 and Romans 1:27). It is exceedingly loathsome to the Lord and hurtful to the inner man. This is so even when men neither resolve nor intend acting on it. They become guilty by not abhorring these imaginations but allowing them to roll in their thoughts (beware of this even in considering the matter now). If the inward fire is allowed to burn it often breaks out into a visible flame. The burning in 1 Corinthians 7:9 does of course differ from the burning mentioned in Romans 1:27, but we cannot enter into that matter just now.

 

2. In Our Senses

Men are guilty of this wickedness when they allow their outward senses sinfully to pursue what they want to. Thus, “eyes full of adultery” are spoken of in 2 Peter 2:14. A lustful look is adultery (Matthew 5:28) and Job says that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a woman (Job 31:1). Thus also seeing as well as delighting in obscene pictures and visual performances cannot do anything except defile someone.

The ears are defiled by hearing and listening to obscene and filthy discourse. They are defiled by listening to drunken, unclean or light and immodest love songs. Touch is defiled with embracing and the mouth with kissing others. Such are spoken of in Proverbs 7:13: “she caught him and kissed him”. It is not suitable to go into this further but much guilt is contracted in this way which is scarcely noticed or mourned over.

 

3. In Our Gestures

People may become guilty of breaking this commandment in their gestures. They may be evidence of this vileness or make people more inclined to it. There may be indecent postures contrary to polite behaviour and godliness. See what is spoken about a wicked person in Proverbs 6:13-14 and Isaiah 3:16. This is the opposite of walking honestly and decently as commended in Romans 13:13. and a carnal wantonness reproved.

 

4. In Our Words

People become exceedingly guilty of this evil by lewd and obscene speech. But this sin should not be even named (Ephesians 5:3). In the same way, we should avoid reading salacious and licentious love songs or books because this is as though we were gathering ideas about such a subject. There are also ways of taunting and reproaching one another in kinds of communications that corrupt good behaviour. Also guilty are “filthiness”, “foolish talking” and inappropriate “jesting” (Ephesians 5:3-4). This is especially so if it is laughing at the expense of someone who has fallen in some act of filthiness (or anything else that comes close to something like this, see Ephesians 4:24 and 5:3-4 etc)

 

5. In Our Company

We can fall into this sin by being with light, vain and loose company in a close and unnecessary way. This is more especially true when we keep company with such in private. This is not only an appearance of evil and a snare to that but also evil and loose in itself. It is condemned by the apostle in Romans 13:13. Solomon urges men not to come near the door of such a woman’s house, much less to enter it (Proverbs 5:8).

 

6. In Our Attitude

People fall into this sin by a carelessness, immodesty and a lack of appropriate shamefacedness etc. Or by any other way in which they give over the reins to the loose, licentious, sensual impulse they have within.

 

Conclusion

Wouldn’t there be a moral revolution in the Church and in the lives of believers themselves if we were to take these things seriously? Have we allowed the immodest culture around us to shape our attitudes, thoughts and behaviour in a way that allows room for this sin to flourish? The seventh commandment has a positive side too: it is about preserving and promoting purity. Purity “in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour…in ourselves and others” (Larger Catechism). To do this we need to make use of the grace that is in Christ and cultivate fellowship with Him. It is in “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” that we avoid making provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts (Romans 13:14).

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Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth

Why Lies Spread Faster than the Truth
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
16 Mar, 2018

False news travels six times faster than the truth according to a scientific study. It’s 70% more likely to be retweeted. The study analyses 126,000 false stories tweeted by roughly three million people more than 4.5 million times. We’re aware of fake news and robots that generate it online. It seems that the robots are not responsible for the speed at which fake news travels–we are. What is it in human nature that is drawn to sharing falsehood?

It should be of great concern to us. The author of the study, Professor Aral makes a striking comment. “Some notion of truth is central to the proper functioning of nearly every realm of human endeavor. If we allow the world to be consumed by falsity, we are inviting catastrophe”. Of course the trend of post-modern thought has been to claim that truth is relative, not absolute. This undermines a concern for truth, even the facts because it is claimed that such truth claims are an exercise of power and privilege.

A biblical perspective gives us, however, a clear basis for distinguishing truth and lies. The study laments the effects of fake news: “False news can drive the misallocation of resources during terror attacks and natural disasters, the misalignment of business investments, and misinformed elections”. While these are important, it is also a matter of moral and eternal significance. The concern about the speed at which lies travel is of course not new.

If you want truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old Proverb, ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.’ (C H Spurgeon)

It is not a unique feature of social media; we have the same tendency to want to share certain news more than others. Apparently false stories have greater novelty and produce greater surprise and disgust. It is just as true when we get news by word of mouth, text or email. These driving forces make people spring to a quick judgment about what they have heard and often want to share it. David, for instance was too hasty in accepting Ziba’s lie about Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 16). There may be many “spiritual” factors that cloud our judgment and make us rush to characterise another believer and their words or actions.

There are many reasons why this may be so. Fundamentally the problem is not so much with the mouth as with the heart. The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Matthew 12:34). The following are some of the ways we rush to judgment in heart as outlined by James Durham. It comes from his exposition of the ninth commandment which forbids false witness. They are some of the reasons as to why lies travel faster than the truth.

 

1. Rushing into Suspicious Judgment

Suspecting others unjustly is called “evil surmising” in 1 Timothy 6:4 or as it is in the original Greek “evil suspicion”. This is when people are suspected of some evil without grounds for it, as Potiphar suspected Joseph. It is jealousy when this suspicion is mixed with fear of something that we love or value being endangered. Thus Herod was jealous when Christ was born, as were the neighbouring kings when Jerusalem was being built. There is, I grant, a right suspicion; e.g. that which Solomon had concerning Adonijah (1 Kings 1 and 2). Yet Gedaliah failed, in not crediting Johannans information anent Ishmael’s conspiracy against his life (Jeremiah 40).

 

2. Rushing into Unjust Judgment

We may be guilty of rash judging and concluding unjustly concerning someone’s state. This was what Job’s friends did. We may judge unjustly of someone’s actions, as Eli did with Hannah in saying that she was drunk, because of her lips moving. We may judge unjustly of someone’s objectives. The Corinthians did this with Paul when he took wages; they said it was covetousness. When he did not take wages from them they said it was lack of love (see Romans 14:4 and 2 Corinthians 11:41 following).

 

3. Rushing into Hasty Judgment

By hasty judging we pass a verdict too soon in our mind from some apparent evidence. We might draw conclusions about what we assume to be in the heart though it is not in the outward behaviour. This is merely to judge hastily and before the time (Matthew 7:1).

 

4. Rushing into Judgment on Weak Grounds

There is light judging, basing our conclusions on arguments or other means that will not support them. The Barbarians suspected Paul to be a murderer when they saw the viper on his hand (Acts 25:4). King Ahasuerus trusted Haman’s slander concerning the Jews too quickly.

 

5. Rushing into Presumptuous Judgment

The ninth commandment may be broken in our hearts when we are constantly suspicious of our neighbour failing. We act contrary to Matthew 18:15 when we are not willing to be satisfied but rather base our judgment on what we presume to be probable.

 

Conclusion

We ought to be thankful that there is mercy for such sins of the heart that rise all too easily. How much we need truth and a love of the truth in the inward part. There is grace for this from the One who is full of grace and truth. Durham also observes that the ninth commandment requires us to preserve and promote the truth. It advances honest, simple and straightforward attitudes and behaviour among people. We should have a sincere and cordial loving regard to the repute and good name of one another. We ought to take delight and joyful satisfaction in this as well as having a suitable love to and care for our own good name. These principles will restrain the rapid judgment that is ready to accept a false report concerning someone else whether they are in the public eye or in our circle of acquaintance.

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The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
2 Mar, 2018

This will only be of interest to those who listen to preaching or those who preach. But of course that ought to include us all one way or the other.  We all want to know what makes a good sermon. It is taken for granted that it must be clear, faithful to Scripture and engage the soul with spiritual realities. Sincerity, clarity and accuracy are important criteria. But there is something more that makes all the difference to a sermon.

James Durham effectively sums up the ultimate test for a sermon in one word – Christ. The following comes from the first of his 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. He is speaking about “our report” (Isaiah 53:1). Jesus Christ and what concerns Him (declaring the glad and good news of a Saviour) is the proper work of a minister. This is the great subject of a minister’s preaching. Christ Jesus, and what concerns Him in His person, natures and offices is the essential subject of preaching. They make Him known:

  • as God and man;
  • in His offices as Priest, Prophet, and King. A Priest in His suffering and satisfying justice; a Prophet in revealing the will of God; a King, for subduing His people’s lusts and corruptions; and
  • in the way by which sinners, both preachers, and hearers may come to have Him for themselves.

All preaching should aim at this mark. Paul insists on this: “I determined to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is as if he had said, “I will deal with nothing else but this alone”. Not only will he avoid getting involved with secular employment, he will also lay aside his learning, eloquence and human wisdom to make the preaching of Christ crucified his great work and study.

The reason for this is in the fourfold way that preaching is related to Christ.

 

1. Is Christ the Subject of the Sermon?

All preaching must explain Christ. “To him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43). The four gospels and the apostolic epistles also do this and are like many sermons about Christ. Any preaching which does not relate to Christ misses the mark and its text. [Durham is not saying that Christ is the only subject for a sermon. Rather, whatever subject the sermon may have, its relation to Christ should be made clear].

 

2. Is Christ the Foundation of the Sermon?

Christ is the foundation of preaching. Thus, any preaching that lacks Christ lacks a foundation and is like building castles in the air. “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation…For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). This implies that all preaching should be squared with (and in agreement with) this foundation.

 

3. Is Christ the Aim of the Sermon?

Christ is the great aim of preaching, not only that hearers may know Him in their understanding but that they may have Him high in their hearts and affections.“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:4). That is, not only do we not preach ourselves as the subject, but we do not preach ourselves as the aim of our preaching. Our goal is not to be great or greatly thought of, but our objective in preaching is to make Christ great.

 

4. Is Christ the Power and Life of the Sermon?

Christ is the power and life of preaching, without Him no preaching can be effectual, no soul can be captivated and brought to Him. Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock” they cannot stand to hear Him; and to “the Greeks foolishness”. To those that are saved, however, Christ is “the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

 

Application to Ministers

  1. It is likely that “our report” would succeed more if Christ were the subject and substance of our message and we declared Him more.
  2. In making “our report” we must be careful to ensure that it is well matched to the foundation; and,
  3. Neglecting this may be the cause of a lot of powerless preaching, because Christ is not preached as the subject matter and goal of preaching. Many truths are (sadly) spoken without regard to this goal or with little regard to it.

The report concerning Christ is the main subject has been, is, and will be common to all ministers of the gospel until the end of the world. It is “our report”. It was the report of all the prophets: “to him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 20:43). They all agree in the following joint testimony:

  1. One subject: Christ and the same things concerning Him e.g. pardon of sin in Him and through faith in Him and in no other way etc.;
  2. One commission: they arenot all equal but they all have one commission. Not all are apostles, yet all are ambassadors. There is the same authority for us to report and you to receive the gospel as if Isaiah or Paul were preaching. The authority depends on the commission not the person commissioned;
  3. One common objective: they all have and are sent to fulfil one common objective;
  4. One common Master: they are gifts from one and the same Mediator. “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…some, apostles etc.” (Ephesians 4:8).

 

Application to Congregations

This is the great subject of preaching and you should be most glad to hear it.

(a) These are the most important truths. The truths that concern Christ and the covenant of grace are those that people should most welcome and study. These are foundational truths and we need to have them confirmed by the Spirit. Many Christians make the mistake of not heeding the clearest and most solid truths. Things that increase understanding, tickle their affections, or resolve a difficulty are almost the only matters sought after. These are certainly good things. Yet, if the clear and solid truths of the gospel were studied and applied more they would find that these would answer all difficulties.

It is grieving when folk are more taken up with notions and speculations more than these soul-saving truths. Such truths include: Christ was born; He was a true man; He was and is King, Priest, and Prophet of His Church etc. Other things are often heard more greedily. Yet if these are meant to be the great subject of what minister must preach, it should be your great endeavour to know Christ, in His person, natures, offices, and covenant. You need to know what He is to you and what your duty is to Him; how you should walk in Him and with Him.

This was Paul’s aim: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:8&10). It is as though he was saying: “It is my purpose, not only to make Him known but to know Him myself”.

There is little faith in Christ and little explicit use made of His offices. People make little effort to know these things. Therefore, on the one hand, let me exhort you to make this more often the subject of your study. On the other hand, let me reprove you that there is such readiness to sniff when plain truths are urged or when they are not explored in an unusual way. This attitude says that we are exceedingly unthankful to God for giving us the best things to speak, hear, and think of.

(b) Think highly of hearing Christ preached. He is the best news, and God has sent ministers on the mission of making Him known to you. Nothing is comparable to this news. Not even if He had sent them to tell you all the secret things in God’s purpose that will take place in the future and all hidden works of nature.

What would you have been without this news? What would sabbath-days and week-days, your lying down and rising up, your living and dying have been? You would have have had a sad and sinful life and a most comfortless and terrible death. Think of this gospel, therefore, as having greater worth than you do. Regard their feet beautiful on the mountains that bring this news and glad tidings (Isaiah 52:7). They bring this good re- port of making peace between God and sinners. This should be highly thought of, prized, and deemed a greater favour than usually we do.

(c) Thriving best under the gospel. From this you are able to know those who thrive best under the gospel and profit most from it. It is those that learn of Christ most. This is making best use of Christ and what is in Him. It is discovering by personal experience the effects of knowing Christ. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10). I am afraid that out of the many that hear this gospel, there are but few that know Christ in this way.

 

Conclusion

We can be tempted to give more attention to the style, language, exegesis of a sermon than the One who gives it authority, effectual power, purpose and meaning. Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged when they consider their own abilities and little hunger for the Word amongst those who hear.

This is what gives preaching seriousness and authority rather than an effort to entertain. Yet Christ-centredness will also avoid sermons being theological lectures. This keeps preaching from being a mere psychological pep-talk. It makes sermons edifying. If we need preaching that encourages spiritual maturity it will be in so far as it draws hearers to “grow up into Christ in all things”.

Such preachers will be determined not to divert attention from Christ to themselves. The more they seek to be Christ-like in their life and to cultivate fellowship with their Saviour, the more their sermons will communicate Christ.

 

The article above is drawn from an appendix to the booklet Penetrating Preaching by James Durham published by the Trust. In this booklet Durham shows how Christ Himself demonstrates how to apply the Word in preaching.

Penetrating Preaching

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What can we learn from the Saviour’s method of making the Word hit home?

Reading this booklet will provide you with some vital lessons from Christ Himself about the difficult task of applying the Word from the pulpit. If truly followed, they would revolutionise preaching today.

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Preparing for the Inevitable

Preparing for the Inevitable

Preparing for the Inevitable
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.
23 Feb, 2018

What’s the most important thing we can learn from Billy Graham’s passing? “Billy Graham tackled the topic of death often and with surprising frankness”. This is how the Washington Post began one of the more unusual reflections on his passing. Quite an unusual theme for a secular newspaper. “When Graham preached, he said that death was, of course, inevitable”. How do we prepare for the inevitable? First, he said, “accept the fact that you will die.” Second, “make arrangements.” Third, “make provision for those you are leaving behind”. And finally, “make an appointment with God.” Whatever else might be said about Billy Graham nothing was more important than how he approached this. He faced this reality with all seriousness. To do so depends on treating life itself with all seriousness too. “Each of us is given the exact same amount of seconds, minutes and hours per day as anyone else. The difference is how we redeem [them]”.

Graham got this from the Shorter Catechism that he memorised perfectly as a boy. It begins “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”. “My mother did just that”, he wrote. While Graham may not have held onto the whole of the Catechism, he certainly held onto this amongst other points. We can expand much further on these thoughts in relation to preparing for the inevitable. James Durham has some vital considerations in relation to what it means to prepare for eternity.

 

Three Essentials

(a) Flee to Christ

Flee to Christ by faith and make peace with God through Him.

(b) Make your Calling and Election Sure

We must endeavour to make our calling and election sure by well doing. Although our justification before God does not depend on this, much of our comfort and confidence does depend on it.  It is no doubt our duty to labour to make it sure.

(c) Live in Holiness

There must be a holy walk. we may have a good conscience at Christ’s appearing though this. There can never be boldness and confidence where there is a stinging conscience within and accusations for sinning against light.

 

1. Live with Faith in Eternal Realities

Seek to establish yourselves in believing the general truths that concern your death. Be established and confirmed in faith concerning death, judgment and eternity – for your eternal good or ill. Do not have a mere general conviction that these things are true. Apply them specifically to yourself by meditation. You will die and after death you will come to the Judgement and be eternally happy or miserable.

One of the great evils that encourages Atheism is people living as if they were never to die

Solid belief about death, judgement and eternity is thus a foundation for living well. Those who do not lay this foundation can never live well. They must consider how conscience will accuse them at death and how they can deal with this now. They need to see what trials and temptations they will have then and how to guard against them.

Endeavour to draw death and judgement near to you,, meditate closely upon them. Suppose death were approaching you this very night. Consider whether you would be ready to appear before God’s tribunal to be judged. Thinking more about this would help us, through God’s blessing, to put sin to death and have little to do when death comes.

But the truth is, most never think on death seriously. They do not desire any other life than the present, they shun thoughts of death. How few hours are taken to think upon it? Suppose you were to come before a human court with a matter that greatly concerned you in the world. Would you not think about it again and again beforehand? Yet even the most momentuous of such matters are but trifles compared to this great matter of how you will die and appear before the great God and His Judgement seat.

 

2. Live in Gospel Duties

There are particular du∣ties that have a special influence on preparing for deat.

(a) Self-examination

Do you think it possible to die with comfort if you are not acquainted with the state of your spiritual affairs? If you do not endeavour to have your accounts with God reckoned up? Neglect of this is a great plague. That which makes death so terrible to many is having lived thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years without having ever endeavoured to reckon their accounts with God, let alone have them cleared.

(b) Repentance

Repentance is a rare thing even among Christians in these days. It is a special duty related to dying in Christ. When we see ourselves wrong in anything (many may be easily found in self-examination) we must not leave it there. We must be earnest with God until are conscious of forgiveness, this cannot be had until repentance is exercised. Repentance and faith always go together.

Repentance makes the heart tender and removes the accusations that make death terrifying. It is also a great enemy to complacency, presumption and pride. It keeps the heart melting and pouring itself out before God. The lack of repentance in our day is obvious in the coldness of our worship and in the worldliness of our walk. Those who desire to die in the Lord must exercise this grace and duty. There is nothing more requisite then a penitent heart when we are to meet with Christ at death.

(c) Putting Sin to Death

This is a painful but profitable duty. Be crucified to the world, die to your lusts and carnal delights. Pull up the roots of sin and kill its activities. Weed it out of the heart. Put to death envy, anger, pride,  inordinate desires etc.  Seek to have your affections heavenly which prepares us for dying in the Lord.

(d) Moderation

“Let your moderation be known to all men” (Philippians 4:5). Many are so glued to the things of this world and delights and pleasures which are lawful in themselves, that they are entangled and fettered with them and made  unfit for dying. They do not use them in moderation. Inordinate love for children, friends, lands, houses, farms and the married wife unfits them for dying. We must gird up the loins of our mind and be sober (1 Peter 1:13). Those who do not use lawful pleasures in moderation are like those with long garments which trip them up and impede them in walking and work. When our affections hang loose and drag on the earth and the things that are in it and the mind wanders after these things, the man cannot be busy at his main work. He cannot make progress in his journey to heaven.

Moderation fits a man for his work and makes the way easy. It makes him content with his house and whatever is his condition and lot in the world. It does not allow his affections to be entangled with them, it makes him use this world as not abusing it (1 Corinthians 7). Our blessed Lord Jesus powerfully dissuades us from giving ourselves too much to the things of this life (Luke 21:34). This makes us as indisposed for death and judgement as overeating or drunkenness make us indisposed in general.

 

3. Live with Thoughts of Death

Those who desire to die in the Lord should carry the thoughts of death along with them. They should be as if every day and moment were their last. They should be as if they were just now to appear before God and as if they were indifferent (in a holy way) what hour or moment He would call them.  God has not let us know the precise time of our life here. Some have observed that in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 that there is a time for everything, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to weep but there is none for living. No one can say I must or I shall live until tomorrow. Do now what you would be found doing when death comes.

Some may ask if it is possible always to have these things in mind. But it is like doing everything to the glory of God, it is not to be understood as if we could actually keep it in mind in everything we do. Our minds are only finite and are therefore unable to keep many things in mind or different things at the same time.

 

4. Live with Adversity

Those who desire to die in the Lord should not seek after a pampered life but learn to submit to difficulties and troubles. We should neither go out of our way to seek such things nor to avoid them. Solomon says that it is better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2). This is because few living in prosperity are content and disposed to die and adversity works best to loosen our grips from the world. It is hard to be glutted with the things of the world and live in a prosperous and plentiful condition and not be drawn away from spiritual things.

 

5. Live but Die Daily

Paul could say “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).  This is not just to do with his daily dangers but his seeking to anticipate death, in dying while he was living and before death came. This involves:

(a) a conviction that death is certain

(b) considering the continual potential for dying;

(c) preparing for and being in continual readiness to die; and

(d) anticipating what it will be like to die before death comes.

We must consider how we will answer death’s call. Every day we should be doing what we would want to be found doing when death comes. We should endeavour to have all things in order

When praying in the morning we should be ready as if we were never again to go out into the world. When we lie down at night it should be as if we might not rise againe in the morning. When we speak or act we should speak and act like those who do not have a long time to live.

 

6. Live According to Conscience Echoing Scripture

Put into practice what your own conscience according to the Scriptures show is necessary for making and keeping your peace with God. Ordinarily, this is one of the main accusations of conscience that meets people at death, that they have have not put into many things they were convinced of. They have evaded, delayed and put off opportunities for duties. They have not reformed the faults they were convinced of.

Do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Be serious and diligent in  doing without delay what you know to be right.  Do not neglect this as a thing of little concern. Death is the door to heaven and death is at the door. Living well is the way to dying well. If you would live and die in the Lord, give weight to these directions and practice them in the strength of God’s own grace.

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Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?

Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?

Have We Lost the Ten Commandments?
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.
8 Dec, 2017

Most Britons think that only six of the Ten Commandments are still relevant. These were the results reported in a YouGov poll in recent weeks. It’s not hard to guess which ones have become unpopular: the first four relating to our duty to God. What is shocking but not surprising is that most of those professing to be Christians agreed. It hardly seems credible that 60% of Christians would not believe we should only worship the one true God. Any encouragement that the other commandments are still respected is undermined by the fact that the Godward aspect of morality is rejected. If most people are prepared to give this away, have we now lost the Ten Commandments?

Removing the first four commandments actually dispenses with the most important precepts. Christ summarises them as loving the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind (Luke 10:27). Indeed, He calls this “the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). It comes before loving our neighbour as ourselves. Love to our neighbour should flow from love to God (1 John 5:1). Unless we have the faith that pleases God working by true love for Him we cannot truly love our neighbour.

The first four commandments deal with worship: (1) who we are to worship; (2) what ways we must worship Him; (3) how (in what manner) we must worship Him; (4) when we must worship Him. The other six deal with how we are to treat others and we can see it is in our self-interest to respect these. Yet proud unrenewed self can see no personal benefit in worshipping God even though it is the reason that we were created.

The connection that links the commandments together is so close that if the authority of God is despise in one, it is despised in all (James 2:10, 1 John 4:20). James Durham reflects on how the first four commandments deal with the worship, service and obedience which is due to God. It seems that the first four were written on one tablet of stone and the remaining six on the other (Deuteronomy 4:13). This would make the division into two parts (usually called two tables) something that God did from the beginning. This is supported by Christ summary of the commandments under the two main duties towards God and our neighbour. The two tables were put into the ark to emphasise the holiness of the law.

Durham makes the following points:

1. All the commandments of the second table share the same authority with the first. God spoke “all these words”. Indeed, it appears from Acts 7:38 that it was our Lord Jesus who spoke them.
2. Sins directly against the first part are greater then those against the second. It is for this reason that the first table is called the first and great commandment (Matthew 22:38).
3. In morals (if they are things of the same nature) the duties of the second table give place to the duties of the first table when they cannot be equally obeyed. This is so in the case of love to God and exercising love to our father and neighbour (Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37). When obedience to God and obedience to our superiors cannot be consistent we are to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19). We are to love the Lord and (comparatively) hate father and mother (Luke 14:6).
4. Note, however, that things required in the first table may for a time give place to moral duties in the second. For example, relieving or preserving our neighbour’s life when it is in danger, we may need to work on the sabbath day. This is in accordance with the “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” and “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”.

 

1. Why do we need to study the Ten Commandments?

The deep ignorance about how the Ten Commandments fit together and the importance of the first table of the law shows that they are not understood. If people understood the full requirements of the other six commandments as they reach to our thoughts, words and desires as well as actions they would have far less general approval. Even if we have a commitment to all Ten Commandments, if we do not properly understand them we are in danger of losing them. It’s time to seek to understand them in the way that Scripture reveals their full meaning. James Durham makes the following points.

(a) They are unique

God uniquely announced them with His voice and then directly wrote them on two tablets of stone. These tablets of stone were afterwards commanded to be kept in the ark (Deuteronomy 10: 2, 5) and to be learned (Deuteronomy 5:1). They were to be written on the posts of the doors and diligently impressed on their children (Deuteronomy 6:7-10). Great emphasis is given to explaining these commandments by the prophets and apostles. The Saviour also does this in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7).

(b) They are useful

Everyone who wants to know what is pleasing and displeasing to God will find them useful. By them we may know what sin is, how to avoid it and how to be stirred up to repentance when we have fallen into it. The knowledge of sin comes through the law (Romans 7:7). This is why it is summed up in so few words, to be more easily brought into and kept within our memories and hearts. This is why they are commended in the Word of God (Deuteronomy 5:1).

(c) They are not understood

The Ten Commandments are so comprehensive that we will come short of their great scope without effort and diligence (Psalm 119:96). There is great ignorance among many about the meaning of this vital part of Scripture. Many people do not even know that they are breaking the commandments. The result of this is little conviction of sin, little repentance for sin and much presumptuous confidence in self-righteousness.

Ignorance of the spiritual nature of the Ten Commandments makes many people neglect the main aspects of holiness, and instead proudly rest on self-righteousness and despise Christ the Mediator. We can see this from the example of Paul (Romans 7:9). Our Lord expounded the Ten Commandments so that sinners would see the necessity of a Mediator who is the end of the law for righteousness to all that believe (Romans 10:4). It is not only the godless, those who are most careful to observe religious formalities and upright in their lives, also stumble in this.

We need to know: (1) what kind of duties are required in every commandment, and (2) the sins which contradict each commandment. This should give us some direction and help in duty, and some spur to repentance, or at least conviction. By it we may therefore be led to Christ Jesus, who is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (Romans 10:4). This was after all, the principal purpose of this law as it was given to Israel.

 

2. How should we study the Ten Commandments?

We need to know how to understand and apply the Ten Commandments properly. Without this we do not understand how to live according to and make use of the gospel. Gospel obedience involves conviction of sin, carefulness in practice, constant exercise of repentance and daily fresh dependence on the blood of Christ. All this is undermined by failure to understand the commandments aright. Here is some further advice from Durham on how to approach the study of the Ten Commandments.

(a) Look on Them as God’s Word

Receive it as though you heard God Himself speak it from Sinai. Tremble (as the people did) and be more affected by holy fear whenever you read, hear or meditate on it.

(b) Pray to Understand Them

Be much in prayer for grace to understand its meaning. David (Psalm 119:18) prayed for this often. , and thought it not unbecoming a King, yea a believing King, and a Prophet, to study this Law, and pray much for opened eyes to understand the meaning thereof.

(c) Understand so as to Practise Them

Practise is the goal of knowledge. It is also the aim of the law itself (Deuteronomy 5:1-2). we knowing no more in Gods account then what we endeavour honestly to practise. Failure in aiming to put things into practise makes us very careless and undermines both understanding and practise.

(d) Examine Yourself by Them

When you hear and understand anything to be either duty or sin, reflect on yourself. Test whether this sin is in you and how far short you come in that duty. This is the proper way to use the law. It is intended to reveal sin and transgression (Romans 7:7-8). This is why it is called a glass or mirror (James 1:23-24). Look in it so that you may know what kind of person you are and what blemishes are on you.

(e) Be Convicted by Them and Repent

When the law reveals sin let convictions in. The law entered that sin might abound, not in practise but in the convictions of conscience (Romans 5:20). Follow these Convictions by repentance till they force you to flee to Christ, and leave you there.

(f) Use the Rest of Scripture to Understand Them

Receive help to understand this part of Scripture from Christ’s sermons and the prophets. They are the only canonical (and therefore the best) commentary on the Ten Commandments.

(g) Use the Larger Catechism to Understand Them

But do not despise the understanding contained in human writings such as the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q.91-152). The Larger Catechism is very full in relation to this and if you make best use of it conscientiously, it will prove exceeding profitable for your instruction.

Beyond The Surface

Many people understand the Ten Commandments in a superficial way without understand how deep and broad they are in relation to our inward and outward lives, in things that we ought to do and avoid. We have produced a new booklet sets out ten biblical principles for understanding and applying the Ten Commandments properly. Beyond the Surface: Ten Ways in Which the Ten Commandments Go Further Than You Think is a 10 page booklet updated from the writings of James Durham. 

You can preview a sample of the booklet and purchase it here.

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Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin

Loving Christ Means Hating Sin
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.
20 Oct, 2017

It’s no difficult thing to say or type the words “I love Jesus”. Many do this in their social media profiles or posts. They inform us that they love Jesus, and many other things too. The claim seems to have no context other than this person’s idea of Christ and the terms on which they wish to love Him. It may mean respect and strong interest or even follow, worship and obey. These are words, however, that can never be casually used by those that have come to understand the full measure and wonder of being savingly united to Christ. There is in fact no greater claim. We may prove the sincerity of such assertions to Christ Himself, ourselves and others in various ways. One of the clearest is in our attitude to sin. The extent of our love to Christ may be measured by the extent of our hatred of sin.

It has often been said that the believer should no more love sin than the wife should love her husband’s murderer or the murder weapon. The sting of death is sin and believers’ sins were the sting in Christ’s death. The cross shows us what sin is and what it deserves, it also shows us Christ’s love to its greatest extent and provides the greatest reasons for loving Christ. How much do we really value Christ and His sufferings on the cross if we are casual about sin?

James Durham focussed on these themes in preaching 72 sermons on Isaiah 53. These make an extensive volume but they are a treasure trove of the essence of the gospel of Christ crucified considered from many different perspectives. In expounding Isaiah 53:4 Durham notes the undervaluing of Christ in the words “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted”. The sin of not loving and valuing Christ was made even worse by despising Him when His greatest love was poured out on the cross. Though Christ did this Durham says, we abused it and made it the rise of the greatest malice. There is nothing that gives sin a deeper dye than that it is against grace and condescending love, against Christ when suffering for us, and offered to us. That makes sin exceedingly sinful and abominable. It is a fearful thing to despise Christ crucified (the only remedy for sin) offered to us in the preaching of the gospel.

 

1. Sins Against Christ have the Greatest Guilt

This adds greatest guilt to the sins of believers. We “despised him, and esteemed him not”. It is true that, in some respects, the sins of believers are not so great as the sins of others. They are not committed so deliberately and with such full force of desire under the dominion of sin as others. Yet in another respect they are greater than the sins of others, because they are committed against special grace and love received. When the believer confiders that they have returned Christ’s love in this way it will grieve them more than anything else if they are truly sensitive.

 

2. Sins Against Christ Should Grieve Us Most

The believer that is most sensitive in this way is best assured of their right to Christ and His atonement. They will be most sensitive about their enmity and abominable guilt of despising and wronging Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah includes himself as one of those healed by Christ’s stripes. He accepts his guilt, “we despised and rejected him, we esteemed him not, we judged him smitten of God”.

If we are truly Christ’s our heart will be tender and any wrong done to Christ will affect us in a quicker and deeper way. We esteem Christ and have a holy sympathy with Him in all the concerns of His glory.  The members of the body have a fellow-feeling with the head. Suppose a man in a fit of madness was to smite and wound his head, or wrong his wife, his father or brother. When the fit of madness is over, he will be more
grieved with that wrong, than if it had been done to any other member of his body, or to other persons who either were not related or not so closely related.

There is something of this in Zechariah 12:10 “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him”, as for an only son. It is if he had said, the strokes they have given the head shall then be very heavy and grievous for them. In their feelings the wounds will bleed afresh. They did not think much of wounding and piercing Him in this way before. When they come to believe in Him, however, they are keenly affected by the wrongs done to Him.

The believer’s wrongs against Christ will prick their conscience most. If the wrongs have been done by others, they grieve him but if they have been done by himself, they some way faint him. Wholeness of heart, under wronging of Christ, is too great an evidence that there is little or no ground for application of his satisfaction; but it is kindly like, when wrongs done to Christ affect most.

 

3. Sins Against Christ Should be Our Greatest Burden

We should be burdened when convicted for sinning against the law. Yet sins against Christ and grace offered in the gospel should become the greatest burden.

 

4. Sins Against Christ are the Worst Thing Possible

When the man is confronted with his secret enmity against Christ and how this increases the guilt of his sins, he can never be too vile in his own eyes. He has a holy indignation at himself. Like Paul he reckons himself the chief of sinners. Even though the evil was done in ignorance, it is much greater if it has been against knowledge. Such souls heap up the ways in which their guilt is increased because of their wrongs done to Christ. They cannot get suitable expressions to condemn it sufficiently. It is a bad sign if we are easily satisfied in our convictions of guilt for sin. There are many that will not admit to any convictions for wronging Christ. See how the prophet insists on the sin of despising Christ here, in previous verses, in these and in the following words. He can no more leave aside thoughts of this, than he can leave the thoughts of Christ’s sufferings.

Durham on Isaiah 53

This volume of sermons has been recently republished as Collected Sermons of James Durham: Christ Crucified: or, The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. At 840 pages, the sermons on Isaiah 53 present one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ’s person and work in redemption. Spurgeon, who inscribed his personal copy with the words “much prized,” says of these sermons, “This is marrow indeed. We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors”. Principal John Macleod said: “He there opens up the truth of the sacrifice and the intercession of our Lord…the duties of preachers and hearers of the gospel, together with the diversified exercises of heart and soul that gospel truth is fitted to call forth”.

Buy in the UK for £31.99 here.

Buy in the USA for $38 here.

There is also a 2 volume set of sermons for $65 here

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All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?

All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?

All Things to All Men: What Does it Really Mean?
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 Jun, 2017

How much should churches change their message and methods to suit the culture around them? Some believe that whatever methods will connect with people are justified. The gospel must be “contextualised” they say. This means that we must adapt everything but the core message to suit the culture. The main Bible verse that they use to support this idea is when Paul speaks of being all things to all men in order to save them. Does that mean that we must adopt the culture around us and everything we do must be changed? How should we understand this verse?

Reaching back beyond current debates and controversies to learn from the way that others in the past have understood this passage is particularly helpful. It brings a different perspective that help us to see things in a clearer way. We are not the only generation to seek to understand the Scriptures and if we are prepared to learn from other Christians in our own day then why not from the past too? The following is therefore drawn from the way that David Dickson and James Durham understood 1 Corinthians 9:22. In this verse Paul says “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”. We need to understand these words in their context, not just repeat them as a slogan.

 

1. Paul is speaking about his personal conduct

Paul has been speaking about financial support for the ministry in verses 7-14. He then speaks about his own practice amongst the Corinthians in verses 17-18. If my preaching is “voluntary, it shall have a reward” he says “but if against my will, I must still discharge it, because of the dispensation committed to me by the command of God” (Dickson). Paul contrasts this with those who “unwillingly preach the gospel” and “exercise their ministry, not out of any love to God and desire of converting souls but for filthy lucre’s sake or out of vain-glory” (Dickson). But Paul chose to deny himself what he was entitled to by not seeking financial support for his ministry in this context. He chose to “make the gospel of Christ without charge” (v18).  If he had sought financial support, those who opposed him would have used it against him and he would have “abused the gospel” (v18) and “abused his liberty” (Dickson).

James Durham says that Paul’s taking wages in Corinth would have harmed the edification of the Corinthians because it would have given confirmed the suspicion that he was self-seeking. It would only strengthen the slanders he received from his opponents. It would have been unedifying for Paul to accept financial support because it would have stirred up groundless suspicion. The spiritual edification of our brother is of more value than our temporal rights. Thus we may have to forbear lawful things that we are inclined to do if doing it would harm the edification of others.

Paul has a liberty (v19) but he is willing to give up his personal benefit if it will get in the way of spiritual service to others. He is willing to do this in “all sorts of things that are indifferent” so as not to serve “himself but rather others so that he might gain them” (Dickson). There are three ways in which he gave up his entitlements in this way (verses 20-22).

  • Jews. He conformed himself to the Jews who considered themselves bound to keep the ceremonial law. If necessary in particular times and places, he was willing to observe the ceremonies appointed under Moses. He did this as though he was under the yoke of ceremonies. He did this according to the verdict of the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:22-29) which left the Jews (such as Paul) who had been born under that yoke free to use the ceremonies for a time. In no way was this the case for the Gentiles (Acts 21:21, 25).
  • Gentiles. When amongst the Gentiles who were without obligation to the ceremonial law, he laid aside the use of such ceremonies, as though he was without obligation to that law. He makes it clear, however, that he did not mean the moral law or the law of love. This is the perpetual law of God and Christ, from which he could not be freed. He was indeed he freed from the ceremonial law so that he might freely, for the advantage of the gospel, either use of abstain from using such ceremonies.
  • Weak Believers. Paul conformed himself to those who doubted whether they were free to abstain from lawful things.

It should be clear that Paul is not speaking about a positive requirement to adopt a culture but rather in relation to whether certain practices are positively commanded by God or indifferent. He is speaking about personal conduct rather than providing a full-blown missionary strategy or church planting methodology.

 

2. Paul is speaking about things that are indifferent

It is important to see that Paul is not talking about being free from the moral law. He emphasises in verse 21 “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ”. This means that all things to all men certainly does not mean engaging in anything that would be contrary to what God has required or forbidden. In verse 27 Paul speaks about his personal need of constant spiritual and moral discipline. Paul is rather speaking about how “he accommodates himself to all men in all things that are indifferent” (Dickson). He does this for three reasons.

    1. That he might gain as many as possible, or at least some (v22).
    2. That the teaching of the gospel might be better esteemed amongst all by moderating himself in this way (v23).
    3. That serving the advantages of the gospel and that he might be saved, being made partaker of the gospel with other believers (v23).

 

3. Paul is speaking about edification

It is clear that Paul is speaking about edification when we compare what he says in the next chapter when returning to the subject. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 he sets out the requirement that “in all our actions (and therefore in eating and drinking) we must endeavour that God may be glorified. This is not done when we eat with offence to others” (Dickson). Offence in Scripture means being a stumbling stone to someone else and harming their spiritual edification. It is important to understand the contrast with the modern idea of offence as hurt feelings or being exposed to an opinion with which you disagree. For more on this vital subject read 7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others.

In 1 Corinthians 10:32 Paul goes on to say that we “must give offence to no one, whether they profess the true religion or not” (Dickson). We should even deny ourselves the liberty of being free to eat anything if we are going to cause someone else to stumble by eating something. In verse 33 Paul returns to his own example in a way that brings out the meaning of “all things to all men”. He says that he pleases “all men in all things; not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved”. Dickson draws from this that all believers “are bound to imitate the apostle’s example in all things that are indifferent. He did not seek to serve his own temporal profit, but rather the eternal salvation of others. He would not eat in such cases therefore, and so are all bound not to eat this or that food where it would stumble another”.

James Durham makes frequent references to 1 Corinthians 9:22 in a classic book that deals with the danger of stumbling others and harming their spiritual edification. He shows that when we stumble others it is because we are seeking to please ourselves rather than love our neighbour as ourselves. He says that we must “bear the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves, but rather our neighbour for his good to edification, even as Christ pleased not himself, (Romans 15:1-3)”.

Durham notes that this was Paul’s practice in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. He became all things to all men for their edification. He pursued the edification of others in his use of indifferent things and denied himself in relation to what would please him personally.Paul prevented offence, when by becoming all things to all, he made way for his being acceptable in his station.  Durham says that this not simply about avoiding things that may harm edification.

Durham says that such stumbling takes place in confusing people in the truth or practices of religion so that they are made doubtful whether such things are duties and truths, or not. In this way they may be diverted from some of the more necessary practices of religion. This is the purpose of Romans chapter 14 and similar parts of Scripture. For instance he guards against doubtful disputations which are not profitable (Hebrews 13:9). This is not only in writing and reasoning for what is not truth, but writing and speaking of truth in a new manner with new expressions, or doing it contentiously.

Durham goes on to say that what is not actually edifying stumbles others. It is for this reason that Paul becomes all things to all, that he may gain some. For instance, he has Timothy circumcised so that he might have access to edify the Jews. Not striving to please others in indifferent things hindered them from being edified by us. It gives them prejudice at the way of the gospel so that their edification is obstructed and they offended.

Durham speaks of denying ourselves in things that are indifferent in themselves such as eating or not eating such a food for such a time. Paul was even willing never to eat meat again if it would harm the edification of another (1 Corinthians 8:13). This is to become all things to all men in order to gain them (1 Corinthians 9:22). It is when our practice in such things is conformed not to our own inclination but so as to edify others. It cannot stop us from doing our duty as commanded by God yet even in commanded duties we need to consider the appropriate time and circumstances.

Durham observes that all things to all men means equal respect to all kind of persons in relation to edification. We to avoid stumbling weak as well as strong, the ungodly as well as the gracious. The command is general: 1 Corinthians 10:32 uses three categories to include all sorts of persons. Just as we ought not to sin in reference to any person, so we ought not to give to any of them an occasion of sinning, because that is never good. Paul would not give the false teachers of Corinth grounds to be stumbled any more than the Church-members.  In this respect we are debtors both to the Jews and Greeks, to the unwise as to the wise (Romans 1:14). In indifferent things we are to become all things to all men, even to those that are weak and without law (though still we are to be under the law) that more may be gained (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).

 

Conclusion

David Dickson and James Durham have taken us deeply into the meaning and context of 1 Corinthians 9:22. It is not a passage requiring evangelists to adopt a culture in order to engage people with the gospel.  It does not support the popular idea that we must secularise our language and use methods that trivialise the message. This may actually harm people in their spiritual edification if it makes the gospel message superficial and trivial, with less of the authority of heaven and the sense of eternity. This would in fact achieve the opposite of what Paul means in being all things to all men.

Culture is not entirely neutral and the medium affects the message. Paul could have used other means such as drama to promote his message. They would have been more cultural and respected. But God chose “the foolishness of preaching to save some” (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Paul was concerned with what God had commanded.

1 Corinthians 9:22 is speaking about pursuing the spiritual edification of others, within and outside the Church. It is highly challenging on a personal level. Are we dedicated to seeking the maximum edification of all others? Are there aspects of our behaviour and speech that are hindering edification? What is not actually edifying stumbles others.

One application of the passage would be that anything unnecessary or indifferent in itself that might harm edification should be removed. We should seek to avoid unnecessary offence or prejudice. It is not about jettisoning aspects of vital biblical principle. Could the movement to effect wholesale change in the worship and practice of churches actually be harming the spiritual edification of others contrary to 1 Corinthians 9:22? Seeking the spiritual good of others means teaching them to observe all things that Christ commands (Matthew 28:20).

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What is Worship?

What is Worship?

What is Worship?
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 Apr, 2017

It is strange that we may engage in something so often and yet not stop to ask what it is. We could ask many different individuals to define worship and we would get a variety of responses. Some people think of praise as “a time of worship”. Others might add prayer together with that. Another response might stress that it is an attitude of heart more than specific activities. Then there are those who want to say that all of life is worship. What really matters, however, is not the range of personal opinion but how God defines it in His Word.

The English word worship derives from “worth-ship” i.e. ascribing worth. In Scripture, the words for worship often indicate specific acts such as kneeling, falling down, doing reverence, paying homage (literally kissing towards). Sometimes they indicate fear, other times service and humbling ourselves. It is both attitude and action. There are also activities that are distinct from daily life e.g. a distinct meal (the Lord’s Supper and a distinct day (the Lord’s Day). It includes specific acts of public worship which a congregation assembles to offer. These are regulated in a different way than everyday activities at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33-34).

As an overall definition of worship it would be hard to improve on Robert Shaw’s statement. It is found in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 21). It encompasses the various dimensions that we have mentioned.

Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances.

It is worth pausing with slow reflection to absorb the comprehensive meaning of this definition. Worship involves acknowledging our subjection to God as not only a greater but the greatest being. He is the highest possible object of our inward and outward expressions. Our hearts must be engaged to Him and taken up with Him as well as our mind, soul and strength. The only true outward acts of worship are those He Himself has commanded. It is not for us to define what is acceptable to God or magnifies Him. Scripture speaks of any other worship as “will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). Even if it is offered to God it is only worship of our own will because we have chosen it not God.

James Durham also takes up the challenge of defining worship in his exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

By worship is understood some tribute paid by the reasonable creature to God as the great and Sovereign Lord Creator.

This mentions the same homage and ascribing of worth and greatness to God in humble reverence and dependence. Durham does not leave it there, he then makes a distinction between direct and indirect acts of worship. There is worship “immediately and directly paid and performed to Him, such as prayer and praise”. There are also indirect acts of worship which are done “for Him and at His command and for His honour”. These include “preaching, hearing and receiving the sacraments”. These are also worship when rightly engaged in.

Durham stresses the moral requirement of worship. Worship strictly defined is something required by the first table of the moral law i.e. the first four commandments. In these worship is commanded “for the honour of God and not for our own or another’s external profit”. The benefit of others comes into the second table of the moral law. Commandments 5-10 teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But this cannot be strictly called worship, much less direct and immediate worship. Thus, teaching others the duties of piety may be worship when teaching the duties of any other ordinary calling is not. In this way Durham shows that there are acts of worship to God distinct from the rest of life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God and in submission to His Word but this does not make it impossible to distinguish it from stated worship. In an essay included in his commentary on Revelation Durham gives some further principles that are basic to the understanding of worship.

Further Basic Principles of Worship

1. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – God

No one else but God has the infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship. These include omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability results from these – this is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity. He is adorable, because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Worship and adorability cannot therefore be given to or shared with any other any more than these unique attributes can be given or shared. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable.

 

2. There is Only One Kind of Divine Worship – God’s

There is only one kind of divine worship which befits this infinite majesty of God. It is only that which is required in the first table of the moral law. That is the only lawful and acceptable worship given to this glorious excellent God. This follows from the first point. If there is only one object there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, worshipping God is always opposed both to worshipping any other and to allowing any worship which is not lawful and acceptable to God (e.g. Revelation 19:10 and 22:9).

 

3. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – the Triune God

Although there are three Persons in the glorious Godhead, all of whom are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one. Neither are there three kinds of worship. There are not three objects because these three Persons are the same One infinite God, who is the object of worship.

(a) Although the three Persons are really distinct each from other; yet, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is the same object of Worship as the Son, because they are the same God.

(b) Although both the Father and the Son are infinite there are not two infinitenesses but the same infiniteness and immenseness, which belongs to both the Fathers and the Son. These are essential to their being and so are common to all the Persons of the Godhead, Although their personal properties are distinct yet their essential attributes are in common. They are not distinct objects but one and the same  object. Worship has regard to their essential attribute and the Godhead, which is common to all three Persons. It is the deity (which is One) which is the formal object of worship. Although sometimes these three Persons are named together this does not mean they are distinct Objects. Rather it shows who this one object God is, i.e. the Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. God is “one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Durham goes on to stress the practical implications of this.

1. The mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend or order, in his thoughts, three distinct Persons as distinct objects of worship but rather to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three Persons.

2. Whatever person is named, we are not to think that the others are less worshipped. Rather in one act we worships one God and thus the Father, Son and Spirit.

3. Naming one Person after having named another (e.g. the Father first and afterwards the Son) does not change the object of worship, as if we were praying to another now – it is still the same One God.

4. It is safest not to change between naming the different Persons of the Godhead in prayer because our imaginations are ready to adopt such divided conceptions. This is particularly the case when it is in the hearing of others who may be prone to such thoughts even though we have none. This seems to be the ordinary practice in Scripture.

 

Conclusion

Many have their own ideas of how we should address God and what constitutes worship but we must be governed by Scripture in this. Only what God commands in worship is permitted. This ought to be obvious from the greatness of God and the importance of worship. Something so crucial is not something to be left to changeable human whims and imaginations.

We must be taken up with God in worship not with ourselves or others. Worship must be God-centred or it is not worship. This applies not just to whom we worship but how we worship. If the way in which we worship God is not what God has commanded and required then we are not truly submitting to God and doing true homage to Him. It is illogical that people can ask how we should worship God but then answer that question by asking what is most attractive or comfortable to ourselves or others. Have we forgotten who we are worshipping and what worship is?

One of our leaflets explores this question.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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