How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence

How redemption dignifies diligence
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

A recent worldwide study of attitudes to work shows that UK citizens are least likely to say that work is important in their life, and among the least likely to say that work should always come first, even if it means less leisure time. Compared with other nations, the UK is also relatively less likely to agree that work is a duty towards society. While the Bible condemns grasping ambition and earthly-mindedness, it also commends diligence, productivity, and generosity. This is an application of the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” In his commentary on Ephesians, James Fergusson looks at how Paul explores the transformation that takes place in every area of life when someone comes to know Christ savingly, including a radically changed attitude to work. In the following updated extract, Fergusson identifies the eighth commandment as informing Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”

Knowing Christ transforms everything

The knowledge which the Ephesians had of Christ was inconsistent with a licentious life. “Ye have not so learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20) It is not every sort of learning Christ, or knowledge that may be had of Christ, which excludes profaneness.

We rightly and savingly learn truth, when the knowledge of truth attained by our learning is such as Christ’s knowledge was, i.e., not merely theoretical and speculative, but practical and operative.

Three things are required from, and effectually produced in, the person who learns and knows Christ in this effectual way.

The first is a daily striving to “put off” (or “mortify”) “the old man” (v.22). This doesn’t mean the substance of our soul and body, or even the natural and essential faculties of the soul, but the natural and inbred corruption which has infected and polluted all these, and which we give way to in its “deceitful lusts.” The right order to go about the duties of sanctification is to begin with mortification in the first place, and then proceed to the duties of a new life, for the plants of righteousness do not thrive in an unhumbled, proud, impenitent heart.

The second thing is a serious endeavour to have your mind and understanding more and more renewed, or made new, by getting a new quality of divine and supernatural light implanted in it (v.23). It is not sufficient that we cease to do evil, and labour to mortify our inbred corruption, but we must also learn to do well, and endeavour to have the whole man adorned with the various graces of God’s Spirit, making conscience of all the positive duties of a holy life.

The third thing is the daily task of putting on the new man (v.24), that is, being more and more endued and adorned with new and spiritual qualities, by which not only is our mind renewed, but also our will, affections and actions.

Christians observe each of the ten commandments

The apostle then presses on them the exercise of some particular virtues. These belong to all Christians of whatsoever rank or station equally, and they are all enjoined in the second table of the law. He exhorts them, first, to lay aside and mortify the sin of lying (v.25), forbidden in the ninth commandment (where someone speaks what they know or conceive to be untruth, with an intention and purpose to deceive), and to “speak the truth, every man with his neighbour,” that is, to speak as they think, and to think of what they speak as it really is, so that our speech would conform both to the thing itself, and to our conceptions of the thing.

He exhorts them, next, to restrain and moderate their anger (v.26–27), for anger is forbidden in the sixth commandment. Anger is a natural affection, planted in our first parents at the first creation, and it was indeed also found in Christ Himself, who was without sin. So anger is not in itself a sin, nor always sinful. Instead, it is in its own nature indifferent, and becomes either good or evil according to the grounds, causes, objects and ends of it.

Christians keep the eighth commandment

In verse 28, the apostle exhorts either those who, when they were unconverted, acted contrary to the eighth commandment, stealing their neighbour’s goods, or those who were yet, after professing faith in Jesus Christ, guilty of that sin in some degrees and respects. He exhorts them to “steal no more.”

Christ redeems us from stealing and deceitfulness

The sin of stealing includes all the fraudulent and deceitful ways in which we may wrong our neighbour, without his knowledge, in his goods or outward estate, whether by taking what belongs to him (John 20:19) or withholding from him what is his (James 5:4), or indeed by partaking with those who do so (Psalm 50:18).

The apostle exhorts them also to the opposite duty, as a remedy of this evil. They should instead labour diligently – even to weariness (as the word means) – in any good and honest calling, supposing it is only in some labouring work or manual trade.

This remedy is all the more recommended because of the advantage which follows from it, i.e., that by doing so, and through God’s blessing on their diligence, they will not only acquire to themselves sufficient worldly goods that they will be kept from any necessity of stealing, but they will also be able to use some of what they have to meet the needs of others.

Jesus Christ does not reject the vilest sinner, not even thieves, or worse, for anything they have been. Yet they must amend their life subsequently. Nevertheless, some, after they have made a profession as Christians, continue to live in the practice of base and shameful sins, which hardly can be called the marks of God’s children. It is clear that some of the Ephesians were guilty of this sin before an offer of mercy was made to them in the gospel, and indeed that some were yet living in it.

In God’s good and wise way of ordering things, he has established property rights and differences in the ownership of goods and possessions. He has not left all things to be communal, as if everyone has an equal right to everything. Otherwise there could not be such a sin as stealing, nor would it be necessary to forbid theft. This ordering is intended to avoid confusion, strife, contention, and other problems. It also serves as an opportunity for some to show charity, and others to show patience.

Christ wants His people to labour in an honest way

Lack of a job, or idleness in it, brings about poverty and want, with the result that people are liable to temptations to steal, and to take other sinful courses of action, to keep themselves from dire straits. It is therefore the Lord’s will that everyone sets themselves to labour diligently in some lawful calling and employment. This is a remedy, not only against the evil of stealing, but several others also, which flow from idleness, and too much ease (2 Thess. 3:12; Psalm 73:5).

It is not absolutely necessary, nor yet convenient, or possible, for every individual to find work in some manual calling, or trade, and to “labour with his hands.” Not everyone is able to go about such a calling, and there are other lawful callings which require labour with the mind, comparable to those which require labour with the hands (1 Tim. 5:17). Yet there is no calling so lowly (providing it is honest), to which a person should not betake himself (whatever he be for birth, and nobility of descent) and spend his strength in it, even to weariness, rather than to steal, or use any sinful tactic to save himself from straits. “Let him steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands.”

Even those things that were imposed on fallen mankind for a curse and punishment of sin, have their nature changed to believers, and are turned into a blessing and an effectual remedy against sin. In Genesis 3:19 it is imposed on Adam as a part of the curse, that he was “in the sweat of his face to eat his bread.” But here working is enjoined and commended by the apostle to believers, as an effectual remedy against the evil of stealing.

No necessity or want whatsoever can warrant someone to employ himself in any calling which is not lawful and honest, or which tends only to gratify the lusts of pride, vanity, prodigality and uncleanness. Our calling ought to be such as we may serve God in it with a good conscience (Colossians 3:23), and promote the good of either the church, family, or society (Galatians 5:13). To prevent stealing, the apostle restricts them in their choice only to good and lawful callings, “… working … the thing which is good.”

Christ blesses diligence enough for us to share our success with others

The Lord’s ordinary way is to bless conscientious diligence in a lawful calling with such a measure of success as the person may have whereby to sustain himself and to be helpful unto others. Exceptions are when the Lord see it otherwise fitting, to test and exercise that person’s faith, patience and other graces (2 Corinthians 8:2). The goal of labouring in a lawful calling proposed here (“that he may have to give to him that needeth”) is for the most part attained, otherwise it would have been no encouragement.

It is the duty of all whom God has blessed with any measure of worldly substance, to bestow some part of it for the help of others. So in the exercise of our callings, if we would expect the Lord’s blessing on it, we ought to intend not only the enriching of ourselves and ours, but also the means to do good to others.

Everyone is under obligation to give their might for the help of the indigent – not only the rich, but even the poor labourer, who can hardly get his livelihood from the work of his hands. We ought to give alms out of what is our own lawfully purchased, and not out of the gain of oppression, or hire of an harlot (Deuteronomy 23:18).

The Lord sees it fitting always to keep some among his people, poor and indigent, even objects of charity. This contributes to the exercise of their faith and patience, and to testing the charity and compassion of others (Deuteronomy 15:11). So the only ones who are to be relieved by our charity are needy, and indigent, and cannot relieve themselves, but not those who, being able to work in a lawful calling, simply choose instead a life of ease and idleness, and live on the charity of others. We are to give “to him that needeth.”

This extract from James Fergusson’s commentary on Ephesians dovetails with what he also discusses in his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (“… that if any would not work, neither should he eat …”).



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How Paul preached about original sin

How Paul preached about original sin

How Paul preached about original sin
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

In the rush to get to God’s mercy, and perhaps out of discomfort at the unpleasantness of the subject, the topic of original sin can be overlooked in our churches, both in preaching and hearing. When James Fergusson reached Paul’s discussion of God’s saving grace in Ephesians 2, however, he identified the balance in Paul’s letter. Paul did not soft pedal our desperate sinfulness as sinners, yet his awareness of the graciousness of God’s grace did not allow him to leave his readers in despair. As the following update extract shows, Fergusson therefore picks out some aspects of Paul’s Spirit-inspired technique in how he presents both sin and grace, highlighting them especially as hints for preachers to follow as they bring these doctrines to their own congregations. It also prompts us to assess how willing we are as hearers to accept this kind of preaching and how we respond to these truths when our pastors bring them to our attention.

Preach misery as well as mercy

The apostle is intending to establish the Ephesians in the doctrine of salvation by free grace in Christ. For this end, he sets out the happiness of the state in which free grace had placed them, by showing the misery of their previous state, before conversion. That is, they were dead – not naturally, but spiritually, for there was nothing in them of the spiritual life which consists in the union of the soul with God (John 5:40), and the power of the soul, flowing from this union, to do things which are spiritually good and acceptable to God (John 15:5).

The efficient and formal cause of this spiritual death is their sins and trespasses. These two words are used equivalently in Scripture to express one and the same thing, and both of them in the plural here sets forth the multitude of sins under which they lay in this dead condition, for example, their original sin, their actual sins, sins of omission, sins of commission, and especially their manifold idolatries, which are chiefly pointed at as those sins in which the world was wallowing before Christ came in the flesh (Acts 17:29–30).

From observing Paul’s method we can see that it is not sufficient for the servants of Jesus Christ only to preach privileges, and hold forth to believers the happy state to which they are lifted up through Christ. It is necessary also that jointly with this minsters call them to think of their woeful, miserable, and lost estate by nature. Setting forth the one against the other makes both appear more clearly in their own colours. It also helps the hearers avoid the two dangerous rocks of growing vain because of what they now are (2 Cor. 12:7), and of turning discouraged and diffident because of what they once were (Psa. 25:7).

Preach personally and impartially

The apostle then applies this doctrine to the Jews, of whom he himself was one; and therefore he designates them by the pronoun “we,” and affirms them to have been before conversion equally miserable with the Gentiles.

He explains the doctrine of human misery very fully, pointing out that his own people were just as obstinately rebellious against God as the disobedient Gentiles, analysing the corruption of nature into subdivisions, and identifying the root cause of our miserable slavery to sin in our nature as “children of wrath.”

Of all pieces of a minister’s task, the one where he has most need of a spirit of wisdom and impartiality is when he is about the reproof of sin, and the exposure of people’s vileness by reason of their wickedness. If he respects persons at this point, those whom he reflects on most will be irritated, conceiving themselves to be unfairly dealt with. Others, to whom he does not apply this convicting doctrine so directly, nor with such an edge and vehemence, will be puffed up above others in their own conceit. The reality is, “among whom also we all had our conversation.”

Preach to give both light and warmth

The apostle moves on to hold forth our deliverance from that woeful state. He does so in such a lively, ravishing, and comprehensive strain of speech that he not only gives them the doctrinal information, but also works on their affections so that they will embrace and adhere to these truths.

He declares God to have been the prime author and efficient cause of their deliverance. He calls Him “rich in mercy,” to show that He was motivated to save them, not from their worth, but from His own abundant mercy, and that it was only His great and ancient love towards them which set His mercy to work for their deliverance.

He also propounds the first branch of their deliverance to be God’s “quickening of them together with Christ.” By this he means the Lord’s work of regeneration, and bestowing on them a spiritual life of grace (in opposition to the spiritual death he had previously spoken of), together with all those benefits which accompany and flow from regeneration in this life. They are made alive “with Christ,” not in their own persons (for they were quickened a long time after Christ’s resurrection), but in their head and attorney Jesus Christ, who was made alive after death as a sure pledge that they, every one in his own time, would be made alive also (1 Cor. 15:20), by the virtue purchased by His death (Rom. 8:11), and by Him who is now alive, and liveth for evermore for that end (Heb. 7:25).

And before he mentions the other pieces of their delivery, he ascribes the whole work of their salvation to God’s free grace. This is the same in effect with His mercy and love, only it further expresses the freedom of those, in opposition to any merit or worth in the persons to be saved.

Preach the riches of God’s free grace and goodwill

The ministers of Christ have more to do than simply to inculcate the doctrine of sin and misery. Once they have gone into this subject enough to bring down the high conceit which people naturally have of their own righteousness, and to convince them of their need of Jesus Christ, a Saviour, then it is timeous for them to open up the riches of God’s free grace and goodwill to save the vilest of sinners, and what He has freely done to bring salvation to their hand.

When the Lord’s ministers take up the subject of God’s delivering lost sinners from their natural state of sin and misery through Christ, they should labour to speak to it so fully, affectionately, sensibly, and with such life and power, as that they may not only inform the understandings of the Lord’s people in those truths, but also inflame their affections with love to them, and admiration at the wisdom, mercy, goodness, and other attributes of God manifested in this work; for so doth the apostle speak of this purpose, not simply by saying God hath quickened us, but “ God, who is rich in mercy, according to his great love,” and so forward in the two following verses.

But what will enable a minister to speak to the commendation of God’s free grace in the salvation of sinners with the fullness, sense, life, and affection that he ought? Nothing contributes more to this than the minister having a deep insight into his own misery, and the great need which he himself stands in of God’s mercy. It’s after Paul shows how conscious he was of the depth and breadth of his own misery that he can go on to speak so fully and movingly, “But God, who is rich in mercy,” etc.

Preach with confidence in God’s power and Christ’s merit

The quickening of sinners, and drawing them out of nature to grace, is only God’s work. Nothing less than omnipotent creating power is required to bring this about (see v. 10). Not only is there no principle left in man by which he might work with God in working towards his own quickening (Rom. 9:16), there is also much to oppose and resist it (2 Cor. 10:5). In the first instant of his conversion, and until a new heart is given him, and the seeds and habits of saving graces are infused in him, the sinner is wholly passive (Jer. 31:33). Paul, discussing the cause of their quickening, pitches, not on their own free-will, in whole or in part, but on God only. “God, who is rich in mercy, hath quickened us.”

The doctrine of our natural misery and spiritual death through sin is a lesson most necessary to be learned. Yet we have no great pleasure to learn it, and it’s something we are prone to forget, as to a deep and lively impression of it, even when it is learned. Yet the doctrine of God’s mercy is not applied in order to our deliverance from sin and misery, unless the doctrine of sin and misery has been applied and accepted first.

Though love and mercy in God are what set Him on work to quicken dead sinners, yet this work cannot be brought about or accomplished without the intervention of Christ’s merit and intercession. Christ satisfied divine justice, and thereby acquired to us the things which God’s love and mercy had prepared for us (Isa. 53:5). They were all lost in Adam (Rom. 5:15–16), but Christ, being now exalted, also applies them to us (Acts 5:31). God’s mercy and love are the inward impulsive causes moving God to quicken these sinners, yet the apostle shows that their actual quickening had a necessary dependence on Christ’s merit and mediation.

The necessity for Jesus Christ to strike in with His merit and mediation, in order to acquire and apply saving grace and salvation to us, in no way hinders the fact that our complete salvation, from the first step to the last, flows wholly from God’s free grace. It was of grace that the Father sent the Son to die for us (John 3:16). It was of grace that the Son undertook the work (John 15:12–13), and it is no less grace that what He did or suffered is accepted in our name (Rom. 3:24–25). So that it is all is of grace and free goodwill as far as we are concerned. “By grace are ye saved.”


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Are we born innocent?

Are we born innocent?

Are we born innocent?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

Are we sinners because we do bad things, or do we do bad things because we are sinners? A recent survey in the US found that a clear majority of professing evangelicals would say that we are born innocent. This optimistic view of human nature may well chime with what many would like to think, yet the Bible paints a much bleaker picture of fallen human nature, with Paul going so far as to say that by nature we are “children of wrath.” Without a clear picture of the seriousness and urgency of the problem of our sinfulness, we are unlikely to put much effort into how we can be saved from it. The God whose grace rescues us from our sin will also seem less glorious than He really is. In the following updated extract James Fergusson opens up Paul’s words of Ephesians 2:1–3. Fergusson’s comments show clearly how what we need saving from is not something superficial, and the salvation God provides is not only radically transformative for us but on His part impressively rich and generous.

Every one of us by nature, and before conversion, is dead, not to sin, but in sin. Paul addresses the Ephesians as, “You who were dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That means we are wholly deprived of all ability and power to convert ourselves (Rom. 9:16), or to do any thing which is spiritually good (Rom. 8:7). While Paul says that the Ephesians were dead in sins before God quickened them, he is speaking of a thing common to them with others, which is why he includes himself and the other believing Jews with them (verse 3).

The fountain-cause of this spiritual death was Adam’s sin (in him all have sinned, Romans 5:12), and through the merit of his sin imputed to us, we are deprived of original righteousness (Romans 7:18), and a perverse inclination to all evil has come in its place (Genesis 6:5). Additionally, every individual’s own particular actual sins lay him lower under this state of death, and make it all the more difficult for him to be delivered from it (Jeremiah 13:23).

The evidence of spiritual deadness is sinful activity

The evidence that they were dead in sins and trespasses is their walking in and making a daily trade of sin, without striving against it, and without any thorough remorse for it. “Ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air …” (verse 2). Paul illustrates this woeful walk from the two guides which they followed, and which carried them on and encouraged them in their sinful course. The first was, the universal corrupt course and custom of “the world;” and the second guide was Satan, here called “the prince of the power of the air.”

Walking in sin is different from falling into sin

Although the regenerate still have a body of sin and death dwelling in them (Romans 7:24), and do sometimes actually fall in sin (indeed, even very gross sins, 2 Samuel 11:4, 12:9), yet they do not walk in sin. That is, to the child of God, sin is not like the way of the traveller, so as they make it their daily trade and employment (Psalm 1:1), or sin without any reluctancy flowing from a spiritual principle against what they know to be sin (Galatians 5:17), or walk after sin by making sin, and suggestions to sin, their guide whom they willingly follow (Romans 8:1). Sin may conquer the regenerate, and carry them as an unwilling captive (Romans 7:14, etc.), but they no longer “walk” in sin; for Paul says that for them it was “in time past ye walked.”

Such is the power of converting grace, that it causes people to change their former way and course, however deeply they were rooted in it and habituated to it. There is a change from how they walked in “time past,” such that they do not so walk in the time present.

The Lord is not at all moved by the merit or worth of those whom He doth convert, to bestow converting grace on them rather than on others whom He leaves in their unconverted state. In fact, He makes this grace of His to fall on those who are in no respect better than those whom He passes by. These Ephesians, before conversion, were second to none in sin and wickedness, yet He converted them.

The general corrupt custom and example of those with whom we live, or those who lived in the former times, is a strong incitement in the minds of many – and sufficient excuse – to follow them in doing evil, without further inquiry. But it is clear evidence that someone is still in an unrenewed state, when they make the example of others the highest rule according to which they walk, and when they labour to conform themselves more to other people than to the will of God.

We are all sinful by nature

Paul speaks in verse 3 of “the lusts of our flesh … the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Our obstinate rebellion comes out in the fact that we follow the “lusts,” that is, the impulses and motions and sudden flashes, of our inbred corruption (here called “flesh”), which, flowing from Adam’s first sin, has infected his whole posterity (Christ alone excepted, 2 Corinthians 5:21) and seats itself in all the powers and faculties of our souls and bodies, even including the understanding and will (Romans 8:7; Colossians 2:18). All corruption and sin, even that which is in the mind, is called “flesh,” because it is conveyed by fleshly generation (John 3:6), the fleshly members of the body are the instruments by which all sin is carried out (Romans 6:19), and every sin draws the person away from God to earthly and fleshly things.

This inbred corruption of their natures Paul subdivides into two, the “flesh” and the “mind.” When the term “flesh” is contrasted with the “mind,” it is distinguished from the “flesh” beforementioned. Here it must mean the corruption which is seated in the sensual appetites of the soul, while the “mind” means the more noble faculties of the soul, i.e., the will and understanding, in so far as they are also corrupted. Then the “desires” of the flesh are the deliberate and fixed resolution to follow those lusts and suggestions of corrupt flesh, which, accordingly, Paul says they “fulfilled” and accomplished to the utmost.

Paul then points out the root and fountain-cause of this their miserable slavery and subjection to sin, that is, their natural sin and misery. “Ye were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (verse 3). We were all, from nature, that is, from the very cradle, birth, and conception, “children of wrath,” i.e., by reason of our original sin, liable to God’s eternal wrath.

By nature all of us are wholly sinful

Whatever differences may be among the unregenerate as to circumstances in life, externals in religion, or the particular sins to which they are enslaved, yet all of them are alike vile in God’s sight. Paul pronounces of himself and all of them, Jew and Gentile alike, that they were children of disobedience, because one way or other they followed the lusts of the flesh.

Those who lead a blameless life before the world in their unconverted estate (and therefore thought their condition abundantly good, Philippians 3:7) will, when converting grace comes, see themselves to have been as vile and wretched as any. They will not only see that nothing they did was truly good and acceptable to God, for it was not done in faith (Hebrews 11:6), but also that the root of all sin was in them, budding out without any check or restraint, except from respect to self-interest, reputation, pleasure, or advantage (Matthew 14:5). The more blameless they were before the world, the more their spiritual pride abounded (Philippians 2:7), and so they were all the more loathsome to God (James 4:6).

The whole person, both soul and body, is infected with sin by nature, so that not only the sensual part, but even our will and understanding, are corrupted by it. In the understanding there is not only ignorance but also mistakes about God and good (1 Corinthians 1:23). In the will there is a crooked perverseness and averseness from what is spiritually good (Romans 8:7).

Every unregenerate person is a slave to sin in all these ways. Paul affirms of us all that before conversion, not only flesh was in us, which lusted after unlawful things, but those lusts came the length of fixed resolutions and desires – and not only so, but we fulfilled and accomplish them. Respectable people do not wholly fulfil the lusts of the fleshly appetite, yet they fulfil the desires of the mind by their pride, vanity of spirit, self-seeking, and such like.

All are guilty of original sin by nature, and from the first moment of conception (Psalm 51:5), and therefore, in the course of divine justice, liable to the stroke of God’s wrath and anger, and this by nature also. So the misery of the unregenerate is never sufficiently seen until it is traced back to this bitter root and fountain, the sin and misery in which they were born. When Paul says we were “children of wrath by nature,” he implies that we were also sinners by nature, seeing wrath always follows sin, and sin is the root, fountain, and headstone of all our misery.

Seeing our sinfulness helps us to appreciate holiness

The apostle Paul is intending to establish the Ephesians in the doctrine of salvation by free grace in Christ. In order to do this, he sets out the happiness of the state in which free grace had placed them, by showing the misery of their previous state, before conversion. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is, they had been dead – not naturally, but spiritually, for there was nothing in them of the spiritual life which consists in the union of the soul with God (John 5:40) – nothing of the power of the soul, flowing from this union, to do things which are spiritually good and acceptable to God (John 15:5). Natural life consists in the union of the soul with the body, whereby the person is enabled to move, speak, and do the actions which are competent to that life. Analogously, their spiritual deadness tells of their separation from God (Psalm 58:3), and their total inability to do any thing which is spiritually good (Romans 8:7).

Seeing our sinfulness helps us to appreciate God’s mercy

God is rich and overflowing in the exercise of His attribute of mercy. This is apparent when we consider that there is no creature towards which He does not exercise His mercy (Psalm 104:24), and that mercy is exercised, not only without, but also often contrary to, the deserving of those on whom it is exercised (Ezekiel 36:21–22). Yet there is nothing in which God does more to manifest the riches and abundance of His mercy, than in the work of bringing dead sinners to life, and of carrying on the work of grace in them until it is perfected in glory. Just think of the misery of the objects of His mercy (Ezekiel 16:3, etc.), and their bad deservings (Jeremiah 14:7), the greatness of the good things which He bestows on those miserable objects (Luke 12:32), the course He takes for satisfying divine justice, so that those good things can be given without wronging justice (John 3:16), and the multitude of sins which mercy covers in those objects, not only before their conversion (Isaiah 55:7), but also after it (Proverbs 24:16)! All these, and many considerations besides, manifest God to be rich in mercy in quickening dead sinners. “God, who is rich in mercy, hath quickened us.”



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What should a minister pray for?

What should a minister pray for?

What should a minister pray for?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

The apostle Paul prayed a beautiful prayer for the church at Ephesus. As well as showing all believers what we can aspire to and what we should pray for on our own account, some additional further advice can be gleaned specifically for ministers. Preachers and pastors have the responsibility of caring for the souls of those who are to feed from the Word they preach, and this includes praying with them and for them. But how should ministers approach God when they pray? What features of the flock should shape the requests they make in prayer for them? Why does it even matter that ministers should pray for their people? In this updated extract from his commentary on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, James Fergusson picks out some pointers for ministers. In turn, believers who observe this advice should remember that as we are all members of God’s family, there should be no desire to exclude any of the family from the blessings of salvation, and there should be willingness to help rather than hinder our minister’s prayers for us.

Praying with purpose

In this part of the chapter Paul gives a summary of his fervent prayers to God for the believers at Ephesus, that they would persevere and grow in the faith and experiential knowledge of the doctrine of salvation (Eph. 3 from v14 onwards). In doing so he not only gives an evident testimony of his sincere affection and endeavours for their salvation, but he also strives to stir up a similar ardency of affection in them. Indirectly at least, though most effectively, the example of his prayers prompts them to persevere and make progress in the experiential knowledge of and communion with Jesus Christ.

Paul states what has occasioned his prayer (i.e., that these people were already built by faith on Christ). He also expresses the humble, reverent frame of his heart in prayer (“I bow my knee,” Eph. 3:14). He also shows that he is directing his prayer to God the Father.

God the Father is described first from His relation to Jesus Christ (“the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”) and secondly, from His relation to His church (“God … of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”) (Eph3:14). He is the Father by adoption of the whole church of those who are regenerate, whether triumphant in heaven or militant on earth, whether Jew or Gentile. The church is here called a “family,” and it is said to have its name from God. They are His family, His children, those who are at home in His household.

In the context, there is a particular relevance why Paul describes God in this way. The Jews wanted the whole church to be named after (and contained within) the Jewish nation, excluding the Gentiles. But at all points Paul makes the Gentiles equal sharers of participation in God along with the Jews. So Paul by using the term “God … of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” he is breaking down this arrogance, and at the same time showing his warrant to pray for perseverance and growth in grace from God even to the Gentiles.

Ministers must pray for their flock

As we know, it is the duty of Christ’s ministers to teach and instruct the people of God committed to their charge (2 Tim. 4:2). But we learn from Ephesians 3:14 that it is every bit as much the minister’s duty to pray to God for their people.

Ministers must pray for their people, not only in public with them, when they are as it were the mouth of the people to God (Joel 2:17), but also in private. All their efforts cannot profit without the Lord’s blessing (1 Cor. 3:6). Ministers ought therefore fervently to seek the Lord’s blessing from God by prayer, otherwise they have no ground to expect it (Ezek. 36:37).

Why people need their minister to pray with and for them

It is of no small advantage to the Lord’s people to have a minister who is able to pray, and who accordingly does pray pertinently, spiritually, and fervently with them and for them.

  • By him, as by their mouth, they may have their various cases made known to God more distinctly than many of them can express by themselves.
  • Additionally they themselves are edified and instructed how to pray with similar affection and fervency (1 Cor. 14:19).
  • By their minister’s affectionate prayers to God for them, a blessing is drawn down from heaven to make the Word preached effectual in them (James 5:16), and they themselves are roused up to seek after those good things that their minister prayed for them to have.
  • They can also be comforted and encouraged to know that their minister is speaking to God for them, including when he is absent from them, and cannot speak to them (Phil. 1:4), and when they through some reason or another cannot deal with God for themselves, at least in any measure satisfactory to themselves (James 5:14–15).

People should be able to take their lead from their ministers

Why did the apostle tell them what and how he prayed for them? Not to win their applause (because that is condemned, Matt. 6:5), but to stir them up to pray for themselves and to endeavour to obtain the good things he sought for them. The more earnest and laborious others are for bringing about our spiritual good (whether they are our ministers, parents, friends, neighbours), all the more we should be provoked into diligence about the same thing ourselves.

Ministers should pray for more grace for their people

If you pray to God for others, especially if you are a minister praying for your flock, your prayers should be prompted not only by their needs, afflictions and sinful infirmities (James 5:14–15), but also by the grace and good things of God they have already received. Pray that they would persevere and grow in these graces and good things, and be preserved from abusing them, seeing the graces of the best are only imperfect (1 Cor. 13:9), subject to decay (Rev. 3:2), and may be abused (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul prays for these Ephesians because of the good they have already received, i.e., that they are built on Christ already (v22).

Ministers should pray with reverence and confidence

We ought, especially in prayer, to draw near to God with deep reverence and high esteem or His majesty of God, joining this with low and mean thoughts of ourselves, because of our baseness and unworthiness, seeing God honours them who honour Him (1 Sam. 2:30) and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Paul evidenced such a frame of heart by bowing his knees when he prayed.

Deep reverence of heart towards the sacred majesty of God in prayer is fully consistent with faith and confidence in approaching to God as a reconciled father. These both ought to be joined together in prayer, and indeed, when they are sincere and not counterfeit, they both strengthen one another. The more we put our trust in Him, the more our hearts will fear and adore Him (Psalm 130:4). The apostle exercised not only reverence in his prayer, as is already shown, but also confidence, while he takes up God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the whole family of believers through Him.

The warrant for praying for the church is God’s fatherly care

As there is but one church universal, comprehending all the elect in all times and places, whether in heaven or earth, so all within the church are of one kindred and linage, descending from one common father. Paul designates the church “one whole family in heaven and earth.”

The near relations, under which God stands towards His church, are founded on Jesus Christ: and all the benefits flowing from these relations are conveyed to the church through Him. Outside of Jesus Christ, God is a consuming fire to sinners, and in Jesus Christ, He is a reconciled father to believers.

The near relation which God has to His church, and His church to Him, is sufficient ground and warrant for faith to rest on Him, and plead with Him for the supply of all grace, and of every needful thing. Shall He not provide for His own children, when He has said that human fathers who do not provide for their children are worse than infidels? (1 Tim. 5:8). This is why the apostle makes this a ground of his confidence that he will be answered by God in what he sought on behalf of these Ephesian believers, i.e., God’s fatherly interest in them.


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Are young people turning to prayer more?

Are young people turning to prayer more?

Are young people turning to prayer more?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

With worries about war, food shortages and the cost of living following the anxious times of the pandemic, how are people coping? A recent survey of UK adults found that more younger adults pray compared to older adults. Follow up reporting suggests that across a range of cultural and religious backgrounds, younger people are open to exploring spiritual things. Yet there may be a perception that prayer is a spiritual activity that can be whatever you make it. Prayer can sometimes be valued simply for the groundedness the ritual gives us, or the comfort that comes from voicing our fears and wishes. There is an inbuilt human longing for connection with something and someone beyond ourselves, which can really only be fulfilled by knowing the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by His Spirit, and receiving the everlasting salvation He gives. Guidance as to what this looks like comes from what the apostle Paul shared about his prayer life, for example when he told the believers at Ephesus how he was praying for them. In the following updated extract, James Fergusson gleans some pointers about true prayer to the true God from what Paul says.

Who Paul prayed to

In Ephesians 1:17, the apostle gives a short summary of his prayer to God for the Ephesian believers.

First, Paul refers to God the Father (to whom he is praying) as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the Father of glory”. The Father is in His own nature infinitely glorious, the fountain of the whole Godhead and all the divine attributes in the Son and the Holy Ghost. All glory is due to Him from created beings.

What Paul prayed for his friends

Paul then mentions what he sought from God for the Ephesian believers. This was “wisdom,” or a further increase of the saving knowledge of God which the Holy Spirit gives, together with a clearer insight into the Scripture where the same Spirit reveals these truths. This “wisdom” mainly consists in the saving, believing, and operative “knowledge of him,” i.e., of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wants the Holy Spirit to remove the natural blindness of their understandings and to bestow a clear discerning of the things of God.

We should have definite things to pray for

We should not necessarily restrict ourselves to a set form of words when we pray. Yet we should have set purposes worked out, and a definite point to aim at, when we pray, so that we would be able to give an account of what we are praying for, whether that is for ourselves or for others.

We must pray to the true God

Our prayers should be directed to God only. No one else knows us, or the secrets of our hearts. Anyone or anything else is unfit to receive our prayers.

Also when we draw near to God in prayer (whether for ourselves or others), we should do so with confidence and reverence – for these are not mutually exclusive. We should think about God, and express what we are thinking about Him, in a way that will most strengthen our faith and most strike our hearts with reverence towards Him. To strengthen his faith, Paul refers to God as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” and to bring his heart into deep reverence he calls him “the Father of glory,” or “glorious Father.”

We should pray out of faith in Christ

In order to have access to God with boldness through Christ, it is necessary to renew the act of faith which applies and appropriates Christ to ourselves. Then, being made one with Christ, we will be seen by the Father as clothed with Christ’s righteousness. This is the way that God will accept both our persons and our imperfect prayers – that is, through Christ. Paul here appropriates Christ to himself as his own, calling Him “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is necessary also that when we embrace Christ in this way, we do not divide Him into parts, but take to ourselves the fullness of all the perfections which are in Him. This is an evidence of our sincerity in embracing Him, but additionally, nothing less than the whole Christ is necessary to cover all our imperfections, bear us up under all our discouragements, and help us in all the infirmities which beleaguer us in our approaches to God. He is our “Lord,” full of power and sovereignty for our good. He is “Jesus,” a Saviour, who saves sinners. He is “Christ,” anointed by the Father to do this very work.

We should pray reverently

In Ephesians 3:14-15 Paul begins another prayer for the believers at Ephesus. Again he sends his prayer to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” denoting both the Father’s relation to Jesus Christ and His relation to His church, His “family,” who take their name from Him.

The expression Paul uses here, “I bow my knees,” denotes the humble, reverent spirit of his heart in prayer. We are not restricted to any specific posture in prayer, yet our outward posture can both express something of our reverent inward spirit, and remind us what we are doing when we pray. We should draw near to God with deep reverence for His majesty, coupled with very low thoughts of ourselves, because of our unworthiness.

Deep reverence is entirely consistent with faith and confidence in approaching God as a reconciled Father. Both reverence and confidence ought to be joined together in prayer, and indeed, when they are sincere, they mutually reinforce each other, so that the more we put our trust in Him, the more our hearts will fear and adore Him.

We should think more about God than about ourselves

In making our approaches to God for anything, especially salvation, it is most necessary that we lift our eyes above anything that is ours (whether our good or our evil), and fasten them by faith on the inexhaustible fountain of mercy and power in God. He is not only willing (from His mercy) but also able (from His omnipotence) to give us whatever we ask that is in accordance with His will. He will grant it “according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 3:16).

We should have our priorities right

We must not neglect our outward and physical needs, yet the spiritual state of our immortal souls is what we must care about most. Paul prays in verse 16 for their “inner man,” for if things go well with the “inner man,” our outward concerns will trouble us the less. Ministers especially should pray mainly about the inward and spiritual state of their flock.

We should open our hearts for the best answers to prayer

Paul prays, “that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (v17-19).

The love of God in Christ to lost sinners is so large, so free, and in every way so wonderful. But our hearts are so narrow, and His ways of showing His love are so unexpected and strange to us, that even though it is revealed in the gospel, God Himself is the only one who can make us see it and grasp it. Paul prays to God for the people at Ephesus that God would let them comprehend and understand it.

The answer to Paul’s prayer will give us stability in times of trouble

As trees cannot long stand against the blasts of boisterous winds, unless their roots are deeply fastened in some good ground – and as houses cannot long remain firm and strong, unless they are built on some sure foundation – neither can we hold out for any space of time against temptations unless we are undergirded and supported by some strong foundation. That stability and constancy comes from the faith of God’s love. If we are not “rooted and grounded” in the love of Christ, we are like trees without a root and a house without a foundation. The only sure foundation for our souls is the unchangeable and free love of God in Christ revealed in the gospel and grasped by faith. No conceit of our own righteousness, or courage or resolutions will do.

The breadth of Christ’s love extends to all ages of history and all sorts of people. Its length reaches from eternity to eternity. Its depth stoops down to the lowest depths of sin and misery and pulls sinners out of there. Its height reaches up to heavenly joys and happiness, and carries sinners up to there. It is called “the love of Christ,” not to exclude the love of the Father or Holy Spirit, but because the love of the whole Trinity is conveyed to lost sinners through Christ and His merit. It passes created understanding to know it.

We must not content ourselves with a superficial view of God’s free love in Christ. Instead, take the most accurate inspection of it in all its dimensions, and endeavour at least to know it as far as you can. Our delight in it and the comfort we get from it is constrained by the narrowness of our thoughts and the shallowness of our insights about God’s love in Christ. The love of God in Christ, and the love of Christ to lost sinners, is so rich and unsearchable, so matchless and unparalleled, so vast, boundless and, well, infinite, that in the end the most we can say is that it “passeth knowledge.” How much this should stir us up to seek it!

Our prayers should take confidence from who God is

Paul towards the end of his prayer refers to God again, this time as “Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think…” (verse 20). Thinking of God in this way, Paul is so sure that God would answer that he is breaking out into thanksgiving already, as if everything he had asked for was already granted. “To him be glory!” (verse 21).

God is not only able to bestow more things and greater things than we can express, but also to bestow these greater things in a large and abundant measure. The conceptions we have of God when we pray to Him should be things that will furnish our hearts with reasons to have confidence in Him and the fact that He will hear us.

Especially we should stabilise our hearts in the faith of God’s omnipotence and power to grant what we ask. This is one of the best supports for prayer, seeing it is beyond all doubt that God will do whatever He is able to grant our petitions if we are seeking things which He has promised (1 John 5:14).




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Why do we work?

Why do we work?

Why do we work?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

In a culture where leisure time and relaxation are so very highly prized, it can be difficult for us to realise that idleness is a sin. And if our church culture perhaps prioritises spirituality over practicalities, we may hesitate to recognise the importance of sheer hard work. The apostle Paul navigates both these issues with his words to the Thessalonians, disapproving of idleness and highlighting the necessity and value of work. It may not sound very spiritual but preachers today should still include these notes in their preaching, for God’s honour and the church’s reputation and indeed the wellbeing of any who are lazy.

Idleness is a sin

Paul reminds the believers at Thessaloniki, “We commanded you that if any man would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In saying so he condemns both the sin of idleness and their neglect of censuring that sin, because this was not only contrary to his example but also to his doctrine. He had commanded, and by apostolic authority enacted for a standing law, that anyone (who otherwise had strength and opportunity) refused to work, he should not eat. To “work” is to employ either one’s body or mind, or both, in some honest labour, for promoting one way or other the good of mankind. “He should not eat” means that he should not be borne with or maintained among Christians, but constrained to betake himself to some honest employment.

The Lord’s ministers should press on people, not only religious duties but also painstakingness and diligence in some particular calling. Likewise it is the duty of the Lord’s people, and of every one in their station, to give obedience to such lawful commands of Christ’s ministers.

Additionally, everyone should be concerned that the church’s charitable funds should be distributed wisely. This is especially the case for those who are entrusted with these monies, so that, to the best of their knowledge, they do not use it to furnish fuel to the lusts of any, or feed them in sinful idleness, or any other way misapply it to those who are not due objects of it. Paul’s command is given to all, and chiefly to the officers of the church, that they do not employ either their own charity or the church’s, to maintain idle vagabonds and wilful loiterers.

However, there are always some who do not work, not because they don’t want to, but either because they are not able to work, or although they are able and gladly would, yet they cannot get employment. It is the Lord’s allowance that such people, as far as possible, should be maintained on the charity of others, especially if they have nothing of their own by which to maintain themselves.

Idleness means the wrong sort of busyness

The “disorderly” ones in Thessaloniki, of whom the apostle had heard, have two features which seem to contradict each other, and yet are highly consistent, and in fact usually co-occur. They “do nothing at all,” he says in verse 11, i.e., in the things which they ought to do, and to which they have a calling, and yet they are “busybodies,” only too diligent about things which do not belong to them.

It is actually part of a minister’s responsibility, prudently to seek to know what fruits the gospel he preaches is bringing forth among the people of his charge. He should know what sins are most prevalent with them, and what virtues are exercised by them, in order to be the more enabled for speaking pertinently to them.

There have always been some in the church who take on a name for profession (and so possibly come to have some respect among the godly), yet, under a pretext of giving themselves to more than ordinary devotion, they abandon all care about a particular calling, and live hand-idle, to the hurt of those on whom they lived, and to the reproach of the gospel.

The mind cannot be wholly idle, but must be employed in something or other – if not in doing what is good and profitable, then of necessity in what is evil, useless or hurtful. Usually no one is more busy in other people’s matters than those who neglect their own.

Idleness is something we must give up

So, speaking to those who were guilty of walking disorderly, Paul both peremptorily commands them, and most affectionately exhorts them (verse 12).

In the name and authority of Christ the Lord, he commands them (1) to work, and so to quit idleness; (2) to work with quietness, that is, containing themselves within the boundaries of their calling, without creating trouble, either to themselves or others. From this would follow (3) that they should eat their own bread, gotten by their own labours, and not given them in alms, or in return for nothing.

Yet so great a tyrant is custom in any sin, and especially a custom of lazy ease and idleness, that once someone is habituated to it at all, they are only with very great difficulty driven from it. It takes both a command and an exhortation from Paul.

Some sins grow so common that either through the moral guilt in them or the civil inconveniences which follow them (or both), they portend no less than apparent ruin to the whole church. Then especially the Lord’s ministers should direct the utmost energy of their endeavours to suppress these sins, and to reclaim the Lord’s people from committing them. In Thessaloniki this sin of idleness threatened to dissipate the church, both morally, considering the great guilt that was in it, and civilly, considering how poor this church in all probability was. That is why the apostle is so fervent and serious about suppressing it and stirring up the whole church to take notice of it.

Yet God is so merciful that He does not wholly cease to have anything to do with sinners, as if they were desperate cases, after one or more rejections. He gives them many renewed opportunities, because some He intends to gain (John 4:7, 10, 13, 16, 21, 26) and some to make more inexcusable (Matthew 11:21–22). Although those idle people had received several admonitions with no effect, yet Paul, in Christ’s name and authority and by warrant from Him, again commands and exhorts them that they must work with quietness.

Correspondingly this should be a minister’s way of dealing with even most obstinate sinners, in order to win them back. The minister must make known that he does not think of them as wholly void of all sense of God and goodness, and must at least gently hint that he still has better thoughts of them. By doing so he will, if it is at all possible, enliven any dying principle of conscience, any sense of heaven or hell, any sense of right or wrong, and any awe of God which may yet be lurking in them. The reason why Paul exhorts them “by our Lord Jesus Christ” is to show that he did not think they had cast off all respect to Him.

Being busy means less trouble

The more someone is occupied with their own employments, the less leisure they will have to meddle with the affairs of others. Consequently, they will create less trouble either to themselves or to those who live alongside them. “Working your own work” is conjoined with “quietness” and quiet abstinence from meddling with or troubling others.

We also deduce that the Lord has established property rights from the way that Paul speaks of “their own bread,” that is, what they have a proper right to. (See also Ephesians 4:28) Beside the other ways of attaining right and property – that is, by inheritance (Gen. 15:4), gift (1 Sam. 9:9), contract or bargain (Ruth 4:9), this is one. Whatever someone purchases by their lawful industry and effort is properly their own, and may be employed by that person for their own good and necessary use with God’s allowance.

The Lord ordinarily blesses people’s conscientious diligence in their lawful callings with a sufficient measure of success that they may have something with which to sustain themselves, and be kept from being burdensome to others.


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How to bring more Bible truths into focus

How to bring more Bible truths into focus

How to bring more Bible truths into focus
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

Once we have got to grips with the basics of biblical teaching, it sometimes happens that further truths snap into focus when previously they were unknown or unclear to us. Even when, compared to the foundational truths, these truths are less significant and less necessary, yet once the Lord has shown them to us, there is a moral responsibility to keep hold of them and confess them and teach them. But not everyone sees the same things with the same degree of clarity. How then should we interact with people whose views of these truths are more blurry and misty than they could be? In the following updated extract, James Fergusson explains that, rather than allowing these truths to remain fuzzy around the edges, there is an appropriate way to bring others along on their journey to where they too can have the benefits of seeing these truths with the same clear focus.

In Philippians 3:15-16, Paul exhorts believers to follow his example – even believers who had made (or seemed to themselves to have made) the furthest progress – and to be of the same mind with him in the details he has just mentioned in the previous part of the chapter. Some of them had been seduced by the false apostles, and were of a contrary mind in some things, but he gives them ground of hope that God, who had brought them to the knowledge of the gospel, would reclaim them from their error, and show them the danger of it (v. 15). At the same time, he exhorts them to unity and orderly walking, according to the rule of Scripture, in the things in which they remained harmonious, keeping mutual love, and holding off from making any further divisions than there were already.

What kind of perfection can we reach?

Although no one can attain to absolute perfection in holiness, yet as there are different degrees in grace, so there is diversity of growth among Christians. Some are but weak, infirm, and babes in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-2). Others have come to greater ripeness, are endued with a larger measure of grace, and are confirmed by much experience. These, in comparison with the former, are here called “perfect.”

The greatest perfection attainable in this life is to renounce all confidence in ourselves, to rely wholly on Christ, and, from the sense of our own imperfection in grace, to be constantly aspiring to a greater measure of grace. This is what Paul prescribes to the choicest Christians to be exercised in when he says, “Let those that are perfect be thus minded.”

What was Paul’s example?

As examples are of more force than bare precepts, Paul draws an argument from his own practice. “Let us…” That is, being conscious of small progress, and of a great distance yet before us, let us press forward. That’s how he was minded, as he showed in verse 14 (“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”), and that’s the mind he wants the Philippian believers to have too.

How should we treat people who only have a shaky grasp of the truth?

There are usually some within the visible church who, because their understanding is misted over with error, do not come up to give thorough assent to all divine truths.

We are to deal more tenderly with some of those who are be-misted with error than with others. For example, we are to keep charity towards them, and express our charity for them in the expectation that God who has begun to enlighten them in other things would also show them the truths that are yet unknown to them. Also, we are to wait for them patiently. The severe exercise of church discipline is not something to resort to, at least until some appropriate period of time has elapsed – enough time for them, with God’s blessing on their own endeavours and other people’s work with them, to attain the knowledge of these truths (or, enough time for their lack of knowledge to be otherwise inexcusable).

Yet this tenderness is not the way we are to treat every individual who errs from the truth. For one thing, tenderness is not for those who seduce others into error, but for those who are seduced.

Secondly, tenderness is only for those who are seduced in less necessary truths, not fundamental truths, which are absolutely necessary. Their error lies only in some circumstantial truths, relative to the greater ones which the apostle assumes they have already grasped.

Thirdly, assuming their error is only in what we might call inferior truths, they also must not be so devoted to their own opinions that their desire to propagate them leads them to split the church and make schisms. Rather, they are to walk in a joint and orderly practice with others in the things on which they agree, not creating strife and division (whether in affections or practice) about those things in which they differ. This may be taken as a condition of the tenderness and forbearance they are to be shown, and a condition of God revealing things to them further. It is only “if we walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing.”

So on one hand there is no ground here for a boundless toleration of all heretics, sects, or seducers of others. On the other hand, there is no basis for tolerating even all who are seduced into error, but only those whose behaviour evidences them to be concerned for both truth and peace.

How can we expect God to act?

It is only God who can reveal truth to those who are overtaken with error. He does this by giving His blessing on the ordinary means of grace, when they are made use of for that purpose. So there are promising grounds of hope that He will indeed do this to some, namely, those to whom He has already revealed many soul-saving truths, and who are endeavouring, by their orderly walking according to those truths, to edify both themselves and others. Paul’s hope is that God will reveal even this to them – not by any direct revelation, or any other way without the Word, but by His blessing on the Word preached and their own endeavours (Isa. 8:20). He has revealed much to them already, and at the same time He subjoins the condition, “whereunto we have attained, let us walk,” i.e., unitedly and orderly, as soldiers keeping rank, without disturbing one another.

How can we expect the church to act?

The church of Christ ought not to be, on every difference of opinion, rent into schisms and factions, setting up one church against another, or counteracting each other’s work so as to undervalue and suppress one another. Rather, unity and orderly practice according to an uncontroverted rule, so far as is possible, is to be kept, notwithstanding differences in opinion. This is what the apostle exhorts us to, “Let us walk by the same rule.”

When divided opinions in a church lead to divided practices, further division and tearing apart necessarily follows, both in opinion and affections. When Paul exhorts us to joint practice, he adds that we are to “mind the same thing.” That is, “Let us keep unity, both of affections and opinions, in those things on which we still agree,” implying this is not possible without joint practice.


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How Not To Ignore The Failings Of Others

How Not To Ignore The Failings Of Others

How Not To Ignore The Failings Of Others
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

Many things in life are burdensome, and we appreciate the help that others can give us to share the load. In the list of things that weigh us down, we can also include our failings in a spiritual sense, or any of the human frailties that make life difficult for others. It is easy to criticise others but what can we do to positively help our brothers and sisters? In this updated extract, James Fergusson shows how (and how not) to overlook the failings of others.

Paul says in Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Here he is exhorting all his hearers not only to endeavour to reclaim those who are overtaken in a fault, but also to tolerate and bear patiently with the sins and infirmities of others, until these are amended, and the sinner reclaimed.

These sins and infirmities are called a “burden.” Partly, because sins such as these may be a burden and weight to the sinner himself, either because of his grief and sorrow for them, if he is a penitent (Acts 2:37), or because of the vexation and trouble which some sins, such as wrath, malice, envy, etc., bring to the natural spirits even of the impenitent sinner (Job 5:2; Prov. 14:30). And partly, because sins like these, even if not felt burdensome by the sinner himself, are nevertheless heavy burdens to those who interact with him (think of curiosity, back-biting, self-seeking, and such like, Prov. 16:28).

Bearing their burdens fulfils the law of Christ

The apostle enforces his exhortation with the reason that in this way they “fulfilled the law,” the commandment of mutual love, which he calls “the law of Christ.”

It is not as if love to our neighbour had not been enjoined before Christ came in the flesh, for it is a prime piece of the law of nature, imprinted on the heart of man at creation, and renewed again by God Himself on Mount Sinai (1 John 2:7).

But he calls it “the law of Christ” because, first, Christ renewed this commandment, not only by freeing it from the false interpretations of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:23, etc.), but also by pressing it in its spiritual beauty and spiritual nature, now that the external cover of Mosaic ceremonies which veiled it (1 Cor. 9:9-10) have been laid aside and abolished (Eph. 2:15). This is the main sense in which it is referred to here as Christ’s law, i.e., in opposition to the false apostles, who pressed so much the Mosaical law of ceremonies.

The second reason why he calls it “the law of Christ” is because this law, so renewed, is what Christ in a special manner laid as an obligation on His followers, as a mark of true faith in Him (John 13:35).

And the third reason is because Christ fulfilled this law in His own person, and in so doing left an example of it to us (1 John 3:16).

Burden-bearing in practice

Nobody is free from sinful infirmities, which are burdensome sometimes to themselves, and frequently to others. Therefore we ought not to break the relationships we are in because of such infirmities, but rather persist with these relationships, patiently bearing whatever infirmities we cannot otherwise help.

Bearing with the infirmities of others is fully consistent with the use of the means which God has prescribed for restraining sin and reclaiming the sinner. These include the means available to the civil authorities, who are responsible for punishing those who do evil (Rom. 13:1-4), but also the means available to ministers and individual Christians, such as admonition, reproof, and so on. The duty of bearing one another’s burdens must be in harmony with, and cannot be contrary to, the duty in verse 1 of restoring the sinner who has been overtaken in a fault. It is the opposite of giving him countenance, or partaking with him, in his sins.

When the apostle exhorts us to have a “spirit of meekness” and gentleness in verse 1, this is effectively what he calls “bearing their burden” here in verse 2. The manner we should have in doing so is a compassionate frame of spirit, made evident by our meek and patient way off interacting with those who are overtaken in a fault (without neglecting any duty we owe them). This gives the guilty sinner no small ease under his weighty burden, and has the tendency both to preserve him from fainting under heartless discouragement (if his conscience is touched with the sense of his guilt) and also to further the work of his conviction and amendment (if he is yet going on complacently in his sin).

The best evidence of love to our neighbour is what is displayed in our serious endeavours for bringing about their spiritual good – taking the most effective grace-filled and affectionate way to reclaim them from sin, together with supporting them and sympathizing with them under their spiritual burdens. This is what the apostle calls fulfilling the law of Christ, or of mutual love, as if the one thing that law calls for is love.

In the sense and to the extent that the child of God evidences his love to his fallen brother by his serious endeavours to restore him to the enjoyment of God’s favour, and to a holy and blameless lifestyle, and by bearing with him under his infirmities in order to recover him, in that same sense and to that same extent he attains to fulfilling the law. Of course we are not able to do this perfectly, in the sense of coming short in nothing for matter or manner (Lam. 3:2). But we can do it sincerely, and without dissimulation (Rom. 12:9), in our honest aim and endeavour. This is what it means to fulfil the law of Christ.

Our own burdens are a reason to share the burdens of other

Paul goes on in Galatians 6:5 to enforce on every individual the duty of examining their own work, rather than to be narrowly prying into the infirmities of others. “Every man must bear his own burden,” or give an account of his own actions to God (Rom. 14:12). The Lord will pass sentence, either absolving or condemning, not as to whether you have been better or worse than others, but as you are in yourself (see 1 Cor. 3:8).

This does not militate against the tenor of the gospel, affirming that God will deal with believers as they are clothed, not with their own righteousness, but with the unspotted righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9), for it is evident from the point of the Galatians passage that the apostle excludes only the infirmities of our fellow sinners from being the rule according to which God will pass sentence, and not the righteousness of Christ grasped by faith. “Bearing one another’s burdens” in verse 2 means a bearing by way of sympathy, Christian forbearance, and diligent use of means for reclaiming the person fallen; but “bearing our own burden,” in verse 5, means a bearing by giving an account to God for our own actions (otherwise it would not be a cogent argument to enforce the exhortation of verse 4, “Let every man prove his own work”).

However light people’s sins seem to themselves when they are committed, yet they will be found not light, but heavy, when they come to reckon with God about them.

God is so righteous that He will call no one to account for the sins of others, but only for their own. Yet remember that we can make the sins of others our own, by not doing our duty to impede these sins (Eze. 3:18), or by following them and walking in them (Ex. 20:5 with Eze. 18:14, 17), or by not mourning to God for them (1 Cor. 5:2).

We would be wise to frequently to call to mind the account which we must give to God, and to busy ourselves most in and about the things which He will expect an account from us about. We should be employed most in examining our own work, and not in prying into the details of other people’s behaviour and infirmities.



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What Kind of Lifestyle Pleases God?

What Kind of Lifestyle Pleases God?

What Kind of Lifestyle Pleases God?
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

In modern parlance, lifestyle is largely about style rather than substance. It’s the way we indulge ourselves as much as the way we live our lives. A Christian lifestyle could be easily confused for adding a little Christian veneer to a glamourous and comfortable life much like anyone else’s. Originally the word lifestyle was about how our values influence the way in which we live. The world constantly challenges our values and behaviour and seeks to erode a distinctively Christian lifestyle. It would be easy to think that a Christian lifestyle is simply what reflects our personal tastes and what we feel comfortable with. We could not be more wrong. It is not about what pleases us but about what pleases God. If we have been bought with a price, we belong body and soul to God and are to glorify Him with all that we are.

The apostle Paul emphasises frequently the Christian’s responsibility to live in a way that pleases God. We need to live with a purpose and this is the highest possible goal to glorify and enjoy God. This purpose can motivate and influence every action whether consciously or in the principles that govern our lives. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 for instance, Paul exhorts both lovingly and seriously in the name and authority of the Lord Jesus and for His sake. He exhorts them that they should live according to the teaching they had formerly received from him while he was with them.  He points out both the necessity and manner of a life that might be acceptable to and please the Lord. They must abound more and more, making continual progress and outstrip themselves by their future diligence and fruitfulness. The directions he gave them were not his own but the Lord Jesus Christ’s. He had proclaimed them in the name and authority of Christ as His herald. The Greek word used literally means a commandment proclaimed in the name and authority of another. In another passage (Ephesians 5:10) Paul shows the need to make diligent enquiry into God’s will revealed in His Word so that we will know what is acceptable and well-pleasing to Him in every step of our way. When we bring these together, we can see the guiding principles and motivations of a lifestyle that pleases God. James Fergusson helps us to see how in the following updated extracts.

1. We Cannot Earn Salvation Through the Lifestyle that Pleases God

Good works and a holy walk are not things that lead to justification (Romans 4:5). They are, however, required in those who have been justified to make evident the reality of their faith and claim to belong to Christ (James 2:18). Such things are part of making our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10), glorifying God (John 5:8) and winning others (Matthew 5:16). Holiness is necessary for attaining the ultimate actual possession of eternal life, as being the way that leads to it (Hebrews 12:14). Yet it is not by any means a price to merit or buy it (Romans 6:23). The word “ought” in the original, indicates how you must of necessity walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

2. Free Grace Leads to the Lifestyle that Pleases God

The doctrine of salvation through free grace in Jesus Christ is far from providing an occasion of complacency, ungodliness or profanity. So much so that there is no stronger argument to induce people to the conscientious practice of holiness in all its duties than sanctified knowledge, saving faith, and serious consideration of that doctrine.  The principles of free grace do in many ways engage the believer to lead a holy life (Romans 6:2-23). The freely gifted salvation grace offers cannot be embraced unless the promised strength for carrying us on in the way of holiness is embraced also (Romans 8:1). Paul infers the pursuit of holiness from the doctrine of salvation through free grace; the former is, as it were, the natural result, and inseparable companion of the latter.

There is a necessary connection between embracing the doctrine of salvation through free grace and the pursuit of a holy life. Yet such is our natural aversion from holiness (Romans 8:7) and so many are the difficulties in its way of it (2 Timothy 3:12), even the best need the spur of earnest and vehement exhortation to stir us up to it. Even though Paul maintains upright living as the result of embracing free grace, he deems it necessary to exhort them that they walk worthy of their calling (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

3. The Word of God Defines the Lifestyle that Pleases God

In order to walk as a Christian so as to please the Lord, we must search the Scriptures. The revealed will of God delivered by his prophets and apostles and committed by them to sacred writing is our guide, both in what way we should walk and how. Paul teaches this in saying that they had received from him how they ought to walk and please God, so ye should abound. He now commits to writing a summary of what they had received from him by his preaching to this purpose (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

4. Genuine Christians Seek the Lifestyle that Pleases God

Whatever way we walk and in whatever manner, we do not do so as Christians unless we sincerely endeavour to please the Lord. We cannot have any real or solid comfort concerning our walk unless we do what we do as service to God (Ephesians 6:6-7). Paul makes their endeavour to please God a necessary ingredient in a Christian walk in emphasising how they ought to walk and please God.

5. We Must Continue in the Lifestyle that Pleases God

God does not permit any to come to a stop in the way of grace. When much is attained we ought still (forgetting those things which are behind Philippians 3:13) to enlarge our desires and incline our endeavour after yet more and more, seeing there is still more to be had (Philippians 3:13). The Lord allows our desires after grace to be insatiable and boundless (John 16:23-24) though they are constrained by His provision in other enjoyments (Hebrews 13:5). Paul presupposes they already had grace in great measure yet he still exhorts them to abound more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

6. Christ’s Commandments Show the Lifestyle that Pleases God

The Lord’s ministers should not make anything a rule of faith or living for their hearers except that which has authority from Christ. They are merely ministers of Christ and only proclaim His will to His people; they are not lords of their faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). Thus, the Lord’s people should receive nothing from them except that for which they can produce such authority. The injunctions which Paul gave to them and they were to receive, were only the commandments which he gave them by the Lord Jesus.

The more we know our duty and are convinced of an obligation laid on us by God himself to do it, the greater should be our concern to make conscience of it. If we do not our knowledge will be our condemnation (John 3:19) and our sin will have no cloak or excuse (John 15:22). The strength of this argument lies in their knowledge: they know what commandments Paul gave them by the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:2).

7. Avoiding What Suits Us in the Lifestyle that Pleases God

We cannot walk as a child of light, or in a way appropriate to that gracious condition to which we are called unless we are conformed to what is acceptable to God. This is prescribed to us as the rule of our duty in His Word. We must not conform ourselves to this world (Romans 12:2) or to what may bring about our own advantage and so gratify our lusts (Matthew 5:29). Proving what is acceptable to God, is not something merely required for its own sake and for us to rest in the mere knowledge of that. We are to regulate our conduct according to it (as verse 11 goes on to show). It is required as a necessary consequence of walking as children of light. The grammar of the original verse 10 is connected with the close of verse 8 in the following way “Walk as children of the light…proving what is acceptable”.

8. Everything is Included in the Lifestyle that Pleases God

It is not enough to make this effort to determine God’s will in just a few more weighty actions in our life. We must do this in everything, whether of greater or lesser concern, whether advantage or loss is likely to follow from conforming ourselves to this rule. The direction is indefinite without any limitation or restriction and therefore it ought to be extended to all things. “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”.

9. It Requires Effort to Discover the Lifestyle that Pleases God

We cannot conform ourselves to what is acceptable to the Lord nor walk as children of light unless we make a serious search and enquiry into the rule of duty and acceptance revealed in the Word. We must then do what we do to conform ourselves to that rule. We will not, therefore, walk in a way acceptable to God when we either do things rashly without consideration (Proverbs 19:2) or doubtingly after deliberation (Romans 14:23). Neither is right and acceptable in itself if we do it only to gratify our own lusts (Matthew 6:2) or to please others (Galatians 1:10) rather than on this basis.  Paul requires them to prove what is acceptable to the Lord, as the rule by which they were to walk.

It is not easy to find out what is acceptable to the Lord, especially in some intricate cases. There must be an accurate search together with engaging in the practice of the things we already know to be acceptable. By practical experience, we then know them to be acceptable to the Lord and get better knowledge bettered in those things in which we are yet ignorant (John 7:17). The word translated “proving” means accurate proof, not so much by argument as by trial and experience, as gold is tried in the fire (James 1:12). “Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord”.


It is easy to neglect to find out what kind of lifestyle pleases God. After all, it requires hard work and may run contrary to our preferences or require too much of us. But if we understand the nature of free grace and what we owe to the Lord, nothing will be too much for Him.  Scripture is full of loving calls to us to walk in love towards God and live in a way that glorifies Him most.  Most of it can be connected back to the Ten Commandments which teach us how to love God and our neighbour and summarise the rest of Scripture’s teaching. Meditation on the way that the Westminster Larger Catechism expounds the Ten Commandments will lead us to a fuller and deeper appreciation of what it means to live in a way that is acceptable to God.


TEn Ways the Ten Commandments Go Further than you think

Christ showed us how the commandments were spiritual, positive and reach into all aspects of our thoughts, words and actions. Reading this booklet will give you ten biblical principles for understanding and applying the Ten Commandments properly, going beyond a mere superficial interpretation.



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We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good

We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good

We Must Not Miss Opportunities to Do Good
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

It’s not difficult to find discouragements and even be ready to give up. Everything just seems to make us worn down. But Scripture directs us to the grace and power of God rather than ourselves and the situation around us. There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping and we are not to wish away the one for the other. The darker and the more uncertain the times appear to be the greater the urgency to seize every opportunity to do all the good we can. Opportunities are not always what we expect them to be, indeed they may seem costly and risky at face value. They may be found in the most unlikely of places and times. Wisdom, as well as courageous faith, will seek them out for the glory of God and the good of others.

Paul encourages the weary Galatian Christians to persevere in not only doing the good in which they were already engaged but also in seeking out opportunities for doing as much good as they could. There is a real danger of becoming “weary in well-doing” (Galatians 6:9). As James Fergusson points out, this does not just mean what they were doing but how they were doing it. Despite all discouragements to the contrary, he assures them that God’s appointed opportune time of reaping will come. Paul goes on in the next verse to exhort them to seek out opportunities to do good to as many as they could. Time is short and opportunities are not always forthcoming. The focus is on all kinds of good but especially providing for others who are in need. We should be careful of spiritualising away our duty to the practical needs of others but no doubt it applies to spiritual needs as well. Fergusson explains it further in this updated extract.

1. We Must Not be Discouraged in Taking Opportunities to Do Good

All by nature are exceedingly backward from entering the course of well-doing (and especially doing good towards those whom God commands Mark 10:21-23). So, considering the many discouragements which arise concerning doing good to others there is no small propensity in all to halt in that course of action and to give it up immediately, or soon after they have begun in it. These discouragements may arise from our own corruption or the unworthiness, ingratitude and multitude of those to whom we might do good or from the cold-heartedness and bad example of others who are equally if not more able. Paul seeks to guard against this in saying not to grow weary in well-doing.

2. We Must Continue Taking Opportunities to Do Good

It is not enough that people subject themselves to the authority of God speaking in His Word by merely once entering the way of obedience and enduring in it for a time (Mark 4:17). Perhaps they only last until they attain a name for piety (Revelation 3:1) or meet with some unexpected discouragement or trial (Mark 4:17). They must, however, persist in what they have begun so long as they have any being (Psalm 104:33) and not be weary in well-doing.

3. We Will be Blessed in Taking Opportunities to Do Good

Christians may look to the promised reward as a motive to obedience and perseverance since the Holy Spirit encourages them that in due time they will reap. God has promised a rich reward from free grace in response to His people’s sincere and willing obedience. But He has kept to Himself the date and time for actually bestowing that reward. Yet, even though it is delayed for a long time believers do not have grounds to accuse Him of breach of promise. It is true, however, that sometimes even His dearest saints under strong temptations have gone very near to doing this (Psalm 77:8). He says that they will reap, but when? Not immediately, but in the due and proper time (as that is determined by God).

God does not limit himself to a specified time when He will make His people enjoy the longed-for fruits and comfort of their laborious, costly and long persisted in obedience. Yet His chosen time for this (whether in this life or immediately after death) is always the due and proper time. It is clearly the right and most fitting time beyond all other times for bestowing His mercy after all circumstances have been well considered. It is said you will reap in due, or proper time. The word translated time literally means an opportune time, the very point of time which determines the fittest opportunity for doing any action. Adding the word “due” shows this meaning is intended as if he had said the most opportune time.

4. We Have Good Motives for Taking Opportunities to Do Good

We have just grounds to confidently expect the good thing offered and contained in a conditional promise. But this means that we put into practice the condition that the promise requires. Thus, the apostle exhorts them not to become weary because the promise of a reward includes not wearying as a condition. You will reap if you do not faint, fainting does not mean every slackening in our activity for this can sometimes happen to even the finest saints of God (Psalm 73:2-14). It is the kind of fainting that makes the person totally and finally abandon the ways of God, which will not happen to the real child of God (Matthew 24:24).

5. We Easily Excuse Ourselves from Taking Opportunities to Do Good

Ministers should urge others to engage in the duty of doing good in a way that does not exclude themselves since they should be examples to the Lord’s people in this as in every duty (1 Timothy 4:12). Since people are more averse to such demanding duties than any other, they more readily snatch at everything which may excuse their neglect. No excuse is more plausible to them than that even their ministers neglect all duties of that kind. The apostle, therefore, both in the former verse and in this, includes himself in the exhortation; let us not weary, and let us do good.

6. We Will Not Always Be Able to Take Opportunities to Do Good

There are some fit opportunities offered to us by the providence of God for doing our duty in any way, especially doing good to others. Such opportunities include times when we meet deprived people whose need calls for our help (Isaiah 58:7) and when we have the ability to do them good (2 Corinthians 8:14). Because those opportunities are in passing and being past will not possibly return; we are to look on them as a pressing call from the Lord to set about the duty. We ought to respond to that call without delay. This opportunity relates in part to some portions of our time in this life in which we have a better opening for the duties of doing good than at other times. This has the force of an argument to urge the duty, as it supposes it will not always last.

All opportunities of this kind are confined within the narrow precincts of this present life so that there is no possibility of doing good or being beneficial to others after this life in the way in which we can do it now. The time of repentance, of making sure our election by well-doing, of making our peace with God, is then past. Where the tree falls, there it lies (Ecclesiastes 11:3). Because the time of this life is uncertain (James 4:14) we ought, therefore, to stir ourselves in making use of the present, since we do not know how soon our time may end and all opportunities of doing good come to an end with it. This is implied in the apostle’s words, opportunity may refer to the whole time of this life i.e. while we have the opportunity, let us do good.

8. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good to Everyone

This duty of doing good is to be extended to all, even our very enemies as their necessity may require (Exodus 23:4-5) and our own ability may enable (2 Corinthians 8:12). This is because of God’s own example, Mat. 5. 45. and the bond of a common nature between them and us (Isaiah 58:7).

9. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good for the Church

The Church is God’s family and household, He Himself is the head and master (Ephesians 3:15). His ministers are stewards to distribute the bread of life (1 Corinthians 4:1) and individual Christians are members of this family bound together by the profession of one common faith in Christ Jesus. The Church is only a small number-a family-even a handful in comparison of the world (Luke 12:32). As Christ’s family, they are cared for and provided for by Him (1 Timothy 5:8). The members of this family are, therefore, in a special manner obliged to love one another and evidence their love by being beneficial to one another in their needs and difficulties. God often permits even those of His own family to experience these trials for their own good (1 Peter 1:6). Besides other reasons, they are closely related to one another like children belonging to one family, the Lord’s.

10. We Must Take Opportunities to Do Good in Due Order

We must observe an order in doing good to others:

  • first it is to be exercised to those of our own family (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • secondly, to our parents (1 Timothy 5:4);
  • thirdly, to our wider family (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • fourthly, those who profess the same faith with us (among those to whom we are not related) and among them those who evidence most the reality of their faith by the fruits of a good life (1 Timothy 5:9-10);
  • lastly, to all without exception when an occasion offers itself.

The apostle is only explicit here about the last two. But this gives us grounds for searching out the rest from other parts of the Scriptures. He says to do good to all, but especially to those of the household of faith. The comparison between them is among those to whom we are not related.


It is easy to be discouraged from our duty and to pretend our opportunities to do good are not actually opportunities. Much wisdom and grace are required to discern our duty. Some people are, for instance, inclined to see the arrival of immigrants or refugees with a different religion as purely a threat and not an opportunity. We need to ask ourselves more what we can do for others materially and spiritually. Perhaps the opportunity to show kindness will provide an opportunity to do spiritual good.

Our tendency towards a bleak reading of the times and potential opportunities may not always be as accurate as we think. For instance, the recent Sevanta ComRes Survey suggested that a third of UK adults pray and attend church regularly. In particular, more than half of 18-34-year-olds were spiritually engaged in terms of praying and attending church compared to only a fifth of those over 55. Many caveats need to be put around this, but it does not seem to reflect a society where secularisation is inflicting creeping death. We have the motive, opportunity and means to do good when many others are using them to do harm.


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The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others

The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others

The Subtle Snare of Fearing Others
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

It is possible to be restrained from doing good by the fear of what others will think. Some people who are ready to make their views known are those whom we fear displeasing. Those people we would prefer to impress than upset may be influential whether that is because they are innovators, conservative or simply widely admired. We must certainly act carefully and with wisdom. It is important (and too often a neglected principle) that we should have regard to the impact of our words and actions on others. We should respect those that are godly and we do not wish to stumble anyone. So this seems like a real dilemma because we are being careful about offending these people. But displeasing someone is not the same as stumbling them. It is still possible to edify them even if we displease them. When we stumble others, we are causing them to sin or impeding their spiritual progress. In such a dilemma we should choose the best edifying rather than the easiest option. But perhaps we don’t want to be seen to get things wrong, we don’t want to lose reputation with others. It’s a real temptation or indeed a snare (Proverbs 29:25), as even an apostle found out.

This is what happened with Peter in Antioch. He was happy to fellowship with the Gentiles until some important and strict fellow believers came from Jerusalem. Out of fear for them he stopped having fellowship with the Gentiles altogether (Galatians 2:12). The power of the fear of man was so strong that he was ready to compromise the very gospel itself. Through this bad example, the other Jews at Antioch did likewise, even Barnabas (verse 13). Just like a hunter’s trap that captures and paralyses animals this is a real but subtle snare. James Fergusson shows us the many lessons that can be drawn from this in the following updated extract.

1. Fearing Others Can Ensnare in Serious Sin

This incident shows us the importance of the circumstances that concern our actions. An action considered simply in and of itself may not be sinful. Yet due to its accompanying circumstances, it may indeed become exceedingly sinful. Peter’s action was not simply abstaining from certain kinds of meats, to avoid offence to the weak as with Paul (Acts 16:3 and 21:26). It was exceedingly sinful in the circumstances which accompanied this abstinence:

(a) He withdrew from the Gentiles in eating as if they had not been true members of the Church with whom it was lawful to have complete fellowship; He withdrew, and separated himself.
(b) He abstained not at Jerusalem where the Jews came from but at Antioch where he had openly done the contrary in using his Christian liberty a little while before. He ate with the Gentiles before but when these Jews came, he withdrew.
(c) He withdrew not as though it was indifferent to do so and therefore doing it for a time for the sake of the Jews; but as if it had been in itself sinful to have eaten with them, contrary to what he knew and had been informed of by the heavenly vision. This is why it is called dissimulation
(d) His abstinence was not for the sake of weak Jews to get the opportunity to inform them of the annulment of these Levitical ordinances. Rather it was out of fear of losing esteem with and incurring the hatred of, those who were spying out their liberty. These would doubtless make bad use of his abstinence to confirm themselves in and draw others into their errors.
(e) By his example he harmed the other Jews who were beginning to be informed concerning the annulment of the ceremonial law and therefore had been eating with the Gentiles
(f) This practice of his (as is clear from verse 14) tended to compel or force the Christian Gentiles to take on the yoke of the ceremonial law to regain fellowship with Peter and the church. This would have been most sinful for them because they had never been under it.
(g) He gave a great blow to Paul’s teaching and that of the gospel concerning Christian liberty and the annulment of the ceremonial law. His behaviour implied it was still in force.

2. Fearing Others can Ensnare the Best

The best of men are so weak and inconstant that, being left to themselves, the least blast of temptation will make them break off their course of well-doing in the very middle. Without respect either to conscience or credit they openly desert what they were doing. Peter having begun well in his use of Christian liberty by eating with the Gentiles now gives evidence of great inconstancy in that for fear of offending others he did immediately moved away from this.

3. Fearing Others can Ensnare Dangerously

To separate from and break off communion with a true Church and its members cannot be attempted without sin. We cannot do this even to avoid the offence and stumbling of many. This separation from the Church of the Gentiles made Peter blameworthy. His separation was as though it was unlawful to maintain communion with them (even though the Jews would have been offended if he continued to do so).

4. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Leaders

It should be of great concern to men of grace and gifts, who are in a public position and enjoy the praise of many to be men of both courage and self-denial. Even when they enjoy the praise of everyone, they must be dead to it and die to it. Otherwise, if they think more of this than they ought, through their fleshly fear of losing reputation and incurring hatred from others they may venture to dishonour God. Even Peter sinned against the Lord because he feared the loss of his esteem among the Jews too greatly.

5. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Us Despite Our Principles

Sometimes good men under a violent temptation will in practice condemn that which they accept in their understanding. For any to sin against their light in this way highly aggravates their guilt still further. The guilt of Peter’s sin and dissimulation is aggravated by this. By his practice he now professed that fellowship with the Christian Gentiles was unlawful but he had been instructed to the contrary by the heavenly vision (Acts 11:9).

6. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Us Despite Our Piety

The bad example of those are eminent, gracious and learned can be of such great force that not only the weak but even those who are strong and richly endowed with grace and gifts will sometimes be corrupted by it. We usually (without being aware of it) esteem such to be something more than others and once this is so we do not examine their actions as closely as we would those of others. Thus, not only the other Jews but even Barnabas himself an eminent apostle (Acts 13:1-2) was carried away with Peter’s bad example. Barnabas was carried away with the dissimulation of the other Jews. His example in turn had a kind of compulsion towards the Gentiles to make them do as he did (verse 14).

7. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Many

A flood of bad examples, especially if they are otherwise devout, can be so strong and of such force that it will carry others along in their conduct. So much so that even the very best of men can hardly stand against it at all. The dissimulation of Barnabas is not only due to Peter’s bad example, but also, if not mainly, to the influence which the bad example the other Jews had on him.

8. Fearing Others Can Ensnare Others With Us

It is of great concern to all in authority, especially those who are eminent for piety and talent, to take diligent heed lest they give a bad example to others. The sins of others (which are occasioned by the bad example of any) will be justly charged on those whose bad example they follow. The dissimulation of the Jews and Barnabas is mentioned as something that adds to the seriousness of Peter’s sin since it brought such dreadful consequences.


Perhaps we do not think we are as invested in our own reputation as we really are, we scarcely question our motives. In its worst form it can lead to unacknowledged but powerful forms of control within the church. We need to take action about our fear of others because as Peter shows us, those whom we fear we obey. This can even lead us to disobey God or to reject others and their spiritual good. It can lead us to care more about what other people threaten to do than what our conscience or God’s Word says. To be fearless in this context isn’t the same as being careless, it’s not being reckless and inconsiderate. Rather it is caring more about how to edify as much as possible rather than being restrained from this out of fear of disapproval.


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



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How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World

How to Avoid Being Catechised by the World
James Fergusson (1621-1667) ministered in Kilwinning, Ayrshire. He published a number of expositions of books of the Bible and preached faithfully against the domination of the Church by the civil government.

It’s hard even to buy shoes these days without being surrounded by prominent messages about diversity and expressive individualism. From advertising to social media influencers and other media messages, we are not just being persuaded to buy or adopt something – we are also being told how to think. In a context of woke capitalism and cancel culture, celebrities and organisations are jostling with one another in virtue signalling. It manifests apparent moral certainty and religious zeal. Some messages are more subtle, playing on our desires and emotions and sowing questions in our minds about biblical truth. Whatever goes near our hearts, engaging our energy and affection easily becomes a thorn to choke the word and let error grow (Matthew 13:22). We are being catechised by the world, possibly without being aware of it. How can we and others be best prepared to resist it?

The apostle Paul wrote to people surrounded by false religion and philosophy, including dangerous heresies. Arguably, woke values are a kind of Christian heresy. They often present concerns of compassion and justice within a moral framework that subverts Christian teaching. It is often a gospel without grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. People clearly derive some comfort, security and a lot of self-righteousness from being “on the right side.”

Paul was concerned for those who were susceptible to false ideas. He wanted to see them established in the truth. This was especially so with the Colossian Christians, he had a great struggle and conflict for them (Colossians 2:1). He wanted them to know the comfort of being firm in the faith and to be able to resist false messages that could be very enticing (Colossians 2:4). We need to be deeply and firmly established in the truth if we are going to resist the world’s catechising.  We cannot rest satisfied with the bare minimum, we need the fulness of knowledge that Christ intends us to have. Gospel truth is not a few basics but the truth as it is in Jesus leads us to a fresh and deeper appreciation of who He is the more that we explore it. The better we know the truth, the better we will discern error even when it is very subtle. In the following updated extract, James Fergusson shows what practical spiritual help we can derive from Colossians 2:1-4.

1. Gospel Truth Produces True Comfort

Everyone is naturally destitute of solid comfort. Even the people of God, when driven to extremities find their comfort greatly shaken (chiefly when the truth of the gospel -from which they draw their consolation – is questioned). For the time being the Colossians had their comfort shaken when the truth of the gospel was being questioned by these teachers of error (v2).

Only the teaching of the gospel best establishes a disconsolate and afflicted spirit. Comfort and stability result from having that teaching established when erring spirits would call it in question. To know also that others who are dear to God, sympathize with us in our troubles contributes greatly to our stability and comfort. The apostle has a concern and endeavour to have them established in the truth of the gospel (which was then being questioned) so as to contribute to their hearts being comforted (v2).

2. Gospel Truth Produces True Unity

Unity of heart and affections in the Church is so necessary that the lack of it greatly obstructs the solid comfort which might otherwise be reaped by the gospel. Their comfort depends on their being knit together in love, literally (in the original) as a piece of timber joined together by a carpenter (v2).

Unity of heart and affections also greatly depends on union of understanding and constancy in truth. Where there is discord in the understanding about main and substantial truths, there can be no through and lasting concord of the will and affections. Paul makes their being knit together in love one fruit of their constancy in truth (v2).

3. Gospel Truth is Deeper Than We Realise

Christians are not to rest contented with the knowledge of the common and easy principles of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1). We are to grow in the knowledge of other more difficult truths, such as those that relate to various spiritual difficulties and the defence of truth against adversaries. Growth in these follows from perseverance in truth. Such a growth is meant here by the riches of understanding and it is another fruit of constancy in truth (v2).

Neither are they to rest on simple knowledge of gospel truths (Matthew 7:21), they are to know them with affection and love to these truths. They are to know the reality of them from experience. This is implied in the word “acknowledge”, which means literally to know again with more than ordinary knowledge (v2).

4. Gospel Truth Produces True Stability

They are not to rest on a fluctuating, doubting knowledge but rather strive for a full persuasion and assurance, both of the truth of the gospel in general and the reality of their own individual claim to its promises. This is also attained by stability in the truth, the full assurance of understanding is spoken of here as another fruit of constancy.

5. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of God

God is the author of the gospel, devising it in His eternal wisdom (Ephesians 3:10). Christ was the Father’s Ambassador to preach and reveal it (Matthew 12:18). So “God, and the Father, and Christ” are the prime object of the Gospel. The gospel plainly reveals the great mysteries of the unity of the Godhead, the distinction and order of the persons, the incarnation of Christ, His person, natures, and offices, His saving benefits and love to sinners. Thus, the gospel is called “the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ” (v2).

6. Gospel Truth Deepens Our Knowledge of Christ

Christ is the storehouse that contains all saving knowledge imparted to those who strive to know Him. There is in Christ and the gospel, sufficiency of knowledge in all things necessary to salvation.  Christ is the very way to life (John 14:6) and the gospel is that teaching that shows this way completely (John 20:31). Christ is equipped with all knowledge and graces as Mediator to bestow the grace of saving knowledge on all the elect in a sufficient way (John 1:16). Notwithstanding all that is revealed of Jesus Christ, His worth is unsearchable. The ablest of created understandings cannot reach the depth of it. In Him are “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v3).

7. Gospel Truth Guards Us Against Persuasive Error

Satan endeavours to sow the seed of error wherever the gospel is preached.  Ministers should therefore guard people against error in opinion, as much as against ungodliness of life. The one will damn us as much as the other (2 Peter 2:1). Paul is aware of the beguiling of false teachers (v4).

Ministers should labour to instruct their people well in the grounds of Christian truths. They should especially instruct them in the knowledge of Christ and the fullness of sufficiency which is in Him. This is a most effectual antidote against all those errors which tend to draw the minds of people from Him. Anyone who would engage with the study of disputed truths with good purpose and without incurring danger ought first to drink in the knowledge of those grounds.  The apostle proceeds in this method, first, instructing them in them and then dissuading them from contrary errors.

Satan labours to engage the ablest intellects to promote errors. When such are engaged they spare no efforts for seducing others by abusing their otherwise useful intellects and gifts for that end. They use them to try to blind people’s understandings with sophistry and the kind of arguments which do not prove not what they seem to. They lead the affections of others captive by deceitful and insinuating persuasions. Thus these seducers against whom the apostle seeks to guard were men endowed with logic and eloquence which they abused to seduce people to accept error. They abused logic by using false arguments, the word “deceive” literally means to deceive by distorted reasoning which seems plausible. They abused their gifts of eloquence by using subtle persuasions, which are called here “enticing words.”


It’s easy for us to have our thinking shaped by our culture, it creeps into our very assumptions and outlook. The world is very good at catechising in a way that is appealing and sounds clever. It uses a kind of emotional reasoning and language that seems persuasive and ear catching at face value. It knows how to sow questions and prompt well-crafted and memorable slogans for answers. But the more that we allow these messages to filter in unchecked (and the less we seek to grow in the knowledge of the truth) the more we are at risk of being led astray by them. We may not yield some convictions but without realising certain unpopular and uncomfortable biblical truths become eroded to the point where we have no clear grasp of them. If only the church knew how to catechise as effectively as the world. There is a fulness and sufficiency in the knowledge of Christ and the gospel that we should seek to experience in a richer, deeper way. It will truly strengthen, comfort and satisfy us – the world promises this but can never accomplish it.



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