What to Do With the Worries of 2019

What to Do With the Worries of 2019

James Fergusson
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.
26 Dec, 2019

​According to the Bible App, the Bible verse most engaged with around the world and throughout the year was Philippians 4:6. It seems to indicate an uptick in concerns and anxieties in the midst of a year of tension. This has been a trend across recent years. It’s said that 14,000 google searches a month look for bible verses to address anxiety. But this verse also speaks about what to do with such concerns. Philippians 4:6 is commonly summarised like this: worry about nothing, pray about everything and be thankful for anything. But how can we make best use of the spiritual wisdom of this verse?

James Fergusson points to the fact that the reference to worry and anxiety in Philippians 4:6 literally speaks of heart-cutting concerns. These may be about the things of this world and the success of what we do in our work or other aspects of life. In seeking to serve God conscientiously in our daily concerns we need go to God in prayer. We are to pour out our hearts before God in thankfulness and confession as well as asking for the things we need. In this way we commit all things to His will. In the following updated extract, Fergusson helps us to grasp the full extent of this verse so that it exhorts as well as encourages us. 

1. We Need to Avoid Excessive Concern

There is a lawful concern about the things of this world. In fact, this kind of carefulness is frequently commanded in Scripture (Romans 12:11). Yet such concern is unlawful when it is excessive. This is especially the case when we care about nothing except the world (Psalm 49:11). This kind of concern keeps us on the rack continually, in fearing lack of success in the things we engage in (Psalm 37:5). It can tempt us to make use of anything (however sinful it may be) that will preserve or bring about the thing for which we are anxious (1 Timothy 6:9). This excessive anxiety is sinful and forbidden in this verse.

2. We Need to Have Moderation in Our Outward Dealings

This excessive concern hinders us from displaying the moderation we ought to have. Philippians 4:5 speaks of the moderation or gracious gentleness we ought to show. But anxious concern can drive us to be inflexible and harsh in all our dealings with others. This is because we fear that by giving way in the smallest way we undermine our own interests. Nothing contributes more to make us merciful and gentle than keeping the heart above anxious, heart-cutting worry. It will help us in accommodating to the needs and good of others, even though it may seem to harm our own interests. Previously, Paul exhorted them to make their moderation known to all. He now adds the counsel to worry about nothing as something that will help.

3. We Need to Take Our Burdens to God

The best remedy against excessive concern is not to go to the extreme of abandoning all lawful careful diligence in the things of this world (Matthew 4:7). We are rather to be conscientious in our duty but in the midst of this to pray to God. We should ask Him for the success we desire and thank Him for favours already received. In this way we leave the burden of all our concerns on Him. This is what the apostle prescribes here for us to do “in everything”.

4. We Need to Pray According to God’s Will

All our prayers should be composed in such a way as that they may be “known to God”, that is, approved of Him. They must come from the sense of our need, (1 Kings 8:38), be offered in Christ’s name (John 16:23) and be for things that are according to His will (1 John 5:14).

5. We Need to Use All Kinds of Prayer

Various kinds of prayer are mentioned here in three distinct terms. The word “requests” is a general term that relates to all kinds of prayer. The other words used for prayer are:
(a) Prayer, where we seek from God the things which we lack, acknowledging how unworthy we are of them.
(b) Supplication, where we pray about afflictions and chastisements that we either feel or fear. We also acknowledge our sins which bring these things on us.
(c) Thanksgiving, where we thank God for favours already bestowed

6. We Need to Be Thankful Not Just Wishful

It is necessary to combine thanking God for favours received with prayer and supplication. This is because there are constant reasons for thanksgiving in every condition we experience (Philippians 4:11). Thanksgiving suppresses the discontented, fretting and complaining spirit which often vents itself against God in our prayers and supplications. This can happen if we neglect to combine with such prayers thanksgiving to God for favours received (compare Psalm 77:7 with verses 10-11). This is why the apostle commands “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God”.

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How Are You Learning Christ?

How Are You Learning Christ?

James Fergusson
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.
19 Dec, 2019

Anyone who is one of Christ’s disciples must be learning from Him. We understand more about Christ and what it means to be His people. This includes what He expects from us and His purpose for us. It is not just being united to Christ but becoming more like Him. As our likeness to Christ increases, so will the real spiritual unity we have with His people. But we’re not left to ourselves to define what learning Christ means or even how we do it. Are you learning Christ in the right way? Are you using the right ways to learn Christ? If we are, it results in a transformed walk. We haven’t truly learned Christ if it does not have that impact on our lives.

Greater maturity in the faith involves being instructed in the responsibilities consistent with being born again. In Ephesians 4:20-21 Paul emphasises that to be a true believer is to have learned Christ. It implies that we need to be taught and to be willing to learn. But he emphasises that we must learn Christ in a particular way. He also underlines the contrast with the world in the context of this verse. Learning Christ is entirely contrary to and inconsistent with the sinful life of unbelievers (Ephesians 4:17). James Fergusson explains more of what learning Christ means.

1. LEARNING CHRIST IS EVERYTHING

True believers must be scholars, learning something daily. The sum of everything they have to learn and know, is Christ. He is the end of the law (Romans10:4) and the great subject of the gospel (Colossians 1:27) and all the promises are fulfilled in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. LEARNING CHRIST IS PRACTICAL

We learn truth properly and savingly when the knowledge of truth we attain is as Christ’s knowledge was. His knowledge of truth was not merely theoretical and speculative but practical (Psalm 40:8). The Ephesians were to be taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus, or else they had not so learned Christ.

We ought to walk in accordance with how we are instructed and learned by Christ. The knowledge which we have of Him and from Him, must be put into practice in our walk. Paul’s goal is to prove they should not walk as unbelievers, because they had not learned Christ in that way.

3. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT CONSISTENT WITH SIN

Not every sort of learning Christ or knowledge of Him excludes ungodliness. Some do not see such knowledge as inconsistent with a sinful life. Many learn and know Him in one sense. But the abuse the knowledge they have of Him so as to make them sin with less restraint (Romans 6:1). They turn the grace of God into immorality (Jude 1:4). He shows this inconsistency between learning Christ and practising ungodliness by using the qualification “if so be” (or if indeed) they have heard Christ (Ephesians 4:21).

Giving free rein to sin is inconsistent with being in a state of grace and having saving knowledge of Christ. No argument prevails more with a heart transformed by grace to restrain them from indulging sin than having this truth thoroughly impressed on them. Paul chooses to use this particular line of reasoning out of many other possible arguments.

In verses 17-19 he has shown the vileness of sin in its blackest colours, but this is not sufficient to scare the Lord’s people from it. Sin has such an advantage even over the best, and such is their proneness to it, that other strong arguments must be used to keep them from falling into it. After showing the vileness of sin at length, the apostle sees it necessary here to add another argument to enforce the dissuasive arguments previously used. This further argument is that they have not “so” (in that way) learned Christ.

4. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE ONLY REMEDY FOR DEALING WITH SIN

There is no remedy or cure for our natural corruption and the festering wounds and sores it produces except in Christ Jesus. Christ must be truly known, embraced and made use of as He is declared in the doctrine of the gospel. No moral precepts, even though they may be enforced by the strongest and most moving considerations reach the root of this awful disease. He contrasts learning Christ as the only antidote against the dark futility of mind and what it produces.

Paul goes on in verse 21 to qualify what he said about learning Christ. If in learning Christ through hearing Him preached they had been inwardly taught and instructed in the truth by Christ Himself, they would know it was inconsistent with a sinful life. Then they would have been taught as the truth was in Him not only knew the truth, but also practised what He knew. He practised the truth in such a way that His life was a true replica of the holiness which is taught in the gospel (Matthew 11:29).

5. LEARNING CHRIST IS NOT A FOREGONE CONCLUSION

A minister may have various reasons for charitably regarding all, or any of the Lord’s people committed to his charge, as truly transformed by grace. Yet he ought to express this opinion cautiously. There may be reasons for them to search and enquire into their own state as to whether this is indeed the case. Although Paul expresses the charitable assessment in verse 20 that they had not so learned Christ, he qualifies it in verse 21. This is so that they test and examine themselves whether indeed they have heard Christ.

6. LEARNING CHRIST MEANS BENEFITING FROM PREACHING

The only knowledge of Christ which provides the true remedy against the power of indwelling sin comes through preaching. It is produced in us by the ordinary means of hearing Him preached and declared in the public ministry of the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). This is a condition required in truly learning Christ, whether we have heard Him.

7. LEARNING CHRIST IS THE SPIRIT’S WORK

Hearing Christ preached by sent ministers, is not enough in itself to learn Christ effectually. Christ Himself must teach us inwardly and effectually by His Spirit. Otherwise, we cannot learn Him in this way. This is another aspect and a main way in which this statement is qualified. Paul says, if indeed they have been taught by Christ.

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Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

Why Western Culture is Having an Existential Crisis

James Fergusson
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.
13 Dec, 2019

“Existential” is the word of the year according to Dictionary.com. Apparently “it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse.” It is frequently accompanied by the word crisis especially when connected with Oxford dictionary’s word of 2019 “climate emergency”. Aside from panic about threats of doom we are also in existential crisis about identity. The singular pronoun “they” was selected as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. It is used to describe those who consider themselves neither he nor she, opening up a linguistic as well as identity crisis. It is a crisis of confusion within western culture about who we are and where we are going. How did we get here?

From a biblical perspective existential angst is the inevitable consequence of shutting God out of our minds and lives. Our culture has denied what the light of nature clearly teaches us about God’s being and existence and refused to glorify Him as God. The consequence of this is a darkness of heart that makes us fools, however much we may claim to be wise (Romans 1:20-21). We have imagined that we are progressing to new heights of knowledge when it is in fact empty delusion. This imagined progress is in fact a progressive decline. When shut out what the light of nature teaches about God, we start to shut out what it teaches about ourselves.

The apostle Paul returns to this theme in Ephesians 4:17-18. He shows the extent of the impact of rejecting God. He calls the mind of the unrenewed vain because it is empty of the knowledge of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14). The knowledge it has of God, or right and wrong, is nothing but empty notions (Romans 1:21).

Rejecting God has an inward effect on the understanding and affections and impacts outwardly on life and conduct. The understanding and ability to reason are entirely blind and darkened in relation to God and heaven (1 Corinthians 1:21). This leads to a deeper darkness in the understanding than even what they have by nature.

This ignorance flows from a blindness or hardness of heart, whereby their heart obstinately refuses the light of God offered to them. They become wilfully hardened by themselves (Exodus 8:15). In the following updated extract, James Fergusson reflects on how this unspeakably sad and solemn process takes place.

1. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITHOUT PURPOSE

The way of life of all unrenewed people is empty and fruitless. They are spending their money for that which is not bread and their labour for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2). Paul says that all the unconverted Gentiles “walk in vanity”.

2. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE CORRUPTED LIVES

Whatever vanity or wickedness is in the outward life of an unregenerate person flows entirely from the vanity of their mind and understanding. As the mind is, so will be the conduct. Even the mind itself, the primary place of reason, is corrupted and vain. It is so vain that corruption and vanity flow from it to the person.

The way the Gentiles walked in this world was the result of the vanity of their mind. It is the root of everything else in every unrenewed person (1 Corinthians 2:14). Every such person is increasing towards all the wickedness described and would reach the utmost height of it if restraining grace did not hinder him (Genesis 20:6).

3. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH DIMINISHING KNOWLEDGE

Everyone by nature is entirely unskilful in being able to discern the things of God. They cannot make best use of the principles of the knowledge of God and right and wrong that have remained after the fall (Romans 1:20). They cannot draw solid conclusions from them for rules to direct them in relation to worship and the way to salvation.

This unskilfulness and darkness increase daily. The longer they live and only use the direction and guidance of natural light, the further they are from the mark. Paul speaks of a further darkening of their understanding, than what they had by nature. Their understanding is darkened due to the ignorance that is in them.

The longer they live in their unrenewed state, the more they are estranged from right knowledge. Every sin they commit makes them less capable of knowing it. They become still further from the life of God, than they were by nature. This comes from their ignorance and hardness of heart.

4. THOSE WHO REJECT GOD’S KNOWLEDGE LIVE WITH HARDENED HEARTS

Hardness of heart is a terrible evil and the source of several other evils. When someone obstinately refuses light and walks contrary to it in hardening their heart to commit sin, they provoke the Lord to give them over to ignorance. They will then lose the small measure of knowledge they formerly had (Romans 1:28).

Hardness is the cause of ignorance. Being thus both hardened in heart and blinded in mind, they are further removed and estranged from the life of God (the saving knowledge of God in Christ, John 17:3). Their understanding and reason become more unskilful in discerning between what is truth or error, right or wrong. The common principles remaining in them after the fall concerning such things have been almost completely obliterated by continuing obstinately in sin. Blindness or hardness of their hearts is mentioned as the cause of the ignorance which was in them. Both hardness and ignorance are the cause of their alienation from the life of God, and the darkening of their understanding.

CONCLUSION

The sin of rejecting God and His truth is the existential threat to our culture. We are descending into further confusion and bewilderment as we continue in this sin. The existential crisis is an inability to define ourselves and our purpose in a meaningful way. We are being abandoned to further futility of thinking and living. The singular pronoun “they” has only been in prominence for a matter of a couple of months. This shows that we are diminishing in our ability to know basic realities on a weekly basis.

The priceless alternative that the apostle Paul points us to is, however, to learn Christ (Ephesians 4:20). To be delivered from the darkening influence of sin in the understanding, we need a saving knowledge of Christ. We need the life of God within. This is what the gospel offers to us.

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What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

James Fergusson
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.
23 Aug, 2019

If a fulfilling life is a degree of success and a certain standard of living why are those that have achieved this still unhappy? It seems that the more happiness is pursued in itself, the more unhappy people become.  Moments of happiness can be elusive. It’s clear that meaning and purpose are necessary for a fulfilling life–something that is higher than ourselves. It cannot be merely self-defined. But unless that ultimate purpose is the right one it will not truly fulfil our reason for living. How can we know?

Our ultimate authority for answering this must be in God’s Word, which is Truth (John 17:17). Ecclesiastes is the Bible book that deals most with true and false approaches to meaning and purpose for life. There is a contentment in outward things that goes along with the soul enjoying good as coming from “the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

He goes on to speak about other gifts that God gives to the man who is good or pleasing in His sight.  These include wisdom, knowledge and joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Only those who are freely pardoned and made righteous in Christ are pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight. These gifts of wisdom and joy do not just relate to outward things of this life but spiritual things also. Spiritual joy flows from being accepted in Christ. But those who neglect God and rebel against Him continue seeking true happiness in the wrong way and the wrong things. For them there is unsatisfying toil and an absence of meaning and fulfilment.

In the following updated extract James Fergusson draws out the implications of this for a fulfilling life as defined by God.

1. A Fulfilling Life is Found Through Understanding God’s Ways

Everyone should be moved to choose God’s way of seeking after happiness when they consider how He gives this freely and abundantly to His people. This description of God’s generosity in giving such blessedness to His own is intended to be a motive for others to seek His way to happiness. God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are good and pleasing in His sight.

The blessedness of God’s people and the misery of others are best seen when they are compared together. One is illustrated by the other here in terms of God giving wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who are accepted in His sight but futility and lack of meaning to the sinner (Ecclesiastes 2:26). (The word “sinner” is used here in contrast with those who have been declared righteous by God in a similar way to 1 Peter 4:18).

2. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Acceptance with God

Before someone can expect that full and satisfying provision which God gives to His children they must first be made good in God’s sight. This is only by reconciliation with Him, having Christ’s righteousness imputed, and the renewal of their nature. This is necessary so that they may aim at what is well pleasing in the sight of God.

3. A Fulfilling Life is Found through God’s Free Grace

Whatever the best of men receive from God has not been procured by them or merited by any goodness they have. It is all a free gift. This is true even of these who are accepted as righteous in His sight and whose character and way are most sincere. For even those who are good in God’s sight are given wisdom. Every further degree of grace is a new gift to such a person.

4. A Fulfilling Life is Found through the Wisdom Given by God

There must be wisdom and knowledge before there can be true comfort. People must see their misery and peril together with the remedy provided and how to make use of it. They need to understand their duty and how to fulfil it. They may then be sure that joy will result from such practical knowledge which affects the heart.  There is a relevance in the order in which these gifts are mentioned: first wisdom, then knowledge and joy.

The wisdom and knowledge God gives relates not only to spiritual things but also the ability to manage outward things aright. It is not confined to the first saving grace received, it includes the principles of all grace and every act of grace. It does not just include the things that bring comfort and joy, but joy itself, or the ability and desire to take joy and comfort. These things are a free gift of God. The wisdom, knowledge and joy here include all kinds of approved wisdom, every degree of knowledge and grace. It includes God’s gift of the ability to take comfort in what we know to be true. This provides reasons for rejoicing.

5. A Fulfilling Life is Found through Fellowship with God

People will never find what they are seeking for in earthly things, even though they weary themselves in the pursuit. These things are only truly found in God. Solomon has shown before that during his estrangement from God he was seeking satisfaction for his mind in the study of wisdom. After this he was seeking it in an abundance of earthly pleasures. But he declares that he has been disappointed by all of this. He did not find satisfaction till he came back to his first love, who gives him (and promises to others who choose His way) wisdom, knowledge and joy.

6. A Fulfilling Life is Not Found in Outward Things in Themselves

Those who seek happiness in earthly things may have success in getting an abundance of them: we are told here that they do gather and heap them up.  Yet they are still as far from satisfaction as they were before. They are constantly toiling in gathering and heaping up but never attaining to contentment.

The great toil in obtaining worldly things, the great agony of spirit which results from seeking happiness in them and the great disappointment of not enjoying true satisfaction in them should draw our hearts away from them. This way of life, labouring to gather and heap up, is condemned as futile. It fails to deliver that which those who are accepted before God enjoy.

Those who seek their happiness in things other than the Lord imagine themselves the only free men and that they have much joy in their way of life. But the truth is they are merely slaves to Satan and their own lusts and lack true comfort. The travail or task they have literally means the work and affliction of a slave.

Conclusion

We must not settle for anything less than the fulfilling life that God holds out to us in the Scriptures. When we seek first His kingdom and righteousness all other things will also be added. It does not guarantee a trouble-free life not does it guarantee prosperity. But it supplies the only meaning and purpose that makes life worth living.

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Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

James Fergusson
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.
2 Aug, 2019

This false religion is generally welcomed into the home many times in a day and influences the whole family. This isn’t the cults that only knock on the door nor the major religions studied at school. It helps most people understand and define themselves, providing value and meaning to life and the world. All of life can be influenced by it. It seems to guarantee happiness and fulfilment–without Christ. It’s the false religion of consumerism and it is preached by many of the media messages we are presented with each day. Brands do not sell products but self-image: “You are what you consume”. From newspapers and magazines to TV and the internet–it is inescapable.  The cult of choice can easily dominate our lives.

Secular observers have often recognised the way that excessive and obsessive consumption or consumerism has become the new national religion. “Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity” writes Andrew Marr in A History of Modern Britain. It’s no accident that advertisers exploit spiritual themes such as the brevity of life; even the most mundane products can be marketed as having spiritual value.

Consumerism has pushed further into our whole way of viewing the world. Choice and freedom are the absolutes. Whether it is relationships, identities, genders, philosophies or anything–just choose and try it out. See what suits you, there are other options to experiment with. But in an age of Starbuck’s services, church shopping and limited commitment, where many prefer relevance over reverence–we needn’t think that evangelical Christians are in any way immune from it. In fact the whole approach to church growth movement has, ironically, often mandated a consumerist approach.  Is consumerism the Achan in the camp?

The Bible plainly tells us that consumerism is a false religion. Covetousness and greed are idolatry (Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5). It captures our heart (Matthew 6: 19-21). Consumerism is insatiable and will demand all of our service and devotion; it will not share anything with God (Matthew 6:24). It’s a deceitful false gospel (Matthew 13:22). It makes us discontented while promising a contentment that will never be attained. This is the reverse of what the Bible teaches (Hebrews 13:5). Consumerism reverses the biblical perspective by focussing our attention on the temporary rather than the eternal, the present rather than the future, the earthly rather than the heavenly (2 Corinthians 4:18).

It’s not of course that owning or buying things are wrong in themselves, it’s the impact that this has on us and the time and energy we devote to it. We are constantly, implicitly told each day that Christ was wrong about the value of life not consisting in what we consume (Luke 12:15). Which message do we really believe? How do we live godly in a world of relentless consumerism? In this updated extract James Fergusson has some wise counsel drawn from what the Apostle Paul says in Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:3 and 5.

 

1. What is Consumerism?

Covetousness is an immoderate desire (Hebrews 13:5) to acquire (Micah 2:2) or to preserve worldly goods (Proverbs 11:24, 26).

 

2. How is it a False Religion?

Whatever thing someone gives the outward or inward worship and service due to God alone is that person’s god. They are guilty of idolatry and giving divine worship to a false god even though they may not think they are doing this. The covetous person is called an idolater (Ephesians 5:5) and consequently riches are their god. This is because they devote to these things their prime affections of love and confidence to an extent that is due to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16; Proverbs 18:11).

The covetous person believes that possessions are a universal good which will completely satisfy (Luke 12:19). But this is only true of God Himself (2 Corinthians 9:8). A covetous person’s desire and attitude towards possessions keep him from making use of them (Ecclesiastes 6:2). Covetous people serve possessions with their heart in the same way as some god is usually served (Matthew 6:24).

Covetousness consists in an immoderate desire to acquire or keep worldly riches. It is not just a sin that provides oil to make all other sins burn, it has a kind of idolatry in it. This is because it draws away our love, trust, fear and joy, from God and from serving Him. Instead we are taken up with and expend ourselves on wealth and riches.

 

3. How Bad is it?

In both Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5 covetousness is singled out together with sexual immorality as being especially loathsome and contradictory to a Christian profession. They are corrupt lusts and affections which are said to be on the earth (Colossians 3:5), because they draw the soul down towards earth. He mentions those which are sensual as tending to fulfil our unlawful pleasures.

There is a great affinity and similarity between the lusts of filthiness and covetousness. When someone yields to the former it requires the lecherous person to thirst after and by indirect means purchase worldly goods, to maintain in a special way this lust of uncleanness.

 

4. How Do We Root it Out of Our Hearts?

(a) Put it to Death

Putting sin to death means that a sinner who is conscious of the evil of sin (Acts 2:37-38) honestly resolves (Job 34:31) and endeavours (2 Corinthians 7:11) to subdue sin thoroughly–root and branch–or put it to death. It is not putting to death only one sin but all known sins (Hosea 14:2).

This is done by carefully avoiding the things that give occasion to sin (Job 31:1). It means using every means which may help to subdue it: prayer (2 Corinthians 12:8); hearing the Word (1 Peter 2:1-2) and in some cases, fasting (Mark 9:29). But the primary means is exercising faith in Christ for strength (Philippians 4:13). This is such a necessary activity that the life of glory to be manifested at Christ’s second coming cannot be attained without it. He connects their appearing with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:4) with this by using the word “therefore” (v5) to show that putting sin to death is essential. Putting sin to death is not completed instantly. The best of Christians must make it their daily task to put sin to death.

(b) Avoid Things That Stir it Up

We are set against sin in reality when we pursue it to the den and labour to pull it up by the very roots. We do this by withdrawing from the things which add fuel to it. Paul wants them to go beyond addressing the outward acts to the inward root of evil desire. They must also set themselves covetousness which feeds and nourishes lust.

(c) Don’t Tolerate it

Paul says that sexual immorality and covetousness must not even be named among believers (Ephesians 5:3). This means that they should not name them with delight and without disgust.  It  is of course lawful to name them in order to reprove them, as the apostle does here. He urges this as necessary in those who were saints–separated from the world and dedicated to God. It was therefore most unfitting for them to defile themselves with such filthy lusts.

It is not enough for saints to abstain from practising gross sin outwardly. Their outward abstinence must flow from detesting them inwardly. Outward abstinence may well make someone outwardly respectable but not a sincere Christian.

(d) Value Your True Identity

The only life that is fitting for saints is to keep themselves pure in heart, tongue and hand from the pollution of fleshly lusts and the immoderate love of worldly goods. When professing saints yield to these things they walk unworthy of their high and heavenly calling; they stain their profession; and declare themselves unworthy of the name of saints (Ephesians 5:3).  Paul shows that the behaviour that befits saints is not practising those evils and inward detesting them; this is made evident not speaking of them.

(e) Look Heavenward

Paul exhorts that, being risen with Christ, they would earnestly seek, know and (from knowledge), delight in things which are above (Colossians 3:1-2). Things above are heaven, happiness, and all spiritual graces. They are not to seek and delight in things earthly, such as riches, honours and pleasures. This is because Christ is their Head, their Husband and He is above at the right hand of God. He is completely glorified and entrusted with full power to distribute all things for His people’s good (Ephesians 1:20, 22).

The saving graces of God’s Spirit are things above as well as heaven and glory. These graces come from above (James 3:17) and elevate the heart of those who have them above earthly things. They raise the heart to seek communion with God now so that they may live above with God forever (Philippians 3:20-21).

Heaven and the saving graces which lead us to it are to be sought diligently.  The original word means a diligent search by those who have a vehement desire to have what they seek for  (see 1 Peter 5:8; Mark 12:12). If we seek heaven and heavenly things with this kind of diligence, it will be because we know something of the worth which is in them and know how to value them. We are to set our minds, affections and will on things above  We are to know them, and knowing them to desire them and therefore seek them.

Earthly things and heavenly things are in two opposite sides of the scales:  the more the heart is given to the one, the less it is to the other. We are to set our hearts on things above, not on things on the earth. 

(f) Use the Things of This World Carefully

We may use the world and the things in it and seek after them in a moderate way (1 Timothy 5:8). But we must not pursue these things in opposition but rather in subordination to heavenly things. They must not be sought as our ultimate goal and purpose (Psalm 49:11). They must not be sought by unlawful means (Ephesians 4:28) or by neglecting God’s worship (Matthew 6:33). We must also submit to God when He brings about disappointments in relation to them (Job 1:21).

Since believers are dead to sin (Colossians 3:3) they are not to place their happiness in earthly things or to be sinfully eager in seeking after them. This is a strong argument for not enslaving our affections to earthly things. If this was the case it is proof that sin is still reigning and being kept alive rather than put to death.

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The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

James Fergusson
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.
26 Jul, 2019

​We “have to reconcile two sets of instincts…there are some people who say they are irreconcilable and that it just can’t be done”. Politics is said to be the art of making the impossible, possible. But this week, we heard a political ruler speaking about going beneath the surface of society into the human heart and reconciling potentially irreconcilable instincts. The wisdom of political tradition, he said, could provide “the best insights in how to manage the jostling sets of instincts in the human heart”. There are various created natural instincts such as: self-preservation, natural affection, fostering and preserving society and acknowledging and worshipping God. They ought not to compete with one another but the trouble is that they are warped by sin. So we have to contend with the instincts of sin in the heart which will never compromise. We pray for national leaders and long that they would seek a higher wisdom in their unenviable task. For what politician indeed would dream of declaring war on sin?

The Christian knows all about irreconcilable instincts in the heart; desires that are opposed and contrary to one another. Regeneration sets up a conflict between grace and remaining sin. There are sinful desires that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11) and they are deceitful in their operation (Ephesians 4:22). In the following updated extract in relation to Galatians 5:17, James Fergusson opens up this conflict further. He shows how Paul proves that following the instincts of the renewed part of their heart means keeping under the unrenewed part.

Paul says that the renewed, and unrenewed part, or spirit and flesh incessantly oppose and labour to suppress one another. This is because they are two principles that absolutely contrary to each other (John 3:6). Paul goes on to show how they are both supported and assisted with contrary superior powers in verses 19 and 22. This conflict prevents us from completely and effectually doing either the good or the evil to which the will inclines. The flesh or sinful nature always opposes what we seek to do in accordance with the direction of the Spirit. The spirit likewise opposes the directions of the flesh. This is also implied in verse 16.

1. These Instincts are in a Regenerate Person

The regenerate person has a renewed principle of grace in all the faculties and powers of the soul; it has been produced within them by the Spirit of God. In all those parts of the soul, they also have some remainder of sinful corruption that has not yet been put to death. This means that our whole mind, will and affections are partly spiritual, partly carnal, both flesh and Spirit are in us. The two sets of desires are against one another (Galatians 5:17).

2. These Instincts are Constantly Active

None of those powers or principles in the regenerate person are dead, dull, or merely passive. Both sin and grace are working and active. The flesh lusts and the spirit desires. Both of them influence the whole person to work in a way congruous to the nature of these respective principles; the one to good and the other to evil.

3. These Instincts are Completely Opposed

The operation of these two active principles is in flat opposition, the one to the other. Thus, in one and the same person even while they are engaged in one and the same action, there is a conflict and battle between these two contrary armies (Romans 7:19, 21). The lusts of the flesh are against the spirit, and the spirit’s desires are against the flesh.

4. These Instincts are in Every Action

Both these principles combine in all the powers and faculties of the regenerate person. So there is a mixture of their respective influence and efficacy in every action. Though one may prevail over the other in some actions there is not one action to which both of them do not contribute something. If there is not a causal influence there is some measure of active resistance. Their desires are constantly working against each other.

The actions of the regenerate are not perfect and free from some sinful admixture. But there is still a difference between their worst actions and the same actions as done by the unregenerate. The difference is that in the regenerate the flesh does not sweep along with a full gale in its sails but encounters the contrary tide of resistance from the spirit to some degree. Just as the flesh lusts against the spirit, so the spirit’s desires are against the flesh. This means that we cannot do the things we want to do in relation to both.

5. These Instincts are in Spiritual Combat

Unregenerate people may have something similar to this spiritual combat, they may sometimes experience a conflict between their natural conscience and rebellious desires (Romans 2:1). But they do have not the very same combat spoken of here. This combat is not just one faculty set against the other but every faculty, as it is flesh, is set against itself, as it is spirit. This combat is not in the unregenerate because they are wholly flesh (Genesis 6:5) and not spirit at all. This combat is between flesh and spirit not natural conscience and sinful desires.

6. These Instincts are Frustrated in Our Actions

The mutual resistance and opposition of those two opposing parties (flesh and spirit) in the regenerate begins at the very first rise of every action in the understanding, will or affections. It continues and grows ever more fierce as the action progresses towards its full accomplishment by the governing faculties. Not being able to do the things that we would implies that our willing good or evil is more (but not entirely) free from this opposition, compared to our actual doing or accomplishing what we have willed (see Romans 7:18). We cannot do the things we have willed to do.

Conclusion

The better we understand the nature of the warfare within the battlefield of our heart, the better equipped we will be to advance in being Christ-like. Whether or not they are aware of it, the Christian has a constant conflict in every aspect of their inward life and in every action. There are irreconcilable instincts in constant combat (James 4:1-3). One principle cannot prevail unless it is at the expense of the other. There can never be compromise. But the believer has divine help to advance in this warfare. The previous verse (Galatians 5:16) speaks of walking in the Spirit and later we understand that the flesh is a dying enemy (Galatians 5:24). Sin will not have dominion over God’s people (Romans 6:14). In the midst of such unceasing and unremitting conflict there is hope. Who will give deliverance? Paul answers this question, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25).

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Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

James Fergusson
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.
19 Jul, 2019

Empathy is diminishing rapidly in our culture. We’re told that “the average person in 2009 was less empathic than 75 per cent of people in 1979”. Yet 1,500 books available through Amazon apparently have a version of the word empathy in their title. As with other things it seems the more something is talked about, the less there is. Some fear that it is talked up in such a way as to amount to a religion in itself; a belief in the power of “feeling”. Do we just need a little kindness to make everything better? Is that the same as true empathy? How should we think and act biblically about this?

Sympathy is more a sense of pity whereas empathy seeks to put ourselves in the same place as those for whom we have compassion.  This kind of compassion is something that Scripture emphasises (1 Peter 3:8). It makes clear that believers ought to be affected by the experience of others as if it were their own. This is loving our neighbour as ourselves (Luke 10:37). In particular, we are to experience the affliction of others of the household of faith as if we were afflicted with them (Hebrews 13:3), as members of the same body (1 Corinthians 12:26). We have the example of Christ who was troubled and wept (John 11:34-35) in empathy for his mourning friends. 

Empathy can be directed in a good and a bad way. It has limitations and may stop at feelings without moving to right action. When psychologists commend empathy they have no objective standard of when it is right to be empathetic. Nor do they have anything more than a subjective standard for why we ought to experience such feelings. The gospel of Christ, however, provides this standard. It shows the compassion of Christ moved to action and gives a reason why we ought to show compassion (Ephesians 4:32). Empathy isn’t only compassion, however, it experiences joy together with others as well as sorrow (Romans 12:15).

The Church ought to be the place where true empathy flourishes. But true empathy is now sentimentalism. When the apostle Paul speaks of bearing one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2 it comes immediately after the instruction to recover those who are overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1). Compassion means bearing with the weaknesses of others to help them not indulge them. We are truly loving them when we seek their spiritual good and encourage them affectionately but firmly towards holiness. This fulfils the law of Christ, the mutual love that we ought to have another which is not content to see our brother go on in sin (Leviticus 19:17). True empathy is driven by the gospel and the moral standards of Scripture.

James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy in the following updated extract. It focusses on Colossians 3:12 where Paul is speaking of what believers must put on having been emphasising what they must put off and put to death since verse 5. This shows the connection between holiness and true empathy. He emphasises that those who are beloved of God and have received His grace must live in a particular way towards our neighbour. All the graces required in verse 12 are in relation to our neighbour.

1. True Empathy Comes from Grace

There is a necessary connection between the new man or principles of grace in the heart, and the exercise of Christian virtues in the duties we owe to our neighbour. He speaks of their having put on the new man (v10) and therefore urges them to exercise and put on these virtues.

The knowledge of our election leads to holiness not ungodliness.  So he reasons from their election (“put on therefore, as the elect of God”) to their exercise of those virtues, speaking to the truly gracious among them.

2. True Empathy Comes from Holiness

Our holiness must be manifest. Paul joins these two together “the elect of God, holy” the latter is the evidence of the former. Having holiness is a strong motive to spur us towards more holiness. He reasons from their being holy to “put on therefore as the elect of God, holy”.

3. True Empathy Comes from God’s Love

The Lord’s love of approval towards us, delighting in those who are truly gracious, approves of His own graces in them (John 14:21). This love should constrain us to love Him again and show our love in the exercise of those graces which He requires in relation to our neighbour. He calls them beloved, i.e. with the Lord’s love of approval and reasons from their being so beloved: “Put on therefore as…beloved”.

4. True Empathy is Merciful

We ought to have the greatest inward feeling of and sympathy with the misery of others. In urging them to put on mercy, he refers to the inward parts of the body being moved by it. The word expresses such an intense motion of the heart and soul, that the very inward parts are moved by it. [The original word in Greek means the inward parts such as heart, liver etc. being the seat of the emotions]

5. True Empathy is Active

Our sympathy with others in their misery ought to be outward and not merely inward. This is done by helping them in their misery according to our ability, which is the “kindness” that they are to put on.

6. True Empathy is Humble

The grace of humility makes someone have a modest esteem of themselves due to a sense of their own weaknesses (Philippians 2:3). It makes them wish that others would esteem them similarly (1 Corinthians 3:5). Humility is essential for obtaining more grace (1 Peter 5:5). They must, therefore, put on humility of mind.

7. True Empathy is Long-suffering

The grace of meekness makes someone amenable and not easily provoked with the folly, weaknesses, and lesser wrongs done to him by others. Long-suffering moderates anger, even under the greatest abuse. Meekness and long-suffering are necessary graces which help us bear with the weaknesses of others to correct them (Galatians 6:1). They keep us from avenging ourselves (Romans 12:18-19) and in our patience make us possess our souls (Luke 21:19). We are to “put on…meekness, long-suffering”.

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Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

James Fergusson
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.
21 Jun, 2019

​In our digital world, relationships have also become digital. Sometimes this brings the benefit of making those who are far away near but it can also have the disbenefit of making those who are near, far away. Sometimes we see people in the same physical space but they are in their own digital worlds. It can also be easier to use electronic forms of communication when personal interaction would be possible. Why meet up with one friend when you can chat to multiple friends by simultaneous text conversations? But we miss tone, expression, body language, touch and presence. Some studies have concluded that technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because we’re speaking about a biblical priority.

The Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication. It speaks of open and unhindered interaction. In two short letters the apostle John shows the superiority of face-to-face meeting over “paper and ink” (2 John 12; 3 John 13). It is rather startling when we pause to think deeply about who was writing and what he was writing. Writing was useful in the mean time but it was not the best means. It was limited not in mere terms of efficiency but in communicating their love in Christ. Being able to “speak face to face” would make their joy full.

He could write his teaching about the faith but there was no substitute for being able to come to them. Then he could instruct them more fully in a way that would make their spiritual joy full. It reminds us also that audio as well as written sermons are ultimately no substitute for being present at a sermon. No internet preacher can replace the personal concern, awareness and prayers of a pastor who looks into your eyes and situation when he declares God’s Word. When God’s people meet together it also encourages one another (Hebrews 10:24-27). Live sharing and live-streaming a service are not the same thing.

Face-to-face interaction is also an emphasis in the letters of Paul. Twice in the same letter he expresses his desire to “see” the “face” of the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:17). He didn’t just desire it, he did everything he could do to make it happen. It was something that was so important to him that he was praying night and day it might happen (1 Thessalonians 3:10). His earnest desire and intention to see them is clear. He even uses the language of bereavement (“being taken from you”) to express his grief. Why did he want to be present with them? Because there was something lacking that needed to be made up through preaching to them and conversing with them personally. There were things he still needed to teach them. James Fergusson reflects on these expressions in this updated extract.

 

1. Christ’s People Need Each Other’s Presence

There is special delight and benefit in the company, presence, and mutual fellowship of the Lords people among themselves. The presence and fellowship of the flock is a special delight to a pastor whose work among them has been blessed by the Lord. Paul’s labours were blessed to the Thessalonians; his absence from them was therefore a great grief to him. For this reason also, he greatly desired their presence.

 

2. Satan Tries to Keep Christ’s People Apart

It is therefore no small part of Satan’s work and business to mar the comfort of any such fellowship. One way of doing this is by sowing strife, division and prejudice among them while they are together (Acts 15:39). Another method is through some way or other scattering them into various places. This means they cannot enjoy the mutual fellowship they would gladly have. Paul says that he was taken from them for a short and the following verse (1 Thessalonians 2:18) shows that this was Satan’s work.

The godly are separated through Satan’s craftiness or malice; this may be in their affections and opinions or in their location. When he has achieved this he does everything to hinder their re-uniting and meeting together again as one. This is how great an enemy he is to the rich benefits that may be had from the communion of saints. Paul says in verse 18 they he would have come to them but Satan hindered it.

 

3. A Pastor’s Presence is Unique

Through the Lord’s blessing, there is a unique power in a minister’s presence and preaching. It is used to begin, strengthen or carry on the work of grace in hearers. This goes beyond what there is in his writings, while he is absent. Preaching has a more explicit promise of this type of blessing (Romans 10:17). Whether behaviour, gesture, or expression, there is almost nothing in the preacher that God has sent to win souls which the Lord does not use to edify one way or another (1 Corinthians 9:22). This is why Paul, not content with writing to them, desires to see their face so much. It is so that he may complete that which was lacking in their faith.

 

4. A Pastor and People Need Each Other’s Presence

A godly pastor delights to be among his flock so much that even necessary absence from them (due to persecution or otherwise) will be grievous to him. It was so with Paul, whose necessary departure from the Thessalonians was no less grievous than a father’s separation from his destitute orphans. This is what the word “being taken from you” literally means.

 

5. Make Use of a Pastor’s Company While You Have it

The Lord’s people have a duty to be wise in making good use of the company and labours of godly and faithful ministers. They may be deprived of them unexpectedly, in a moment and twinkling of an eye. Paul was taken from them for a short time (or in a short time, instantly–as it literally means).

 

6. Christ’s People Have a Bond of Affection Even in Absence

Affection is no small comfort to the Lord’s people in their saddest scattering. Although they cannot enjoy one another’s bodily presence, they may be present with one another in heart and affection. They do this by remembering and thinking about one another’s situation (2 Corinthians 7:3). They should be suitably affected by it (Hebrews 13:3). They should not only pray to God but also by all lawful means to do good to each other (Colossians 4:12). Although Paul was taken from them in presence, he was not taken from them in heart.

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Is the Desire to Sin, Sinful?

Is the Desire to Sin, Sinful?

James Fergusson
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.
3 May, 2019

It may sound like a speculative question but a moment’s reflection confirms that it is intensely practical. Can someone disclaim responsibility for their desires to sin? Perhaps they would claim that those desires are part and parcel of a fallen world but not sinful in themselves. Are they free from sinning as long as they don’t act on the desire? These are questions that are currently under intense debate. They need clear answers from the Bible.

It is very clear that our own sinful desires drag us into sinful actions (James 1:13-15). Such desires are all part of “the flesh” (Galatians 5:24). The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that the desire to sin is sinful. Sin is not just in the actions but in the heart (Matthew 5:27–28; see Job 31:1). Evil actions and thoughts have their origin in the heart (Matthew 15:18-19; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:16-18).

There are sinful desires (Colossians 3:5). This is what the apostle Paul came to realise when he understood the real nature of the sin of coveting (Romans 7:7). In Romans 7:8 he explains how sin took the opportunity and advantage of the commandment to produce all kinds of sinful desires in him. An older word used for those desires is concupiscence. It is wrong to be a passive slave to these sinful desires as though it is impossible for a Christian to resist them and put them to death. This is also dealt with in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 which warns believers to avoid the sinful desires and passions of the Gentiles who do not know God. It is especially focussed on sexual sin. James Fergusson draws out the full implications of this verse to help us deal with sinful desires.

He explains how that in urging chastity, the apostle Paul shows how far abstinence from fornication (mentioned v3) reaches. It is not just restraining the external act but also the inward lust. The original word signifies a feverish fit or violent passion of burning desire that boils within, raging in the body (1 Corinthians 7:9). It is like a high fever that produces mental confusion. It stirs up both body and mind to the outward act of filthiness. Otherwise Paul says, they would be like the godless Gentiles, who were for the most part given over by God to be enslaved to their filthy lusts because they did not know God savingly. They do not know Him as He is revealed in His Word nor did they make right use of the knowledge they could have of Him by nature. God therefore gave them over to uncleanness (compare Romans 1:21 with 1:24).

 

1. Sinful desires easily take control

If sinful desires and the first stirrings of lust are not restrained in time they become passionate. They inflame the body and restrain the mind from solid thoughts of anything else except what will fulfil their goal. These violent passions and feverish fits of fleshly sinful desire disable both the body and mind from carrying out any duty of holiness in a way that is honouring to God. Paul shows that sinful desire grows into lust or violent passion and a kind of frenzy, as the word literally means. When lust prevails in this way it is the opposite of possessing the body in sanctification and honour (v4).

 

2. Sinful desires must be resisted

We ought to be diligent in seeking “to know how” to preserve chastity (v4). This will help to allay and root out those feverish fits of burning lust. Unless they are allayed one way or the other it is impossible for someone to possess their body as master of it. They are rather in daily danger of being enslaved to it to fulfil the utmost of those fleshly lusts burning in it. In requiring everyone to know how to possess their body not in sinful lust Paul implies that they are not in full possession of it otherwise. There is skill and knowledge required for keeping the body free of those boiling passions.

 

3. Sinful desires are the root of sin

One and the same sin has various degrees, each one making way for the next.  When we seek to put a sin to death we must not only lop the utmost branches (refraining from the outward act) but also restrain the inward desires of the heart after it. Paul urges us to set ourselves against the inward
lust or passion, of sinful desire as the best way to abstain from sinful desire breaking out into the outward act spoken of in verse 3.

Paul gives them a clear view of the tyranny of sin and of indulging its loathsome filthiness in others. He shows how it prevailed among the pagan Gentiles to warn them from it, “even as the Gentiles” he says.

 

Conclusion

Paul elsewhere plainly describes such sinful desires as sinful in the context of same sex attraction (Romans 1:24 and 26). This has become a contested area due to the trends in our culture. The factors and experience that give rise to those desires may be highly complex but the Bible is clear that such desires are nevertheless sinful. Just like any desire to sin, they are not morally neutral in any way. Thos Christians with a lonely, painful struggle against such desires must seek the help of the Spirit to put sin to death (Romans 8:13). Just as much as those who strive against other sinful desires. An important of this is to put on the new man as well as putting off the old (Ephesians 4:22-24). We need to proactively sow to the Spirit or else we will be sowing to the flesh (Galatians 6:8). It is the great calling of the believer to wage spiritual warfare against all sinful desires (Romans 6:11-12; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 1:14). How much we all need to be on our guard against sinful desires and to be positively putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14).

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Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

Remember How Christ’s Ascension Keeps on Giving?

James Fergusson
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.
18 Apr, 2019

For some reason we don’t seem to speak much about Christ’s ascension to heaven. It’s a key but neglected doctrine. Which is strange because it connects with the present glory and work of Christ. It also has everything to do with the current status and needs of God’s people. Christ in His human as well as His divine nature is enthroned and His people are there spiritually also (Colossians 3:3-4). Gifts flow from the throne of heaven to Christ’s people. Everything we need is secured by Christ being in heaven interceding for us (Hebrews 8:1).

The gifts that flow from the ascension are described in Ephesians 4:8. James Fergusson explains how we should understand and apply this. He notes how Paul uses Psalm 68:18 to confirm what he said in verse 7 about Christ as the origin and giver of all graces and gifts. In that part of the Psalm, David looks beyond the ark as a type and shadow, to Christ the substance. He prophesies of things to come as already past to point out their certainty. He foretells that Christ would ascend triumphantly on high (to the highest heavens, Ephesians 4:10). He would lead captivity captive, having triumphed over His enemies by the cross (Colossians 2:15). His ascension would continue the triumph by plainly declaring that He had entirely routed all the spiritual enemies of His Church and Kingdom.

Conquerors in their triumphal processions used to drive their captive enemies before their own chariots (see Judges 5:12). Triumphing conquerors also used to divide and scatter the spoil by giving gifts. Paul alludes to this. He shows that Christ by virtue of His ascension distributed a large measure of gifts and graces on His Church.

 

1. Christ’s Ascension Gives Heaven

Our Lord Jesus Christ, having finished the work which was given Him to do on earth (John 17:4)  ascended physically to heaven. He carried His human nature up there (Acts 1:9-10) so that He might be exalted in that glory which He had before the world existed (John 17:5). He went to take possession of heaven in our name (Ephesians 2:6) and prepare a place for us (John 14:2).

 

2. Christ’s Ascension Gives Victory

Christ engaged in warfare on our behalf with many strong and powerful enemies i.e. the devil, the world, sin, death and hell. He gained an absolute complete victory over all. Although the godly must have battles with these (Ephesians 6:12), Christ the Head of believers is now above the reach of danger from enemies, and consequently so are believers in their Head. They are above all danger also because all their enemies cannot harm their salvation (Romans 8:35-39). Sin and Satan no longer reign in them (Romans 6:12, 14). Death has lost its sting towards them (1 Corinthians 15:55) instead it becomes a passage to life (Philippians 1:23). He led captivity (or a multitude of captives) captive, these are those that fought agains Him.

Satan’s constant opposition against the Church and Kingdom of Christ does not arise from hopefulness of prevailing in that terrible work. It comes from his inveterate blinded malice against the salvation of sinners which drives him oppose it even though he knows he cannot harm it. All his malicious cruel actions against Christ had achieved nothing except his own eternal shame and confusion. He could not avoid knowing this at Christ’s ascension. Christ by His ascension openly declared that He had led captivity captive.

 

3. Christ’s Ascension Gives All Gifts and Graces

Common gifts are sometimes called grace (Ephesians 3:8) because they are freely given (1 Corinthians 4:7). From the example given in verse 11 of this grace in the gifts and offices of the ministry it is clear that grace is meant primarily in this sense here. It is only in those common (rather than saving) gifts and graces that real believers essentially differ. Some are given to one, and some to another (1 Corinthians 12:8). All have one and the same saving graces (2 Peter 1:1), however,  although they differ also in the measure and degree received of those, (1 John 2:13). In that respect, even saving graces may be also be meant here.

The previous verse (Ephesians 4:7) speaks of “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”.
All these gifts of grace come from the same source (Ephesians 4:8-12). They are all given for the same purpose (Ephesians 4:13-17). Grace here does not mean God’s favour or saving grace as in other places (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Instead it is the fruits that flow from this saving grace. He shows that although every true member of the Church has received grace it may be in a way that differs from the grace of others. Yet all those different graces of the different members are given by the same Christ. They are received to the extent which seems good to Christ as the giver to measure out to everyone.

He gives to everyone some gift and in some measure.  Thus, although the same saving grace is given to all who are truly regenerate, it is not given to all in the same measure. Yet no one has all gifts or all the same offices in which they may exercise their gifts (verse 11).  The greatest degree of gifts and graces, which God bestows on any is far below the fulness of grace which is in Christ (Joh. 3:34). Those who have received most, are capable of receiving more. Receiving grace according to a measure implies they are capable of receiving more.

By His ascension Christ manifested the good He had secured to those for whom He died. Common gifts were purchased by His death as well as saving graces. This includes common gifts for the good and edification of His Church (Matthew 7:22-23). Both saving grace and common gifts are included here in the word “gifts”. At His ascension, He gave these gifts that were purchased by His death in larger measure than He had previously. He gave them “to men” generally, even to rebels (Psalm 68:18).

 

Conclusion

These are just some of the gifts that we continue to receive from the ascension of Christ besides the primary gift of the Holy Spirit. There is also access to the throne of grace to find more grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). These truths are well summarised by the Larger Catechism (Q53). It speaks of how how Christ was was exalted in His ascension because He

in our nature, and as our head, (Hebrews 6:20) triumphing over enemies, (Ephesians 4:8) visibly went up into the highest heavens, there to receive gifts for men, (Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:10; Psalm 68:18) to raise up our affections thither, (Colossians 3:1-2) and to prepare a place for us, (John 14:3) where himself is, and shall continue till his second coming at the end of the world (Acts 3:21)

Larger Catechism Q54 also explains how Christ is exalted in His sitting at the right hand of God. It is because

as God-man he is advanced to the highest favour with God the Father,(Philippians 2:9) with all fulness of joy, (Acts 2:28) glory, (John 17:5) and power over all things in heaven and earth;(Ephesians 1:22; 1 Peter 3:22) and doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies; furnisheth his ministers and people with gifts and graces, (Ephesians 4:10-12; Psalm 110) and maketh intercession for them (Romans 8:34).

The ascension reminds us that He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:3). He is there reigning and expecting all His enemies to be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13; 1 Corinthians 15:25). So it should also give us hope, encouragement and joy so that we may be steadfast and always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

Keep Calm in An Age of Anger

James Fergusson
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.
22 Mar, 2019

We’re getting angrier, about a lot of things. It’s the dominant emotion in western societies on a daily basis. That hothouse of anger–social media–is even more ablaze with rage (according to a new study). Frustration and moral outrage explode against a great deal we cannot control or even influence. It’s an emotional contagion where seeing people express anger drives others to display it too. And our own irritability works in the same way. Every outburst legitimises the next. How much of this is righteous anger? And how can we resist sinful anger? We need to know.

One of the clearest verses of the Bible dealing with anger is actually a command telling us to be angry. But the full command is “Be…angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26). It goes on to forbid letting “the sun go down on your wrath”. It gives us counsel about keeping righteous anger and killing sinful anger. Later in the same chapter (verse 31) we learn about the different types of sinful anger that people choose to express. James Fergusson has especially helpful reflections on these verses in the following updated extract.

 

1. How to Identify Sinful Anger

Sinful anger or unjust desire of revenge is, when anger is kindled rashly (Proverbs 14:17) for no cause, (Matthew 5:22) or for a very light one (1 Corinthians 13:5). Or it is when it exceeds just bounds (Genesis 49:7).

There are different types of anger. They are brought together in verse 31 which lists bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil-speaking and malice.

(a) Bitterness

This is the lowest degree of sinful anger. It includes all secret, hidden displeasure and alienation of affection. It has more of discontent and grudge, than of revenge in it (Psalm 37:1).

(b) Wrath

This is fierce, impetuous rage, and passionate commotion of the heart and affections due to a felt sense of a perceived or real injury. It prevents and obstructs the use of reason, which being soon up, is as soon allayed, 1 Sam. 25:21, 22. with 32.

(c) Angry Shouting

Clamour means boisterous words, loud menaces, and other inordinate speech. These are the black smoke by which the fire of anger and wrath which has been kindled within first manifests itself (Acts 15:39).

(d) Evil Speaking

Evil speaking (or blasphemy as the word means) is a further fruit of wrath and anger. This is disgraceful and insulting speech by which someone who is incensed seeks to stain the reputation of the person who has done them (real or perceived) wrong (1 Samuel 20:30).

(e) Malice

Malice is rooted anger and continuing wrath. It makes the person consumed by it daily intent on all opportunities for revenge. They are completely implacable until they get their vindictive inclination satisfied (Romans 1:31)

Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil-speaking and malice grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). They greatly darken the work of grace in the heart by which He seals believers. There are no sins more opposed to the fruit of the Spirit (mentioned in Galatians 5:22). Where such sins are given way to, grace must be in decay. Thus, the apostle immediately adds to the command not to grieve the Spirit “let all bitterness, wrath and anger be put away”. This implies that otherwise they would grieve the Spirit.

Sin is so subtle and we are so weak and unskilled in resisting it that when it gets in, one sin makes way for a further. Thus, it goes from bad to worse. The wisest course therefore is to oppose it in good time, lest it gathers strength by our indulging it. The apostle outlines various degrees of sinful anger. The first makes way for the next and the next is always worse and a step nearer to the worst height.

 

2. How to Have Righteous Anger

Anger is a natural affection, planted in our first parents at the first creation. Indeed it was also found in Christ Himself, who was without sin (Mark 3:5). It is not in itself a sin therefore, nor always sinful. As it is in its own nature it is indifferent. It becomes good or evil, according to its reasons, causes, objects and purposes. Sometimes and in some situations being angry is a necessary duty for a Christian to be angry e.g. when anger flows from zeal to God’s glory (John 2:15 with v17) and love to our brother (Proverbs 13:24).

It is righteous when it is arises from just and weighty causes. Chief of these is God’s dishonour, whether by our own sins (2 Corinthians 7:11) or the sins of others (Exodus 32:19). It is incensed not so much against the person of our brother as against his sin. It is therefore against sin in ourselves, as much as in others (Matthew 7:5). This is clear when it does not hinder other duties of love which we owe to the person with whom we are angry (Exodus 32:19 with 32). It is also clear when it does not impair our access to God in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). We must not go beyond the bounds of our calling, nor should we give way to private revenge in pursuing our anger (Luke 9:54-55). When the reasons, purposes and behaviour are right, anger is praiseworthy and commendable. The apostle commands anger in the right circumstances.

 

3. How to Restrain Sinful Anger

It is easy to pass from moderation to excess in our natural affections of joy, fear, grief, desire. This goes from what is lawful and in some cases necessary, to what is sinful (Psalm 2:11). When anger is given way to it is most difficult to keep within and not exceed bounds and not to exceed. This happens by transgressing one or other of the limitations of righteous anger mentioned before. He cautions not to sin when we are angry.

 

4. How to Watch Against Sinful Anger

It is possible (even in the child of God) for lawful anger to degenerate into sinful wrath. The mind is embittered and accordingly rages against the person who has done the wrong. But the child of God must not have an implacable spirit which cannot be exhausted by length of time. If their anger at any time should exceed bounds and turn to wrath or bitterness of spirit, he exhorts them to suppress it speedily. They must suppress it even before the sun goes down, not cherishing that evil or indulging themselves in it for the space of one night. The apostle supposes they may have anger but they must not maintain it long. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath”.

It is not enough for Christians to refrain from the venting of their passions in their inordinate expressions and actions; but they must also, and in order to their refraining from those, set about the rectifying of their inward affections and most secret distempers of their spirit: otherwise, if the flame of anger and wrath doth burn within, it will most readily send up a black smoke of clamour and evil speaking, to the offence of others: for, Paul forbiddeth not only clamour and evil-speaking, but also all bitternesse, wrath and anger.

 

5. How to Deal With Sinful Anger

The child of God is not to be discouraged and give up resisting sin. Nor are they to run away when sin prevails. But, having received a new supply of strength from Christ (2 Corinthians 12:8) by exercising faith in prayer, they must attack sin afresh with renewed courage. In doing this they may recover what was previously lost. Paul instructs that if their anger should at any time be excessive they should set themselves against it without delay and not let the sun go down on their wrath.

It is not sufficient to suppress and weaken our sinful corruptions. We ought to aim at, and rest satisfied with nothing less than totally subduing them. We should remove them by pulling them up by the very roots. He says “Let all bitterness etc….be put away”. The word put away means: “Let it be lifted up, and so destroyed”.

Sins of the tongue and outward actions are to be put away and put to death as well as sins of the heart. They are in some ways more dangerous (Matthew 18:7 because more dangerous to others. They always flow from a defiled heart (Matthew 15:19) and make it worse than it was.

 

Conclusion

In a time of moral outrage we need to be clear about true righteous anger and how and when it should be expressed. The people of God also have an opportunity in an angry age to show the grace of Christ. Watching against and dealing with sinful anger marks out believers as different, especially when we do not join the bandwagon of vitriol. It’s extremely hard to deal with sinful anger, it just seems to come from nowhere. But the more that we seek grace through prayer take steps against it the less we will be defeated by it.  The Holy Spirit who is grieved with all forms of sinful anger has been given to help us put it to death.

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Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

James Fergusson
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.
1 Mar, 2019

For many of us it seems like time equals pressure. We’re “pressed for time” because there’s less available than what we need to fulfil our “pressing priorities”. It seems like time gets away from us and there’s never enough to achieve everything. Appreciating its value only seems to add to the pressure we feel in relation to it. Of course we all have exactly the same time, 24 hours in a day. Its limitations and value call for wise stewardship. How should we go about that?

The great challenge is to live wisely in relation to time. After speaking about living wisely, the apostle Paul goes on to identify one particular area; our use of time. We must “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:15-16). But what does that mean? And what is it to redeem the time during days that are described as “evil”? In the following updated extract James Fergusson gives a helpful explanation and application of this verse. There are some key principles here for how we use our time.

The apostle illustrates the previous instruction (v15) by pointing out one main way of walking wisely. He exhorts them to redeem the time. This means, make use of every opportunity and fitting occasion for doing good. The word translated “time” literally means the moment of time which is fitting and opportune for doing anything (Galatians 6:10). It means to use it with more diligence than usual. This may mean denying themselves their own pleasures, ease and worldly profit. In this way they regain the time previously lost by negligence. They should do as much in the present opportunity as they might have done in the past if time had been used with diligence rather than being misspent.

They are to be like merchants (the word “redeem” relates to that) who buy their commodities while the fit time of buying lasts. Perhaps they have had great losses, or previously spent their time idly. They deny themselves their own pleasures and ease and by greater diligence than usual seek to redeem and buy back again the time which is lost. He enforces this duty of redeeming time in view of the evil of the present times due to the wickedness of men. He also refers to various troubles in those times that were hanging over the heads of churches. Every opportunity of doing good might be taken from them shortly (Ecclesiastes 11:2; John 9:4).

 

1. Identify the Best Time

Some times and periods are more fit and opportune than others for doing something in the service of God or others.  A great part of  spiritual wisdom and accurate living consists in fulfilling the duties God requires at the right time in a diligent and timely way. Those who misspend their time out of love for personal ease, profit, pleasure and reputation ignore this. They neglect the one good thing which God’s glory and their own salvation require to be done at a particular time. They are like fools since wise living consists in redeeming the time.

 

2. Identify How to Proportion Time

We are naturally prodigal and lavish in misspending time. It is a great part of divine wisdom to regain misspent time by double diligence. We can buy it back again, so far as is possible, by reducing our comforts such as our time in sleep, and weaning ourselves from ordinary and lawful recreations at other times. This command to redeem the time, implies this.

 

3. Identify How to Live in the Worst Times

We must not comply with the evils of the times in order to gain the favour of wicked men and avoid their hatred (Hosea 5:10-11). The way in which sin and wickedness abounds in our time should make us more conscientious and diligent in spending time profitably.  We should be even more focused on accurate and circumspect living by keeping at a great distance from anything sinful in the times in which we live (Revelation 3:4). Evil times not only threaten to remove all opportunity of doing good (Ecclesiastes 11:2) but are also accompanied with many temptations from evil examples, trials and persecutions (Matthew 24:24). This requires greater circumspection. The dishonour which God gets from many in such times should make us honour Him all the more, (Psalm 119:136). Paul makes the evils of the times a motive, not only to redeem the time but also to walk circumspectly.

 

4. Identify How to Use the Worst Times to the Best Advantage

No matter how evil the times may be, God’s children can and will make best use of them. They can even use the evil of those times for God’s honour and their own spiritual advantage. The worse that the times are, they able all the more to find a way to make the best of them for these purposes. Paul makes the evil of the times a spur to incite the godly to do their duty. He speaks of “redeeming the time, for the days are evil”.

 

Conclusion

Perhaps we feel that there are ever greater demands on our time in a generation in which there is decline and even hostility in relation to the gospel. There are challenges not faced in past generations that witnessed greater spiritual prosperity. The encouragement that the apostle Paul gives is that this actually provides an opportunity for the wise use of time to the maximum glory of God. It needs wisdom and discernment to identify what we are called to do and how we are to serve God not just with our lives but also in this particular time of our lives. We often feel that we have squandered time or simply did not have enough but Paul encourages us that we can buy that time back again with such discernment. We need to identify the opportunities we have now for the glory of God that we will not always have. It is a significant challenge but we know where to go to receive such wisdom.

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