Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times

Making the Best Use of Time in the Worst of Times
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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Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts

Thinking the Best Thoughts
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.
8 Feb, 2019

Recent research concludes that “taking time to think kind thoughts about yourself and loved ones has psychological and physical benefits”. The study set out to discover why this could lead to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health. Participants were given an audio tape that either encouraged them to think positively or negatively. There was a positive physical benefit for those in the first group. Yet the most important thing is not merely our physical but our spiritual wellbeing. We can think thoughts that make us feel good. But the most important question is: are they true? Only what is true and right will lead to spiritual wellbeing. What sort of things should we think about? The Bible of course, has the answer.

The Bible does tell us that we ought to think kind thoughts but that is not enough in itself. Rather, it begins by emphasising that they must be true. Philippians 4:8 tells us we must think about things that are virtuous, just, pure and lovely. We also ought to think on things that are praiseworthy, of good report and that commend others for the right things. It’s an attractive list but how do we go about putting it into practice? In the following updated extract James Fergusson reflects on what this means for us. He shows that Paul’s concern is that the Christians in Philippi would make the truth and the Christian faith attractive to the non-Christians around them by the way in which they lived. They had to be careful in such a society not to be drawn away with things that were impure, dishonest

 

1. Think About How You Live

Think on these things means literally (in Greek) to search out something diligently, by comparing one thing with another like accountants. Christians have a duty to think about how they live, especially when they live among those who hate religion and seek every opportunity to speak evil of it. They must set themselves to search, find out and draw up accounts of what means and conduct may adorn religion most and make it lovely unto others. This is how they are to conduct themselves in all things.

 

2. Think About Everything True

Christians are not to be so scrupulous that they reject things which are in themselves true and good. Even though they are professed and practised by those who are otherwise extremely bad. He exhorts them to think on and imitate everything true and honest, even among the heathen.

 

3. Think About Nothing But the Truth

Christians have a duty to discern truth from error, rejecting the latter and adhering to the former (Ephesians 4:14-15). They are to speak nothing but truth in their ordinary communication (Ephesians 4:25). They are to do what they promise to do (Psalm 15:4). Thus, they are to think on whatever things are true.

 

4. Think About Things that Are Honourable

Christians have a duty to live in a way that by the whole tendency of their conduct they may gain respect from others for themselves and their profession. Their whole life must be characterised by nothing but gravity. They must be far from vulgarity, superficiality and vanity in their clothing, words, actions and all their behaviour (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Paul exhorts them to consider those things that are honest (or grave, dignified or honourable as it is in the original Greek).

 

5. Think About Things that Are Just

Christians ought to consider (and do accordingly) things that are just. This means whatever we are bound to do to others what we owe:

  • to God or man (Matthew 22:21);
  • by the law of nature (1 Timothy 5:8);
  • by national law (Ruth 3:13)
  • by our position of responsibility (Nehemiah 6:11);
  • by agreement e.g. a sum of money or an amount of grain (Colossians 4:1);
  • by the rules of prudence, equity or charity (Colossians 4:1);
  • by respect, fear or honour (Romans 13:7);
  • by goodwill (Romans 13:8).

It may be something additional to these so that none are defrauded of that which is their own. Paul directs them to think on the things that are just.

 

6. Think About Things that Are Pure

Christians who seek to adorn the gospel must strive for purity and chastity in every part of their conduct. They must be far from anything in words or action which may tend to obscenity or any bitter root of uncleanness within (Ephesians 4:29). Paul exhorts them to think on the things that are pure or chaste.

 

7. Think About Things that Are Lovely

Christians are not, however, to venture into things that are sinful to please those whom they live among (2 Peter 2:7-8). Yet they are bound (so far as they can with a good conscience) to make themselves and their profession commendable, even to wicked men. They do this by their lovely, amiable and accommodating conduct (Titus 3:2-3). Paul directs them to think on those things that are lovely.

 

8. Think About Things that Are of Good Report

Christians are not to hunt after the applause of others (Galatians 1:10). Yet, they are to live in such a way that they may be spoken well of deservedly, lest others speak evil of the gospel because of them. They do good to others according to their ability and responsibilities. They avoid everything which may tend to make their names stink and be repugnant to others (1 Peter 2:2). Thus, he commands them to think on things that are of good report.

 

9. Think About Things that Are of Praiseworthy

A Christian cannot immediately embrace everything that is well reported of. Nor seek everything that may gain praise for themselves among those with whom they live (Luke 16:15). Unless something is virtuous in itself and truly worthy of praise, they are to reject and abhor it. Even though it is praised by others as much as possible. Paul exhorts them to think on those things which are of good report: but with this caution, if there be any virtue or praise in them.

 

Conclusion

What we focus our minds on matters a great deal not just physically, but spiritually and morally. It matters not just for us but for those around us and above all it matters to God.  Just like the participants in the research, what we listen to matters and has an influence on us. The voices that we listen to in society, the media and around us can influence us too much. We need to take care that we are not listening to instructions that are negative and harmful in a spiritual and moral sense. Discernment is able to take whatever things may be true and virtuous and leave the rest. We have to be intentional about our minds and habits so as to live in the way most glorifying to God and that makes the gospel most attractive to others.

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Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist
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.
27 Sep, 2018

You can protect your children with the best intellectual arguments and the strictest controls on unhealthy influences. Yet the all-important matter is a life that matches up to what we profess. Scripture tells us this (Proverbs 22:6; Genesis 18:19). Recent research confirms this (for what it may be worth).  One study concludes that the degree to which parents consistently live out their professed convictions has a strong impact on when and whether their children become atheists. Of course such research leaves no room for the grace of God. Yet we know from Scripture that example can have a powerful impact through God’s grace (Matthew 5:16; 1 Timothy 4:12; Philippians 3:17). What does our life say about what we believe?​

It’s a huge responsibility. We are so imperfect. But we need to use this too to show our children that we (like them) are sinners in need of grace. How can we be more real? We can only be the best example we can be if we follow the best example ourselves. The Apostle Paul underlines the importance of parental example when he commands us to be “followers of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). We are to show mutual kindness and mercy in forgiving one another, because of Gods example in forgiving them for Christ’s sake (Ephesians 4:32). They are to be followers of God in showing kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Following God in these things is commanded in Matthew 5:44-45 and Luke 6:35. In 1 Peter 1:16 it relates to all the virtues that we can display in following God.

Paul gives a reason why they should imitate God in this way. It is because they were His children by adoption. They are not only children, but dear children and dearly beloved by God their Father. They are therefore to imitate Him in displaying those virtues that would evidence themselves to be of His children.

 

1. We Have God’s Example

God’s works of mercy towards believers not only free them from sin and misery but also given them a motive to show mercy to others.  God in forgiving them has created a pattern to be followed by believers in forgiving one another and be “followers of God”.

2. We Must Follow God’s Example as Far as We Can

We neither ought nor can imitate God in His works of creation and providence (Isaiah 14:13-14). Neither can we presume to imitate Him in anything beyond His revealed will prescribes as our duty, (Isaiah 8:20). We should, however, look at whether there is any resemblance between any of His attributes or actions and any virtue or duty prescribed for us. We ought to look on it as a pattern for us to follow. He says “followers of God” in relation to His forgiving them for Christ’s sake.

3. We Must Follow God’s Example in How as Well as What He Does

It is not enough to do to others the same things which God has done to us.  We must also seek to follow Him in the way in which He does them. This will mean we do not do them from any base motive or wrong objective but rather from a desire to be conformed to Him and what He requires of us in His Word. Following God implies an endeavour to conform ourselves to Him.

4. We Have No Excuse for Not Following God’s Example

God’s example (in the things where we can follow it) is the only unerring pattern to be absolutely followed without any reserve. Anyone else’s practice is only to be followed as far as their example co-oincides with God’s Word and practice. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul commands them to follow him with an express qualification, as far as he was a follower of Christ. Here his command is absolute and unlimited: be followers of God.

5. We Have the Strongest Motives to Follow God’s Example

The Lord enters into the most intimate friendship and relationship with those whose sins He pardons. He not only frees them from deserved wrath but places them among the children and makes them His adopted sons and daughters. He calls them here God’s dear children, of whom He said in chapter 4:32 that God had forgiven them for Christ’s sake.

All those who are dear children to God by adoption should consider their highest privileges as the strongest motives for duty. In particular they must set themselves to imitate Him in showing mercy, kindness, forgiveness the other duties that He has made lovely by His own example. Paul makes their privileges a motive to imitate God and be followers of God as dear children.

6. We Must Follow God’s Example Lovingly

We must not only seek to imitate God, but also do it as dear children. This means following Him humbly (Matthew 18:2-3). It also means natural affection (children love to imitate and so please their parents) not being compelled as servants and slaves. He says “as dear children” pointing out not only why but how, they should follow Him.

Conclusion

“Do as I say, not as I do”, is not a good enough maxim for Christians or for Christian parents. A great deal depends not only on what parents say to their children but whether they themselves do as they say. Thomas Gouge (1605-1681) wrote a lot about how life in the home should be shaped by God’s Word. He says that when children follow the good example of their parents in spiritual things and upright living it preserves their influence even after their death. He points to how Scripture stresses that the good kings of Judah were following David’s example (1 Kings 3:3; 2 Kings 22:2). Yet it is solemn to think that the reverse influence may also continue from the example of parents (Genesis 12:10-20; 26:7-11).

In what we have considered we have great encouragement to seek to have the image of God more and more renewed in us. Although we fail frequently, we have the resources of grace to be the example we ought to our children. The mercy of God in forgiving is held out to us as an encouragement to followers of Him and provide an example to all around us.

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Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection

Resisting Perfectionism in Striving for True Perfection
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 Sep, 2018

​Perfectionism is ruining a generation. In a world that places maximum value on performance, status and image anything less than perfection is failure. Perfectionism has been increasing over the generations and is an epidemic hitting millennials the hardest. A recent study by psychologists advances this conclusion. “This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies”, they say. Their definition of perfectionism is “an irrational desire for flawlessness”. This enormous peer pressure can lead to depression and suicide. In seeking to perfect the imperfect self, millennials are focussed on the wrong things in the wrong way. They are focussed on image and success rather than spiritual and moral concerns. They have no place for grace, only merit. It prompts the question: how do we strive for true perfection while resisting perfectionism?

In one sense perfection is a goal in the Christian life (Matthew 5:48; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15). But grace teaches us that God is working with the imperfect to bring them to ultimate perfection in eternity (Ephesians 5:26-27). Grace doesn’t despise perfection but neither does it worship it or expect to achieve it in our own strength. Paul expresses this in a helpful way. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after” (Philippians 3:12). Yet Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres.

Paul is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection in these, even though that is beyond this life. Those who (like Paul) have attained the most of any, still come short. As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. Paul emphasises this in the context of the false apostles who were seeking perfection through circumcision and conformity with the ceremonial law. Paul discards that but also shows how he still has not arrived at perfection in this the things of Christ, he is striving towards it. The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments Philippians 3:12.

 

1. We Will Always be Striving After Perfection

Those who have made greatest progress in the knowledge of Christ and in conformity with him, are far short of what they should be. This is how it was with Paul. “Not as though I had already attained“, he says.

 

2. We Should be Conscious of Our Imperfection

Believers ought to be conscious of this imperfection and also acknowledge it sometimes. They may be kept humble by this and brought to aspire to further growth. They will also desire that others may be preserved from dangerous mistakes concerning them or of a high esteem of themselves. This is what Paul does when he says, “Not as though I had already attained“.

 

3. Our Imperfection Should Encourage Not Discourage Us

We are conscious in the right way of falling-short of what we should be when we are not discouraged by this.  Instead it should incite us to make swifter progress toward the mark. Thus, Paul says “but I follow after”.

 

4. We Should Strive for Perfection Even Though it is Not Attainable in This Life

Though perfection in holiness is not attainable in this life, we are still to aim at no less. Paul followed after in order that he might lay hold of that perfection which was yet lacking.

 

5. Striving for Perfection is Our Gracious Response to Christ

Any motion towards that which is spiritually good comes entirely from Jesus Christ. His grace first lays hold on us in our effectual calling. It infused principles of a new life in us when we were dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1). Through this we are made to exert ourselves in the way of holiness. Thus, Paul is first apprehended by Christ and then follows after to apprehend. “I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus”.

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What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?

What Are Your Priorities This Year?
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.
27 Dec, 2017

At this time of year, many people stop and reflect. They review the past and take stock. Then they set their priorities for a coming year. If people commit to this in outward things as well as their personal life how much more is it necessary in spiritual things? Priorities are significant because they identify what is really important to us. They rise above mere resolutions or wishful thinking. This is a biblical activity. Paul tells us of how he considered the future in the light of the past. He tells us that he had only one real priority and he was determined to pursue it.

Paul makes clear that he is not “perfect” and has not attained what he desires but still he perseveres. In Philippians 3:12, he is conscious of his own shortcoming. He has not attained the knowledge of Christ and progress in grace he desires. He does not have the conformity with Christ that he pursues. But he continues to strive after no less than perfection, even though that is beyond this life. Even those who have attained most come short. This should encourage us as we review our imperfect attainments.

As James Fergusson notes, being conscious of and acknowledging our imperfection keeps us humble. It prompts us to aspire to further growth. We should not be discouraged but rather encouraged to strive for better progress towards the mark.

In verses 13-14 Paul uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look back to estimate what ground they have covered. Rather, they forget what is behind and bend their bodies forward. They aim their heart, eye and whole direction, straight towards the finish of the race until they attain it. Paul was sustained in this race by hope of the rich reward (purchased by Christ) to which he was called. What was Paul’s one priority? Progress in the knowledge of Christ and the “holiness” without which none of us shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Is it ours? Will it be ours this year? How do we live our lives under the influence of this supreme priority? The following is an updated extract from James Fergusson’s comments on these verses from Philippians 3.

 

1. Knowing Christ and Holiness is the Supreme Priority

We must be seriously inclined towards progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness above all other things. We must not do this superficially and only by the by. It was Paul’s one thing: he said “this one thing I do (or mind)”.

 

2. We Must Pursue this With Our Full Energy

The Christian who wants to make progress in the way to heaven is like those who are running in a race.

(a) The Runner Does Not Look Back to Estimate Progress

The Christian who wants to make progress is like the runner does not cast his eye back to reckon how much of the way is already past.They may review of what has been done already not only to be humbled for shortcomings but also to see reasons for praising God and encouragement (1 Corinthians 15:10). The Christian is not to be so taken up with it as to rest on it. There is no reason to be puffed up with pride as if enough has already been done or anything else that would impede further progress. In this way Paul speaks of “forgetting those things which are behind”, as if he had done nothing.

(b) The Runner Looks Forward

The runner is mostly taken up with the part of the way still to be run and they bend forward in it. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress must take time to reckon up how much of  the way still lies ahead. They assess what sins are yet to be mortified; what duties are yet almost untouched; what hard activities they may yet be called to undergo. The more we see of these kind of things, the more effort we must make in advancing forward. Thus, Paul speaks of “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

(c) The Runner Keeps Looking at the Finish

The runner keeps his eye on the mark and steers his whole progress towards it. He does not turn aside or stop due to any difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix their eye on the end of the race. That goal is perfection in holiness. They must aim all their actions and attempts at that mark and press forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way. This is what Paul did: “I press toward the mark“.

 

3. Considering the Reward Inspires Greater Progress

The thoughts of the prize and worth of the reward give strength to the runner, making them run faster. Heaven and glory is the rich prize – a free reward of grace (not earned by merit) – for the Christian (Romans 6:23). The Christian who wants to make real progress should have this much in their thoughts. This heartens us against all hardships and discouragements, faintings and failings we are assaulted with and tempted to. This is what Paul was doing: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling”.

 

4. The Reward is All of Grace

Heaven and glory are only given as a reward to those who continue in their Christian progress until they come to the end of the race. Yet it is in no way merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s poor efforts but from above, from God’s high grace. They receive this through the merits of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul calls it “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ“.

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Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure

Your Role in Preventing Ministry Failure
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 Jul, 2017

​Why do some ministers fail completely? Certain high-profile pastors (most notably in the United States) have fallen in recent years, badly and publicly. Some observe the numbers of pastors haemorrhaging at an alarming rate. Surveys suggest that the two main reasons are burnout and moral failure. The two are not unconnected. Sometimes moral failure follows on from burnout but they arise from the same causes. Burnout often occurs due to chasing outward success and the approval of others. Success means focusing on what is visible and attracts attention, even if it means neglecting the inward life and cultivating personal godliness towards others. Moral failure begins with the neglect of the inward life. The origins of such failure are hidden and it may take time before they become more visible. How can you prevent what you cannot see?

The issues involved are spiritual, spiritual sins such as pride and inward decline. Spiritual pride goes before a fall. Perhaps ministers begin to believe that they are “perfect” simply because there is an expectation that they must be. Perhaps they become detached from their message and start to think that they are “above the rules”. Certainly, it must stem from failure to keep short accounts with God and confess particular sins regularly and particularly. The apostle Paul had strict self-discipline in his watch against sin – lest having preached to others he himself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Yet there is another kind of ministerial failure: going about the spiritual duties of the ministry in an unspiritual way. This has a serious impact not only on the pastor himself but also on those to whom he ministers. There is a lesson for us all in terms of the expectations that we place on ministers in terms of outward things. As long as things seem to go well outwardly there may be less concern about spiritual prosperity. Perhaps we do not wisely consider how to encourage the preacher without feeding his pride. Sometimes church members are also less comfortable (if they are honest) with high spiritual standards and make this clear in various ways. It can help create a climate in which the causes of such failure flourish.

This is a gospel issue, since it affects the conviction with which the gospel is declared and also its credibility if the messenger fails to live up to the message. The souls of many are at stake. The conduct of a negligent minister has eternal consequences (1 Timothy 4:16).

It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. (Robert Murray M‘Cheyne)

How does this relate to those who are not ministers themselves? The most important means at your disposal for combatting the spiritual causes of ministry failure is prayer. It is an essential but often forgotten duty. As opposed to negative criticism (justified or not) it is extremely positive and constructive. The apostle Paul appeals for the prayers of God’s people on many occasions (Romans 15:30-33; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; Philemon 22). In some cases he makes the brief but earnest appeal: “pray for us”. In Romans 15 he asks them to strive together with him in prayer. The word means an agonising struggle such as combat or wrestling. He asked for prayer in the context of opposition and persecution. Ministers may not face the same kind of persecution but they are the focus of much opposition in an age of apostasy.

“Let the thought sink deep into the heart of every church, that their minister will be such a minister as their prayers make him. … How perilous is the condition of that minister … whose heart is not encouraged, whose hands are not strengthened, and who is not upheld by the prayers of his people!…It is at a fearful expense that ministers are ever allowed to enter the pulpit without being preceded, accompanied, and followed by the earnest prayers of the churches. It is no marvel that the pulpit is so powerless, and ministers so often disheartened when there are so few to hold up their hands. … When the churches cease to pray for ministers, ministers will no longer be a blessing to the churches.” (Gardiner Spring)

How ought we to pray for ministers? James Fergusson gives a number of illuminating comments on some of Paul’s requests for prayers.

 

1. Pray for Your Minister

Whatever abilities and graces a minister may have, he should seek the help of God’s people committed to his charge for further enabling him to go about the duties of his calling. He is to seek the help of their prayers especially (Colossians 4:3). Everyone no matter their gifts can engage in this. Paul assumes this and therefore calls on all (not excluding the least) to help him by their prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:25). He craved the help of their prayers as one who prayed for them (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

The most able ministers who have most grace are usually most conscious of the weighty burden of the ministry. They are conscious of the need for their own efforts, study and secret wrestling with God in prayer in secret. Yet in order to be best fitted for its duties, they see the necessity of not only this but also of the assistance and prayers of others. Paul, an able minister with eminent graces considers it necessary to seek the help of others for himself, emphasising “And for me” (Ephesians 6:19). Those Christians who are most eminent in gifts and graces are usually most conscious of their own failings. They also highly prize the worth of other Christians rather than undervaluing them as compared with themselves. They are ready to condescend to receive some spiritual benefit and advantage from them. Though Paul exceeded all in spiritual things yet he seeks the help of their prayers with the greatest affection.

 

2. Pray for Preservation

In Philippians 1:19, Paul attributes his preservation despite much adversity to the Spirit of Christ as obtained by their prayers for him. By salvation we understand, not only his eternal wellbeing but his constancy in avowing truth and the preservation of his temporal life for the time being. Prayer conscientiously engaged in is an excellent means for drawing from God through Christ the best mercies, not only for ourselves but also others for whom we pray. Thus, through the prayer of these Philippians, Paul would receive supply from Christ.

 

3. Pray for Liberty in Preaching

Piety and knowledge are not the only things required in a minister, they must also have a gift of utterance (Ephesians 6:19). In other words, a singular dexterity to express his thoughts to others in an appropriate, clear and persuasive way. Without this, his other abilities can avail little to inform the understanding or work on the emotions of his hearers. This is why Paul chiefly desires that utterance may be given to him.

Whatever gift a minister has of this nature (whether naturally or otherwise) he is not to rely on his gift and skill when he comes to exercise it in preaching so much as to depend on God. He must depend on Him for direct influence and assistance to strengthen his memory, uphold and order his speech and give him the present actual exercise of his gift. Without this he will either fail in his use of it or give the glory to his own abilities if he does not depend on God. This will provoke the Lord to blast his efforts and make them useless. Although Paul already had a gift of utterance, having now preached so long and so well, he wants them not only to pray for it to be continued but also that God would provide its actual exercise whenever he made use of it.

 

4. Pray for Boldness in Preaching

Paul asks for prayer in relation to this in Ephesians 6:19. A competent gift of utterance is not the only thing required in a minister.  He must also have faithful boldness in delivering his message without servile fear or partiality. Otherwise he may tickle the ear but cannot rouse up dead and sleeping consciences. Paul asks them to pray not only that he may have utterance but that he may be assisted to open his mouth boldly.

People are usually greatly incensed when their ministers deal with them frankly and can hardly endure being spoken to with holy boldness (Isaiah 30:10). Even the best ministers are greatly influenced by an unmortified fear of man and a sinful reticence to trust the Lord with the personal consequences of faithful boldness (Matthew 10: 26, 28; Exodus 4:10,13). Special assistance and influence from God is necessary therefore to make a minister open his mouth boldly. This means not concealing any necessary truth, not forbearing reproof of any known sin, not fearing anyone or considering danger and loss he may meet with for so doing. Paul asks them to seek this from God on his behalf “that he may open his mouth boldly”.

 

5. Pray for Christ-centred Preaching

Ministers must seriously consider the excellency, worth and mysteriousness of the subject they must preach and make known. This would entirely convince them of their own insufficiency for such a task and their need of assistance from God and the help of their people’s prayers for obtaining His assistance. Considering the mystery of the gospel that he was to make known is what moved Paul to distrust his own strength and seek the help of their prayers.

Such assistance from God is not for their own sake, to be praised or approved by men but that the Lord’s people may be edified and Christ exalted. This is done by laying open the rich and excellent things concerning Him in the Gospel. This is why Paul desires the gift of utterance and boldness “to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

 

6. Pray that the Gospel would Prevail

It is the duty of the Lord’s people and servants not only to welcome and maintain the gospel where it is already but also to have enlarged desires together with utmost endeavours for the gospel to spread to those places where it is not. Thus, Paul wants them to pray that the word of the Lord may have free course.

The devil and sinful men cast so many great obstructions in the way of the gospel’s progress (Acts 10:23) that no human endeavours or anything but the omnipotent power of God can fully remove them. It is necessary to pray to God “that the word of the Lord may have free course” (1 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

7. Pray for Clear Preaching

One of the great tasks for a minister is to preach in way that makes what he preaches plain to the people. In terms of method (2 Timothy 2:15) style, (1 Corinthians 2:4) and close application (2 Timothy 4:2.), his purpose is (so far as is possible) to reach the capacity of the lowest. He thus says, “that I may make it manifest as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

8. Pray for Faithful Preaching

There are many other things (besides a holy boldness and plainness) to which a minister should give attention in preaching. He must preach in a way that is appropriate to the conditions of all, (Isaiah 50:4) so that he speaks with affection and pity, even to the most stubborn (Jeremiah 4:19). He must preach patiently not becoming weary because of lack of success (2 Timothy 2:25). He must preach zealously, with indignation against sin (Isaiah 58:1). He must also preach frequently (2 Timothy 4:2) and with self-denial (2 Corinthians 4:5). These and many other necessary things are all summed up by Paul in this comprehensive expression “As I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:4).

 

9. Pray for Fruitful Preaching

It is the duty of ministers and people to do all they can in seeking that the gospel may run through the tongues and ears of many and outward subjection rendered to it. It is also their duty to strive to have it received in hearts and testified by the holy life of those who do receive it. They must not rest satisfied with the outward spread of the gospel without some promising evidences of its spiritual fruitfulness. Paul urges them not only to pray that “the gospel may have free course”, but also “that it may be glorified” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

Grace is not envious (1 Corinthians 13:4). The fact that God’s Word has prevailed mightily with ourselves and captivated us into obedience to it should incite us to plead with God that others may be similarly won. It also gives grounds for hope that such labour will not be in vain in the Lord. When Paul incites them to pray for others with confidence, he reminds them how the gospel had prevailed with themselves, “even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

 

10. Pray for Every Aspect of Your Minister

This is so comprehensive as to be daunting but it comes back to the causes of ministry failure. We have produced a booklet which covers every aspect of a minister’s life and duties. This would enable you to pray for your minister in relation to all of the potential pitfalls for failings that he faces. Many of the personal matters are those that are helpful for your own self-examination. Once you have read it and used it in this way yourself you could pass it on to your minister as an expression of prayerful support.

It is called Sins of the Ministry and is an updated version of an older publication called A Humble Acknowledgement of the Sins of the Ministry.  Horatius Bonar refers to it in his classic book Words to Winners of Souls (1859). In fact, Bonar devotes a whole chapter to the subject of confession and uses the document as the foundation for his remarks. Baxter likewise devotes a whole chapter of his valuable book The Reformed Pastor to confessing the sins of the ministry. Bonar says that A Humble Acknowledgement is “perhaps one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made”. Any impartial reader of this booklet will surely agree. Bonar goes on to apply these piercing convictions to himself and ministers in his own day. The questions in our booklet aim to do likewise in order to make contemporary application.

The booklet is thoroughly searching but extremely necessary. Pastors often feel isolated and under intense pressure and attack. This booklet does not seek to add to such burdens. Yet failings are not resolved by hiding them. Perhaps neglecting to face these issues is the greatest hidden burden a minister carries. There is help and encouragement here for ministers to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness.

It is 52 pages in length and can be purchased at our online store for £2 (not including p+p).

Sins of the Ministry

£2.00

When pastors fall, it’s a gospel issue. Lack of personal holiness in ministers creates contempt for their message.

Reading this booklet will give ministers encouragement to shine in the midst of the prevailing darkness. Here is a guide for personal reflection which can also help pastors to discuss their common failings usefully and openly together.

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How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from Sin

How to Bring Christians Back from 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.
20 Jan, 2017

We are prone to extremes.  Some avoid dealing with others in relation to their sins and faults; others are quick to respond with extreme severity.  Neither of course, is biblical.  We are responsible for each other. Rebuking those who are sinning is loving but it shows hatred to allow them to go on in it (Leviticus 19:17).  It is our duty to tell them what they ought to be hearing from their conscience. Yet such rebukes and challenges must be given with love, wisdom and humility.  We ought to be ready to give and receive such loving and faithful reproof. It something Christ Himself has appointed for our wellbeing (Matthew 18:15).

James Fergusson reflects deeply and at length on a verse that helps to guide us between the extremes of severity and inaction. What follows is an updated extract. He says that in Galatians 6:1, the apostle speaks to those who are “spiritual”. This means those that had received a large measure of spiritual graces. By such grace they were preserved from the subtle snares of sin and Satan, which had entrapped others. Such are also called “strong” (Romans 15:1) and “perfect”, i.e. comparatively (Philippians 3:15).

He exhorts such to seek to reclaim and restore all those “overtaken” in a fault. They are to restore them to both a felt sense of God’s pardoning grace and to amendment of life. “Overtaken” means being suddenly and without prior consideration being overcome by any sin.  In the original Greek it means to do something in haste (1 Corinthians 11:21).

In using all necessary means to achieve this end e.g. admonition, reproof or necessary correction, they should exercise the grace of spiritual meekness. They must suppress all feelings of revenge or sinful expressions of emotion. He enforces this exhortation by counselling that everyone, even the best, must consider deeply their own frailty while dealing with the faults of others.  They must recall how easily he may be drawn by temptation to be overtaken with the same, similar, or a greater sin.

 

1. We Must Deal Meekly with Those at Fault

Tolerating sin both in others and ourselves is far too common (1 Samuel 3:13). Yet there is another sinful extremity to be avoided, i.e. when under pretence of hatred to, or righteous anger against the sins of others we refuse to admonish, reprove them in the spirit of meekness because we think they are obstinate. The apostle says, “If a man”. This can be read as anticipating an objection, “though a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one…” This presumes that some were apt to think themselves free from the duty of meekness towards a person at fault. The apostle shows, that nevertheless they were bound to restore and deal meekly with such despite their fault.

 

2. Excessive Severity Comes from Pride

This sin of excessive severity towards the sinful failings and falls of others comes from pride. Such a “holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5) attitude may well pretend to be zeal but really it is pride. The rigid critic and lofty censurer of another’s faults does not seek his brother’s reformation so much as to create a good opinion of himself in the minds of others. He seeks to be seen as if he were more concerned for holiness and hatred of sin than others.  The connection between chapters 5 and 6 shows that this sin is to be guarded against as having some kind of dependence on vainglory. Compare “Let us not be desirous of vain-glory” (Galatians 5:26) and “if a man be overtaken in a fault, restore him in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

 

3. Motives for Compassion

The apostle calls the Galatians “brethren” to give more force to the need to exercise love and meekness in recovering those who had fallen. He calls them brethren to express his love to them and remind them of the love they ought to have to one another as brethren. The person to be restored is referred to by the common name of “a man”. This points to the common frailty of mankind so as to show that his falling into sin is rather to be pitied than wondered at. Paul also transfers the guilt of the sin in a great measure from the person himself to the subtlety of Satan and violence of the temptation by which he was overtaken. All of this provides motives to exercise the pity and meekness to which he exhorts. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault”, he says.

 

4. Those Who are Not Yet Obstinate Require Less Severity

Greater severity must be used (1 Corinthians 4:21) towards those who are so maliciously obstinate in sin that they cannot be reclaimed by a meek and lenient approach. Yet others, whom we must in charity judge to be otherwise, but are rather overtaken by the violence of some prevailing temptation, ought to be dealt with more gently. These are the only ones whom the apostle will have us to deal with using a spirit of meekness: “If a man be overtaken in a fault, restore such an one etc.”

 

5. It is Easy to be Overtaken in a Fault

So subtle and assiduous is Satan in tempting (1 Peter 5:8) and so ready is our corruption to comply with temptation as soon as it is presented (Ephesians 2:2) that the child of God cannot but be overtaken unawares by some sin or other. This will happen unless we are all the more careful and diligent (Matthew 26:41). By sinning in this way the child of God dishonours God and lays a stumbling block before others. Paul assumes that it is likely for all men to be similarly overtaken when he says, “If a man be overtaken in a fault. “

 

6. The More Holy We Are the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

It is the duty of all men to endeavour to reclaim those lying under unrepented guilt (since the command is given to all: Leviticus 19:17). Yet, the more holy men are, and the further they have advanced in spiritual things, the more obliged they are to this duty. This is primarily because they are better able to fulfil it since they less tainted with sin than others. They have therefore, more liberty to reprove. They also know better how to do this difficult duty wisely. Such are more willing to perform it than others with less knowledge and love to God’s glory and their neighbour’s good. Thus, the Apostle directs this exhortation mainly to those that had received a greater measure of grace. He addresses those “which are spiritual” telling them to “restore such an one”.

 

7. The More Gifts We Have Received, the More We Should Seek to Restore Others

The more graces and gifts a man has received, the more he is obliged to devote himself and all he has received (within the limits of his calling; Hebrews 5:4) for the spiritual good and edification of others. Paul gives this task of restoring the backslidden Christian chiefly to those who had received a greater measure of grace and spiritual gifting: “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one”.

 

8. Those Who Have Fallen into Public Sin are Reluctant to be Restored

When a child of God falls into public sins and erroneous opinions they damage the inward condition formerly enjoyed. It lays waste the conscience and consumes all his former spiritual sensitivity (1 Peter 2:11). Thus, the person who has fallen in such sins is, ordinarily, averse to being reclaimed and proves difficult to deal with. They are like a man with a dislocated bone that can hardly bear to have it touched. The word rendered “restore such an one” implies this because it means literally, to set dislocated parts of the body in joint again. Thus we see that sin puts the soul, as it were, out of joint.

 

9. We Must be Tender in Using Means to Restore Others

Since it is the duty of all Christians (especially those who are spiritual) to seek to reclaim any who are so fallen we must use means. The necessary means are: admonition (Matthew 18:15); reproof (Leviticus 19:17); and prayer to God on their behalf (James 5:14-15). Christians must pursue these out of charity and their mutual relation to one another as members of one body. Ministers and elders must also pursue them, by virtue of the authority which Christ the King of the Church has given them (Ephesians 4:11-12). In pursuing all these means everyone must use great skill and tenderness in order to attain their goal of restoration. He says, “restore such an one” or set him in joint again. It is a phrase borrowed from surgeons who, when they treat a dislocated bone, handle it with skill and tenderness.

 

10. Meekness Proves Our Intentions are Right

The grace of meekness, which is necessary to moderate inordinate anger and quickly repress feelings of revenge before they rise to any height (Ephesians 4:26), is the work of God’s Spirit in us. It is essential to exercise this grace towards those who are fallen in all the means we use to reclaim them so that we are not carried away with passionate rage but only zeal to God, love to the person and sanctified reason. This is how we prove we are seeking to recover our brother rather than abuse him. We are labouring to help him; not seeking to disgrace him. Thus, he says, “Restore such an one in the spirit of meekness”, or in the meekness which is produced by God’s Spirit.

 

11. Anyone May be Tempted

No one (not even the most spiritual) can promise themselves immunity from strong temptations to gross public sin or that they will stand when if left to themselves. Paul urges even the spiritual man to consider himself, lest he is also tempted. It is not only possible that the spiritual man may be tempted, but also that he may yield to temptation when presented to him. The argument would not have had such strength to enforce meekness towards those who are overtaken in a fault.

 

12. Those Who are Most Uncharitable Know Their Own Hearts Least

Those who censure the faults of others in the most rigid and uncharitable way are usually greatest strangers to their own hearts and scarcely sensitive to their own infirmities. We need serious consideration of our own weakness and the fact that the root of our neighbour’s sin and all other sin is in us (Romans 3:10-20). We must be mindful that it is only by God’s grace that we are able to stand (Psalm 94:18). If God allowed the tempter to break loose on us, we would exceed the sins of others as much as they exceed ours. Seriously considering all this should not completely restrain us from reproving sin in others. Rather, it should cause us to moderate exceedingly our severity towards their sin by showing meekness, pity and compassion towards them. This is why the apostle enforces the former exhortation of restoring their fallen brother in the spirit of meekness with counsel to consider ourselves lest we also be tempted.

 

13. It is Difficult to Take Our Own Weakness Seriously

We are so prone to think well of ourselves that there is great difficulty in getting people to reflect on themselves, and seriously consider their own frailty and weakness. They are reluctant to consider every other thing which may keep them low in their own eyes, without despising others. This is clear from Paul’s change from speaking to them all in the plural to addressing them individually. Having said, “Ye who are spiritual, restore” which is the plural pronoun (“ye”); he then says, “considering thyself” changing to the singular pronoun (“thy”). This gives greater force and a sharper edge to his admonition. He knew that he was urging a duty that would only be obeyed with great difficulty.

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Preventing the Dangers of Straying from the Truth

Preventing the Dangers of Straying from the Truth

Preventing the Dangers of Straying from the Truth
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.
9 Sep, 2016

Sometimes it seems like the only heresy today is the idea of heresy itself. In other words a culture of hyper-toleration tones down our language. There is a reluctance to bring absolute truth and falsehood in to sharp definition. Reluctance to point out to individuals where they are going astray is another aspect of this influence. We don’t want to interfere – especially if we think the error won’t endanger their salvation. Perhaps we don’t know how or trust ourselves to do it in the right way. Yet the Bible is full of warnings about straying from the truth. It expects us to be concerned for those who are in error.

Sometimes error may seem to be in a small matter yet on closer consideration it actually endangers the gospel itself. A good example of this is in Galatians 2:14-15. Paul must confront Peter because he is declining to eat with the Gentile believers. To a modern mind this must seem strange. Peter is a godly, respected preacher and this is just a matter of eating practices. Surely it is indifferent? Why would Paul withstand Peter to the face publicly? Paul says it was because Peter was not walking “uprightly according to the truth of the gospel. The word uprightly means “with straight foot”: in other words walking astray. Peter’s practice was affecting truth and damaging the gospel. He was implying that to be saved the Gentiles needed to observe the ceremonial law of Old Testament Israel. This was adding our works to what Christ has done.

Even an apostle can be swept along with others in going seriously astray. This also shows the close connection between what we practice and what we believe. In expounding Galatians 2:14-15, James Fergusson makes some important points about how we are to deal with error. The following is updated extract from his comments.

 

1. We Must Not be Influenced by Numbers

The large numbers of those who swerve from the truth should not make the truth any less lovely to us.  Neither should it blunt the edge of our opposition to error. Even though truth should be deserted by everyone except one person alone it is worthy of being owned, stood up for and defended by that one person. Even if this is against all who oppose it. Peter, the other Jews and Barnabas all “dissembled”, and draw back from the truth. Yet Paul stands for the truth alone.

 

2. We Must be Careful in Our Opinions and Practice

It is the duty of all professing Christians to ensure that their opinions and practice agree well with the sincere truth of God in the gospel. They must maintain nothing which is even indirectly contrary to it and practise nothing which may discredit it. When they draw back or do not walk with a straight foot in either of those, they are blameworthy.

Peter and the rest are reproved for the fault of not walking uprightly (or with a straight foot) according to the truth of the Gospel. Their practice and opinion about whether it was lawful to please the Jews in this matter was wrong. It contradicted and discredited (indirectly at least) the great gospel-truth about the ceremonial law having been done away with.

 

3. Ministers Must be Wise in Reproving Error

When many are guilty of one and the same sin, the minister of Jesus Christ ought to reprove wisely and without partiality. The weight of the reproof must be applied in proportion to how they have engaged in the sin. Since Peter’s example had enticed all the rest to sin, Paul directs the reproof to him by name  before the rest. This was so that they might also be reproved themselves (indirectly at least) for following this bad example.

 

4. Public Sins Must be Rebuked Publicly

Private sins, which are not yet a public scandal to many, should be rebuked in private (Matthew 18:15). But, public sins should receive public rebukes so that, by this means, the public scandal may be removed. Others will also be frightened away from taking encouragement from such sins to act similarly (1 Timothy 5:20). Thus, because Peter sinned publicly before all, Paul reproved Peter before them all.

 

5. Ministers must Practice what they Preach

It is absurd for a minister to give himself liberty to practice the same things that he condemns in others. It cannot be justified either to God or man. This is what happens if he acts contrary to what either his teaching or example at other times constrains him to do. This clear from Paul’s question to Peter which assumed that Peter did not usually act in this way. It is as if he had said that Peter could neither justify it to God or man.

 

6. Church Rulers must not Compel Believers in Indifferent Things

It is no small sin for rulers to bind where the Lord has left us free. This happens in urging those under their authority to observe as necessary something which is by its own nature indifferent. The exception to this is in those situations in which the Lord indicates that it is necessary due to particular circumstances e.g.  stumbling others (Acts 15:28, 29) and despising others (1 Corinthians 14:40).

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Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven

Keeping in the Race Towards Heaven
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 Feb, 2016

Perhaps you know them. They used to be zealous Christians and showed signs of being very committed to the things of God. You could talk to them about Christian things all day and they seemed to have such a clear grasp of the truth. You’re not sure where they are now exactly though. They stopped going to Church years ago or got involved with a false gospel. It was so bewildering when it became clear that they were abandoning their former profession. You were shoulder to shoulder. Now they are miles away. But you also know other Christians and they remain committed and exercised. It seems like their one desire is to make progress in holiness and knowing Christ. One is a warning to us and the other an encouragement.

The Bible speaks about this in different ways, but the Apostle Paul frequently uses the metaphor of running a race. In Galatians 5:7 he rebukes the Galatian Christians for having stopped running. They had “run well” initially but were now failing to “obey the truth”. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul uses himself as an example. His eye is fixed on the finishing line: “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. James Fergusson explains further the significance of these pictures for us.

The Danger of Dropping out of the Race to Heaven

In Galatians 5:7, the Apostle Paul commends the Galatian Christians for their previous zeal in embracing the truth that they now dispute. He calls this having “run well”.  In the original the word literally means with beauty and attractiveness.  There is no satisfactory reason why they should now have abandoned this course.

1. The Christian Life is a Race to Heaven.

In this race, we run by holiness and all commanded duties, especially faith and love.  We ought to conduct ourselves as those who run in a race. The  Apostle Paul describes their progress in Christianity by a metaphor taken from runners in a race they “did run well”.

2. New Converts Run Fastest in the Race

With greater affection and zeal, new converts usually make swifter progress than others. They also make swifter progress than they themselves afterwards make when they are older in the faith. This is due to the newness of the thing and the initial keenness of their affections. Their sharp edge has not yet been blunted by changing circumstances and a multitude of duties.  God also for a time restrains the violent assault of increased furious temptations. This is until they are more settled and fully engaged in His way. He also gives a greater measure of His felt presence at first than afterwards. These Galatians for a time after their first conversion “did run” and “run well”.

3. Good Progress in the Race Can be Halted

Those who once made good progress in the ways of God may afterwards come to a halt. Their later conduct does not correspond to their promising beginnings. They deserved to be reproved for this. It also causes grief and dismay to those that behold. The apostasy of these  Galatians makes Paul astonished. It prompts the solemn rebuke that they “did run well, who did hinder you?”

4. There is No Excuse for Not Keeping in the Race

No satisfactory reason can be given for abandoning our course after beginning the way of truth and holiness.  There is no reason why we should change course or come to a halt. This makes the ways of God to be evil spoken of (2 Peter 2:2). Paul’s question “Who did hinder you?” implies that no one could have hindered them for any good reason.

5.Carelessness Leads to Not Keeping in the Race

When people become careless and lazy in obeying known truth, they are on the very brink and precipice of apostasy. They fall into the opposite of the truth and apostasy from the very profession of truth. The Apostle challenges them for not obeying the truth. This may mainly mean their apostasy from the truth. It also implies that failing to obey the truth and apostasy from it are closely related.

6. Strong Encouragement for Keeping in the Race

We must seriously consider former zeal in the ways of God. We must also acknowledge the lack of any reason for current backsliding and carelessness. This gives strong incitement to do the first works. By future diligence, we can regain what has been lost by past negligence. The Apostle’s purpose is to incite them to recover their lost liberty by considering these two things. They “did run well, who did hinder you?”

How to make Progress in the Race to Heaven

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul also uses the metaphor of runners in a race. They do not look behind in order to estimate how much of the way has been covered. They have an overwhelming desire to make progress in the way. They bend their bodies forward, they have their heart, eye, and whole course directed to the end of the race until they achieve it.  This was how Paul was in his Christian course. He was encouraged by hope of the rich reward to which he was called. This was purchased for him by Jesus Christ.

1. Greater Progress is Measured by Greater Humility

Those who have made furthest progress in the knowledge of Christ, are usually most conscious of their own imperfections. They are most ready to acknowledge them when this will glorify God and edify others. Thus, Paul, who (v 10) only desired to know Christ (though doubtless he knew much of Him) acknowledges his own shortcoming and ignorance. “I count not myself to have apprehended”.

2. Greater Progress is Measured by Holiness and Knowing Christ

Progress in the knowledge of Christ and holiness must be seriously considered above all other things. We must not regard it superficially or casually. This was Paul’s one thing: “this one thing I do” (or mind).

3. Greater Progress is Made by Forgetting What is Behind

The runner does not look back to estimate how much of the way has been covered. The Christian who would achieve anything may review what has already been done. But he only does this to see his own shortcomings and humble himself. He also sees in it reasons to praise God and be encouraged (1 Corinthians 15:10). He is not to be so taken up with this that he rests on it and is puffed up with conceit because of it as if he had already done enough. He rejects anything which may retard his further progress.  In this way, Paul was “forgetting those things which are behind”  as if he had done nothing.

4. Greater Progress is Made by Looking Forward

The runner is most concerned with the part of the way which he is yet to run. He bends himself forward in it. So the Christian who desires to make progress must be estimating how much of his way is yet before him. He estimates what sins are yet to be put to death. He sees the duties that are still almost entirely neglected. He considers what hard activities he may yet be called to undergo. The more he sees of this the more he increases effort for advancing forward. Thus Paul said he was “reaching forth unto those things which are before”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Looking at the Finish Line

The runner keeps his eye on the mark (finish line) and directs his whole activity towards it. He does not turn aside or halt because of difficulties in the way. Thus, the Christian who desires to make progress, must fix his eye on the end of his race. The end of his race is perfection in holiness. He aims all his actions and endeavours at that mark. He presses forward through all difficulties, discouragements and stumbling-blocks in the way between him and it. Thus, Paul says “I press toward the mark”.

5. Greater Progress is Made by Considering the Prize

Thoughts of the prize and value of the reward give energy to the runner and make him run faster. In heaven and glory, the Christian has a rich prize, a free reward of grace (not merit) (Romans 6:23). The Christian who desires to make progress should have this much in his thoughts. This will strengthen him through all the hardship, discouragement, fainting and failing he will face and be tempted with. Thus, Paul said: “I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”.

This does not mean, however, that it is merited by their running and persevering. It depends on their effectual calling which does not come from man’s low endeavours, but from God’s high grace above. They receive it through the merits of Jesus Christ. Thus, it is “the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ”.

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Help for Avoiding Superficial Bible Reading

Help for Avoiding Superficial Bible Reading

Help for Avoiding Superficial Bible Reading
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.
24 Apr, 2015

We must labour to understand the mind of God concerning our salvation as revealed in the Scriptures.It will keep us from error (Matthew 22:29) and make us wise unto salvation and more holy. The Lord by His Spirit will make the Scriptures profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, and make you perfect by this (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

James Fergusson (1621-1667) exhorts us, especially if we have any time and leisure, to study the Word more. Do not read “superficially” he counsels. Instead read “conscientiously, attentively and devoutly”. Make use of any help you can get from the labours of others to increase “solid knowledge and sanctifying grace”.

Fergusson was so committed to this work that he began afresh when he lost all of his previous papers. He says that “a great part of my time and life in a manner lost with them. Despite this, he began once again. He was encouraged “the remembrance of what sweetness I tasted in that study” as well as the great benefit that rewarded the labour. This ought to be a further encouragement for us to study and search the Scriptures more in order to discover the same sweetness.

Edmund Calamy speaks of the exceptional special gift that George Hutcheson (1615-1674) also possessed. He was able briefly but fully to give the meaning of a text. Yet he could also “gather suitable, proper, and profitable observations out of it for the help of weak Christians”. This description could easily apply to David Dickson, Alexander Nisbet and many others.

We could have few more helpful and reliable guides for the journey than these ministers of the Second Reformation. The Covenanters produced many simple and practical commentaries on the Bible for everyone. They were brief, plain, practical and above all affordable. They get to the heart of what the Bible means but also to the heart of the reader in a richly devotional way.

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