What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?

What is Personal Reformation?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
31 Dec, 2018

There’s no shortage of people offering personal transformation and life-hacking. It’s all about the power of positive thinking, planning and self-belief. It’s breezy and simplistic, offering instant and effortless change with a few tweaks. Personal reformation is entirely different. It is all about grace not self-help. It doesn’t masquerade as a quick fix in a few easy steps; it is extensive and lifelong. It is being transformed by the renewing of our mind and working out God’s perfect will in practice (Romans 12:2). It involves applying all that God requires to our hearts, lives and families.

Personal reformation is certainly extensive; it applies to our heart and outward conduct. It relates to all of our lives at all times, in all of our interactions with others. It involves seeking God and His glory in all things (1 Chronicles 22:19; 2 Chronicles 20:3). It is spiritual, a concern for fervent zeal and the real power of godliness in the heart and life, not just a formal outward profession.

Personal reformation was strongly emphasised during the Second Reformation and at the time of the Westminster Assembly. We can learn much from their concern to see the Word of God influencing our lives. The Solemn League and Covenant (1643) was crucial to the Westminster Assembly and the kingdoms of England and Scotland at this time. The climax of this vow to God has much to teach us about some of the key themes of personal reformation. As we will see, to take the Solemn League was not simply to swear an oath but to commit to every day personal reformation and holiness.

 

1. Repentance

The Covenant speaks of “our unfeigned desire to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of these kingdoms”. There is a sincere confession of sin in personal reformation (1 John 1:9). When we look into Scripture and compare it with our own lives, it should leave an abiding impression and make us want to change (James 1:21-25). It will bring us to humble ourselves before God (Psalm 38:3-4; Joel 2:12-13). We will be conscious that our deceitful hearts naturally do not want to identify and expose sin (Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 19:12-13). We will want to be humbled for our own sins in particular not just sin in general.
There will be serious concern in case we are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). When we discover our sins we will want to turn from them (Ezekiel 18:30-31). The sins of the society around us will not be an excuse to make us say that we are not as bad. Rather we will be humbled for these sins and those of the professing Church. We will mourn over them (Ezekiel 9:4). This is because we cannot separate ourselves from them; we have been involved in them to some extent. It is no comfort to know that the sins of the nation are only worse versions of what is in our own hearts (Ezekiel 6:11).

 

2. Valuing the Benefit of the Gospel

The Covenant goes on to mention some of these personal and national sins. One of these is not having “valued the inestimable benefit of the Gospel”. We live in a nation and society that despises and neglects the gospel (Matthew 11:16-24). But is the gospel an invaluable benefit to us or do we live as though it is just an add-on extra to a comfortable life along with many other benefits? What does the gospel mean to us on a daily basis? Is it the basis of all our confidence? Do we feel that we have moved on from it to other things or is it like a jewel that sparkles with new beauty every time we look at it? Appreciating the gospel according to its invaluable benefits is obvious if our lives are shaped by it.

Part of valuing it properly is when we labour for its “purity and power”, as the Covenant puts it. In other words we are concerned for its influence on others too. We are especially alarmed when it is distorted or not properly proclaimed. Yet we cannot merely rest in the idea that it is purely declared without seeking that there would be real spiritual power accompanying it.

 

3. Walking Worthy of Christ

We value the gospel and labour for its purity and power when we not only seek to “receive Christ in our hearts” but also strive “to walk worthy of Him in our lives” (Ephesians 4:1-2; Colossians 1:10). If we do not live out the gospel in our attitudes, actions and words we are effectively denying its power (Philippians 1:27). We are dishonouring Christ as Saviour if we do not strive to walk worthy of Him (Colossians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).

When we think that it doesn’t matter how we live because forgiveness is freely available it devalues the gospel and turns the grace of God into an incitement for sin (Jude 1:4). As Edmund Calamy put it, sinning against the gospel is even more serious than sinning against the law. How much do we value the precious promises of God if we are not willing to “cleanse our selves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1)? We need to lay aside every weight, including those predominant sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1). This is why the covenant says that these things are “the causes of other sins and transgressions so much abounding amongst us”. Christians not living as they should means they are not salt and light and add to rather than restrain the corruption of the world around them.

 

4. Sincere Desires

Personal reformation involves sincere desires and resolve. They covenant speaks of “our true and unfeigned purpose, desire and endeavour”. Unless we want to reform and plan to reform it will not happen. The danger is of making promises and resolutions but then not following through on them. We need to act on our sincere purpose. There will not be perfection but there ought to be sincere attempts even though these will come short of what we desire. Edmund Calamy says that it is like shooting an arrow, if one does not hit the target, short another and then another until you are successful.

 

5. All of Life

This reformation is “for ourselves and all others under our power and charge”. We are not just to be concerned for ourselves but that others for whom we have responsibility would reform themselves too. Personal reformation doesn’t mean that we think only our individual reformation matters. Personal reformation isn’t just a private matter but it is to be “both in public and in private, in all duties we owe to God and man”. It must affect our job, family life and all our dealings with other people just as much as our duty to God.

 

6. Changing the Way We Live

Personal reformation means change and transformation. We will want to “amend our lives” as the covenant puts it. There will be things we need to start doing and things we need to stop doing according to the Word of God. If it’s just about reading books and discussing Christian things and we don’t want to go further than this – it isn’t reformation.

7. Reform as Much as Possible

The covenant has a very striking expression that “each one” is “to go before another in the example of a real reformation”. We ought to be an example to each other. We should hold fast to whatever reformation we have attained and seek to go further (Philippians 3:15-16). We should seek to encourage others to go further in this too, and be an example to them (Philippians 3:17). As Herbert Palmer put it, we are not to wait for others “but strive to excel others” almost to outdo them. We are to be “patterns to others, and lights to direct and excite [encourage] others to follow us”.

 

8. Depend on the Help of the Holy Spirit

We cannot engage in personal reformation on our own or in our own strength. We must humbly beseech “the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end”. Edmund Calamy warned those who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant:

You must not take it in your own strength but in God’s strength. As it is taken in God’s presence, so it must be taken with Gods assistance, with self-abasement, self-denying, self-humbling hearts; you must take it joyfully and tremblingly; rejoicing in God and in his strength, and yet trembling for fear of your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness in the Covenant.

Besides prayer for such strength we must also seek a blessing on our endeavours for personal reformation. Private prayer and spending time in meditating on the Word is an essential aspect of this. As the Scottish Church put it at the time of the Second Reformation:

It is most necessary, that every one apart and by themselves be given to prayer and meditation, the unspeakable benefit [of this] is best known to them who are exercised [in it].

This is because it is the great special means by which fellowship with God is maintained and advanced. It also prepares is in the right way for all other spiritual duties.

 

9. Wider Reformation

Those who composed the Covenant believed that if Christians were personally reformed it would have a tremendous influence on the Church of Jesus Christ and the nation as a whole. National and personal reformation, Humphrey Chambers preached, “should always go together”. What indeed would things look like if even a small quantity of Christians lived as they should?

 

Conclusion

We ought to long that our consciences and conduct would give a clear witness to personal reformation in our own experience. The men of the Second Reformation were so concerned about this that they devoted days to prayer and fasting for God’s help in reformation, including on the personal level. On one of these an ordinary believer named Ralph Josselin wrote in his diary: “Oh Lord, never was there more need of personal reformation than now; stir me up to it”. That spirit is exactly what we need now too.

PERSONAL REFORMATION EMAIL COURSE

If you have been challenged about personal reformation by this article why not sign up for our "Reforming Yourself" email course? Each working day of the week get a brief reminder of some key truths for personal reformation. It lasts for around 6 weeks.

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Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2018

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2018

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2018
Matthew Vogan

It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. Lists and reviews of books can certainly be helpful. Here are the best books published during the year that mined the riches of the Second Reformation.

1. EXPOSITION OF JOB (JAMES DURHAM)

 

“It is certain to be good, for Durham is always admirable.”— Charles Spurgeon.

The book of Job can be difficult to follow but Durham provides the flow of the debate and a succinct summary of the arguments. It is also helpfully applied. Durham’s work is compact, with a few pages of exposition and comment, closing with a few pages of practical observations. This makes the work perfectly suitable for private and family devotions.

This newly revised edition has been carefully compared again to the original and corrected and updated.

Purchase in the USA – Purchase in the UK

2. SAMUEL RUTHERFORD (NEIL M ROSS)

 

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), renowned as “the saint of the Covenant”, was one of the greatest men that Scotland ever saw, whether considered as a preacher, theologian, devotional writer or political theorist. His memory of Samuel Rutherford will be ever fragrant in the minds of all who savour the spirituality of his letters. Rutherford’s fruitful ministry in Anwoth was cut short by being banished to Aberdeen where he wrote many of his famous letters. His teaching at St Andrews and his published writings bore a vital spiritual and theological influence on many. He was untiring in defended the principles of the Scottish Church. We continue to benefit today from his faithful contribution to the work of the Westminster Assembly. The purpose of this present work is to place the main facts of Rutherford’s life in a convenient form before the modern reader. In particular, it highlights his significance as a theologian, an aspect that is sometimes neglected. Rutherford was able to combine doctrine and devotion in an elevated way that is all too rare in our own day.

Purchase here.

3. NEW SERMON BY GEORGE GILLESPIE

 

The Confessional Presbyterian Journal for 2018 contains the discovery and transcription of a surviving portion of a sermon preached by George Gillespie at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in March of 1648. The notes are incomplete on a sermon preached on  Psalm 2:10–12. Only two Gillespie sermons are known to have survived, so even a portion of another is a significant find, let alone one preached at that crucial time, and on top of that, with the last verses of Psalm 2 as the text.

The journal is also contains a large article on the Covenanter Alexander Shields.

Purchase in USA – Purchase in UK

4. EXPOSITION OF TEN COMMANDMENTS (JAMES DURHAM)

 

John Owen commended this book as essential guidance for “our walking before God in all duties of obedience” marked by wisdom and deep experience. Durham provides in-depth treatments of the second, third, and fourth commandments which make this exposition especially valuable. This new edition has been carefully collated and checked against the first and early editions and the text corrected and notations considerably augmented.

“Whatever Durham has written is very precious. He has the pen of a ready writer, and indites good matter.” — Charles Spurgeon.

Purchase in North America – Purchase in the UK.

5. SCOTTISH COVENANTERS (JG VOS)

 

This has already been reviewed on this site in the following article.

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The Scottish Covenanters (Book Review)

The Scottish Covenanters (Book Review)

The Scottish Covenanters (Book Review)
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
5 Sep, 2018

“If you only read one book on the Covenanters this should be the one. Not only does Vos provide an insightful, readable and enjoyable account but he sets it in proper context taking us from the Reformation in 1560 through the Revolution period”. This commendation on the back cover is not mere exaggerated advertising, this book is probably the most concise yet thorough and readable introduction to the history of the Scottish Covenanters. Without wasting words Vos covers the important personalities, events, and issues necessary for understanding the importance and place of the Covenanters in the history of the church.

The first two chapters cover the period of the Reformation in 1560 up until 1637 and two further chapters cover the period up to 1660. The benefit of the narrative presented is that it does not become overloaded with commentary. The reflections that are offered are usually of value. For instance:

The modern notion that while doctrine should be Scriptural, worship and organization are matters of indifference to be arranged according to expediency or human preference was entirely foreign to the Westminster Assembly and the Church of Scotland of the period of the Second Reformation. Great stress was placed on the importance of Scriptural forms of worship and organization. Probably the Church of Scotland has suffered more than any branch of the Christian Church through the ages on account of insistence upon a pure and Scriptural form of organization (p.65)

This was the sort of resolve that was behind David Dickson’s reply to Cromwell’s soldiers that invaded the Church’s General Assembly in 1653. They asked him as moderator whether the Assembly was convened on the authority of Charles II or Cromwell. Dickson said, “we sit here by the authority of Jesus Christ and by the law of this land” (p.78).

Vos covers the period of persecution 1660-1688 highlighting the key events and personalities. His focus is on witness-bearing and so the various public declarations are given specific focus. The controversy surrounding the indulgences is carefully explained and issues such as the lawfulness of armed self-defence are discussed in a helpful way. Ultimately the brutal executions, imprisonment and fines would be brought to an end. Vos makes the important observation:

Years before the nation as a whole the Covenanters anticipated the inevitable revolution which came in 1688…They had appealed to the nation; they had appealed to God himself; and they awaited the outcome with grim determination not to yield or compromise, come what might. They stood for the rights of God, and endured as seeing Him who is invisible.(p.148-9)

…in a few short years, the Covenanters’ rejection of tyrannical rulers became the nation’s rejection, and what had been called treason and rebellion, became the deliberate act of the nation, in the Revolution of 1688 (p132)

Chapters added to the close of the book on the sole headship of Christ over the Church and the continuing obligation of the Covenants help to highlight the ongoing relevance of the struggle narrated in the book.

Dr. J.G. Vos (1903-1983) was a noted minister, missionary and professor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. He edited an influential periodical called the Blue Banner Faith and Life. This complete overview of Covenanter history was originally a thesis and first published in 1940. This edition has been re-typeset and typographical errors have been corrected. The index has also been expanded.

Not everything in this book is going to attract widespread agreement. As Andrew Quigley notes in the endorsement on the back cover “many may not agree wholeheartedly with the…position…presented in the third part of the book”. Vos devotes a chapter to assessing the Revolution Settlement in a way that is altogether negative. Ultimately the majority of Covenanters decided that despite the defects they were not obliged to sin in joining with the Church of Scotland at the Revolution. Vos spends time narrating the next few centuries of the history of those who did not join. Eventually they formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

This book will be useful for reference for those who wish to be informed or inform others about this period of Church history. As Andrew Quigley mentions, it “breathes life into one of, if not the most disturbing and exhilarating periods in Scottish Church history”.

The Scottish Covenanters: Their Origins, History and Distinctive Doctrines by J. G. Vos (Blue Banner Productions, 2018, 256pp)

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7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters

7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters

7 Types of People Who Prize Rutherford’s Letters
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
28 Feb, 2018

Why are some people so enraptured by Samuel Rutherford’s Letters? It is said of Robert Murray M’Cheyne that “the Letters of Samuel Rutherford were often in his hand”. C.H. Spurgeon said they were “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men”. Richard Baxter said that apart from the Bible “such a book as Mr. Rutherford’s Letters the world never saw the like”.  There are spiritual riches in them that only seem to increase in value. But what are they?

 The first editor of the Letters, Robert McWard says that they contain “many volumes wrapped up together in a few words”. They are like “a great soul shut up in a little body”. Much of the true substance of “real religion” is “enclosed in every line”. He drew attention to the highs and lows of spiritual experience that they contain. They witness to times of either the felt presence of Christ or the felt absence.  

The later editor, Andrew Bonar says that these letters will always be precious to:

 

1. All Who Mourn Over Sin

All who are sensible [conscious] of their own, and the Church’s decay and corruptions. The wound and the cure are therein so fully opened out: self is exposed, especially spiritual self. He will tell you, “There is as much need to watch over grace, as to watch over sin.” He will show you God in Christ, to fill up the place usurped by self. The subtleties of sin, idols, snares, temptations, self-deceptions, are dragged into view from time to time. And what is better still, the cords of Christ are twined round the roots of these bitter plants, that they may be plucked up.

Nor is it otherwise in regard to corruption in public, and in the Church. We do not mean merely the open corruption of error, but also the secret “grey hairs” of decay. Hear him cry, “There is universal deadness on all that fear God. O where are the sometime quickening breathings and influences from heaven that have refreshed His hidden ones!” And then he laments, in the name of the saints, “We are half satisfied with our witheredness; nor have we as much of his strain who doth eight times breathe out that suit [request] (Psalm 119), Quicken me!” “We live far from the well, and complain but dryly of our dryness.”

 

2. All Who Delight in Christ’s Righteousness

All who delight in the Surety’s imputed righteousness. If thoroughly aware of the body of sin in ourselves we cannot but feel that we need a person in our stead — the person of the God-man in the room of our guilty person. “To us a Son is given;” not salvation only, but a Saviour. “He gave Himself for us”.

These letters are ever leading us to the Surety and His righteousness. The eye never gets time to rest long on anything apart from Him and His righteousness. We are shown the deluge-waters undried up, in order to lead us into the ark again: “I had fainted, had not want and penury chased me to the storehouse of all.”

 

3. All Who Rejoice in the Gospel of Free Grace

Lord Kenmure having said to him, “Sin causeth me to be jealous of His love to such a man as I have been,” he replied, “Be jealous of yourself, my Lord, but not of Jesus Christ,” In his Trial and Triumph of Faith he remarks, “As holy walking is a duty coming from us, it is no ground of true peace. Believers often seek in themselves what they should seek in Christ.” It is to the like effect he says in one of his letters, “Your heart is not the compass that Christ saileth by,” — turning away his friend from looking inward, to look upon the heart of Jesus. And this is his meaning, when he thus lays the whole burden of salvation on the Lord, and leaves nothing for us but acceptance, “Take ease to thyself, and let Him bear all”. Then, pointing us to the risen Saviour as our pledge of complete redemption, “Faith may dance, because Christ singeth;” “Faith apprehendeth pardon but never payeth a penny for it.”

On his death-bed he said to his friends, “I disclaim all that ever God made me will or do, and I look upon it as defiled and imperfect.” And so in his Letters he will admit of no addition, or intermixture of other things, ”The Gospel is like a small hair that hath no breadth, and will not cleave in two.” He exhorts to Assurance as being the way to be humbled very low before God: “Complaining is but a humble backbiting and traducing of Christ’s new work in the soul.” “Make meikle [much] of assurance, for it
keepeth your anchor fixed.” He warns us, in his Trial and Triumph of Faith not to be too desirous of keen awakenings to chase us to Christ. Let Christ tutor me as he thinketh good. He has seven eyes; I have but one, and that too dim.” In a similar strain he writes:

“The law shall never be my doomster, by Christ’s grace; I shall find a sure enough doom in the Gospel to humble and cast me down. There cannot be a more humble soul than a believer. It is no pride in a drowning man to catch hold of a rock“.

How much truth there is here! Naaman never was humble in any degree, until he felt himself completely healed of his scaly leprosy; but truly he was humbled and humble then. And what one word is there that suggests so many humbling thoughts as that word “grace“.

 

4. All Who Seek to Grow in Holiness

The Holy Spirit delights to show us the glorious Godhead, in the face of Jesus. And this is a very frequent theme in these Letters. “Take Christ for sanctification, as well as justification,” is often his theme. And in him we see a man who seems to have fought for holiness as unceasingly and as eagerly as other men seek for pardon and peace. In him “Holiness to the Lord” seems written on every affection of the heart, and on every fresh-springing thought.

Fellowship with the living God is a distinguishing feature in the holiness given by the Holy Spirit; we get “access by one Spirit to the Father through Him.” Rutherford could sometimes say, ”I have been so near Him that I have said, ‘I take instruments [legal testimony] that this is the Lord.'” And he could from experience declare, “I dare avouch, the saints know not the length and largeness of the sweet Earnest, and of the sweet green sheaves before the harvest, that might be had on this side of the water, if we should take more pains [effort]”.”I am every way in your case, as hard-hearted and dead as any man, but yet I speak to Christ through my sleep.” All this is from the pen of a man who was a metaphysician, a controversialist, a leader in the church, and learned in ancient and scholastic lore. Why are there not such gracious, as well as great men now?

 

5. All Afflicted Ones

Here he had the very “tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to him that was weary.” And with what tender sympathy does he speak, leading the mourner so gently to the heart of Jesus! He knew the heart of a stranger, for he had been a stranger. “Let no man after me slander Christ for His cross.” Yes, says he, His most loved are often His most tried: “The lintel-stone and pillars of His New Jerusalem suSer more knocks of God’s hammer and tools than the common side- wall stones.” Even as to reproach and calumny, he declares,” I love Christ’s worst reproaches.”

It was to Hugh M’Kail, uncle of the youthful martyr, that he penned the words, “Some have written me that I am possibly too joyful of the cross; but my joy overleapeth the cross — it is bounded and terminated on Christ.” And there it was he found a well of comfort never dry.

 

6. All Who Love the Person of Christ

We have too often been satisfied with speculative truth and abstract doctrine. On the one hand, the orthodox have too often rested in the statements of our Catechisms and Confessions; and, on the other, the “Election-doubters” (as Bunyan would have called them) have pressed their favourite dogma, that Christ died for all men, as if mere assent to a proposition could save the soul. Rutherford places the truth before us in a more accurate, and also more savoury way, full of life and warmth. The Person of Him who gave Himself for His church is held up in all its attractiveness. With him, it is ever the Person as much as the work done ; or rather, never the one apart from the other. like Paul, he would fain know Him, as well as the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

Once, when Lord Kenmure asked him, “What will Christ be like when He cometh?” his reply was, “All lovely“. And this is everywhere the favourite theme with him. At times he tells of His love. “His love surroundeth and surchargeth me.” “If His love was not in heaven, I should be unwilling to go thither.” Often he checks his pen to tell of Christ Himself,  “Welcome, welcome, sweet, sweet cross of Christ;” — then correcting his language, “Welcome, fair, lovely, royal King, with Thine own cross”  ” if I could doat as much upon Himself as I do upon His love.” “I fear I make more of His love than of Himself“. How startling yet how true, is this remark, “I see that in communion with Christ we may make more gods than one,” — meaning that we may be tempted to make the enjoyment itself our god. It was his habitual aim to pass through privileges, joys, even fellowship, to God Himself: “I have casten this work upon Christ, to get me Himself“. “I would be farther in upon Christ than at His joys; in, where love and mercy lodgeth, beside His heart.” “He who sitteth on the throne is His lone [alone] a sufficient heaven.” “Sure I am He is the far best half of heaven.”

In a word, such was his soul’s view of the living Person, that he writes, “Holiness is not Christ, nor the blossoms and flowers of the tree of life, nor the tree itself.” “He had found out the true fountain-head, and would direct all Zion’s travellers thither. And let a man try this; let the Holy Spirit lead a man to this Person; — and surely his experience will be, “None ever came up dry from David’s well.”

 

7. All who love the Hope of Christ’s Appearing

The more we love the Person of Christ, the more ought we to love hat blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God our Saviour; and the more we cherish both feelings, the holier shall we become. Rutherford abounds in aspirations for that day; he is one who “looks for and hastens unto the coming of the day of God!” While in exile at Aberdeen in 1637, he writes, “O when will we meet! O how long is it to the dawning of the marriage day! sweet Jesus, take wide steps! my Lord, come over mountains at one stride! O my Beloved, flee as a roe or young hart upon the mountains of separation.”

Now and then he utters the expression of an intense desire for the restoration of Israel to their Lord, and the fulness of the Gentiles; but far oftener his desires go forth to his Lord Himself. “O fairest among the sons of men, why stayest Thou so long away? heavens, move fast! O time, run, run, and hasten the marriage day!” To Lady Kenmure his words are, “The Lord hath told you what you should be doing till He come. ‘Wait and hasten’, saith Peter, ‘for the coming of the Lord.’ Sigh and long for the dawning of that morning, and the breaking of that day, of the coming of the Son of Man, when the shadows shall flee away. Wait with the wearied night-watch for the breaking of the eastern sky.” Those saints who feel most keenly the world’s enmity, and the Church’s imperfection, are those who will most fervently love their Lord’s appearing. It was thus with Daniel on the banks of Ulai, and with John in Patmos; and Samuel Rutherford’s most intense aspirations for that day are breathed out in Aberdeen.

His description of himself on one occasion is, “A man often borne down and hungry, and waiting for the marriage supper of the Lamb.” He is now gone to the “mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense;” and there he no doubt still wonders at the unopened, unsearchable treasures of Christ. But O for his insatiable desires Christward! for ten such men in Scotland to stand in the gap! — men who all day long find nothing but Christ to rest in, whose very sleep is a pursuing after Christ in dreams, and who intensely desire to “awake with His likeness.”

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

"Every day we may see some new thing in Christ" (Samuel Rutherford).

It has been frequently observed that there are 365 Letters by Samuel Rutherford. That makes it possible to read one each day of the year. This book provides brief thoughts for each day of the year, selected from the "most remarkable series of devotional letters that the literature of the Reformed Church can show" (Principal John Macleod).

Here is spiritual counsel and insight to give you renewed strength for each day. Each day presents a distinct opportunity to glorify God since "as many suns as God maketh to rise upon you, ye have as many new lives" (Samuel Rutherford).

This book, Daily Thoughts from Samuel Rutherford, is highly recommended.

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13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer

13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer

13 Things that Keep Us from Prayer
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
19 Jan, 2018

More than a quarter of Christians in the UK never pray according to a poll this week. Of those who do pray: only 19% pray daily, 10% hardly ever and 13% only in times of crisis. The poll was commissioned by Tear Fund. Perhaps the figures are not so surprising given that almost half of those identifying themselves as Christian also say they never attend Church. It seems likely, however, that prayer is in danger of being squeezed to the edges of our lives. What is it that makes us liable to downgrade the importance of prayer in everyday life?

​John Brown of Wamphray wrote a very full book on prayer. It is published as Godly Prayer and its Answers. He deals in a practical way with the nature of prayer, its difficulties and how we are to seek for answers to prayer. In stressing that it is a sin to neglect prayer he gives a full forty biblical reasons as to which this is the case. He even demonstrates that those who are unregenerate are obliged to pray. He makes it unavoidably clear that someone cannot claim to be a Christian if they never pray.

1. If We Are God’s Children We Will Pray. Their adoption and being brought into God’s family as His near children lays this obligation on them to cry to God and to pray to Him as their Father.

2. If We Have a New Nature We Will Pray. Their new nature inclines their hearts Godward. When Saul is made a convert, he is brought to his knees and found a praying man (Acts 9:11). The new converts continued steadfastly in prayers (Acts 2:42).

3. If We Are a Holy Priesthood We Will Pray.  The saints are a holy priesthood and must by office offer up spiritual sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5). Prayer is a chief part of their spiritual sacrifice, together with praises (v. 7).  We read of the sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psalm  116:17) and of the sacrifice of praise (Jer. 33:11).

4. If We Are Not of the Wicked We Will Pray. It is the description of the wicked that they do not call on God (Psalm 5:2, 4; 14:24, 10; 79:6; Jeremiah 10:25; Romans 3:9). And on the other hand, it is the description of God’s children that they call on God (1 Corinthians 1:2). David says, “I am in prayer” (Psalm 109:4), as if he had been wholly devoted to and taken up with that work and duty, and nothing else.

5. If We Are God’s Servants We Will Pray. Their relation to God as His servants carries this with it (see Psalm 116:16, 17).

But if all of this is the case, why do Christians need so many prompts and reasons to urge them to pray? We want to think of the hindrances to prayer as outside of us but the truth is they are mostly within us.

 

1. Cherished Sin

When any sin is yielded to and not resisted, the heart is made more unfit for any Christian work. We are not in the right frame for approaching God in a holy and humble way. He is a holy God and will be sanctified by all that draw near Him. We may keep up the form of the duty, but it is superficially performed without the delight the soul had previously. It becomes a cumbersome burden readily laid aside [see Psalm 66:18 and Psalm 32:3].

 

2. Paralysing Guilt

When the conscience is awakened after committing some sin and its dreadful guilt is presented to us the soul afraid to draw near to God. Guilt stares it in the face, and it is driven back and dare not approach the holy and righteous God. Satan can say it is in vain to seek the Lord, for He has no respect for the sacrifice of fools. He will not hear a sinner.

Thus there can be no hearty and cheerful drawing near to God, as long as guilt is thus charged and the blood of Christ not applied by faith to wash away that iniquity. The soul trembles to think of approaching God, lest it be consumed. The Lord must open the door of grace and show the freedom of the covenant and lead the soul to the fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.

 

3. Sense of Unworthiness

There may be a deep sense of unworthiness and inward abominableness of heart by nature. This  may cause some (when not mindful of the richness of free grace in the new covenant through Jesus Christ) to be afraid. They think to themselves, “Shall or dare such a vile wretch as I am presume to open my mouth to God?” Dare such a one draw near to Him who is of purer eyes than that He can behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13)?  Thus, as Peter in the like case said, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8), so they say, “We must not draw nigh to God, for we are sinful men.” Though the reasoning is bad, yet it may too much prevail with weak souls to keep them from this duty.

 

4. Sense of Distance From God

A deep sense of the greatness, holiness, purity, justice, and glory of God may have the same effect.

 

5. Indulging Neglect

When they on one occasion or other give way to the neglect of this duty, their praying spirit wears off. Their neglect continues. More difficulties stand up in the way. Ultimately their neglect turns to a listlessness and lack of delight in the duty. They have an unwillingness to set about it until the Lord sends some alarm to awaken them. When Peter and the other disciples with Christ in the garden neglected the duty at the first call of Christ when He bid them watch and pray, they became  even more unfit after further calls.

 

6. Superficial Formality

When Christians do not take care to watch over their heart in prayer and to guard against formality, all seriousness wears away.  If it is only done superficially, it soon becomes an unnecessary task. Satan can quickly make it become a heavy burden if it is already an unnecessary task. When the soul judges the duty of prayer a burden, it can very easily be induced to neglect it for some time unless conscience convicts. The longer the duty is neglected, the heart is more and more unwilling and unfit for it.

 

7. Worldly Mindedness

Worldly mindedness is a great enemy to prayer and a praying spirit. The cares of the world choke the word so that it cannot grow up in the soul (Matthew 13). Worldly mindedness takes away watchfulness—and a praying and a watching spirit go together (Luke 21:36). When the heart is taken up with the things of this life (Luke 21:54), the soul cannot watch and pray.

 

8. Excessive Sorrow

Excessive grief and sorrow for any outward reason may prevent the soul from praying or at least with heartiness and cheerfulness. This is one reason why the disciples could not pray in the garden, despite the great urgency of the situation (Matthew 26:43; Luke 22:45). Their eyes were heavy, and they were sleeping for sorrow.

 

9. Neglecting Prompts

The Spirit is provoked to withdraw when we do not respond to His promptings to pray. When He withdraws, deadness follows. Either the duty is laid aside or it becomes an unbearable burden. The apostle joins these two together: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks…. Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:17–19). If we want to be kept in a praying spirit, we must be careful not to quench the Spirit.

 

10. Dissatisfaction

When someone has been praying some considerable time for some special mercy or other and finds no answer (or answer that satisfies them) corruption may boil up in the heart. Satan may suggest that it is useless to be praying in this way. The soul may listen to this and out of a discontented, displeased attitude, resolve to abandon prayer (Isaiah 43:12).

 

11. False Notions

Errors concerning prayer may have been imbibed e.g. that we are not obliged to pray except when we are conscious of the Spirit’s moving us and setting us going. We may think we are therefore excused from this duty. The Lord may be provoked to let such live many months if not years without the free graces they desire for such a duty. There may then be a long neglect of this duty followed by an inward aversion. If at any time they are moved to the duty, He may allow their own spirit instead of His to set them going. This will never beget a spiritual delight in the duty.

 

12. Spiritual Laziness

A spirit of laziness may seize a person and they may give way to it and not stir themselves up to call on the Lord and take hold of Him (Isaiah 64:7). They become daily more and more unfit for the duty and more unwilling to do it. Those on whom this spiritual sloth seizes find it a grief and a weariness to do that which otherwise was a most easy thing (Proverbs 26:15).

 

13. Self-sufficiency

People may depend more on their gift in prayer than Jesus for fresh influences and supply of grace. The Lord in His righteousness may withdraw the ordinary influences of His Spirit and leave them to wrestle with the duty alone. Not finding the help they once experienced, they see that they cannot pray as formerly. This may cause inward grief (not due to the original cause of the withdrawing) and create dislike for the duty of prayer. Thus, corruption working in the soul and Satan using the situation to his advantage it may bit by bit be laid aside. Inward discontentment and pride may make them reluctant to pray because they see they cannot engage in it as before. They are now ashamed to pray, especially before others.

 

Conclusion

While this may seem all rather negative, we must recognise that prayer can be a struggle at times. We need to identify the things that make it difficult in order to deal with them. Prayerlessness can seriously damage your spiritual health. Brown’s book is overwhelmingly positive in bringing out many encouragements to pray. He shows what an encouraging thing it is to pray in Christ’s name and how God is glorified in Christ in answering our prayers. We “ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

This blog article is updated and extracted from John Brown of Wamphray’s very full book on prayer called Godly Prayer and its Answers.  The book is available from James Dickson Books in Kilsyth.

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Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2017

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2017

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2017
Matthew Vogan

2017 was the year of Reformation with the 500th anniversary. There were no shortage of books about that. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. They can be useful lists and reviews. Here are the best books published during the year that mined the riches of the Second Reformation. 

Naturally, we could highlight more than one or two Reformation Scotland resources but we will look at what others have produced instead.

1. Conversations with a Dying Man

Sadly, we all have to deal with situations of terminal illness. In Conversations with a Dying Man we listen over the shoulder of Samuel Rutherford while he counsels a young nobleman on his deathbed. It is thought-provoking and soul-stirring extended account of one man whose conscience had been hardened but later became inflamed with guilt. Aged only 35, John Gordon must now come to terms not only with terminal illness but also a burden of guilt.

In these conversations, Samuel Rutherford lovingly and faithfully administers the conviction and comfort the young nobleman needs. True peace and assurance are carefully distinguished from false hope. It is valuable for all of us but especially those nearing eternity and those who seek to give them spiritual help.

Rutherford must have many conversations with him in order to bring him to true repentance. Sometimes he must rebuke him as well as administer comfort. His faithful pastoral care brings the conscience of John Gordon from despair to joy unspeakable. He died “sweetly and holily, and his end was peace”.

2. God’s Ambassadors

The Westminster Assembly didn’t just produce documents it actively reformed the ministry in England. This is the story of how they went about this practically. How did they seek to improve and reform preaching? This book also shows how they approached preaching and biblical interpretation in their own practice.  These may well be the most valuable parts of the book. There are chapters on training and ordination. Christ-centred preaching and exegesis is also ably demonstrated.

This is an important and far-reaching study of the reforms achieved by the Westminster Assembly with much to teach ministers today. It is written by the man who knows most about the Westminster Assembly and its work.

God’s Ambassadors: The Westminster Assembly and the Reformation of the English Pulpit, 1643-1653 by Chad VanDixhoorn

3. Daily Thoughts from Samuel Rutherford

“Every day we may see some new thing in Christ” (Samuel Rutherford).

It has been frequently observed that there are 365 Letters by Samuel Rutherford. That makes it possible to read one each day of the year. This book provides brief thoughts for each day of the year, selected from the “most remarkable series of devotional letters that the literature of the Reformed Church can show” (Principal John Macleod).

Here is spiritual counsel and insight to give you renewed strength for each day. Each day presents a distinct opportunity to glorify God since “as many suns as God maketh to rise upon you, ye have as many new lives” (Samuel Rutherford).

This new book is highly recommended and you can purchase it here.

4. Ruling Elders and Deacons

It would be hard to find a more thorough or gracious treatment of this vital subject. It is dangerous to any Church to have ministers who are not called and qualified for their office. We must be equally concerned to have worthy men as elders and deacons. Zeal for the Lord’s honour and the gospel, love to souls and fear of the Lord’s judgment will make this a priority.

James Guthrie is concerned that many elders and deacons are neither aware of their duty nor conscientious in doing it. This book provides a straightforward explanation of the purpose and duties of these offices. There are various encouragements as well as crisp clarity and searching requirements. You can purchase it here.

5. Collected Sermons of James Durham

Which preacher from the Second Reformation would Spurgeon most like to have listened to? James Durham; a careful expositor with searching application and a winsome manner. You cannot go back to those times any more than Spurgeon, but if you want the next best thing you should obtain these volumes.

One volume contains 72 sermons on Isaiah 53 drawing out very fully the gospel of Christ crucified. The other volume collects a wide range of sermons, some which have not been published and others which have not been reprinted for centuries. This volume contains “The Blessedness of the Death of Those That Die in the Lord,” “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ” (Communion sermons), “Heaven upon Earth” (on conscience), “The Great Gain of Contenting Godliness,” and “The Great Corruption of Subtle Self,” as well as miscellaneous other sermons.

Collected Sermons of James Durham, 2 volumes

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Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?

Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?

Did Luther Reject the Ten Commandments?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
23 Oct, 2017

It is not uncommon to encounter the idea that Luther discarded the Ten Commandments. The idea is that he emphasised grace so much against works and gospel so much against law that he downplayed the believer’s use of the Ten Commandments. Alternatively it is suggested that he was worried people would return to works righteousness if they were taught the obligation of holy living by the Ten Commandments.

It is a strange idea because the Ten Commandments were a constant feature of Luther’s experience and preaching. He said that “every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc”. He preached on them from 1516 onwards and published A Brief Explanation of the Ten Commandments in 1518. In the midst of the conflicts raging at this time he says: “each evening I expound to children and ordinary folk the Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer”. He felt that it was necessary to keep these together in order to have a right perspective on the Commandments.

No man can progress so far in sanctification as to keep even one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but that the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our assistance, as we shall hear, through which we must continually seek, pray for, and obtain the power and strength to keep the Commandments

Luther had a high esteem for the Ten Commandments. “They are the true fountain from which all good works must flow”. “Only those things are good works which God has commanded, just as only that is a sin which God has forbidden. Therefore, he who wants to know and do good works need only know God’s Commandments… These Commandments of God must teach us how to distinguish among good works”.

Luther also expounded the Ten Commandments in his Large and Small Catechisms as well as composing a song by which they could be learned. Saving faith must evidence its real character in a changed life. “We must prove ourselves before the world. How? By keeping the other commandments as well: ‘You shall honor your father and mother’ “

The idea that Luther rejected the Ten Commandments is in fact such an old notion that in 1648, Samuel Rutherford went to the extent of translating Luther’s treatise Against the Antinomians from the original German. The following is an updated extract from that book.

Luther’s Use of the Ten Commandments

And truly, I wonder exceedingly how it came to be imputed to me that I should reject the law or Ten Commandments. There are available so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) on the Commandments. They are also daily expounded and used in our churches – to say nothing of the Confession and Apology and other books of ours. Add to this the custom we have to sing the Commandments in two different tunes; and also children painting, printing, carving, and rehearsing them both morning, noon, and evening. I know no other way than what we have done except that we do not (alas!) as we ought, really express and delineate them in our lives and conversations. I myself (as old as I am) have it for my custom to recite them daily, as a child, word for word.

If any should have been mistaken about what I had written, he might (seeing how vehemently I urge these catechetical exercises) in reason have been persuaded to call on me and demand these or similar questions. What? Good Doctor Luther, do you press so eagerly the Ten Commandments and yet also  teach that they must be rejected? They ought to have dealt thus with me and not secretly undermine me behind my back, and then wait for my death so they might afterwards make of me what they pleased. Well I forgive them, if they leave these courses.

 

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Were the Covenanters Puritans?

Were the Covenanters Puritans?

Were the Covenanters Puritans?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
1 Jun, 2017

The Covenanters shared certain principles with the English Puritans. There was an emphasis on the supreme authority of the Word of God in matters of worship and practice as well as doctrine. They shared a commitment to deepening the work of Reformation that brought them together in the Westminster Assembly. Their writings manifest the same spiritual maturity and true fear of God and preaching saturated with the Scriptures. They focus upon eternity, warfare against sin, family religion and practical godliness. Would it not be natural to think of the Covenanters as Scottish Puritans?

The short answer is: no, this would not be accurate. There are various reasons for this.

1. Puritanism is an imprecise term

Puritanism is notoriously difficult for scholars to define in terms of when the movement began and ended, what its main principles were and who can be given this label. It is not therefore a useful way of understanding the Covenanters and their principles. It is not helpful to think of New England as virtually identical to Scotland at this time.

Puritans could have different doctrinal views or positions on church government. The term Covenanter, by contrast is much more definite since it speaks of Covenanted Reformation and is clear in terms of church government, worship and doctrine.

The term Puritan does not indicate allegiance to a particular form of church government. Covenanters were, however, very committed to Presbyterian church government and suffered enormously in defending it. To call the Covenanters Puritans sets aside the importance that they placed on Presbyterian principles. It may well say far more about modern indifference to matters of church government than it does about the Scottish Church in the seventeenth century.

2. Puritanism was a short-lived term in Scotland

The term Puritan was never especially used in Scotland before 1618, whereas it was used in England from 1564. This was when changes were brought into the worship of the Church of Scotland to bring it in line with the Church of England. Those who resisted the changes were defending the status quo rather than seeking to change it.The Puritans in England were conversely trying to change the status quo to match the practice in Scotland. There was similarity in what they were defending but. Presbyterians were nicknamed Puritan by the Church authorities in order to smear their reputation. The name fell out of use after 1638 in Scotland because that is when the bishops and their supporters fell from power.

The Covenanter movement in Scotland was different to English Puritanism in its purpose. The Reformation under John Knox had not been a half-way compromise but rather something that Puritans admired. The Covenanters were resisting change away from the original position of the Church rather than trying to effect change. The Puritans, however, aimed to purify the half-reformed Church of England from its Roman Catholic practices. This is a significant difference.

3. Puritanism was rejected in Scotland as a term of abuse

Of course it was a term of abuse in England too at first. Yet the English Puritans came to accept it. Robert Bolton spoke of ‘Puritan’ as “the honourable nickname of the best and holiest men”. John Geree celebrated it in The Character of an Old English Puritan, or Non-Conformist (1646).

Samuel Rutherford, however, only used the word in reference to it as a term of abuse applied by the enemies of the Presbyterians (see Letters 11, 59 and 262). In one sermon he refers to those who are afraid of being nicknamed Puritans. This does not mean, however, that they welcomed it. George Gillespie objected to the fact that “they make godly and zealous Christians to be mocked and nick named Puritans except they can swallow the camel of conformity”. He makes the point that this was the term applied to an ancient heresy.

Our consciences bear us witness how without all reason we are branded with the name of those ancient heretics from whose opinions and manners O how far are we. And as for ourselves notwithstanding all this we shrink not to be reproached for the cause of Christ. We know the old Waldenses before us were also named by their adversaries Cathares or Puritans and that without cause hath this name been given both to them and us. But we are most sorry that such as are walking humbly with their God seeking eagerly after the means of grace and salvation and making good conscience of all their ways should be made odious and that piety, humility, repentance, zeal, conscience etc should be mocked and all by occasion of the ceremonies.

Conclusion

It may not seem a weighty point, but it is best nevertheless to avoid the growing mistake of referring to the Covenanters as either Puritans or Scottish Puritans. Let us instead, appreciate the distinctive difference.

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When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
24 Nov, 2016

If books are executed for their dangerous ideas, then the Stuarts must have felt threatened by the ideas of the Second Reformation in Scotland. Most of the key books and documents of the time were condemned by these kings to be burnt publicly by the hangman. It was an exercise in the power of the sword over the power of the pen. Perhaps it is not surprising that the first recorded book burning in history was by a king seeking to destroy the words of Scripture (Jeremiah 36:27).

Many books and documents were ‘executed’ at this time. It was a sinister threat to the author and all who would promote the ideas of the book. It was not a long journey for the Restoration regime to make from executing the Covenants to executing the Covenanters. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt to destroy ideas but of course it only attracted more readers for a book. As one writer has observed poetically: “books have souls as well as men, which survive their martyrdom, and are not burnt but crowned by the flames that encircle them”.

 

1. Defending the Liberty of the Church

One of the early books to be burnt was George Gillespie’s argument against the Anglican ceremonies being imposed on the Scottish Church. George Gillespie was young and exceptionally gifted. He explained the reasons in a forthright book. He said that these ceremonies in worship had their origin in Roman Catholic worship not Scripture. He argued they were not necessary, useful or lawful. And neither was their imposition merely unimportant.

The book he published was called A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It was published anonymously in Holland due to the persecution of dissent. It appeared at exactly the right time – the summer of 1637 -in the midst of protest and uproar due to the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer.

We could think of this as a war between two books. Which would succeed – Gillespie or the Bishops? Although the Book of Common Prayer had the repressive force of government behind it, Gillespie’s book had the power and authority of God’s Word. In October 1637 the Privy Council ordered that all copies of Gillespie’s book to be collected and burnt by the public hangman. It was a last desperate attempt but too late. Gillespie’s book was never answered.

 

2. Defending the Liberty of the People

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.

When it was published Charles I said that it would scarcely get an answer. It contained such a powerful argument that Charles II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.”  Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government? Experience under the Stuart regime showed that absolute power was an intoxicating notion that did not value either liberties or mens’ lives. More than this, the king was set himself up with a divine authority in place of the authority of Scripture, and this had to be resisted.

 

3. Defending the Liberty of Both

The National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) were solemn oaths that obliged those who swore to defend such liberties. It is not surprising that these Covenants were publicly burnt, even though they pledged loyalty to the king. Futhermore, Charles II himself had sworn to them together with his government. One pamphlet responded to the covenant breaking and burning. It was called The Phoenix, or the Solemn League and Covenant (1661). The idea was that the covenant like the phoenix would rise from its ashes.

When dying men left a public written testimony behind them, it could be burned publicly. This was the case with the minister James Wood in 1664. It was only an attempt to clear himself from slanderous rumours that he had forsaken presbyterian principles.

James Guthrie’s pamphlet The Causes of the Lord’s Wrath against Scotland (1653) was a frank acknowledgement of the nation’s departure from its former principles. Its reflections on the king were considered treasonable, however. Anyone found possessing it could be charged with treason. The book was of course burnt publicly by the hangman. It would be used as evidence in the trial which condemned Guthrie for execution. This was a clear instance of a book’s execution leading to capital punishment for the author.

The Covenanters sought to defend themselves in print. There were books such as John Brown of Wamphray’s Apologetic Relation (1679) or James Stewart’s Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland (1667). These protests against repression and government brutality were burned publicly. The Lanark, Rutherglen and Sanquhar Declarations were all burnt also, together with the Queensferry Paper.

 

Conclusion

Clearly, these were powerful books. They remain powerful. While they speak to their own time in various ways, there are important principles with biblical authority that we may draw from them. If these principles are lost then we are in danger of losing true civil and religious liberty. After all the attempts to destroy such ideas, our generation must not condemn them through mere apathy. We have a duty to the present and past to grasp and maintain principles for which others risked or gave their lives.

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Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
21 Nov, 2016

350 years ago, services other than government-sponsored worship were  outlawed. Any who refused to attend the state church were heavily fined. Troops were stationed in people’s houses and given liberty to do anything they liked to the local population. The punishment for conducting “illegal” worship was execution. Landlords, magistrates and any in a position of authority had to support and reinforce such measures. People were driven to desperation under such tyranny. What could they do? In November 1666 they rose up in self-defence, but was it right to do so?

On 13 November 1666, a spontaneous event arose from a particular instance of brutality. The soldiers were exacting “church fines” and one poor old man was being threatened with being roasted alive on his own hearth because he could not pay. When others intervened the soldiers attacked with swords, but one of the Covenanters fired a pistol wounding one of them and the others surrendered.

Realising that, having gone thus far, they would be considered rebels they decided to raise an armed force. They intended to go to Edinburgh to petition the government for relief from oppression. On the way, they renewed the National Covenant at Lanark and Gabriel Semple preached. In his sermon he mentioned Proverbs 24:11-12 which condemns failing to deliver those that are “drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain”. He applied this in a moving reference to the rescue at Dalry and the wider context.

But government troops pursued them awaiting a time to attack. Through night marching and inclement weather when they got to Edinburgh,”they looked rather like dying men than soldiers going to a battle…weary, faint, half-drowned, half-starved”. When the gates of Edinburgh were closed against them they made their way home to the west. It was at this point that General Dalyell engaged them with his army of some 3,000 well-equipped men. The Covenanters had around 700-900. A battle ensued at Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills about seven miles from Edinburgh on Wednesday, 28 November. Fifty of the Covenanters were killed and eighty captured.

Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) published a defence of the Pentland Rising together with a minster called James Stirling. The book was called Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ. Stewart was an advocate, later Lord Advocate.  He describes the tyrannical laws and events surrounding the Pentland Rising. He then goes on to make some arguments in defence of the Covenanters which are summarised below.

1. Self-Defence

The rising was an act of self-defence. God has given both the power and right of self-defence which cannot be set aside or renounced as it is part of God’s law [see the 6th commandment, Shorter Catechism Q.68-69].

2. Recognition of God-ordained Government

They were not anti-government but neither could they accept that kings and governments could do no wrong. Governments are ordained of God in subordination to His law for the safety of every individual. If either of these are perverted, the common bond of society, government and law, is dissolved. Rulers who command things directly contrary to the law of God may be justly disobeyed. Those who destroy their kingdom may be lawfully resisted.

3. Emergency Action Against Tyranny

When the common bond of government and society is dissolved, individuals may join and associate for their better defence and preservation. This is what takes place when societies are first formed. They may join together in self-defence.

4. God’s Law is Supreme

Scotland’s kings and parliaments had recognised the revealed Word and will of God to be the superior rule of law. They must continue to abide by this even if the current government did not.

5. Continued Obligation to God

They belonged to a nation solemnly and expressly engaged by covenant to God and with each other for the advancing the objectives of the National Covenant. This meant endeavouring a national reformation and the “valiant vindication of the glory of God and His work and cause”. They had to continue to uphold this no matter who departed from it, lest they would come under God’s judgements. They had been burnt and set aside by the government. The king and government had personally signed the covenants in the past and had (like others) held their office by signing them. Yet such sacred covenants cannot be dissolved by man, these obligations remained as far as God was concerned and the consciences of those who feared His name and sought His glory.

6. Defending What is Most Important

They were engaged in the defence and preservation of life, liberties and the commonwealth, “against the most barbarous and horrid violences and injuries that can be imagined”. They also acted for the glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, in defence and maintenance of the blessed gospel and its precious ministry and ordinances. These were duties and concerns infinitely more important than civil liberties. Clearer grounds for self-defence and reformation cannot possibly be supposed.

Conclusion

The Pentland Rising was not treason against lawful authority. Risings and leagues contrary to law are treasonable if they “are not warranted and commanded by the superior law and authority of God”.  For this reason, the Rising “was altogether lawful, righteous and necessary”. It was self-defence against the authorities tyrannically invading the rights of the individual with brutal, physical violence. Clearly, applying such principles in a different context needs much careful and prayerful consideration. They were pushed to this last resort. It is clear that these Covenanters had a clear grasp of the religious and civil liberties which they held so dear.

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How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries

How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries

How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
6 Jul, 2016

A previous article outlined 7 Reasons You Should Study the Bible with the Covenanters. Their bible commentaries are practical, pastoral, simple, concise, clear, contextual and popular. They were highly esteemed by Charles Spurgeon in his Commenting and Commentaries. Some of these books are out of print but is still possible to purchase existing stock or second hand. It is also possible to get facsimiles of the originals through Amazon but they may be difficult to read.

The Ten Commandments

James Durham – A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments (Naphtali Press, 2002). This volume is out of print but existing stock may be available from UK bookshops or via Naphtali Press’ print-on-demand service on Lulu.com.

In particular instances, cases relating to daily practice are so distinctly proposed, stated and determined, as that the whole is a complete Christian directory in our walking before God in all duties of obedience. Let the pious reader single out any one duty or head of duties to make his trial upon, and, if I greatly mistake not, he will discern with what wisdom, and from what deep experience, his plain directions are managed, and do proceed – John Owen

Job

James Durham – Lectures on the Book of Job (Naphtali Press, 2003).

It is certain to be good, for Durham is always admirable…Whatever Durham has written is very precious. He has the pen of a ready writer, and indites good matter – Spurgeon

George Hutcheson – An Exposition of the Book of Job Available as a facsimile.

Whenever the student sees a commentary by Hutcheson let him buy it, for we know of no author who is more thoroughly helpful to the minister of the Word. He distills the text, and gives his readers the quintessence, ready for use – Spurgeon

Psalms

David Dickson – Psalms Vol. 1 (1-50), Vol. 2 (51-100), Vol. 3 (101-150) (Banner of Truth, 1959 – in print).

A rich volume, dropping fatness. Invaluable to the preacher. Having read and re-read it, we can speak of its holy savour and suggestiveness. We commend it with much fervour – Spurgeon

Song of Songs

James Durham – Song of Solomon (Banner of Truth). Out of print but available secondhand.

Durham is always good, and he is at his best upon the Canticles. He gives us the essence of the good matter. For practical use this work is perhaps more valuable than any other Key to the Song – Spurgeon

Ecclesiastes

Alexander Nisbet – Ecclesiastes. Available as a facsimile.

One of those solid works which learned Scotch divines of the seventeenth century have left us in considerable numbers. In our judgment it is as heavy as it is weighty – Spurgeon

Isaiah 53

James Durham, The Marrow of the Gospel in seventy-two Sermons on the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah (Naphtali Press and RHB). May be obtained from UK bookshops or here.

This is marrow indeed. We need say no more: Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors – Spurgeon

The Minor Prophets

George Hutcheson, The Minor Prophets (Sovereign Grace Publishers). Note that the Sovereign Grace Publishers reprint only contains six of the minor prophets.

Get it. Hutcheson is always rich. He resembles Dickson – Spurgeon

Matthew

David Dickson – Matthew (Banner of Truth) out of print but available secondhand. Electronic version available on kindle or facsimile.

A perfect gem. The work is, to men of our school, more suggestive of sermons than almost any other we have met with – Spurgeon

John

George Hutcheson – John (Banner of Truth and Sovereign Grace Publishers)

Excellent; beyond all praise. It is a full-stored treasury of sound theology, holy thought, and marrowy doctrine – Spurgeon

All of the Epistles

David Dickson – All the Epistles: Romans-Jude.

Dickson is a writer after our own heart. For preachers he is a great ally. There is nothing brilliant or profound; but everything is clear and well arranged, and the unction runs down like the oil from Aaron’s head. In this volume the observations are brief – Spurgeon

Romans

John Brown of Wamphray – Romans (Amazon facsimile)

By a Calvinist of the old school. Heavy, perhaps; but precious – Spurgeon

Galatians – Thessalonians

James Fergusson – Galatians – 2 Thessalonians (Sovereign Grace Publishers).

He who possesses this work is rich. The author handles his matter in the same manner as Hutcheson and Dickson, and he is of their class–a grand, gracious, savory divine – Spurgeon

This was published by the Banner of Truth together with the following but is now out of print.

Hebrews

David Dickson – A Short Explanation of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Solid Ground Christian Books). This is a different commentary than the commentary on Hebrews in his commentary on all the epistles.

We need say no more than–get it, and you will find abundance of suggestions for profitable trains of thought – Spurgeon

1 & 2 Peter

Alexander Nisbet – 1 & 2 Peter (Banner of Truth)

A judicious and gracious Scotch commentary, after the style of Dickson and Hutcheson – Spurgeon

Revelation

James Durham – Commentary Upon the Book of Revelation (Old Paths). Out of print but stock may be obtained from UK bookshops or buy facsimile.

After all that has been written, it would not be easy to find a more sensible and instructive work than this old-fashioned exposition…the mystery of the gospel fills it with sweet savour – Spurgeon

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What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?

What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?

What Spiritual Fruit Have You Produced This Year?
Matthew Vogan
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
25 Dec, 2015

We need to be challenged by this type of question. Spiritual fruit ought to be visible. Sometimes we need to be unsettled from our complacency. But it is easy to be cast down when we take an all-too-realistic view of our spiritual progress. It can even make us question the reality of our profession. Encouragement follows for any who take this question seriously.

What sort of fruit should we expect? The Shorter Catechism describes some of the fruit that should be evident. If we have been justified, adopted, and are being sanctified there are certain benefits. There is “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end”.  Increase of grace includes growth in holiness. It also includes the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice that it does not speak of intellectual knowledge or outward activity. These have their place but are not spiritual fruit. If this is the true fruit then has this year been a fruitful year for your soul?

There is a common caricature that self-examination is like uprooting a plant all the time to see if it is growing. Spiritual self-examination does not dissect the roots but discerns the fruits. If there is fruit then there is evidence of growth and reality. This is how we are to obey Scripture’s command to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5).  This is how we recognise and avoid a mere “form of godliness” which denies its “power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

 

1. Where Does Spiritual Fruit Come From?

William Guthrie touches on some of these points towards the end of his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest.  Guthrie’s book was highly commended by John Owen. He said that it contained more theology than everything he himself had written. Thomas Chalmers said it was the best book he had ever read. It was the favourite book of Scottish homes for many generations.

“Great Interest” doesn’t just mean that the book deals with the matter of greatest importance to a Christian and his chief concern. It is a legal term and means to have a valid stake or share in something to our benefit. Guthrie’s book deals with how the Christian may know whether he has a valid legal claim. The claim that matters is one within the Will and Testament or Covenant that the Lord Jesus Christ graciously makes with His people. Guthrie helps us to put ourselves in a courtroom trial where we are under Scripture as a judge to determine if our claim is true.

As he concludes this book, Guthrie deals with various objections relating to lack of assurance. One of these is the lack of fruitfulness. We are to expect sincerity but not perfection. He says that “these things will keep a man in work all his days”. God’s people have all “had their failings and shortcomings”. Their  “backslidings” and “dangerous unbelief” are evident. Even after they had sincerely trusted God in Christ. In the following updated extract he deals with common mistakes in relation to spiritual fruitfulness.

Many look for fruitfulness from themselves. They seek it in their own Christian walk, strength of faith and sincerity in dealing with God. They seek it from themselves rather than from the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. They fix their hearts on their own honesty and resolutions, and not in the blessed root, Christ Jesus. Without Him, we can do nothing, and are entirely vanity in our best condition.

People should remember, that one piece of grace cannot produce any degree of grace. Furthermore, nothing can work grace but the arm of Jehovah. It would fare better with them if they were to lean on Christ alone… If, at least, they would look to Him alone for the suitable fruit.

Blame your unfruitfulness on your unwatchfulness and your unbelief. Blame your lack full assurance on an evil heart of unbelief, helped by Satan to act against the glorious free grace of God…Resolve from now on to abide close by the root and you will bring forth much fruit. And by much fruit, you open yourself to the witness of God’s Spirit. He will testify with your spirit that you have sincerely and honestly embraced God’s offer. Also that the rest of your works are wrought in God and approved by Him.

 

2. Much Fruit by Abiding in Christ

Further encouragement is available from another great classic on assurance. The Sum of Saving Knowledge by David Dickson and James Durham offers concise counsel. This is drawn from John 15:5 where the Lord Jesus Christ says “I am the vine”. They show that we must abide in Christ and He in us in order for us to bear “much fruit”.  What does abiding in Christ involve? The following updated extract answers this question. Abiding in Christ presupposes three things:

  1. That we have heard the joyful sound of the gospel offering Christ to us as lost sinners by the law;
  2. That we have heartily embraced the gracious offer of Christ;
  3. That by receiving Him we have become the sons of God (John 1:12). We are incorporated into His spiritual body. This is so that He may dwell in us, as His temple, and we may dwell in Him as the residence of righteousness and life.

Abiding in Christ also means three further things.

  1. Making use of Christ in all our dealings with God and in all service and worship to God.
  2. Being content with His sufficiency. Not seeking righteousness, life, or spiritual resources outside of Christ. Not seeking this in any way or at any time in our own worthiness or anyone else’s.
  3. Steadfastly believing in Him. Steadfastly making use of Christ. Being steadfastly content in Him, and cleaving to Him. In such a way that no allurement, no temptation from Satan or the world, no terror nor trouble, may be able to drive our spirits from firm adherence to Him. So that nothing may drive us from constantly avowing His truth and obeying His commands. He has loved us and given himself for us. Not only is our life in Him, but also the fulness of the Godhead bodily through the union of His divine and human natures.

Thus, every watchful believer should reason in the following way to strengthen themselves in faith and obedience:

“Whoever makes daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse his conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable him to obey the law in love,  has evidence of true faith within himself”

“But I do make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love”

“Therefore, I have the evidence of true faith within myself.”

The slothful and negligent believer may also reason in the following way to stir himself up:

“I must be diligent to do whatever is necessary to show evidence of true faith. Unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.

“But to make daily use of Christ Jesus to cleanse my conscience and affections from the guilt and filthiness of sins against the law and enable me to obey the law in love is necessary to show evidence of true faith”

“Therefore, I must be diligent to do this unless I wish to deceive myself and perish”.

God willing, we have the prospect of another year before us. Here is how it can be a spiritually fruitful year.

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