A Combative Clash

A Combative Clash

EPISODE 02

4 Mar, 2021
A Combative Clash

It could split the congregation if the pastor tackles the ideas undermining his sermons. What can be done? Is there a way of resolving a situation that is strewn with stumbling blocks. Let’s discover how to handle a real-life situation with biblical principles drawn from James Durham’s classic book. 

A keen debater is a loose cannon amongst the most impressionable Christians. Instead of this congregation growing in holiness, things are cropping up – stumbling blocks are appearing – which mean that various people are being hindered in their Christian walk and even provoked into sin. Can the situation be recovered or is disaster inevitable? If we can learn how to handle this situation, it will guide us when similar things happen in our own experience.

The Concerning Scandal podcast applies the biblical principles of avoiding spiritual harm by looking at the real-life scenarios in which stumbling blocks arise. We can use the spiritual wisdom of James Durham’s classic book in situations we are all too familiar with.

To find out more, visit www.concerningscandal.com

FURTHER HELP

In the Bible offence not the same as making someone displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to stumble in their spiritual progress or offend against God’s Word. We can do this without meaning to do it. It also happens when we do and say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time and so turn people against what is right. To explore this issue further, you may find it helpful to read the article The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture.  George Gillespie describes as briefly as possible the various dimensions of the biblical principle of not causing others to offend against God’s Word.
 

 

 

 

 

GET THE BOOK

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

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

How Do We Identify Spiritual Harm and Avoid Causing it?

How Do We Identify Spiritual Harm and Avoid Causing it?

EPISODE 01

10 Feb, 2021
How Do We Identify Spiritual Harm and Avoid Causing it?

Have you ever considered the seriousness of causing someone else to stumble? That is, to hinder someone’s spiritual wellbeing. Does it surprise you that the apostle Paul in Romans 14:20 describes it as evil?

The Concerning Scandal podcast applies the biblical principles of avoiding spiritual harm by looking at the real-life scenarios in which stumbling blocks arise. We can use the spiritual wisdom of James Durham’s classic book in situations we are all too familiar with.

In this episode, rather than examining a particular real-life scenario we need to understand why this is so important. The Bible speaks about stumbling blocks and offences and this has implications for all of us. It raises some challenging questions.

To find out more, visit www.concerningscandal.com

FURTHER HELP

The implications of this are virtually all-encompassing. There are few things we must take more seriously than this in the Christian life.

To explore this issue further, you may find it helpful to read the article 7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others.

You will discover how a stumbling block in Scripture is not simply an obstacle. It is anyone or anything by which someone is drawn into sin or error. Or it may simply hinder them from being edified. Scripture tells that it can happen even through things that aren’t in themselves sinful. David Dickson explains the teaching of Christ on this subject in Matthew 18.

 

 

 

 

GET THE BOOK

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

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

Top 10 Second Reformation Books of 2020

Top 10 Second Reformation Books of 2020

Top 10 Second Reformation Books of 2020
Matthew Vogan

Although it has been a strange year for many things, it doesn’t seem to have stopped books being published. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. It can be a useful to do that. Here are the best books published during 2020 from or about the Second Reformation. We have some of our own but this page highlights other publications. Other productions could have been included such as the Works of Thomas Manton and a new critical edition of the Westminster Confession but this list is limited to ten.

1. Scottish Heroines of the Faith​

What trials did women experience during the times of persecution? What do we know about the the wives of noted men like James Guthrie, John Livingstone and James Durham?  Written at the beginning of the 20th century by Donald Beaton these short biographies provide much of the answer to these questions.

We also encounter high-born women who used their influence for the cause of Christ and left an example of godly living. Some witnessed the suffering and martyrdom of their husbands. Others were called to suffer themselves and lay down their own lives. They provide an example of courageous godliness that we can still learn from today. As the author himself put it, “the very fact of being brought into communion with a people who loved their lives not unto the death, is an inspiration not to be lightly esteemed.” We come to see “in a measure what they suffered for their love and fidelity to the truth as it is in Jesus.”

 

2. Spiritual Rest During Trials

The afflictions of the people of God may be fierce, like the scorching sun. Sometimes they feel faint under these trials, seeking relief wherever they can. Yet Christ has provided shade for his afflicted flock to find rest. In the midst of their trials they must avoid finding rest anywhere other than in him.

This book contains a very spiritual and attractive exposition of this theme – a sermon on Song of Solomon chapter 1, verse 7. It continues to offer great encouragement to the people of God.

Hugh MacKail was a godly young man who was going to suffer for preaching this very message. He would have to put it into practice. An introduction explains the remarkable context of MacKail’s sermon and life. The book also contains his final testimony, written after torture and before his martyrdom.

3. Preaching Without Fear Or Favour

Robert Bruce was a powerful preacher  these previously unpublished sermons offer fresh insights about the “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11. This volume offers the rare opportunity to hear an echo (in updated language) of the type of preaching that shaped Scotland in momentous times. “As we would expect from sermons on Hebrews 11, the emphasis on Christ is on his meritorious sacrifice for sin…His blood, his cross, his grace, his forgiveness – all are at the centre of every expression of gospel truth” (David Searle).  “He speaks too of the grace that enables the believer to see Christ’s face. Thus the doctrine of justification, which he fully expounds in terms of Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us through faith, is clearly set forth” (David Searle). Much comfort is also offered to doubting believers.

“How can it be possible for the preacher to move and persuade you, unless he himself is moved and persuaded in his own heart by the same Holy Spirit?”, Bruce asks. Here are the sermons of one who knew what this meant.

4. Conflicts between Doubt and Assurance

Bessie Clarkson is a troubled woman, her doubts about her own salvation are so severe that she seems to resist all spiritual help. Can she find hope in the midst of seeming despair? This account is both touching and harrowing as we follow her dialogue with her minister William Livingstone.
This godly man was the father of John Livingstone. He seeks to faithfully counsel a person who despairs of assurance in a way that seems virtually irrecoverable. Her words demonstrate what conflicts a soul may endure and how we dare not treat such matters lightly.
The touching account of his conversations with her shows how a faithful spiritual counsellor may deal tenderly with such a difficult situation. As William Livingstone concludes, believers must labour to have a lively and effectual faith, in the depth of our soul.

5. Master Robert Bruce

What happened between the first and second Reformations in Scotland? One great way of answering that question is to get into this biography of a key individual who came after John Knox.

Robert Bruce needed a steely resolution to withstand conflict and persecution. His penetrating preaching was blessed by God in a time of revival that prepared the way for the Second Reformation. Sadly, Bruce died not long before the time of the Covenant. ‘No man’, said John Livingstone, ‘since the apostles’ time spake with such power’.

D. C . Macnicol tells a gripping story of a tumultous life. Master Robert Bruce, a man whose soul and conscience were wholly mastered by God.

6. The SCANDAL OF STUMBLING BLOCKS: AVOIDING SPIRITUAL HARM

Have you ever considered the seriousness of causing someone else to stumble? That is, to hinder someone’s spiritual wellbeing. Does it surprise you that the apostle Paul describes it as evil (Rom. 14:20)?

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

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

There is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord Himself denounces it and doubles a woe against it in Matthew 18:7. The apostle confirms this in Romans 14:20, where he describes it as literally evil to do something that will make a brother stumble. The Lord takes special notice of how people walk in reference to causing stumbling in others and is highly provoked where He sees anyone guilty of it (Rev. 2:6).

7. SERMONS ON LAMENTATIONS 

This rare, never-before-published volume powerfully expounds a neglected book of Scripture. David Dickson carefully applies Lamentations in a time not only of epidemic disease, international turmoil, economic devastation, and persecution but also of revival. There are clear parallels with our own time, particularly the unprecedented circumstances of upheaval in the nations of the world. Dickson also deals with church decline and argues that its afflictions should cause us great sorrow. Yet he also shows how Lamentations gives those with such heavy hearts words with which to sorrow in hope. This edition has been carefully produced from notes taken by a member of Dickson’s congregation.

 

8. EXPOSITION OF REVELATION 1-3

This exposition by James Durham powerfully and searchingly applies the letters to the seven churches in Asia. “The mystery of the gospel fills it with sweet savour” (C H Spurgeon). Also included are independent treatises covering subjects such as the doctrine of the Trinity, a call to the ministry and qualifications for the ministry, church government and church discipline, repentance, the difference in common and saving grace, and preaching and application in preaching.

The text has been collated with a 1653 manuscript and an appendix contains texts and full lectures that are significantly different than the published edition of 1658. 

10. The Works of Robert TrailL

This reprint of the Works of Robert Traill also includes ten additional sermons not in previous editions. The writings of Traill have proved constantly popular. John Howie said, “The simplicity and evangelical strain of the works of Mr. Traill have been savoury to many, and will ever be so, while religion and Scripture doctrine are in request.” He wrote a clear defence of the doctrine of justification intending “plainly and briefly, to give some information to ordinary plain people”. He expounds the nature of prayer and the throne of grace in thirteen sermons. Equally rich are sixteen sermons on John 17:24 that deal with Christ’s prayer and His desires for His people.

I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ— of his divine person; of his divine office; of his divine righteousness; and of his divine Spirit. I know no true ministers of Christ, but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in his saving fulness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men; no true Christian, but one united to Christ by faith, and abiding in him by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauties of gospel-holiness.

9. The Divine Right of Church Government 

Church government may be studiously neglected by many today but it is still an important subject. This volume was written by those who were prominent in the Westminster Assembly and their friends to explain clearly how Christ’s Church is to be governed. The result is a carefully reasoned volume that is still unsurpassed.

Part 1 is worth the price of the book itself in establishing the general principle of how we know whether something has divine authority.  Part 2 takes up what form of church government is established by Scripture to be of divine right. It also helps define the limits of civil government jurisdiction in relation to the church.

In The Church of Christ, James Bannerman said this “work contains an extremely able, thorough, and satisfactory discussion of most of the points relating to the nature of Church government as a Divine institution, and to the power or authority of the Church, its seat and exercise.”

 

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Summer 2020 Reading

Summer 2020 Reading

Summer 2020 Reading
Matthew Vogan

Summer is a great time to catch up on edifying reading. There is no shortage of books hot off the press to explore. Here are some suggestions related to the Second Reformation. 

They begin from a starting out level of reading and progress through books that help you explore further before we reach the more advanced level.

1. Master Robert Bruce

What happened between the first and second Reformations in Scotland? One great way of answering that question is to get into this biography of a key individual who came after John Knox. 

Robert Bruce needed a steely resolution to withstand conflict and persecution. His penetrating preaching was blessed by God in a time of revival that prepared the way for the Second Reformation. Sadly, Bruce died not long before the time of the Covenant. ‘No man’, said John Livingstone, ‘since the apostles’ time spake with such power’.

D. C . Macnicol tells a gripping story of a tumultous life. Master Robert Bruce, a man whose soul and conscience were wholly mastered by God. 

2. Spiritual Rest During Trials

The afflictions of the people of God may be fierce, like the scorching sun. Sometimes they feel faint under these trials, seeking relief wherever they can. Yet Christ has provided shade for his afflicted flock to find rest. In the midst of their trials they must avoid finding rest anywhere other than in him.

This book contains a very spiritual and attractive exposition of this theme – a sermon on Song of Solomon chapter 1, verse 7. It continues to offer great encouragement to the people of God.

Hugh MacKail was a godly young man who was going to suffer for preaching this very message. He would have to put it into practice. An introduction explains the remarkable context of MacKail’s sermon and life. The book also contains his final testimony, written after torture and before his martyrdom.

3. Our Faith: Understanding Scripture with the Westminster Confession

All believers seek to interpret the Bible. But too often our personal understanding can be fuzzy and patchy. We don’t see how truths relate to each other and we struggle to articulate them. The Westminster Confession of Faith has helped many generations across the world to have a clear and orderly understanding of biblical truth. It helps us to share our faith together and respond with appropriate worship.

Our Faith is a straightforward resource that enables everyone to do this by removing difficulties and providing helpful explanations. It has a section that explains simply the meaning of the relevant paragraph of the Confesson. A glossary defines difficult words. There is also a summary explanation of why the Scripture references listed are relevant. There are also questions with outline answers to check your understanding. It is well suited for personal or group study and especially for getting to grips with the Confession if you have not studied it carefully before.

 

4. Conflicts between Doubt and Assurance

Bessie Clarkson is a troubled woman, her doubts about her own salvation are so severe that she seems to resist all spiritual help. Can she find hope in the midst of seeming despair? This account is both touching and harrowing as we follow her dialogue with her minister William Livingstone.
This godly man was the father of John Livingstone. He seeks to faithfully counsel a person who despairs of assurance in a way that seems virtually irrecoverable. Her words demonstrate what conflicts a soul may endure and how we dare not treat such matters lightly.
The touching account of his conversations with her shows how a faithful spiritual counsellor may deal tenderly with such a difficult situation. As William Livingstone concludes, believers must labour to have a lively and effectual faith, in the depth of our soul.

5. SELECT PRACTICAL WRITINGS OF ROBERT TRAILL

Robert Traill knew the leading Covenanters well. The son of a persecuted minister, he likewise suffered, being imprisoned on the Bass Rock. His ministry was largely in England, however, and he outlived the period of persecution.

This volume is a good introduction to his writings which have been commended for the “zeal, the sincerity, and fervent piety” that pervade them. There is a simple yet powerful clarity in the way that he opens up the Scriptures.

Strive for the knowledge of him. It is the ignorance of God that is the most universal cause of all the sin and misery in the world, and in the church.

6. The Works of Robert TrailL

This reprint of the Works of Robert Traill also includes ten additional sermons not in previous editions. The writings of Traill have proved constantly popular. John Howie said, “The simplicity and evangelical strain of the works of Mr. Traill have been savoury to many, and will ever be so, while religion and Scripture doctrine are in request.” He wrote a clear defence of the doctrine of justification intending “plainly and briefly, to give some information to ordinary plain people”. He expounds the nature of prayer and the throne of grace in thirteen sermons. Equally rich are sixteen sermons on John 17:24 that deal with Christ’s prayer and His desires for His people.

I know no true religion but Christianity; no true Christianity but the doctrine of Christ— of his divine person; of his divine office; of his divine righteousness; and of his divine Spirit. I know no true ministers of Christ, but such as make it their business, in their calling, to commend Jesus Christ, in his saving fulness of grace and glory, to the faith and love of men; no true Christian, but one united to Christ by faith, and abiding in him by faith and love, unto the glorifying of the name of Jesus Christ, in the beauties of gospel-holiness.

7. The Divine Right of Church Government 

Church government may be studiously neglected by many today but it is still an important subject. This volume was written by those who were prominent in the Westminster Assembly and their friends to explain clearly how Christ’s Church is to be governed. The result is a carefully reasoned volume that is still unsurpassed.

Part 1 is worth the price of the book itself in establishing the general principle of how we know whether something has divine authority.  Part 2 takes up what form of church government is established by Scripture to be of divine right. It also helps define the limits of civil government jurisdiction in relation to the church.

In The Church of Christ, James Bannerman said this “work contains an extremely able, thorough, and satisfactory discussion of most of the points relating to the nature of Church government as a Divine institution, and to the power or authority of the Church, its seat and exercise.”

 

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How Can Your Church Have More Loving Fellowship?

How Can Your Church Have More Loving Fellowship?

READING GROUP

How Can Your Church Have More Loving Fellowship?

JOHN OWEN

Download the Reading Group Guide for

Rules for Walking in Fellowship – John Owen

What are some practical biblical steps we can all take to increase loving fellowship in our congregations?

Rules for Walking in Fellowship gives you 22 guidelines for biblical church life.  This book will help you identify and understand key biblical passages about fellowship. Its concise counsel will also motivate you to want to live out these principles. 

You will learn how to:

  • foster true gospel fellowship
  • better support your pastor
  • have better relationships with fellow church members

1. SPIRITUAL SUPPORT FOR YOUR PASTOR

Your pastor watches over your soul, but you have responsibilities to him too. When the church gathers for worship, you should be there too. You need to be diligent in listening to and living out the Word of God that he preaches. You should also follow the example of his life, as far as he follows Christ. He needs your prayerful support, respect and encouragement. His authority comes from Christ and so you should also submit to it as long as it does not go beyond Scripture. 

2. PRACTICAL SUPPORT FOR YOUR PASTOR

It is only fair and right that your pastor should have the financial support he needs for his family and in order to do his work. It also shows appreciation for the spiritual benefit we receive. Your pastor will also come under attack spiritually and from others. He will often suffer because of the truth. You must stand with him in his trials.

3. LOVING ONE ANOTHER

Love is the essential dimension of all the duties of fellowship; it is expressed in them all. It is based on the love that Christ Himself displays to the Church. Nothing makes the faith more attractive to others than mutual, intense and affectionate love among Christ’s followers. You should take an interest in every one of your fellow members since you belong to the same family. It would be wrong to look down or ignore any of them. Any spiritual gift or role that makes us different from them is not due to ourselves; it is freely and graciously given by Christ. Love will also make us patient towards each other and bear with one another’s faults. When we think of how patient and forgiving Christ has been towards us, we should be ready to bear with His people. 

4. PRAYING FOR THE CHURCH

Every believer has a role in faithfully praying every day for the church to be built up and blessed by God. You need to pray for those with whom you are in fellowship. Pray earnestly for those who are going through a time of affliction. Just like the body feels the pain that any part experiences, you need to express sympathy with other members of Christ’s body. 

5. STANDING BY THE CHURCH

The church never lacks enemies and trials, you must stand with it and for it, no matter what.  Those who persecute the Church are persecuting Christ. False teachers distort Christ’s Word. You need to be on your guard against constant temptations to turn back or turn away. Otherwise it will be easy for you to find excuses in a time of testing under the influence of fear of others. 

6. MAINTAINING UNITY

No duty is urged more strongly or more often than unity. It is based on love. You need to seek the welfare of fellow church members. Division and contention is not appropriate for those who are brothers. You must watch out for those who seek to cause divisions through false teaching and practices.

7. SPIRITUAL CONVERSATION

Don’t waste precious opportunities for speaking about Christ with others and things that will build them up spiritually. You can help others grow in love and knowledge. We only have so much time together, avoid being drawn into trivial conversation.

8. PRACTICAL HELP

You need to show practical love by watching out for the needs of fellow church members. You can bear their burdens and help them in their time of need. They need your support in their distress and affliction; this may be your time, counsel, sympathy or your financial help.

9. BEING ACCOUNTABLE

You are your brother’s keeper. You need to watch out for them with tender concern in case they are tempted to go astray. If they are in danger of this, you need to warn them lovingly. This does not mean prying into people’s lives in order to catch them out. Love does not do that, but neither does it leave people to be damaged by sin. Things may ultimately need to be handled through formal church discipline. Yet you need to take this responsibility seriously and lovingly in the hope that it will not reach that stage.

10. HOLY LIVING

Holiness is a gospel issue. When those outside the church see how we live it should make them honour and not despise the gospel. Holiness shows the reality of Christian profession and builds up the church.  Many do not like the principle of being separate from the sinful practices of the world. But God does command us to be separate in this way for His glory and our spiritual good. Those who will not separate from the world and false ways of worship God has not commanded actually separate themselves from Christ.

SUMMARY CONCLUSION 

This book shows us how to increase loving fellowship by taking seriously our biblical responsibilities to our pastor and fellow church members.  

It all flows from and is an expression of loving one another. That is where we must begin in putting these things into practice. Most problems in congregations arise from and are increased by focussing on ourselves and a lack of love for others. Rather than focus on what we are getting out of church, how can we love others? Many people think of that sentimentally but it is a love for their spiritual good above all. What a difference it would make if we let this influence everything we do and say in the life of the church. 

 

JOHN OWEN (1646-1683) was an English Puritan who served as vice-chancellor of Oxford University and pastor of congregations in Coggeshall and London.  His works have been reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust.

“Everything Owen wrote is worth reading, but some of his books are more accessible than others. This little practical treatise is a great way to meet a great Christian mind as it deals with the most basic elements of the Christian’s life in his church. I have loved reading Owen for nearly thirty years now and return to him again and again, never without profit.  Enjoy this book. And learn from it.”

CARL R. TRUEMAN

 

“A manual on church fellowship which to this day is unsurpassed

W. H. GOOLD

 

Owen’s work continues to stand the test of time [especially] in a day of confusion about church membership and the responsibilities it entails

DAVID WHITLA

 

BOOK OFFER

We can offer discounts and grants for bulk purchase of this book that will make it easier to get started in reading it together. Get in touch to tell us how many you need together with your circumstances and where you are running a reading group. 

FURTHER READING

Read more books on the Recommended Book List

What Can We Learn from Falling Leaves?

Fallen and withered leaves speak of the decay and change that occurs in individuals and nations. Are we learning the visual lesson? Hugh Binning helps us reflect on it.

Can Evangelicals Save Marriage?

It’s not just our view of marriage that needs to be changed if we are going to preserve it. We need to change personally. This change applies to us all (married or unmarried).

Christ is Still Overruling All Things for His Church

It is easy to be cast down in the face of any difficulties and trials Christ’s Church faces. Yet there is great comfort in His special overruling providence in all things that concern His Church.

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019

Top 5 Second Reformation Books of 2019
Matthew Vogan

There never seems to be any shortage of books being published. Thankfully some among them are genuinely excellent. It’s common at this time of year to look back at the best books of the year. It can be a useful exercise. Here are the best books published during 2019 from Second Reformation authors. 

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

1. Be Reconciled With God

These 12 rare sermons have not been printed for almost 300 years. But they still communicate the fervour of a young preacher who made the deepest possible impact within the two years of ministry he had. They are packed with both simple and profound thought communicated with almost tangible passion and highly recommended. There are sermons with evangelistic appeal as well as those that reach the hearts of believers with a uniquely penetrating power. 

They display an unusual spiritual maturity in handling the matters of eternity and how  things ought to go with our souls.

We have obtained the following special discounts exclusively for Reformation Scotland readers.

UK Customers: Buy it for £24.95 £14.36 using the code ref.scot2019.

North America: Buy it for $30 $15 using the code BERECONCILED50OFF.

2. The Sum of Saving Knowledge 

 ‘The work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me. How gladly would I renew the reading of it, if that change might be carried on to perfection’ – Robert Murray M’Cheyne

This book offers is a clear brief statement of key truths that relate to salvation followed by a rich and warm practical application of them. Every professing Christian, whether possessing or lacking assurance, and all ministers should know the key points of saving knowledge, and they should know where to turn for such instruction. Anyone may benefit from The Sum of Saving Knowledge. Ministers will find it helps them better declare the fulness of salvation. 

 Too often people in all kinds of churches assume that professing Christians have a firmer and clearer grasp on such truths than they really do. The Sum is a sure guide in relation to the matters of salvation, and anyone can return to it regularly with great benefit. To grow in both appreciation and appropriation of it is to grow in ‘the life and marrow of religion’. 

The Sum of Saving Knowledge is frequently overlooked because it has been included in editions of the Westminster Confession. It stands on its own here with an extensive introduction and is highly recommended.  

3. Hope during desperate times

We live in desperate times—in moral and in other concerns. Things are also collapsing in on themselves spiritually in terms of widespread decline in what the professing Church believes and the standards by which it lives. But William Guthrie shows that our problem is not just living in a time of destruction, but self-destruction. We may be concerned about moral deterioration in society, but also need to see ourselves as personally implicated. Where can we find hope? It is only in that God is able to help those who have destroyed themselves. As Guthrie puts it: ‘the Church of God in her lowest condition may warrantably look and wait for help from God’.

This book provides encouragement despite being realistic about the times in which we live. It’s spiritual counsel remains as relevant today as ever in our own challenging context. 

 

4. Advancing Christian Unity 

In John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church. Yet today, we tend to accept disunity as inevitable. In this book, Anthony Burgess calls us to addresses the spiritual and visible unity that Jesus desires for His people. 

Anthony Burgess ministered in a period of division. He became involved in a project to unite the whole of the British Isles in the same doctrinal standards and church order. It was a unity that prioritised the truth. Besides the Westminster Assembly, he engaged in important defence of vital doctrines such as justification, original sin and the moral law.

In expounding John chapter 17 Burgess emphasises both the spiritual and visible unity that should exist within the Church. It is not a man-made unity that compromises the whole counsel of God. Burgess deals realistically and honestly with the divisions that exist amongst Christ’s people and the reasons for them. He does not accept that lack of unity is inevitable but boldly calls it what it is according to Scripture: sin.

Burgess gives practical counsel in this area in demonstrating the spirit that Christians ought to have one to another. He will not allow us simply to show regret and concern but do nothing about the divisions of the Church. We are under the strongest obligations, not only to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6) but also to do what we can. In the following extract from his sermons on John 17 he shows the attractiveness of unity.

 

5. Preparing for eternity

‘make timely preparation for death and judgment’ – Alexander Nisbet

The signs of bodily decline in ourselves and others are a call to young and old to prepare for eternity. There may be sudden degeneration through severe illness or gradual deterioration. It reminds us that the best time to prepare for our long home is now when we have a measure of strength and health.

This is a book for young and old, whether in good or poor health. We must prepare for eternity and we cannot put this off until we think it is imminent. We cannot guarantee that we will have the ability to do this in the time of sickness or old age. Ecclesiastes 12 urges this wise instruction through striking pictures of physical decline. Alexander Nisbet draws out the way in which this spiritual wisdom applies urgently to each one of us.

Intended as a brief exposition for the ordinary reader. Nisbet prepared his exposition of Ecclesiastes for publication during his final years.

Stop Press! The Covenanters

This has literally just been published. Subtitled ‘A History of the Church in Scotland from 1540 to 1690’ this is the classic and definitive history of the period. It comes in two large volumes of painstaking research but the story is told in an accessible way. It is accurate and carefully weighed history not mere hero worship. If you are looking for something to progress to having read other shorter books giving an overview of the period these volumes are a must have.

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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. The 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, shoot 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 us 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.

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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.”

 

 

 

GET THE BOOK

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

Now edited in modern English, Durham’s classic treatment on considerate Christianity can be used to edify a new generation.

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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. 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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