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 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.

REFORMING YOURSELF

9 Ways to Demonstrate Your Love for Christ

It’s easy to profess that we love the Lord Jesus Christ but how does it impact our lives? Richard Cameron shows us practical ways to demonstrate our love for Christ.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to Named Person, But Yes to What?

How did we arrive at the level of State interference that the Named Person scheme represented? Because we have lost these three positive values.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

Does Church Discipline Matter?

If it matters to Christ, shouldn’t that make us think?

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Happy Faith

Happy Faith

Happy faith and assurance in death is the moving and edifying account of the words and experiences of Lady Coltness. She died at the age of only 37 years. We can learn much from it about the priorities of living. It was said of her: “As she lived so she died, and as she died so she lived, and lives for evermore”. Her experience was not without spiritual struggles and fears. The sun shone through these clouds, however, so that she died in serene assurance. We all need to make preparation for death. Here is an account of someone who died well. She died happy because she died in faith and hope. “Never did any end their days with more distinguishing marks of a divine work of happy faith and assurance”.

Spiritual Fellowship

Spiritual Fellowship

Spiritual Fellowship makes a biblical case for fellow believers encouraging, counselling, and if necessary rebuking one another. Samuel Rutherford counters objections against organising such meetings privately on an occasional basis. The word fellowship can easily be misused for meetings that are barely spiritual in character. Rutherford shows that fellowship is a much higher reality. It is for mutual spiritual invigoration and heat. The booklet illustrates the spiritual vitality of the Second Reformation revival period.

What is Spiritual Fellowship?

What is Spiritual Fellowship?

Spiritual Fellowship by Samuel Rutherford shows how believers can stir each other up in spiritual things by meeting together. He considers and responds to objections from those who thought that meeting privately could lead to difficullties and errors. Fellowship is a word frequently used by evangelicals today. Sometimes it is more or less used simply to describe Christians being in one another’s company for whatever reason. The meetings that Rutherford envisages are highly spiritual in tone. The purpose is not to teach and expound Scripture. Rather it is to nourish spiritual life in each other by prayer and applying Scripture. This might be in relation to our relationship with God or glorifying Him in our daily life. Rutherford speaks of duties of comforting, encouraging, counselling and rebuking as necessary. It would be greatly refreshing to see such evidence of spiritual life amongst God’s people once again.

What does the Word of God say about this duty? Hear the Word of God. It is clear.

  • To rebuke one another (Leviticus 19:17).
  • To teach and exhort (Colossians 3:16).
  • To speak often to one another (Malachi 3:16).
  • To exhort one another daily, while it is called today (Hebrews 3:13).

The latter is recommended as a special means for preventing hardness of heart. Surely no one will not acknowledge that whatever is recommended as a means to prevent hardness of heart is a duty commanded and ordained by God. This duty of exhorting one another is recommended as a means for preventing hardness of heart. So it is a duty commanded by God and thus, lawful and necessary.

Christians are also commanded: “comfort yourselves together, and edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We must “warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

These texts authorise all Christians to do these things as well as the head of a family. They should do this as they have dealings with others and join with them in this way. Thus the more the coals are together the hotter will be the fire.

One Way

One Way

One Way: Having the Same Worship and Church Order makes a brief biblical case for having the same Worship and Church order. Updated from an essay by George Gillespie, it shows how our practice must be governed by the Word of God alone. Today diversity is frequently championed in worship and practice. Having only one way in common in such matters is considered unnecessary, unattainable and divisive. The Bible does not support this, however. The more uniform the Church’s practice becomes, the more unified the Church itself becomes.

Scotland’s Judgements

Scotland’s Judgements

Scotland’s Judgements is a sombre warning against national sins before a holy God. Drawn from a letter written by Andrew Gray on his death bed,  it speaks plainly about the way in which such sins provoke God. These solemn laments do not forget God’s mercy. Yet they must make us to tremble for 21st century Scotland’s national sins at a time when they are abounding and increasing.

Scotland’s Judgements

Scotland’s Judgements

Scotland’s Judgements is a sombre warning against national sins before a holy God. Drawn from a letter written by Andrew Gray on his death bed,  it speaks plainly about the way in which such sins provoke God. These solemn laments do not forget God’s mercy. Yet they must make us to tremble for 21st century Scotland’s national sins at a time when they are abounding and increasing.

Calvin’s Reformation of Worship is Still Needed

Calvin’s Reformation of Worship is Still Needed

Calvin’s Reformation of Worship is Still Needed
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.
15 May, 2015

Biblical worship was a central principle of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, particularly the Reformed Churches. 

The following excerpt is from the introduction to Songs of the Spirit: the Place of Psalms in the Worship of God ed. Kenneth Stewart.

 

The Reformation was not just a reformation of doctrine and church government but a reformation of worship as well.  In the movement of Reformation, the authority of scripture was of paramount importance and this guiding principle determined the content and form of worship as well as the doctrine of the church and its government.  And for John Calvin – and indeed for most of the other leading 16th century Reformers – the Bible only authorised the singing of Psalms alone without instrumental accompaniment.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the large family of Reformed churches which were distinguished from others by use of Calvin’s name (Calvinist) – and which made up the overwhelming majority of Reformed churches in Europe – adopted the practice of unaccompanied psalm singing in their worship.

Songs of the Spirit

£5.00

Sound teaching on the subject of biblical worship: the worship that God commands from us, rather than that which we choose to give to Him. A variety of authors from various Churches have contributed to this volume. They share a common conviction that we must worship God in the songs that He Himself has inspired.

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