What makes the Christian ministry special?

What makes the Christian ministry special?

What makes the Christian ministry special?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

All of Christ’s people are called to be His witnesses, and speak His truth into the situations and relationships they find themselves in. There is one body, and each member its own place and usefulness. Yet not all are called to be preachers or hold the office of minister in Christ’s church. John Brown of Wamphray explains the distinctiveness of the Christian ministry in the following updated extract. After showing that it is not unspiritual to value the forms and order of Christ’s church, he points to a large number of Scripture references which demonstrate that some but not all are called to be ministers. It is when people follow the Scripture pattern in preference to the promptings of their own spirits that God the Holy Spirit is genuinely honoured and will add His blessing.

Church order is more than empty formalism

[Our opponents in this controversy are prone to] accuse us of adhering to externals, devised by human wisdom, because we cleave to the rules and methods and orders prescribed by Christ to be followed in His house. On the other hand, they see themselves as the ones who follow the Spirit and are led by His direct help and influence.

The problem is that they end up accusing the Holy Spirit of leading them in a method and order that is not prescribed in the Word, but is only the invention of their own brains, blasphemously attributed to the leading of the Spirit of God. There is no basis to imagine that the Spirit of God will lead anyone in courses opposite to, and reflecting on, what Christ has instituted, because He is the Spirit of Christ, and sent by Him from the Father, with the work of testifying to Him, and not working at cross-purposes to Him, or trampling on what He has appointed.

Although there are differences of opinion about the order to be observed in the house of God, there is no warrant for our opponents to reject all order. They seem to want to bring in the confusion of Babel instead of the beautiful and edifying order which Christ, the supreme head and king of the Church, has appointed, and signally blessed, for His own glory and for promoting the good and edification of His subjects.

According to our opponents, it was not the mind of Christ “that Christians should establish the shadows and form of officers, without the power, efficacy and Spirit of Christ.” However, the power, efficacy and Spirit of Christ, is not in Christian’s power to establish (the Spirit bloweth where He listeth; John 3:8). I am not familiar with the Spirit which can be established by men — it is not the Spirit of God who is so under their power that He can be established by them as they please.

Also, although we are not trying to make a case for shadows and forms, yet we acknowledge (and desire to observe) the ordinances which Christ has appointed to continue in His Church, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13), even to “the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). We have no ground to think that all these offices and officers were appointed only for that time and age, seeing the work is of the same necessity now as it was then. It is true, there was a special piece of work called for then; i.e., the founding and settling of gospel churches, and of gospel order and ordinances, and special, extraordinary officers were called, qualified and empowered then, which are not now necessary.

Now that the foundation has been laid, no is more required but a continual building on that foundation, for which, ordinary officers, and a standing ordinary ministry, are sufficient and necessary, in order that the ordinances of perpetual use may be administered, according to Christ’s appointment, for the constant edification of the Church. When the Church is denuded of her officers and watchers, she becomes easier prey for these grievous wolves who now enter in, not sparing the flock, and speak perverse things to draw away disciples after them.

The Christian ministry is a distinct office

Our opponents argue that there were no distinct office-bearers, particular individual persons, separated and set apart for the work of the ministry in the days of the apostles. However, the opposite is true. There were apostles, there were evangelists, and there were the other ordinary officers ordained and settled in the churches. See Acts 6:1–6; Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 12: 28–30; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1; Phil 4:3; Phil 2: 25; Col. 4:7, 12, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12–14; 1 Tim. 3:1–15; 1 Tim. 4:14–16. 1 Tim 5: 17, 22; 2 Tim. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:1–2; Tit. 1:5–9; Heb. 13:7, 17; Jam. 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 1:20; Rev. 2; Rev. 3.

Declaring that there is no such thing as office-bearers established in the house of God, distinct from other church members, destroys the whole order of the ministry. It contradicts what is taught in Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12; Acts 15:4, 6; Acts 21:18; 2 Cor. 5:18–19. It contradicts what is evident in the titles, or particular designations which are given to individual persons set over others in the New Testament, such as “pastors” (Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:20; Acts 20:28), “doctors” (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11), “stewards” (1 Cor. 4:1; Tit. 1:7), “preachers” (Rom. 10:14), “overseers” (Acts 20:18; 1 Pet. 4:15; 1 Pet. 5:2), “angels” (Rev. 1:20, etc), “stars” (Rev. 1:18), “ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:19–20), “such as are set over others” (Heb. 13:17); and “rulers” (1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17).

The same thing is also evident from:

  • the special work given to them, not only included in the fore-mentioned titles, but expressly mentioned, such as preaching the gospel, administration of sacraments, care of the poor, exercise of discipline, etc. (see Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 9:16–17; 10:16; Rom. 12:6–8; 2 Cor. 12:15; 1 Tim. 4:13–16; 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:25; 4:2; Acts 6:2, 4).
  • the duties required of others, in reference to them (1 Thess. 5:12; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17).
  •  the qualifications required in them (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2–6; Tit. 1:5–9).
  •  the orders given about examining and ordaining them (Acts 6; 1 Tim. 3:10; 5:11–12).
  •  the special commands and injunctions laid upon them, to mind their work aright (1 Tim. 3:5. 1 Pet. 5:2, 3. 1 Tim. 4:14, 15, 16. Act. 6:2, 4. 2 Tim. 4:2. & 2:25. 1 Cor 9:16, 17 2 Cor. 12:15. Heb. 13:17).
  •  the promises of God’s presence and assistance in the discharge of this work (Matt. 28:20; Rev. 1:1).
  •  God’s approbation of them in it (Matt. 16:19; John 20:23; Matt. 10:40; Luke 10:16; John 13:20; 1 Thess. 4:8).
  • In this way, the work which God has committed specifically to these officers, is made common.

The Spirit is a God of order and uses ordinary means

Some even go as far as to say that everyone, according as his own spirit (falsely called the Spirit of God) moves him, may take on this work (although for the sake of order they may allow something like a call from the people). But the Lord has restricted this work, ordinarily, to specific officers. Any encroachment is expressly prohibited (e.g., Rom. 12:3, 6, 7, 8; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Cor. 7:20; 1 Thess. 4:11).

That God is free to call whom He will, we know; but He has told us by His servant Paul, that He will not call women to this public ministry. Seeing He has appointed an ordinary and settled way whereby persons are to enter into this work, we have no warrant to think that those who do not come in by the door that He has set open, but creep in at windows, or suchlike unlawful ways, are called of the Lord. Rather, they run unsent, in contempt of God and His established order.

Some argue that anyone who is moved by the Spirit may instruct, teach, and exhort, when the saints are gathered together. This does not refer to private admonishing and exhorting, but the teaching which is ministerial, and is to have ministerial authority, when given by persons clothed with the authority of the ministerial office. This work is unique to the office, and ought to be performed only by those who are clothed with the office.

Also, in ordinary cases, God moves no one to violate the order established in His own house. Because of this order which Christ has established, we judge that all those persons who suppose themselves moved by the Spirit to teach publicly in the assemblies of the saints, are moved by their own spirit, and not by the Spirit of God, who is a God of order, and not the author of confusion; or rather by the spirit of Satan, in contempt of Christ’s order.

It is small wonder that their brethren, who are under the power of the same delusion, receive them, hearken to them and honour them. Yet this is more a confirmation of their delusion, than an argument evincing the lawfulness of their way.

Some argue that it is wrong to exclude from the ministry those who are not educated for it. But why does it offend them, that men put effort into being instructed and qualified for this work? Why does it offend them that only those who are qualified should be admitted into the office? It seems that the work of the ministry is a light business with them, and may be carried out by those who have no learning or qualifications. But the Lord qualified His apostles by teaching them for several years, as well as by extraordinary infusion of knowledge. Are we supposed to wait for such miracles now? Experience tells us that the Lord does not work in this way now, so why are they offended when we use ordinary means to attain knowledge? The work of the ministry is something that will take up the whole man, and his whole time, if he is faithful and diligent.



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Five things which do not necessarily indicate a call to preach

Five things which do not necessarily indicate a call to preach

Five things which do not necessarily indicate a call to preach
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

The work of preaching, and the office of preacher, are exceptionally important in the church. But sometimes, when people grasp the importance of preaching, they may make mistakes about what qualifies someone to become a preacher. John Brown of Wamphray wrote against various misconceptions that were becoming popular in his time, views which may well sound familiar to us today. In the following adapted excerpt, Brown tackles the issue of what we can rely on and promote as sure indicators of a call to the ministry.

Grace in the heart is non-essential

I dare not say that a necessary qualification for the ministry is to be able to demonstrate the existence of real grace in the heart. Grace, and the saving workings of the Spirit, are latent, hidden in the heart, and there is no outward sign and evidence by which others can certainly or infallibly discern and judge these in others. They are hidden in such a way that even a person who has grace, will not always be in a position to discern it in his own heart, even though one is more acquainted with his own spirit and heart than others can be. So I dare not say that having the reality of grace is such a qualification that the lack of it renders a man no minister, and all his performances null before God, or man; though the person, being a real stranger to grace, can expect no acceptance of God through Jesus Christ for what he does. This is verified by Christ’s employing of Judas in the ministry.

The wish to teach others is non-essential

I deny that all who understand the truth of the gospel, and are able to instruct others, may or have a right to teach. Qualifications are no call. And, not every inclination to tell others what we know of the things of God, is a call to the work and office of the ministry. Private persons, in their private capacities, may and ought to seek to promote the edification of others (Psalm 66:16; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Telling what you have found in your own experience, moreover, is not the whole work of the ministry. That also includes the preaching of the gospel, and the dividing of the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), speaking, exhorting and rebuking with all authority (Tit. 2:15), beseeching, as ambassadors, in the name of God, and in Christ’s stead (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

The inward work of the Spirit is non-essential

The inward work of the Spirit is necessary to make a man a real, upright and sincere Christian, or true member of the invisible church, and it is also necessary to make a man a sincere and upright minister before God, and approved by Him in what he doth. But it is not simply and absolutely necessary, in order to make one a minister before others, for others cannot certainly know this, nor do they walk by an infallible rule in judging this. What is necessary to make a man a member of the visible church, a professing Christian, I grant is also necessary to make one a minister, both before God and others; for others can judge of this, and have a certain and fixed rule to use to judge whether the profession is true or not, although not to judge whether it is sincere or not.

The call of the Spirit is non-essential

We can identify someone who has been called by the Spirit by the fact that they are gifted with the gifts of the Spirit, fitting for preaching of the gospel. These include the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge (1 Cor. 12:4, 7, 8, 11), whereby they are apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and fit to take care of the church (v.5). These gifts, considered in themselves, are different from true and saving grace, and yet come from the Spirit, and are given to profit with; and so must be used to edification, according to the way prescribed in the gospel.

But some, speaking of being “called by the Spirit,” mean something like a personal word of inspiration saying to the man that he must go and preach. We reject all such fancies, even though some depend on them; we account them plain delusions (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thess. 2:9; Deut. 13:1; Gal. 1:8-9). No one can show any good basis warranting us to look for such immediate calls — there is no promise for this, or any command to expect it.

For what is this testimony of the Spirit, by which everyone may know who is truly called of God, and who not? Does the Spirit, when He calls one to this work, speak to the senses of all beholders, and witness also to them that this one is indeed called? This is not necessary even to make a Christian, never mind a minister. I would only say that if no one can know by the Scriptures that he, in particular, is called to be a minister, and must therefore fall back on an inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit, then we must also say that no one can know that someone else is a minister, without the inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit. Therefore they cannot be offended at us for not believing that they are sent by God, because we have no inward and immediate testimony of the Spirit about it. Although the Scriptures do not particularly and expressly tell us that “Mr So-And-So” is a false teacher and ought to be avoided, it says enough to warn us. The whole Scripture, which points out and declares the truth, and condemns errors, is as good to us as an immediate testimony saying, “Those ones are deceivers” — indeed, better, and more sure.

Appreciative hearers are non-essential

Some say that a preacher’s inward call from the Spirit is made manifest in the minds of their brethren, who sense the life and virtue in them and are edified by their words. But I cannot accept this. Is this manifestation always at every sermon, or only sometimes? Is it on the hearts of all who hear, or only some? Perhaps “their brethren” are disposed to recognise them, but the signs of Paul’s apostleship were among strangers, whom he converted, and brought in to the faith. If this manifestation is always and on all present, we would have to question Christ’s apostleship and calling, for everyone knows that His preaching did not always have this effect. Nor did Paul’s and Barnabas’. We would have to say that Ezekiel, who was sent to a rebellious people, who refused to hear, had no true and substantial call, nor Moses, when he was sent to Pharaoh. Yet those who are a “savour of death unto death” to some, may yet for all that be successors to the apostles.

Holiness is essential

Holiness is required of gospel ministers. The apostle tells us that the minister must be “a lover of good men (or “of good things,” as it is in the margin) sober, just, holy, temperate” (Tit. 1:8). He must be blameless (Tit. 1:7), “vigilant, sober, and of good behaviour” (1 Tim. 3:2). Therefore, all who are employed in the examination and trial of ministers should be careful in searching after this, as well as examining their gifts and other qualifications. When clear and manifest evidences appear of their hatred of good things, and of the godly, of their insobriety, injustice, unholiness, intemperance, lack of vigilance, and of their evil behaviour, they ought to be laid aside from that holy function, just as well as when their lack of gifts and of other requisite qualifications is clearly apparent. Indeed, if there are no positive evidences of this love, and of seriousness in the matters of God, giving fair and reasonable grounds for concluding that they are faithful men, they ought not to commit the Word to them.



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The Newness of Life We Always Need

The Newness of Life We Always Need

The Newness of Life We Always Need
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

Our culture chases novelty—the next unusual thing. Novelty can quickly disappear as we become familiar with those things. Newness however is the principle that makes things new. Rather than pursuing the novel, Scripture offers us a continual renewing. We are to put off the old and put on the new and so be constantly renewed. Our thoughts can turn naturally to new things at the beginning of another year. Yet this is a daily and constant renewal that should never grow old, and we ought never to grow tired of. We need constant renewing because there is a principle of remaining corruption within.

The apostle Paul speaks of newness of life as an ongoing principle in those who have experienced the new birth (Romans 6:4). John Brown of Wamphray explains more of what it means to walk in newness of life in the following updated extract.

1. New Life Means Ongoing Newness of life

Justification by faith in Christ Jesus through the imputed righteousness of Christ, is so far from being an enemy to holiness and sanctification, that it is always accompanied by them. Justification and sanctification go hand in hand. Such are said to be so dead to sin they cannot live unto it and are also said to walk in newness of life.

2. Newness of life is opposed to dying corruption

This sanctification, renovation or regeneration includes two things. The rooting out, mortifying and killing of the old man of sin and corruption, and the reviving, quickening and growth of the new man of grace. We hear therefore of their being dead and buried with Christ and also of their rising to newness of life.

Corruption in the regenerate is not quite extinct and killed entirely, there is still something of it remaining in the best which constantly troubles them. Yet corruption has received deadly wounds, and is, as it were, is in the death throes. It is dying and will never be able to recover its former strength and vivacity. It is like a dead man in his grave that will not come back. We are said to be baptized into his death, that is to say, our corruption is dying, having received its death stroke. Not only so, but also, we are buried with Him, and so corruption is rotting away, and shall never revive, and return to its former state and strength.

3. Newness of life Comes from Christ not ourselves

We are commanded to put our corruptions to death. This is not brought about from any influence from, or strength or efficacy in ourselves but all only from Christ. Therefore, we are baptized into His death, and buried with Him into death.

We cannot partake of any influences from the Lord Jesus to get corruptions put to death and the new man growing until we are united to Christ and made one with him by faith. All our communion flows from union. Therefore, before we can be baptised into His death and buried with Him by baptism, we must first be baptised into Himself. As many of us as are baptised into Christ, are baptized into His death.

Believers are really united to Christ as members are to the head (Ephesians 4:15), the wife to the husband (Ephesians 5:32) and as branches to the stock (John 15:4). Communion of life necessarily flows from this union, together with strength and partaking of the benefits of His mediation in His death, burial, and resurrection. None who ever have fled to Christ, and are united to Him by faith, shall lack these necessities. As many of us, as are baptised into Christ, are baptised into His death.

4. Newness of life comes from the resurrection of Christ

The resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has influence in the pardoning of our sins and justification. But it also has influence in killing sin and delivering His own from its power in sanctification. Christ is a representative person in all He did, therefore it is said, that just as He was raised from the dead, so we might walk in newness of life.

All that have fled to Christ by faith are by this made partakers of the fruits and effects of His resurrection. They are brought out of the old state of death under sin’s tyranny and dominion and are renewed, having a new life, new principles, new operations, new designs, and new fruits—all things are now new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ was raised from the dead, so they walk in newness of life.

5. Newness of life requires constant growth

This life which believers in Christ have received through enlivening influence from Him, is not an idle, fruitless life, without fruits of holiness. Rather, it is an active stirring principle, setting folk on work constantly. In this life believers can never attain perfection but are still advancing and growing in grace.

Therefore, they walk in newness of life, and grace is living at their heart roots. Thus, all their doings now smell of life and flow from life, except when temptation and corruption is swaying them downward and God’s restraining and strengthening grace is withdrawn.



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Isn’t It Time to Pray Earnestly for Your Minister?

Isn’t It Time to Pray Earnestly for Your Minister?

Isn’t It Time to Pray Earnestly for Your Minister?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

As people speculate about a new period of turmoil it is a reminder that it has been a challenging couple of years for everyone. But it has been an especially difficult time to minister. It is never easy, but unique challenges and pressures have presented themselves in the spiritual as well as physical consequences of a period of turmoil. Seeking to pastor during a lockdown situation, constant changes in public health guidance as well as dealing with falling participation, discontent, increased criticism, conflict and polarised opinions has certainly meant increased stress and isolation. It is easy for people to focus their frustrations and struggles on an individual and make it personal. And there is no real getting away from it to try and forget about it all. Then there is the fact that crisis hasn’t gone away while they are trying to rebuild. No one would be surprised if many have felt on the brink of laying down their charge at times. It has forced everyone to look at themselves in a different way. It ought to be obvious then, that your own minister and other ministers need your prayer and encouragement more than ever.

The Covenanter Alexander Pitcairn wrote of how there is a mutual bond between pastor and people that obliges us to pray for them. Praying for their ministry helps to hear sermons in the right way. “What are Ministers, weak, frail men, subject to like passions as others are?”, he asks. They have their frailties and shortcomings but that is all the more reason to pray for them. Ministers are in greater danger than others, “the devil and the world are mad and enraged at a godly and faithful ministry”. “Principalities and powers stand in battle-array against us, and shall we have no help from our friends?” He points out that we are closely bound up with our minister’s trials, temptations and concerns. They have a direct impact on us too. Prayer is important for sending forth ministers where there are none, strengthening ministers to remain where they are and seeking that their ministry would be made powerful and effectual. He challenges those who complain about their minister how much they have prayed for him and his weaknesses.

Pitcairn says that “as you love your own souls, make conscience to pray for your ministers; pray that they may be faithful, and may stand in the hour of temptation, that they may be zealous for their master, and may diligently discharge their trust, that they do not become proud because of their gifts, that they do not become careless, secure, carnal, and worldly-minded”.

There are many places in Paul’s epistles where he seeks the prayers of others for him and his ministry. In your role in preventing ministry failure, we considered many of them. Here we can consider Paul’s urgent plea in Romans 15:30 for the Roman believers to join him as he agonises and strives in prayer. He uses the strongest motives: that they are brethren, the love of the Spirit and the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. John Brown of Wamphray helps us delve further into the meaning of this in the following updated extract.

1. If We Value Prayer We Should Pray for Ministers

The more of God’s grace there is in a soul, the more they will value the enriching trade of prayer. They will also be the more earnest to have the help of even the weakest Christians in prayer. We see how serious and earnest Paul is here, charging them for their help in prayer. The strongest Christian is not beyond the help of the prayers of the weaker. God has disposed things in His amazing providence that each may be useful to another. Thus, here the apostle is calling for the prayers of the Romans.

It is a most necessary and excellent thing to see Christians joining together in wrestling with God for any mercy: This is clear from Paul’s urging this earnestly with such a solemn charge. Whoever desires to have others wrestling with God for them must be careful not to neglect it themselves. Whoever sees any worth or usefulness in prayer will set about it themselves and set others to do it also: “strive together with me.”

In our prayers with and for others, we should strive to be serious and earnest not superficial. We should not do it simply for discharging our duty. Whoever bears another’s condition in prayer in a kind and heartfelt way will find it no easy talk, but rather a battle. There are many things Satan makes use of to hinder and mar us in this duty, all of which must continually be wrestled against with a resolute fervency of spirit.

2. If We Value them as Brethren We Should Pray for Ministers

Believers are all the children of the same Father and family. They should therefore heartily sympathize with one another in their troubles and difficulties and should be moved by them as if they were their own. When Paul would have them lending him support and help in his difficulty, he reminds them of their relation and of the brotherhood.

The best way that a believer can testify his sympathy and brotherly affection to his Christian brethren in their troubles and difficulties is to send up supplications to God for them. They should be laying out their case before God and wrestling with Him as though for themselves.

3. If We Love Christ We Should Pray for Ministers

All true Christians have a strong affection towards Christ as the only delight of their souls and the chiefest among ten thousand to them. There is nothing with more power to prevail with them to set about any duty than that the interests of Jesus Christ are concerned in the matter. This is especially when they know that the faithful and conscionable discharge of the duty will be advantageous to Him. The apostle makes use of this argument to stir them up to pray for him; “For the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.”

4. If We Long for the Success of the Gospel We Should Pray for Ministers

The thriving and ongoing of the work of the gospel and kingdom of Christ is not a little concerned in the welfare and prosperous attempts of his most faithful and eminent servants. This should make their case and condition lie nearer the heart of believers. Paul is very earnest to have them praying for him and he uses this argument, “for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.”

5. If We Have a Spiritual Affection We Should Pray for Ministers

Any true love and tender affection or compassion is in any true hearted Christian only comes from the work and operation of the Spirit of God. Whatever a good nature, education, or similar things may do with some, yet this true, spiritual, and tender love is only produced by the Holy Spirit. This true and heavenly love is produced in some measure in all true believers. He says, “by the love of the Spirit.”

6. If We Love Christ’s Body We Should Pray for Ministers

This true and tender love, wherever it is found will prompt the soul to a tender sympathy with other members of the same body. It will be like the natural heat keeping the blood warm through all the body. Thus, whoever are endowed with this blessing and gift of God, cannot but sympathize with any saint of God in their distress. This is his other argument, “by the love of the Spirit” (see Philippians 2:1).



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What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?

What Hope is There for Afghanistan’s Christians?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

Afghanistan has suddenly become an extremely dangerous place for everyone, but especially for the small number of believers there. Reliable sources report the Taliban demanding mobile phones and if they find a Bible or Christian content on it, the person is killed immediately. One Christian has had his 14-year-old daughter ripped from his arms and taken into forced “marriage”. The Taliban have raided the home of a church leader and confiscated his Bibles and literature. Another leader received a letter from them, “We know who you are, what you do, and where to find you.” By the time the Taliban were at his door, he had gone into hiding. It was already a brutal place where it is impossible to live openly as a Christian and where conversion has been punished with death or being certified insane. According to Open Doors, the only place more dangerous for a Christian is North Korea. “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us,” one Christian has said. Facing chaos, repression, disease, violence, food shortages as well as persecution, what hope is there for Afghan believers? Scripture does in fact take account all of these terrible experiences and guarantees them strength and hope. It should inform our prayers for them.

The apostle Paul takes a fully realistic view of such a condition. He gives a list of some of the most extreme sufferings that believers have faced and will face in Romans 8:35. John Brown of Wamphray explains them. Tribulation means all the affliction which is likely to oppress and break a person (John 16:33). Distress means being so hemmed in and crushed as to suffer pain and being so surrounded that in their anxiety they do not know where to turn. Persecution is the tyrannical violence that drives people from the land of their nativity and forces to wander in unfamiliar places. Famine is the extreme and intolerable scarcity of all the necessities of this life. Nakedness is shame and disgrace as well as such extreme poverty that they can scarcely be clothed. Peril is having their life in jeopardy and being in fear of danger. Sword means any kind of violent death. This is often the experience of believers as the quotation from Psalm 44:22 shows.

This describes exactly the current experience of Afghan believers. Yet no matter how grievous such calamities are to flesh and blood and how hard to endure, Paul says they cannot separate them from the love of God. Indeed, he says that in all these they are more than conquerors through Him that loved them. They are not overcome but overcoming. John Brown goes on to apply the passage further in the following updated extract.

1. Believers Are Strengthened Despite Their Weakness

Believers are conscious of their own weakness and inability to endure storms. They are often afraid that sore and sad calamities will make them turn their back on Christ. So they dread such sharp afflictions and why it is God’s will in His wise providence that they experience them. It is for this reason that the apostle strengthens believers and says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ” (verse 35).

2. Believers May Experience Extreme Calamities

They are not exempt from various sorts of hardships in a world in which Christ suffered (verse 34). The afflictions that believers may expect to meet with in a world are not light in themselves but so sharp that they will be squeezed (so to speak) as in a wine press. They will meet with tribulation and be painfully pressed in and crushed. They will not only have outward afflictions pressing them but at the same time may expect to have their spirits so hemmed in on all sides that they can see no possible way of escaping. They are in danger of concluding themselves to be dead and gone (1 Samuel 20:3) and so surrounded with trouble as not to know to where to turn (2 Samuel 24:14). They may be filled with anguish and vexation of spirit in their distress.

3. Believers May Experience Extreme Persecution

The wicked are so enraged and embittered against the godly that if they have any power they will not permit them to live in peace and quietness. They will use force and violence against them and believers may expect no less than open persecution if the Lord does not restrain. If the Lord sees fit, they may have to leave their home and wander in deserts, mountains, caves and dens of the earth (Hebrews 11:38). Persecution is such a possibility that is good for us not to look on this world as our home but rather as the place of our exile. Our portion is not in this present world so we need not expect much of it. They may even experience famine

The persecutors of the godly are so savage and cruel that sometimes they will not only banish them in deserts where they shall have no livelihood but also strip them naked and expose them to the injuries of wind and weather. They may experience nakedness, or they may be exposed to shame and scorn.
Their life may be so hard in this world that they hardly know what peace means and may be daily in danger of their lives and so spend much of their time in jeopardy. They may be in peril (see 2 Corinthians 11:26). Besides such dangers and perils, they may even experience the worst that men can do. Such will be satisfied with no less than the death and utter destruction of the people of God. But this is the utmost that persecutors can achieve (Matthew 10:28).

4. Believers Cannot Be Robbed of Christ’s Love by Anyone

No matter how sorrowful the experiences of believers, none of them cloud the beams of Christ’s love nor evidence lack of love towards them. They will not separate us from the love of Christ. When believers view Christ in His incarnation and exaltation doing all for poor unworthy sinners they see unspeakable love in every aspect of it towards them that nothing can quench. This will so encourage the believer that they will be able to endure the worst of storms and not be shaken or dismayed. The apostle triumphs and cries out: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ etc” in response to his believing considerations of Christ dying and rising again.

5. Believers Commonly Experience Persecution

Believers may be assured that they have reason to expect a hard lot in this world when they consider God’s children in former generations. It will help greatly to allay their sorrow when they consider that their case is not unique. The apostle proves it by quoting from the Psalms where the church and people of God are shown in a condition as bad if not worse (verse 36). It is no strange thing to see the followers of Christ persecuted and abused by wicked men. It has been the lot of the church of God in all ages from the beginning to wade through a sea of tribulation, She has often been persecuted even to the death. The followers of Christ must be resolved to die and not save their lives when Christ calls on them to lose them for His sake. The malice of the church’s enemies is not soon at an end. It is lasting and growing rather than decaying and will continue to do so long as there any of the seed the serpent are to the fore.

6. Believers Should Have a Fellow Feeling With the Persecuted

All the children of God ought to have such sympathy for each other that whenever some of them are suffering under the feet of persecutors it should go to the heart of all. Being members of one body if one part is wounded, all should grieve and feel it. They should sympathize as fellow sufferers and so weep with them that weep (Romans 12:16). They should remember those in bonds as bound with them and them that suffer adversity as also in the body (Hebrews 13:2).

7. Believers are Often Hated for their Allegiance to Christ

The wicked have no cause against the godly except that they sincerely serve their Lord and adhere to His worship. Yet this is enough on which to base their malice and persecution. The wicked in their rage against the godly value their lives no more lives than if they sheep appointed for slaughter (see 1 Corinthians 4:13).

8. Believers Are Conquerors Through Christ

Though Satan in raising persecution and tribulation against the godly seeks to shake them loose from Christ the bond shall still hold fast. When the wicked have done their worst to them and their lives believers victorious and are as close to Christ as they can be when taken up to glory. In affliction of any sort they are glorious conquerors – in all things they are more than conquerors (verse 37). This strength and stability of the children of God is not from any strength in themselves but only from Christ their head and husband. They are more than conquerors “through him” (verse 37). Their victory does not come from themselves but only from the love, free grace and good will of Christ. Our hearts should be warm with love towards Him and stirred up to thankfulness. This is why Paul says “through him that loved us” (verse 37).


We should have a fellow feeling with those who suffer for Christ’s sake and remember them (Hebrews 13:3). How earnest in prayer we ought to be for them. One believer who has already spent time imprisoned for his faith in Afghanistan says, “We can trust that our Lord is mighty and will care for his children”, “our hope is not in politics but in Jesus who is the King.” Scripture gives them promises in their extremity and Christ gives the strength, grace and assurance of His love not only to endure but to be more than conquerors through Him. There is therefore the brightest spiritual hope for Afghan believers despite the worst circumstances.




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What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together

What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together

What We Give and Receive in Gathering Together
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

What are some of the unique blessings of gathering together for worship? What have we missed when it was not available? It is not simply a matter of what we have not received personally. Our responsibility is to give just as much as receive. Primarily we give worship to God and also receive spiritual blessings. The Lord’s people are also meant to strengthen one another as one body, we are not meant to “go it alone”. One coal taken out of the fire cannot preserve its heat like those that are together in the fire. We need each other and there are many mutual duties we owe to one another as we gather for worship more publicly and fellowship more privately.

Much has been written recently about the importance of gathering together physically, there are many aspects to consider. One of these is our mutual duty, giving and receiving from one another. There is a lot more involved in coming together than simply occupying the same location as individuals. We are able to consider one another and edify one another in provoking each other to love and good works as we obey the command to gather (Hebrews 10:24-25). We are required to be helpful and a support to each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). 

Gathering together also strengthens us in a time of difficulty, darkness and discouragement. We read of this in Malachi 3:16-17 and of God’s special approval, reward and promise. As John Brown of Wamphray asks, “would not this encourage Christians to meet together? What will do it, if this will not do it?”

As John Brown also observes gathering together for worship has often brought rich spiritual blessings in the experience of believers. When the Holy Spirit blesses such gatherings in this way they receive “life and quickening grace” and have often “found their souls revived and their hearts enlarged, their eyes enlightened, their drooping spirits encouraged, their feeble knees lifted up, their doubts answered and cleared, and their souls lifted up in the ways of the Lord, and strengthened to turn the battle to the gate and to stand against corruption”.

John Brown goes on to speak of some general comprehensive “one another” duties required of Christians, which will necessarily require their meeting together or show it to be necessary.

  • They are commanded frequently to love one another (John 13:34 and 15:12 & 17; Romans 13:8;1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 John 3:11 and 4:7 & 12; John 13:35; 1 Thessalonians 3:12). Just as love in other communities necessarily effects frequent assembling together, Christian love draws Christians together for the ends and purposes which love spurs them to do to each to other.
  • They must be kindly affectioned one toward another (Romans 12:10) as parents to their children. Is it not an ordinary thing to see parents and children together?
  • They must be of one mind and of one mouth (Romans 15:5-6; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27 and 2:2, 10; 1 Peter 3:8). And how is this possible unless they meet together to communicate their minds to each other and to pray to God for light in any point of difference?

Gathering together therefore helps to nourish union, standing fast in one Spirit, striving together for the faith of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27). No doubt we can encourage one another by engaging together in the same worship but these duties also require an individual interest in each other. In the following updated extract John Brown of Wamphray focuses on twelve “one another” duties emphasised in the New Testament need us to come together and interact with each other.

1. Giving and Receiving Encouragement to Love and Good Works

They must consider one another so provoke unto love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24). And this will necessarily imply their familiarity with other and assembling together frequently to provoke to love and good works.

2. Giving and Receiving Exhortations

They must exhort one another (Hebrews 10:25 and Hebrews 3:13). Can this be done if they cannot confer together and assemble for this purpose?

3. Giving and Receiving Comfort

They must comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11). They must meet together and speak together for this purpose and pray that God would bless the means and press home the words of comfort.

4. Giving and Receiving Edification

They must edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And is it possible for them to do this duty and live as strangers to one another? This duty of edifying one another is a very comprehensive thing. It necessarily implies the saints assembling frequently together so that one may be helpful, strengthening and encouraging to another.

5. Giving and Receiving Instruction

They must admonish one another (Romans 15:13). This means to press or urge a thing on the mind of another and so instruct them aright as children are instructed. This requires that they must often be together for this purpose.

6. Giving and Receiving in Singing Praise

They must teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16) and can this be done unless they assemble together?

7. Giving and Receiving Practically

They must be kind (literally useful or profitable) one to another (Ephesians 4:32) and this requires that they must not be strangers to each other.

8. Giving and Receiving in Serving One Another

They must serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). That is, they should in love spend themselves for one another for their spiritual advantage and does this not require assembling together?

9. Giving and Receiving in Accepting One Another

They must receive one another (Romans 15:7). that is, receive with affection and embrace, one another: And must they then be frightened of the company of one another? And not rather receive other into their intimate fellowship?

10. Giving and Receiving in Submission

They must be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5). Everyone should be ready to give, and to take reproofs to and from one another as well as to do service to each other as we are called to. This requires that they must not live as strangers to each other.

11. Giving and Receiving in Prayer for Each Other

They must confess their sins to one another and pray for another (James 5:16).

12. Giving and Receiving in Spiritual Gifts

They must minister their gifts to one another (1 Peter 4:10).

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article How Can Your Church Have More Loving Fellowship? It summarises a brief book that presents updated guidance from John Owen. It helps us answer the question: 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 and have better relationships with fellow church members.



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How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials

How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials

How Scripture is Designed to Give You Hope in Trials
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

We all have different responses to trials and challenging circumstances. It’s natural to look for grounds of hope and we tend to do that in different ways, no doubt our inclinations are partly influenced by our experience and temperament. Some rise to the challenge, seek to minimise the impact of the circumstances and take encouragement from that. Others crave the comfort that will provide the hope and encouragement to enable them to persevere. Then there are those that grapple with the gravity of the situation and seek ultimate hope and comfort in coming to terms with it. Which path should we choose? The reality is that we need all these responses combined in a way that is shaped by Scripture. The God of providence not only knows what situations we will face, He has also designed the Scriptures to equip us to meet them. The two great practical benefits of Scripture’s teaching are patience and comfort (Romans 15:4). We need to hold on to both. We need the words that are as goads behind us to help us persevere and not stand still but also words that encourage and are as fixed nails that we can hang upon (Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Whatever is written in Scripture has been written “for our learning: that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). We should not read the Scriptures only with the aim of finding comfort, but instead, we should put whatever comforts us to practical use in strengthening our hope. If for instance, we need the comfort of forgiveness we will need to go to the God of comfort in repentance.

We are enabled to hope as we grow in our understanding of and trust in the truths of the Bible. There are many afflictions in this life that challenge our hope, and therefore we need to be stirred up both to endure and to be encouraged. This is how Scripture sustains the life of hope amid all we experience. God is the God of patience and comfort (Romans 15:5) and that is why He has designed Scripture this way.

Whatever has been written has been designed with this in view. Thus, we can draw this patience and comfort from the whole of Scripture and not be selective. We are tempted to think we know what type of Scripture teaching we need at present and what we are less ready to receive. We do not, however, need to err on the side of seeking out either comfort or rebuke. Those passages that confront us with the sorrowful nature of our condition can also lead us to hope and comfort in Christ just as much as the promises. John Brown of Wamphray comments further on the meaning of this phrase in the following updated extract.

1. Scripture is Designed to Change the Way YOU Live

The written Word of God is able to acquaint us with all things necessary to believe and inform our understanding perfectly in the matters of faith. It is also able to instruct us in all things necessary for the Christian life. It teaches us completely how to walk in our Christian conduct so as to sustain hope and not lose sight of heaven. It is written “that we might have hope”.

All our study in the Scriptures and insight into them should lead to practice and advancing us in our Christian walk towards heaven. Whatever knowledge we attain is for nothing if it does not have some effect on our ways. Our learning is one purpose of God’s giving us His mind in writing. But this is only subordinate to advancing our hope.

2. Scripture is Designed to Help You Endure

The life of believers on this side of eternity is a life filled with troubles and afflictions of all kinds. They are, therefore, called to keep the grace of patience constantly in exercise. God has, therefore, provided a means to keep the hearts of His own from fainting. He has laid down in the Scriptures many remarkable grounds for holding up the head of His tried people. His people droop heavily under the load they bear when they are ignorant of His Word or do not pursue the right way of making use of it. That is why mention is made here of the patience of the Scriptures.

3. Scripture is Designed to Keep You From Being Discouraged

Sorrow and sighing ordinarily attend an afflicted condition. The Lord also knows that His people are often discouraged and ready to collapse in sorrow; they need much consolation. Thus, He has in His wonderful goodness, provided various reviving and strengthening remedies and put them all in a box. He has also put the box in their hands so that they may draw consolation from it. Failure to make best use of this storehouse of comfort is what makes the discouragements of His people increase daily.

4. Scripture is Designed to Help You Amid Doubts and Perplexities

The Lord saw that many clouds would arise and darken our view, hindering us from seeing both our spiritual life and the crown of life set before us. This can mar our hope and fill us with questions, doubts and perplexities about our spiritual state and right to glory. He has, therefore, our of His special goodness provided a written Word, unfolding the promises and faithfulness of God as a sure and settled grounds for supporting hope.

5. Scripture is Designed to Help You Live in Hope

The spiritual enjoyments of God’s people now and then in this life are the first fruits of the full harvest that is coming. For all that they experience here, they must still live in hope; all their life is only a life of hope. Their best days are only coming (see 1 Peter 1:3; Hebrews 6:19).

Patience must be exercised on the basis of Scripture in all afflictions both spiritual and outward. The soul is to be comforted by looking to the promises and other grounds for comfort contained in the Word. Where this is the case, the life of hope will be maintained and a soul will be helped to walk in a Christian way and in hope. Hope that does not flow from faith in Scripture in this way is only a delusion and imaginary.

6. Scripture is Designed to Lead You to Genuine Patience

People may attain to a forced patience that is very similar to a stupefied desensitised condition under affliction rather than true patience. Yet none can attain to true Christian patience except those on whom God bestows it. This patience is a special gift of God and for this reason, He is called “the God of patience” (Romans 15:5).

7. Scripture is Designed to Lead You to Genuine Comfort

The right sort of comfort and heart rejoicing is wrought in the soul by the hand of God. It is God’s prerogative to speak comfort to the sad and troubled soul. He is the God of comfort or consolation (Romans 15:4; see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).



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Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm

Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm

Why We Must Avoid Causing Spiritual Harm
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

Politicians continue to wrestle with how to deal with the “four harms” caused by COVID-19. These are: the direct health impact of the virus, impact on other health areas, impact on society and on the economy. They are profound issues, but spiritual harm does not register in public policy, except as a tiny aspect of society. Spiritual harm is not irrelevant to Christians, however. We need to think about it in general as well as the impact of COVID interventions. We need to think of it in the same terms as we do harms to physical health. Harming spiritual life is more serious but much more common than we have realised. In fact we do it all the time in ways that we barely acknowledge.

It is frighteningly possible to commit acts of spiritual destruction and harm. The apostle Paul tells us that it is possible to destroy the work of God and a fellow believer with something that is not in itself sinful. It may be something as straightforward as what we feel free to eat, if that could be a stumbling block to someone (Romans 14:15 & 20). Their conscience may be in error but if they believe it is sinful then they are spiritually harmed by our example. Our failure to deny ourselves in something indifferent is a breach of charity towards them. We are being spiritually destructive in doing something that would tend to undermine the work of Christ, which is to save and build up souls not destroy them. It puts a stumbling block in their way which would result in their spiritual harm.

In the following updated extract, John Brown of Wamphray summarises the powerful implications of the teaching that the apostle Paul presses home in these verses. Paul says that the work of grace and sanctification, of holiness and comfort in your brother, is the work of God. By stumbling him with your eating you are doing what you can to hinder the progress of that work (Romans 14:20). And so you do that which tends to harm and utterly destroy that work. You destroy the work of God, for a very small and inconsiderable matter. Your food, though useful, is small in comparison of this work of God. And for so small a matter will you endanger the everlasting good of your brother? It is true that all foods are now pure and clean since Christ has come. But it is evil to the person who eats with offence. Although those foods are morally pure and free of any ceremonial uncleanness, yet it is sinful and unlawful to be a stumbling block to your brother in eating those foods.

We are often careless about the impact of our words and actions on others. As long as our conscience is not ringing alarm bells, perhaps we fail to take the conscience of others into consideration. What we do or say may not be sinful in itself but that does not mean it cannot cause spiritual harm to others, depending on the circumstances involved. 

1. Spiritual Harm Happens Even When We Don’t Mean It

It often never occurs to us that we may be doing spiritual harm to our brothers and sisters when what we do isn’t really wrong. Mostly, we try to obey God’s commands and avoid what God forbids. Yet there are ‘indifferent’ things, neither right nor wrong in themselves, which we can do – either with a wrong motivation or wrong attitude – which brings spiritual harm to our neighbour. If we even do something that saddens our brother or sister, making them disappointed that we are not so spiritually mature or spiritually sensitive as they thought we were (for example), then we’ve done something that hurts them spiritually. Through the sadness of heart this causes them, we have made them slow down or falter in the way of godliness. This is so even though we never intended this at all, and even though they will never ultimately be turned out of the way.

2. Spiritual Harm Undermines Christ’s Work

Although it is impossible that anyone for whom Christ died and who is redeemed by His blood will actually perish, yet we may be guilty before God of doing that which (in itself) would tend to murder their souls. By doing that which may lead, provoke, or stir someone up to sin, we are doing what would in its own nature and tendency bring them to ruin and death, if it was not for divine mercy preventing it.

So the sin of stumbling the weak brings deeper guilt than many are aware. It is nothing less than working against Christ, labouring to rob him of what he has purchased, even with the costly price of his blood, and to deprive Him of those for whom He laid down His life. The one we stumble is or may be (for all we know) someone “for whom Christ died.”

3. Spiritual Harm Undermines Brotherly Love

If only we paid more attention to the law of love, and considered more carefully the awful nature of the deed of making our brother stumble, for it is ultimately a form of soul-murder, of destroying the souls purchased by Christ at the dearest rate!

Then we would never dare to take the risk of causing spiritual harm to anyone. We would never dare to be so addicted to our own pleasures, or wishes, or advantages, or convenience, on any excuse whatsoever, that we would continue to do things that are at best only neutral, when it endangers the spiritual welfare of our neighbour.

The smaller and more trivial the thing that endangers the spiritual happiness and welfare of the soul of our brother, the greater is our guilt if we do it. We should instead have such a hearty love to the spiritual benefit and progress of our brother that we would immediately discount whatever good we think we can reap to ourselves by that little thing, as soon as we weigh it in the balance alongside the inevitable hurt which it will bring his soul.

4. Spiritual Harm Attacks God’s Work

The work of grace in a soul, and that soul’s spiritual comfort, is a work which God claims as his own. It is God who gives faith in the first place, as well as all the other graces, and it is God who gives believers all the comfort and joy they have. He is the one who daily nurtures and continues the work of grace by his own constant influences on their souls, and he is the one who brings this work to completion and glory in his own time. This is why it is called God’s work.
And although this work is in God’s hand, and he will certainly bring it on to a perfect conclusion, and never permit it to fail, yet it is liable to many obstacles and obstructions, arising from all sorts of casual occurrences. But we can only interpret these events as things which are means of destroying this work. Although they will never successfully destroy God’s work, they are genuine attacks on God’s work which can bring genuine harm.

5. Spiritual Harm Happens Easily

Just as this work is hindered by many obstructions which it meets with from corruptions within our brother’s soul, so it also meets with impediments from others around us. These impediments come not only by people doing what may foster or stir up corruption in us, or by doing something actually sinful, or even by doing what is lawful and necessary in a carnal, sinful manner. They also even come by people’s ordinary activities and behaviour.

6. Spiritual Harm Can Happen Even Through Indifferent Things

Not only are we causing real spiritual harm when we do things that are actually sinful and prohibited by God, but we can also do spiritual harm when we do something that is compatible with God’s law, and ‘indifferent’ (neither morally right or wrong in itself).

If something is ‘indifferent,’ we are free to do it or not, according to our own pleasure – but only as long as it does not cause anyone any spiritual harm. What is indifferent becomes sinful as soon as our brother sustains spiritual harm by what we’ve done, and when the work of God in our brother’s soul is marred.


A new book helps you avoid causing spiritual harm through the application of  biblical counsel. 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.



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Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?

Should Most Evangelicals Support Women Preachers?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

A recent survey conducted in the USA indicated that 7 out of 10 self-identified evangelicals agreed that “women should be allowed to preach on Sunday morning”. The results showed that these figures are not reduced when frequency of attendance and attitude to the Bible are taken into consideration. Three-quarters of those who claimed to believe that the Bible is literally true and attend services multiple times a week agreed with women preaching. Age did not seem to make a significant difference in people’s views either. We do not know what arguments these people consider strongest in favour of this view. Popular arguments are, however, familiar enough from the wider debate on this issue. If we claim to take the Bible as literally true, we must consider what it says on this subject. Whatever most evangelicals support we need to know what the Bible itself supports. Let us consider some of the passages that speak clearly on this matter.

Many books have been written on this subject, but shorter articles can still be useful. It is also helpful to consider how previous generations have understood Scripture in relation to this debate. Did they have clear biblical reasons for their views? It is helpful to do this because sometimes we are especially influenced by being so close to our own cultural perspective and current debates. Some want to claim that the New Testament’s assertions are merely cultural and can be bypassed. Yet who decides what is cultural and how far this approach goes? Others want to redefine what “teaching” means. A technical in-depth refutation of that kind of redefinition can be found in Women in the Church: An Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner.

The question is not whether men are allowed to preach and teach publicly but women aren’t. The question is rather who is qualified according to Scripture to preach and teach. “Are all teachers?” (1 Corinthians 12:29) asks Paul. Clearly not. Not all men are qualified for office in the church. Only some men and not all are among those qualified and called to preach. This issue does not downgrade the important contribution of woman within the church any more than it downgrades male members who are not in office.

Arguments in favour of women preaching have been made in the past as well as in the present. In the more distant past, those who were promoting this practice were various groups and sects such as the Quakers. John Brown of Wamphray responded to these arguments and the following is an updated extract. Beginning with the passages that deal with this most explicitly he makes the following blunt observation. Some plead for women speaking or preaching in the public assemblies of the Church notwithstanding the fact that Paul has in two distinct places, expressly prohibited it.

1 Corinthians 14:34-38

One passage is 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silence, in the churches”. We might think, that this was indeed enough to satisfy us; but see what the apostle adds further to enforce this, “for it is not permitted unto them to speak”, i.e. in the churches. This is as if he had said “they have no permission to do so”. And as if all this were not enough, he adds all that is permitted to them i.e. to be under obedience as the law requires. By this he wants us to understand that women speaking in the churches is inconsistent with the obedience that the law of God has laid on them. He implies that speaking by teaching in the churches is an authoritative thing, and therefore not allowed to women in any way. Their proper behaviour according to the institution and law of God, is to be under obedience. He will not even permit them so much as to ask questions for the sake of learning in the churches lest this would make way for usurping authority and beginning to speak with authority. He adds in verse 35 that if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home. He adds that it was contrary to that modesty that is the ornament of women in saying that it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

What the apostle adds to confirm this injunction concerning women in the verses that follow  is also notable. They may be considered along with his previous directions which he had given to regulate the abuses of that church. He asks them if the Word of God came out from them or to them alone. In other words, are you the first, last, and only Christians there are? Or must you give laws to all the churches of Christ? And must they all follow you? It is as though no previous church has had the Word of God in relation to this. In verse 37 he goes on to say that if any man thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. Those who defend women preachers must take notice of this. When they contradict this express injunction of the apostle, they declare themselves (whatever they want to say to the contrary) to be neither prophets nor spiritual.

We also see that what Paul spoke concerning this silence of women in the church was the commandment of the Lord. Therefore it is obligatory for all churches who seek to own any relation to Christ as their Lord and Head. Those who reject this commandment of the Lord renounce (in this area) their relation to the Lord as their Head and Lawgiver. The next verse (v38). “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” also have their own weight. It is as if he had said, if anyone still will not (despite all this) accept this let him do so. No more needs be said to convince him because he is wilfully ignorant and must remain so. Thus, we must say in this particular matter that if people will remain ignorant, we cannot help it. We must follow our rule and declare them unable of being convinced on this and so leave them to it.

1 Timothy 2:11—14

Another explicit passage against women preachers is 1 Timothy 2:11—14. This requires the women to learn in silence with all obedience and not to teach nor to usurp authority over the man. We can see from this that teaching publicly is an act of authority and that inconsistent, with the silence and obedience required from women. The apostle, as a faithful servant of Christ, will not therefore give way to it. He makes this known to Timothy so that he may suppress any such practice where it exists or hinder where people want to establish it. He adds his reasons; saying, for Adam was first formed, then Eve. By this he teaches us that such a practice is contrary to the law of creation, the law written on the Creation, and the way and method of creation which the Lord chose to follow. This made an express declaration of His will to mankind.

The apostle also adds that Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. That is, the woman being immediately and first deceived by Satan was the cause and occasion of Adam’s transgressing. Her submission to the man was further laid on her as a more grievous weight and burden, as a part of her punishment. Those who seek to have women usurping authority and teaching in the church seek to annul the sentence passed on women by the just Lord for Eve’s being the cause of Adam’s sin. Such declare in a way that that sentence was unjust; and that Eve was not the devil’s instrument to cause Adam to sin.

Galatians 3:28

Some say that women can be preachers because male and female are one in Christ. “Seeing” (they say) “God gives His Spirit to one as well as to another, when the Lord moves in women by His Spirit, we do not think it unlawful in any way for them to preach in the meetings of God’s people”.

The following is the answer to this:
(1) There is neither male, nor female just as there is neither Jew nor Greek but all are one in Christ. This is true in reference to the privileges of the Covenant under the present New Testament administration. It is different from what was the case under the Old Testament. This is what Paul is speaking of in Galatians 3:28. But it does not follow from this as a consequence by any clear connection or appearance of reason that women as well as men may therefore preach in the assemblies of the church

(2) That God gives His sanctifying Spirit to women, as well as men, is very true. But that He moves them to preach is not. If the Spirit of God moves in women, He will prompt them to duty i.e. to keep silence in the Church and not teach there or usurp authority. Rather she will learn in obedience, remembering what her sex is called to by the law of God, and that punishment on all women due to Eve’s conduct.

Acts 2:17

Some think the passages we have cited out of Paul’s Epistles do not oppose their practice of women preachers. Yet a more explicit contradiction is not imaginable. They appeal to the fact that women have prophesied in the Church to counter this.
In answer to this, the Lord has indeed made use of women to be prophetesses, He is free to make use of whom He will. His rare and extraordinary acts are no rule to us, however. His Law is our rule, and we must go to the Law and to the Testimony. He is absolute and is not bound by the rules and laws, He prescribes to us,

Some point out that Peter applies Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17 which speaks of women prophesying. But how does Peter apply it? Were there any women preachers among the company converted through Peter? During the particular time in which Peter applies Joel’s prophecy we do not hear of the least appearance of any women preachers and this manifestly declares to the contrary.

1 Corinthians 11:5

Some say that Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 11:5 gave rules how women should conduct themselves, in their public preaching and prayers. The problem with this is that makes the apostle contradict himself in the same epistle. Is it not safer for us to say that whatever rules he gave, they were such as must be consistent with the plain, absolute and enforced prohibition of their preaching, teaching, or speaking in the public meetings of the church? But what were the rules he gave concerning women? He said that every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, dishonours her head. Some assume this refers to how they should conduct themselves when prophesying or praying publicly before others in the assembly. But the apostle is only showing what should be the conduct of both men and women when present in the public assemblies at the time of public worship. He shows how they should conduct themselves while the Word was spoken and explained and public prayers was being made, not by themselves but by others appointed for this.

Philippians 4:3

Some appeal to Philippians 4:3 where Paul speaks of women that laboured with him in the gospel. The question is, in what way did they do this? Some imagine it was by public preaching in the assemblies but what grounds are there for this? What hint is given of this? Is there no labouring in the gospel, except by public preaching? Some point out that Philip had four daughters that prophesied (Acts 21:9). But where do we read that they preached in the public assemblies of the church?

Arguing from Experience

Some argue that God has converted many to Himself by the means of women and frequently comforted the minds of His sons. They say that this manifest experience puts the matter to us beyond all controversy. The following answers may, however, be made.

(1) God may make use of women in a private capacity for this effect and has often blessed their honest endeavours to this end. We most willingly acknowledge this, but the question is not about their efforts and labour in private in their particular place and capacities, but about public preaching in open and public assemblies of the church.

(2) If people mean preaching in the public assemblies when they speak about God using women, it is suspect.  Such experiences, being false and falsely founded, can provide no evidence against the standing and binding laws of Christ in His Church. Otherwise we make experience our Bible from which all arguments are brought to defend all erroneous and irregular practices. It is safest to examine experiences by a standing rule; if they do not agree with this they are at best the result and acts of the power of people’s own vain imaginations. If people will steer their course by such a compass, we think it little wonder if they dash on the rocks and make shipwreck of truth.


Other points could be made but this survey of the key passages covers the main points in a concise way. Many of the arguments are not necessarily new, it is just that they are coming from a new source. There are many other treatments of this issue, some of which go into considerable depth. Yet for some the matter is settled by the clear words of Scripture themselves. If these words do not mean what they say they mean then how does that affect other clear passages? If we believe the Spirit is apparently saying something new to us about these verses then why is it so contradictory to what others have believed (1 Corinthians 14:36)? The debate on this question relates to a wider question of whether we accept the plain language of Scripture and its authority. Are we willing to let Scripture have supreme authority or is our submission to it conditional on culture or experience?



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What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?

What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?

What Does Our Conscience Owe to the Government?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

Usually, questions about the authority of civil government concerning the church or the individual believer are rather theoretical. In recent months, however, they have become intensely practical for Christians in many countries. We are thankful for the role of government in upholding the good of society. How far, however, does government authority concerning preserving health, security and order extend? How far can they restrict the church and its worship? Is there a way through such dilemmas that keeps our conscience clear? A spectrum of opinion exists, but we need to bring back such questions (intricate as they are) to biblical principle. Our reasoning should come from Scripture rather than the consequences that we anticipate from any particular course of action. We must respect the authority of civil government, but we cannot outsource our conscience to them blindly.

Romans 13:5 is a key verse dealing with conscience and civil government. Paul draws certain conclusions from the reasons given in the preceding verses. He argues that we must be subject to our lawful governing authorities, it is not something optional for us. It is necessary for two reasons: “for wrath” and “for conscience sake”. We must be subject otherwise we expose ourselves to “wrath”, i.e. just punishment by the government. But we must also be subject “for conscience sake” that is, out of conscience to the command of God. Otherwise, we will wound our conscience and expose ourselves to its just condemnation against us. John Brown of Wamphray shows how it is possible to maintain high respect for civil government while keeping our conscience clear.

1. Conscience Must Respect Civil Government

Being subject to civil government is not left up to private citizens as something indifferent. They must “be subject”. They must obey the lawful commands of authority. If the commands of authority are such that they cannot obey in conscience, they must then subject themselves to their censure and punishment.

2. Conscience Must Respect Justice

Civil government may use the sword of justice to lawfully punish those who rebel against them and refuse to be subject to their authority and lawful commands. They must be subject “for wrath’s sake”, to avoid their wrath and displeasure.

3. Conscience Must Distinguish God’s Law

When the laws of civil government are clearly God’s laws, the conscience is bound to obey them. Some laws of civil government have merely human authority because they are simply what they choose to require rather than being derived from God’s law. These do not bind the conscience in and of themselves. Otherwise, they would always bind the conscience even if the magistrate did not command them.

In other lawful things, conscience to the command of God should bind us seeing He has commanded us to obey civil government. We should do so out of respect for the public good and peace which God’s Word commands us to seek (Hebrews 13:14; Romans 12:18; Psalm 34:14).

When their commands are sinful nothing must be done to openly dishonour the government. The law of God binds us not to discredit or insult the government but rather honour and esteem them (1 Peter 2:17; Ecclesiastes 10:20). Even their man-made laws bind the conscience in this respect alone, not to obedience but in patiently suffering punishment.

4. Conscience Relates to Our Duty to Others

God has endowed everyone with a conscience, a beam of light or a delegated authority within the soul which takes notice of all of a person’s actions. This delegated authority has its eye not only on a person’s actions that relate directly to God but also those that relate to others, whether in authority or not. Conscience takes notice of whether people are subject to authority or not. We must be subject “for conscience sake” because conscience will bind this duty on us.

5. Conscience Directs and Condemns

Conscience (when it is not blinded or biased) can direct us to our duty. It has the power to bind a person to do their duty and to trouble them if they go against its directions. We must “be subject” to authority if we want to avoid the stings and condemnations of conscience.

6. Conscience Must Be Informed by God’s Word

We should give weight to the directions given by conscience, seeing it is put into the soul as God’s delegated authority. When it speaks according to God’s Word (which is our only rule) the very instructions of conscience should remind us to be subject.


These are some of the biblical principles that we need to apply concerning conscientious obedience or disobedience to civil government. We still have to do the hard work of applying them in difficult specific situations. We cannot give blind obedience to what the state requires simply because they require it. Only God is Lord of the conscience and our conscience is not bound unless an authority requires something that is required by God. God does require us, however, in the fifth commandment to give due respect to authority and what they command. We need much grace and wisdom to apply the principles of Scripture in every case of conscience.

Political Power and its Limitations

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers like Samuel Rutherford and his book, Lex, Rex (The Law and the King) The book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power and so they had it publicly burned. We live in times when politics is polarising to an extraordinary degree. In many democratic countries there is a drift towards autocracy. On the other hand some want to take us into an anarchy where valued liberties and principles are discarded. What are the lessons we can learn today?



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Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?

Why Does Our Behaviour Often Contradict Our Morals?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

70% UK adults think that it’s important for people to have a moral framework in their lives according to a recent BBC survey. Yet only 29% say “I must live by my values all the time”. Why is that? If my values are only defined by me then they are just personal preference. If morality is not objective, we are not accountable to anyone else when we break our own moral code. The same survey revealed that people’s behaviour often contradicts their supposedly strong morals. Half of those who believed it was never acceptable for them to lie admitted they did. Almost half who believed it was never acceptable for them to take illegal drugs had done this. In the midst of such moral confusion we need an objective God-given standard of right and wrong and analysis of the human heart.

Clearly, this is what we need. Despite the contradictions we have noted, 50% of those responding to the survey believed most people are essentially good, with just 4% disagreeing. In the book of Romans the apostle Paul makes unmistakably clear the sinfulness of the human heart. This is why we sin with our fingers in our ears against an accusing conscience. We need a new heart.

In Romans 7 Paul goes on, however, to show how remaining sin still affects those who have been regenerated. It does this to the extent that they even do that which they hate and condemn (Romans 7:15-16,19). They are not immune from a contradiction between the mind, will and the actions either. This is due to the influence of remaining sin within the heart of the believer. Yet it is a different contradiction to what we see in the life and heart of those who have not been regenerated. There is a renewed part within believers that delights in God’s law as holy, just and good. John Brown of Wamphray explains the nature of this contradiction in the heart of believers.


Those who are strangers to their own hearts and not acquainted with examining themselves usually have too good thoughts of themselves. Serious and sincere consideration of our own hearts will, however, brings us to a right view of our natural corruption. The unregenerate may gain some distant view of their natural corruption but only grace will give a thorough, clear, heart-affecting and soul-humbling sight of it. Paul does this when he says no good thing dwells in his flesh (his remaining sin).

The ungodly may have some willingness to do that which is morally good. Yet they are altogether averse from any spiritual good or even doing moral good in a spiritual way. This is unique to the child of God, only a good tree brings forth good fruit. The love and desire to what is spiritually good is not counterfeit simply because they cannot accomplish their intentions. They may be a will to do that which is good without being able to carry it out.

Although unregenerate people have enough natural conscience within to oppose them when their lusts are carrying them away headlong, they do not have a renewed spirit in their minds resisting. They may have some shadowy knowledge of the principles of righteousness through what it written on their hearts by nature (Romans 2:15). There may also be many within the visible church who are utter strangers to the work of grace who may still have much knowledge of the law of God. Neither have any heart delight in the holy law of God not welcome it heartily as good when it speaks against their corruptions. This is unique to those regenerated that they “consent unto the law that it is good”. It is not a forced necessity but flows from the heart complying with the things commanded or forbidden by the law.  


Since these principles of grace and sin are contrary to each other in their very natures and can never agree, they aim to clash with one another in every action that the poor believer endeavours. What the one wants to do the other will not have done (Galatians 5:17).

Although grace and corruption are irreconcilable enemies and grace constantly seeks to eat away corruption it will still be present in the best to keep them exercised. Sin does not however, reign in them tyrannising and oppressing them as a constant presence but is like a traveller coming and going.


It is evidence of grace within the soul that we get a right view of the corruption within us. This will keep the soul humble and diligent in seeking to exercise and grow in grace. Grace is a heart-humbling thing: the more the soul has of it, the more they are willing to acknowledge their own shame.


Believers have no cause to be secure but should rather be on their guard because even at their best times when they seek to good “evil is present” with them. It is useful and necessary to consider frequently this conflict in those who are regenerate. We ought to consider how often the worst side prevails over the better in particular skirmishes. This will keep our spirits humble and drive us nearer to Christ to get more grace to subdue and battle with our corruption. It makes us long for the day when we will be beyond its reach. We should also be thankful for any little victory obtained and take it as a foretaste of the ultimate full and final victory.



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When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?

When is Being Debt-Free Absolutely Wrong?
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.

We are drowning in personal debt. It’s recognised as a crisis. With growing insecurity one small change can often send individuals and families into tragic unsustainable debt. Overall debt in the UK is expected to reach £2 trillion by 2020. How should we think about debt? When the Apostle Paul says that we are not to owe anyone anything it seems unmistakably clear (Romans 13:8). But then he goes on immediately to make an exception. In fact, he urges us to take on the biggest possible debt: “to love one another”. What are we doing about this personal debt?

In explaining this verse, John Brown of Wamphray emphasises that it is important for Christians to fulfil their obligations. They should be faithful in relation to the agreements and debts they contract. They should not give anyone legitimate reason complain about them. They should seek to manage the little money they receive from God in a wise and careful way so that they can pay off their debts (2 Kings 4:1-3; Proverbs 3:27 and 6:1-3).

The debt they cannot free themselves from but must constantly pay is to love one another. Paul goes on to show that this is what God’s law requires. It is something that we must be reminded about constantly (1 Timothy 6:11; 1 Corinthians 14:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:22).


The duty of Christian love is a duty required of every kind of person. It is a mutual Christian duty (John 13:34; John 15:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Colossians 3:14).


This is a debt required of us daily and which we can never be freed from. It must continue (Hebrews 13:1). It is a debt we are constantly obliged to pay to our neighbour.


We should desire the best for everyone: eternal life, peace with God etc. This same principle of love ought to extend to everyone whether they are saints (Colossians 1:4) or strangers (Deuteronomy 10:19-20). It includes anyone who is called our neighbour (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19). We are to love one another and our neighbour (Romans 13:8-9; 1 Peter 2:17).

Believers are indeed bound to have a special respect and love for those who are fellow children of grace and children of the same Father (Galatians 6:10). The same has love us and commanded us to do this (1 John 4:11 and 21). This will prove that we do indeed know and love God and He dwells in us (1 John 4:8, 12 and 20). It will show that we are of God, dwell in the light and have passed from death to life (1 John 2:10-11 and 3:10 and 14).

It is of course true that in terms of frequency, effects and degree of delight we may love some more than others. These include those to whom we are related or are friends with or those who have shown us kindness (1 Timothy 5:4; Proverbs 18:24; Galatians 6:6).


Although believers are out of the reach of the condemnation of the law they are under its direction. The more the law urges a duty the more believers ought to strive to fulfil it. In urging this duty of love Paul says that it summarises the second part of the Ten Commandments. He calls this “the fulfilling of the law” (Matthew 22:39; James 2:8; Galatians 5:14).


This love for our neighbours should preserve us from wronging them in terms of their honour, person, reputation and possessions. It would urge us to use all lawful means to secure their spiritual and outward good. In a word, it would keep us from transgressing any commandment of the second part of the Ten Commandments in thought, word or deed (Romans 13:9 see Galatians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24). We must labour in this love (1 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 6:10). We ought to serve our neighbour in love (Galatians 5:13).

Where this love is found we do not devise, contrive or seek anything that harms our neighbour. We will not even so much as take up a bad report against our neighbour (Psalm 15:3). Love does not envy but bears long and is not easily provoked (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It does not think any evil but covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).


Romans 14:8 is simple in its wording but it includes a very great deal indeed. Love for others so motivates a person to obey God’s commandments without even thinking about it. 
When the Christian is changed their behaviour is also changed. This is so much the case that without this love – the Christian with all their knowledge and profession is nothing, it is merely an empty sound (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

But how do we show that love to all fellow-believers, what is our duty towards them? Any breach in fellowship and the love we ought to have should be truly distressing to us. Christ spoke of how reconciliation ought to take preeminence over other duties such as worship (see Matthew 5:21-26). It is easy to make professions, to parade zeal and orthodoxy but our obedience matters. This is the test of whether our love is genuine (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

We may well have spoken the truth to another person faithfully and without leaving them in any doubt as to where they have gone wrong. But did we speak the truth in love? Or did we give them such a volley of truth as will inoculate them lifelong against the Biblical principles we are defending due to the way in which we have done it? Of course a failure to say or do what is right can also lead others to sin and error. It does not mean that we abandon any truth or principle; it means that we are unwilling to value it above Christian love. We value both love and truth enough to want to lovingly and patiently exhort our fellow Christians to be of one mind with us.

It is often in our use of the tongue and how we speak about other Christians that we fail to fulfil the requirement of love. We should always seek the good and not the harm (even indirectly) of others. 

We need to pray for much grace in order to fulfil this perpetual debt of love.


No one has written on this subject in a more spiritual, biblical and powerful way than Hugh Binning in his book Christian Love. It is brief but needs much careful pondering and prayerful practice. 



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