Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?

Is Social Media Making Christians Miserable?
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.

Even Facebook themselves now admit that countless studies show social media is bad for us. There’s no doubting its benefit of connecting and sometimes edifying people. The predominant trend of self-advertising, however, fosters discontent with our own lives. It prompts negative self-comparisons. People also find that a virtual community does not replace real community. Online communication may even undermine our face-to-face interactions. Something that brings us together can also create isolation and distance. Edifying one another in the best possible way must not become a casualty of social media excess. Other generations have not faced an identical challenge but Scripture has wisdom for every situation.

Facebook’s former vice-president said recently: “It is at a point where we have created tools which are ripping apart the fabric of how society works – that is truly where we are”. One of the most resonant book titles to summarise our condition is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The author Sherry Turkle, maintains that “as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down”.  “On social-networking sites such as Facebook, we think we will be presenting ourselves, but out profile ends up as somebody else—often the fantasy of who we want to be”. That can be true even in the way that people present themselves in terms of the spiritual content they share. It’s much easier too to interact in a remote, digital context that reduces our commitment to another believer. In a telling phrase Turkle observes: “the ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind.”  She identifies the symptoms of the malaise with clarity.

“Teenagers avoid making telephone calls, fearful that they “reveal too much.” They would rather text than talk. Adults, too, choose keyboards over the human voice. It is more efficient, they say. Things that happen in “real time” take too much time. Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world “unplugged” does not signify, does not satisfy…We build a following on Facebook … and wonder to what degree our followers are friends…suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection.

Christian community is in danger of being undermined by such trends. How do we address these challenges positively? Scripture contains a great deal of written communication, indeed it is written communication. Yet, amongst Christians, it ranks face-to-face communication far higher than writing. It is remarkable that the apostle John states this bluntly on several occasions. In 2 John 12 he says that he has many things to write but he does not want to write with “paper and ink”. “ I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full” (3 John 13-14 is very similar).

Writing was limited but unhindered communication would make their joy full. As David Dickson notes, the apostle’s intention was to edify the congregation to whom he was writing. He desired to be present “to instruct and confirm it more fully in the doctrine of faith, that all the faithful…might out of a larger and more fruitful instruction receive more fully of spiritual joy”.

It is a reminder that for all we may read and hear online with spiritual profit, nothing can substitute for someone expounding the Word in our presence. It is also direct counsel that if we want to edify someone as much as we can, we need to see them face to face.

It was the same with the apostle Paul in Romans 1:11-12. “I long to see you” he says. His desire is that they would be together to edify and comfort one another. As John Brown of Wamphray notes, Paul is saying “My love to you is such that I earnestly long to be with you to give you freely of those things which God has given me. Things that may tend to profit and establish you”.

Brown draws out from Paul’s desire important teaching about how Christians need each other and to edify one another in person. Obviously there is also particular teaching for those who have responsibility within the Church for the spiritual wellbeing of Christ’s flock. Paul is seeking actively an opportunity speaking to them face to face to benefit them more than writing. We need to recover this emphasis on the best possible way to edify one another. Giving more time to edifying other Christians in person is essential. Note that it is not merely being together socially but sharing spiritual benefit from our conversation.


1. Christian Love Seeks the Best Way of Edifying

Christian love that is strong in itself and arises from a right principle and basis it extends even to those that believers have never seen. It desires to be able to benefit them as much as possible. We can see this in Paul who was most earnestly desirous to see the Romans to be able to do them good


2. Every Christian Needs to be Edified

No one is so far advanced in Christianity while they are on this side of the sun that they do not need help and comfort from others. Paul himself confesses that he desired to be comforted or exhorted by the Romans to whom he was writing.


3. Christian Fellowship Must Edify

As iron sharpens iron so making right and best use of Christian fellowship rightly is a means by which Christians will be mutually edified and built up. Paul says that his conversing with them would tend towards their mutual comfort.


4. How Christian Fellowship Edifies

Christian fellowship is conducted well when it involves declaring mutual evidences of the reality of God’s grace within them. This may involve giving evidence of their knowledge of Christ and faith in Him. They may speak of their mutual experiences of God’s love etc. The mutual faith of both Paul and the Romans was to be known and revealed when they would meet together.


5. Every Christian Can Edify

Believers strengthen and comfort one another by means of conversation and other spiritual activities when they meet together. In this they show one another their devotion to and life in Christ. They also admonish and exhort those that are faint and are likely to become weary. The strongest may be profited by the weakest since Paul says that it was by their mutual faith that he would be comforted together with them.



We need real and full Christian fellowship and edification and we must not allow other things to inhibit this. We can have true fellowship and edify online but only in a limited way. Social media has its benefits but we need to acknowledge that it cannot substitute for what is real and immediate. We have to learn how to manage its challenges to get best benefit from it. In a dislocated, individualistic world Christians should be able to demonstrate true fellowship that edifies spiritually.

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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Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough

Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough

Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough
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.

It was not so much the 95 theses as Luther’s later study of Scripture that fully crystallised his understanding of the gospel of grace. He came to the book of Romans but was stopped in his tracks by the word “righteousness” in chapter one. For Luther this meant God’s justice and judgment. “I meditated night and day on those words” he says, until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context (i.e. verse 17). He seized upon the words: “The just person lives by faith”. I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. As he meditated further, the whole gospel of grace was opened to him and the truth that we are justified by faith alone. Let’s take a closer look at the verse that became Luther’s Gospel Breakthrough.

Luther says. “I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.”

All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light.

“I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g.,the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God”.

I exalted this sweetest word of mine, “the justice of God,” with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise.

Luther had long struggled in vain to keep God’s law perfectly in order to be righteous before God. The idea of God’s perfect righteousness as a standard of justice terrified him. He says it “struck my conscience like lightning,” and “was like a thunderbolt in my heart”. But he came to see that the righteousness of God is also spoken of as a gift revealed in the gospel.

This discovery is often called Luther’s “Tower Experience,” because in one of his “table talks” he mentions that he was studying Romans 1:17 in the heated room (his study) of the tower of the Black Cloister in Wittenberg when the light broke upon him. The truth of justification by faith alone was a cornerstone of the Reformation’s recovery of the gospel of grace. 

Despite its significance we do not have much that Luther wrote about this verse. This verse is, however, helpfully expounded by John Brown of Wamphray in his comments on the book of Romans. It is not enough that Luther could see the truth of justification by faith alone in this verse, we need to see it for ourselves too. Brown’s comments help to draw out the truth carefully.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe. This is because in that gospel the righteousness by which we must stand before God’s judgment seat is declared and revealed to believers. This is the righteousness that God reveals, no matter whether their faith is strong or weak; it is “from faith to faith”. The righteousness by which we must be justified is applied by sincere faith which is growing from one degree to another.

We are justified (declared righteous before God) by faith and not by works. Scripture affirms that we are just by faith and that we live by faith, therefore we are justified by faith. Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 “The just shall live by faith” or “The just by faith shall live” (it can be read both ways).


1. There is No Salvation Without Righteousness

The Lord has made such a connection between righteousness (as the way) and life salvation (as the end) that no one can expect righteousness without salvation. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). The “unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Revelation 21:27).


2. Saving Righteousness is Only Revealed in the Gospel

The only righteousness by which we attain to salvation cannot be learned by natural knowledge. However sharp-sighted in other things men may be by nature they cannot reach this. It is a matter that must be revealed in the gospel. It cannot be known except through the gospel because in it “is the righteousness of God revealed”.


3. We Cannot Earn this Righteousness

By nature we are inclined to obtain happiness through our own works. But the righteousness by which we must stand before God’s judgment seat (revealed and made known in the gospel) is not a righteousness we can purchase, merit or devise. It is a righteousness provided by the infinitely wise God and a righteousness of one who is God. It is therefore called “the righteousness of God” (Philippians 3:9) and the “righteousness which is of God by faith” (Romans 3:21 and 10:3).


4. This Righteousness is Received by Faith Alone

This righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is made ours by faith. It is applied by faith laying hold on Jesus and His righteousness. It is revealed “from faith” or by faith.


5. The Weakest Faith Receives this Righteousness

The least degree of faith (as long as it is true and sincere) receives this righteousness of God revealed to us in the gospel. It is “from faith to faith”; that is from the smallest degree and measure of faith to the greatest.


6. True Faith Continues to Grow

Although Satan uses many means to make true faith fail and die, it continues to grow from one degree and measure to another.


7. Justification by Faith is Essential

It is essential that justification by faith is properly understood. This is a truth opposed and obscured by Satan and those whom he uses. We must all understand it clearly and have it confirmed from the Lord’s Word. This is why Paul adds “it is written”.


8. Truth May be Established Indirectly

The law and the testimony of Scripture is the means to distinguish light from darkness. This is so full that we may confirm a truth from a verse where that truth is not directly addressed and is not necessarily the main purpose of the verse. The apostle makes use of a verse from Habakkuk here where the prophet is not primarily speaking about how or in what way people are justified before God. Rather, he is speaking about how the godly are supported and have life from faith even in days of trouble. The inference is justified, however. If the righteous have comfort through waiting on God by faith in a time of trouble it must be by faith that they are brought into life and justified.

If it is read alternatively, “The just by faith shall live”, it shows clearly that it is by faith (i.e. laying hold on Christ’s righteousness and blood) that they are just or justified. Great wrong is done to Scripture if we invalidate such inferences clearly deduced from it.


9. Justification is an Old Testament Truth

Although justification by faith is not outlined so fully and clearly in the Old as in the New Testament, it is still an Old Testament truth.  The apostle confirms this doctrine from a verse in the Old Testament (Habakkuk 2:4).


10. Justification is by Faith Alone

Faith is the only way by which sinners are brought from death to life and justification. Faith heartily embraces Jesus Christ for salvation as He is offered in the gospel. We are just and justified by our leaning on Him; for it is by faith that we are just.


11. Justification and Eternal Life Cannot be Separated

There is an inseparable connection between justification and eternal life. Thus, all those that are justified by faith in the blood of Christ, have fled to the city of refuge and sheltered themselves under the wings of Christ may be assured. Just as they are now spiritually alive so they will be carried through all difficulties and trials and at last inherit eternal life: for the just by faith shall live.


12. Justifying Faith is Living

Faith not only lays hold on Christ’s righteousness to be justified, it also draws strength from Christ as a root to live the life of grace and holiness. The same faith views God as reconciled in Christ, faithful in all His promises and mindful of the good of their souls in all sad circumstances. They have a life of comfort under the saddest circumstances that can befall them (Galatians 3:11; 2:20; Hebrews 10:38): the just shall live by faith.


13. Assurance is by Faith

Faith as God’s appointed means for accepting and embracing Christ and His righteousness justifies. By the same faith (not works), they get new confirmations of pardon; for the just (or he that is already justified) lives (in that justified condition) by faith.



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How Does Faith Justify?

How Does Faith Justify?

How Does Faith Justify?
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 Scriptural truth of justification by faith alone is the teaching most closely associated with Martin Luther. It was a radical change from the idea that justification would only take place in the future on the day of judgement. Even more radical was the truth that it was by faith alone and not faith formed by acts of charity that would merit eternal life. Luther saw that Scripture teaches that we are not justified by any work that we do but solely on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:21; 4:4-5). No wonder he wrote: “One cannot go soft or give way on this article, for then heaven and earth would fall”.

He also wrote that justification is “the most delightful” doctrine. But he added, that there were “few…who have thought it through well and who teach it aright”. About 150 years later it still needed correct teaching and thinking. John Brown of Wamphray wrote The Life of Justification Opened in order to clarify the doctrine against those who were introducing error. This problem remains today. One of the areas that Brown discusses is how faith justifies:

Faith is looking to Christ, as the stung Israelite in the wilderness looked to the brazen serpent (John 3:14,-15). Faith is saying ‘In the Lord have I righteousness’ (Isaiah 45:24). It is the believer putting on the Lord Jesus, that he may be found in Him and clothed with His righteousness (Philippians 3:9). It is receiving Christ (John 1:12) and receiving the atonement in Him and through Him (Romans 5:11) together with abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17). It is therefore called ‘believing on His name’ (John 1:12; 6:29; 7:35; 17:20; Acts 16:31; 19:25). Because faith has laid hold on this righteousness of Christ, this righteousness is called the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Romans 4:11) and the ‘righteousness which is of faith’ (Romans 9:30). It is that, ‘which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Philippians 3:9). Justifying faith is receiving Christ and His righteousness. It takes the man out of himself so that he may find and partake of that all-sufficient righteousness of Christ. Thus he may stand before God with confidence and expect pardon and acceptance. To say that faith is itself the gospel-righteousness on which they may lean and expect justification would be to destroy the essential work of justifying faith.

Brown emphasises that believers are not justified on account of their faith, as if that constituted their “gospel-righteousness”. Rather they are only justified on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them through faith as a mere instrument or means of receiving it. He continues:

Faith, in this matter, is as the eye of the soul, that does not look to itself but looks out to another. All who would live the life of justification must take themselves to Jesus Christ, lean on Him and His righteousness. They must be clothed with the robe of His righteousness alone and found in Christ alone. This is the only basis on which they must think of standing before God, having on Christ’s righteousness which God imputes to believers, and which they receive by faith, in order that they may have justification.




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Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World

Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World

Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World
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.

Civility has disappeared from a great deal of public discourse. Words such as “toxic”, “venomous” and “poisonous” are used to describe it. Political discourse seems to major on insults. It is not difficult to see that language can be not only divisive but degrading. In a polarised world, how should we respond to the invective directed against our views? How do we avoid worldly spite infecting our response? Disagreements among Christians also arise. Sometime there are necessary differences for the sake of truth, but is it possible to handle them peaceably?

John Brown of Wamphray gives some answers to these questions in his comments on the wisdom that Paul expresses in Romans 12:17 “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men”.  He notes how helpful it is that Paul goes on to say in verse 18: live peaceably with all men” but qualifies this with “if it be possible”. 


1. Christians must expect to be treated badly

A Christian should conduct himself as humbly as possible among his fellow brethren. Nevertheless, such is the strength of corruption in the best and the restless maliciousness of Satan (who is always blowing at the coal of strife and dissension) that they must expect bad treatment even at the hands of their fellow Christians. This is why he adds the following to his former exhortations: “Recompense no man evil for evil”. It supposes that even if the previous exhortations are followed, they will meet with bad treatment.


2. Christians must not retaliate in the same way

Whatever evil Christians may experience and whether from friends or foes, they ought to withstand their own heart corruptions (which are ready to seek private revenge) and forbear this unchristian retaliation. Men who are led by an evil spirit may count it their honour not to endure a wrong but to get even with any who injure them. Yet, it is a most unchristian thing and unseemly for the followers of Christ. “Recompense to no man evil for evil (see 1 Peter 3:9; Proverbs 23:2; Matthew 5:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).


3. Christians must avoid stumbling anyone

Christians ought not to be proud and vain nor scurrilous and dishonourable in their behaviour. Instead they ought to conduct themselves honestly. This means being careful to walk so as we may not stumble any but rather best win them over and in a way best suited to their position and our relation to them. Christians should “provide for things honest” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21).


4. Christians must show respect to all

Christian behaviour means not only avoiding stumbling fellow Christians but also having respect to strangers and seeking not to stumble them in outward things. “Provide for things honest in the sight of all men” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21 and Matthew 5:16).


5. Christians must seek to live peaceably with all

It is not seemly for Christians to be quarrelsome and keeping up arguments among themselves. It is also not becoming for Christians to be striving and contending with the wicked and those who are strangers to Christ; it creates a stumbling block. They should “live peaceably with all men”.


6. Christians will find that peace is impossible with some people

The wicked malicious disposition of some (the seed of the serpent) is so great that they will never allow the godly to live in rest and peace no matter what they may do. The apostle therefore adds this clause: “If it be possible, live peaceably with all men”.

There is great difficulty in conquering our own corruptions in order to join in peace with others. It may also be impossible to achieve peace and quietness with some. Despite this, it is nevertheless, the duty of Christians to be serious and earnest in using all possible or imaginable means to attain peace. They must be gracious in forgiving the injuries they have received and recompensed good for evil (1 Peter 3:9). We must do as much as lies in us to live peaceably with all men (see 1 Peter 3:11; Hebrews 12:14).


7. Christians must not pursue peace on sinful terms

In pursuing peace with others, we ought not to descend to sinful, dishonourable or dishonest terms. Even in pursuing peace we should be careful to behave with honesty as befits a Christian. These two duties may and should be aimed at together: “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” and “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men”.



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What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead

What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead

What You Must Do When You Feel Spiritually Dead
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.

Sometimes believers find themselves so weak and feel so dead that they wonder how things will ever change. Spiritual duties are only a matter of form and a reminder of our dry barren condition. Perhaps it has stolen on the soul through careless indifference. A general spiritual laziness and apathy has the upper hand. In other situations it may be that unconfessed sin may be oppressing the conscience. Christ is still the life that the believer’s soul needs. But how do we make use of that life?

John Brown of Wamphray explains that Christ is still life to the deadened soul in the following ways:

1. Christ keeps possession of the soul. The seed remains, the root abides fast in the ground. There is still life at the heart, although the man is motionless. This is like someone in a deep sleep or who has fainted and yet life has not ebbed away from them completely.

2. Christ awakens and rouses the soul in due time. He recovers it from that condition by some means or other. It may be by some alarm of judgment and terror as with David; or mercy and tenderness, as with Peter.

Usually, Christ recovers the soul:

(1.) By revealing something of this condition. He gives them so much awareness and felt sense of it and so much light as will help the soul see that it is not well but it is lifeless.

(2.) By the revealing the dreadfulness of such a condition and how dangerous it is to continue in it.

(3.) By reminding the soul that He is the resurrection and the life. He does this by stirring up grace in the soul and causing it to look to Him for reviving and release.

(4.) By rousing up the soul in due course out of its drowsiness and sluggish folding the hands to sleep. He brings them out of that deep carelessness into a more lively, vigilant, and active condition.


How to Make Use of Christ as Our Soul’s Life

1. Look to Christ as the Light of Men Who Makes the Blind to See

Look to Christ in this way in order to get a better and a more thorough revelation of your condition. To be conscious of this disease is half-way to be being restored. The soul that has a sense of this, is half-recovered of this fever and lethargy.

2. Look to Christ as God

As God He is able to cause the dead and dry bones to live (Ezekiel 37). This will keep you from despondency and despair. It will produce hope within the poor believer, when he sees that his physician is God with whom nothing is impossible.

3. Look to Christ as Your Head and Husband

He is life to the poor soul that cleaves to Him. This will strengthen your hope and expectation. You will see that Christ is engaged as a point of honour, to revive a poor dead and lifeless member of His body. The life in the head is for the good of the whole body and every member of the body that is not quite cut off. The good that is in the husband is for the relief of His poor wife, that has not been divorced. Christ being life and the Life, must be appointed for the relief, reviving and recovering from deadness of those given to Him. They will be raised up at the last day; He must present all his members as living in that day.

4. Wait for Christ in His promises

By faith you must wrap yourself up in the promises and lie before this Sun of Righteousness. Lie there until the heat of His beams thaws your frozen heart, and brings warmth into your cold and dead soul. This will renew your hold upon Him, accepting Him as the Life, and as your life. Christ himself tells us in John 11:40, that this is the Father’s will, that sent him, that everyone that sees the Son, and believes on Him, might have everlasting life, and Christ will raise him up at the last day. Faith closing with Christ was the means of life at first, so it will be the means of recovery out of a deadened condition afterwards.

5. Mourn for the Sins which Caused Such Deadness

Repentance and godly sorrow for the evils that have sinned Christ and life away, is a way to bring life back again.

6. Ensure You Harbour No Known Sin in Your Soul

Set yourself against every known evil. Sin is an enemy to the life and recovery which you are seeking.

7. Wait for Christ as Your Life Where He is to be Found

You must wait on Christ as your life in His appointed means. It is the will of the Lord, that Christ should be waited on there and sought for there. There is little hope of recovery for those who neglect the ordinances. The ordinances cannot revive a poor soul without Christ Himself, yet He condescends to come with life to His people in and through the ordinances.

He has appointed us to wait for Him there. We must be willing to accept all His condescensions of love and seek and wait for Him there, where He has said He will be found. [Christ’s appointed ordinances include such things as prayer, the Word of God, meditation as well as public worship and preaching]

8. Beware of Trusting in the Ordinances More than Christ

Beware of putting these ordinances of life in Christ’s place. Beware of thinking that ordinances will do Christ’s work. Some do this ignorantly in thinking that by praying so often a day, and reading so much, and hearing so much, they will recover their lost lively condition, Alas! all the ordinances, without Christ mean nothing. Without Him, they are cold and lifeless and can never bring heat and warmth to a cold soul. We are to seek Him in the ordinances, and life can be expected from Him alone life and none else.

9. Beware of Using the Ordinances Carelessly

While there is no life in the ordinances without Christ and life can only be expected from Him, yet beware of using the ordinances in a careless and superficial way. This would shows little desire for life, and only increases deadness. The ordinances should be used seriously, diligently, and with great carefulness and earnestness.

10. Wait with Patience

Do not quarrel with Christ for delaying to come. Wait with much humility. It is not fitting for he who through his folly sinned life away, to quarrel with God now because He does not restore him again to life at the first asking. He may be glad if after long seeking, waiting and much diligence, God eventually comes and restores to him the joy of salvation. He could have been made to lie bedridden (spiritually) all his days for a lasting monument of his folly in sinning away his life and strength.

11. Beware of Giving Room to Anything that May Increase or Prolong Spiritual Deadness

Beware of carelessness and negligence in your Christian walk. Beware especially not to provoke God by sinning against light [Scripture truth that you know and believe].

12. Beware of Expecting a Set Measure of Life and Strength

Beggars must not be choosers, far less such beggars who through their own folly have sinned away a good portion. It was not for the prodigal to seek a new inheritance after he had squandered the first; it would  be enough to be made as a servant.

13. Use Whatever Measure of Life You Receive for God and His Glory

Make good use of any small measure of life you get for God and His glory. If you get only one talent, use it to make gain by it. Use limbs and have limbs, use strength and have it. This will be the way to get more.

14. Make Vows to be Watchful

Make vows in the Lord to walk more watchfully in the future. Charge your soul not to stir or provoke the Lord to depart further or be prevented from coming to the soul.


Further Difficulties

Brown deals with the difficulties of those who still, despite all this, cannot see a change or increased liveliness in their condition.

1. What if I do not feel my deadness and weakness?

Though there may not be any real feeling of this condition, yet there may be a suspicion that all is not right. If this is the case, the soul must look out to Christ for the life of sense and for a sight of the provocations that have brought on that condition. Christ as the Life must recover the very beginnings of life. When the soul attains any real sense of this deadness it must follow the course previously prescribed for recovery.

2. But I cannot exercise faith, how can I come to Christ and make use of Him?

It is true that while the soul is in that condition it cannot act a strong and lively faith. But it can exercise a weak and sickly faith. A weak and sickly faith can lay hold on an enlivening Christ and so bring more strength and life to the soul. If the soul is so weak that it cannot grip, yet it can look to He that can quicken the dead and has helped many poor souls out of a dead condition. If it cannot do so much as look yet it may give a half-look and lie before him who waits to be gracious; and sustain itself with a “maybe He will come” if it can get no more.

3. What can I do if after all this I find no help but deadness remains and may even be increasing?

The soul in that condition must lie at His door waiting for His deliverance, resolving that if there is nothing better even to die at his door. It must leave no approved means or commanded duty neglected in order to recover its former vigour, activity and strength. While the believer is waiting in this way, he is doing his duty. This may give him peace and he may be sure that he shall never be ashamed (Psalm 25:3; Psalm 69:6; Isaiah 1:18).



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When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?

When Does Self-Esteem Go Too Far?
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.

Much of our culture centres around self-image. From this perspective low self-esteem is both a danger and a tragedy. For several decades psychologists have also believed that low self-esteem was the root cause of many personal and social problems. Popular Christian psychology is influenced by it to a significant extent. Building and maintaining self-esteem is thought to be a key priority. Yet some have called into question the narcissicism this encourages. Certainly, few ever ask what might be the dangers of excessive self-esteem. What does Scripture say?

There is an interesting expression in Romans 12:3 that no one should “think of himself more highly than he ought to think”; but rather “think soberly”. This certainly seems contrary to the self-esteem movement. Some have preferred to think of self-compassion rather than self-esteem. Few think about whether low self-esteem might arise from pride as much as high self-esteem. Thinking “soberly” of ourselves achieves the balance, The puritans spoke of three types of self-love: natural, carnal and gracious. Carnal self-love is excessive indulgence of the natural instinct of self-preservation. Gracious self-love find its happiness and chief good in God.  It seeks its own welfare in pursuing the higher ends of God’s glory rather than merely pleasing ourselves.

John Brown of Wamphray draws many interesting observations (many relating to pride in ministers) from this verse in his exposition of the book of Romans. The following are a selection:


1. Self-esteem goes too far when it Hinders Growth in Grace

Pride and conceitedness in the gifts we have received is a major hindrance to growth in grace and in holiness. It provokes God to leave us to ourselves because of the pride of our hearts. He does this so that we may find by experience how little strength we have to acquire anything and may learn to be humble in the future. This is clear from the connection with the former verses, where he had been pressing them to holiness (Romans 12:1-2). He begins verse 3 with the exhortation that they should not think too highly of themselves with the word “for” to make this connection.


2. Self-esteem goes too far when it Strengthens Pride

The innate corruption of pride within our heart is so strong that it is hard to root it out once we give room to this evil.  This weed is so natural to us that if we allow it to grow up even in that garden where there are flowers planted by God’s we cannot get rid of it easily. This is clear from the many arguments which the apostle uses to dissuade them from it. “I say” (at the beginning of the verse) is an authoritative way of saying, “I command”.


3. Self-esteem goes too far when we Congratulate Ourselves

We have no abilities or gifts except what we have received and must acknowledge God as the giver. Our natural corruption is so great, however, that we are ready to abuse the best gifts of God.  We grow proud of them and boast as if we needed to thank no one except ourselves for them. We are ready to be puffed up as if we had more ability than we have and could do more than we can and as if there were no one like us. We even see this in those in Church office whom Paul rebukes here.


4. Self-esteem goes too far when we Think We Have All the Answers

However small God’s gifts may be, we should not undervalue them since we are less than the least of all His mercies. Rather we are to give God due acknowledgement and hearty thanks for them. Thus, it is a heinous sin when those to whom God has given abilities and gifts swell with pride as if there were no one equal to them. This is particularly so when they think that they alone have unique gifts to search out new and strange doctrines and interpretations never heard of before (1 Timothy  6:3-4).They presume to dive into the secrets of the Lord and things that do not tend to edify. They neglect truths that are more necessary and obvious and are diverted from their ordinary calling and employment: This is the sin from which he dissuades them i.e. thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think.


5. Self-esteem goes too far when it Prevents True Self-Knowledge

This sin is heinous in making a man a manifest and notorious liar. It also tends to make a man into a fool that does not know himself. He does not know how he ought to behave towards others. This should scare away Christians (especially the servants of the Lord) from this delusional sin of thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to do.


6. Self-esteem goes too far when we Fail to Have Modest Thoughts of Ourselves

Whatever gifts or graces the Lord is pleased to bestow on us, we should strive to have low thoughts of ourselves. We must remember our many infirmities and how unworthy we are of God’s gifts. We should be content in our minds with the measure he has given, knowing it is of His mercy and free love that we get any measure at all. We must pursue what tends to humble and edify rather than questions that cause strife. Thus he exhorts them to “think soberly”.


7. Self-esteem goes too far when it Implies that God is Unfair

Those who have conceited thoughts of themselves implicitly charge God with injustice in that He has bestowed fewer abilities on them than they believe they deserve. Beside this, they are guilty of heinous ingratitude in not acknowledging God’s goodness but rather are displeased because they have not been given more. The only wise God distributes freely as He pleases not according to what anyone deserves. This should keep people from conceited thoughts of themselves and undervaluing others. To scare them away from this sin he tells them that it is God who distributes to everyone “the measure of faith”. No one can get more than what God is pleased to give.


8. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Depend on God

Every good gift comes down from above and is not the fruit of any man’s work or efforts (though God often blesses faithful effort with gifts). Considering this properly should keep us far from boasting and thinking of ourselves beyond what we ought. Failure to look to the original source of those gifts makes men swell with such great conceit of themselves as if there were none equal to them.  Paul reminds them that it is the Lord that these gifts come from. It is called “the measure of faith” or the knowledge of God through faith in Christ. It is the knowledge of the truth revealed by the Spirit in and by the word, and therefore called “the ministration of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:7) or “the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). We cannot attain these without help from God.


9. Self-esteem goes too far when it Fails to Acknowledge our Shortcomings

No one, however gifted, has achieved perfection in these gifts. However much he has received, he has only received a measure and a certain proportion. Considering this should lay low the peacock feathers of those who are ready to be puffed up with a vain conceit of themselves and their abilities.  Others also have a proportion (not everything) according to “the measure of faith”.



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The Most Shared Bible Verse?

The Most Shared Bible Verse?

The Most Shared Bible Verse?
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 Bible verses shared most are not always what you might expect. Recent technology makes it possible to find out which verses are shared most. This may be via email, text and social media using YouVersion (one of the most popular Bible Mobile Apps). We would assume that John 3:16 will be prominent, and it is. The other verses deal with different themes, however. They address fear and anxiety, for instance Philippians 4:6-7 and Joshua 1:9. Others deal with the future events of our lives such as Proverbs 3:5-6. In many western countries for the past few years, Romans 12:2 tops the list of verses that are shared.

Let’s speculate why this might be so. Is it because Christians are feeling greater pressure to conform to the world? It is likely that it arises from the pressures of (often militant) secularisation in western countries. Clearly, the teaching in this verse is essential for life within our cultural climate. But have we meditated on it fully and put it into practice?

John Brown of Wamphray wrote an exposition of the Book of Romans. In this he enlarges on the practical implications of its teaching. These are his reflections and meditations in updated language. He covers each aspect of its meaning carefully. It is very full but we should not despise it for that. We will miss the vital value of this verse for our lives if we skim it and skip onwards. This is a slow reading of the verse, not repetitive–it is exactly what we need for the meaning to sink in.


We Must Not be Conformed to the World but Transformed by God’s Will

  1. Believers must not be conformed to the world. They must not walk according to the fashions of the godless, unregenerate part of mankind in the world. These appreciate nothing except this world. It is as though they were entirely composed out of it. They are called “this world” or age because they are subject to change. Before long all their glory and whatever they have will vanish.
  2. Believers must be transformed. This is the opposite of being conformed. They must be thoroughly changed and renewed as new creatures, growing in holiness daily. He shows further:

(a) How we must be transformed. Our mind and intellect must be renewed. It must be supplied with greater spiritual knowledge and sanctified illumination.

(b) Why we must be transformed. The benefit of this renewing is that they prove what God’s will is. This means that they may be acquainted and fall in love with God’s law, make it their rule and walk according to it. It is commended in three ways to persuade believers to be renewed in their spirit which will enable them to walk after God’s will as their rule.

(i) Good:  because it is the mind of a good God and it makes known to us only what is good and for our spiritual advantage;

(ii) Acceptable: because it shows how we will be accepted by God and what is well-pleasing in His eyes; and,

(iii) Perfect: because it is a pure and complete rule without any mixture and any deficiency. It is able to make clear to us the whole will of God and every duty we ought to practice.


1. We cannot Serve God and the World

Following the customs and fashions of the men of this world is a great hindrance to Christians. It prevents them from giving themselves and their service to God for His glory. Our God and the god of this world (who works in “the children of disobedience”) are so completely opposed to one another that no one can serve both. When Paul urges them in verse 1 to present themselves to God, he adds “And be not conformed unto this world”. Both must be kept together.


2. We must be in the World but not of it

God’s children must live among worldly people or such as have their portion in this world. Because of this they are still in danger of being ensnared by their evil example. The strength of corruption in the behaviour of bad company is so powerful that even the best of God’s children must be wary and walk circumspectly. They are at risk of being drawn aside and tainted by their foul conduct.  All this is implied when he exhorts these believing Romans not to conform themselves to the men of this world.


3. Unbelievers are so Identified with the World that they Share its Name

The unregenerate are so closely related to the world that they appreciate and understand nothing except the world.  They have their heart and their eye on it and their portion in it. This is so to such an extent that they borrow their name from it and are fittingly called the world.


4. We must Avoid the Empty, Sinful Ways of the World

All God’s children must labour to keep themselves free of the empty, sinful ways of the world.  No matter what apparent beauty their conduct may have, God’s children must not conform themselves to it. The Lord requires that all believers “be not conformed to this world”.


5. We cannot Claim to be Renewed if we Conform to the World

Men may foolishly consider themselves happy enough in following the fashion of this world. Whoever is led away and whose walk is no different from the men of this world cannot consider himself anything other than unregenerated and unrenewed. In so far as any are renewed and changed, they have a different walk from the world and are not conformed to it. This is clear from the way that he opposes conforming ourselves to transforming ourselves.


6. We Must be Transformed by Renewing Grace

Striving after ever greater renewing grace is the most effective way to be free from being tainted and led away with the enticing conduct of worldlings. We are more and more transformed by this grace.

Only Omnipotence can renew souls. There is nothing in man that can justly claim any share of the glory of this work. Yet when the Lord makes such a change, He deals with souls as rational creatures not mere blocks. They must use the means by which the Lord ordinarily sends down renewing grace.

The Lord works in us by free grace “both to will and to do of his good pleasure”. In this way, the Lord declares our miserable condition by nature. He shows the ability and power we have lost. Despite the powerlessness we have contracted by our own sin, however, our duty remains.

This also shows the way in which God usually achieves this work i.e. by driving us out of ourselves to Him who alone can do it. Thus the apostle urges them to be renewed and transformed – not as if it were in their own power, but to drive them to God. He alone has power to do this. The apostle seeks to rouse them up from being complacent lest they think they ought to do nothing except let the Spirit do everything.

Everyone by nature is in the lamentable condition that the fair image we once had is now lost and gone. That sweet, holy and righteous nature which God bestowed at the beginning is now away.  Everything must be made new again, or renewed: this presupposes things that were once new, but now old.


7. We must be Transformed as well as Not Conformed

Hypocrites may deceive themselves by imagining that they have done everything necessary when they are not conformed to the world. That is, they have abstained from the gross corruptions and abominations of the most worldly. Besides not being conformed to the world, true believers must also strive to be transformed and cast in a new mould.  It is not enough, not to be conformed to this world we must also strive to “be transformed”.


8. We must be Transformed because We Still Have Remaining Sin

By nature everyone must be changed and transformed or else perish. Thus, the children of God still have the remains of a corrupt nature in them which keeps them continually exercised. It is their duty to wrestle against it daily and strive to have more of this new nature. They must be “transformed”.


9. We Must Have Our Mind Renewed

By nature, our minds retain some common ideas about God’s existence and principles of righteousness. Yet, we are blind as regards any saving knowledge or the right way to God. By nature we cannot see the things of God and are full of unbelief, ignorance and confusion. Even the minds of the best, who see only in part, are not fully freed from this disease. Everyone must have their minds renewed.

The Lord usually begins with the mind in effecting this renewing and transformation. He sends the spirit of illumination to remove the natural darkness and confusion that oppresses the soul. By this, a man sees his lost condition and the emptiness and uselessness of  any created thing to help him. He sees where help  and by this the man is brought, through grace, to embrace the One through whom all good comes.  Thus, when Paul urges them to be transformed, he adds, “by the renewing” of the “mind”. This shows that the work must begin and continue by this means.


10. We must Know and Embrace God’s Will

Obedience and approving God’s will is a natural result of the new nature which they have received. Renewing and illumination are a direct means towards approving the good will of God. Thus, Paul says be “transformed by the renewing of your minds”, that you may “prove” the “will of God”.

Unregenerate men may pretend to have great love and respect for God’s commands and outwardly conform to them. However much this may be so, none but those that are truly renewed, can or will, truly and cordially approve  and embrace God’s commandments. The more we are illuminated and renewed, the more God’s will prevails with us and we will conform our lives to it. The way to approved God’s will is through renewal and illumination.

It is the duty of all believers to prove God’s will by studying and searching it out. Having come to know it, we must approve, highly esteem and embrace it heartily. All this is included in proving God’s will


11. We must Esteem God’s Law as Entirely Good

Only those who strive for a high and spiritual esteem of God’s law as the only rule of their life will be kept from being conformed to this world. This is clear from comparing the words of this verse with the beginning of verse 1.

The law of God is a declaration of God’s will concerning what He will have us to do. This law is good, and contains nothing except what is both good in itself and good for us. Thus, it is called “good”. This is clear when God’s law is search out with a true spiritual understanding.


12. We must Obey God’s Will to Please Him

It is impossible to please God unless we take His will as the rule by which we should square our lives. Yet our foolish imaginations are ready to supply many alternatives. It is, therefore called God’s “acceptable” will because it shows what service God is and is not well-pleased with.


13. We must Fully Rest on God’s Will and Nothing Else

This will of God is complete and perfect, declaring whatever we need to know for salvation. Thus, we may rest on it and reject whatever is not approved or commanded in general or particular. We need not make new additions to God’s will from any traditions or decrees of men.


14. We must Know and Love God’s Will

We must understand that the law of God is good, full, complete and the only way to please the Lord. This knowledge should stir up all God’s people to make conscience of proving and approving this will of God. This why the law is described in this way. It should spur us on to proving and approving God’s will, knowing the difficulties lie in our way but also the benefit that it will be to us.



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What Have You Done With Your Baptism?

What Have You Done With Your Baptism?

What Have You Done With Your Baptism?
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.

This isn’t to do with how and when we get baptised. It’s about what we do with our baptism after we have been baptised. That may be a startling thought. What can we possibly do with our baptism after the event?

Martin Luther often responded to the temptations he faced by saying to himself: “I am a baptised man”. His baptism was still speaking to him of his dedication to God and Him alone. It reminded him of his duty to renounce sin, Satan and the world. This is a practical, everyday matter. What does your baptism say to you?

We ought to hear what Scripture says through baptism. It speaks about the blessings of the covenant of grace, regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Scripture also shows how baptism speaks of our duty to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5). In baptism, we have given ourselves up to God, to be His alone. That is why we are baptised in the threefold name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a sign and seal of the saving benefits of Christ. It commits us to live through the strength of union with Christ (Galatians 3:27). We are also to live to righteousness and die to sin (Romans 6:6,11; Colossians 2:11-12).

John Brown of Wamphray in his Commentary on Romans sums up helpfully.

“Baptism is a sacrament appointed by God, to signify and seal the ingrafting of all believers into Christ. It also seals the certainty of them partaking of the fruits and effects of His mediation. This is needed both for mortifying corruption and strengthening the new man of grace. It seals and confirms that everything promised in the new covenant will certainly without doubt be accomplished. But only to all who believe the promise and lay hold on Him in whom all the promises are ‘yea and amen’. Therefore, we are said to be baptized in Him and baptized in his death. Buried also with Him in baptism that as He was raised from the dead, we might walk in newness of life (see also Colossians 2:12)”.

This highlights some of the ways in which we are to make use of our baptism. It is connected with some the most fundamental duties and privileges of the Christian life for the whole duration of our lives. The French Confession of Faith (1559, Article 35) puts this point well. “although we are baptized only once, yet the gain that it symbolizes to us reaches over our whole lives and to our death, so that we have a lasting witness that Jesus Christ will always be our justification and sanctification”.

The Westminster Larger Catechism (167) speaks of “improving” our baptism. This doesn’t mean that we can improve upon our baptism, repeat it, make it better or rise above it. It means to make the best and most use of something in order to get most benefit from it. According to the Larger Catechism few consider this. It is a “much neglected” duty. Baptism is not something to be received and then forgotten about. It is to be made productive or profitable by diligence (see Larger Catechism 167). It is a means of grace. It is vital to our growth in grace. We are not limited to getting benefit from baptism at the time it is administered (Westminster Confession 28:6).

Some brief and clear questions and answers may bring out these truths in a simple way.

Who Should Make Use of their Baptism? Everyone who has been baptised.

Why Should We Make Use of our Baptism? Because we must enter into its reality, spiritual meaning and blessing.

When Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? Every day of our life. But especially in times of temptation and when we witness the baptism of others. It should remind us of both our privileges and our failures.

How Should We Make Use of Our Baptism? This is the key question and much more involved. How can we embrace the blessings represented, sealed and promised in baptism so that we will benefit from them in our lives? The Larger Catechism outlines very fully six ways to make constant spiritual use of our baptism.

1. Considering the nature and purpose of baptism in a serious and thankful manner. Paul emphasises that we must “know” what baptism means (Romans 6:3-5)It is a means of grace. It is a sign and seal of the benefits that we receive by faith through Christ. It represents our solemn vow and dedication to live to the glory of God alone.

2. Being humbled because of our backslidings and sinful failures to live in accordance with our obligations and promises. Particularly how we have fallen short of living up to all that baptism represents.

3. Growing in spiritual maturity and all the other blessings represented by baptism. In particular, deepening assurance of forgiveness of sin and God’s love in “the answer of a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).

4. Drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ. This is necessary for living to righteousness and dying to sin – indeed putting sin to death (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-12).

5. Seeking to live by faith in dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. To live our lives in holiness and righteousness as those who are Christ’s (Romans 6:22).

6. Walking in brotherly love together with those who have been baptised into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13; 25-27).

These are the most vital matters for Christian living. They are every day, lifelong duties. There is no doubt that making best use of our baptism is truly necessary or “needful”. Believers have many privileges and they must give account for them on the last day. The question must be answered: What have we done with our privileges? The Larger Catechism helps us consider how we can best make use of the privilege of baptism rather than neglecting it. The answer in full from the original text is given below.

Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?

A. The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:4,6,11)

  • by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein (Romans 6:3-5)
  • by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; Romans 6:2-3)
  • by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament (Romans 4:11,12; 1 Peter 3:21)
  • by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace (Romans 6:3-5)
  • and by endeavouring to live by faith, (Galatians 3:26-27) to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, (Romans 6:22) as those that have therein given up their names to Christ (Acts 2:38)
  • and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13,25-27).


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