Do We Know the Whole Truth about Evangelical Half Truth?

Do We Know the Whole Truth about Evangelical Half Truth?

Do We Know the Whole Truth about Evangelical Half Truth?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
13 Jan, 2022

Questions of truth and integrity are rarely far from the headlines and public life. Misinformation and disinformation are alleged and advanced from many directions. In an age where truth is a common casualty it is easy for standards to be reduced almost without our realising. One way in which the truth frequently suffers is through a half truth. It can seem so innocent and correct on face value that it seems very far from being a species of lying. That is what soothes our conscience and makes it so dangerous and deceptive. It takes the truth and presents part of it while also concealing the rest of it to manipulate others to the conclusion we want them to reach. Or out of fear of their reaction to the whole truth. A straight lie can be discovered far more easily. Perhaps the worst form of lying is half-truth but is it possible that this could be done in religious things?

Satan knows how effective half-truth is, partly quoting a Bible verse while concealing its context to try to persuade. Transforming himself into an angel of light like false teachers if it will serve his purposes (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

The ninth commandment relates to promoting and preserving the truth in everything but it has a special reference to the court room. Witnesses in court cases are under oath to tell the “whole truth” because there are such things as half-truths. We need to avoid them in everything not just when under oath in court of law. Christians are not to be economical with the truth, however fashionable that may be.

The Westminster Larger Catechism gives a comprehensive, biblical treatment of all Ten Commandments. Questions 144 and 145 deal with the ninth commandment. It reveals the depth and spirituality of the law of God and there are bible references for all its statements.

The Catechism shows that the commandment requires “appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever.”

There is a great deal in the ninth commandment and we can only consider part of it, particularly in relation to half-truth. We need to reflect on the painful and difficult matter of what we might call evangelical half truth. Sadly in a crisis evangelicals can often spin their language much like politicians in order to save face. We all want truth and to be associated with it but sometimes we cannot handle the full truth or we think others cannot and so we only emphasise part of it. But as we have seen this is dangerous even when done with the best of intentions.

1. Half truth gospel

The Larger Catechism speaks of “concealing the truth” as a breach of the ninth commandment. It is possible to present a gospel which is true in so far as it goes but which is effectively a half truth because it does not tell people the whole truth or the whole of the gospel. If the gospel that is presented fails to tell people the bad news about sin and what it deserves then the good news we offer is only a half truth. It is possible to use the word brokenness as a euphemism for sin but this excludes the reality of rebellion against God and His law. It describes sin in terms of its consequences rather than its true character and is therefore a half truth.

If people are told only that God is a God of love without any mention of his holiness and justice (or vice versa), then are we telling them the whole truth about God? When the message “God loves you” is given as a substitute for the gospel with no real qualification or supplement it gives the impression that God accepts us and approves of all we do just as we are by nature. The real message is that we are all undeserving rebels and free grace can transform anyone no matter what they have done. J I Packer noted how it was possible through omissions “that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”

The Larger Catechism also speaks against “rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous.” But is this happening at funerals when the impression is given that those who give no unmistakable evidence of true faith are commended as though they were going to heaven? Perhaps some outwardly commendable aspects of their life are pointed to which are not signs of grace and so the impression is given that these things merit eternal life. In fact we are not obliged to pronounce or hint either way concerning someone’s eternal destiny. When funerals also become celebrations of life without a proper sense of the solemnity of death and eternity are we implicitly presenting a half truth about what death means?

2. Half truth gossip

It is easy for all of us to engage in gossiping half truths, indeed it is a rather respectable sin. The Larger Catechism says that this can involve “aggravating smaller faults” in others and “unnecessary discovering of infirmities.” It may even lead to “raising false rumours, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defence”. Sometimes the information is garbled or without substance but it gets passed on. Do you find yourself wanting to convey negative information that you hear to others? It may be true in part or whole but does it become a half truth by failing to assess what is positive or additional mitigating information? We need to be on our guard against something that can easily lead to and justify “backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring.” We sin when we listen to malicious reports and do not give those who are affected by them opportunity to defend themselves (Leviticus 19:16). But also when we do not reprove those who engage in backbiting and talebearing.

3. Half truth doctrine

Surveys show the concerning level of confusion and error amongst professed evangelicals. Error and heresy generally begin by emphasising one verse or one truth above the rest and then to the exclusion and denial of other truths. Or perhaps they use perfectly biblical terms and phrases yet in an unbiblical sense. It is also easy to rely on slogans that only express part of the truth but do not communicate all that is necessary. We need to be careful with the truth in teaching and matters of doctrine that we do not end up “perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice.” If this is necessary in relation to the words of others how much more when it is the words and truths of God?

Again simply through omission we can present misleading half-truth. If we only teach about free grace and neglect the holiness and obedience that flow from it, we are presenting half truths. If we avoid parts of biblical teaching that humble us and exalt God we are giving a misleading partial message. If there are parts of the Bible that we do not want to expound we are not presenting the whole counsel of God but at best half. It is vital for the good of souls that we take heed to our doctrine and teaching (1 Timothy 4:16).

Is it not both dangerous and wrong if you tell part of the truth and withhold another part of the truth to create a false impression? Perhaps we fear people will be offended by difficult truths and tell ourselves that they are not ready for it yet. But Paul’s epistles were all written to new Christians. The Larger Catechism also reproves “holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others.” It is wrong to do any of these things at any time but how much more so when speaking to people about their souls on God’s behalf?

The fear of others can be a significant influence (1 Samuel 15:24). Yet when it is attacked we are not to be slow in “appearing and standing for the truth” whatever the cost. We must avoid “undue silence in a just cause.” We should promote the truth, the whole truth “from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever.”

4. Half truth suspicion

It is against this commandment to engage in “misconstructing intentions, words, and actions” and it is also contrary to the wisdom that is from above (James 3:17-18). It is what the Larger Catechism calls “evil suspicion.” That surely is a kind of half truth where we take what we know about someone and make inferences that we believe to be true but cannot prove. How easy it is to take half truths from others and pass them on without investigating them. Part of it seems plausible and it fits with what we want to believe and so we pass it on to many as though it were the complete truth.

It is easy to dress up suspicion as orthodoxy and take the high ground. Someone we disagree with or of whom we are not sure then forfeits the benefit of the doubt in most of what they do and say. They are guilty until proven innocent. It can even lead us to put the worst construction on things that are in fact good. But are we correct or have we impugned the motives of others through suspicion? Are we inferring their motives or other suspicions without grounds? It is the Lord that assesses the heart (1 Corinthians 4:5). How much we need that true charitable esteem that is altogether contrary to this (1 Corinthians 13:7). We are required to have “a charitable esteem of our neighbours” rather than a default suspicion. This does not mean a gullible lack of discernment but rather a gracious respect as well as a concern for the truth (see How Can We Stop Discernment Turning into Sinful Suspicion?).

5. Half truth godliness

We are well aware of how it is possible to use certain aspects of Scripture to as it were deny other aspects. This is what liberals do with the parts of the Bible they do not like, particularly sins that are condemned that they want to justify and even celebrate. But it is subtly possible for all of us is easy to emphasise some things to the exclusion of others. Some assert certain aspects of our Christian behaviour but not others. Others emphasise personal piety but not activity, whereas others virtually reverse this. We must all beware of a form of godliness that denies the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5).

6. Half truth opinion

This is closely related to gossip and suspicion. It relates to the opinion we form and communicate concerning others. We are asked for our opinion of a preacher, writer, church, individual and immediately go to listing negative points. Perhaps this is the sum total of what we have to say. They are dismissed with a mere characterisation that may well have much truth but is surely not the whole truth about them. It is in effect “denying the gifts and graces of God.” We report something about them as evidence of the characterisation and so convey what is true but we may well be “speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end.” It is certainly “prejudicing the good name of our neighbour” and a kind of slander. But because of the context it is not considered in that light.

Of course, we can go to the other extreme of praising someone too much with some evidence and only giving part of the truth in that case. This is why the Catechism warns against “thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others.” The catechism also speaks of “fond admiration” i.e. flattery and extravagant praise that goes beyond the facts? Has this not infected evangelical culture when we hear sycophantic introductions for conference speakers or hyperbolic endorsements for books that are more average than world-transforming. Yet other times people can also be lauded as “faithful” in a way that commends their principles while implicitly hinting at the harsh way in which those are defended which gives the impression this too is praiseworthy though there is a reluctance to say so.

Perhaps we are giving our opinion on a situation far removed from us about which we know only a little. Our limited knowledge means we do not have the whole truth and can therefore probably only offer half truth. Is it helpful and edifying to share our hastily informed opinion or would it be better to give someone principles by which they can come to a conclusion if they need to?

Conclusion

We are all implicated in this and tempted to it one way or another and it is not easy to read (or write) such home truths. How much this should teach us to be more careful and also value and love the truth (see Using Our Words to Love the Truth). As Thomas Boston says, “Truth is a sacred thing, which we are to cleave to as we would to God, who is true essentially, and therefore called truth itself…Truth is to the soul as light is to the body; and they that walk in the light, will walk in truth.” We must speak truth at all times when we speak, (Ephesians 4:25) let us therefore “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

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Using Our Words to Love Truth

Using Our Words to Love Truth

Using Our Words to Love Truth
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
13 Jan, 2022

We speak thousands of words each day, perhaps tens of thousands. What an opportunity for good (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 16:24).  None of those words we speak are insignificant. We must and can use them to show our love of the truth.

One of the books that influenced the Larger Catechism was A Body of Divinity by James Ussher. There is a great deal in that commandment and the following updated extract helps us to establish some key truths in relation to it. In a helpful question and answer format he shows how and why we are to love truth with our words.

What is the main purpose God aims at in this Commandment?

The conservation of truth amongst men, and of our own and neighbour’s reputation and good name.

Why does God regard truth so much?

It is most dear to him; for He is the God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 31:5) and truth itself (John 14:6). Christ came into the world, that He might bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). By speaking the truth God is glorified (Joshua 7:19).

What gave occasion to this commandment?

Our natural corruption which makes us prone to lying (Psalm 58:3; Romans 3:4). We no sooner speak than we lie and not only for advantage, without any cause but out of mere vanity.

Why are our words and speeches so much to be regarded, seeing they are but wind, as is commonly supposed?

Great care must be taken of our speech, seeing it is an excellent faculty peculiar to man, and as a special gift of God it must not be abused to God’s dishonour and our own destruction. Neither are words to be regarded slightly, seeing we must give account of every idle word, and by our words we shall be justified or condemned (Matthew 12:37). The wise man tells us, that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21) and that a wholesome tongue is a tree of life, whereas an evil tongue is an unruly evil, and full of deadly poison, (James 3:8) which if we do not subdue and rule, whatever profession we make of religion is all in vain (James 1:26).

What is truth or veracity?

It is a habit of speaking that which is true from our hearts (Psalm 15:2).

What is required in order to do this?

Two things. First, that our speech is in agreement with our minds. Secondly, that our minds are in agreement with the reality of the thing. For though we speak that which is true, yet if we think it false, we are liars, because our tongue is not in agreement with our minds. If that which we speak is false yet we think it is true, we do not speak truly, for though truth is in our hearts a lie is still in our mouths. Though we cannot be called liars, because we speak as we think, yet may we be said to tell a lie, because that which we say is false.

Is it sufficient just to know the truth and believe it?

No, we must also profess it with our mouths on all fitting occasions (Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33).

How must the truth be professed?

Freely and simply.

How is it done freely?

When we profess it willingly and undauntedly, so far as the matter, place, and time require (Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 4:8, 10,13).

How is it done simply?

When as it is done without guile, dissimulation and evasion.

What is lying?

It is twofold: First, when we speak that which is false. Secondly, when as we speak that which is true, falsely, and with a mind to deceive.

What is it to speak that which is false?

When we do not speak the thing as it is, whether we think it is true or not.

What is it to speak falsely?

When we do not speak as we think, whether the thing is true or false.

What are the reasons which may dissuade from lying?

(a) Because God is true and the author of truth; and the Devil a liar and the father of lies; and as truth makes us like God, so lies make us like the Devil.
(b) Because it is strictly forbidden in the Scriptures (Leviticus 9:11; Exodus 23:7; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25).
(c) Because the liar sins grievously not only against his neighbour but also against God Himself (Leviticus 6:2).
(d) Because the Scriptures condemn lying as the spawn of the old serpent (John 8:44) and as a thing abominable and odious unto God (Proverbs 12:22 and 6:17).
(e) Because it perverts the use of speech, taketh away all credit and faith between man and man, and quite overthrows all human society, which cannot stand without contracts and commerce, nor they without truth.
(f) because God severely punishes lies (Proverbs 19:5, 9; Psalm 5:6; Acts 5:1-3 etc) both in this life (with infamy and disgrace, for it makes a man esteemed base and of no credit, so that the usual liar is not believed when he speaks truth). And in the life to come, for it excludes out of heaven (Revelation 22:15) and casts men into that lake which burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8).

But is it not sometimes lawful to conceal the truth?

Yes surely, when neither the glory of God, nor our own, or neighbour’s good requires the profession of it, but yet with this caution, that we do not speak any untruth to conceal it (1 Samuel 16:2,5).

What is opposed to simplicity in speaking the truth?

Double dealing.

What is that in speech?

When we speak one thing and think another or speak with a heart and a heart, as Scripture puts it in the original (Psalm 12:2). This is called a deceitful tongue and mouth (Zephaniah 3:13) and a tongue that frames deceit (Psalm 50:19) as it is described (Psalm 52:22; Jeremiah 9:8, 9), which is to be avoided (Psalm 34:14) and Christ’s example imitated (1 Peter 2:22).

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Not Heavenly Minded Enough To Be Of Most Earthly Use?

Not Heavenly Minded Enough To Be Of Most Earthly Use?

Not Heavenly Minded Enough To Be Of Most Earthly Use?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
7 Jan, 2022

Sometimes it has been said that there are people who are too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. Is this true? Are the concerns of this life and the life to come in direct tension? Do we need to moderate the constant stress in Scripture on heavenly mindedness? (Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 5:1-11; Hebrews 11:16). We need to be careful. The old adage seems to rest on the assumption that eternal considerations are only one of a number of priorities. It tends to downplay the spiritual in favour of the practical. But Scripture unites both together (Matthew 22:37-40; Micah 6:8). Both are required and neither excludes the other. In fact, we need heavenly mindedness in order to have the right motivation and perspective on our earthly duties. We need a distinctly heavenly way of life.

Earthly mindedness and heavenly living are contrasted in Philippians 3:19-20. But this heavenly mindedness is mainly connected to Paul’s example (v17) which is contrasted with that of the enemies of the cross of Christ. It is as though Paul was saying beware of following of those who mind earthly things, for their end is destruction; but rather follow those whose way of living is in heaven, for their end is, salvation. How can we identify those who have such a heavenly manner of living?

Jeremiah Burroughs says that they are those who esteem the things of heaven to have greater significance than those of the earth. They are able to be content with enjoying little in this world. A heavenly, godly man or woman can tell you how to live a joyful and happy life even if they lack the things of this world. They can not only live joyfully lacking many comforts, but they can suffer the loss of all. They can suffer hard things, afflictions, torments and tortures with joyful hearts (Hebrews 11:13- 14, 36-40 and Hebrews 10:32-34).

Their hearts are greatly filled with heavenly riches: much grace, holiness, much of the image of God, much spiritual life. A Christian’s life manifests much of the excellency of heaven, much of the glory of heaven shines in their faces. The hearts of the saints are filled with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and this is greatly manifest in their lives. They cannot be comfortable in the enjoyment of all things in this world if they are deprived of the heavenly enjoyments. They are troubled when they do not feel those influences from heaven in their souls they have previously. They are willing to die and leave this world with much comfort, joy and peace in the hope of eternal life.
But the question is: how does such a person and way of living deal with the realities of this life or is it just an escape? Does it impact on others in this world? What use and what good does it have? Burroughs goes on in the following updated extract to provide some answers.

1. Heavenly Living is convincing

Heavenly living will be very convincing. You will convince others that you have something more than they have when they see you live in a heavenly way. The men of the world know the things of the world and that they have set their hearts on them. But when they see those that profess religion mingle themselves with the earth in the same way that they do, they will think that such are motivated by the same principles they themselves are. But heavenly living will convince them, when they see Christians rising above this in the whole course of their lives. They see an evenness and proportion in their course. At all times and in all matters they conduct themselves as those who are of another world.

A stranger may act for a while act just like a native, but one who has been born there knows how to find out in one thing or another whether this is so. It is very hard for men to conduct in the right way if they do not have true grace though they may appear sometimes to be very heavenly. A true citizen of heaven will discern at one time or another if they do not have grace. The truth is also that unregenerate people will reveal their true heritage too.

But when Christians have a constant way of life that is heavenly, it is very convincing. There are the rays of heaven around them, they have the lustre of heaven shining wherever they go, and in all company. Surely such a person seems to be in heaven continually. This will force the very consciences of others to say: “certainly these are the citizens of heaven if any are.”

The rich man wanted Abraham to send someone to warn his brethren who had risen from the dead, because they would hear him. We might say that if God would send one from heaven to live among people and preach to them, surely they would pay attention to him. Would it not be a great benefit to the world if God would send a saint from heaven, or an angel to converse in a bodily way among us? Yet Christians should live as if they came from heaven every day, as if they had been in heaven conversing with God. When in the morning they seek to get alone between God and their souls, they should never stop striving until they get their hearts so much in heaven that when they come down to their family their very faces may shine. And that you may see by how they live that certainly they have been with God upon the mount.

Do you live in such a way that your family and your neighbours may see that you have been in heaven that morning? Every morning we should have some converse with heaven. If we did our way of living would be convincing all the day long and very profitable to the world. Christians that live in a heavenly way are of very great use in the places where they live. When Christ ascended up to heaven, He gave gifts to men. And if we would oftener ascend up to heaven, we would be more able to be beneficial to the world.

2. Heavenly Living causes growth

Those who live in a heavenly way grow mightily, they thrive in grace to an exceeding degree in a very little time. They grow to attain to a very great measure of communion with God the Father and with Jesus Christ. Every day they grow more and more spiritual, having so much of heaven within them. It is true that they will be perfect when they come into heaven at last but drawing from heaven is what makes them grow. The influence from heaven causes the saints to grow.

The ground in which flowers and herbs grow may be the most fertile possible and they may be the best rooted they can be. But if they do not have any influence from heaven on them (by rain and sunshine) they will not grow much, or even at all, but rather quickly wither: So it is with Christians, they may have as much means of growing as is possible, as much of the ordinances as possible, yet if they do not have rich dews from above they will not grow. Or if there is any growth, they will either bear no fruit or else it will be very shrivelled and sour fruit. The fruit that has most of the beams of the sun grows riper and sweeter than other fruit. But fruit that grows in the shade is sour fruit. The reason that the saints have so little fruit, and that it is so sour is because they do not have more influences from heaven. They do not stand in the open sun, their souls are not presented daily before God to have the warm beams of the Sun of Righteousness shining from heaven on them. Rather something stands between heaven and their souls. But just as heavenly living is convincing so it should be a growing way of life.

3. Heavenly Living brings much glory to God

It is a way of living that greatly glorifies God. O the glory that God would have from our living in heaven! Let your light so shine before men, that others beholding your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven. The image of the God of Heaven is displayed indeed when people’s lives are heavenly. The Lord takes great delight in having His glory spread around by His saints, to have some reflection on the world. Though the beams of the sun do not shine on a wall you can use a mirror to cast the reflection of them on a wall. The saints by their heavenly living may (just as with a mirror) take the beams of the glory of God that shine in heaven and reflect them on the world and the faces of others. The hearts of the saints should be like a mirror taking the beams of the glory of God and casting them around where they are. Thus, your heavenly Father would come to be glorified by you.

Let every Christian think in this way, “my way of living is such and such; but what glory do I bring to God by my life? Do others glorify God by beholding the lustre of the holiness of God in me? Do they see cause to blesse God that they see so much of the glory of God in me? It is certain that more of the glory of God shines in the gracious, holy, spiritual living of a Christian, than in the sun, moon, stars. More than in the works of creation and providence in heaven and earth. Though all that God has created (sun, moon, stars, seas, earth, plants etc) has much of the glory of God, yet heavenly living declares more of the glory of God than all these. Though the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1) every believer in the Church should shine as a star in the heavens. They should be as the gospel is, a mirror in which we might behold the glory of God even (as it were) with open face.

4. Heavenly Living brings much glory to God’s People

Heavenly living will bring much glory to yourselves: Though it is true that the saints should aim at the glory of God most, yet if they live in a heavenly way glory will come to themselves whether they will it or not. It is impossible that they would not be honoured in the consciences of others when they walk in a heavenly way of life. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 shows that in our glorifying God, we glorify ourselves also. The apostle prays for the Thessalonians that they might walk so that they might have so much of the grace of God in them, that the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ might be glorified in them. This is what all the saints should desire and endeavour after, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should be glorified in them. But also that you would be glorified in Christ. Labour that Christ may be glorified in your lives, and you shall be glorified in Him. We should desire that Christ may have glory in our glory, and then we shall have glory in Christ’s glory. This is a sweet and blessed life, when the saints have such hearts, that they pray to have no glory, but what God may have glory in. Then God responds (as it were), “Is it so? Do you desire no further glory in this world, but that which I may have glory in? Then I will have no glory in this world, but what you will have glory in.” Christ will make us partakers of His glory as well as we shall make Him partaker of our glory.

5. Heavenly Living Makes Suffering easier

Heavenly living will make all sufferings to be very easy, it will be nothing to suffer any thing you meet with in this world, if you live in heaven. All reviling, reproaches and wrongs will be nothing, if you have a heavenly way of life. You will despise all these things that the men of the world think to be such great matters. Those who have conversed in heaven will never will be greatly stumbled for any sufferings. They are “light afflictions” which are “but for a moment” (2 Corinthians 4:17) because our eye is above all these things.

Christ showed His glory to Peter, James and John at His transfiguration on the mount. These were same disciples He took with Him at His agony in Gethsemane where His soul was heavy unto death. Christ wanted none of His disciples to see Him in His agony except Peter, James, and John who saw Him in His transfiguration on the mount in His glory. Those who can converse much with Christ in glory, in heaven may be permitted to see Christ in His agony and it will do them no hurt. It might have stumbled the others to see Him in this agony. But these disciples knew that though He was in agony now, He was a glorious Saviour they could still believe and trust. So, if we can converse with God in glory on the mount, we will be able to bear whatever agony we see Christ in afterwards. Stephen had the stones rattling about his ears, yet when he saw the heavens opened it was nothing to him, he fell asleep, he rejoiced in the expectation of heaven. Conversing with heaven makes all sufferings in the world nothing.

6. Heavenly Living is very safe

Heavenly living is very safe, you will be free from snares and temptations. Earthly-minded living subjects us to temptations but living in heaven will free us from temptations. When is the bird in danger of the snare? It is when she comes down to peck on the ground. If she could just keep herself above ground always, she would be free from the snare and net. This is what John Chrysostom said, “keep above, and then you will be free from the snare of the hunter”.

Conclusion

No doubt there are other ways in which those who have a constant perspective beyond temporal things are able to be of greater use in this world. This world needs more heavenly minded people who live in a heavenly way, not less. Those who are much in prayer are able to much in the strength of divine help and blessing. We need heavenly ministers such as Robert Murray M’Cheyne was, who could communicate eternal realities and be a channel of heavenly blessing because he sought to bring the atmosphere of heaven into the pulpit.

If anything could encompass his way of life, the following seems to summarise it best, “I am persuaded that I shall obtain the highest amount of present happiness, I shall do most for God’s glory and the good of man, and I shall have the fullest reward in eternity, by maintaining a conscience always washed in Christ’s blood, by being filled with the Holy Spirit at all times, and by attaining the most entire likeness to Christ in mind, will, and heart, that is possible for a redeemed sinner to attain to in this world.” How much more useful we might be on this earth if only we were living in a more heavenly way drawing from the fulness of Christ in heaven!

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Should We Stop Turning Others from Sin?

Should We Stop Turning Others from Sin?

Should We Stop Turning Others from Sin?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
16 Dec, 2021

Hopefully the answer we give is a resounding, “No!” Yet there is growing pressure on the church to stop turning others from sin in certain circumstances. The UK Government has extended its public consultation on banning conversion therapy in relation to LGBT people. This vague term lumps coercive and abusive practices already illegal alongside any kind of talking therapy with the intention of changing them from being LBGT. Some want to take this as far as possible in order to silence anyone from dissuading others from a harmful lifestyle through prayer, conversation or any kind of teaching. This simple call to Christ, conversion and biblical ethics could become criminalised. How does Scripture guide us on this matter?

Around 2000 ministers and others have recently written a letter and consultation response on this subject that gives more background.

In the context of prayer, James 5:19 tells us of the importance of seeking to turn others from sin. Those who do so save a soul from eternal death and hide a multitude of sins. Thomas Manton explains further what this means. He says that those who seek to turn others from sin are instrumental in their conversion and pardon. To convert a sinner is God’s work (Ephesians 2:10). Yet individuals are used in this (Acts 26:18; Daniel 12:3) and it is a great privilege and responsibility to seek to save others (Romans 11:14; 1 Timothy 4:16). “Shall we not contribute a few endeavours to win others from death?” Manton asks. This passage has much to tell us not only about our duty to turn others from sin but how and why we should do it. It does not merely single out one kind of sin but shows that we must lovingly seek to draw alongside others to turn them from all kinds of sin. It opens up the heart of the gospel and the free mercy and grace that is able to cover any and all sin. We cannot deny this to those who need it, whatever others may say. This should be clear from the following updated extract.

1. It is our duty to turn others from sin

We are not only to watch out for our salvation, but for that of others. The apostle says, “If any of you…” God has made us guardians of one another. It expressed godlessness when Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As God has set the conscience to watch over the inner person, so in regard to behaviour he has set Christians to watch over one another (Hebrews 3:12). There must be a constant watch kept not only over our own hearts but also over the congregations to which we belong (Hebrews 12:15).

Straying would have been greatly prevented if we had been watchful or if we reasoned together in a Christian manner. As no one is born for himself, so no one is born again for himself. We should “provoke one another” (Hebrews 10:24). It is dangerous to partake in other people’s sins, to draw that guilt on your own head. You need to be established in the way that you promote with zeal; you need to have a high assurance that it is true. But usually in those who promote errors you may see either a blind and rash zeal or a corrupt aim (2 Peter 2:3); they propagate their opinion with heat and earnestness, so that they promote their own gain.

2. It is vital to turn OTHERS from sin

“If any of you…”, if there is only one, there is none so contemptible in the church that the care of their safety does not to everyone. One root of bitterness defiles many by infecting and stumbling. One spark may cause a great burning. We are to “take the little foxes” (Song 2:15). It is good to watch with wise foresight against the first appearances of sin and error in a congregation.

Sin is described as both erring from the truth and the “error of his way.” Errors in doctrine usually end in sins of life and practice First men dream and then defile themselves (Jude 8). We often see that impurity of religion is joined with uncleanness of body, and spiritual fornication is punished with bodily (Hosea 4:12-13). Truth awes the soul and right belief guides the outward life.

3. It is necessary for everyone to turn others from sin

The words “and one convert him” are not limited to the office-bearers in the church, though it is chiefly their work. Besides the public exhortations of ministers, private Christians should mutually converse for comfort and edification. They not only may but must keep up a Christian fellowship among themselves (Hebrews 3:13). They are to stir one another up by speech that tends to expose sin and prevent hardness of heart and apostasy. God has dispensed his gifts in different ways, so that we might be indebted to each other (1 Peter 4:10).

4. It is loving to turn others from sin

To “convert him” means to bring him back from his error. Among other acts of Christian fellowship this is one of the chief to bring back those that are gone astray. We must not only exhort, but reclaim. It is a duty we owe to our neighbour’s animal (Deuteronomy 22:4; Exodus 23:4) much more if your neighbour himself has fallen in sin. It is a thankless task but must not be refused. We are usually loath to do that which is unpleasant. Well, then, if it is our duty to admonish, it is your duty to bear a reproof patiently, otherwise you oppose your own salvation. Error is touchy; sinful affections are loath to have the understanding properly informed; they take away the light of reason, and leave us only the pride of reason. None are so angry therefore as those that are seduced into an opinion by self-interest, their sore must not be touched.

It says “convert him” not destroy him. The work of Christians is not immediately to accuse and condemn, but to counsel and convert an erroneous person. To call down fire from heaven argues some hastiness and impatience of revenge; first burn them in the fire of love. Before any rigorous course is taken, we must use all due means to inform the conscience and understanding.

5. It is a privilege to turn others from sin

To spur ourselves on to a good work, we should consider its dignity and benefits—to consider what a high honour it is to have a hand in such work. The apostle urges us to have patience for this reason (Romans 5:3; Colossians 3:23-24). So then, learn this wisdom when you feel disinclined to do something, direct your thoughts to the worth and success of your duties. There is no such relief to the soul as that which comes from thoughts at the right moment: whom do I serve? The Lord? Can any labour undertaken for his sake be in vain?
Man under God has this honour, to be “workers together with God” (2 Corinthians 6:1). He is pleased to take us into fellow labouring in His own work and to give our efforts the glory of His grace. It is a high honour that the Lord gives us. We should learn to give the honour back to God again, to whom alone it is due (1 Corinthians 15:10). When God puts the glory of His own work on the head of the creatures, they certainly have great cause to lay the crown of their excellence at the feet of the Lord. Such is the grace of God, that when you have used the means, he will count it as part of your spiritual success (Matthew 18:15).We lose nothing by being employed in God’s service. Let us strive and be painstaking in His work. Paul would be anything that he might win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). Christians must not neglect the means (Job 33:24). It is remarkable that though the work of conversion is strictly speaking the Lord’s, it is sometimes ascribed to ourselves, to show that we must not be negligent. Sometimes it is ascribed to ministers and others who are instrumental, to show that we must not hold their help in contempt; and sometimes to God, so that we may not be self-confident or unthankful.

6. It is dangerous not to turn others from sin

To turn others from sin is to turn them from death. Errors are deadly to the spirit. The wages of every sin is death, especially of sin countenanced by error, for then there is a conspiracy of the whole soul against God. The apostle Peter calls heresies “damnable heresies.” Some heresies are more destructive than others, but all of them have a destructive tendency. Only the way of truth is the way of life.

7. It is possible to turn others from many sins

It says, “cover a multitude of sins.” Justification consists in the covering of our sins. Sin is removed out of God’s sight and the sight of our own consciences—chiefly out of God’s sight. God cannot choose but see it in His omniscience and hate it in His holiness, but he will not punish it in His justice because he has received satisfaction in Christ. Sins are so hidden that they will not be brought to judgment; nor will they hurt us when they do not please us (Psalm 32:1).

Suitable expressions are those of “remembering our sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25) and casting them behind his back (Isaiah 38:17). God will remove them out of the sight of his justice. God will cast them into the depths of the sea (see Micah 7:18). That which is in the depths of the sea is lost and forgotten forever; the ocean is never likely to be drained or dried up. All these words the Lord uses to persuade us that once sins are pardoned it is as if they were never committed. Men forgive but do not easily forget; if the wound is cured, the scar remains. But God accepts us as if there were no breach.

It also says, “a multitude of sins.” Many sins do not hinder our pardon or conversion. God’s “free gift is of many offences unto justification” (Romans 5:16). “He will multiply to pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). For these six thousand years God has been multiplying pardons, and yet free grace is not tired or grown weary. Mercy is a treasure that cannot easily be spent. We have many sins, but God has many mercies, a multitude of compassions (Psalm 51:1). Mercy is an ocean that is always full and always flowing. Free grace can show you large accounts and a long bill, cancelled by the blood of Christ

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True Natural Affection in a Body-degrading Culture

True Natural Affection in a Body-degrading Culture

True Natural Affection in a Body-degrading Culture
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
19 Nov, 2021

It might seem that the body was never more idolised than now with all the obsession with appearance, fitness and body image. Yet running deep in our culture is the claim that the body can be treated as separate from our authentic self. It is the idea that it has no real connection with being a person. We see this mostly obviously in the gender confusion that denies biological fact if it conflicts with what is in the person’s mind. Homosexuality likewise denies what our bodies tell us about the natural and created design for intimacy. The prevailing promiscuity of our culture is also based on the idea that what we do with our bodies can be separated from our emotions and deepest psyche. Despite the undeniable existence of human life in the womb we are told that unborn children are not persons. This then extends to assisted suicide, on the basis that someone can be said to be alive but no longer have personhood. We live in a dehumanizing culture that hates and despises the body. No wonder the sad practice of self-harm is on the increase as well as body modification. We are living in conflict with the way God has created us because we are living in enmity to the Creator. Scripture points us to the right way to regard our body and there are other subtle ways in which we may be neglecting that.

The Bible tells us that no one ever hated their own body rather they feed and care for it (Ephesians 5:29). That is, not that it is impossible clearly but that it is so contrary to natural instinct that it is usually a symptom of someone not in their right mind, like the Gadarene demoniac. As William Gouge points out, people who are not in their right mind will injure themselves and even take their own lives rather than do good to themselves. Paul uses two words to summarise careful attention to the necessities of the body, nourish or feed and cherish or keep warm (1 Timothy 6:8).

Our bodies are affected by the fall and prone to death and disease but that does not affect a right view of them and natural affection towards them. There is a glorious future for them if we are in Christ, they will ultimately be made like His glorious body. Even in this life we are able to glorify God in our body, presenting it as a living sacrifice, because it belongs to God and has together with our soul, been bought with a price (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). William Gouge explains further in this updated extract.

1. What is true natural affection towards ourselves?

Natural affection is lawful and commendable, it is an affection that is consistent with a good conscience. God’s Word is so far from undermining it that it does in fact give support to it. Those who are without natural affection are directly condemned: and we are commanded to be so kindly affectioned to one another as we are to ourselves (Romans 12:10). The moral law gives the natural affection a person has towards themselves as a rule for the love of their neighbour (loving your neighbour as yourself, Matthew 22:39). The prophets, apostles, and Christ Himself often call on us to consider that affection which we bear to ourselves (Leviticus 19:18; Isaiah 58:7; 1 Corinthians 12:26; James 2:8). Christ says that “this is the Law, and the Prophets” a brief summary of what they greatly urge and press (Matthew 7:12).

Natural affection was at first created by God and planted in us. Just as soul, body and all other parts of human nature are in their substance good things, this affection is also in itself good. There are similar motivations to love ourselves as with love to the brethren: we are made after God’s image, redeemed by Christ’s blood, members of the same spiritual body, keepers of ourselves, to give an account of the good or hurt we do to ourselves in the same way. In the law, we ourselves are included under this word neighbour and every commandment of the second table (half of the Ten Commandments) is to be applied to ourselves.

2. Is Self-Love Not Something the Bible Condemns?

Someone might object that those who love themselves are condemned in God’s word (2 Timothy 3:2; Philippians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 10:24; Romans 15:1). There are two ways in which we may love ourselves: one good and commendable and the other sinful and condemnable.

That which is natural is in everyone by the very instinct of nature. It was originally created and is still preserved in our nature is by God’s providence for the preservation of nature. If there were not such a natural love of ourselves in everyone we would be as careless of ourselves as we are of others, and as loathe to expend effort for ourselves as we are for others. So that everyone might care for at least one (themselves) and so that the world would be better preserved, God has kept in us this natural affection, despite corruption by sin.

3. How is Natural affection part of God’s design?

Also, because everyone is not able to look after themselves, at least when young, sick, old or disabled in any other way, God by His wise providence has extended this natural affection towards others closely joined to us by the bonds of nature. Children are (by blood and natural bond) next to a person’s own self.  What parents do for their children due to natural affection in them towards their children is admirable. This affection arises from children towards their parents so that when parents grow old or in any way unable to help themselves, they might have support from their children. And because parents and children are not always together, or not able to help one another, or unnatural, God has yet further extended this natural affection to other wider family. And for a further extent He has instituted marriage between those not of the same blood, and by virtue of that bond raised a natural affection not only in husband and wife to one another, but also in all the wider family formed. This affection is also in neighbours, friends, fellows, and others bound together by similar bonds. Thus, the bow of God’s providence has many strings, so that if one breaks, another may hold. In all these kinds, the nearer a person comes to themselves, the more this affection shows itself. God has made this natural affection in its various kinds and since it has a good purpose and produces much good, it is not to be condemned.

4. How Do We Make Best Use of Natural Affection?

Let us strive to cherish this natural affection and direct it toward the best things, those things that are most excellent and the most necessary. These are the things that concern our souls and eternal life. We must pray to have our understandings enlightened (that we may discern the things that differ and approve what is excellent). We must also ask to have our wills and affections sanctified so that we embrace, pursue, and delight in that which we know to be the best. In this way, our natural affection can be turned into spiritual affection.

We can make nature our schoolteacher in this. Just as Christ directs us to learn from the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, the apostle here points us to our own natural instinct. We cannot complain that we have no access to a schoolteacher, our selves are schoolteachers to ourselves. As the apostle teaches husbands to love their wives by this means, so let us all more generally learn to love one another. For we are all mutual members of one and the same body, and our brother or neighbour is our flesh.

5. Why is it Wrong to Harm Ourselves?

It is against the common instinct of nature for someone to hate themselves. It is evidence that devils were in the Gadarene, in that he cut himself with stones: had not the devils forced him, he would never have done it (Mark 5:5). Yet some may object that some harm their bodies with fasting from food and sleep, or constant labours and travelling and other things. There are others who tear and gash their flesh in penance etc. None of these things are done by the instinct of nature which God has set in man, but through the corruption of nature which the devil has caused. They think they do these things out of love to themselves; superstitious persons do these things (such as macerating their body) to merit salvation.

Others harm their body to free themselves from ignominy, destitution, slavery, torment, or similar evils. In this case there is an apparent good that makes them do so and not mere hatred of themselves. Those who do so may be blinded in their mind or bereaved of their sanity or overwhelmed with some passion so that they do not know what they are doing, therefore they are not doing it in hatred.

Others may object that holy and wise men deliberately and on good advice have beaten down their bodies, and yielded their lives to be taken away, not accepting deliverance. But this was far from hatred but rather in great love to themselves.

6. What Unnatural Practices Are Condemned?

This teaching condemns many unnatural and horrible practices.

(a) The idolatrous prophets of Baal in seeking to move their idol to hear them, cut themselves with knives till the blood gushed out. This is not much dissimilar to those monks and hermits who wear shirts of hair-cloth or mail next to their body, or go bare-foot, some daily whipping themselves till blood flows, or harming their bodies with lying on hard surfaces, superstitious fasting from food and sleep, going on pilgrimage, etc.

(b) Gluttons, drunkards, and immoral people who to satisfy their corrupt desires impair their health, contract diseases and shorten their days.

(c) Criminals who in fighting cause their flesh to be wounded and their lives taken away. Among them those who bring themselves into great danger in pursuing ill-gotten gain as well as those who by crime and evil deeds cast themselves on the sword of justice.

(d) Those who give themselves to uncontrolled grief, fear, anger and similar violent passions. By this they weaken their bodies and shorten their days.

(e) Those who commit suicide break the rule of love to themselves and end their days in a most horrible sin, depriving themselves of the time, place, and means of repentance.  Religion, nature, sense, and all abhor this fearful act. Not only those who have been enlightened by God’s Word, but also the heathen, who had no other than the light of nature, have judged it to be a most desperate sin.

7. How Should We Show Natural Affection Towards Our Bodies?

Nature teaches everyone to provide their necessities: what is necessary for life, such as food and what is necessary for health and warmth, such as clothing. Nature is here a schoolteacher to Christians, teaching us our duty. It is emphasised by Solomon, who says: “that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

If someone is worse than an infidel for not providing for his own, what are those who do not provide for themselves? They are in fact worse than a beast, for nature has taught the brute beasts to nourish and cherish themselves. If anyone thinks that this is more fitting for beasts or unregenerate men than saints, let them tell me which of the saints at any time guided by God’s Spirit, has wholly neglected himself. Passing over all others we learn that Christ (as required) slept, ate, rested, and otherwise refreshed Himself. Some may object that once when He was hungry and food had been prepared for Him, He refused to eat. Yet forbearing one meal is no great hindrance of nurturing the body. Extraordinary and weighty reasons may lawfully make someone neglect themselves a little so as to show that they prefer God’s glory and the salvation of others before the outward nourishing of their body. Christ says that His food was to do the will of Him that sent Him. In other words He said He preferred that before His food. Paul says, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you”, for your souls (2 Corinthians 12:15).

We must here therefore take heed of extremes on both sides: (a) of undue neglect of our bodies which results in having our body’s strength wasted and health impaired; (b) of caring too much for it, so that on no occasion will we lose a meal or a night’s rest. Fasting and watching, as occasion requires, are duties we are obliged to perform.

God has provided food, clothing and all things necessary for our weak bodies so that they should be nourished and cherished and not to use them, therefore, is to refuse God’s providence. By well nourishing and cherishing our bodies, they are the better enabled to do the work and service which God appoints to be done. But by neglecting them, we cannot do this – this should be a motive and aim in nourishing and cherishing our bodies.

8. What Ways Do People Harm Their Bodies?

Many offend against this good instinct of nature in the following ways.

(a) Covetous people

Those who are so obsessed with their wealth and storing up abundance of goods that they do not allow themselves to have the things necessary to nourish and cherish their bodies. Solomon rebukes such who keep riches for themselves yet to their own hurt (Ecclesiastes 5:13). Daily experience proves this such people make their riches snares and hindrances to keep them from eternal life. They also make this present life to be very irksome by filling their heads with much anxiety and keeping them from quiet rest. Many such may have abundance, but scarcely give themselves a good meal or appropriate clothing, medicine, heating and other necessities.

(b) Workaholics

Those who are so intent on their work and lawful calling may go to excess even in such good things.  Many students, preachers, lawyers, tradesmen, farmers, labourers and others offend in this way when they do not allow themselves appropriate times for refreshing and resting their bodies. Instead, they skip proper food and sleep to labour too much in their calling. Those who by such means harm themselves make themselves guilty of the neglect of the great good they might have done, if they had nourished and cherished their bodies.

Some are so eager about their business, that they think all the time for nourishing and cherishing their bodies misspent. They wish that their bodies needed no food, sleep, or other means of refreshment. These thoughts and desires are foolish and sinful in many respects:

  • They manifest a secret discontent and grudging against God’s providence, who has ordered our condition in such a way to manifest clearly our weakness and God’s care for us
  • They take away reasons for calling on God and giving praise to Him. If we did not have such need of God’s providence would we pray so often to Him for His blessing? Would we be so thankful to Him if we did not feel the sweetness and comfort of His providence by the means He provides?
  • They take away means of showing mutual love because if we did not need help from one another, what ways would there be of proving our love?

(c) Those who make feeding and clothing a hindrance to each other.

Some nourish their bodies so much that they cannot cherish them. That is, they spend so much in eating and drinking that they have nothing left to spend on properly clothing themselves. Others spend so much on excessive clothing that they fail to feed themselves properly. These fall into two contrary extremes: excess in one thing and deficiency in another.

9. How Should Natural Affection for Our Body Point Us to Contentment?

The apostle Paul says we should be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8; see also Proverbs 30:8). Does this mean we are obliged to limit ourselves to doing no more than providing food and clothing?  This provision should be appropriate to the condition in which God has placed us, the responsibilities He has given to us and to the calling which He has appointed to us, we ought not to be concerned for more. Let us therefore beware of the excess which arises from the corruption of nature and content ourselves with that proportion which nature requires. [John Calvin comments: “Not that to use them more largely ought to be condemned on its own account, but lusting after them is always sinful”].

Conclusion

We we need to live as salt and light in a culture that degrades the body. This means we should be on our guard against subtle ways that we too may harm our bodies. The Larger Catechism speaks of how the sixth commandment requires us to care appropriately for our bodies (Q135-136). It needs to be nourished and cherished. We can also harm it by not having the right spirit and attitude or not being careful about our emotional state (as far as we can control it).  We can display proportional true natural affection rather than distorted and excessive self-love and by this point people to the Creator who has placed this instinct within us.

N.B. some of the observations in the opening paragraph were helped by the book Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey.

 

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The True Focus of Preaching

The True Focus of Preaching

The True Focus of Preaching
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Oct, 2021

It is easy to make the text the key focus of preaching, after all it is being expounded and we are to preach the whole counsel of God. It is understandable to make people a primary focus of preaching too, application is the life of a sermon and lacking this it is a mere lecture. But the true focus of preaching rises above these things and must be kept constantly in view.

In a book called The Humbled Sinner Resolved Obadiah Sedgwick (member of the Westminster Assembly) explains what is the true focus of preaching. 

If believing in Jesus Christ is the only way of life, then Jesus Christ should be the main scope and mark of all our preaching and studying. “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). It was the main theme and subject on which that blessed apostle spent himself.

So whether ministers preach the knowledge of sin, or whether they strive to make men conscious of sin, or whether they let fire the arrows of God’s threatenings on the conscience of sinners, or whether they touch on the mercy seat. All the end and scope is, or should be, to bring men to Christ, to make Christ more glorious in the eyes of sinners, and to incline their hearts to accept and embrace Him.  Christ may be preached two ways.  Either explicitly, when He is in His person, or offices, or benefits, is the only subject matter which is handled and proclaimed. Or virtually, when He is the end of the subject matter that is delivered.

Do I meet with a broken and afflicted spirit, groaning under the load of sinful nature and life, panting after the Prince of life and peace, willing to yield up itself to all the conditions of God in Christ? Here now I am to lift up Christ on His Cross, to spread His arms, to show unto that broken spirit, the very heart blood of Jesus Christ poured out for the remission of sins, to be a propitiatory sacrifice for his soul.

Do I meet with an obstinate and proud spirit, which dares to defy justice,
and presumptuously to complain about mercy? Here I open the indignation
of God against sin on purpose to awaken the conscience, to cast down the high and lofty imaginations.  Yet it is for no other purpose except that such a person being now come to the felt sense of their misery, may fitly be directed and seasonably encouraged to the sight and fruition of their remedy in Christ.

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What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?

What Do We Need to Please God?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Sep, 2021

Some people dismiss the idea of pleasing God, they think it is the idea of trying to curry God’s favour by our actions. They point out we can never reach a perfect standard so we are condemning ourselves to an exhausting treadmill chasing after something we cannot attain. We need simply to trust God and give up the idea of pleasing Him they say. It’s certainly possible for some kind of reliance on our own works to creep into the Christian life. Others know that sin taints all we do and so it can never be perfectly pleasing to God, we are just not able to do that. So should we give up on the idea of pleasing God? Not according to the New Testament, which has a lot to say about it as our great aim (2 Corinthians 5:9) in everything (Colossians 1:10). We are to live in such a way as pleases God (1 Thessalonians 4:1) constantly trying to learn what is pleasing to Him (Ephesians 5:8-10). In an unrenewed state, we are unable to please God (Romans 8:8) but that implies that we can please Him (Luke 1:30; Hebrews 11:5). This is the whole purpose of sanctification that God works within us so that we do that which is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:20-21). We do not need to pit pleasing and trusting God against each other since trusting God enables us to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). It is because we are accepted in the Beloved (if we are true believers) that we seek like Him to always do what pleases God out of love. But what does pleasing God involve?

One passage tells us a lot about this because it presents us with someone who did indeed please God from a renewed heart transformed by saving faith. We do not know much about Enoch but this is the great thing we do know. William Gouge explains what we need to please God from Hebrews 11:5-6 in this updated extract.

1. We Need Dedication to God

The particular person here commended is Enoch. This is a Hebrew name, derived from a verb that means to dedicate, and may be interpreted, dedicated. His condition fitly corresponded to his name; for of all the patriarchs he was most especially dedicated to God. The testimony of his walking with God and of God’s taking him to Himself gives evidence of this. Others had the same name, such as Cain’s first son after whom he named a city that he built (Genesis 4:18). Abraham’s grandchild by Keturah (Genesis 25:4 and Reuben’s eldest son also had this name (Genes 46:9). But it is clear the one meant here is the one which was the seventh from Adam and was taken by God. The same faith previously spoken of-a justifying faith, resting on the promised Messiah-is certainly meant here.

2. We Need Saving Faith

Hebrews 11:6 has a special reference to the last clause of the previous verse, “he pleased God”. The main point is that Enoch pleased God by faith. The argument is made from the impossibility of its opposite. It is impossible without faith to please God. Therefore Enoch, who had this testimony that he pleased God, had faith. Faith in this place is to be taken as it was in the first verse and in the other verses following after it. In all those places it is taken, as here, for a justifying faith, as the effects of it in this verse prove.

We are so corrupt by nature in soul and body, in every power and part of either, and so polluted in everything that passes from us that it is not possible in and of ourselves to do anything that is acceptable to God. But faith looks on Christ, applies Christ and His righteousness, and does all things for God in the name and through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Thus, by faith, we please God. Out of Christ, which is to be without faith, it is impossible to please God. This manifests an absolute necessity of faith.

To please implies that something is done that finds acceptance with the one to whom it is done either in the action or the person doing it. God is the One whom we all ought to please. There are four things required to please God; all of them are accomplished by faith and nothing else.

(a) The person that pleases God, must be accepted by God (Titus 1:15; Genesis 4:4).

(b) The thing that pleases God must be in harmony with His will (Hebrews 13:21). The apostle exhorts us for this reason to “prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,” (Romans 12:2).

(c) The manner of doing that which pleases God, must be with due respect to God as follows:
– In obedience to God: because He has commanded it. We must say like Peter, that we do it because He has ordered it (Luke 5:5) This is to do it “for conscience’ sake,” and “for the Lord’s sake,” (Romans 13:5; 1 Peter 2:13).
– In humility, denying ourselves, and all self-conceit as Paul who said “Not I, but the grace of God which is with me,” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
– In sincerity, as having to do with He that searches the heart (Isaiah 38:3).
– in diligence: like the two faithful servants with whom the Lord was well pleased but not like the slothful servant (Matthew 25:20)
– in cheerfulness (2 Corinthians 9:7).
– in our callings (1 Corinthians 6:17).
– in constancy (Hebrews 9:38).
– in assurance, that God, who accepts the person, accepts also the work that is done. This is how Manoah’s wife inferred that God was pleased with what they did (Judges 13:23).

(d) The goal, which is God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Faith is the means by which all these four aspects of pleasing God may be effected and accomplished.
(a) Faith in Christ makes the person accepted by God (Ephesians 1:12). (b) Faith makes men subject themselves to God’s will. (c) Faith makes people seek to do what they do to God in obedience, humility, sincerity, diligence, cheerfulness, orderly, constantly and with an assurance of God’s acceptance. All these may be exemplified in Enoch.
(d) Faith, of all graces, aims at God’s glory most. Abraham, was “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”

3. We Need to Trust God

The apostle proves the assertion that it is impossible to please God without faith. His proof is that those who come to God must believe that He is. The proof is applied to such as come to God. To come is used in a metaphorical way and includes those who have to do with God in prayer, in praise, or in any other service. That which is required of such as come to God, is, to believe that God is. It is vain for any to go to one whom they do not believe to be. But this is not simply and barely to be taken of believing in the being of God. It may be demonstrated that there is a God, and that God is by reason, and philosophical arguments.

This is an act of faith and it must, therefore, be more distinctly understood. It means that they believe He is the true God, the only true God, such a God
as He has revealed Himself to be. If we add the word God afterwards i.e. those who come to God must believe that He is God it will become clearer. God must be believed to be as He is, or as He has manifested Himself to be. Thus, Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6). To believe God in any other way is to make Him an idol (Romans 1:21), to believe Him to be nothing (1 Corinthians 8:4). We must be informed about God as He has made Himself known to us in His Word. “Search the Scriptures;” they testify of Him (John 5:39). This includes the nature, persons, properties, and works by which He is made known to us in the Word. Otherwise, it will be altogether in vain to come to God.

4. We Need to Walk Before God Continually

Enoch pleased God. The word here is made up of the verb to please (Galatians 1:10) and a preposition that means well which adds emphasis. It implies that Enoch was very circumspect over himself and careful in all things to do that which was acceptable to God. That was pleasing Him well. This word is used in Hebrews 13:16 to show God’s approval of works of mercy. Enoch pleased God because he “walked before God,” continually (as the grammar of the Hebrew in Genesis 5 indicates).

Enoch always had God in his eye, whether alone, or in company, doing duties of piety or other affairs. This moved him to carefully and conscionably avoid what might be displeasing to God, and diligently do what was agreeable to the will of God. He had the testimony of men bearing witness to him and highly esteeming him. He had the testimony of God, by an inward witness of God’s Spirit in his conscience and by God’s approving him. Enoch in his lifetime prophesied of the coming of the Lord to judgment, Jude 14. This makes it clear that he had the day of judgment in his mind and in considering that, he was moved to seek to please the Lord well in all things.

5. We Need to Believe God is a Rewarder

Before God took him, Enoch did that which moved God to take him. It is in the past tense, he had pleased God. In his lifetime, before he received any reward, he did that which was acceptable to the Lord. Work must be done before the reward can be expected (see Hebrews 10:36). Faith brings a reward. Those who walk with God please Him. Those that please God will not lack testimony of it and will surely be rewarded. The evidence of his reward is that he was taken and was not found. The best livers are not the longest livers.

Believers can be sure of their reward. God is faithful (Hebrews 10:23); He will not fail to perform what He undertakes (Ephesians 6:8). God in His rewards considers what is fitting for His excellency to give, and accordingly proportions His reward. As a king in rewarding a faithful servant is not content to give him a little money but rather gives high honours and dignities (Genesis 41:41).

6. We Need to Diligently Seek God

Those who may expect reward from God, are those who diligently seek Him. Literally, this word means to seek out, to seek till one finds; to seek earnestly and diligently. This is how people are said to “seek after the Lord,” (Acts 15:17) and how the prophets sought after the salvation promised (1 Peter 1:10). To express the emphasis of this word the word “diligently” has been added in English. We are to seek Him with all our heart and soul (Deuteronomy 4:29) and those that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing (Psalm 34:10). None but such should expect a reward from God. This should stir us up to use our best endeavours to find the Lord in such a way that we may rest on Him and make Him our reward (see Hebrews 4:11).

Conclusion

We please God by faith, submitting to His Word and will and believing what He declares, and He is who reveals Himself to be. We please Him when we glorify Him by faith We want to have access to Him, to experience His presence and to live as much as possible coram deo (before God’s face). So we seek Him out diligently until we find Him. We use the means He has appointed for us to seek Him. We want to please Him as much as possible. Paul says that when we are in the married state, we want to please our spouse in all things, not because we are fearful they will stop loving us but simply because we love them (1 Corinthians 7:34). It is the same spiritually for those who are joined to Christ in loving faith. We seek Him and seek to please Him because we believe that He is the rewarder of such and the reward we look for is more of His presence and ultimately that is in heaven itself, as Enoch found.

 

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The Devotional Value of the Westminster Confession

The Devotional Value of the Westminster Confession

The Devotional Value of the Westminster Confession
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
12 Aug, 2021

The Westminster Confession of Faith is not simply a document full of doctrinal statements. It has a practical and devotional use for every Christian. It is a document that may be made utterly personal. It is both for the church and for the individual. It is the role of the church to confess, to worship God, and to structure itself as God requires. But it is also the role of individuals to take an informed and intelligent approach to confession, worship, and organisation—both as individuals, in their personal devotions, and as members of the body of the church.

Clear understanding

People’s personal grasp of the many doctrines taught in Scripture and from the pulpit can be quite fuzzy and patchy. The Westminster Confession offers a precise articulation of the key doctrines of Scripture in a systematic manner so that you can be clear and orderly about the truth in your own mind.

With a clear understanding in place, then you can respond with the appropriate worship. Our devotions can only be enhanced as we grow in an accurate knowledge of what God is like and what God has done. Our best devotional responses of praise and adoration spring out of our best grasp of the identity of our Saviour and the nature of the salvation He provides. 

Personal Commitment

The personal commitment and attachment to doctrine from the vows that office-bearers often take when they subscribe to the Confession. They are often asked, is this “the confession of your faith”?  They must own it in a personal way as the confession not simply of the Church but of their own faith. 

They confess publicly that the truths of this document have become their convictions by the work of the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the Word of God. They have come to love them. The fact that they have not written the words themselves is not relevant. It cannot reduce their personal devotion to the truths. They are able to make use of them because it is the same Spirit that has opened the mind and heart to receive them.

Paul Woolley comments on the fact that “most modern people hold the view that a creed is something to be forced, or imposed on other people. That is utterly perverse …. Nothing could be further from the proper function for a creed. It ought to be a very joyful affirmation of the truth which has benefited the affirmant, and which he wants to pass on to others in a clear and simple form.”(Paul Woolley, ‘What is a Creed for?’ in Scripture and Confession, ed. John H. Skilton).

The embodiment of the gospel

BB Warfield calls attention to some of the reasons as to why the Confession possesses this character. It is because the Westminster divines ‘wrote these definitions aiming before all things to be saints: is it strange that we see the saint through the theologian and have our hearts warmed by the contact? Certain it is that the Westminster Standards have a spiritual significance to us which falls in no wise short of their historical and scientific significance.
Open these standards where you will and you will not fail to feel the throb of an elevated and noble spiritual life pulsing through them. They are not merely a notably exact scientific statement of the elements of the gospel: they are, in the strictest sense of the words, the very embodiment of the gospel.

Knowing God

They not only know what God is; they know God: and they make their readers know Him—know Him in His infinite majesty, in His exalted dominion, in His unlimited sovereignty, in the immutability of His purpose and His almighty power and universal providence, but know Him also in that strangest, most incomprehensible of all His perfections, the unfathomableness of His love. Their description of Him transcends the just limits of mere definition and swells into a paean of praise—praise to Him who is “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

And how profound their knowledge is of the heart of man—its proneness to evil, its natural aversion to spiritual good, its slowness of response to spiritual influence, the deviousness of its path even under the leading of the Holy Ghost. But, above all, they know, with a fulness of apprehension which startles and instructs and blesses the reader, the ways of God with the errant souls of men—how He has condescended to open the way to them of having fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, how He has redeemed them unto Himself in the blood of His Son, and how He deals with them, as only a loving Father may, in disciplining and fitting them for the heavenly glory.

The Christian experience

Where elsewhere may we find more vitally set forth the whole circle of experience in the Christian life—what conversion is and how God operates in bringing the soul to knowledge of Him and faith in its Saviour, what are the joys of justifying grace and of adoption into the family of God, and what the horrors of those temporary lapses that lie in wait for unwary steps, and what the inconceivable tenderness of God’s gracious dealings with the stumbling and trembling spirit until He brings it safely home? Who can read those searching chapters on Perseverance and Assurance without feeling his soul burn within him, or without experience of a new influx of courage land patience for the conflicts of life?

It is not a singular experience which Dr. Thornwell records, when he sets down in his journal his thanksgiving to God for this blessed Confession. “I bless God,” he writes, “for that glorious summary of Christian doctrine contained in our noble Standards. It has cheered my soul in many a dark hour, and sustained me in many a desponding moment.”

We do not so much require as delight, with consentient mind, in his testimony, when he declares that he knows of “no uninspired production in any language, or of any denomination, that for richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency can for a moment enter into competition with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.” The Westminster Standards, in a word, are notable monuments of the religious life as well as of theological definition, and, speaking from the point of view of vital religion, this is their significance as a creed.” (BB Warfield “The Significance of the Westminster standards as a creed”).

Earnest and intelligent devotion

John Murray in “The Work of the Westminster Assembly” wrote similarly. ‘The work produced by the Westminster Assembly has lived and will permanently live. The reason is obvious. The work was wrought with superb care, patience, precision, and above all with earnest and intelligent devotion to the Word of God and zeal for His glory. Sanctified theological learning has never been brought to bear with greater effect upon the formulation of the Christian Faith. While it would be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit to accord to these documents a place in any way equal to the Word of God either in principle or in practical effect, yet it would also be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, who has promised to be with His church to the end, to undervalue or neglect what is the product of His illumination and direction in the hearts and minds of His faithful servants. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours’.

It should be our delight to find increasing devotional value and spiritual significance within the Confession, simply because its doctrines are the doctrines of Scripture. Devotion must be derived from and feed upon the fulness of the truth. As Thornwell puts it, our devotional requirements will be met in the “richness of matter, soundness of doctrine, scriptural expression and edifying tendency” of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

A GUIDE

Our Faith helps to unpack the Confession of Faith to get most from it. Its simple approach helps everyone engage with it and grow in their understanding of Scripture.

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God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety

God’s Ancient Answer to Our 24/7 Anxiety
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
21 Jul, 2021

Our 24/7 world presents new challenges of overwork in blurring the boundaries between work and the rest of life and over exploitation of natural resources. Searching for ultimate meaning in the wrong places “we have turned our work into our identity.” The recent disruption to patterns of work provides an opportunity to review our approach to life, employment and our use of time. A new study is concerned about the potential for the dehumanisation of work. “As the relationship between work, time, and place changes, there is a need to rediscover patterns of rest”. God has already provided the remedy. “The biblical idea of a Sabbath is an ancient answer to a very modern anxiety”. It is a day that “demonstrates for all of us that we are not defined by what we do or what we consume”. As a day of worship it gives us something that rises above and points beyond the daily grind. The need for it is hardwired into our nature from the creation of the world. We neglect it at our peril.

As the report by the thinktank Theos observes, we need to know “not simply how to live, but how to live well.” Citing the fourth commandment, it refers to the maintains that the sabbath shows us God’s way to a more meaningful and balanced life. As a contribution to the public square it points to the general principle but is rather light on detail as to what recovering the sabbath might involve.

Thankfully we have a sure guide to God’s ancient wisdom in the Westminster Shorter Catechism which opens up the biblical meaning of the sabbath principle (see for instance (Exodus 31:13, 16-17; Genesis 2:2-3; Mark 2:27-28; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Isaiah 58:13-14; Leviticus 23:3; Luke 4:16; Matthew 12:1-13; Amos 8:4-6). Our book Bible Truth Explored helps us understand and apply this in our own context. Much more could be said on these points but this is a straightforward introduction.

A day of rest

When God had finished His work of creation He left us an example of how we are to structure our week. We read in Genesis that God rested for one day, taking delight in the very good work which He had completed. He has also
appointed one day in every week to be a day of rest for His creatures. We are to spend the Lord’s day in “holy resting,” finding delight in the very good works which God has done – not only in creation, but also in grace.

Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his Word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself. (Shorter Catechism, Q58).

It is a great kindness on the Lord’s part to grant His creatures a day of rest from their ordinary weekly occupations. Since the fall, we get tired and weary and need time to rest, otherwise we will become ill and our work and lives will suffer. We also have to ensure that if we employ other people to work for us, they also get a day of rest. Even animals are allowed one day a week without work. Of course, some things are necessary to be done and some things come into the category of acts of mercy. We don’t take a rest from getting dressed in the morning or eating food, and we have to continue to care for people in need. But whatever works of necessity and mercy we do, it is to be with a view to enabling the Lord’s day to be kept focused on Him and His worship.

Q. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath. (Shorter Catechism Q59)

In the Old Testament this day of rest was the seventh day of the week, commemorating the completed work of creation. Following the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ the Christian sabbath is held on the first day of the week, the day on which He rose from the grave, to commemorate not only creation but the completed work of redemption (Revelation. 1:10; Acts 20:7; John 20:19, 26).

“It is a great kindness on the Lord’s part to grant His creatures a day of rest from their ordinary weekly occupations.”

A day of work

At the same time as the sabbath is a day of rest, it is also a day of work. This is not a contradiction, because the purpose of resting from our normal weekly work is to free us up to be very busy in a different kind of work — the work of worship. We are not to waste away the sabbath day in idleness. The sabbath is a day for worship and spiritual activity. It is a day when our souls rather than our bodies are especially busy and when the needs of our souls rather than our bodies receive our special attention. The sabbath is a day during which we are to be especially engaged in doing business with heaven and preparing for eternity.

“We are not to waste away the sabbath day in idleness. The sabbath is a day for worship and spiritual activity.”

We should be active in worship all day long, whether in the public, formal assemblies of God’s people or in private, at home by ourselves or with our families. We should not rest content with giving just one little corner of the day to worship — it is meant to be a whole day of spiritual activity.

A day apart

The sabbath is a day set apart from all the others by the Lord. At creation He claimed it for His own, and blessed it (see Genesis 2:3). Amongst other things, this shows that the Lord reserves the right to choose when He wants us to approach Him in worship, and He blesses those who remember His day. He has given precious promises about being present by His Spirit when people gather in church.

The sabbath day is set apart by us from every other day, as the one special occasion during our week when we remember the Lord our Maker and Redeemer. Our focus on this day is to be on the Lord. Instead of focusing on earning our living, or ordinary pastimes, we can devote ourselves to rejoicing in God and finding our satisfaction in Him.

Specifically, we can do this when we assemble with other believers to worship God as His church —

  • By hearing God’s Word preached
  • By joining in public prayers and praises
  • By partaking of the sacraments

We can also do this when we are in private, on our own or in our families —

  • By singing, praying and reading the Word on our own or as a family
  • By catechising each other as a family or examining ourselves on our own
  • By discussing the sermon and other spiritual topics with our families and friends
  • By meditating on the truth of God’s Word
  • By reading edifying books

Q. How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy. (Shorter Catechism Q60)

A day remembered

We also set the sabbath day apart by remembering it. For one thing, we should remember that God has kept one day special for Himself from the beginning of time, even before He called Israel to be His people, and redeemed them out of Egypt. We are therefore only following in a long line of obedient worshippers of God when we keep His day holy.

For another thing, we should spend our whole week both remembering that the sabbath has passed (for example, trying to keep in mind whatever truth we heard preached last sabbath) and also remembering that the sabbath is coming up again. We should make arrangements throughout the week to make sure that things won’t be left unfinished to distract us from spiritual things on the Lord’s day, and especially towards the end of each week we should pray for help to spend the whole day in worshipping God and for a blessing when we do so.
We ought to love our neighbour by helping others to remember the sabbath to keep it holy. We should help those for whom we have responsibility to keep it holy. We can also remember and show kindness to those who cannot get out to church due to ill health, old age, or other valid reasons.

A day ahead

The sabbath rest which we enjoy in this world is a foretaste of the rest which God’s people will enjoy in heaven. Heaven is one unending sabbath rest (see Hebrews 4:9). Worship goes on continually in heaven, without interruption, without weariness, and without conclusion. It is the place where our souls and bodies will be completely at rest in God, and where we will join harmoniously with all of God’s people at once in praising
and blessing Him. Our entire focus will be on adoring God for what He has done in creation and salvation.

Something to think about

  • Why do we need a day of rest?
  • While the Old Testament sabbath commemorated creation, the New Testament sabbath commemorates redemption. In what ways is redemption a greater work than creation?
  • What are the similarities and differences between sabbaths on earth and the sabbath rest in heaven?

Personal reflection

  • Do you enjoy the Lord’s day when it comes? Do you look forward to resting from ordinary activities and being busy in spiritual activities?

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Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures

Flourishing Despite the Greatest Pressures
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
8 Jul, 2021

Believers, churches and pastors especially have certainly experienced many pressures in recent times. The natural tendency is to be at least worn down by it. It may seem like every grace is tested to its limits by complex challenges, difficult choices, fears and divisions. We learn a great deal about ourselves and others as a consequence. It can be hard to see the spiritual growth despite the weakness in the midst of it all. Yet our growth is God’s purpose in it all. We may shrink from this through fear of a guilt trip about our personal growth but it shows us how to grow despite the greatest pressures. Even if you cannot see it yet, this should inform our prayers.

One picture of such growth is the palm tree: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12). Joseph Caryl speaks of how this growth is despite some of the greatest pressures. When believers meet with the greatest pressures in the world, they thrive and grow heavenward. When the world would crush the righteous and press them down to the earth, like the palm tree, they grow up more and more. Palm trees are top-heavy and endure a lot of pressure from the considerable weight of their leaves and fruit. Some palm trees can grow up to six feet per year in the right conditions despite this. They are more resilient in storms than other trees by bending up to 50 degrees without snapping. Joseph Caryl shows in the following updated extract how this is also true in spiritual terms.

1. Pressures Can Help Spiritual Growth

When Pharaoh put the weights of very heavy oppression on the people of Israel, the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew (Exodus 1:12). Surely we are to understand this, not only of their multiplying in number but of increase in goodness – they were more fruitful in their lives. This has been said of the Church at all times when under pressures and burdens. They were bound, they were beaten, they were burnt, and yet they multiplied and increased. The more persons were added to the Church; and those persons that were added, advanced more in ways of grace and holiness. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.

Those who have a spiritual and holy understanding may indeed fall (Daniel 11:35). But it will try them and purge them, to make them white. It will purge out their corruptions and make their graces very conspicuous. Zechariah 13:9 teaches the same thing: “I will bring the third part through the fire”. Shall they be burnt there? No, “I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: and they shall call on my name, and I will hear them, I will say, it is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” Faith will grow to an assurance.

Paul says that his troubles and afflictions worked out for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12). He says that many were willing to speak the gospel without fear (1:14). They grew up like the palm tree; they grew in confidence and boldness. They had not only integrity for Christ, but a great increase of strength for Christ.

In Romans 5 Paul shows that tribulation and trials do not hinder graces but rather further them. Tribulation works patience which works experience, and experience hope. Here is a flourishing, and a growing up in all Graces, even in a time of tribulation. The same thing is in 2 Corinthians 4:17, light afflictions work a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. We grow more up into heaven and glory. Our hope rises up to glory by our affliction. This is flourishing like the palm tree. Afflictions will make us the fitter for heaven: they will make us better than we were, and so fitter for heaven, fitter for glory.

2. Pressures Wean Us From the World

The pressures and weights from the world that are on the righteous wean them from the world. The love of the world, cleaving to the world, and desires going after the world, are great impediments to our growth in grace. In Matthew 13:22 we are told that the cares and pleasures of the world choke the Word and make it altogether unfruitful. Sufferings for Christ which are the weights laid on us for Christ’s sake make us more crucified to the world and the world to us (Galatians 6:14). When the soul is delivered from this evil world, it must flourish upwards towards the other world.

3. Pressures Help Us Grow in Understanding

By the afflictions and troubles we experience in this world we get much light and grow into a clearer knowledge of the things that help us increase heaven-ward. Affliction gives an understanding of:

(a) the vanity and wickedness of the world
(b) the mind of God and the Word of God (Psalm 119:71).
(c) the worth of grace
(d) the excellency of Jesus Christ Himself.

In 2 Peter 3:18, we are told to grow in grace. How does this happen? We must also grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In proportion to our growth in the true knowledge of Christ that comes from experience (not mere brain knowledge) we increase and grow in grace. As we grow in the knowledge of the vanity of the world, the Word of God, the worth of grace and Christ; we must grow in grace.

4. Pressures Draw Us More into Our Own Hearts

The weights and pressures which on these palm-trees, the righteous, draw them more into their own hearts. They commune with their hearts more and are more acquainted with them, they search themselves more. This will make us flourish, and grow upwards. The reason we grow up so little in acquaintance with Christ is that we grow so little in acquaintance with ourselves. In an afflicted condition the soul returns to itself (Lamentations 3:40). They search themselves for their corruptions and lusts in the secret corners of our hearts. They search for grace; what faith we have, what love we have, what patience etc. Afflictions bring believers to assess what condition they are in, how they fare. The troubles we meet with in the world, give us this advantage for spiritual growth, of growing heaven-ward like the palm tree.

5. Pressures Drive Us Nearer to God

These afflictions and pressures we have from the world drive us nearer to God, to more acquaintance with God and more communion with Christ. They force us to Christ. When the world flatters and embraces us we begin to forget and to disregard communion with Jesus Christ. There may be greater communion with God in a time of pressures (Isaiah 26:16). But in times of outward peace, and when all is well, we are very ready to neglect communion with God.

6. Pressures May Bring God’s Presence 

While the righteous are under weights and pressures like a palm tree, they have the special promise of God’s presence with them. This makes them flourish. It is not our being in affliction, which makes us better and grow heaven-ward; but it is Christ being with us in affliction. It is God manifesting Himself to us in affliction which makes us grow, and flourish like a palm tree. There are many such promises (e.g. Isaiah 43:2; 1 Peter 4:14). When the weights are upon us, we have promises of more of the presence of God, and the presence of His Spirit. We shall therefore flourish, flourish spiritually, flourish in our inner man.

Conclusion

This shows us how God is able to make all things work for the good of His people. It should also bring us to praise the power, wisdom and goodness of God who over-rules these things for His people. It should also prompt us to seek how we can flourish under pressure. Afflictions, whether for righteousness sake or fatherly chastisements from the hand of God are for our good. We must submit to the will of God because these things are for our good and growth if we respond to them in the right way (Hebrews 12:10-12). They are ways that we may be made “partakers of the holiness of God”. This does not mean that afflictions bring joy in themselves, they are indeed painful but they can result in the abiding fruit of righteousness. They help us live better and make us more prepared to die and to glorify God both living and dying. This hope can help us “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees”. Rather than discourage us it can encourage us by helping us to see how these things can work for our spiritual growth.

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How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?

How Should We Engage Our Hearts in Prayer?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
30 Jun, 2021

Prayer is no easy thing. Many are ready to grasp hold of another new method in the hope that it will make it easier. Or less intentionally they begin to imitate a particular style or manner. But prayer is not a technique to be mastered. We can also go to the other extreme of letting our words run loose without engaging our thoughts and affections. It is not necessarily more sincere and authentic because it is uncontrolled. Neither is it better because it is longer or more logical. “God looks not at the oratory of your prayers, how elegant they may be; nor at the geometry of your prayers, how long they may be; nor at the arithmetic of your prayers, how many they may be; not at logic of your prayers, how methodical they may be; but the sincerity of them he looks at” (Thomas Brooks). These matters are addressed by Christ in the teaching He gives in relation to prayer.

Christ said there is a twofold danger of “vain repetitions” and “much speaking” (Matthew 6:7-8). We can do this by going over the same things again and again. Or we may use the same words as merely filling a gap or weakly expressing some fervency. This may include unthinkingly uttering many words that have no real significance, worse if it is God’s name that is used in this way. Or perhaps we pray at greater length simply thinking that this is more acceptable or spiritual. In these things the Saviour expands on the teaching we have in Ecclesiastes 5:2.

Thomas Manton (a member of the Westminster Assembly) says that we must avoid the two extremes of having too much to say for the sake of it or having nothing much to say because our hearts are not truly prepared.

He points out that some repetition is not empty. Christ prayed the same words three times in the greatest fervency (Matthew 26:44). Daniel uses God’s name with great weight and reverence over and over again (Daniel 9:17-19). The problem is when we “speak words without need and without affection”. The “general rule is, let your words be concise, but full of affection”.

As Christ says, our wrong approach to prayer can reveal a wrong approach to God. In expounding Christ’s words Thomas Manton shows us what the Saviour requires in terms of our words, thoughts and affections in prayer. This shows us what prayer is and how to pray.

The Larger Catechism Q185 gives emphasis to our thoughts and affections in defining how we are to pray. We need to understand from Scripture how to approach God in prayer with right thoughts and affections.

We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God, and deep sense of our own unworthiness, necessities, and sins; with penitent, thankful, and enlarged hearts; with understanding, faith, sincerity, fervency, love, and perseverance, waiting upon him, with humble submission to his will.

1. How Should We Engage Our Words in Prayer?

Words are used in prayer, to stir up, convey, and give vent to affection (Hosea 14:2). This is to be considered either when we are alone or in company.

(a) When we are alone. Take the advice of the Holy Spirit (Ecclesiastes 5:2) and let your words be few, How few? Few in weight, conscience, reverence.

Few in weight
Speak substance rather than mere words; concisely and feelingly rather than with intricacy, to express what you have to say to God.

Few in conscience
Superstition is an illegitimate religion and is tyrannous requiring tedious service sometimes beyond our strength. Therefore pray neither too short nor too long; do not merely lengthen out the prayer as counting it the better for being long. The shortness or the length of it must be measured by the fervency of our hearts, the many necessities and as it tends to inflame our zeal. As it can get up the heart, let it still be subservient to that.

Few with reverence
Managed with that gravity, awe, and seriousness as would become an address to God. Abraham had been reasoning with God and continues to do so with reverence (Genesis 18:31).

(b) When we are in company. There our words must be apt and orderly, as moving as possible for the benefit of the hearers. It must be managed with such reverence and seriousness as suits the gravity of the duty. It should not increase but cure the dullness of those with whom we join. We may choose out words to reason with God (Job 9:14) in public, making preparation and thinking a little beforehand so that we may go about the duty with seriousness and not with indigested thoughts.

2. How Should We Engage Our Thoughts in Prayer?

To conceive aright of God in prayer is one of the greatest difficulties in this duty.

(a) Thoughts of the nature and being of God
Everyone that would come to God must fix this in their mind, that God is, and that God is a spirit; and accordingly He must be worshipped as is most fitting (Hebrews 11:6; John 4:24), Oh, then, whenever you come to pray to God, fix these two thoughts, let them be strong in your heart. God is; do not speak to an idol, but to the living God. God is a spirit; and therefore He is not so much pleased with reasoned speech or tuneful cadence of words, as with a right condition of heart. When we come to pray we think little that God is, or what God is. Much of our religion is performed to an unknown God, and, like the Samaritans, we worship we know not what.

It is not speculations about the divine nature, or high-strained conceptions, which fit us for prayer. I do not urge you to use theological terms. What fits us for prayer is such a sight of God as prompts us to worship Him reverently and seriously. We have right notions of God in prayer, when we are affected as Moses was, when God showed him His back-parts and proclaimed his name. “He made haste, bowed his head, and worshipped” Exodus 34:8). When our worship suits the nature of God, it is spiritual and holy, not full of theatrical pomp.

God is
Our worship is right when it proclaims to ourselves and all that observe us that there is a great, an infinite, eternal power, which governs all according to His own pleasure. The worship of many is flat atheism; they say in their hearts either there is no God, or believe there is no God. Therefore, do you worship Him as becomes such a glorious being? Is His mercy seen in your faith and confidence, His majesty in your humility and reverence, His goodness in your soul’s rejoicing, His greatness and justice in your trembling before His throne? The worship must be like the One worshipped, it must have His stamp on it.

God is a spirit
The soul must therefore be the chief agent in the business, not the body, or any member of the body. Spirits converse with spirits. The body must not guide and lead the soul but be led by it. Be sure to have the spirit engaged, otherwise that which is most essential to the worship is lacking. To have nothing employed except the tongue, and the heart engaged about other business, is not to conduct yourselves towards God who is a spirit. Ask yourselves “where is my soul in this worship, and how is it affected towards God?

(b) Thoughts of God’s Fatherly Relation

As there must be thoughts to direct us in God’s being and nature, so also in His relation as a father, as one that is inclined to pardon, pity, and help you. We have the spirit of adoption given us for this very end and purpose, that we may cry, “Abba, Father” through the ministry of the Spirit (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). We have received the Spirit of adoption, crying, Abba, Father so that we may come to God in a child-like manner, dealing with Him as with a father, acquainting Him with our needs, necessities and burdens, with hope of relief and provision.

(c) Thoughts of God’s attributes

Matthew 6:7-8 offers three aspects of God’s attributes to consider. God’s omniscience, (He knows); His fatherly care (Your Father knows) and His readiness to help, even before we ask (Your Father knows what you need).

All-knowing
He knows us in person and name (John 10:3). He knows our state and condition (Psalm 56:8). He observes us in the very posture when we come to pray, and where. The Lord takes notice, in such a city, in such a street, in such a house, in such a room, and what you are doing when you are praying (Acts 9:11). He sees not only that you pray, but how you pray (Romans 8:27), He can discern between words that are of the flesh and such as are the breathings of the spirit.

Fatherly care
He knows what burdens you. It is not said, that He may care but that He does take care (1 Peter 5:7). God is ahead of us and our anxiousness takes the work out of God’s hand which He is doing already. Our worries are needless, fruitless, burdensome; but His concerns are assiduous, powerful and blessed. A small matter may cause much vexation to us, but to Him all things are easy. Praying for what we need, we should give thanks for what we have (Philippians 4:6; Matthew 6:32). His fatherly love will not allow Him to neglect His children or any of their concerns. Therefore, if you are tempted to anxiety of mind, and do know not how to get out of such a difficulty and conquer such a problem, remember you have a Father to provide for you: this will prevent tormenting anxiety, which is good for nothing but to anticipate your sorrow.

Readiness to help
This should be deeply impressed upon your minds, and you should habituate yourself to these thoughts, how ready God is to help and to run to our cry (Psalm 32:5; Isaiah 65:24; Jeremiah 31:18). He is more ready to give than you to ask. This will help and direct you mightily in the business of prayer. God has a care for His children and is very ready to help the weak, and relieve them in all their troubles.

3. How Should We Engage Our Affections in Prayer?

Three things are required in expressing affection in prayer: fervency, reverence, and confidence.

(a) Fervency
This usually comes from two things, a broken-hearted sense of our needs and a desire for the blessing we need. For the broken-hearted sense of our needs, especially spiritual. Weaknesses afflict the best. All Christians have a continual need to cry to God. We have continual necessities both within and without. Go cry to God your Father without affectation, but not without affection! Seek what you need from Him. The more grace is increased, the more sense of need is increased because sin is more hated, defects are less tolerated. There must be a desire for the blessing, especially spiritual. Our needs must stir up fresh longings and holy desires after God (Mathew 7:7; Luke 11:8). We spend the earnestness of our spirits in other matters, in disputes, contests, earthly pursuits; our importunate earnestness runs in a worldly channel. But there must be sincerity in pouring out our hearts before Him; no sacrifices without fire, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man (James 5:16).

(b) Reverence
Reverent, respectful behaviour towards our heavenly Father is essential. There is in God a mixture of majesty and mercy; so there must be in us a mixture of joy and trembling (Psalm 2:11). God’s love does not abase His majesty, nor does His majesty diminish His love. We ought to know our distance from God, and to think of His superiority over us; therefore we must be serious. Remember that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psalm 89:7).

(c) Confidence
There is boldness in pouring out our requests to God, who will certainly hear us, and grant what is good (Ephesians 3:12). We must rely on His goodness and power in all our necessities. He is so gracious in Christ that He will do that which is best for His glory and our good, and we should not seek it on other terms.

Conclusion

If you would not turn prayer into babbling and much speaking into affectation of words, take heed of how prayer is abused in these ways and strive to bring your hearts to God in this way.

 

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Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again

Beginning to Truly Honour Marriage Again
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
29 Jun, 2021

No one it seemed was willing to make the Health Secretary’s adultery a matter of comment or concern. It was his private business and we do not concern ourselves with the marital integrity of our leaders. All that mattered was if he had broken some other rules. Even church leaders seemed content to echo this line. The Bishop of Manchester did not seem to make it a matter of moral concern. “I’m more worried about the fact that he failed to keep the social distancing” he said, “than I am about the fact that here is a middle-aged bloke having a bit of a fling.” After some pressure from the interviewer about the expectation of the church showing moral leadership in this area the bishop admitted that marriage vows were important. But the signal had already been given that they were not very important. It is clear that marriage is a demeaned institution in our culture and that ought to concern us. How do we restore that honour?

The first step towards this would be recognising what is honourable about marriage. We are told it is “honourable in all” (Hebrews 13:4).  William Gouge wrote very extensively on the subject of marriage and in this updated extract he explains what that honour is.

1. What Do We Mean by Honourable?

The Greek word means that which is of high account or esteem. It is attributed sometimes to individuals e.g. Gamaliel was had in reputation (Acts 5:34.) The Greek uses the same word that is here translated honourable. Sometimes also it is attributed to things in terms of their value e.g. the produce of the earth, (James 5:7).  It is also applied to precious stones and other things of great worth (Revelation 18:12). It is attributed to divine promises (2 Peter 2:4) and Christ’s blood (1 Peter 1:19). In all these passages it is translated as precious. This word being thus applied to marriage shows that it is a condition to be highly esteemed and described as honourable.

2. Marriage Was Honourable in its Institution

No ordinance was more honourable in its first institution when we consider the one who instituted it, the time and place where it was instituted, the individuals who were first married and the way they were joined together.

(a) The author and first institutor of marriage was the Lord God. Could anyone greater or more excellent have instituted it?

(b) The place was paradise. The fairest, most glorious, pleasant, honourable and excellent place there ever was in this world. Even though place is but a circumstance, it adds much to the honour of a thing. Solemn ordinances are carried out in honourable places. Thus, marriages are usually solemnized in churches, not in private houses.

(c) The time was the most pure and perfect time there ever was in the world, the time of man’s innocence, when no sin or pollution of man had stained it. Purity adds much to the honour of a thing.

(d) The individuals were the most honourable there ever were; the first father and mother of all mankind. They had an absolute power and dominion over all creatures who were all were subject to them . None except them ever had a true monarchy over the whole world.

(e) The way they were married showed the greatest consideration ever was used in instituting any ordinance. For first the three glorious persons in the Trinity meet to take counsel about it. “The Lord God said.” And to whom should He speak? Not to any creature but to the One begotten of Himself, that Wonderful, Counsellor, etc. In this consultation this ordinance is found to be very necessary. (“It is not good for man to be alone”) it is determined then to make a suitable help for him. For the better effecting of this the Lord proceeds very deliberately, by various steps and degrees (a) all creatures are brought before him (b) all of them are carefully viewed and found unfit (c) woman is made as an excellent creature and presented to man (d) Adam manifesting delight in her she is given to him to be his wife (e) the inviolable law of the near and firm union of man and wife together is enacted.

When we consider carefully everything concerning the first institution of marriage expressly recorded by the Holy Spirit, we will easily see that there is no ordinance now in force among men so honourable in the institution, as this.

3. Marriage is Honourable in its Purposes

There are three main purposes.

(a) That the world might be increased with a legitimate offspring and with distinct families, which are the seminaries of cities and commonwealths. Also that the Church might be preserved and propagated in the world by a holy seed (Malachi 2:15).

(b) To avoid fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2) and possess our vessels in holiness and honour. This adds much to the honour of marriage. It shows that marriage is like a haven to those who are in jeopardy of their salvation through the gusts of temptations to lust. No sin is more hereditary than this lust or more partaken of by the children of Adam.

(c) That man and wife might be a mutual help to one another (Genesis 2:18). A help to bring up as well as bring forth children, to govern a family well as much as to establish it. A help for ordering prosperity well and bearing adversity well. A help in sickness and in health.  A help while both live together, and in the time when one is taken by death from the other. In this respect it is said that they both find a good thing (Proverbs 18:22). There is no help a man can have from any other creature as from a wife, or a woman from a husband.

4. Marriage is Honourable in its Privileges

What is the privilege, advantage, and profit of marriage? I answer, much every way.

(a) By it men and women are made husbands and wives.

(b) It is the only lawful means to make them fathers and mothers.

(c) It is the most effectual means possible of continuing a person’s name and memory in this world. Children are living memorials and representations of their parents.

(d) Many privileges have traditionally been granted to those who are married.

5. Marriage is Honourable in What it Represents

There is a great mystery set forth by marriage, namely the sacred, spiritual, real, and inviolable union between Christ and His Church. This is excellently deciphered in the Song of Solomon and Psalm 45 and expressly noted in Ephesians 5:32.

In this way a man and wife who love one another entirely, as they ought, have an evident demonstration of Christ’s love to them. Just as parents by their affection towards their children may better discern the mind and meaning of God towards them, so married people better know the disposition of Jesus Christ, who is the spouse of every faithful soul.

Further Help

To explore these reflections further, you may find it helpful to read the article Can Evangelicals Save Marriage? It explores the impact our culture has had on perceptions of marital union. The key focus is on how to live out Christian character and grace in the context of marriage.

 

 

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